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Fatal Ambition

"Ouch!"

Angelique put her bleeding finger in her mouth and grimaced at the salty taste of blood. At least she didn't get any on the gown she was sewing. If she had, Madame Suzette would have been furious with her and might even have held back her wages--not that the old hag paid much. Still, Angelique needed the job. Times were hard, and most Parisians were starving.

There was a noise at the windowsill, and she turned, startled.

"Have you gone and pricked your finger again?" a deep, masculine voice teased.

It was only François, the young man who worked in the wine shop next door.

"And if I have, is it any business of yours?" she asked impudently.

François chuckled, a sound that made many a young mademoiselle's heart flutter.

"Always the sassy one, aren't you?"

He liked that in a woman. Shy, virtuous maidens never held his interest for long. Angelique, on the other hand ....

"And what are you doing loitering about outside the dress shop window? Haven't you got anything better to do with your time?"

"As a matter of fact I do, but first I wanted to come by and see if you had to work late tonight."

"Why? What is it to you if I do?"

"If you're free, I thought you might like to take a walk with me this evening."

Angelique stared at the handsome young man. Despite her flippant attitude, she was by no means immune to François' charm.

"If I'm free tonight and feel up to taking a little exercise, I might be persuaded to accompany you."

François' smile lit up his face, and he might have been encouraged to behave in an even bolder manner had Angelique not heard Madame Suzette's footsteps approaching.

"It's the old hag. Quick! Get out of here before she sees you."

The young girl immediately picked up her needle and returned to her embroidery. Meanwhile, François stole one last longing look at her before returning to the wine shop.

* * *

When the sun went down later that evening, Madame Suzette finally closed up shop. Angelique was free to escape the small, hot quarters she shared with two other young girls who worked for the dressmaker.

"Where are you going?" Madame Suzette demanded to know.

"Out to get some fresh air."

The dressmaker frowned. She didn't trust Angelique, whom she considered a vain, ambitious girl who would one day get herself into trouble.

As expected, François was waiting in front of the wine shop. He was clean-shaven, and his hair was freshly washed. Angelique began walking toward the river, and François fell in step with her. The pace the young couple kept was slow, the girl because she was tired and the boy because he wanted to savor the time he spent with the dazzlingly beautiful object of his affections. François spoke of many things, most of which Angelique ignored, for she was not interested in his thoughts or feelings.

They both turned at a sound from behind to see a carriage led by two massive black stallions barreling toward them. François yanked Angelique's arm to get her out of the path of the driver. As the carriage sped past her, the young woman stared at it with awe.

"Did you ever see such a magnificent vehicle?" she asked. "Was that the king?"

"No," her companion replied. "That carriage belongs to Etienne du Barry, Duc de Rochefort. He occasionally stops at the wine shop when he's in this part of the city."

"It must be wonderful to travel in such luxury," she said, her eyes staring dreamily at the carriage disappearing in the distance.

"Luxury is for aristocrats," he said as though the word left a foul taste in his mouth.

François had heard grumblings of discontent from the patrons of the wine shop, accusations against the king and queen and their ministers, and as a poor man, he shared their resentment.

"I wish I lived like they did," Angelique declared. "I'd love to ride in that carriage, to have Madame Suzette make my clothes and to have servants wait on me. Wouldn't you like to be a duke or a marquis and live in a grand chateau instead of toiling your life away in a wine shop?"

"No," he answered sincerely. "I would never want to be one of them. They say the poor are a drain on society, but it is the aristocrats who waste their money and fritter their lives away on foolish, meaningless pursuits who are at fault. I think all people should be equal: no titles, no inherited wealth, everyone forced to work for their keep."

"Be quiet!" Angelique cautioned. "Such talk will land you in prison."

"Don't worry. No one can hear me but you. Anyway, I hear talk of freedom and equality all the time in the wine shop."

"They're fools, the whole lot of them. It's those damned Americans that have got people in France riled up with their talk of rights and democracy. If you ask me, they never should have fought the British."

Revolution was a subject close to François' heart. He fervently prayed that someday the people of France would rise up against Louis and Marie Antoinette. Still, he did not want to argue the subject with Angelique. What did women know of politics, after all? Besides, he had other things on his mind at the moment.

