Revenant Eve by Sherwood Smith

  “She says the ghosts linger, and though she does not see them, she feels them. Her bedroom is through there. That was the room used by the Committee of Public Safety. She says she can feel the grip of death in that room, all those lives they ordered to be ended. Out there, on a table—now gone—in the entry, that is where Robespierre himself lay bleeding while they decided his fate. He shot himself in the jaw, you know. Then they carried him out to the guillotine.”

  “I’m glad he’s gone,” Aurélie said as they entered the bedroom.

  “Oh, he’s not the worst of them.” Hortense paused and looked around with a frightened face, her hands clasped tightly under her chin, as if she expected spies to leap out from behind the blue and white, gold-fringed coverings. Then she caught herself. “But Bonaparte can stop him.”

  “Stop who?”

  “Fouché. He has his spies, his mouchards, everywhere.”

  Mouche is the word for fly. Aurélie grimaced as Hortense leaned toward her. “He even pays Maman, who always has debts. She tells him little things about life here and pretends to be his friend. She says it’s foolish to turn your back on a snake, just because you don’t like venom.”

  Hortense opened a door.

  “This was Marie Antoinette’s bedroom, and Maman says she knows her sad ghost is lurking. Here’s the wardrobe.” They passed the great mahogany bed in its alcove and entered a dressing room filled with mirrors as well as shelves and trunks, the hangings simple blue and white muslin.

  “Look through the clothing while I summon the servants.” Hortense flitted away, leaving Aurélie staring at an enormous room full of trunks and shelves holding every color of fabric. The number of hats alone seemed to stun her. She stood there unmoving.

  When Hortense returned, she let out a peal of laughter. “I see that I’m going to have to take you in hand! There’s nothing I like better. Now, you must choose one of these pretty muslins. We have ever so many, but Bonaparte hates to see us in them. Everything must be French silks and velvets, he decreed, but you’re a young girl, not married, am I correct? You can wear muslin. And it’s a shame for these not to be seen.”

  As she spoke Hortense pulled out one gown after another, while shaking her head or pursing up her mouth. The flimsier gowns of the Directoire were instantly discarded, the older tunics modeled on Greek figures, everything diaphanous.

  Hortense settled on a pretty gown with tiny puff sleeves. “And if we need to pin up the hem, why, it’s still very much in fashion to drape and hold it in place with cameos. Come, the bath should be ready by now.” She pointed to the adjoining chamber.

  A short time later, Aurélie stood straight in the gown, her skin glowing clean as Hortense fussed happily with her wet hair. “It will dry in kiss curls—oh, you are so beautiful, Aurélie! I am charmed, and envious, all at once. Maman is going to love you. I think I have an idea, but…who did you say you were?”

  Aurélie stared down, her face reflected her inward struggle, then she said, “My mother sent me here with the name de Mascarenhas and a dowry, she said to help me. And it did, but the name, it’s not truly mine, and the dowry, my English relations kept.”

  “If that is not just like the English,” Hortense exclaimed. “Though I must confess I very much liked the Duchess of Devonshire. We’ve met some very fine English, but those newspapers! The horrid things they say about Maman. And that mechant Lord Morpeth, who would not permit his wife to be presented to her—” Hortense gave a little shrug and threw up her hands. “What is a name? Bonaparte changed his. He changed my mother’s! Did you know she was always Rose, until she met him? Keep your fine name, for these days it’s Madame this and that, instead of Citizeness, and some whisper it will soon be Her Majesty. I wish I could see your duppy!”

  Aurélie ran to the mirror and touched it. I laid my hand over hers. “There she is, do you see?” Aurélie cried.

  Hortense gazed into the mirror. For a moment her eyes met mine, but then she frowned and shook her head. “For a heartbeat, I saw a woman, but there was another woman, like smoke, or steam, and many men. It makes me dizzy.” She pressed her hands to her eyes, then turned away.

  Aurélie looked around quickly. She spun too fast, but I thought I saw shifting shadows in the corners, the shape of an inclined head here, a silhouetted arm there. A lifted wing, or wings, smoky and blurred.

