Read Daughters of the Storm Online
Authors: Elizabeth Buchan
Copyright Â© Elizabeth Buchan, 1988,2013
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All names, characters, places, organisations, businesses and events are either the product of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.
First published 1988 by MACMILLAN LONDON LIMITED
4 Little Essex Street, London WC2R 3LF and Basingstoke
eBook version published by
British Library Cataloguing in Publication Data
Buchan, Elizabeth Daughters of the Storm.
For Benji With love
Anyone who wishes to read about the French Revolution could do no better than to turn to Christopher Hibbert's clear and accessible book,
The French Revolution
(Allen Lane, 1980; Penguin Books, 1982). I should like to acknowledge my debt to the author.
Similarly, Olivier Blanc's
Last Letters: Prisons and Prisoners of the French Revolution
(AndrÃ© Deutsch, 1987) yielded fascinating information on money in the French Revolution. I would also like to recommend the works of G. LenÃ´tre whose lovingly detailed studies on revolutionary Paris gave me so much pleasure and inspiration: in particular
La CaptivitÃ© et la mort de Marie Antoinette
(Librairie AcadÃ©mique, Perrin et Cie, 1907),
Paris in the Revolution
The Tribunal of Terror
The Guillotine and Its Servants
(Hutchinson, 1929). Among many other publications that I read and enjoyed, four proved invaluable:
A Diary of the French Revolution
by Gouverneur Morris (Houghton Mifflin Company, 1939),
Guide de la RÃ©volution FranÃ§aise: Les lieux, les monuments, les musÃ©es, les hommes
(Ãditions Horay, 1986),
Paris in 1789-94: Farewell Letters of Victims of the Guillotine
by John Goldworth Alger (George Allen, 1902) and
The French Revolution
by J. M. Thompson (Basil Blackwell, 1943).
In addition, I should like to thank John Haycraft for his expert advice, Caroline Sheldon for her steadfastness, Carole Suddaby for her typing and Fanny Blake whose inspired editing made it all possible.
The Rising Storm, May-October 1789
The Tocsin Sounds, January-September 1792
The Terror, January-September 1793
Calais, November 1793
The sea lashed at the coastline. It whipped up great walls of spray and dashed flotsam against the breakwater. The small boats had made for land, huddling for protection inside the harbour walls, and out in the Channel the bigger boats trapped in the weather grimly rode out the storm. On land the wind matched the waves in its anger, sending dried leaves whirling into piles and tossing them up in clusters like migrating birds. The trees groaned and protested at their violent treatment, and the black skies parted now and again to let through a ray of moonlight.
There hadn't been a storm like it for years.
Sophie stood by the casement window of the inn and looked out over the sea. Every so often, her hands tightened on her swollen belly. It seemed to her in her heightened state of anguish and fatigue that the water was bloodstained and its noise was the moaning of prisoners.
âIt was too much,' she murmured to herself. âToo much of everything. Death. Fear...'
Down below a door banged and she knew it was her husband returning with the midwife. With some difficulty, she walked over to the bed, recoiling as she brushed against one of the many cobwebs that festooned the room. The bed was made up with soiled sheets and she did not want to lie on it, but she knew she must.
Gasping at a renewed onslaught of pain, she edged onto the bed, swung her legs up and lay back. The unaccustomed sensations took over.
Downstairs in the kitchen all was frantic activity. Two kitchen maids staggered into the room with a basket of wood. It was already tropically hot but they piled more logs on to the fire and the flame leapt up under the cauldrons of water which were suspended on the cast-iron spit.
Her husband watched as the midwife divested herself of her dripping outer clothes.
âHurry,' he said.
The midwife nodded as she rubbed herself dry.
The cook stood by.
what a night for a birth,' she said, fetching a large white apron from a cupboard and tying it around the midwife's waist. âYou'll need this,' she said.
Upstairs the bedroom was quiet. For a moment, Sophie could almost imagine that she was back in Paris, and she was sure she could smell chocolate made hot and thick as she liked it. There was the clop-clop of wooden sabots in the street outside, the shouts of the oyster man and the flower girl.
Pain tugged at her flesh.
What was happening? Where was she?
The bedroom came into focus and she remembered. She was having her baby and it was coming too early. She had tried to stop it, but it had been no use. Raising her head from the filthy pillow, she made out a figure bending over a basin.
The fire was making it so hot... so hot.
Someone bent over her with a cloth and wiped her sweat from her face.
âHush,' said her husband, his voice hoarse with strain. âHush now. It won't be long.'
Sophie made a gigantic effort. âAm I...?' she whispered. âIs it all right?'
âIt is well,' said the midwife, placing a hand on her stomach. âYou must be patient.'
Sophie moved restlessly. âPatient.... With this?' She fell back and tried to hide from a strange half-world peopled with whispering memories and ghosts which had taken up occupation in her head.
âIt's time to examine her,' the midwife said, and her husband helped to lift Sophie higher on to the pillows. He stroked back her long, tangled hair and made a clumsy effort to braid it. Sophie brushed his hand away. The midwife rolled up Sophie's linen shift and her swollen body leapt into relief. The white thighs were streaked with blood and the distended belly contracted visibly.
