Chapter 16

"Be mine tonight"

Renee stood in front of the long mirror in her room. She wore a simple white, cotton gown embroidered with violets, her chestnut tresses coiled in to an elegant knot. She looked at herself and sighed, was this a good idea? Did the marquis really expect her to attend his fancy masquerade? She looked down at her only pair of dancing shoes which she had owned since she was sixteen. They were a bit tight and her toes would hurt after one dance. She shook her head and smiled to herself sheepishly. Why in the world did she think that the marquis would request to dance with her when there would be so many great ladies at the ball? Ladies like Lady Claudette de Moreau whose great beauty she heard no end of from Madame Gregoire.

She tilted her head for a moment towards the door, she heard no footsteps. The servants would have retired to their quarters for their suppers and Madame Gregoire had left for the ball a long time ago. For some reason, Renee did not tell her that she had been invited. She wanted to go alone...

Adrien waited at the foot of the grand staircase that descended in to the elegantly lit courtyard of his home. Carriages came in one by one, from each carriage stepped out masked ladies in beautiful fur coats and capes with a hint of silk or lace of their gowns peeping from underneath and masked gentlemen in fine suits, gold pocket watches tangling from their coat pockets or jeweled pins in their elegantly tied cravats. Adrien did not care much for the grand ladies in their elegant finery; he waited patiently for each carriage to catch a glimpse of a simply clad girl with the face of an angel and auburn braids which were of the thickest and most beautiful kind that he had ever seen. Her eyes were a beautiful clear green and her marble skin which was a rare sight. He was certain he would make her out even with her mask. She would be a white lily amidst a group of colourful orchids.

Adrien smiled to himself as he thought of his poetic description of Renee. He hardly realized that if he wasn't careful; he was very much in danger of falling in love with Madame Gregoire's little assistant.

A well known brown carriage stopped in front of the courtyard and from it exited a Madame Gregoire dressed in brown with a turban and a glittery brown mask. Adrien ran to help her out from the carriage himself and she smiled kindly at him and said:

'Thank you young man' she said as she stepped down from the carriage. 'My! The place looks absolutely magical' she beamed as she looked up. Adrien was too busy waiting for her assistant to step out from the carriage and in his impatience he blurted out:

'And where is Renee, Madame? I expected her to come with you since I sent her an invite'.

Madame Gregoire looked at him and smiled to herself as she replied:

'Why Monsieur Candale, I did not know that you were good friends with my little assistant. She must be sleeping or reading back at the library, she never mentioned that she had been invited, poor shy little thing!'

'I'm merely trying to make her feel welcome at Paris Madame' replied Adrien smoothly. 'She looked like she really needed a little help to settle down here' when I last saw her'.

'But heaven's young man, this ball is would hardly do her any better in feeling welcome, she would feel more at home at the church fair they had last week than this! You could have escorted her there Adrien.' She laughingly told him as she walked towards the stairs.

Adrien sighed as he turned around to join the party upstairs. He should have known, Renee would have never dared to come to the large and extravagant parties the de Candale's were famous for having.

Renee stepped out from the shabby carriage whose driver she had managed to convince to take her near the back gate of the Chateau of the de Candale's. She drew her coat about her and she walked briskly through the gates. A guard stopped her in her tracks and asked her why she was here. She nervously took Adrien's invite from her purse and showed it to him. He looked at her frightened face and simple and dress and smiled kindly at her.

'The servants usually go in from the back door near the kitchens' he said and Renee nodded grateful. Now that she was insight of the house she felt awkward to walk in from the grand front entrance. Why in the world did she not stay at the library tonight? This was no place for her.

There was no other option but to go and hopefully find Madame Gregoire or she would not be able to go back on her own. She turned around hopefully to see whether the carriage she had come in was in sight but it had left to her dismay. She turned around; her head held high and ready and started walking towards the house.

The kitchens in the chateau were a busy place that night. Servants hurried about carrying various dishes. Renee followed the line of servants to the well lit halls and stopped a little away from the doorway. She could see so many ladies with feathers in their headdresses waving lacy fans about as they chatted. She saw giggling young girls in tiny groups waiting for their dance partners and she knew that she might end up not meeting the marquis at all in this crowd but she had come so far now, it was time to face whatever in store for her in the hall in front of her. She took a deep breath and stepped in to the light.

Renee held her mask tightly as she walked in. She held her shoulders high and walked as elegantly as she could. The hall looked majestic. The chandeliers lit with candles, the flames burning brightly, she looked up and stood looking up for some time. Renee knew she has seen this before... another well lit hall which had the same feel of this one. She was a lot shorter and the chandeliers seemed so high up, it was cold... and she was wearing a woolen dress and spinning round and round....

"Marie, stop that!"

Renee shook her head and blinked. Marie? Who on earth had ever called her Marie? It was strange that she recalled something that had never happened to her in this place.

"Would you care for a drink mademoiselle?" , Renee turned around nervously to see a gentleman standing behind her with a glass of punch.

