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If you are so unhappy about your life,
why not do something about it?
-The School of Gallantry
On the Farthest Outskirts of Paris, France
August 1792 - Late morning
Chirping birds scattered into the nearby forest breaking the silence as several large crows scavenged the dew softened fields.
It was eerily quiet. A bit too quiet. Even for the countryside.
Thérèse Angelique Clavette peered through the low hanging branches of the orchard she had taken refuge in the night before and strained to listen for anyone coming down the dirt path.
The pulsing silence was interrupted only on occasion by gathering crows and the buzzing of flies and bees. Strangely, no one had been on the road or in the fields since her journey commenced days earlier.
The revolution had certainly changed the world.
With so much equality being heralded across the land, no one wanted to work anymore.
The vast orchard surrounding her hinted that farmers had decided to move on to other things. Rusting scythes lay abandoned amongst piles of gathered hay and poorly nailed ladders had been left propped against various apple trees next to wooden buckets gathering debris and insects.
She hoped to have been in Paris by now, but without a single cart on the road to get her there, she had been forced to walk the entire way.
She knew she should have bought those ugly leather ankle boots, but had naïvely wanted to go to Paris in style. She had therefore opted to trade her best bonnet for a pair of satin slippers from the only fashionable woman in her village: the inn-keeper’s wife.
The pretty, indigo slippers had been difficult to resist. They were stitched with beautiful, delicate patterns of yellow flowers and had wooden heels that were absolutely fabulous. Only…they were too tight given they were meant to be worn with silk stockings, not thick, knitted ones. As such, Thérèse had been forced to walk without said slippers for almost two days, proving to her that being vain was no different than being stupid.
Grudgingly folding the blanket she had slept on, Thérèse set it into her travelling basket and leaned over the grass to spit out remnants of the chalk she had used to brush her teeth. She held up a small cracked mirror and used the wool sleeve of her gown to rub away the gritty residue. Each white tooth squeaked in glorious cleanliness.
She pertly tucked away the mirror, convinced her teeth alone were going to make her famous.
Ready for the long day ahead, Thérèse adjusted her straw bonnet back into place and dragged in a regal breath, hefting up the wicker basket full of neatly folded clothing and apples she had picked from the abandoned orchard. Pushing her blonde braid over her slim shoulder, she trudged through the high grass in thick wool stockings. Her patched skirts and faded blue petticoats dragged behind her as her shoeless feet crunched their way out onto the dirt path of the small forest.
She hoped she was going the right way. She honestly didn’t know anymore.
Shaking out her skirts to rid the fabric of any hay, she marched onward, thankful the ground wasn’t muddy and that the sky still held onto sunshine. Despite being lost, she was rather proud of herself. She was about to become something no woman in her village had ever dared to be: independent.
Due to all the attention she received from countless men who kept fawning over her to the point of leaving coins on the windowsill of their cottage, her parents panicked and decided a quick marriage was the only option.
Of course, the moment her availability had been announced during a barn gathering, chaos of the worst sort ensued. Men, both young and old, from in and around Giverny, started competing for her to the point of smothering common sense.
Despite being the daughter of a butcher, she had always been popular due to men thinking she was attractive. And she was. She had dealt with it her whole life.
Ever since she came into her sizable breasts at the age of fourteen, men would stop her on the side of the road and eagerly offer her a cage full of chickens in return for a kiss. As if a chicken were worth that much. Others would insist she help herself to a barrel of oats in return for a peek at her calves and stockings. One bastard become so obsessed, he followed her almost every day to the market, insisting she take his goat well-known for producing the best milk in France. All in return for her mouth on his cock. Not the rooster in his coop, but the one in his trousers.
One by one these fools pushed whatever they owned at her in an effort to flip up her skirts. And one by one she denied them. Because she wanted far more than mere chickens and goats. She wanted a dashing man capable of seeing past her breasts and her face. Above all, she wanted a dashing man capable of seducing her soul.
