“I honestly cannot believe your nerve, Corrine!” I stood in the middle of Papa’s chamber, dripping wet with my dress sliced to pieces at its neck and waist. I had a feeling that the blue rug beneath me was not going to be any use to Papa’s cold rooms when I got off of it.
I flicked my hair to my left shoulder, forcing myself not to collapse to my knees as I wished to. I had to stand tall and not allow my pride to collapse. It is, of course, what Maman would do, Rinne. No matter how big of a coward you are, you must be still and strong as a statue.
Papa's sat at his desk, his normally jolly red face slowly spreading crimson anger down his neck. His dark brown hair was cut close to his head, unlike what the highest fashion in the Versailles Court was at that moment. His blue eyes darted from my torn dress to my damp blond hair.
“I truly am sorry, Papa. I just… got a little carried away. He challenged me to a duel. Who am I to question the future King of France?” I inquired politely, attempting to not sound too prideful. Trying not to let the tremble in my voice show. Dauphin Louis Joseph had indeed asked me to accompany him to an event in the private gardens of Versailles… and it most certainly was not a duel. But if he hadn’t attempted to smooth out my rough yet nervous attitude and unwillingness to comply to the laws of etiquette, I wouldn’t have done what I had.
I couldn’t stand being scolded for any reason by anyone, especially by my father.
I hated to disappoint him - I hated to disappoint everyone. But yet I did not think that I did something to taint the regulations of good form. So the void that I usually reserved for guilt was filled with weak pride and resistance.
“Do not try to shift the blame, Corrine. The heir to France’s throne could’ve been hideously disfigured due to your lack of experience with the rapier,” Papa tilted his head back as a maid, Miss Roseria, as we children of the court knew her, hurried forward to wipe the sweat from his brow. “And your honor might have been compromised!”
“Do you mean to say that Louis is-” I couldn't help myself. Even if I was terrified of what could happen to me if I dared to investigate further.
“M’Lady Corrine!” This time, it was not Papa speaking. Miss Roseria’s eyes sparked with a warning, daring me to say another word. I knew that Roseria was on my side; she just didn’t want me sent away from Versailles. The last two daughters - my sisters, Colette and Caterinetta- to have defied Papa have been sent away from Court, to work for Papa’s Château de Mistresses. To make the story short, Colette has never forgiven our father, and Caterinetta ended up married to a cobbler after discovering she was having his baby.
I most certainly didn’t want to end up like that. Maman had told me stories of her days spent at the Château de Maîtresse, tending to the sick mistresses there, and the tales were not pleasant. Maman said she much preferred being waited on and not being treated like scum of the gutter for helping those women. I wonder sometimes if Maman knew that Papa had a mistress he looked after in Gascony.
It didn’t matter now. Maman had died of a violent fever three months ago; it was more than likely that Papa would marry Mistress Abrielle before my seventeenth birthday. Only a few more days until he’ll abandon me to marry that wretch, I thought bitterly. And only a few more days until I come of age. He’ll send me off to marry a nobleman, and I will spend my life toiling away in some crude kitchen with children hanging off of my heels.
Maybe it would be better if I did go to work for Mistress Abrielle. It did not require manners; only the willingness to give yourself to someone you don’t know and then being able to live with the guilt.
That, I could not do. There was no escaping marriage or children, unless I managed to act in such a disgusting way that no man would want me coming within five feet of them. I’ve already failed miserably at that task, seeing that Papa had decided to spread my existence around Europe.
I took a deep breath. I would deal with the future and the past later. The present was what truly mattered. I’ve found that it’s hard for me to focus on what laid before me when so many things are left behind.
I sighed, and lowered my head. “Yes, Miss Roseria.”
“Thank you, Roseria.” Papa sighed, his face slowly dulling in its deep shade of red. “I do not mean to say that Louis had dishonorable intentions. He has known you since you were a child, and merely wanted to spend time with you before it became too suspicious and improper to do so.”
Every time he opened his mouth to spit out the laws of decorum, I got angrier. "Women are supposed to cook the meal, they are seen and not heard, and God forbid you ever go gallivanting off to war..." Though he hasn't said that in particular yet, I knew it was coming. It is all I can do, to stay silent.
If Maman was here, I would not have been scolded like a thief.
Papa fiddled with the fleur de lis tablecloth on his desk. It was the same dark blue that painted the carriage, his room, my room, and if Papa had his way, I’m sure he would have my wig powdered the color of the ocean. I cocked my head to the side, wringing my fingers together.
“Why would it ever be improper to say hello to a friend?” I suddenly felt like a child again. I stared down at my torn dress. Perhaps there’d be a way to mend it, without costing the royals their money. Grabbing the ripped cloth, I searched for places to put stitches. I needed a task; anything to take my mind off of my impending punishment. But I had a feeling that the burning red hot anger buried in the pit of my stomach was about to accomplish that.
