3 November 1793
The bells are ringing in Saint-Germain-des-Prés across the Seine. I pull my shawl tighter with each peal as I try to keep my slippers clean as I walk as quickly down the Rue Honoré. The pale pink shoes are the only nice thing I have on. It wouldn’t do to wear the matching silk gown. Papa would have noticed that slipping out the back gate. I borrowed the dress and shawl from Claire, but her feet were too big and her boots clunked and slipped when I walked. I glance up at the darkening sky.
A shout from a man on a mud-splattered white horse stops me. I nearly ran into its path. I turn and cling to a lamppost and lean my cheek into it, squeezing my eyes shut tight. Maybe this is a bad idea.
I came down to breakfast this morning to find Mama fretting around the house, her handkerchief pressing into her reddened eyes. I followed her to the blue parlor at the back of our townhouse.
“Mama?” I ask, placing a hand on her arm and turning her toward me. Her eyes dancing everywhere but on me. “Mama? What is wrong?”
Papa slams open the front door, thumps hurriedly down the hall, bursts upon us, and heads straight to the cognac on the sideboard. Two glasses later, he turns to us.
“It must be tonight, Mama.” She nods. Her eyes seem to focus as her pupils expand engulfing the blue into black.
“What must be tonight, Papa?”
“Ah, ma petite chou, we must leave Paris. Tonight,” he replies, brushing a hand through graying hair. I can smell the drink on his breath, although I’m not near him.
I take a small step back and Mama goes and sits on the sofa, her fingers caressing the soft blue toile. We won’t be able to take it with us. I can tell by the tear threatening at the corner of her eye.
“Where will go, Papa?” I ask, my throat tight and hoarse.
“Austria. Your uncle is there. He will take us in,” he explains as he steadies himself against the door frame, hiding his face from the light coming in through the large windows over looking our garden. “You must go pack, Marie. Lightly.”
I go up the stairs and call for Claire.
There is a cacophony of traffic on the Rue Honoré. Horses and carriages speed by, some to Church, but the down-cast eyes and quickened pace tell me that others feel it too. The cold air has wrapped around our hearts and frozen our minds. I push off of the lamppost and turn again toward the Seine. I can’t stop myself from running. I hope the crowded streets will hide my movements. I don’t want to draw attention.
I’m forced to stop as I turn onto the Pont Neuf when a child runs into me upsetting my basket. I scramble to save the bread from the mud. I’m fast, but the mud is faster. I clean the loafs off on Claire’s skirt and pick off the worst spots before stuffing them back in my basket. I’m sure Henri needs the food, mud or not.
La Conciergerie looms ahead, overpowering the island in the Seine. My mouth has dried. I see the head jailer seated at the door, eyeing the clouds moving overhead. He must have decided the chance for rain is high, for he gets up and moves his chair inside the doorway. I run a sweating palm down my thigh, soothing the fabric into a presentable fall before starting forward.
Packing up my life seems impossible, but Claire and I manage to fit a good deal into my small trunk. Still, there is much I’m leaving behind. I can only take the things I’ll need like my clothes. My dolls will have to watch over an empty room. I wander down the hall and knock on Henri’s door to see if he is packed yet. There’s no answer. I try again and lean my ear to the door. Can he be sleeping through this? I push his door open.
He’s not in his room, nor has his bed been slept in. I press my hand into my breast to stop the pounding as I fly down stairs. “Papa! Papa!”
I nearly collide with Papa as I reach the main floor.
“What is it, Marie?” He steadies me this a firm grip on each shoulder.
“Papa, Henri is missing,” I say with heaving breaths. He pulls me against his chest and talks into my hair, his lips tickling at my hairline.
“Ah, ma petite chou. Ah, Marie. Henri,” his voice cracks. “Henri was arrested.”
“Yes. I fear for us all, Marie.”
A tremor runs through me. “What shall we do, Papa?”
“We go to Austria, Marie,” he says setting me back and looking at me.
I search his deep brown eyes pleadingly. “What about Henri?”
“Your brother will see Madame La Guillotine.” There is a waver in voice and he clenches his jaw before continuing. “There is nothing to be done for him. He’s already in La Conciergerie.”
I gasp and pull away.
“I’m sorry, Marie. Please, we must hurry.”
He turns and heads back down the hall. He wasn’t going to tell me about Henri until it was too late.
La Conciergerie is some place I never thought I would set foot. The head jailer looks up from his chair at me. If he doesn’t agree, I won’t be able to see Henri. I wish Claire was here with me. She would know what to say. I catch myself starting to bite my lip.
“Pardon me, monsieur?” I stammer. He just looks at me with a bored mouth. “I was hoping to see my brother.”
He looks me up and down. I hope my slippers aren’t showing but I’m too afraid to move my skirts under his gaze. He finally sighs.
“What’s in the basket?”
I lift the cloth and hold it out to him. “Just some bread, monsieur.”
He nods and scratches behind his ear. I wonder if he has lice. I shuffle back half a pace just in case.
“Do you have any coin on you?” he asks raising a bushy gray eyebrow and holding out a greasy palm.
My white fingers drop an écu into his waiting hand. It seems like a fortune, but I hope it’s enough. He nods and I release the breathe I didn’t realize I was holding.
He opens a books and uses his finger to go over the tight scrawls. Half-way down the page his finger stops.
“He should be in the gallery with the others. You’re just in time, mademoiselle.”
I swallow. “In time for what?”
“To see him alive.” He whistles and another jailer plods toward us. “Take the mademoiselle to the gallery, Benoit.”
He nods and I follow down the hallway and into the small courtyard. Some of the prisoners are shuffling along the outskirts, more are slumped and unmoving. I want to cover my nose with Claire’s shawl. I’m glad I’m outside and not in the cramped rooms where the prisoners spend the nights.
“Lecroix!” calls Benoit. I turn searching faces for Henri. I turn full circle and still don’t see him. I look to Benoit and he shrugs before calling out again.
I turn to see the lanky form of my brother appearing out of the shadows. I run and fling my arms around him, heedless of my basket which bounces against his back. He pulls me tight until I can barely get air before releasing me.
“Oh, Henri,” I whisper.
“Are you alone, Marie?”
I say nothing but I see in his eyes the hurt that our parents didn’t come.
“You shouldn’t be here either,” he says. “It’s not safe.”
“I had to, Henri.” I wonder if I made a mistake coming here. Henri looks up at the bulbous gray clouds and they break, showing us in freezing rain.
“I know, ma petite grenouille,” he replies pulling me into the shelter of his arms. “I’m sorry, Marie.”
“Roll call!” cries Benoit. “Line-up!”
I nuzzle deeper into Henri. I don’t even care about the smell. Or if he has lice.
“You have to go, Marie,” he whispers into my ear, but he doesn’t let go. The rain runs down my face, or maybe I’m crying. Maybe Henri is crying too. “Goodbye, mon cœur,” he says pressing a kiss to my cheek before releasing me and moving into line. I show myself out.
I step out onto the Pont Neuf, the rain falling around me in a loud roar. I still have my basket.
For more great art by Jen Hickman, please visit her website (http://umicorms.com/). Illustration © Copyright, Jen Hickman 2012. All rights reserved. Used with permission.
Stay tuned for extra content this week from Audrey. Return next Monday for Julie’s answer to this prompt.