When they got to the river, François boldly took her in his arms and kissed her. Angelique did not resist. Encouraged by her submissiveness, he held her tighter, his kiss becoming more passionate until finally the young woman pushed him away.

"What's the matter?" he asked. "I thought you liked me."

"I do, but I'm not ready to get married and start having children."

François laughed.

"It was a kiss, not a proposal."

"One kiss leads to another and then, before you know it, you're married with a baby on the way. I've seen it happen often enough."

They remained on the bank for more than an hour, arm in arm, silently watching the river glisten in the moonlight. Occasionally, they would glimpse a piece of trash riding the swiftly moving current.

Some people are like that, Angelique realized. They get swept up by emotions and carried away.

Well, she wasn't about to let that happen to her. Despite her attraction to François, she would keep a tight rein on her emotions and not let her life be destroyed.

* * *

In the following weeks, François continued to pursue Angelique, and she, in turn, managed to hold him at bay while still keeping him interested.

Then one day an attractive, well-dressed young woman entered Madame Suzette's dress shop. Angelique, who was working beside the window to take advantage of the bright sunlight, saw the Duc de Rochefort's carriage parked outside. Madame Suzette was busy with the customer, so Angelique snuck out the back door to get a better look at the vehicle.

The exterior was black and heavily trimmed with gold. On the door, nearly eighteen inches in diameter, was the du Barry family crest. The young dressmaker's assistant stretched out her hand and let her fingertips caress the intricate carving.

"I hope you're not thinking of stealing anything."

Angelique spun around in fright. In front of the wine shop stood the most elegant man she had ever seen.

"N-no, s-sir," she stammered. "I was just looking."

The duke was amused as he stepped forward and opened the door, treating Angelique to a view of the carriage's lavish interior.

"You can sit inside if you'd like."

When Angelique felt the velvety softness of the upholstery beneath her, she closed her eyes and smiled.

So this is what it's like to be wealthy, she thought.

"Don't get too comfortable," the duke teased. "I wouldn't want you falling asleep in my carriage. I'd have the devil of a time explaining you to Fifi."

Fifi, Angelique realized, was the beautiful young lady in Madame Suzette's shop.

"I must be getting back to work anyway," she announced, reluctantly stepping out of the carriage.

Etienne eyed her narrow waist, her full breasts and her comely face.

"Perhaps I'll return some time and give you a ride in the carriage," he said. "Would you like that?"

Angelique's eyes sparkled like sapphires.

"Oh, yes. I'd like that very much."

The door of the dress shop opened, and Fifi stepped outside, giving Madame Suzette several final instructions. Angelique hurried back inside the shop. She glanced out the window in time to see Etienne kiss Fifi on the cheek and help her inside the carriage. The young seamstress seethed with envy.

I would kill to be in Fifi's place; nay, I would die.

Not long after the duke had driven away, Madame Suzette burst through the door to the back room.

"Aren't you done with that hem yet?" she barked.

"Just about, only a few more stitches."

"Good. We've got a lot of work ahead of us. We've just acquired a very important account," Madame Suzette boasted.

"The Duchesse de Rochefort?"

"Good gracious, no. The duchesse has her own personal dressmaker."

"But I saw the duke's carriage outside."

Madame Suzette laughed, something she rarely did.

"The young lady is not the duke's wife."

Angelique's face reddened.

"You mean she was his ... his ...?"

"His mistress. One of them, anyway. And let us hope he remains infatuated with her for a long time. I could become a rich woman if he does."

Unfortunately for Madame Suzette, the Duc de Rochefort began to lose interest in Fifi when he laid eyes on Angelique. The day his mistress returned to the shop to try on the dresses she'd ordered, the duke sought out the young dressmaker's assistant.

"I'm here to ask you if you'd like to go for that ride now," he called when he saw Angelique's silhouette at the window.

She hesitated, looking at the mountain of sewing in front of her.

"I don't believe Madame will allow it."

"Don't trouble yourself with Madame Suzette," he said, dismissing the dressmaker as someone of no consequence.

"As you say, Monsieur," she said coquettishly. "To be honest, I wouldn't care if I ever saw her again."

* * *

When Angelique finally returned to Madame Suzette's shop, it was as a customer, not as an employee. Once again the black-and-gold carriage bearing the du Barry family crest stopped in front of the dress shop. Only this time Angelique--not Fifi--was on the duke's arm. Madame Suzette and her two remaining assistants stared open-mouthed at the Cinderella-like transformation.

