After handing her cloak to a servant, Lucienne was greeted by none other than Chretienne Laurent, whose father had been executed on the same day as Robespierre. The pinched-looking girl had her hair swept up and teased into a high bouffant, making her appear even taller than she already was. Instead of having curls framing her face and covering the back of her neck, as Lucie did, Chretienne had her entire neck exposed and a large comb to keep it all up in the back.
It took Lucie a moment to understand why the comb appeared so familiar. Women and men alike had to have their hair pinned up when put under the blade, so that the blade did not encounter even this small resistance. Lucie swallowed thickly. She supposed it was cleaner to not have both hair and blood coating the guillotine blade.
And here Chretienne wore such a comb in her hair, and jerked her head forward in greeting.
Lucie was glad to have encountered this greeting already. "I am sorry to hear of your father," Lucie said, but Chretienne waved her hand. A red ribbon adorned her wrist as well as her neck.
"I shall not hear any more condolences this evening! I am through with mourning, no matter what my mother might say."
True enough, Chretienne did not wear the traditional mourning black but instead a white dress similar to those in the fashion magazine. Now that Lucienne had stopped to notice it more fully, she realized that it was in fact sheer. She lifted her eyes past the bosom that put her own exposed cleavage to shame and smiled as brightly as she could manage.
"Of course! We have all mourned for so long. Tonight is a night to celebrate the end of la Revolution!" Lucie said. "Your idea for this party is a grand one."
"My idea? No, no, I had nothing to do with all of this. I wish I could take credit, but alas."
"Oh, je suis désolée! I assumed you were our hostess! Where is our host, then?"
Chretienne shrugged. "No one has stepped forward to claim the title. Fine by me, so long as there is champagne!"
"Let us toast then, for we have not seen your face since the Terror began!" Chretienne already had a champagne glass in hand, and she looked about and waved for a servant to bring over another. "I hope you have not been in mourning this whole time. How dreary. And dull. I have only been in mourning a month and I tire of it."
Lucie might have told her that she had, in fact, been in mourning for nearly a year of the two since she had been absent from society. She might have added that her time outside of mourning had been a different sort of grief in itself – the mourning of her life as she once knew it, gone.
Instead, Lucie imagined plunging her stiletto into Chretienne's eye and how the blood might pour forth and drip down her rouged cheek.
A servant arrived just then and placed a glass into her hand. "À votre santé!," Lucie said, raising it.
"À la tienne," Chretienne responded. "And a l'ancien regime!" She tilted her head back and poured nearly the entire glass down her throat.
Lucie sipped her own champagne. To toast the old regime only months ago would have been cause for execution. She was not sure how to feel about a return to the old ways. She had grown up in the aristocracy, and yet it had been that very institution that had led to the deaths of her parents.
"Your dress is quite the fashion," Lucie said.
With a shrieking laugh, Chretienne waved to someone across the room. "We shall have to reminisce later," she said. "My dance partner calls!"
Lucie blinked at the rebuff and turned to see who Chretienne was rushing off toward. She did not recognize the young man wearing a short silver brocade coat and dark grey breeches. A familiar face at his side caught her eye, however: Olivier Legrand, Alphonsine's attractive neighbor.
"Pardon me," Lucie said to a couple passing by. The girl had a flurry of gathered ribbons pouring down the front of her gown, attached to a choker about her neck. Her companion wore a light-colored suit with the shirt unbuttoned at the throat to reveal a red ribbon so thin Lucie had to look again to realize that it was not, in fact, a line of blood. "Do you know who is the host of this party? My invitation did not say, unfortunately."
"No one knows," the young man said with a smirk on his rouged lips. "Isn't this all so avant-garde?"
"So mysterious," the girl echoed.
"This is the dawn of a new era," the young man continued. "We are at the forefront!"
Lucie smiled and nodded. "It is unfortunate that I cannot thank our host for such a unique event."
"Perhaps he will reveal himself later. Until then, drink up! The champagne is exquisite." Clinking their glasses together, the couple wandered off. Lucie took another sip from her glass and looked around.
Despite her intentions to have a grand entrance, without an announcement, Lucienne had found herself standing in the foyer. So far she had not seen anyone whom she wished to kill. Then again, she had not stepped onto the dance floor where many stood in small groups conversing while a few couples twirled in time with the music.
Lucie took one step onto the black and white checkered floor of the ballroom. It had been so long since she had heard music like this, a harmony of harps and violins and piano. The band wore black, and whether they wore it because they were in mourning or at the insistence of the host made no difference in how strange it was to see men dressed so somberly playing a lively tune. Lucie found herself humming along, and realized it was a tune of Mozart's. Her mother had loved Mozart's work.
The reminder of her mother made her stop where she was and truly see what lay before her.
They all appeared so damn... joyous. They reveled and frolicked and laughed, as if nothing terrible had ever happened to them. Lucie saw them as a blur of white and red, entirely missing the blue that so often accompanied those two colors now, for the cockades worn by the Revolutionaries. A new flag had been approved, with the tricolor of blue, white, and red. Blue for the bourgeoisie, white for the clergy. Red signified the nobility. She had snorted back a laugh when she had read that. Of course red stood for the nobility, whose blood decorated the Place de Revolution. The flag did not unite the three.
Lucie noticed that she was breathing hard, as if she had been running. The deep breaths drew attention to the blade pressed against her stomach. She thought of the piano wire in her reticule.
She could not kill all of them, even though she wished to. She was not sure she had a nerve to kill any of them. To imagine, she thought, to put so much effort forth to ready herself for this evening, to stand here and neither join in and dance and find herself a husband to save her from all her future years of misery, nor to have her revenge.
It would be better if she simply left.
Now decisive, she turned to go. Unfortunately, someone blocked her escape.
Someone by the name of Nicholas Lamoignon.
YOU ARE READING
The Victim's BallHistorical Fiction
HER REIGN OF TERROR HAS JUST BEGUN... When Lucienne Reneault receives an invitation to a Victim's Ball in honor of those aristocrats who have been guillotined, she believes it must have been a mistake. Of two things she is certain, however: she wil...