Sample text for The lacemaker / Kimberly Brubaker Bradley.


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Chapter One

When the Princess of Lamballe's lace was ready, Grand-mère decided that I

should deliver it. Not because I was responsible -- I was not, as she often

reminded me. Not because she trusted me -- she did not, as I well knew. It was

because I was worthless, because Grand-mère had been more than usually

unhappy about the lace I'd made the previous day, and because one of the very

minor nobles had ordered ten yards of lace -- a vast amount -- that was to be

picked up today, and it wasn't finished. "Stop for George. He'll point you to

Her Majesty's rooms," Grand-mère said, stuffing me roughly into my one

real dress. "He'll see you don't dawdle, or lose the lace."

George was my older brother. He worked in the stables at the palace of

Versailles, caring for the Marquis de Lafayette's carriage horses. Our father

had also been a servant of the Marquis. Papa was dead; I never knew him.

"Heaven forbid, lose the lace," murmured Maman, sitting up in her bed in the

corner of the room, and crossing herself. Grand-mère was large and fat and

mean; Maman was small and crippled and sad. "Take care, Isabelle, will you?"

She glanced at Grand-mère. "Perhaps -- "

"I don't have a moment to spare, not one moment, not with us so behind,"

Grand-mère said. She looked at Maman. She did not say it was Maman's fault

we were behind with our lacemaking, but she thought it, and Maman and I both

knew she was thinking it. Some days Maman's knees and hands hurt so bad that

she had to drink laudanum before she could sleep. The medicine made her groggy

all the next day, and it made her hands shake, too, which was not good in a

lacemaker.

Grand-mère thought that Maman only pretended to be in pain, despite the

evidence of her swollen fingers and knees. Grand-mère never believed in any

pain she didn't feel herself.

Grand-mère was an evil old goat. She made our house a misery.

Now she poked me with Maman's cane. "Don't you think for a moment that you're

off the hook. If it weren't for your shoddy work yesterday, we wouldn't be in

such a rush."

This was a lie. The lace I'd ruined yesterday -- and I had made a mess of it,

the pattern was complicated and I'd gotten confused -- was not the lace that was

supposed to be ready today. I wasn't trusted to make important lace. But I knew

better than to contradict Grand-mère.

"It won't take her long," Maman said. "You, Isabelle, remember you have work

waiting when you get home."

I jumped, trying to see myself in the tiny mirror that hung high above the

bureau. "Come here," Maman said. She pulled my hair back and powdered it with

the hare's foot and powder from the table beside her bed.

"George will be working," I said. He slept at the stables. He was rarely home.

"He can take a moment to help you," Maman said.

Grand-mère grabbed my shoulder and hauled me back to the center of the

room. "Hold still." She gathered a handful of lace around the neckline of my

dress and quickly sewed it into place. Her needle flashed near my throat. I held

still. The lace was not ornate, but all lace was precious. If I moved and

Grand-mère stabbed me and I bled on the lace, it would be my fault.

"Some at her wrists, too," suggested Maman.

"She'll ruin it," Grand-mère said. "Foolish girl. She'll fall in a mud

puddle or slip on the stairs."

I held my breath. I loved to dress up, and I almost never got to wear the lace

we made.

"She'll be careful," said Maman. "Consider that it's the palace, after all.

Someone might notice her."

Grand-mère considered. She looked at me the way a hawk might look at a

mouse. "Hold up your arms," she commanded at last.

I held them up. "What shall I do?" I said, while Grand-mère whipstitched

lace around my sleeves. I tried not to sound excited, in case they changed their

minds. "What do I say to the princess?"

I never got to deliver lace, not even when it was only a bourgeoise who'd

ordered it, someone who lived and worked right in town. I never got to go to the

Château, either, the great palace of Versailles, nor was I allowed to play

in the parkland that surrounded it, nor go to the stables and bother my brother,

even though he said he didn't mind.

