I am sorry that it has taken so long for me to reply to your letter. I am closely guarded, and hardly have the time to myself to think, let alone write anyone letters. It makes me think about how much time I would have enjoyed with you as my wife, and not her. But unfortunately, we will never know.
I hope all is well with you at Versailles. Do not hesitate to write me in return. But if you could get someone else to address it, a man, perhaps, it is less susceptible to be plucked from the mail before I can read it.
Natalie set the letter aside on her small night table. Jauque seemed more far away than ever tonight. When the doctors came to help Natalie, it was too late; she had lost the baby. She didn’t know if she should feel sad about it and mourn, or feel relieved that she would not have to face her husband and chance his finding out that she was pregnant before marrying him.
In the end, she was upset. What little part of Jauque she had with her was now lost.
Louis sat in a chair that he brought in from his room. His chin was rested in his hand, and he stared out the window and across the courtyard. He hadn’t said anything since the doctors departed, and it was unlikely, if Natalie did not speak first, that he would say anything at all.
His expression was that of grief as well. Probably less for the loss of the child, but more because he didn’t seem to know what to say or do to comfort Natalie. Of course, he would be relieved in a small way as well, as this meant he no longer had to cover for her dire mistake.
Natalie broke the silence. “This happens to a lot of women.”
“I know.” Louis spoke so closely to the window, that it fogged up with his breath.
“Well, I know too. And I do not plan to mope about because of it. I’d expect you not to either.”
Louis glanced upwards at Natalie. “You are not upset?”
“Of course I am upset, Louis. I am beyond upset. But moping and carrying on about it is not going to change anything. The baby is gone, you are still remaining here, and I am to go back to a man that I do not love, while the man that I do love suffers under the rule of a horrid English woman.”
“Well, sometimes things happen that we don’t want to happen. And sometimes those things are for the better.” Louis returned his attention to staring at the courtyard outside.
“How very insensitive of you to say.” She brushed her hands down the blanket which covered her from the waist down. She spent the whole day in bed, propped up against the headboard, wasting time away as nature took its course.
“Natalie, I am sorry, but I am not entering this argument again.”
“Then I will retire for the night. If you may excuse yourself; I wish you a good evening.” Natalie sank down in the bed and buried half her head under the covers.
In her shelter, she heard Louis blow the lantern out and walk to the door. “Goodnight.”
The door clicked behind him, and Natalie fell into a restless sleep.
A week later, Natalie recovered. She celebrated her renewed strength by asking for a day to go to the shops. There weren’t many of them, as there were in Paris, but there were a few renown stores located around Versailles. In particular, Natalie wanted to visit the hat shop, where she heard the most fashionable hats could be bought. The style wasn’t popular yet, but those who kept a close watch knew that hats would be the new and fashionable walking cane soon.
She was taking another young noblewoman, Lady Jeanette, with her. Or rather, Lady Jeanette was being generous enough to be an escort. Natalie was becoming rather claustrophobic in her prison cell of a room, and she hungered to taste the fresh, country air.
“Are you ready, My Lady?” Jeanette asked, holding out a hand to assist Natalie with climbing up into the carriage.
“I am more than ready, Lady Jeanette. You’ve no idea.” Natalie gathered her skirts and entered the cart. Flattening out the poof of her petticoats, she shifted over in her seat to allow room for Jeanette to sit.
“Good. We will be going to such wonderful places today, you really should know.” Jeanette pointed up at Natalie’s hair and smiled. “That is such a lovely hair piece. What is it? Gardenia?”
Lifting her hand to the hairpiece, Natalie nodded, running her fingers over the petals. “Yes. Silk. It was a present for my birthday a year ago. I thought it went wonderfully with this dress.” The gardenias and upper layer of the dress were a soft shade of cream. The dress dipped into a low neckline, and around her neck, Natalie wore a simple, white ribbon choker.
“A beautiful outfit all together. You are so fashionable, Lady Natalie. Do you do any work in the area?” Jeanette lurched forward slightly and from outside, the horses neighed as the carriage started for the town.
“I don’t, and I never thought of working in fashion. There really isn’t a place for women in the industry.” Natalie watched as they left the courtyard, the tall, wrought-iron gates shutting behind them. She breathed a sigh of relief.
Jeanette laughed, tugging aside the curtain to pin it back. The streets of Versailles passed by at a comfortable pace, but Natalie was a touch disturbed at the amount of people who seemed not to have homes. “Isn’t it amusing how that works, Lady Natalie? Women are the nurturers of fashion, we are the ones who wear the dresses and the wigs and the heeled shoes…but yet there isn’t any room for us in the industry.”
