The Shadow Queen A Novel

The Shadow Queen A Novel by Sandra Gulland

Book: The Shadow Queen A Novel by Sandra Gulland Read Free Book Online
Authors: Sandra Gulland
boards. Deus! I put the bow and rose in one hand, and was trying to pull down my skirts when I was jerked violently into the air.
    Ah! the audience gasped.
    Oh! I exclaimed as I was twirled out over the pit and around … once, twice, rising up ever higher, until I was level with the first-tier loges, swooping past the richly adorned courtiers. Ahead, coming on quickly, was the King. I grasped the rose with my right hand and tossed it neatly into his loge as I flew by. A cheer went up. Everyone was loving it!
    On my next sweep by His Majesty’s loge, a moustached valet held up the rose. Holding it to his heart, he winked at me as I flew by.
    A wink!
    Suspended, no longer circling, I set a tin arrow in my bow. My gaze settled on the young woman I’d briefly glimpsed before. She turned her face up to me, her blue eyes luminous. Deus! Cupid’s arrow slipped from my grasp.
    Someone in the pit grabbed it, triumphant. I was swirled away and down, landing with a thud. I quickly bowed out to laughter and applause, my heart pounding.
    “What happened?” Monsieur la Roque demanded.
    “I don’t know,” I said, unbuckling my harness. But I did. It was her.
    SHAKEN, I QUICKLY got out of my costume and settled onto my perch beside the stage gate. Everyone’s eyes were on His Majesty, but my eyes were on her. She was seated beside her father, the Duc de Mortemart, the humorless man who had practically had us all arrested years before in Poitiers. I recognized him by his girth and thin moustache. With them was a young nobleman and several older men and women.
    She was as lovely as I remembered, her hair arranged in locks that had been feathered, giving her a light, angelic look. She held her fan with the painted side facing out. Now and then she fluttered it quickly, charming the young nobleman with a languishing glance.
    As the performance came to an end, the audience exploded with applause, hoots and cheers, a thunder of stomping boots. I watched as her party rose, noted the way she held up her skirts, turning out the inside of her wrists. The young man helped her adjust her shawl around her shoulders and she smiled up at him. Her father, at the door of the loge, waved his walking stick, motioning them to hurry. She dipped her head respectfully and, with an exquisitely graceful passing curtsy, preceded the young man out the door.
    Madame Babette popped up behind me. “I can’t take my eyes off of him either.” She sighed.
    “I know,” I said, feigning to be enchanted by the King.
    MOTHER FELL INTO my arms, wobbly with relief.
    “I’ll meet you down in your dressing room.” There was a surprise for her there: a basket of beignets. “I need to let Gaston in backstage.” He’d been sorting the door-take in the office. (Putting coins in order by size was something he could do well.)
    Gaston was waiting for me at the gate. I let him in behind the curtain, where some of the players still lingered. “Mother’s down below,” I told him, but he stopped, dumbstruck, gazing somewhat fearfully at the sets, as if he might be swallowed up, struck by lightning. “Come,” I said with a smile, nudging him out of his enchantment.
    We found Mother sitting on a stool in her dressing room eating a beignet. She opened her arms wide to embrace us.
    Oh, Gaston sang with a fearful vibrato, which made us laugh.
    “That was my worst,” she said, licking her fingers clean before taking off her wig and shaking out her sweat-soaked hair.
    I clapped a fur hood on her to protect her from the cold. “You were excellent,” I insisted, untying her laces and helping her into her red and yellow dressing gown. “It went well.” Nothing had caught fire and no ushers had been murdered.
    Monsieur Pierre appeared with sweetmeats. “You are a queen of the stage!” he told Mother, sweeping off his hat. “You must play tragedy— real tragedy,” he said, lowering his voice conspiratorially. “I’m writing a new play, a tragedy that would be perfect

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