Jubilee, A Novel
Marie could hear sporadic gunfire sputtering in the distance behind her. Fear lent her speed as she plunged down the empty passageway, lit only by moonlight through curtained windows, and past unused furniture and gilded mirrors festooned with dusty silk draperies. It was difficult to run in her voluminous court gown and her high-heeled slippers fashionably too small for her feet. She was only the keeper of perfumes, a mere servant--not an aristocrat. But the street scum--they called themselves the Paris Commune--would see the yards of pale blue silk in her gown and the rope of pearls at her throat, and they would not ask for her lineage. She knew this because she had once been one of them--and soon would be again, if she survived this night--if the Swiss Guards could keep the Communards from entering the Tuileries long enough for one insignificant servant to slip away.
La Comtesse de Passy, Marie's employer, must be dead now or taken. The old woman had tried to escape the palace in a closed carriage. The mob, very much afraid that the royal family would again take flight, stopped the carriage. Marie, watching from a window, had seen La Passy dragged out screaming, to be engulfed by the crowd. Marie hated the aristocrats almost as much as did the people of Paris but she pitied that helpless old woman who had been kind to Marie--for an aristocrat. Marie sincerely hoped that Le Duc de Fallieres, La Passy's nephew, had not escaped. He had been disguised as the carriage driver. When the mob surrounded them, he jumped down and disappeared into the crowd. He was a filthy beast who deserved far worse than the guillotine. The lowest beggars from the gutters of Paris were far better men than he. But La Passy was a harmless dowager with a penchant for younger men. She deserved a less horrifying fate.
Marie shook herself and ran on, determined not to share the old Comtesse's fate. When she had seen the death of her mistress played out before her very eyes, she knew that her life in the Royal Palace was ended. It was time to go.
The instinct for survival was strong in her. It was the reason she had managed the transformation from barefoot urchin in the streets of Paris to a keeper of perfumes for a lady of the royal court.
Her footsteps echoed hollowly in the empty passageway. This way was rarely used, except as a servants' shortcut, but somewhere it had a small side door that opened onto the gardens.
Marie paused for a moment to catch her breath. Sounds of shooting were faint now--she could barely hear them over her own ragged breath. She strained her ears to catch the sound of anyone approaching. The passageway smelled of dampness and dust and very faintly a hint of--smoke? Was the Tuileries on fire? It wouldn't surprise her.
She went on more slowly now. She could simply run no more for a while. As she walked, she thought back on her life in this place. It had been very pleasant in a way. There was little for a keeper of perfumes to do with her day, so Marie had filled her time with gossip and card games with footmen, chambermaids and lackeys. The card playing had been rather lucrative. She sighed when she thought of the 17 lovely gold louis sewn into the lining of her best coat. It would be a long and dangerous journey down to her little room. A journey not worth making. If the Swiss Guard succeeded in keeping the revolutionaries out of the palace, Marie would come back someday for her coat. If not, some happy Communard, thinking only to steal a warm coat, would discover a small fortune--enough to feed a family for months, even considering the inflated food prices that rose a little more every day.
She was glad, however, that she no longer had to avoid Fallieres and his casual but persistent advances. If she had been forced to reject him openly, she was certain to have lost her position. To accept would have been far worse. What he did with young ladies was whispered among all the servants. It was rumored that one girl had even cut her wrists after a night with him. Marie had never sought details of his perversions--she didn't need to know them. The look in his heavy-lidded eyes was enough. She prayed that he was dead now or would be soon.
Her heart leaped when she saw the little door through which she hoped to make her escape. She hurried to it, but froze just as she reached out for the knob. Outside in the garden she could hear quiet voices, and the sound of grim laughter. Marie's knees were so weak they would not hold her up. She sank to the floor in a pool of pale blue silk. She could go neither forward nor back--she was trapped.
* * *
The perfume of summer lay heavy on the garden basking in the brilliant afternoon sunshine. Bees hummed on the rambler roses that overwhelmed the cool, dim summerhouse.
"History was changed last night." Jake Dawson, clad in dark gray knee breeches and stark white hose, sat with his long legs out in front of him on one of the summerhouse benches. He poked idly at the leaf litter on the floor with his walking stick.
"I wish I could have been there!" said Jubilee. Jake's indulgent smile was a flash of white teeth in his strong face. It set Jubilee's blood singing, as it always did. She so rarely got to have him all to herself, she was savoring every moment.
