"It was indeed a fairytale and I welcomed it! Who wouldn’t wish living in such a place? Yes, there was work to do—so what? I was away from the world—away from reality too, but I liked it. It was better. My suffering had ended, I was convinced of it.
I did my duties and the queen was delighted with my work. There was the great designer Mme. Bertin, the queen’s favorite. She was kind enough to teach me a great deal and I was willing to learn.
I overheard her sometimes expressing her fear to other seamstresses about what was going on in France. It seemed only she and one or two servants discussed the growing problems in the country.
One day I overheard her mention a dream the queen had. She dreamt Mme. Bertin had dressed her in beautiful ribbons that each turned black one by one.
Mme. Bertin smiled sadly when she saw she had been overheard. I felt my face go red and apologized for not hurrying away. She only sighed and said, “No, it was not the overhearing of the dream that is bad, it was the dream.”
If she worried others didn’t. The Queen and King and courtiers were seemingly oblivious to the discontent around them. Although there had been some talk among envoys and officials. There was gossip too that filtered down. Still nothing came of it; no change or concern voiced by the aristocracy.
The scandals were all around. They seemed to follow one upon another but the scandal that over shadowed all the others happened shortly before I arrived. The affair as it came to be known concerned a diamond necklace. Actually the queen was misled along with a cardinal. In time I would realize it was one of the events that disgusted the people and helped to bring about the Revolution. By that time innocence was no excuse. Things had gone too far.
If the queen ever feared the worst, she didn’t show that she did. Of course there were her young children to distract her. I often saw her play with them as though they were dolls. They were each beautiful and well-behaved and a welcome distraction for her. I didn’t see them often but when I did I loved it.
My standing was the most important thing to me. Often I was praised. I was considered a good and diligent worker.
“Getting on with your work is your only concern.”
How many times had the senior seamstresses told me that?
Still we had our fun. The winter of 1788 was particularly severe. While the country froze and suffered, those within the palace, including myself were enjoying sleighing and making snowmen. We used makeshift sleds; whatever we could use. Our betters enjoyed rides in magnificent sleds with ringing bells. I had never seen anything like it.
I saw the queen and her entourage of friends throwing snowballs at one another. We didn’t get to join in of course—but we watched and laughed.
Christmas came and went. There were parties and balls and gifts too; not only for her children and her friends and court officials but for servants as well. I received some ribbons and was both delighted and amazed.
I remember thinking I had a full belly and a warm bed. Well not exactly warm—but an ancient bed warmer we all shared did the trick.
When spring came the young dauphin was ill. Everyone thought the worst. They were right for he was gone by June.
The queen took his death very badly and was not seen by anyone for weeks. I prayed for his soul, that was one of the few times I can recall doing such a thing—perhaps I brought about my own damnation because of how I was, I have wondered about that sometimes.
The mourning period ended and we did at last see her about. And when things began to return to normal there was much activity about the palace; people coming and going all the time it seemed.
There were shouting matches too between the King and Queen that could be overheard if one was brave enough to go close to their apartments. Their guards chased us away, but not before we got an earful!
There were accusations of foolishness and impropriety. The queen was very emotional and each confrontation ended with her rushing out to her private apartments to cry. I always wanted to go to her, but did not. I knew my place, every servant did.
We did gossip amongst ourselves however, although I always tended to listen more than I spoke, but I have always been like that by nature.
As time went on the queen tried to distract herself with frivolities. That was something she was inclined to do. She surrounded herself with people, friends and courtiers alike who made her laugh.
She had faced her tragedies bravely. Of her four children two remained; Marie Therese and Louis Charles. A daughter had preceded Louis Joseph in death by two years. Sophie was gone before her first birthday. I was told how the queen wept for her little daughter.
“One more month, and she’d have been a year old.”
One of the milliners told me of this and we both filled up with tears. “People criticize her, but she has paid the price for what she has…”
Of course her two remaining children were doted on. And it seemed the little family would get by on love—but the king was quiet and distant much of the time. That always led to speculation and gossip that the two were unsuited which I suppose they were. Although I must say in the Queen’s defense, she was loyal and loving. If others said she wasn’t, I did not agree.
When I think back on it, I wonder if I knew to what extant the danger was growing. I don’t suppose I did. My world was within their own, if they were insulated to so much I was too.
It just seemed life would continue as it had. There were parties and balls and gowns to get ready; hats to prepare. Not that I was the milliner, still, the queen came to value my opinions. And really if I enjoyed helping her decide on things, what I loved even more was fussing over the children, her daughter in particular who was already a little beauty like her mama.
Yet during all of this, the storm was brewing. Still, the sun shone, the sky was blue, we served, we praised, and we laughed and danced too— holding little soirees in our quarters. It mattered not that we were servants, for we were servants to their royal highnesses and we dwelled on Mount Olympus.
A year passed and another. I had no complaints. My life was good. I could not ask for more. In time, I began to be complimented on my beauty by others, mainly older female servants who said I’d best be careful. As many a pretty servant girl wound up being dismissed for taking up with her betters.
“You’d be surprised how many had to leave. And what, pray tell do you think became of them, eh—or the poor child they gave birth to?”
I had no answer, but I could imagine so I was determined to be a good and chaste young woman. Marriage and children, I doubted were in store for me.
Within a few years of having arrived, I was firmly entrenched in the fairy tale world that was the French Court. Had things never changed I’d have spent my life there, I am certain.
It had become easy under such circumstances to see no evil nor hear it. And when you do not, you not only do not speak it, you do not think it. Yes, I had changed.
Changed though I had I saw what I saw or rather heard what I heard. It seemed the queen’s spending was getting more lavish. The queen we heard spent extravagantly on her friends.
“She does that because it’s the way she is. She gives people gifts—it makes her feel good.”
