Revenant Eve by Sherwood Smith

  And the musicians all took their places.

  Aurélie had been assigned to one of the salons away from the Gallery of Diana, which was the main reception room and contained the professional orchestra from the opera, also whisked away to perform yet again.

  The farther salons all had at least a trio stationed in them, the idea being that guests would hear music no matter where they wandered in that long string of rooms.

  Aurélie was playing on a beautiful Pascal Taskin harpsichord that someone had managed to save from the revolutionary mobs. Later, I overheard Marie say that the Versailles servants and their counterparts in Paris had melted away when the troubles began, knowing that no one would defend them, though the poor Swiss Guards had stayed to the end, ripped apart by the murderous horde. Many of the escaping servants had saved what they could, including musicians who dismantled the better instruments to hide in barrels and boxes until the troubles were over. Throughout Paris these treasures were slowly making a reappearance.

  Playing with Aurélie were two other young women, one with a cello, and the other on a clarinet.

  In the distance trumpets blared. “They’re here,” hissed a maid, scurrying with her tray, the dishes rattling.

  Aurélie settled on her stool, exchanging excited, frightened glances with her trio, none of whom was any older than she. Then came the noise of arrivals, and the pretty room filled with people in fashionable new clothes, talking and laughing as the many candles gave off waves of heat that I could see in flushed faces, busy fans, and wilting flowers, even if I couldn’t feel it.

  The trio at first played nervously. They smoothed it out, playing beautifully, though they could have been banging away on washboard, kazoo, and cowbell for all the attention guests paid them.

  But they played womanfully on, and when Napoleon marched through with a comet tail of hangers-on and petitioners, they gained a nod of approval from him.

  It was later, probably about three a.m., when Hortense appeared, leading a tall, handsome young man with blond hair neatly pulled back, and light brown eyes.


  “Aurélie, this envoy wished to be introduced to the player of such charming music. Monsieur Dsaret, may I present Mademoiselle Aurélie de Mascarenhas? Monsieur Dsaret is from, what was it? Poland, via the Swedish legate?”


  He’s the guy, I shrieked, though I didn’t dare touch Aurélie. Jaska is the guy!

  “It is close enough.” Jaska spread his hands.

  “You said you are also a musician?” Hortense asked him.

  “I play a little,” he said modestly, as I was thinking, It’s him! It’s him! Light brown eyes, blond hair…Dsaret! Why isn’t he telling them he’s crown prince of Dobrenica?

  Because maybe he wasn’t?

  They chattered a little about music, then Hortense said to the trio, “You may take a little time for refreshments.”

  This was generous, since they’d been told they were expected to play until dawn. The cellist and clarinetist walked away. Hortense caught sight of another guest and left the two alone.

  “I had to see if it was really you,” Jaska said.

  Aurélie ducked her head. “I hope you will forgive me for the deception.”

  Jaska raised a hand. “I comprehend that we were honored with a Chevalier d’Eon when I assumed a disguise of necessity.”

  “You guessed?” She flushed with embarrassment.

  “I was not so sure at first.” He glanced to the side, then said in a low voice, “When I was young. My sister and I…” He trailed off.

  Aurélie didn’t prompt him for more. “Does Mord know? About me?” She looked past him and asked, “Where is he? Is he in Paris, or did he return to Poland?”

  His face smoothed into polite reserve. “Mord never guessed. You must remember he has difficulty seeing things close by without his spectacles. Do you wish me to be the bearer of a message to him?”

  Aurélie fingered her necklace, then quickly dropped her hands. “Oh, no. I—I merely miss his violin playing.” She seemed to feel how inadequate that sounded and blushed again.

  Jaska’s expression cooled from polite to inscrutable as he bowed. “I will convey your words. Au revoir, Mademoiselle.” He walked off, leaving me face-palming metaphorically, since I didn’t have face or palm. For the first time, Jaska had mentioned his family, but Aurélie (quite naturally, if you’re crushing on someone else) galloped right past.

  My soaring hopes smashed, leaving me depressed and even desolate. Alec seemed farther away than ever, his very existence threatened by my inability to act.

