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A Beauty That Was Hated (Part 1: The Drapery And What Was Behind It)
“Charlotte!” I called. Hearing no response from my old nurse, I got up from my paints and easel in search for her. “The stupid old biddy probably can’t hear anything. Mother said her hearing was going out like the tide at dusk,” I muttered with annoyance as I removed my smock and carelessly flung it across the room which revealed my golden taffeta gown. Despite my grumblings, I did love Charlotte like another mother. It was not like my own was very motherly in the first place.
I turned down a corridor in the mansion and found myself face to face with some richly embroidered tapestry that I had never seen before. I gasped with delight at the jewel-toned scene in front of me. It portrayed an ivory palace with an ebony trim, the whole thing encrusted with pearls, rubies, diamonds and- my personal favorite- sapphires. The sky was dark gray behind the palace, with a daring bolt of lightning done in silver and gold thread, the two colors intricately contrasting with each other in a blaze of fashion. There were Japanese gardens with red bridges around it.
The first emotion that came to me was annoyance at the fact that Mother and Charlotte had deceived me. Then again, they didn’t exactly deceive me. They had simply not informed me. But it was so gorgeous! How could they have forgotten to tell me such a thing? Maybe it was a present to me for my fifteenth birthday!
I reached out a hand to touch it-and the whole drapery crashed down. I then realized it
was very old. I had neglected to see the cobwebs and the light coating of dust on it. What was behind it was, on the other hand, so intriguing that I almost forgot about the palace portrait.
A cherry wood door with a bronze knob was gleaming in front of me as though it had been newly polished. I was not a timid child, seeing how I was only fourteen years old and always did whatever I wanted to, so I reached out my hand once more, turned the handle, and let the door swing open.
I heard voices. I recognized my mother’s voice, her deep Austrian accent contrasting sharply with the soft French accent of one of her companions and the strange American accent of the other. They were apparently unaware of my presence, and were in a deep discussion, so I was likely to go unnoticed for quite a while.
“My only daughter is to be married to him for certain now? She is but a child, and he is a full-grown man.” Mother said.
“Madam, I realize the situation may be slightly upsetting to you,” said one of the men with a French accent. Mother scoffed at the word “slightly”. “However, there is absolutely no way for us to detain it any longer. King Louis XIV desires unification with Austria as soon as possible.”
“But she is only fourteen years old! In addition, she knows absolutely nothing of this situation.”
“Well, then, it is time she learnt it!” The American spoke up this time. “Marie-Antoinette is going to be married and has been engaged to the King of France for over two years. It’s a known fact. She might as well know what people have been talking about the last two years. Why didn’t you tell her in the first place and get it over with? You knew full well you could not possibly prevent it, as no one else can.” Here, Mother hesitated. She was normally noble, graceful, and full of confidence, with a ready answer for everything. These men were getting on her nerves, I could tell. It was then when I realized they were discussing me. I stepped back, stunned. I was engaged to a French king? I was fourteen years old! My fingers were itching to close around the man’s throat who had unknowingly informed me of my fate. I took another step backwards, but this time, a floorboard creaked. All eyes turned towards me. Being the center of attention has always been nice, but I had never had this kind of attention, so for once, I did not like it. “Hello, Mother.” I said in a regal and cold voice.
“Marie! I thought you had your painting to attend to.” Mother’s hands were fluttering everywhere as she bustled towards me, her blue silk gown making a rustling sound with every move that she made. She embraced me and I stiffened. This liar had the audacity to give me a hug as if she had not done anything wrong? The nerve! The gall! It was unfathomable.
“I was attending to my painting. I went looking for Charlotte and found an old drapery. It came crashing down, and I found the door behind it. I came in.”
“When did you come in?” I translated that to mean ‘How much did you hear?’ I smirked.
“I heard enough to know that I need to know exactly what is going on.”
“All right, dear. I will tell you in the morning, or maybe at dinner.” If it were not terribly un-aristocratic to snort, I would have done so. Mother never saw me in the morning, and she rarely ate dinner with me. In fact, she avoided me like the plague.
“Mother, I want to know what is going on now. Would one of you gentleman possibly explain it to me?” I asked as I turned my attention towards the two men. One of them had one of those ridiculous cocked hats on with a red jacket. His eyes were light green, and his hair was as blonde as my own. I looked at his lapel and saw he was a Lieutenant. I despised military personnel, but being the daughter of the Austrian empress, I had to put up with it far too often. The other man was more sophisticated. He was wearing a suit that was simple, but stylish. His hat was a tall beaver, which made me want to giggle, seeing how he had to keep one hand on it to keep it from falling off. He could not have been more than two years my senior, but there was a sense of superiority around him. His hair was blonde, like the other man’s and my own, but his eyes were a dark brown-as a matter of fact, they were so dark brown that if I wasn’t staring so intently into his eyes, I would have thought they were black.
“Madam-“the military man began, but was cut off by my mother.
“Darling, I can hear Charlotte calling you. Perhaps you’d better go?”
“You didn’t even-“
“Nor do I want to hear what you were about to say.” This statement struck mother speechless. Even though I knew I would pay for impudence later, it was extremely satisfying.
“Madam, your mother should be the one to explain it to you.” This came from the one who was about sixteen. I turned to him, my temper flaring up.
“And what makes you think she would tell me if she kept me in the dark for two blasted years?” I shouted at him. He was up on his feet in an instant.
“Yes, I do!” he shouted back at me. Mother and the other man had been on their feet for a little while, and now they were slowly backing up.
“You don’t know anything!”
“And you are a conceited brat!”
“And you are an imbecile!”
“You are impossible.”
“You are insufferable.”
“You are beautiful.”
“You are-wait, what?” I stepped back, surprised. No one had ever complimented me during a fight before. I found it pleasing. He smirked at me, and I instantly became infuriated again. “And you are slightly attractive, though not as attractive as myself at any rate.”
“That was the most back-handed compliment I have heard in all my born days!”
“That is not so terribly many days, apparently, from what I’ve seen of your maturity.” I was now the one with an infuriating smirk on my face.
“I wouldn’t be talking about seeing maturity if I were you, Marie.”
“Do NOT call me MARIE!” I shouted. We glared at each other. Then he extended his hand.
“I’m John Newton. You can call me Jack.” I extended my hand.
“Marie-Antoinette.” I said, shaking his hand.
“It is a pleasure to make your acquaintance.”
“Likewise.” We looked at each other and burst out laughing. Mother and the military man looked at each other, then at us, and finally shook their heads in complete bewilderment.