Natalie laughed along with Jeanette. “It is rather ridiculous, if you ask me. Perhaps I just might break into the fashion scene just to spite the other men…who are hardly men in the first place, if you know what I allude to.” She pointed outside, her finger against the window. “Why are there so many people on the streets? Versailles is a rather well-off city, I thought?”
The laughing stopped. “It was, yes. But, since the people started to spend all their money to fund their pitiful revolution, they have also put themselves out on the street. Now that, Lady Natalie, is what I call ridiculous.”
They passed by a mother with three children. The children combined probably weighed what a healthy child should weigh. They were dirty with clothes that hardly protected them from the bite of the late summer air. It made the bile in Natalie’s stomach curdle with disgust and anger. “How could a mother do that to her children?”
“Well, when a mother sticks her nose into business that is not hers, she starts to think of herself and not her children, I suppose.” Jeanette shrugged as they left the scene behind. “You see it all throughout the city. And then they always end up at the palace, waiting for handouts because no one can manage to find work or money to buy their own bread.”
“Sickening. I actually feel sick over it.”
“As you should. Just remember this the next time you see grubby little hands raised up at you, asking for money from your coffers. They chose this for themselves.” Jeanette pushed a strand of misplaced hair back behind her ear. She was young, probably the same age as Natalie, and her red hair, blush of freckles and green eyes made her very attractive.
“Why aren’t you wed yet, Lady Jeanette? If you don’t mind my asking? You are too young and pretty to be by yourself.”
Jeanette laughed again. “It is because my father has a bleeding heart, Lady Natalie. He says I can marry whom I love when I find him.” She pat the piece of hair in place, emerald eyes returning to Natalie.
Jealousy panged through Natalie’s veins. She tried very hard not to be bitter about the fact that Jeanette could marry whom she wished. It certainly wasn’t fair, or at least, it didn’t seem fair to Natalie, who had to marry whom her brother wished her to marry.
But she realized that being jealous about Jeanette’s good fortune was not fortuitous of a young noblewoman. So, without displaying any bit of upset, Natalie smiled prettily. “That is very fortunate for you, Lady Jeanette. You should give your father a million kisses for such a liberty.”
“I assume your father did not allow the same for you?” Jeanette’s mouth turned downwards, crestfallen. “That is a real shame, but I understand that most women don’t get the opportunity that my father is giving me.”
Shaking her head, Natalie peeked back out the window when the cart stopped. “No. My father died some years ago and never left any such decree to my brother. So, I married whom my brother decided for me, a family friend.”
“It is good, then, that at least you knew him, yes?” The coachman opened the door and extended his hand to help Jeanette down. They stopped in front of a shop with empty window display. No sign hung above the shop door. It looked like a normal building with no real purpose and not a store at all.
“I guess. It is still like marrying a stranger when the man is not the man you loved.” Natalie exited the coach as well and looked up at the store. “This is it?”
“Yes. I know it looks rather unassuming, but I promise you that the man inside is the best hatter you will ever meet. Starting here and now, Lady Natalie, you can start that fashion statement you so wanted to take part in.” Jeanette smiled brightly and pushed the door open. A little bell rang to announce their arrival, the tinkling soft and magical.
The inside of the shop was chilly and plain. The floors were made of unfinished wood and were rough to walk on in heels, which Natalie chose to wear today. Countertops were set around the store with un-faced mannequin heads set on top. Each head wore a different wig, some taller than others, and on each wig, a hat rested. Some hats were small, meant to adorn the wig like an ornament, and others were large and floppy, meant to wear with flat wigs.
Behind one of the counters, a small man with a monocle was working on another hat. He shaped it around a mould, and carefully put the first few stitches in the material to hold the shape together. When Lady Jeanette cleared her throat to gain his attention, the man looked upwards and dropped what he was doing immediately. “My Ladies. I am so sorry. I was so lost in my work, I did not hear the bell.” He bowed politely, his back stiff. “Welcome to my hattery.”
“No worries, Monsieur Pierre.” Lady Jeanette stood to the side to introduce Natalie. “May I introduce to you Lady Natalie? She is my companion for today and has a very fine eye for fashion. I brought her here so she can help make herself a hat or two. Would you mind if she drew up some plans?”
Natalie blinked and held a hand out to pause the conversation. “Monsieur.” She curtsied politely, even if the man was common and didn’t require such a greeting. “Please, do not feel as if you must sacrifice your plans for myself. Lady Jeanette is very eager and ambition to take the seed of my love for fashion and plant it somewhere where she can watch it grow.”