  Aurélie was awakened a few hours after she went to sleep.

  I came out of the blur, determined to do something. Whether or not Jaska Dsaret was Aurélie’s future prince, at least he was from the right family. It’s progress, I told myself firmly. I had to make certain the two met again.

  Hortense stood there as Aurélie blinked at the window in the mid-morning light. Hortense was still in her gala gown, though somewhat rumpled.

  “Have you been to bed at all?” Aurélie asked, sitting up.

  “I am going now. Listen, I promised I would find a way to introduce you to Talleyrand, which has puzzled me exceedingly. I hoped to bring him to you last night, but he was in the Gallery, surrounded in a positive crush. I could not get him away, or you, without causing a deal of talk. It will probably always be that way at galas, for your duties will keep you in one place, and Bonaparte often keeps Talleyrand at his side.”

  Aurélie got out of bed, and Hortense followed her to her little salle de bain, still talking. “And I cannot take you to his house, which is a shame, as he gives the very best parties in Paris. Bonaparte has taken against Madame Grand, Talleyrand’s hostess.”

  Aurélie paused in washing her face and blinked in surprise.

  Hortense sighed. “It is vexatious. Bonaparte now wants all his principle leaders married, you see, but he does not approve of Talleyrand marrying Madame Grand. But however, I think mother will have her way there, for she is always tender-hearted.”

  “I do not understand.”

  “Alors!” Hortense waved her hands. “That is not what I came to say. The important thing is, Talleyrand comes to Bonaparte every morning, that is, morning as he sees it, midday at least. You must catch him on the way in.” As Aurélie brought her hands up in apprehension at the idea of trying to corner one of the most famous men in France, Hortense said, “He is very polite. Even if he refuses, you will not know it, I assure you. And he may agree to send your letter. He can be very kind, even when it is not required. Especially to a pretty woman. But it is best to catch him coming or going, or you will be kept waiting forever. If you were to volunteer to take Fortuné II into the square for his morning walk, you could watch for Talleyrand while the dog is about his affairs.” And she gave a quick description of the famous minister.

  As she did, Aurélie hung up her towel and turned around. She had not taken off the necklace. It glittered above the neck of her nightdress, and Hortense paused, then looked closely. “Where did you get that? It looks very old. You already have a suitor?”

  Aurélie flushed and said with dignity, “I do not seek a husband.”

  Hortense laughed as she flitted away.

  Aurélie dressed quickly, then hunted up Agatha Rible, Josephine’s personal maid, who was delighted to find a volunteer to help walk the dogs. Fortuné I had been Josephine’s favorite of her many adopted strays.

  “Where is his ribbon?” the woman said. “Here! Green again. Pardieu! How strange life is. During the early days, green meant liberty, but then it was declared the color of aristocrats, and no one dared use it. Then, when Barras ruled France and Madame Tallien and our dear Madame ruled society, I do not remember why, but it must always be a green ribbon for one’s dog, as the ladies walked about in their damped muslins. Then that fashion passed, and here we are again, green is fashionable again, and still yet for a different reason. It is the First Co
nsul’s favorite color, but the clothes, ah, everyone is respectable, now that life is less uncertain. There.” The woman straightened up, regarding the little dog with satisfaction.

  Fortuné was small, with silky hair brushed every day. His collar was studded with real gemstones. He wagged his tail tentatively as Aurélie took the ribbon in hand, and then, understanding that he was to be let out of the small room where he was kept out of Bonaparte’s way, he trotted happily, ears flopping.

  Servants, guards, ministers and secretaries alike smiled as Aurélie and the dog passed.

  Aurélie ventured into the enormous Place du Carrousel, which was dotted with the leavings of all the carriage horses of the night before, as well as the horses of the officers going in and out of the Hôtel de Longueville on the opposite side.

  The dog sniffed happily at every speck as Aurélie searched among the crowd of military figures. There was no “older man, still quite handsome, dressed perfectly in the old fashioned style, his hair light.”

  She walked the dog toward the river and along the new quay. She paused at the railing and looked down at the pretty gravel walk lined with flowers and shrubs leading to the colorful bathing machines. The busy washerwomen out on the water called to one another and laughed as they worked.