  These were not like any of the ghosts I had experienced so far, so I didn’t know what to make of them. It was clear to me that Aurélie didn’t see them as she walked away from the mirror, examining the gown with its embroidered bunches of grapes.

  Hortense dropped her hands and regarded Aurélie in satisfaction. “Yes, you simply must come to Malmaison. We’ll go today. I was so unhappy that I refused to go with them, for they’ve been arguing. Mr. Charles James Fox wishes to visit, you see, and Bonaparte won’t permit him to present his wife. I don’t know if it’s spite because of Lord Morpeth, or what, but he and Maman argued and argued, and…” Hortense gave that little shrug. “I was feeling ill this morning and begged to be left behind. But we may order up a carriage.”

  Hortense pulled a pair of shoes from a shelf. “These are mine. I think I only wore them once. See if they fit.”

  Aurélie slid her feet into the slippers, careful to keep her ankle from showing. “They fit well enough.”

  “Then it’s perfect. You shall be, how do they say it there? Donna Aurélie de Mascarenhas, and that’ll be good enough. Bonaparte will never trouble himself beyond that, not for a mere girl. And if you come among us, no doubt he will soon marry you off to one of his generals, and then you’ll have another name altogether.”

  “I don’t want to be married,” Aurélie said quickly.

  “What has that to do with anything?” Hortense said with a sad smile, and some bitterness. She lifted her shoulders. “It is the way of the world. Unless you’re wealthy, how is a woman to live unless she marries? I can promise that Maman, at least, will try to find you a good man, not just a powerful one.” At Aurélie’s doubtful look, Hortense colored, her hand stealing over her still-flat midriff. “It was Bonaparte who wanted me married to his brother, but he seldom takes a hand in the marriages of Maman’s ladies, unless, well. Are you a maiden still?”

  It was Aurélie’s turn to color. “That, I do not know.”

  “How can this be?” Hortense asked in amazement. “I think one would know that.”

  Aurélie blushed. “I remember Tante Mina and my mother tried to tell me some things when I was young, thinking it better for me to know, but it was boring and confusing, and I had no interest. It seemed one of many warnings about dangers, especially from men. My aunt in England told us nothing. She scolded terribly when my cousin asked once why married people go on honeymoons. But then.” Aurélie sucked in a determined breath and took me as well as Hortense by surprise. “I was traveling with two men recently. And because my—how do you say here?—‘Aunt Rose’ has not visited—”

  “We call it ‘the English,’” Hortense said with a grin.

  “There’s been no sign. I heard my Cousin Fiba say once that if Aunt Rose doesn’t come, then a baby will, and so I ask myself, am I with child?”

  Whoa! She’d never given a hint of any such thoughts to me. So much for our new level of trust, I was thinking, as Hortense said, “How long since your last?”

  “I don’t remember, but more than a month.”

  “Courses can be late for many reasons. You were dressed as a boy, so I take it your companions thought you were one. That suggests to me that you couldn’t have done anything with them, or they would certainly know you were a girl!”

  “Done what?”

  “How did you sleep? Did any clothing come off?”

  “Never! I was very careful. Not once, except when I sewed my trousers, and I did that while hiding on a rooftop. We shared barns and haystacks, and horse stalls, though, and so, if proximity does the business, well…I do remember that Maman said, ‘Never be alone with a man.’?

  “You cannot get with child by sharing a barn with a man, or even two men! You have to share a lot more than that.” Hortense let out a peal of laughter. “I think we shall have to have a talk in the carriage, which I will order this very moment. And then we’ll talk about other things, like, are you musical? Maman loves music almost as much as she loves flowers. Don’t be afraid. You’ll love Maman, I promise you. Everyone does.” She sighed, then amended, “Almost everyone. But as Maman says, the Bonapartes are laws unto themselves.”


  “OH, DEAR HORTENSE, how very clever you are,” Josephine said, as Aurélie lifted her hands from the beautiful new fortepiano recently delivered from Vienna. She had played a French air, causing Josephine to exclaim with delight. “You’ve brought us a treasure. My dear child, I trust you will remain with us? Did Hortense tell you that Bonaparte and I are forming a theater group here at Malmaison? We both of us are passionate about the arts.”