âIt's coming,' said the midwife. âLift her up.'
This is what it is like to die, thought Sophie. But I haven't said my prayers.
âDear God...,' she began, but a roaring in her ears and a burning, splitting sensation blotted out coherent thought.
Paris... she was back in Paris when a smell of death lay over the streets and marching feet could be heard at nights... when the thud of falling heads cut into the greedy silence of watching crowds. HÃ©loÃ¯se was in there somewhere but where? However hard Sophie tried, HÃ©loÃ¯se eluded her.
The baby was not coming as quickly as the midwife expected.
âTurn her on her side,' she ordered.
He obeyed, shifting Sophie's heavy body awkwardly. A log on the fire broke in half with a crack and the flames spurted higher, sending a shadow flickering up the wall.
âTry to push,' said the midwife.
âI can't,' Sophie gasped. âI can't. Oh, but I can't... I can't...'
The midwife's hands darted between her legs and cupped gently at the tiny head emerging between them.
âIt's almost here,' she said reassuringly. âEasy.'
With a slither the baby arrived. Her husband laid her down and went to look as the small body was lifted clear.
âA boy,' said the midwife. âMadame, a boy.'
Her husband snatched him from the midwife. âLook, Sophie... look. He's wonderful. He's beautiful. He's here.'
Sophie's exhausted face lit up with a smile. âOur son... our son...' Then her face puckered as the pain gripped her once again. âIsn't this over?' she whispered. Then: âhelp me'.
âThere's another,' cried the midwife. âQuick.'
Sophie's husband cradled his son in his arms where he cried the desolate cry of the new-born while, with infinite care, the midwife helped an even smaller, more delicate baby into the world and placed it on the bed. With an effort, Sophie stretched out an arm and her fingers brushed the baby's head. The midwife cut the cord and wrapped the baby in a shawl.
âThere, little girl,' she crooned. âIt is over.'
There was an empty cradle by the bed. The midwife laid Sophie's daughter in and took her son from her husband and placed him beside his sister. They looked like tiny effigies.
Sensing each other perhaps, brother and sister closed their eyes and lay quiet.
Sophie was dimly aware of the midwife's hands busying themselves with the afterbirth. After the storm of labour, the absence of pain was overwhelming. Her husband sat down on the bed and took her hand.
Peace wrapped her in an embrace, pulling her down into a place remote from... this place.. from what had happened... from whatever lay in the future. She closed her eyes. Sparks of light filtered in between her eyelashes reminding her of petals ... apple blossom petals.
They heaped gently on to her face and around her body.
Sophie fell asleep ...
âSophie Maria,' admonished her governess. âI must beg you to adjust your skirts.'
Sophie looked down in some surprise. Her shoe and only the tiniest suggestion of ankle was showing.
It was all so ridiculous.
She had been thinking about other things â the beautiful weather, the way the white apple blossom blushed pink, and of the scents that came with spring. There were the light, tangy scents that suggested summer to come ... there were the deeper aromas that belonged to drowsy nights when the warmth lulled you to sleep. The winter had been hard and it was months since she had felt like this. Everyone, including the animals, had suffered. Now it was â to put it simply - intoxicating to be out in the fresh, sunny air and to dream of summer.
She brushed her skirts down over the offending ankle and settled herself more comfortably on the rug. Miss Edgeworth had an arrangement â or rather, she had been persuaded to accept Sophie's arrangement. A geography lesson would be so much better out of doors, Sophie had reasoned, so much more appropriate than in the small, darkly panelled schoolroom where they spent so much of their time.
Miss Edgeworth agreed. Sophie knew she would for Miss Edgeworth always welcomed a change in the routine and, goodness knows, there was little enough excitement in her life. Not that Miss Edgeworth complained. Miss Edgeworth had once confessed knew her duty and her place: but she had not always been so resigned. Once there had beat a tiny pulse of hope and excitement in her breast but her circumstances and her consequent lack of expectations had killed it. Even so, Miss Edgeworth remembered what it felt like to be eighteen and so she had given in to Sophie's eager request, knowing that her employers trusted her judgement.
Miss Edgeworth sniffed gently. Indeed, the Luttrells, Sir Brinsley and his French wife, Lady AimÃ©e, were unusual, in her experience, in the latitude they permitted their governess over matters concerning their only daughter. Miss Edgeworth had no intention of betraying that trust; neither did she have occasion for regret in taking up the post. In Sophie she had a willing pupil who if anything had to be dissuaded sometimes from spending too much time reading or from writing up her journal. Yes, Miss Edgeworth reflected â possibly for the thousandth time - as she arranged her primers under a tree in the orchard, I have been fortunate in Sophie, who is as sweet-tempered as she is lovely. But in Miss Edgeworth's real opinion, it was the seriousness that underlay Sophie's youthful high spirits, the suggestion of a spirit capable of feeling and compassion, that lent Sophie a special quality. In her disloyal and more wistful moments, Miss Edgeworth regretted that Sophie was destined to spend her life at High Mullions as a dutiful wife and mother, although she did not doubt that Sophie would be content.