Jeanette put a hand on her hip. “Of course I wish to do so. You deserve some sort of love in your life, Lady Natalie. Why not let the Monsieur provide you an outlet for just this once?”
“I guess it would not hurt if I were to design just one hat.” The hatter motioned for Natalie to come to him, and so she slipped behind the counter and made her way to where he stood. Her shoes crunched on broken moulds and snagged pieces of discarded fabrics. The floor was a mess, but out of the sight of the customer. Clever little man.
“Do you have a design in mind, My Lady?” Pierre pushed a piece of paper and chunk of pointed charcoal in her direction. “Here. Sketch out what you have in mind, and I’ll go in the back to bring out the most fashionable colors being used right now.” The hatter scuttled through the door leading into the back room. A cool breeze swept into the shop and cut off when the door was shut.
Natalie turned the charcoal over in her hand, pondering what she should draw. She didn’t know she’d be put on the spot like this, and she never took down her fashion ideas on paper before.
“I think you should make a medium-sized hat. One that isn’t too large, like that one.” Jeanette pointed at the mannequin with the floppy hand. “And one that isn’t too small, like that one.” The second gesture was to the tiny hat used as a wig adornment. “Make one that fits nicely on a normal, low coiffed hairstyle. Think how beautiful it would look.”
“You are right! And if we added some feathers and a brooch…” Natalie immediately began to sketch through her words. She drew a sloppy-looking hat on top of an oval, which represented a head. On the side of the hat, she swiped her charcoal up the page to create a feather, and then drew a circle at the quill of the feathers; this was the brooch.
Pierre came back out, his arms filled with reams of fabrics in oranges and reds. They mimicked the color of the leaves that fell in the fall season, which was quickly approaching.
Jeanette perked up and pointed at a dark, maroon color. “That one. You must pick that one, and then the feathers-“
“Can be pheasant feathers. How lovely would they look together?” Natalie clapped her hands in excitement. The emotion overcame her since she hadn’t felt very happy since the masquerade, when her brother scolded her. She thought about Lord Monturo often since then, just as she was now, and was becoming disturbed that she was thinking about Jauque less. Lord Monturo would have loved to come out to the hattery. He seemed like the hat sort of person.
“Oh good! Good! These are wonderful plans, ladies.” Pierre lifted the sketch into the air, and squinted through his monocle to see all of the details. “I will have the hat completed for you by the week’s end.”
Jeanette smiled broadly at Pierre, but even more so at Natalie. “You see? You did it! We could put a pseudonym inside of the hat and no one will even know that it was you. And then one day, you could expose yourself and the industry would be shocked that a woman took it over.”
Natalie laughed at Jeanette’s dream for her. It was nice to have someone who believed in her, someone who didn’t second guess her every move and decision, like Louis did.
Jeanette “kiss-kissed” Pierre without actually letting her lips touch his cheek. “Thank you, Monsieur. This means much to my friend and me.”
Pierre blushed in reply. “Come back at the end of the week, and you shall have your masterpiece.”
“We shall, Monsieur. Adieu. Take care.” Jeanette gently took Natalie by her wrist and lead her out of the shop. “That was plenty of fun, wasn’t it? Now, where to go next…”
Natalie went through the door, the little bell chiming after her. She felt lighter, having given herself up to the small fun found in designing a hat of her own. Being out of her room and getting involved with something productive was much more entertaining than waiting around all day for something to happen.
She didn’t know, though, that she would become apart of something bigger than female-created hat designs. Before they could make it into their carriage, a large bang sent Jeanette and Natalie to the ground. Natalie’s palms scraped against the cobblestone, and the rawness of the skin there throbbed. She wanted to yell out, but before she could, she felt hands on her, pulling her up by the waist.
“Get up!” Jeanette’s face was bleeding. She had a cut somewhere above her eyes, but Natalie couldn’t tell where, exactly. There was too much blood. “Get up!”
Pushing her scraped hands on the ground, Natalie lifted herself up to her feet, and stumbled over her petticoats. Jeanette managed to somehow grab onto Natalie’s upper arm before she took another tumble. With a strength that didn’t look like it could come from Jeanette, she pulled Natalie forward and towards the cart.
It was in shambles. The coachman hung limp off of his chair, which no longer sat up high like it should have. Instead, it sagged down behind the horses, and the obviously dead coachman was tangled up in metal and wood.
Natalie’s stomach churned. She had no idea what was happening, and when she opened her mouth to ask, it filled with blood. She choked on the metallic-tasting, thick liquid, and then spit it out so she could breathe. Where was she bleeding from?