April 20, 1789
Soon I will meet with the love of my life, Dacia de Prideaux thought
as their driver stopped the carriage in front of Paris’s celebrated theater,
la Comédie-Française. Marcel, Dacia de Prideaux’s brother, cracked open
the carriage door. Cold wind gusted inside against the carriage’s back wall
even as rain plastered it from the outside. Dacia hunched her shoulders,
shielding herself from the cold, and touched her hairline at the base of her
neck. So far, her pouf hairstyle—including the glass star-shaped jewels her
lady’s maid had added to represent what she had called un beau ciel blond,
a lovely blond sky—had withstood the weather.
“I fear even the umbrella will do us little good in this weather,” Marcel
said. “We must rush for the entrance.”
Dacia hugged Sunna, her pet bichon, against her chest and scooted to
the edge of her seat.
“Or perhaps, Sister,” Marcel continued, “you would prefer we forgo
our evening with Romeo and Juliet? You might wish to spend the whole
of it in front of the fireplace, wrapped in a blanket and”—he smirked—
“reading one of my latest manuscripts.”
“Your teasing will get you nowhere. You know very well I would not
forgo this evening for anything, especially not for one of your philosophies
on the proper use of political power. King Louis is the monarch, and that
Marcel, still smirking, stepped outside. He pointed his umbrella toward
the wind and helped Dacia from the carriage. The two then hurried alongside
several other patrons over the wet cobblestone road and up the theater’s
staircase. They passed the line of uniformed guards, who with their rifles
propped over their shoulders, stood between the theater’s pillars and arched
doorways, warning all by their very presence that while some jeers and shouts
at the actors might be tolerated, on all accounts order would be maintained.
If only such measures actually worked.
Dacia and Marcel entered the theater’s vestibule and moved to the tall
round pillar closest to the wide staircase. After ascertaining Sunna, still cradled
in her arms, was none the worse for the rain, Dacia scanned the crowd. She
focused more on the stiff-fitted frock coats than the shimmering silks.
“You are certain our box is close to Noah’s?” she asked.
“Our box is as close to the de Lévis’s as I could procure without revealing
your purpose. Now, calm yourself, Sister. I am sure that no matter where
we are, you and your betrothed will find one another.”
“Hush.” She glanced at the men and women on either side of them.
“Noah and I are not engaged.”
“A fact time will very soon correct.”
“Monsieur de Prideaux?” a man’s voice said. “It is you, is it not?”
Both Dacia and Marcel turned to the squat man behind them. By the
looks of his gray coat and simple powdered wig, he was very likely in trade—
doing well, if the cut of his coat spoke the truth of the matter, but still in trade.
“I am Monsieur de Prideaux,” Marcel said. “What can I do for you,
“Oh my. Nothing. Nothing at all. I only wanted to congratulate you on
your last essay on man’s right for happiness. Not many men would dare refer
to the corruption within our justice system or announce so publicly that the
peasants’ sons should not be forced into military service while the bourgeoisie’s
sons are not”—he lowered his voice—“though, many of us do say it in private.”
Not that again. Dacia frowned as several more men and just as many
women gathered round her brother. Next, they would be blaming the aristocracy
for the bread riots, as if it was their fault the weather had destroyed
France’s crops. Could they help what God decreed? At any rate, that fact
alone was proof enough the plebeians did not have enough sense to rule
themselves, much less all of France.
A masked Harlequin—one of the actors, no doubt—dressed in a
patterned costume of red, white, and black diamonds approached Marcel
and handed him a triple-folded note.
Marcel finished speaking with his latest admirer and read the note’s
contents. He handed the Harlequin a coin. “Tell the sender I am most
happy to meet with him after the performance.”
“Very good, monsieur.”
“On second thought . . .”
“Tell Monsieur Robespierre he may share our box this evening, if it
would please him to do so.” Marcel slipped the note inside his coat pocket
and told the man the location of their box on the second floor.
“Morbleu, Marcel,” Dacia said when the Harlequin had disappeared in
the crowd. “The two of you will be talking so much, you will forget all about
why we are here. You know how important this evening is to me.”
“Robespierre’s presence will not spoil your surprise. Truly, Sister, after
having been so many years away at school, de Lévis will certainly be anxious
to see you again.”
“That is the trouble. It has been years. What if he has forgotten me?”
“Do be serious. Surely his letters have left you no room for doubt on
“You are right.” Dacia smiled, but inside her thoughts hitched. Was
Marcel right? The last letter she had received from Noah had arrived two
months ago. She had told herself he had not corresponded more because he
was busy finishing his school responsibilities and making arrangements for
his travel home; but after the first month had passed with no communication,
her certainty of his love for her had fallen prey to doubt, ridiculous though
Another of Marcel’s admirers approached, and Dacia stepped slightly
back from her brother. She rubbed Sunna’s neck, a little too anxiously, she suspected,
and again searched the crowd. No Noah. Her sources had been correct,
had they not, in saying Noah would be there that night? Or . . . maybe . . . had
he in fact heard she too would be at the theater and had wished to avoid seeing
her? By all reports, he had been home for a week. Surely, with an entire week
at his disposal, he could have found time to see her. They had been inseparable
in the weeks before he had left. And she simply could not have misunderstood
the note, consisting only of two hand-drawn lovebirds, that he had given her
their last evening together. Noah, Noah . . . where are you?