Before the Blood:
The dream came like a whisper; it was probably my own voice I heard beckoning me to remember. “Justine, remember us…”
It was my mother’s voice—I heard it without a doubt. It was so clear I thought her spirit had manifested itself. Sometimes I think she does come, Papa too. Such was this moment. There they were smiling down at me, looking at their child. They called my name as they used to do when I was little. “Tine…”
I recall them before they were sick, sick from being poor—from lack of food and not having enough heat in the winter or warm clothes. Paris’ poor were not highly regarded. Of course things would get much worse but no one knew that until they did.
As for my mama, my gentle sweet mother, she died quickly, between a cough and a seizure of some kind. Her chest was stained with blood. Her lungs you see. Papa sat so still by her bed; bed, indeed; a pallet on the floor with ragged blankets under it.
“She is gone, Justine Mama is gone.” I cried as any child of ten would. There was a funeral of sorts; a pauper’s funeral—where she would be taken to an open burial pit outside of the city. They were no longer burying the dead in Paris. The awful business of the rotting dead of Paris had ensured that. The Holy Innocents Cemetery had been closed as a result. Now the newly dead were taken away.
Mother’s poor corpse was put onto a wagon. It trundled away, its uneven wheels making such an awful noise along the cobblestones. No church for us, no kind words to lessen our grief. People like us didn’t live that way. Yes, one of the nails in the coffin that was to be the downfall of the aristocracy and their priests.
But I wanted something said to ease her passing. I asked my papa
where the priest was. “Mama deserves him!” I cried.
where the priest was. “Mama deserves him!” I cried.
Papa kissed my forehead. “They do not care for the likes of us, Justine.”
Father and I were lonely, never had we clung to one another more than we did then. I tried so hard to look after him, but I could see he was no longer willing to live, though he pretended he was.
Some years passed. He continued to take whatever work was available—which was never much. Charity was not something he accepted readily. Still by this time, he did what was best for me. “I will not let you starve.”
I did not, as I had taken in sewing. I was adept with a needle like my mother Papa said. When I was fourteen, he looked ill; worse each day in fact. After he began coughing, he didn’t last long. I wanted to die too when he did. They took him away and I was alone. A man came. I had seen not him before. He was an acquaintance of both my father and mother. “I am Monsieur Coulon,” he said.
“And I am sorry for the suffering you and your family endured. Pride makes victims by its very nature. You know how proud your father was. Had I known his circumstances I could have helped.”
I knew that was no boast. He had a kind face. He said he knew father through my mother. “Yes, Justine—I did know them both. Your father was a fine man and you’re mother a skilled seamstress.”
Skilled yes, but too ill to sew; I wondered if he knew.
He told me she had done sewing for his family, shortly after she arrived in Paris. I knew she had come from Normandy, I knew her to be a farmer’s daughter.
“There was none finer with a needle. Tell me young miss, can you sew?”
“I can sew … a little.”
When he smiled I knew I would be alright. I did not look back. There was nothing to look back to.
He took me to his carriage. There were people milling about, dirty and in rags, even those who knew me, refrained from speaking to me. The mood was such that they resented someone escaping from the mire.
I stared straight ahead as the carriage pulled away. My life begins again I thought.
The Coulon family had a fine house in the Marais district. I had never seen such a fine home as theirs. There were gardens with roses and enough food to eat. I caught the aroma of goose when I was led inside. Not through the front door I hasten to add, but through the back one. Very well, whichever door they wished me to enter I would have lodgings and a position as well.
The house was noisy with children but I didn’t mind. A servant took me in hand. “You are small for your age,” she announced, this pinched face woman who would have been remarkably ugly had it not been for her kind eyes. “Yes,” she went on. “Small fingers are good to thread needles and such. Let me see what you can do.”
With that she handed me a handkerchief. “The lace is coming apart. Let me see you stitch it up. Tomorrow is Sunday and Mme. is attending church she cannot be seen to take a raggedy looking hankie!”
I said nothing. I wanted to show her how efficient I was so I threaded the needle quickly. My fingers were not shaking, surprisingly. I had willed it as so much depended on it.
In a few minutes the task was done. And I was complimented. “Mme. Coulon was pleased, and told me so.”
I did have questions but not the courage to ask them. I wanted to know where I would sleep and how I would get on. But I had nothing to fear. If I went about my tasks quickly and efficiently and did not draw attention to myself, I got along fine. My employers’ children were slightly older than I was and they were rarely in my company. Their governess minded them, taking them into see their mama and papa twice a day.
