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L'Estranger: Chapter One
L'Estranger: Chapter One

L'Estranger: Chapter One

Mitzi1776Mitzi Danielson-Kaslik

June 1791 – The Colony of Saint Domingue – Port – au – Prince, Haiti

The sky poured with rain in the dying twilight. The colossal grey clouds, which had been growing and growing it seemed almost for years now, had broken and shattered their translucent shards over the sea.

It seemed to me as if I had been in this little rowing boat for hours; I had disembarked the ship with its red, white and blue sails just as the sky had begun to darken with its inevitable dusk and had been packed with some of my trunks and boxes into this little boat (a boat which to me almost seemed not to be worthy of seafaring), it rocked and swayed dangerously, lurching for side to side as we sat, waiting for the harbour’s gate to be prized open by the shadowing, crumbling figures silhouetted on the docks.

My company and I had been at sea for almost twelve weeks, and it was brutally frustrating to be yards away from landing on the island while the news was sent that we had arrived a week early and that therefore, it’d be preferable for them (those who controlled the opening and closing of the docks) to open the massive half-rotten wooden barricades so that we may pass. Barricades? Now that took me back just over two years when the first barricades sprung up in Paris. But, I suppose, with that thought in mind, I should retain my patience for a while longer waiting in this boat being buffeted here and there by the waves for I should remember my gladness to not be in France.

I had lived in France my entire life; indeed, this had been my only excursion from its borders, and it had served me well. To a point. It had been a perfect haven of fine feathers and parties and suitors for the first seventeen years of my life but then, in May 1789, that all changed in a way I think we are unlikely ever to see the world change again; the Revolution came. My perfect Parisian life had been shattered in a matter of days. I closed my eyes to think of all the deaths; the blood that ran like a great crimson river down the cobblestone streets, eventually draining into the Seine until the entire river was tinged the colour of wine.

My husband of just over a month (known to most simply as Le Roche), was one of the first to be killed. He was a marquis and had brought us back from our honeymoon in Lyon early in the hope that he could calm the paupers down to restore order. But he couldn’t. No one could restore order there. Not even God. He was shot through the head by a musket almost immediately. But I bet my family envied him his fate compared to their ends; marched out in front of the Bastille and shot up. My father first, then my mother and then my thirteen-year-old brother Thierry. I am still wondering how the Revolution thought he was one of the oppressors – perhaps it was when he and I were sitting up on the roof of my parents’ house in Paris one early morning and Thierry threw an apple at the back of Jacques Pierre Brissot’s head. He didn’t know it was him at the time; he just wanted to cheer me up after the death of Le Roche. Not that I was especially upset that the marquis had died. As his wife, I performed my expected grieving duty for society, for he was by no means a bad husband; Le Roche did not beat me or rape me or do any of the things French aristocrats had been painted to do by the Revolution. But still, perhaps cruelly, I did not love him.

And I did not mourn him as I did Thierry or my parents. I was at their execution, standing behind a pillar. I was like Le Roche in that way; I could not save them, at least I had the intelligence not to get shot. It was Marquis de Lafayette that shot them, which makes some of the following events even more bizarre. As soon as the Bastille had been overtaken, I had dressed in servants’ clothes and when the ‘National Assembly’ arrived at the house of myself and Le Roche and asked me Where is your Madame?, I said hung herself and gestured to the hanging corpse of a pauper woman I had found dead in the streets that morning and strung up, dressed up in one of my old gowns. And being the imbeciles they are, they believed me and left, wishing me liberty. Liberty, now I knew they did not wish that on me. I mean, what French maid has an accent like mine? Ha!

But things had only got more bizarre from there; I had hidden in that house for the next year or so, I had forgotten how long it was exactly, only leaving for food and living under the guise of Etiennette, a maid to the deceased Marquise Elodie La Roche. It was astoundingly pleasing for me to slip out of my own world and into someone else’s, and I do not deny that I very much enjoyed playing Etiennette for the months that I did. I was sorry to see her go.

But she had to go; though for all of my soul, I don’t know why I did it, perhaps I simply accepted that I could not live a lie any longer or perhaps I just missed my fine things, but on the morning of February 28th, 1791, I decided to take my final walk as Etiennette down past the Château de Vincennes where I saw a riot on the steps, at least that was what I assumed it to be as I approached the gates. But as I entered the Château either by fate or foolishness, I recognised some of the men who were rioting – they were my husband’s friends, but, luckily, they did not recognise me as Etiennette (amazing what a change of clothes can do).

And then I saw him, standing bold as brass calming them, musket in hand. Marquis de Lafayette. The shock of seeing him again caused me to crumple and fall again the back of a noble who had been wielding a pistol aimed at Lafayette. The force of me had knocked him off course, and his shot hit the ceiling, blasting through the gold gilded mouldings just as he would have done to the head of Lafayette if it hadn’t had been for me. It was then, as I was scooped out of the crowd by cheering Revolutionaries insisting that I had just saved Lafayette’s life, that I released Etiennette had made too grave of an error to be allowed to remain unchallenged, so she had to disappear and when Lafayette with his wig and medals asked me who I was, I said I am Elodie La Roche, and he did not shoot me or think to ask Was the Marquise not already dead? He just thanked me for his life, and as I was hoisted onto the shoulders of adoring, bloodthirsty fans, all I could think was Fuck. What did I just do?

And again, I did what I could. I obeyed the next command of the masses and, when I received a letter from Lafayette himself, reinstating all my wealth and fine things as a heroine of what he called ‘the Republique on the condition that they needed true Revolutionaries like me to go to Haiti and control the slaves of the colony of Saint Domingue, I agreed, simply desperate to leave France now I had blown my cover as Etiennette, and all the nobles thought Marquise Elodie La Roche was a traitor. And so it was that in April I was packed onto a ship (with my own cabin) and much finer things than I had had as either the daughter of a Baronet or the wife of a Marquis and I had found myself here at the dock of Port-au-Prince, waiting to be pulled onto a little rotting jetty.

And I would not have to wait much longer, for the watery gates were opening.

Author Notes: This is an idea I am toying with; let me know if you like it. Don't worry, I've not given up with Belle Rock!

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Mitzi1776
Mitzi Danielson-Kaslik
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15 Dec, 2021
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