a revolution, a daring escape, a mysterious warning
The Iris Seal
Part I
It is 1795 in Paris, France. People scurry quietly in the early morning shadows, not wanting to be seen. Not far away, there are riots in the streets. A carriage pulled by two black horses is attacked by peasants, and a superior looking man jumps out and runs away, pulling a small girl clad in lace and velvet with him. Down the road, there is a tall apartment. Its windows are all dark, and the house looks abandoned. The door of the apartment opens, and two women in dark cloaks come out quickly. Each of them carries one bag. They cross the street and hurry to the nearest building. They move like this until they reach the chez laver, house of the washers, where Hughes Lumiere, an old family business associate, has paid a washer woman to smuggle the mother and daughter out of the city in a laundry cart.
At the chez laver, a young woman no older than nineteen is waiting for them. They climb into the cart; and she covers them with linens. When the cart is full and they do not look suspicious, she pushes the cart out the doors and toward the city gates.
“Bonjour, Monseiur. I am headed to the country to wash these clothes and bedsheets. Here are my papers.” the woman says to the guards, who study her papers carefully, then nod and let her out of the city. When she is quite far from the city, she takes out the linens and helps the two people out of the cart, then turns around and walks away.
“Mama, what shall we do now?” the smaller girl asks. Her name is Marie-Belle. The other person is her mother, Madame de la Chappelle. Though they are dressed in maids’ clothing, they are really aristocrats fleeing from Paris to escape the revolution. Marie-Belle’s father was imprisoned, and before they could do anything to help him, Monsieur Lumiere gave them the terrible news that he was killed by the revolutionaries. Now they are going to stay with her aunt and uncle in Provence while her mother decides what to do.
“I do not know, Marie. I suppose we must walk to your aunt and uncle. Come on, now. I have a map.” her mother says. She fumbles inside her bag, then pulls out a crumpled map. They both look at it for a moment, but neither of them knows how to read one.
Finally, Marie-Belle says, “Mama, remember when we saw Aunt and Uncle de Cavernay six years ago? I was looking out the window the whole time. Perhaps I can try to remember what the land looked like and maybe we’ll find a way to get there?”
“I believe that is the only way we will be able to get there, my darling Marie. For now, let us walk away from the city, and when we meet people, we will ask them where to go.”
They begin walking. After only maybe ten minutes, Marie-Belle feels tired. Madame de la Chapelle is tired too, and she has no idea where they are, but she tells Marie-Belle that she must only keep walking and they will eventually find Monsieur and Madame de Cavernay. Not long after, they see a peasant on a horse coming toward them. When they meet, she asks him where they should go to get to Provence. He laughs and says, “Exactly the way you are going, Madame. It will take a while, though. If you have any money, I’ll give you my horse.”
Madame would love to take the horse, and she has the money for it, but she does not know how to ride, so she must refuse. They continue walking down the road. It takes them eight days to get to Marie-Belle’s aunt and uncle. The house is very large, and Marie-Belle is not sure about staying there, but when she sees her very favorite flower, an iris, she is reassured.
When they knock, a maid answers the door. “Bonjour, Madame. Monsieur de Cavernay has been expecting you. May I show you to your rooms?” the maid asks, and when Madame nods, she leads them to two adjoining rooms. The maid shuts both doors to Madame de la Chapelle’s room and begins to help her undress, leaving Marie-Belle in her own room. She leans against the door and looks around at the walls and windows. She is still carrying her bag, so she sets it down on a gold and ivory table. She sits down on the bed, which has a peachy colored bedspread.
A moment later, there is a knock on her door. It is a dark-haired maid, who introduces herself as Laure-Nicole, carrying a small dress that was Marie-Belle’s aunt’s when she was a child. The maid puts Marie-Belle in a warm bath, then dresses her. Marie-Belle has a bow and some jewelry in her bag, so the maid helps her with that, too. When they are done, Marie-Belle looks in the mirror and frowns. She looks very old fashioned. In Paris, it would be a disgrace to be seen in this, but here it doesn’t seem to matter as much.