Mind you, it was mildly entertaining getting so much attention from men. After all, with ten siblings, she barely got any at home. But she quickly realized the attention was lusty and self-serving. These men thought she would somehow fulfill their salacious fantasies while making their lives perfect. And whilst, yes, she was prettier than most, she was anything but perfect. She had horrible habits that included using her acting skills to get what she wanted, biting her nails and falling asleep in her corset. Not that they cared. All they wanted was a prized cow with big udders.
Genuinely concerned about the direction of her life, she secretly wrote to her favorite cousin Rémy, who lived in Paris, asking if there was a place for her in the theatre he managed. It was a controversial theatre well-known for comedy and showcasing actresses in knee-high skirts and colorful stockings.
She was desperate.
While she would have preferred a far more prestigious theatre to perform in, she knew an aspiring actress could only command so much. Fortunately, Rémy was thrilled and insisted she come to Paris at once, promising her a leading role and a room of her own. He believed in her talent and understood her woes. He himself had escaped the village of Giverny at sixteen, almost fifteen years to the day, refusing to become the blacksmith his father wanted him to be. She was determined to follow in the glory of her cousin’s steps and become famous.
Only…her parents engaged her to the pastor’s eldest son, Didier Dubois. They claimed she needed a respectable man to tame her ungovernable nature and forced her to sit with him during supper. He was thirty years older and treated her as if she was his daughter, constantly commenting that her ankle length skirts were not long enough.
She begged her parents to end the engagement. It resulted in her getting slapped and being told she was ungrateful. Imagine that. Her. Ungrateful. She, who was raising her ten younger brothers for her parents who kept stupidly having children because of their unbridled lust for each other. She, who was doing all of the sewing and the cooking and the cleaning and helping in the butcher shop to the point of only sleeping four hours of almost every day. It made her realize she only had one choice.
She was going to wear knee-high skirts and colorful stockings.
So she kissed the foreheads of her brothers, one by one, and promised to send them all money if they told her parents she was off to the market and would be at a friend’s house for the day. They eagerly pushed her out the door and pinched her arm for luck so she might become rich and famous.
Under the fading sunlight that then led to countless stars, she disappeared, determined to be more than a wife or a headstone in the village everyone would come to forget when the letters in the stone faded.
Those stars had turned to a greying sky going on its second day.
Adjusting the basket against her hip, Thérèse marched onward.
The sooner she got to Paris, the sooner life could begin. She didn’t mind showing off her legs to a whistling crowd. It was better than cleaning up after eleven males, breaking up fights, or using a cleaver to chop the heads off innocent chickens who had been merrily clucking a few minutes earlier.
It was all about perspective. And she had plenty of it.
Halfway down the forest path, a pebble wedged itself into the stocking between her toes. Thérèse puffed out an exasperated breath, but kept walking, determined not to stop. Another pebble nudged its way into her other stocking and pinched her heel.
How could something so small be so annoying?
She jerked to a halt, setting the basket down. Removing each stocking with gritted teeth, she shook out the pebbles, flinging them toward the forest around her.
At this pace, she would never get to Paris.
She kept following road signs claiming the city was somewhere ahead only to find it never was. She sensed she was officially lost. Bundling her stockings together, she tucked them into the far corner of her basket and plucked it up by the wicker handle.
Crows cawed from the trees above as the sun briefly disappeared behind a looming dark cloud. Those blue skies weren’t so blue anymore. Lifting her gaze to the swaying high branches of green trees, she hastened her step, avoiding cart grooves.
Thunder sounded in the far distance.
She groaned, knowing she was about to get soaked.
A growing gust of wind whipped at her ballooning skirts and flapped the wide rim of her bonnet. Leaves from the ground rose up in a flurry and scattered. It was as if the weather had decided to throw a tantrum merely because she wanted a new life. How rude.
Determined not to be intimidated by the darkening morning and forest, Thérèse marched onward and occupied herself by singing. When she eventually got bored of that, she started to openly practice the lines her cousin scribed for her to memorize. “Is it possible for a mere commoner, like myself, to attain a measure of good cheer in a world dominated by—” The wind picked up in ferocity, fluttering her bonnet upward. She squeaked and grabbed at her bonnet to keep it in place.
The ground beneath her bare feet trembled.
She paused, glancing down. It was as if the devil were approaching.
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