  Aurélie turned back, tugging the dog away from a flock of birds pecking at a pile of garbage. From the crowd came a thin cry, “Aw-ray-LEE!”

  She turned. There was Diana Kittredge pelting toward us, one hand pressing her spectacles on her nose, the other keeping her bonnet on.

  “Diana?” Aurélie exclaimed as Diana drew up, grinning.

  Diana was breathless. “I have been walking up and down for an age, hoping you might come out. I did not dare to inquire.” Diana glanced back at the Place du Carrousel, then laughed. “Oh, Aurélie, you look beautiful. You have no conception how furious Mama is! Serves her out, too. She was so smug, you should have heard her, all the way down the road from Dieppe. What happened? I have been so very worried!”

  “I found a safe passage to Paris, after a time,” Aurélie said, with Olympian understatement. She obviously didn’t want to upset Diana. “How did you know I was here?”

  “Papa took Cassie to the opera last night, as James went to another theater with a party of young gentlemen.”

  “But you did not go?”

  “Mama declared I ought not, as there might be something warm in it. So I took great care to read Mary Wollstonecraft instead, though Mama is not to know. They had the most abominable seats, in fact, they were still standing about in the crowd, unable to reach them, when Napoleon Bonaparte and all his party arrived, and Cassie said you could have knocked them down with a feather when they saw you.”

  “I did not see them,” Aurélie said.

  Diana swept on, unhearing. “Oh, it is so very good to see you, and to know that it truly was you, and that you are well. I am so happy.” Diana blinked tears away as she tucked a straying lock of brown hair back into her bonnet. Her tightly buttoned spencer jacket looked out of place among the simpler empire-waisted gowns the French wore, and she was flushed both from running and the warm air.

  The two girls stared at one another mistily, neither speaking, as if they were so full of possible subjects they couldn’t choose which one to begin.

  “It is wonderful to see you, too,” Aurélie said finally, and blinked away her own tears. “How…how do you find Paris?”

  I wondered if she had meant to ask about James, and changed her mind, as they stood in the middle of the quay, oblivious to the breakneck pace of carriages, hired chairs, tourists and loungers, the tangle of street-sellers hawking their wares…and oblivious to a pair of tall, drifting figures with long black wings that looked like rippling cloaks.

  “Strange—beautiful—ugly, all by turns. Oh, Aurélie, to think you were in the box with him! Everyone talks about Bonaparte. They do not know whether he is a monster or the greatest man in France. Building going on everywhere by his order, and Providence knows, they need it.”

  Diana looked around, completely missing the winged beings, who both smiled our way as they passed. “I always heard how beautiful Paris is, but I find much of it sadly shabby,” Diana said, as chill permeated me, soft and indefinable as vapor. “These buildings remind me of molting birds. All scarred! The chambermaid told me that’s where the revolutionaries knocked the fleur-de-lis off, and other noble coats of arms, during the dreadful days when she said the street quite ran with blood so it got into the river, and the stink! Only I don’t know how it could stink worse than it does now. James said that the older parts of London are quite as bad, but that is neither here nor there. I was most disappointed that I could not find out the important buildings. Everything is changing so much, they all say.”

  “Which buildings?” Aurélie inquired.

  Diana waved her arms. “The ones where the important women, the ones cognizant of making history, stood up. I know about the Champs de Mars, where everyone laid down their titles, but that place was made horrid by a massacre. Where exactly did Olympe de Gouges deliver her Declaration of the Rights of Woman and the Female Citizen? Where did Madame Roland work on the treasury? No one can tell me. No one seems to want to talk about them at all. At least tell me you have seen their ghosts?”

  Aurélie said, “I am sorry, Diana. I have not seen any ghosts. I only see my duppy.”

  “There are ghosts all over,” I said. “I can’t say for certain who they are.”

  Aurélie repeated my words.

  “Oh, I seem doomed never to see anything.” Diana let out a sharp sigh. “I shall not repine. It is enough to know they are there.” She clapped her hands to the sides of her bonnet. “Why have my wits flown away? I have more to tell you, and I must do it before Mama sweeps us back to England. She desires our departure today, if she can contrive it.”