"You wouldn't have enjoyed it. It was definitely not a place for young girls of good family."
She smoothed her white muslin dress, dappled with sunlight. Not a place for young girls! How often had she heard that? She glanced sidelong at him and wondered if he had noticed that she had grown into womanhood. She had loved him ever since she was a mere child four years ago when she was only twelve and he was--according to her father--"a boy with more money than he knew what to do with." Jake had inherited his father's fur and timber export business when he was fifteen. She had overheard the servants whispering that he had to kill a man to keep it.
"Imagine!" she said. "The king driven from the Tuileries by the Paris mob! Who wouldn't want to see that? Nothing so thrilling happened in our revolution!"
Jake laughed. She loved his laugh--it was so rich and warm. At the same time she had an uneasy feeling he might be laughing at her.
"I was quite young at the time, but I'm given to understand that a few thrilling things actually did happen during our revolution!" He really was laughing at her now, but she didn't mind. She smiled back at him, feeling herself blush a little.
Jubilee picked up the nosegay of red roses that had become scattered in her lap. She herself had been born only a few days after the ratification of the Declaration of Independence. Her father, intoxicated with joy over that and her birth, named her Jubilee.
"What will happen to the royal family now?" she asked. "Will they send them packing?"
Jake snorted. "Hardly, my dear, Louis would return in front of a Bourbon army and France's revolution wouldn't turn out as well as ours." He paused. His hands were rough and brown, in odd contrast to the elegant walking stick they held.
"There's a rumor," he said, "that the royal family is going to be sent to the Temple--for their own protection it is said."
Jubilee raised her eyebrows.
"But the Temple is a prison, a horrible place. I have heard it is as bad as the Bastille ever was."
"That's true. No one escapes the Temple. If they go there, I don't think they'll ever leave, except to go to the guillotine."
"Oh, surely not. The dauphin is a harmless little boy. Why should he be killed? Perhaps the king will abdicate in his favor."
She wondered why Jake didn't wear a wig, like her father did. His unruly brown hair was merely caught at the nape of his neck with a black silk ribbon. Small locks were always escaping. It gave him a slightly wild, uncouth look. She always longed to touch his hair, to smooth it. Jake's disturbing smile had vanished and now he was soberly thoughtful.
"As long as any member of the royal family is alive the French Republic is in danger," he said softly.
Jubilee held the roses to her nose and inhaled their fragrance.
"I hope not," she said. "There has been so much death already. Perhaps someone clever can think of a solution."
Jake smiled at her gently. "Perhaps someone can," he said.
They listened companionably to the bees droning in the sunlight. Jubilee covertly studied Jake's face. He had beautiful eyes, deep and crackling with intelligence. Now, though, his gaze seemed miles away.
After a while he sat up a little straighter. "But I want to talk to you about something besides politics," he said. "Although I wish to speak with your mother and father, I must talk to you first."
Jubilee's breath caught in her throat. Jubilee's mother had been overseeing the making of marmalade when Jake came calling unannounced. Jubilee had been given the happy chore of entertaining him until her mother was free to receive him.
"I'm not exactly sure how to begin. I . . . "
Quick footsteps sounded on the stone pathway. It was Yvette, the little maid who helped Jubilee's mother with the house.
"Monsieur Dawson, Madame will receive you now," Yvette said fluttering, as usual, like a little wren. Jake rose fluidly to his feet.
"Thank you, Yvette. Come, Jubilee, walk me to the house and we'll talk." He offered her his arm. She took it, with a wave of excitement. This is it, she thought. He has finally noticed me.
Yvette set her pointed chin and pouting lips in what she obviously thought was an attitude of sternness.
"Madame says that Mademoiselle is to practice piano now."
Jubilee, suddenly angry, nearly stamped her foot, but she had promised herself she would stop using such a childish gesture. Yvette was ruining the moment!
"Run along, Yvette," said Jake easily, before Jubilee could do more than sputter impatiently. "Mademoiselle will be at her piano shortly."
Yvette clicked her tongue and bobbed a courtsey. Her heels tapped rapidly on the stones as she flitted away. Jake waited for the maid to get out of sight, and then led Jubilee to the pergola that covered the path most of the way to the house.
"When will your father be home?" Jubilee looked at him sideways. It was an unexpected question.
"Not until this evening. Why do you ask?"