I was a lacemaker, the daughter of a lacemaker, and the granddaughter of one. I

had had a needle put into my hands when I was less than five years old. I made

lace every day. Also I went to market for our bread and beer, and for the thread

and linen that we used. I bought our dinners from the tavern downstairs. I swept

out the fires in the mornings, and brought up wood, and emptied chamber pots. I

swept our two rooms, and kept them clean. I took our clothes to the laundress

down the street. Once we had employed a scullery maid, but that was before

Maman's hands got so bad. Now, between the doctor's visits and the laudanum, we

needed more money than we had.

I was eleven. Sometimes I still got lost trying to follow a lace pattern, but

my stitches were even and my turns were careful and neat. Maman said that

sometimes she couldn't tell the difference between my lace and hers. I knew this

wasn't true, but I also knew that my lace was not the disgrace Grand-mère

said it was. "We Bonnards have to work for our living," Grand-mère had

shouted that morning, waving the piece I had ruined beneath my nose. "No one

supports us. No one cares to. You, girl, how will you eat if you can't work?"

She had flicked a glance at Maman in the bed, and I hated her for it.

Now Grand-mère was shouting again. "You won't speak to the princess! What

insolence! As though the governess of the Children of France would bother to

speak to such as you! All you are good for is wasting expensive thread," she

went on bitterly. "When you get back from the palace, you'll sit on your stool

and ply that needle of yours until I'm satisfied."

Grand-mère was never satisfied.

I noticed that she hadn't answered my question, not really, but I didn't want to

ask again. She'd start hitting me with the cane if I wasn't careful. Once, she

hit me so hard that my shoulder didn't work right for a week.

George would help me. George was my salvation.

Maman produced a ribbon to tie around my neck. Grand-mère shook her head.

"Too much."

"Better to have her noticed," Maman said.

Grand-mère scoffed. "Who would notice such a sniveling child?"

"Lacemakers who can't afford fripperies, what kind of message does that send?"

Maman murmured. I stole a glance at her, and she smiled. "You look very neat,"

she told me.

For once Maman won an argument; I left our rooms with a bright silk ribbon

around my neck. I clattered down the stairs to the street, and raced down the

dusty streets in my little satin shoes, holding tight to the paper-wrapped

package of lace. It was a beautiful summer day, all gold sun and blue sky, and

I was happy to be set free, if only for a short time. It seemed an age since

I'd ventured farther from our apartment than the butcher shop or the chandler.

Versailles's stables, the big stable where the carriage horses lived, and the

little stable for riding horses, were immense, but George always cared for the

same three teams of horses, and I knew where their stalls were. I found George

forking old straw out of one of the stalls into a wheelbarrow. "Maman says you

must take me to the palace," I said. "I have lace to deliver." I puffed out my

chest a little, pleased with my importance.

"You look beautiful, Bella," George said. He straightened and smiled warmly.

"Powdered hair and all."

I twirled around so that he could admire me from all sides, then said, "I must

take this to the Princess of Lamballe."

He nodded. "I can walk you to the palace now." He washed his hands in a bucket,

then climbed the ladder to the loft where the stable boys slept. When he

returned, he was wearing a fresh jacket and his hair had been retied into a

queue. He carried his hat under one arm.

"I wish you could powder your hair," I said.

He smiled, but shook his head. "Powder is for postillions," he said. "I'm

nothing but a common groom." He put his hat on his head, and took me by the

hand. George was fourteen, a head taller than me, and thin as a rail. At first

he walked so fast that I had to skip to keep up with him, but then he looked

down at me and slowed. "No hurry," he said, and smiled.

"I'll get to meet Her Majesty," I said.

"You won't," he said. "She doesn't speak with lacemakers. Besides, you said it

was for the Princess of Lamballe."

"Grand-mère said I should take it to Her Majesty's rooms. Isn't that where

the princess lives?"

George laughed at me. "Her Majesty is the queen," he said. "The Princess

of Lamballe is the queen's great friend. That's why she was named the Dauphin's

governess." He paused. "The princess isn't royal. I don't know why they call her

princess. She's not a near relation to the king and queen. But she's still very

important. She has large rooms all her own."

I knew about the Dauphin, the heir to the throne. The Children of France were

the sons and daughter of the king and queen. The oldest of them was Marie

The;rèse, nine years old and a disappointment to the nation because

she was not a boy. Next came the hope of France, the Dauphin, Louis Joseph, and

then the three-year-old Duke of Normandy, Louis Charles. There had been another,

a baby named Sophie, but she had died.