"Madame," Etienne announced with a commanding voice, "I leave this sweet young lady in your capable hands. Give her whatever she wants and charge the lot to my account."

The smug look on Angelique's face and her condescending manner infuriated Madame Suzette, but the seamstress would not dare express her displeasure.

"What would you like me to show you, Angelique?"

"It's Mademoiselle to you, and I'm interested in a full wardrobe, from undergarments to gloves. And I don't want you to use any of the inexpensive fabrics you used on that Fifi woman's dresses."

Madame Suzette bit back an angry retort, reminding herself that Angelique was now the mistress of a very rich and powerful man.

"Oui, Mademoiselle," she said and nodded her head respectfully.

Angelique spent most of the morning in Madame Suzette's establishment, selecting fabrics, laces, ribbons and dress styles. When Etienne returned, his new mistress haughtily exited the shop, her head held high, without so much as a farewell. Yet she couldn't resist looking back from inside the carriage to see if any of the three women were staring at her with envy. She frowned with disappointment because not a single face peered from the shop windows.

"Why are you pouting, my dear?" the duke asked.

"It's nothing," she replied, dismissing the dressmaker as Etienne had once done.

"Excellent because I want you in a good mood when we go to supper."

Although the duke took his mistress to one of the finest restaurants in Paris, they ate in a private room so as to avoid any embarrassment to his wife. Angelique didn't mind that her lover was married and the father of three children. A wedding ring was not a necessity. Etienne was an attentive and, more important, generous protector. The only drawback to being a mistress was that rich men tired easily of their playthings. Fate, however, was kind to Angelique in that events transpired in France to spare her the shame of being cast aside or having to beg Madame Suzette for her job back.

After she and Etienne finished supper, they got into the grand, black-and-gold carriage and headed toward the small house the duke had purchased for his paramour in a quiet neighborhood on the outskirts of Paris. They were forced to stop when they encountered an unruly mob in the street.

"What's all the commotion?" Etienne called to his driver.

"I'm not sure, sir, but I'll go find out."

He returned moments later with an explanation.

"It's those damned peasants. They've gone and stormed the Bastille."

The driver returned to his seat and chose an alternate route along less-travelled roads. As the carriage passed by the mob's flank, Angelique recognized François' handsome face in the crowd. Her former beau was rejoicing, for his dream of a French Revolution had begun.

* * *

Angelique didn't get caught up in the revolutionary zeal of those born in her class. Unlike François and the other idealistic fanatics who cried out for liberty, equality and fraternity, she had always believed she was better than the unwashed, ignorant peasants of Paris. Why would she want to be taken down to their level now that she was living a life of comfort and luxury?

Poor deluded fools, she thought, when she spotted Madame Suzette and her two assistants joining in the celebration.

The revolution would eventually be put down. Hadn't Etienne assured her of that? Louis may be a fool and his Austrian-born queen a thorn in the side of the French people, but the monarchy would endure. It was the natural order of things. Unfortunately for Angelique and her lover, the natural order was about to crumble and the French class system would be overturned.

* * *

"A pox on the National Assembly," Etienne shouted one day in June 1790 when he paid a visit to his mistress.

"What have they done now?" Angelique asked.

"They've abolished all titles. Henceforth, I'm to be known simply as Citizen du Barry. Even the king and queen are to be addressed as Citizen and Citizeness Capet."

"Don't worry, darling," Angelique cooed, wrapping her arms around him and kissing him on the cheek. "You'll be the Duc de Rochefort again before the year is out. Louis may be content to be a mere citizen, but I'm sure the queen has already appealed to her brother in Austria for help in putting down this rebellion."

Etienne patted Angelique on the back side.

"You're right, my love," he said.

The former duke delighted in his mistress' innocence and her naivety, but they hadn't stopped him from taking the precaution of sending his wife and children to England until the revolution was over. It was his decision to remain in France and keep watch over his property. He didn't want to return in two years time and find some insurgent had burned his chateau to the ground. Etienne had not offered to send Angelique away, however. He selfishly wanted to keep her by his side to amuse himself while he waited for the government to end the current turmoil. Should something happen to his pretty mistress, it would be regrettable, but there would be other beautiful girls willing to take her place, to trade their virtue for a warm bed and some new dresses.