"When he returns I'm going to ask him for your hand in marriage."
Jubilee gasped. "Oh, Mr. Dawson, I . . . " He turned and engulfed her hands in his. She stared at those hands. He had never touched her in such a personal way before. The import of it made her giddy. Whatever it was she had thought to say, she forgot it.
"I know I may be too late," he said. "But it's very important that you consider my offer."
"Too late?" she murmured. It didn't make any sense.
"Your mother and father are my dearest friends," he said. "I would be a very good husband to you, you have my word on that. I would do everything in my power to make sure you are always comfortable and contented." He said it all in a rush as if he had rehearsed it. It was not at all what she had imagined he would say. He still held her hands. Suddenly she wanted to pull them away. A chill had settled in her breast, defying the afternoon sun.
I love you, she thought. I have never wanted anything more than to be your wife. She thought it, but didn't say it. "Tell me that you love me," she said. Jake's eyes widened with surprise. He seemed to go a little pale under his tan.
"I . . . don't know what to say," he said.
Jubilee jerked her hands out of his and backed away. "Say the truth! Say it's good business! Say you wish to merge my father's fortune with yours!"
"Jubilee! You know that I have nothing but the kindest of sentiments for you."
"I will not be an item of barter!" She threw the words at him and then turned and ran.
"No, Jubilee, for the love of God . . ." she could hear him calling behind her. She didn't stop. She dared not stop.
She ran as young ladies weren't supposed to, pulling her skirts up to past her ankles so she could run faster. Hot fury beat in her temples. She nurtured her anger--she cherished it, hoping it would burn away the hurt and humiliation.
She rushed up the veranda steps. The double glass doors into the dining room were closed and curtained against the August sun. She wrenched them open and brushed past the twittering Yvette. Hoping to avoid her mother's sharp questions, Jubilee took the back stairs. Later, when she was calmer, she would discuss Jake's proposal with both her parents. She was fully prepared to throw the fit of the century of she wasn't allowed to refuse him. Later she would deal with the bitterness of this disappointment, but now--she was not to be bought and sold like a cow!
Although she had spared the glass doors downstairs, she slammed her bedroom door with a satisfactory bang. It was unmercifully hot in her room. She pulled off her fichu, the thin muslin scarf that her mother insisted she wear around her shoulders no matter how the heat rose. She splashed her face with water from the washstand and wondered why she didn't feel like crying. She just wanted to be alone with the pounding of her heart. She opened the doors to the little balcony off her bedroom, hoping to catch a vagrant breeze.
She saw her father below in the street paying off a hackney cab. Jubilee's hands flew to her hot cheeks. Father was home early! Why must he turn up just now? She needed time to think. Even an hour later would be better than now. But there was nothing for it. She must speak to him before Jake did. She must see to it that her father was as outraged as she before Jake got to him and persuaded him that an alliance would be a mutual business advantage.
It was just possible that her father would force her into a marriage she didn't want. All her life she had had to do all sorts of unpleasant things that were "in her own best interests," such as learning to play the piano, which she detested--but those were little things. Marrying someone who didn't love her would blight the rest of her life. At sixteen there was still such a lot of it left.
She retied the fichu around her shoulders and gave her hair a quick pat. This time she used the front stairs. Her father was in the front hall giving his hat and stick to Yvette, who gave Jubilee a sharp look as she bustled off with them.
"Papa!" She flew into his encircling hug. "You are home early." His face was long, and Jubilee always thought his features very sophisticated and elegant. Just now his expression was very bland, as it always was when he was concealing something.
"I must speak to your mother. Is she about?"
She wondered if it somehow had something to do with Jake's proposal. She couldn't imagine how it could and knew all questions would be in vain.
"How is my girl?" he said with an affectionate smile. She thought it best to just plunge into what she had to tell him.
"I'm very angry," she said without preamble. "Papa, I must speak with you now, before anyone else does."
"Who has earned your wrath, my child?" He touched the tip of her nose, a tiny caress that always made her smile.
"Mr. Dawson came calling this afternoon." Her father's smile vanished, and his eyes turned to flint. Jubilee faltered. "He's--he's inside speaking with Mama now." His expression was too smooth again; something was wrong.
"I'm very glad that he's here." He spoke softly, but his tone sounded dangerous. Jubilee had a sinking feeling that something here was beyond her understanding. She had never seen her father like this before.