  “Thank you, Madame. I would be happy to serve you,” Aurélie said. She had reverted to the formal vous, though Josephine used the familiar tu.

  “You say you cannot sing? It is a tragedy, with such musical talent.”

  “My voice was deemed too low, and I never learnt.”

  “La, child, your voice is most ravishing, like a panther’s growl. Not that I have heard a panther or even so much as seen one. But your voice is most singular, and very, very charming. You shall see, the gentlemen will be transported. Bon! Bonaparte is impatient for us to move to Saint-Cloud, but everything smells of paint, and there is that incessant sound, hammer, hammer, hammer. We are getting up a play. That will please him enormously, for he is working night and day on his educational plan. It is to be the most singular, everyone to benefit. Voyons! Hortense says that you arrived in only the clothes you stood in. How very romantical! Let us see what we can contrive, until we can get my seamstress to attend you. So very clever a woman.”

  Josephine rose and led the way out, her movements so fluid she seemed to float. She was as graceful and light as the false Princess Moonbeam, but this was no illusion. Josephine looked what she was, a woman of almost forty years, but the shape of her head, the way she carried herself, embodied style.

  Aurélie followed like someone in a dream. Josephine personally chose a room for her, then wafted away, leaving Hortense to lead Aurélie around the chateau.

  Not that it was large (though larger than it is today); by far the most extensive portion was the garden, constantly undergoing change. It was spring, and it was abundantly clear that Josephine loved flowers as much as she did exquisite furnishings and clothing, if not more. The garden was a sea of color, not a weed in sight.

  “And there you have it,” Hortense finished. She looked around, then said in a lower voice, “When we are alone with Maman, we can talk about your duppy and consult her if she appears. Is she still here?”

  “I must touch hands with her in a mirror to see, but she has followed me all the way from Accompong,” Aurélie said. “I believe she is with me still.”

  “Bon! Bonaparte hates it when Maman talks about obeah, or miracles, or anything such. He does not believe in any of the things we do. Did you know that our Nanny Euphémie predicted that Maman would be married twice, and that the second husband would be covered in glory and would raise her above a queen? Maman sleeps in the rooms of Marie Antoinette, as you have seen. But Madame Villeneuve, the fortune teller, foretold that she would only wear a crown for a little while. Maman will be anxious to consult your duppy to clarify the future.”

  “I will show Madame my duppy, if it pleases her,” Aurélie said slowly. “But I must warn you, she said that she has no powers in the spirit world or this. And she can only talk to me when we touch in the mirror.”

  “That is more than I have ever heard,” Hortense said. “Though I remember many who saw lwa after we danced on the hills. But I was so very small!” She shrugged. “In any case, if your duppy cannot foretell the future, or prescribe magical cures, then she can wait. The future, and cures, are what Maman most wishes, you see. But you are still very welcome for your musical talents, I hasten to assure you. Maman likes to be surrounded by pretty people, and she cherishes those from the islands.”

  “Thank you.” Aurélie dropped a little curtsey, and Hortense acknowledged it with a self-conscious smile “If I may, I have two questions for you,” Aurélie said, as they walked back toward the house. “If one wished to speak to someone. At an embassy, say. How would one go about it? I had a…a musical friend, a violinist, whose well-being I would like to be assured of.”

  Hortense laughed. “Nothing easier! The world comes to us. You will see. Which embassy?”


  “Ah, I haven’t personal acquaintance with anyone there, since the Baron de Staël von Holstein was called back. And Bonaparte hates his wife with such a passion, you cannot conceive!”

  “I do not wish to raise difficulties,” Aurélie said quickly. “My second question is the more important. I wish to write to my mother in Jamaica.”

  “Of course you do,” Hortense said with ready sympathy. “I can ask Monsieur Talleyrand when next we see him, or if he comes to us first, you can ask him yourself. He is the foreign minister. He regularly dispatches letters all over the world, and he is everything of the most kind.”

  “Thank you,” Aurélie said.