If this was so, it came at a price because she also spent lavishly on her dress and adornments so that each year she exceeded her clothing allowance.
I heard Mme. Bertin discussing it.
“The King will bail her out. At least she has him!”
It was the height of indulgence for such people. The style was excessive and overdone. Even the loyal Mme. Bertin admitted it.
“It cannot end well,” she said.
Even as she said it I wondered what she meant. Perhaps the royal court would go in exile! It was a terrible thought—little did I dream how much more awful things would become.
But meanwhile she had her diversions. The little palace called Petit Trianon adjoined Versailles. It was an escape for her without leaving. I never mentioned that to anyone but I did think it once or twice. Then there was a round domed building so named the Temple of Love, a graceful fanciful looking place. We’d peek out to watch candle lit soirees along the lake—at night. It was lovely—because it was all part of the fairy tale.
And if that was so more was in store for the queen also had built a rustic Viennese retreat called the Hameau. When I heard she enjoyed being a simple milkmaid I didn’t believe it, but everyone said she did. “Yes! She does that! Dressed so and beautiful to behold!”
The Hameau was stocked with perfumed sheep and goats, but the actual milking and chores were done by servants. I was determined to see it all for myself.
Alas I did not for fate was moving me along toward something else, just as it was already planning for the magic to end and the fairy tale with it.
Before the night became my one world, that of the undead—I enjoyed moonlit walks along the fragrant paths of the gardens of Versailles. Those were romantic times. I was a young lady and had one or two admirers. Whatever advice I had been given about being cautious, I remembered but I was young and foolish more than I was sensible.
There was one courtier, the Duc d’ Amont who rather had my eye. He was quite handsome, dark with smoldering good looks and the air of malice which can be so enticing to a young fool such as I.
He was always one to compliment me.
“You quite turn my head, young lady. What is your name?”
Well, that was how it started. But that was not how it ended.
“I am Justine, your Excellency.”
When he laughed I did not know why he laughed and felt my cheeks flame.
“Forgive me, sweet. But you are quite amazing. One gets tired of so much at court.”
This he said as he sniffed some snuff from a beautiful jeweled box. “Ah! That is nice. So tell me, you beautiful creature, what do you do in your spare time or do you not have any?”
“I have sir! I am treated most fairly. I could not ask for more.”
After this interlude and some others, I found the Duc’s attention growing more pronounced. When at last he tried to kiss me, he was drunk I and I was frightened.
“Propriety is foolish, Mlle., don’t you wish to know what love is? Or do you know already?”
I hurried away from him. Down the corridor I flew. I wanted to go to someone, to the queen really if I am honest. But I dared not.
So I just went to my own little room near the sewing room where I spent a sleepless night wondering what I should do. I didn’t see him for some time after that and my worry lessened, work took it away. Only an idle mind has time to worry, after all.
If one court season ended new ones began. There were always balls and engagements being planned and gowns to get ready. I was one of twenty busy seamstresses. There didn’t seem to be time for all we had to do and though we tended to work silently, we did always gossip about our lack of time to do our chores.
There were fittings for the Queen and her ladies too. I didn’t care about them; they looked as lovely as usual but she did not. I thought she was looking thinner and pale. I wanted so to offer her comfort but knew I could not. Such an action would be presumptuous.
She wasn’t as chatty with me as she had been in fact there was a marked difference in her behavior. She was more reticent. Gone was the air of happy expectation. She seemed to be sleepwalking through life.
I wondered if she knew I worried about her because of what she did. To my amazement the Queen suggested I attend the first ball of the season. She even offered me a gown, but I was too shy. I chose instead to wear something I had made for myself. It wasn’t a gown as such, it was plain; the sort of dress an ordinary person might wear on a formal occasion. Even while she complimented me, she looked distracted.
I did go to the ball. It was lovely to be able to mill around and not feel I was there as a servant. I was greeted politely by the courtiers. But then my heart nearly stopped when I saw the Duc d’ Amont staring at me.
How had I not anticipated his attending? I felt genuine fright at seeing him. Perhaps it was a sense of foreboding I had, I still cannot be sure. I only remember my feeling of disquiet.
“Ah you are vision of beauty, where others cloak themselves in jewels and finery your beauty needs no such adornment. It would be like dressing the sun up and what with your glorious red hair—you are sunlight itself!”
I nearly scoffed at what I took to be his effusive complements. Not unexpectedly he looked annoyed. If I expected him to stalk off in anger he did not. Instead he suggested I accompany him to an adjoining room. When he saw my worried expression he smiled. “I merely wish to dance with you.”
It would not have been proper for a servant to dance at the ball; attending was one thing and dancing another.
Before I could say anything, he took my hand and led me out. “I know the perfect place,” he said.
The room we went to was a waiting room of sorts for foreign envoys. It was close to the ballroom and we could hear the music.
“May I have this dance?”
I was flattered and found myself relaxing. Enjoy yourself Justine I thought. But instead of dancing, he closed the door and smiled. This was a smile I had not seen on his face before.
What followed was the beginning of the horror. Without a word, he pulled at my gown tearing it. I protested and he slapped me. I grew dizzy and passed out. When I woke I saw him looking down at me.
He laughed. “I have you now!” he cried.
I tried to shout but he hit me again. I managed to reach for a fire poker. He realized and snarled. “You’re a little fireball aren’t you?”
This said, as he tore my gown from me and launched himself at me. I would not let him take me! I begged and threatened but nothing worked.
In the excitement I had dropped the poker. However, I did manage to pick it up and hit his head with it. He looked startled—his eyes began to glaze over and when he fell hard upon me I knew he was dead.
I pushed him off and rushed to the door. I would have to escape. For I felt sure had this been discovered, even the queen would not have been able to save me."
(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.