He took her elbow. "Come, my dear, we'll speak to him together, and then you can tell me how he made you so angry."
"I can tell you now," she said. "He asked me to marry him." Her father raised an eyebrow.
"I thought you were in love with him." Jubilee stopped with a jerk.
He smiled again, a real smile, although the hard look remained at the back of his eyes. "Your mother told me--although I had suspected before that."
Jubilee stamped her foot--she couldn't help it.
"How did you know? I never told anyone--it's not even in my diary!"
Her father steered her to the parlor door, a smile touching his lips. "Darling, your mother and I have known you all your life. Do you believe that we do not known you well?"
He paused outside the parlor door. Jubilee looked at him out of the corner of her eye. She suddenly wanted to run away. Jubliee's father took a deep breath and seemed to compose himself. Then he grasped the knobs of the double doors and opened them abruptly. Jake and Jubilee's mother, Christiana, were seated on the twin settees that faced across a low table. Christiana was just pouring tea. Jake's hand seemed too large for the fragile china cup that he held. They both turned startled faces to Jubilee's father. Christiana was the first to speak.
"Neville! Welcome h--"
He silenced her with a look.
"Dawson, you are to leave my house immediately. My attorney will meet with you tomorrow to sunder our business relationship."
* * *
Marie huddled for a while on the cold marble floor of the hallway. She hid her face in her hands and strove to steady herself.
She could still hear an occasional shot in he distance, but she was too far away to hear the crowd that she knew still howled for blood in the Place du Carrousel. She cursed herself. Why didn't she leave a month ago--or last week? Two months ago the mob had broken into Marie Antoinette's apartments. The queen had barely escaped with her life. Only an overturned table had served as a slim barrier between her and payment due for the gross injustices the Bourbon aristocracy had perpetrated on the ordinary people. Things had been very tense since LaFayette had fired upon the mob at the Champ de Mars. Then, finally, this morning a hungry, ragged army had marched on the palace.
Marie sighed and pushed herself to her feet. She hadn't gone last week or last month because she had believed, along with the rest of the court, that the Prussian army, organized by aristocratic exiles, would sweep into Paris and rescue the royal family. Then the comfortable life of one insignificant keeper of perfumes would be secure. That hope seemed foolish now.
She pressed her ear against the door. The voices outside were fading in the distance. Whoever was out there conversed quietly in cultured tones too smooth to be those of the mob. She sighed with relief.
Marie summoned the courage to open the door a fraction. Nothing was visible through the narrow opening but a few flowerbeds dimly lit by distant street lamps. Opening the door a little more revealed a group of blue-uniformed grenadiers walking away in formation. Since they had their backs to her, she decided to risk opening the door even wider, and stuck her head out for a good look. Other than the grenadiers, the garden was deserted.
The garden here was thick with trees, which was both good and bad. Trees would hide her escape, but might also conceal human predators who would kill for a coin or two--or even for a few yards of blue satin. Marie shrugged resignedly. It was as good a chance as she could hope for.
The high-pitched piping of a child's voice drew her attention back to the grenadiers. They had turned to the left to go around a little goldfish pond. Marie gasped. The king was in their midst. The queen, walking beside him, held the little dauphin by the hand. The king's sister and several other members of the court had also availed themselves of the opportunity for safe passage out of the palace. Marie noticed bitterly that there were few servants among them. Commoners could fend for themselves.
She pulled her head back inside. It doesn't matter, she thought as she shut the door quietly, I know how to take care of myself. She felt very sorry for the footmen she used to play cards with. Some of them would be dead by morning.
She herself would survive with any luck at all. First, she must make herself less conspicuous. Pulling off most of her petticoats flattened her skirt. She stepped out of high heels that would be useless in the garden at night. A sparkle caught her eye. On the toe of each shoe was sewn a garnet stud. Marie hastily tore them off. She realized suddenly that from the point of view of a courtier she was about to become desperately poor, but for a former guttersnipe she was wearing a fortune. She pulled off her earrings, her bracelets, the string of pearls from around her neck, and a thin gold chain that she wore as a belt. All were small gifts or cast-offs from her late mistress.
She knotted everything in a fragment of petticoat and shoved the bundle into the top of her corset, then returned to shedding her old identity.