Laure-Nicole curtsies, then leaves. When she is gone, Marie-Belle looks in the mirror again. Her best friend, Anne-Charlotte, would would hate to see her dressed like this. Anne-Charlotte was that kind of person, and Marie-Belle misses her terribly. She decides to write her a letter, which will probably not get to her, but she will write it anyway. There is ink, a quill, and some paper on a shelf, and Marie-Belle can just reach it, so she sits at the table and begins to write.
To my friend Anne-Charlotte,-
“She will not receive it, Marie.” says a voice behind Marie-Belle. It is her mother.
“Why, Mama?”
“She is dead.”
The words sting Marie-Belle like hot water on ice. She feels tears coming to her eyes, and her mother pulls her into a tight hug.
“She was killed the night before we left. I waited until now to tell you. Don’t cry, your makeup will smear.” her mother tells her, but Marie-Belle cannot help it. Tears slide down her cheeks and onto her mother’s dress, which is also slightly old fashioned, since it must have been her aunt’s a few years ago.
“Excusez-moi, Madame. It appears that you have a visitor.” a maid says from behind the door. Madame de la Chappelle lets go of Marie-Belle and turns around sharply.
“You may enter. Who is this visitor?” she inquires.
“Monsieur Lumiere, Madame. He is in the salon.” the maid answers, opening the door.
“Take me to him.” Madame says quickly, then whispers to Marie-Belle, “Your aunt and uncle will not tolerate us for very long. I need to find us a protector quickly, for we will not last long alone.”
“Perhaps Mademoiselle would like to meet Monsieur Lumiere’s son?” the maid suggests. Marie-Belle’s mother nods, and the maid leads them both out of the room.
The son is tall. He is fifteen. When he sees Marie-Belle, he sneers.
“Bonjour,” Marie-Belle says, “my name is Marie-Belle, and you must be-“
“Pierre.” he interrupts. She frowns.
“Of course.”
There is a long silence. Finally, he says, “I am sorry about your father.”
Another long silence.
“After such a journey, you are looking quite... nice.” he says coldly. Marie-Belle can feel herself blushing. Why did he have to make such a rude comment about it?
“I am afraid I was not able to bring much clothing with me on the journey here, Pierre.”
“I can see that.”
Marie-Belle is not impressed by Monsieur Lumiere’s son. He is very rude. Suddenly, the idea of her mother marrying Monsieur Lumiere does not seem pleasant at all, despite it being him that paid for them to escape Paris. She decides that if Pierre is going to be an unpleasant person, so will she. She searches for something to insult him about.
“Your coat is very striking.” she tells him.
“Merci. It was hand tailored for me just a few days ago. The latest style.” he says, obviously trying to insult her about her old fashioned clothing. Luckily, she is ready.
“Indeed. I assume that the stain on your cravat is also the latest style.” She smirks as he tries to hide a smile, then wonders why he is smiling. Wasn’t he being rude and pompous just a moment ago?
“Touché.” he tells her. Then he stands up from his chair.
“Au Revoir, Marie-Belle. It appears I am late to visit a friend of mine.” he says, cold and unfriendly again. She stands and curtsies, and when he leaves, she starts to wonder again. Wasn’t he being rude? Why was he smiling? He should have been upset and angry that she had answered him so outright. What had happened?
A few days later, Marie-Belle decides to explore. She wanders around, until suddenly she hears voices. Marie-Belle looks around, but there is no place to hide. She leans against the wall and hopes whoever is talking does not come in.
“Those selfish aristocrats! Don’t care about anything but themselves, and they don’t know how to do anything. Just yesterday Madame de Cavernay told me to ready a bedroom for that pompous little niece of hers. I wanted to tell her to do it herself, but she would have said, ‘I don’t know how.’ Isn’t that stupid! And that dreadful Monsieur de Blanche...” the voice trails off.
Marie-Belle recognizes the voice as the maid who brought them to their rooms on their first day; Louise-Michelle, that is her name. Marie-Belle wonders what the maid is talking about and why she is so upset.
“Mademoiselle, a letter for you.” Laure-Nicole comes in. Marie-Belle looks up from her sketch of Paris and takes the letter from the maid, who hurries off to her work. Marie-Belle only has to look at the seal once to know that this letter will change her life, for the seal is in the shape of a flower she knows very well. It is an iris. The very same iris that Marie-Belle drew for her father when she was seven. She locks the doors to her bedroom and opens the letter.
Your life is in danger. Tell no one you have received this.
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