The Dauphin's governess would be a very important person, whether she was really

a princess or not. "I know Grand-mère said 'Her Majesty's rooms,'" I

insisted. I gave a little skip. "To think that someone so important bought our

lace!"

George looked down again. "As much lace as the court wears, you'd think they'd

keep every lacemaker in France fully occupied." After a pause he added. "Still,

you're right. It's a great thing for us if we please her."

If we became fashionable, we would have as many orders for lace as we could

fill. We could charge more too. Maman could have all the medicine she needed,

and someone besides me could empty the chamber pots. The thought of that was

nearly enough for me to love making lace.

The stables fronted the enormous palace. Already we were past the gates of the

palisade, fighting our way through the crowd. The courtyard was like a

marketplace, full of peasants and merchants and beggars. One fashionable man

rushed by on very high heels, the skirts of his long yellow coat flapping. He

held his wig to his head with one hand. I stared. The coat was silk, I was

sure. I'd felt a piece of silk once, so smooth under the fingers, and light,

and rich.

"Listen," said George. He stopped and lifted my chin. "You see why this is

important, don't you?" I nodded, but he continued to look straight into my eyes.

"This is the first time an important person ever ordered Maman's lace. You won't

see the princess, but be sure you act respectful to everybody you do meet."

"Grand-mère made the lace," I said. "Not Maman."

"That's not my point," George said.

I frowned. "I know how to behave."

He patted my chin. "I know you do, ma belle. Just be sure that you

actually behave as well as you know how."

"Ma belle" meant "my beautiful one." It was a play on my name, Isabelle.

Only George ever called me beautiful.

I saw the enormous palace of Versailles from the town every day. It was like a

mountain, part of the scenery; I hardly noticed it. But now, as we made our way

closer, it seemed to grow bigger and bigger, more and more ornate. "This is

nothing," George replied, when I said so. "You should see the back side, and the

gardens."

We stopped at a booth near a door to the inside, where a man had a collection

of small swords. George handed the man a few coins; he bowed, and handed George

a sword. George buckled it around his waist.

"I'm renting it," he explained. "Men must wear a hat and a sword to enter

Versailles."

"You aren't a man," I said.

George frowned. "I am too. The Marquis de Lafayette was hardly older than me

when he joined the army."

"You're not a marquis."

He pushed me through the door. "Up that stairway over there. That's the Queen's

Stairway." He pushed harder. "Move, Isabelle."

I was too busy staring. The palace was as grand as I'd always imagined. The

stairs were marble, and so were the banisters, and the rail. The floors were

marble tiles and the ceilings were hung with carvings painted gold. Every corner

held a statue; every open spot a piece of furniture so beautifully carved and

painted I wondered that anyone dared sit upon it.

Yet there was a beggar sitting on a tapestry-covered bench -- a one-eyed beggar

wearing a hat and sword. "Look!" I whispered.

"Hush!" said George.

The smell was awful; it grew worse as we picked our way up the stairs. It

smelled like the latrine in the back of our courtyard at home, only stronger. I

lifted my sleeve and buried my nose in my lace cuff.

A beautiful woman swept down the stairs in wide panniered skirts and a tall,

tall wig. The crowd made way for her, pressing George and me close against the

rail. The woman looked neither right nor left; she expected everyone to give her

room. Her Majesty, I thought. I elbowed George. "Is that -- "

"It's a nobody," he said. "Some country courtier begging a favor. Come on."

"How do you know?"

"I know. When you see them often enough, you can tell the difference, the ones

who are important and the ones who aren't."

At the top of the stairs was an enormous guardroom, black and red marble, the

ceiling painted with pictures of cherubs and people wearing sheets. A huge fire

blazed on golden andirons, and over it three guards in uniform were cooking

sausages. One of them looked barely older than George. More guards played cards

at a small table near the door, and a little black dog lay at their feet.

The crowd had thinned near the doorway of the room. George put the lace parcel

into my hands and gave me another push, so that I fell a few steps across the

threshold. "Go ahead," he whispered. "When you're done, go out just the way you

came in."