  Diana grinned. “That is the best part, and you have no notion how much I hoped to see you—and it would really be you—so I could tell you. Because I don’t know how I would get a letter to you else, without Mama seeing it, and then, would they even deliver to Paris? Anyway, it was at breakfast this morning. The English legate’s lady has relations also staying at the Hotel Penthievre, and so we English all ate together, or I assure you we should not have had such fine company.”

  Diana made a face, as from the Garden of the Tuileries drifted tall, winged figures. They were joined in their slow motion drift by a flock of them from the Place de la Revolution.

  “I have not met any English ladies,” Aurélie said.

  “But Lady Whitworth knows of you. At least, she turned to Mama, after they were talking of the opera. Some gentleman was saying that you were said to be the most beautiful of the new ladies-in-waiting, and then the legate’s wife said, ‘She is the daughter of a Portuguese marquis, I am told. Mrs. Kittredge, is this not the same name I remember your sister Bouldeston inquiring about at the Admiralty? If so, you have managed to do very well by her.’ Mama was near to choking!” Diana laughed.

  Aurélie blushed, looking down.

  “But don’t you see, Aurélie? Mama could not slander you without exposing herself, after that! So she could only say something about how she believed that you were related to the Taschers of Martinique. You know, ‘believed,’ like she didn’t believe it at all. I suspect Lady Whitworth does not like Aunt Bouldeston, because her tone was like that, you know, a smile, but cutting, when she said, ‘Whatever else they say about Josephine Bonaparte—and they say plenty, as you no doubt have heard—she is apparently generous to her ladies. With those looks, even with the touch of the tar brush, which I understand is to be expected of Spaniards, that girl could catch herself a general or a duke at the least. I hope you may do as well for your girls.’”

  “Oh, Diana.”

  “Yes, that about the tar brush was nasty, but for all of me, that fling about ‘your girls’ was a capital hit! Though I felt a little sorry for Cassie, who had already endured
a scolding for making eyes at the legate’s secretary whose family is nothing. I am so very glad I know whom I shall marry.”

  Diana bent down to ruffle the dog’s fur, still talking. “Afterward, when we were alone, Mama raged and stamped, and Papa said it was her own fault. James agreed! Cassie and I fled, but I heard Mama shrieking that she would leave this benighted city today, if it was the last thing she did, and he must order a carriage, and she would pay our respects to the proper people and make our excuses.”

  “I will never understand why she hated me so much.”

  “Papa said that Mama fears the rules about rank and place will change. We will wake up one day, and it will be the Revolution, only in England. Mama is afraid of losing everything she has.” Diana bent once again to pet Fortuné. “But I don’t think I can forgive her for being hateful. What a pretty little dog. Yours?”

  “Madame Josephine’s.”

  My attention was divided between the girls and the winged beings, who prowled around us in a circle of soft, floating shadow.

  “Fancy! I shall have to tell Cassie to tell Lucretia in her letter that I petted Madame Bonaparte’s dog. It will put Cassie into a good humor again. Aurélie, I had better go, for I have been walking about this age, and I do not want Mama raving at me next. But I wanted to tell you that, if I could, and to say, after I turn eighteen, do write to me, care of Charles Kittredge, who is now serving as curate at the parsonage in Winkton Grange, in Yorkshire’s East Riding. I mean, you could write to him now, of course, and he would save the letters, but remember that Mama reads all our letters. So he could not send me anything from you.”

  “I understand,” Aurélie said, tearing up again.

  Diana took a short, decisive breath. “I didn’t tell anyone this, even you, for it wasn’t entirely my secret to tell, but as soon as I turn eighteen, Cousin Charles and I have made a pact to marry, even if I have to run away. I quite like the idea of helping the poor, if that is where he is to remain. We are agreed that we would not like to spend our lives looking across the breakfast table at someone you haven’t a particle of affection for, just because he, or she, is rich. For you know, my aunt and uncle expect him to marry an heiress, at least, if he must be a clergyman. As for me, no rich man would have me, Mama says. But I don’t care a fig!”

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