Chapter 3: Les Merveilleuses

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"It is a great scandal," Lucie told Annette when she arrived home that evening

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"It is a great scandal," Lucie told Annette when she arrived home that evening.

"Is it to be like a masquerade?" Annette asked. She hovered at Lucie's side while they opened up their mother's trousseau, which had not been aired in years. Lucie half-expected moths to fly out along with the dust motes.

"I believe so. Only without masks. Dresses painted red, as if with blood. Can you imagine?"

"We do not have any red paint."

"We do not need the paint. I am sure not all of the attendees will be so gruesome. Here, perhaps this one?" Lucie plunged her hands in and pulled out a creamy white gown embroidered all over in butterflies. The satin fabric had aged somewhat.

Annette stepped back as Lucie carried the gown to the bed and laid it out. Then she studied the page in the magazine Lucie had found left on a bench in the Tuileries, a lucky find. She had been unsure of how ball gowns as she remembered them would work in sheer fabrics. "I do not see how we can turn that dress into one like this."

The page Lucie had folded over showed a woman in a Grecian-looking costume, belted and low cut and sheer, draping over the body in a suggestive way.

Lucie hauled up the enormous skirt and pulled out one of the layers of fabric underneath. "We can use this."

"You wish to cut up Maman's gown?" Annette blinked, her eyes gleaming.

"I do not wish to." Lucie frowned. "We have no money for a new gown, for new fabrics. I am no dressmaker nor am I a seamstress." She sighed. "I do not think I can attend this ball."

"Can you not pay with credit?" Annette asked. "That is how Maman always did it. She asked to add it to her account."

Lucie threw up her hands. "We no longer have accounts! We are destitute, if you could not look around you and see it. We are lucky that our landlord has some kindness left in his heart for us, instead of turning us out on the streets."

"I wish we had never come here," Annette said, tossing the magazine onto the bed and drifting toward the wardrobe, where she stared into its depths as she so often stared into the fire. "Do you remember when we lived in the country? When we had a house all to ourselves, and horses and carriages and servants, and we always had food to eat?"

The corners of Lucie's mouth tugged down. Those had been lovely days, before all the upheaval had driven the royals and the other nobles out of Versailles and forced them to reside in Paris, in the heart of France. Her parents had taken the apartments on the Rue de Colisee, lavish quarters, but not nearly as fine as the country house.

And then, after all everything that had happened... Monsieur Simonet had allowed them to occupy the apartments that had been his own. They were better than servants' quarters, or any of the apartments Lucienne might have been able to afford otherwise. But they were cramped with all the furnishings Lucie and Annette had been able to move.

Of course, the apartments were dim, for they could not afford much oil for the lamps, and generally cold, for they could not afford much firewood or coal. Now, in the heat of Thermidor, the rooms were temperate.

"Perhaps..." Lucie said, then shook her head. "No, it would not work."

"What?" Annette asked.

"Perhaps I could fashion my nightdress into a gown? Oh, Annette." Lucie sank onto the bed. "I cannot do it."

"That might work!" Annette's eyes gleamed, and she came over to the bed and hopped up beside her sister. "Leave it to me, Lucie. I will make you a beautiful gown. Perhaps... perhaps I can use bits from one of Maman's other gowns to make it suitable. I was always good at embroidery!"

"You are," Lucie said. Impulsively, she wrapped her arms around Annette and kissed the top of her undone hair. "I wish you could come with me."

Neither of them said anything further. Both of them knew all the reasons why Annette could not go.   

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