“‘Tis etiquette, Lady Corrine. He is to be a King, and you are to be married. It is not done. You could be tempted," Roseria explained, earning a nod from Papa.
This situation reminded me of a hunter stalking a panther. And the panther - me - had just turned on the hunter. “I don’t know whose morals we are questioning here!” I snapped. “Mine or Louis’s? Who has dishonorable intentions? One minute it is my fault, and the next he is considered to be some-”
“Corrine, watch your impudent tongue!”
Some coward I am.
“-pig!” I finished, throwing my cloth to my side. “I do not understand what the problem was!”
“You, a young lady, was caught fencing with the Dauphin of France! That is the problem!” Papa threw his hands into the air, causing the tablecloth he’d been fussing with to fly across the room. “Has Madame DeLacour taught you nothing?”
“It is nothing that can help me in life,” I huffed. My lips barely moved; it looked to be more likely that the mice in the walls had spoken those words than me. But my sentence came out loud and clear to my father’s ears. My neck flushed red, the blush of anger slowly creeping to my face like a spider crawling up a wall. “Etiquette is meant to be for princesses and queens, but Papa! I cannot become one of them! Princesses are proud, queens face their problems. But I can barely find the strength to stand up if my own maids step out of hand.”
“You are right, Corrine. You are none of those. Not proud or fierce. But you are my daughter. And my daughters will behave as those who wallow in their fancy chambers in the main house of Versailles!”
“We live in the main house,” I protested, clenching my hands into fists, wringing the fabric of my dress around them. I could feel the circulation being cut off, and I knew that the tips of my fingers would turn purple before long. “We eat the same food that the King does, walk in the same halls. Why must we behave like him when we will never be like-”
“Ladies do not fight. Ladies do not run. Ladies do not wear trousers. And if I ever see you holding a weapon in your left hand again, so help me God, you will be cast out like Mistress Abrielle without a word!” My father recited each word of etiquette that Madame DeLacour had taught me, as though he’d listened in on my lessons just so that he could rub the words into my face. It was like salt to the wound, for me. I did not understand why ladies couldn’t run. Why ladies couldn’t wear trousers. Why couldn’t ladies defend their country? We were just as fierce as the men! Why, why, why, why?
Whys are like flies. Once you let them in through a door from the outside, they buzz around you. Unrelenting. Pestering.
My father wanted to smash every last why-fly with his bare fist. He didn’t want me thinking for myself. He didn’t want me to even walk outside on my own! God forbid his precious, youngest daughter might ever take a step on the grass, barefoot, without a dress billowing beneath her!
Rinne, these thoughts should not be in your head. Such a sin to God, to even think that I could disrespect my father in such a way.
“Audric….” Miss Roseria stood at my father’s shoulder. She’d previously walked out of the room after attempting to stop me from using my “impudent tongue”, probably to talk to her fellow maids or maybe wash up. But the idea occurred to me that she might have been listening the whole time. “Have you told M’Lady Corrine the news?”
Until then, I’d been looking at my hands, thinking of how I should fall to my knees and beg for forgiveness. But at the word news, my eyes darted from the soft palms to look into the face of Papa and Roseria.
“Corrine, you are to be married. Your husband shall be arriving sometime next Wednesday,” Papa said, reaching across his desk for a letter. The parchment looked thin from my place on the rug. I suddenly felt compelled to rip the letter from Papa’s grasp, and to tear it into a million pieces.
“On my birthday? Pap--!”
“Corrine, you must learn your place in society. You cannot be a maiden any longer, no matter what your name may mean.” Papa unfolded the letter. A closer look at it, and I could see a gold seal with the initials “B.B.” written in crude script. As though wax had been dribbled onto the envelope, and then the sender had taken a knife and traced his name into it. I gulped. What kind of husband was this?
“What is his name?” I asked, trying to avoid the letter. The ink had bled through to the back. It was red. A shiver ran up and down my spine.
“Benedict Blackson.” Roseria responded before Papa could even open his mouth. I could tell that she was more excited about the man then the idea that Papa could get a larger amount of riches and more land for our private estate.
“He sounds English,” I murmured worriedly, my eyebrows pressing down on my temples. “How could you marry me to-”
“He is English. It’s meant to be an act of diplomacy. But you wouldn’t know anything of that, daughter.” Papa leaned over towards Rosaria, whose cheeks went bright red as his shoulder brushed against her hip.
“Take my daughter to town. Send for Colette,” Papa breathed in sharply, as though he was having trouble taking in air. “And bring the rest of the ladies along with you. Versailles must be clear of women and children. Cardinal's orders.”
“Yes, Mr Audric.” My father stood up from his chair, slamming it backwards. It flew across the room, smashing into his bed’s headboard. The racket startled me out of my panicked trance. I could not get married.
“Papa! Papa, wait!”
“And get her cleaned up!” My father snapped. “Remember, Corrine: you are no man. If you were, you would have been trusted.”