Revolution – a lost scene from LVH!

Sometimes a scene doesn’t make the cut. So, here’s one of those that isn’t in and of the Mirror Hours series. Hope you enjoy it. And if you’d like us to write a short story about Lady Victoria in the historic setting of your choice, or with a famous character from the past, just leave us a message.

Slowly she opened her eyes. The muted dawn light seeped through the cracks in the shutters. A heavy weight lay across her chest. Without moving her head, or altering the rhythm of her breathing she looked down at the arm thrown across her breasts. She didn’t need to turn her head to know it was a man’s arm; its muscularity, the wiry hairs, and the thickness of the wrist were sufficient evidence.

The room was still in too much shadow to see its contents clearly. Its stuffiness set her on edge and her sense of smell was overwhelmed by the acrid stench of sweat coming from the man beside her. It smelt as though the pillow had been drenched in vinegar.

Rather than wake him just yet, she waited for more light and lay there calmly collecting her thoughts. Why had she chosen to be here? She had no recollection of the night before, and no clue about the identity of the man beside her.

Her nose picked up another smell that she struggled to identify. She sniffed a few times and allowed her memory of this smell to surface. It was coming from the man sleeping beside her. Its pungent smell almost drowned out the odour of sweat. Then it came to her: it was turpentine. A fluid used by painters, especially when painting with oils.

She heard his breathing change; altering from the deep, steady breaths of sleep to the faster paced breaths of the awakened. She held herself still as his hand stirred and found her left breast. He caressed it in the absent-minded way that a man who has not quite woken up sometimes does.

His breath came closer to her ear: “Emilie, my sweet, bring me a glass of wine before I die of thirst.”

“Why can’t you get it yourself?” she replied in a teasing tone. If he got up first, she’d be able to observe him, rather than the other way round.

“Oh, please don’t be like my wife. When she left me, she said I’d damn well have to get my own drinks and meals in future.”

Ah, here was a way to find out more.

“Why did your wife leave you?”

“What do you mean? All of Paris knows she divorced me because I voted for the execution of the King.”

She suppressed an impulse to cry out “What King?” Instead, she pushed him to reveal more details: “Well, that is the story on the streets, but surely that isn’t the whole truth?”

He sighed, “It’s a big part of it. And if she finds out what I’m going to do today, she would divorce me twice over.”

She laughed weakly, a chilling feeling of dread creeping over her.

“Well, since you’re not going to get me something to drink, I’d better get it myself,” and with that, he leapt out of bed and opened the shutters.

Light flooded the room, which was not as poorly furnished as she had feared. There was a beautifully woven carpet on the floorboards and the bed was not the work of some jobbing carpenter; it was the work of a master craftsman. This man had some money.

Now she could see him. His dark hair curled down to the nape of his neck, and as he turned to offer her a glass of watered wine, she noted his thick eyebrows and craggy features. He was not exactly handsome, but he exuded the confidence and charisma of a man who is aware of the power he holds over people. He also gave off an appetite for sex. She wondered if she would have time to find out whether he was as passionate as his physical presence suggested.

She had an inkling about where she was, but she wasn’t completely certain. Mostly now she knew exactly where she was, having refined her gift over many months, but occasionally she was back to being a novice again. Sometimes she was completely in control of it; at other times her intentions backfired and she had to carefully and cautiously piece together bits of information. This appeared to be one of those times.

“What date is it?” she asked him.

He spun around. “Emilie, you do ask the silliest questions sometimes.”

She noted that his French was polite and his pronunciation clear. This was an educated man.

“It’s the sixteenth of October, and the year is seventeen ninety three. In case you have forgotten that as well, “ he guffawed.

She laughed with him. “I am silly. For a moment I thought it was the fourteenth.”

He grinned at her affectionately. “Yes, well, it has been an exhausting couple of days. Neither Maximilien nor myself expected her trial to drag on for so long.”

She struggled to keep her face from wincing. Things were becoming so much clearer, horrifyingly so.

He poured water from a jug into a bowl and splashed his face. He reached out for a towel to dry himself and spoke to her over his shoulder as he reached for his clothes and proceeded to dress. She watched as he rapidly dragged a brush through his hair and fixed it with a little pomade.

“We need to leave soon. I must have a good seat for this, or I will not be able to capture her likeness as I want,” he told her. “Get up and dress now, or we’ll be too late.” His tone was commanding, but not unkind.

“I’m just going to the studio for a few minutes. I hope you’ll be ready by the time I get back,” he called to her as he left the room.

Victoria did not move immediately. If she could see his studio, she would know exactly who he was. But perhaps there was something in the bedroom that might reveal his identity.