Removing all the pads from her hair reduced its bulk considerably. Unfortunately her hair had been powdered pale blue to match her gown, so she dug through the shimmering pile of petticoats until she found the dark green one. A hastily ripped rough square covered the telltale powder and, she hoped, made her look poor. The makeshift scarf was pure silk, but no one would notice in the dark. Another square rendered a very ragged-looking fichu. Finally she was ready for escape. Her costume could not stand up under an inspection keener than a passing glance, but the transformation might save her life.
Marie grasped the doorknob, filled her lungs as if plunging into deep water, and stepped out onto the landing. She glanced in the direction the royal family had gone. The fortunes of the nobility were no longer her concern. She felt very exposed standing there and quickly descended the steps, darting for the nearest pool of darkness.
Paris roared in the distance. The muskets were quiet for the moment, but the sound of distant pandemonium seemed to disturb the big chestnut trees, causing them to rustle restlessly in the moonlight. She very much felt like running, and indulged herself. Adroitly dodging the fountains, trees, and statues, she instinctively avoided the paved walkways, quickly soaking her stockings in the dew-wet grass. She wished the court had stayed in Versailles, where she knew the gardens well. Here at the Tuileries it was not safe for any member of the court to wander in the gardens. For a year they had been virtual prisoners in the palace--ever since the king's ill-considered escape attempt.
In a corner where two hedges met she checked her headlong flight. Her breath burned in her throat--it was a long while since running away had been a frequent event in her life. The night smelled of leaf mold and green things mixed with a faint intrusion of gunpowder.
A shout followed by tangled voices and broken bits of song pressed her against the hedge. Leaves and twigs prickled her cheek. Had someone seen her? Footsteps came closer accompanied by leaping torchlight. A few faces were sharply illuminated, but the rest were in shadow--about two dozen in all. Knives, cleavers, and pikestaffs glittered sharply. Two of the men carried ancient muskets. Soft red caps, bloody in the fitful torchlight, marked them as Communards. They jollied each other noisily along, but their eyes darted here and there, nervously probing the darkness.
Marie held her breath and watched them clatter by like a fox watches the hounds. But they hunted the king's guards and took no notice of one small, lone woman. When they disappeared in the darkness behind her, she began to breathe again.
She ran a little further, but forced herself to a walk when she came to others in the garden. These were no revolutionaries, but small groups of ordinary folk with pinched, worried faces. A few nodded to Marie, but none gave her a second glance. In the dim garden, her makeshift disguise was good enough; she was afraid it would betray her under the brighter street lamps. She could see through the trees that the street was jammed with sightseers and would-be revolutionaries.
A low wall fashioned like a Greek ruin in miniature was finally all that stood between Marie and the sidewalk. She was too near the light to attempt the street, so she crept west along the nearly useless cover of the wall. Suddenly she spotted a shapeless bundle propped lopsidedly against the ruin. She prayed it was only a small bush or pile of refuse. As Marie drew near, she could see that her suspicions were correct. It was the body of a young woman, perhaps even a girl, very thin and very dead. Marie, kneeling, touched the cold, emaciated face, all skin and cheekbones. There was no sign of any wound, but Marie's childhood in the streets had taught her of many diseases that stalked the hungry. One of them had taken this girl at the doorstep of the fat Bourbon king.
Marie noticed that the girl was wearing a long cloak, torn in places, with the hem long ago frayed away. It was too ragged to sell, or the girl would no longer have possessed it, but it would hide an over--fancy gown and perhaps ensure Marie's survival. Sadness welled up as she lifted it from the thin little body.
"I'm sorry," she whispered. "My need is greater than yours, now." Marie patted the dead girl's arm. "Sleep well, little sister," she said and wrapped herself in the cloak of the girl she might have been.
All the traffic, both foot and carriage, seemed bent on the Place du Carrousel down the street and around the corner to the right. Marie strolled out of the garden casually, taking great care to avoid the eyes of passersby, but there was little interest in her. The people around her seemed consumed with worry and fear. The aristocrats viewed the ordinary folk of Paris as ravening monsters. Marie wondered when she had begun to believe it as well.
Suddenly there was a great, howling roar splattered with sharp blasts of musket fire. The Place du Carrousel was exploding. The mob must have learned that the king had eluded their grasp. Marie continued to stroll toward the corner where she would turn left away from the palace. There she would find alleyways and other dark avenues traditionally useful to those who must slip from one place to another out of sight of curious eyes.
Copyright © 2003 Susan Brassfield Cogan