  Josephine did not summon Aurélie in order to consult her future with me, which was an intense relief because the irony, of course, was that I knew the broad outlines of her future quite well. But my instinct at this point was to keep that to myself. I couldn’t see it doing any good, but I could definitely see it doing harm, specifically to the stream of history. I’d read a lot about Josephine during college, and though I vaguely recollected those prophesies—and how she constantly consulted people who claimed occult knowledge—not once had I seen reference to a duppy that fitted my description.

  Aurélie’s room had its own salle de bain off it, and a chambermaid to see to her things. This girl, who was younger than Aurélie by two or three years, introduced herself as Marie as she set about putting away the things that Josephine had given her new lady in waiting. “…and so,” Marie said, “Mama told us that we must never use our names again or they would chop off our heads! My brother Paul became Liberté, my sister Jeanne became Floréal, and I was Messidor. Mess-i-dor! It means harvest, I am told, and mordieu, how the others teased me. I am so very, very glad to be Marie again, though it is so common.”

  When at last she left, Aurélie flew to the mirror and smacked her hand against it. “Duppy Kim! Are you there?”

  “Here I am.”

  She drew a deep breath. “I see you. I was a little afraid that you would vanish, now that I am safe.”

  So, there we were. She expected to be done with me, but I knew she hadn’t yet come near the future that was true to my timeline—my existence.

  So far, I’d operated on instinct, and look at the mistakes I’d managed to make. Though I’d spent all this time bound to her, I was not inside her head.

  Spending time around someone doesn’t grant complete knowledge, that much I knew to be true. My sporadic listening at Aurélie’s shoulder wasn’t a fraction of the real time I’d spent with my grandmother, talking to her, listening to her, sharing days with her…but until the summer her cold turned into pneumonia and then a coma, we had known absolutely nothing about Dobrenica.

  Then there was the “future” question.

  Here, I could only go by my own convictions. Like, if someone told me they were from the future, I’d ask first when I was supposed to die, and if they told me that I would one day die in France, I would take the next plane out and avoid France like the plague.

  This was my understanding of the Heisenberg Principle: knowledge of the future was almost certain to affect it.

  In that case, I should not tell her I was from the future.

  So what could I work on? Our relationship. ??
?Hortense gave you good advice, but you could have asked me, and I would have told you that you were not with child.”

  She gazed at me in surprise. “Oh, of course! You are a duppy, not a lwa. That means you do have a body, do you not? I am so used to thinking of you living in the spirit world, I did not think to ask you about matters of the body.”

  “Yes, I have a body.”


  “I’m not exactly sure,” I said, remembering that false door—and the fae vision of me lying on my bed. “But it is very far from here.”

  “Do you have a name besides Kim?”

  “My full name is Aurelia Kim Murray.”

  “We share a name!”

  “Yes. But I am usually called Kim.”

  “How did you come to be a duppy?”

  “I was called by your Nanny Hiasinte.” Who, I realized in that moment, had not told Aurélie that I was from the future. All right, then.

  “Because you can do nothing in the physical world, I did not think to ask you.”

  “I am still learning what I can and cannot do. And things are changing rapidly.”

  “How? Are you gaining powers?”

  I said carefully, “I have somewhat more knowledge of things. Like, in the carriage ride on the way to Malmaison, when Hortense told you the things that some of the Paris fortune tellers predicted for Josephine. I know that some of them are lies.”

  “Oh! Should I tell Hortense, or Madame herself?” Aurélie looked intimidated at that idea.

  Pitfalls again! “I think that might get you into trouble. Remember, there is no way to prove these predictions wrong, and saying ‘my duppy tells me’ will probably cause these others to point out that their spirit guides are telling them something else.”

  “Are you saying that their spirit guides are wrong?”

  “Or that they might be only pretending to have spirit guides. But I can’t prove that, either. One thing I do know, if you accuse them of being false, you are certain to cause resentment in these people, and I don’t think Madame Josephine is going to stop doing what she is doing. I can warn you, I hope. In turn, you can help me by sharing the things that you worry about. Like when you thought you were with child.”

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