"Revenge? Lucienne, you cannot mean..."
"I must visit the powder room," Lucie announced without waiting for his answer.
Lucie had no idea where the powder room was, exactly. She did not need to powder her nose, nor relieve herself. She only needed a moment to clear her head without Justine Rouergue's laugh grating in her ears.
Her head buzzed as she hurried from the room. One of the advantages of the new fashions was that she could hurry, and her dress was narrow enough to slip through smaller spaces between people. Had more guests arrived? It seemed like an enormous throng there in the foyer.
"Pardonnez-moi," she said to a passing servant.
Lucie blanched at the man's face. Why had she even looked at him? Her mother had always told her it was beneath her to look a servant in the eyes. This one's eyes were filmy and strange. Cataracts. The man must have been near-blind, though he turned toward her.
"Um, where is the powder room?" she asked.
"Up the stairs, third door on the left," he replied with a bow. She nodded her thanks and nearly sprinted up the stairs, before remembering Chretienne.
There were a few people upstairs now, milling about in the hallway and wandering into the open room. Had anyone discovered Chretienne's body? Lucienne gave the doorway she recalled ducking into a long look before veering the opposite direction and hurling herself into the lavatory.
She nearly gagged on the stench.
It had been so long since she had used a lavatory that was not private that she had forgotten how rank they might become, especially if the servants were not constantly carrying away the waste. This was beyond the normal expectations. Someone had been very, very ill here.
Of course she was not alone, so she coughed and tried to breathe through her mouth. The powder room was richly appointed, with a long counter beneath a mirror, so that ladies might touch up their rouge or fix their hair. And there were two curtains for modesty while using the chamber pots. Lucienne could see the toes of someone's shoes underneath one of the curtains.
Now that she was here, she thought she might as well relieve herself. She peeked around the corner of the other curtain and saw no one. The reek of the chamber pot hit her, and she cover her nose, despite the mouth-breathing. The servants had not been diligent in cleaning up, that was certain. She supposed with such a party it would be the case. Even the finest palace had its odors. She recalled how, in Versailles, many of the halls stank of excrement. The king's hunting dogs were allowed to go whenever they pleased, and the guests were little better, and that was when the king was alive and people still had manners. She had never attended a ball with such drunkenness and impolite behavior on display as it was tonight. It also appeared that someone before her had missed the pot.
Perhaps she could wait to go.
She approached the mirror and looked at herself. She looked ghastly. Her hair was beginning to curl and come undone, despite all her careful work with the pins. The powder she had used tonight had been Maman's, and it was possible that the powder was old. Unfortunately, she had not brought along any extra powder to cover up the places where she had rubbed off or sweated through. She had not even realized she had been sweating so profusely. All she had in her reticule was the piano wire and a handkerchief, a pocket mirror, and a few coins.
Olivier Legrand seemed like a lovely gentleman, but she had not come here for that purpose. His kindness, his empathy for her sister's situation, had only reminded her how awful she was in comparison. She had come here for revenge, and revenge she would have. The actual idea of killing someone still felt surreal to her, however. If only Chretienne had not already been dead, she would have had the first murder done and over with.
The problem was getting someone alone. Her attempts to lure Nicholas away had failed, all because of who she was. If she could find him alone, that would be different.
A plan unfurled in her head, and she cast about for a scrap of paper and a pen. Nothing here. Perhaps in another room. Or...
"Excuse me, would you happen to have a bit of paper?" she called to the lady behind the curtain.
No answer came, and it was in this ensuing silence that Lucienne realized how quiet the lady had been this entire time. Music could be heard faintly from downstairs, but otherwise there had been no sounds. Some ladies did have difficulty relieving themselves with others present. Even so, Lucie was sure she would have heard some small sound, breathing or the rustling of fabric. The music from below was not so loud. And squatting over a pot for such a length of time would certainly strain most ladies.
"Are you all right?" Lucie asked.
Again, no answer.
Lucie looked at herself in the mirror. She should leave the lavatory, she knew she should simply leave and search another room – not the room where Chretienne's body lay – for the pen and paper, and yet... Those shoes beneath the curtain.
Their placement seemed odd. Almost as if the lady had sat directly on top of the chamber pot and fallen over.
She lifted her chin at her own reflection. Why should she care if some foolish girl drank too much and lapsed into unconsciousness? It was no business of hers. She could go on her way and leave the girl to learn a lesson.
Those shoes, though. They looked familiar, as well.
She had taken her own shoes off downstairs. And she had noted the shoes of the lady beside her, as she danced away: beaded, with a bow at the heel.
Could there be another with the same style? Unlikely, as Jeanne-Baptiste would surely have had her shoes custom-made, to her own specifications. Not a simple shoe like Lucie's own, which lay forgotten beneath some chair in the ballroom.
Lucie turned and assessed the curtain. If Jeanne-Baptiste had passed out, what better scenario for Lucie to begin her plan for revenge? If not, well, the worst would be seeing someone relieving herself, a bigger embarrassment for Jeanne-Baptiste than for Lucie.
She took two strides toward the curtain and shoved it aside.
"You drunken jade," Lucie said to the woman sprawled on the floor, even as she covered her mouth to keep from gagging. "Mon Dieu, it is as if you shit your brains out in the pot before you went." Judging by the mess, however, she added, "Or after."
Truly, the stench of fecal matter overwhelmed her, and she had to back away and vomit into the other chamber pot. She wiped her mouth, gagged again, then finally composed herself. Marching back over to the other curtain, Lucie reached into her bag and pulled out the piano wire.
"This will truly not hurt a bit," she said, stepping forward and around the mess.
How had she imagined this would be a simply tightening of the piano wire? Lifting Jeanne-Baptiste's head, with its enormous pile of hair, proved nearly impossible, and in doing so, Lucie saw the blood-tinged vomit that had crusted around Jeanne-Baptiste's mouth and down the front of her gown. "Ugh!" Lucie said, standing.
Something gave her pause then. Jeanne-Baptiste had not made a single sound throughout Lucie's manhandling of her. Now Lucie stared at that impressive bosom, waiting for it to rise with bated breath. "Please breathe," she whispered.
So long passed that Lucie herself had to gasp for breath.
After jamming the piano wire back into her bag, she withdrew her pocket mirror, a silver-plated case that snapped open and shut and had been no small source of interest when she had received it on her tenth birthday. She flipped it open now, and held it beneath Jeanne-Baptiste's nose with a trembling hand. Before the waiting could drive her mad, she resorted to counting.
By two hundred and eleven, the mirror had not fogged with breath once.
"No," she moaned, the sound coming from deep inside her chest. She struggled to her feet and thrashed her way out from behind the curtain.
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...