"Wait," I said, "what do I -- " It was no use. He had already turned and ducked

back into the crowd.

I shouldered my way past the last few people and took one step into the

cavernous room. The walls towered over me. One of the card-playing guards stood

and came toward me. He was not one of the young ones; he was broad-shouldered,

bearded, and tall. "Your purpose, little miss?"

I curtsied. "Please, sir, I come to bring lace ordered by the Princess of

Lamballe."

The first guard spoke to another, who went out a small door in the back of the

room. He came back with a girl not much older than myself. She was dressed in a

black gown, possibly silk, I thought, but without panniers or lace; even I

could see she was a servant of some sort.

"Give it to Jeannette, here," said the first guard. "She'll see the princess

gets it."

I didn't think Maman would like me handing our lace to a servant named

Jeannette. Plus I still hoped to catch a glimpse of someone important. "But

sir," I said, clutching the package more tightly. "That's not the princess. And

the payment -- " I didn't know, actually, if I was supposed to collect any

money. Grand-mère hadn't said. I didn't know how much she wanted for the

lace.

Jeannette marched forward. "You'll have to send a bill, then, won't you?" she

said. She snatched the parcel out of my hands. "The nerve of these

tradespeople!" She laughed, and the guards joined in.

"But how will I know the princess -- "

The big guard cut me off. He shepherded me out of the room. "Don't worry,

little bourgeoise," he said. "Jeannette will see that the lace comes to no

harm."

He was mocking me, laughing at my concern. My face flamed with anger. I wanted

to kick him, hard, and run after that Jeannette. I wanted to tell him how Maman

and Grand-mère had worked over that lace, how many hours it had taken them

to make it, how many hours I myself worked every day. I opened my mouth to say

something. The guard covered my mouth with his hand. He picked me up and carried

me to the door. My skirts hampered my kicking, but I still landed several good

blows. "OUT," he roared, setting me down in the hallway and shoving me toward

the stairs.

Perhaps I had not been respectful, as George had said, but no one in the hallway

seemed to notice. I stood in the midst of a dozen people, maybe more. I didn't

see any beggars now; everyone was richly dressed, gorgeously dressed, dazzling

embroidery and more lace than I'd ever imagined. They were all hurrying one

direction or another as fast as they could. The instant my guard got rid of me,

a man stepped in front of him, and began talking very fast. He said he had

business with Her Majesty.

"Her Majesty is not in," the guard informed him. The man slunk away.

The red marble walls looked like giant slabs of beef with white veins of fat

running through them. The odor of the guards' sausages filled the air, masking

the smells of the puddles fermenting on the staircase. I didn't see George

anywhere.

Rotten boy, gone back to the stables already, I thought. And was that

all I was supposed to have done with the lace? It didn't seem worth the trouble

of dressing up. Perhaps I should have demanded payment. Perhaps I had failed.

Maman would say so, and sigh. Grand-mère would make me sit on my chair for

hours. I'd be plying my needle by candlelight today.

My stomach rumbled. What I wouldn't give for a sausage!

A finely dressed lady bumped into me. She gave off an odor of perfume almost as

offensive as the general stench. "Watch what you're about, little girl!" she

said. I curtsied and apologized, but she didn't notice. She'd already hurried

by. I was not important enough to pay attention to.

I've been abandoned, I thought. Abandoned and ignored, inside the

Palace of Versailles. My heart gave a skip. What a wonderful place to be

ignored! I thought one last time of Grand-mère and her stool. Then,

instead of heading down the queen's staircase toward home, I turned right and

started down a long, long hall. I may have failed in my errand, but no one

would know it until I went home.

Copyright © 2007 by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley




Library of Congress subject headings for this publication:
France -- History -- Louis XVI, 1774-1793 -- Juvenile fiction.
France -- History -- Louis XVI, 1774-1793 -- Fiction.
Friendship -- Fiction.
Lace and lace making -- Fiction.
Princesses -- Fiction.
Angoul„eme, Marie-Th‚erŠese Charlotte, -- duchesse d', -- 1778-1851 -- Fiction.
France -- History -- Revolution, 1789-1799 -- Fiction.