As the former duke soon learned, though, the revolution would not be put down so easily. His chateau was seized in the name of the people of France, forcing him to seek shelter in Angelique's small house. Even the grand carriage that had once captivated his mistress was confiscated.

"Perhaps we should go to England," Angelique suggested, but her lover wouldn't hear of it.

The former Duc de Rochefort was a proud man who could trace his lineage further back than the Bourbons could. He was not about to let a group of ragtag, power-hungry peasants chase him away from his homeland. Angelique had no desire to leave without him since life for a poor girl in England was no better than it was in France. If Etienne stayed, so would she, determined to resume her pampered existence once the feudal system was restored.

* * *

Then one day in the spring of 1793, while Etienne was attending a secret meeting with royalist sympathizers, there was a knock on Angelique's door. When she opened it, she was surprised to see François standing on the stoop dressed like a sans-culotte: pantaloons, carmagnole and cap of liberty adorned with a red, white and blue cockade.

"François? What are you doing here?" she asked with surprise.

"I must speak to you," he whispered urgently, looking over his shoulder to see if anyone was watching. "May I come in?"

Angelique nodded and stepped aside so he could enter.

"I've come to warn you."

"Warn me about what?"

"These are dangerous times," François declared. "I fear much blood will be spilled."

Angelique's eyes widened with hope.

"So Austria is going to send an army to fight the Jacobins?"

"No, Austria will not interfere in the affairs of France. It is the aristocrats who are in danger."

He paused and gave her a meaningful look.

"As well as those who fraternize with them."

"You're just jealous of Etienne," she declared frostily.

"I don't give a damn about Citizen du Barry. I came here to try to save your life. You must leave France immediately."

"Never."

"If you insist on staying, then join us in the fight for a democratic France. It's your only hope for safety."

Angelique's eyes glared with hatred. The handsome, amusing boy she had once befriended was gone, replaced by this venomous creature, this traitor against king and all she held dear.

"To think I was once foolish enough to like you. Now I never want to lay eyes on you again."

François grabbed her arm in one final attempt to get her to see reason. Angelique pulled away and then reached up and slapped him across the face.

"Get out!" she cried.

François headed toward the door, turned once and said sadly, "If you're arrested, I can't help you."

* * *

June 1793 was the beginning of the year-long Reign of Terror. No one, it appeared, was safe. The royal family had been imprisoned, and the king executed. As François had warned, Etienne and Angelique were arrested and brought before the revolutionary tribunal. A list of charges was read, but Citizen du Barry knew he was being persecuted because of his former wealth and position, as Angelique was being persecuted because she'd been the mistress of an aristocrat. The trial was a mere formality; the verdict had been predetermined: guilty. The same could be said for the sentence: death.

Angelique languished in prison for nearly four months while Etienne had been executed less than a week after being sentenced. When the former seamstress' assistant was finally taken from her cell and loaded onto a tumbrel with four other condemned women, a cheer went up through the crowd gathered around the prison gate.

"Liberté, égalité, fraternité!"

Only one man remained silent. Despite François' steadfast belief in the principles of freedom and democracy, he was appalled at the means by which men like Danton and Robespierre hoped to achieve them. He stared at the frail, disheveled prisoner, who was doomed to die within the hour, and found it hard to recall the beautiful young woman she'd once been.

As the tumbrel made its way to the Place de la Révolution, François was swept up by the momentum of the crowd. The unruly mob cheered as the four women were dragged up the stairs and forced to place their heads in the path of the blade. Finally it was Angelique's turn. The guards, who had been expecting a struggle, were amazed when the young woman bravely walked up the stairs, regally holding her head high. With composure that would have made her late lover proud, she knelt before the blood-stained guillotine, said a brief prayer and leaned forward. In her last moments, she looked out at the crowd, and her eyes briefly met François'.

The executioner released the rope, and the heavy blade fell.

François knew from the roar of the mob that the executioner had held up the severed head for their enjoyment. But the disillusioned young sans-culotte turned away from the gruesome sight, preferring to imagine the look of joy and excitement that must have been on Angelique's face the day she drove away from Madame Suzette's dress shop in the Duc de Rochefort's black-and-gold carriage.


French cat

Salem loves French food and wine! But his favorite is a domestic wine: pink cat-awba.


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