"Tha...thank you monsieur" she murmured softly as she took the glass from him

"You seem quite lost mademoiselle...?" he waited patiently till she said her name but Renee was too shy to speak, she sighed and looked at her shabby dancing shoes.

"I'm sorry mademoiselle if I have distressed you in any way.... would you care to dance?" The gentleman persisted. Renee just wished someone else would catch his eye and he would go away.

And with a sudden movement he took the glass from her hand and gave it to a passing servant, he then took her arm and walked towards the dance floor. Renee was furious. The nerve of him!

She tried to keep her thoughts to herself as he started to waltz with her. He kept looking at her eyes and trying to guess who she was. Was she by any chance the physician's daughter? Did she just come from boarding school? Renee said the occasional 'no monsieur' or she would just shake her head. She felt uncomfortable with this strange man and she wished with all her heart that the dance would come to an end.

Finally it came to an end and she almost had to wrench herself free from the unpleasant gentleman. She hurried away to a corner of the room where she had spied an ante room behind two large damask curtains. She walked at a medium pace towards it and turned around when she was almost there to make sure that no one was following her or watching what she was doing. Suddenly a pair of arms curled around her waist and drew her in to the room.

Her frightened scream was stifled by a hand which was clamped around her mouth and a well known chuckle behind her made her sigh with relief as well as shake with rage. Ferdinand! The nerve of him!

He let her go and stood waiting, arms crossed as she swung around and paced the little room trying to comport her rage.

"By any chance monsieur, did I fail to mention that I did not give you leave to threaten me every time you announce your presence?" She asked, glaring at him.

"And may I ask what in heaven's name you are doing at this fancy masquerade full of royalty, with err... Young monsieur le irritant?"

"You know you have no right to call him such rude names... He had such amiable manners..." Lied Renee and blushing hotly as she did so.

"See, Cherie, Its impossible for you to lie without giving yourself away so you might as well don't" said Ferdinand smirking.

Renee sighed deeply and hung her head a little. She did not want Ferdinand to know how she felt about the marquis but she was sure he was close to guessing. He had no business to anyway and more importantly... how did he even get invited to this fancy masquerade himself?

"I followed you Cherie, as silly as it may sound" He said as if reading her mind.

"And why would you do that?"

"I saw you leaving the library in a stealthy fashion, I was just... curious"

"I can go wherever I please monsieur and if you consider me as your friend you would not question me about what I choose to do"

"I don't Cherie... something about the way you carry that pocket full of sand from God knows where you are from makes me want to look out for you and its ruining my bad reputation I tell you!" He said in mock horror and annoyance.

She smiled at his words but panicked at the same time. She liked being in his company... she had someone to call on whenever she needed a friend in the big and unfriendly city and yet... she never hoped or imagined that he would come to care for her... even a little.

"I.... I need to go monsieur..." She murmured as she made some movement towards the curtains that separated them from the ballroom.

Ferdinand smiled as he drew the curtain a little and Renee saw the marquis standing a few feet away, in deep conversation with a group of young ladies. The all wore fine ball gowns and had elegant coiffures with feathers. They all looked so elegant and regal and she knew that she could never be like them. She was simple, plain and quiet... she always was.

"You can leave if you want to Cherie, if you prefer the err... charming company of young monsieur le irritant ... or you could always stay here with the thief because you are sure to not be ignored... or forgotten. He replied as he glanced at Adrien who was now dancing with one of the ladies.

Renee stepped out and stood awkwardly looking at the marquis dancing. She should have known to not take his favours as if it meant something special. She knew now that he would behave as gentlemanly and as charmingly to any lady of his acquaintance. She was just a simple girl from a village. She never had the chance or the right to love him in any other except the kind of love a subject showed to his master. She knew that she had no more reason to stay at the ball because the marquis never gave her any reason to and she should have never expected him to...

She walked away slowly through a large, dimly lit and deserted corridor at the far end of the room. There were portraits of fine gentlemen and ladies on both sides and she walked past them one of the pictures caught her eye.

The girl in the portrait was no more than her age and she looked so much like her... she wore a white gown just like hers with lilac ribbons entwined at the skirt...She was standing near a window and looking out of it dreamily. Renee caught her breath as her fingers traced the face..., those eyes... She had seen her before she was sure but she could not place her thoughts to a particular place. Tears of a strange grief filled her eyes and started to streak through her pale cheeks. She did not know why she was crying so much but she knew that she needed to.

Suddenly the sound of breaking glass made her turn around and she saw a stately old lady staring at her wild eyed, her glass of wine shattered in to a thousand pieces on the floor. Her face made Renee's heart thump in a strange but profound fear. She gasped and stepped back in alarm.

Therese looked at the young dark haired girl with a face she had known so well from her nightmares staring back at her quivering in fear... had she been hallucinating? Is the chateau really haunted by the ghost of the innocent woman she murdered? She could do nothing but stare as the girl turned on her heel and ran as fast as she could down the winding corridor...