Time passed pleasantly, six years in fact. I had enough to eat and grew better skilled at my work. In fact I became so competent I found I pleased my mistress with the gowns I was making for her. Nothing was too difficult for me; no trim too hard, nor decoration too intricate for my nimble fingers. There were balls and dinners and a banquet too and at court no less!
“The Queen will be in attendance! Imagine, Justine! She will be there – for my eldest daughter is to be presented at court.”
Such was the custom of the day before the world changed and blood ran through the streets of Paris.
“Think of it, Justine. You will see her!”
I begged off. That is I tried so hard not to go. It was intimidating. However, after a great deal of coaxing I did go. Mme. Coulon was delighted. “You will attend to us as our personal maid. Paulette and I shall be so lucky to have you there.”
Paulette was the daughter I felt certain was being groomed to search for a husband. The Coulons were committed to raising themselves ever higher. If there was dissatisfaction with the monarchy it was not known in their house. Not with an unmarried daughter and social climbing parents.
“There are so many suitable gentlemen, Paulette—please try and act less awkward. Do try and be at ease.”
The night came at last. Mme. Coulon was so excited she was stumbling over her words. “That is it! Have you ever seen such beauty?”
Paulette was delighted. “No, indeed Mama! I feel like royalty myself!”
I thought my mistress would say something to keep her daughter’s feet on the ground. Yes, they were a wealthy merchant family, but they were not aristocrats.
When Paulette saw me looking at her she smiled, “Don’t look at me, silly! Look out there!”
I did just as our carriage was given permission to enter the palace gates. That’s when I took my first look at Versailles.
It was stunning and I gasped. My eyes filled with tears at the sheer beauty of it. There were the famous gardens even I had heard of. And there, just beyond them—was the great glittering palace. It seemed to be filled with golden light.
My mistress only stopped chattering when the carriage drew to a stop. I had already been instructed to follow along behind.
There were other guests milling around, each judging the other’s importance by their apparel and demeanor. Mme. Coulon was giving her daughter step by step instructions of how to move and what to say.
Two liveried servants ushered us inside.
“We are entering Olympus!” Mme. Coulon exclaimed. “The home of the Gods and Goddesses.”
And so we were. The opulence and splendor was all around. Clearly it could be nothing else!
We passed from one hall to another. Officials of varying importance saw to this, each haughtier than the next—even in their subservient state, they exuded snobbery.
When we passed through the Hall of Mirrors I thought I would faint. Mme. Coulon whispered, “This is only the beginning. Look!”
A handsomely dressed man, in lavender frock coat, smelling divine bowed slightly. I would soon learn that different levels of bowing—varying from deep to less deep were associated with class and standing. The bow accorded Mme. Coulon and her daughter (I didn’t count, of course) was a bit shallow.
When I heard Mme. Coulon’s hoarse whisper, “The Queen!” I almost stumbled.
She was there, resplendent in a gown the likes of which I could not have even dreamt of. What a poor excuse for a human being I was to be so impressed!
I had quite forgotten the poverty I sprang from. Would my poor parents be turning in their graves? I should think they would have.
But it didn’t matter! The spell was too strong—the magic of wealth and beauty too powerful to overcome.
We all curtseyed. And when the Queen complimented my employer and Paulette on their gowns and insisted on knowing who the seamstress was, I could barely breathe. But the royal command received an instant answer and I was introduced.
“It is my seamstress’s handiwork, your Majesty!”
There she was! Queen Marie Antoinette herself, smiling down at me. She was a goddess, a beauty, like something come down from heaven to dwell among lesser mortals, Olympus indeed!
Whatever I had sprung from the recollections were gone—blinded by the light that emanated from this real goddess.
“Shall I be naughty?” she winked at me. “Shall I steal you away?”
That was the first I heard of it. If I thought my employer would look horrified she did not. She looked proud. It was a great compliment to her taste for her own seamstress to be plucked away by the queen of France! As for myself, I felt I was dreaming.
(end of chapter)
(end of chapter)
Born in pre-Revolutionary France and orphaned as a child, Justine Bodeau is taken in by a family friend who employs her as a seamstress. Eventually, she winds up to work in the court of Queen Marie Antoinette.
A strong-willed survivor, defeat does not occur to her. When she fights off an attack by an aristocrat and kills him, she is given refuge but is soon betrayed and winds up on the streets of Paris, where she is attacked and killed by rogue vampires. But for whatever reason, love will not let her die.
Justine goes from wishing to be destroyed to wanting to survive, when she feels passion for the one who brought her back, Gascoyne — the one they call the Vampire Prince of Paris.