Nimbly, she hopped out of the bed and saw that a woman’s clothes were draped over a chair. Those must be hers, well, Emilie’s really. She dressed quickly, knowing that she needed to be ready for his return. She washed her face in the bowl of water. Looking around she spied the brush he’d used: it was lying with the bristles uppermost. Turning it over she smiled. It was very convenient that wealthy people liked to label their possessions she thought, because his initials were inlaid in silver in the tortoiseshell handle: J-L D.

Could it really be Jacques-Louis David, she wondered; the foremost painter of the French Revolution? Although she was curator of contemporary art, she had always found this period quite fascinating. David had after all been seen as the artist who had brought the values of the Enlightenment to French art. But she simply couldn’t remember what was so important about today’s date.

She heard his footsteps on the stairs. She greeted him with a smile, stifling her impulse to barrage him with questions.

“Ready?”

She mock curtsied and took the arm he offered her. From behind the front door she could already hear the noise of the street. For those few moments, before he opened the door, she listened intently. It was a murmur that was swelling in volume.

He opened the door and she blinked, dazzled by the light and the scene she was looking at. People were moving down the street like a mighty river in full flow. One step into their throng and she’d be swept away.

She hung on to his arm and gripped his jacket sleeve firmly. She had no intention of losing him in this tidal wave of people, most of whom were poorly dressed, each one wearing the red, white, and blue rosette of the revolutionaries. The sans-culottes, Victoria recalled.

Taking a deep breath, she matched her step to his as they stepped into the street. There was only one way to go, and that was in the same direction as the crowd.

She couldn’t ask him where they were going; she would just have to go with him and see where they ended up.

As they hurried through the streets, her eyes darted to right and left, trying to get a sense of the place. It was clearly Paris, but not the Paris she knew. Haussmann had not yet left his magic mark on the City of Light.

It stank. Her feet often slipped on the greasy cobbles, and she was sure something had just run across her foot. Ugh, rats. She felt nauseous. The crowd was now in a bottleneck: there was not a millimetre of space between the bodies. She inhaled as deeply as she could to control her rising panic. What lay ahead was impossible to see; she hoped it was an exit into a bigger space.

Step by step the crowd moved forward, and then she felt the pressure of bodies start to ease. The forward movement rapidly became a rush as they spilled into a massive square.

He pulled her close and sheltered her, moving the crowds aside with his free arm and barked commands. Some clearly knew who he was and quickly made way for them.

She gasped: there it was. Mounted on a platform, its height looming over the heads of the assembled crowd; one of the most infamous sights of the Revolution – the guillotine.

A small and dapper man came towards them. He greeted them and embraced the man she was sure was Jacque-Louis David. There was a coldness in his eyes that she mistrusted.

“Emilie, this is Citizen Maximilien Robespierre. “

She bowed her head in acknowledgment of the introduction, inwardly horrified that she was facing the man who had orchestrated the Reign of Terror. Now was the time for her to play the quiet and unobtrusive ‘little woman’. Robespierre led them to seats where they had a front row view of what was about to take place.

She heard the cart coming before she saw it. The crowd erupted. It was an animal baying for blood. She had never heard a noise like it, nor felt the frenzied desire for death that was all around her.

The crowd made way for the cart to pass. Beside her, he had pulled out a sketch pad and had his pencil poised. The cart stopped and the crowd’s shouts increased as a diminutive woman was hauled from it by the revolutionary guards. Her hair had been shorn and small wisps of it escaped the cap that covered her head. Victoria jolted. She’d seen the work he was about to create in the Louvre – on her visit to Paris with Jonathan not that long ago. He’d remarked that it wasn’t big on detail, and Victoria had politely pointed out that its purpose was to strip the extravagant queen of all her famous finery. Some said that for all its simplicity, it remained one of his greatest works. 

“The queen doesn’t look her usual self today,” she heard Robespierre remark. 

Victoria stared at the woman. This was Marie Antoinette’s execution!

Why had she come here and what kind of gift did she have that had placed her here? 

She fixed her eyes on the ground, hoping not to see what she knew would come next. She must find her way home as quickly as possible. 

But something was wrong. She shook her head. Something was blocking her thoughts. 

She looked around. Robespierre leaned across and patted her hand. “Are you feeling alright my dear?”

She looked directly into his eyes. He was smirking. 

Her stomach knotted violently. She’d been trapped. She knew it, and so did he. 

She had to remember how to get home. It really was a matter of life and death she thought, as the queen knelt and placed her neck under the hanging blade.

This is a lost chapter from Mirror Hours, a time travel romance that chronicles the adventures of Lady Victoria Howard in a four-book series.

Book 1 ‘New Beginnings’ is free to read now at: www.victoriahoward.com.

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