The mansion was filled with life, more so than on a regular morning. Maids chirped and giggled while hanging the laundry, sweeping the grand corridors, watering the plants or pulling the curtains aside to let the early morning sun in through the tall windows. The golden rays fell upon marble statues and chandeliers in silver and gold, the mansion sparkling and glistening like the greatest of a pirate's treasure.
The news that had reached the maids spread to the rest of the staff, from the young boys in the stable to the chef busy with preparing breakfast for the ladies from which the gossip had originated, their low whispers echoing through the corridors, sounding almost like a soft breeze rustling the leaves.
But today was a special day, even the mistress of the house was excited — although she did a better job than her ladies to hide it — and was fully occupied with deciding what to wear for her special guest. It wasn't every day that you had your portrait done by a painter from the royal court.
“Where is my red corset? And the dress I bought for my trip to Marseille!” A delicate hand pointed at the young girls whose sole purpose was to serve and fulfill the Lady's every wish, sending one by one away to get this or that dress or some special accessory while she herself scrutinized her own appearance in the mirrors in front of her. Two girls were standing next to her with various different clothes in their hands, ready to change her outfit if she commanded. “___! ___! Where are you?”
“I'm here, Lady Alice.” ___ took a step forward from the remaining three girls waiting by the door. She was young, but still one of the elder girls in Lady Alice's service. She had been sent to Paris when she was young to learn from Lady Alice, a favor Lady Alice's husband had bestowed upon her father for serving him well in the army.
“Ah, there you are! Go downstairs and get some wine and something to eat before our painter arrives.” Alice turned her head with a soft smile, her green eyes sparkling with the excitement she tried so hard to hide. “Will you, my dear?”
“Yes, Lady Alice,” ___ answered with a curtsy and then left the room. To be perfectly honest she rather enjoyed being sent away on tasks, to get away from all the stress and the barking of orders, as well as from the silent whispers from the other girls as they discussed the young, well-renowned painter.
___ had also heard all the rumors about him, how he was believed to be the very image of beauty, and that he possessed magical powers that made it impossible not to fall for his charm and that he got every woman he ever wanted, no matter her stature.
“I've heard that he stole the hearts of all the ladies at court — even the Queen's — just by looking them in the eyes, and got half of them to model for him... And we all know what that means!” a maid declared with a low voice to her friend while dusting the statues at the top of the stairs, the two barely noticing ___ passing through.
“It's not hard to imagine. I've heard that his hair is like gold, his eyes blue like the deepest sea and that his voice makes your very core shiver. Who wouldn't fall for such a man?” the other answered with a dreamy sigh, ___ not able to stop a low snort and rolled her eyes as she started to descend the stairs.
“Ridiculous,” she mumbled as she walked down the final step, turned around the corner and headed for the kitchen to get what Lady Alice had asked for. She could have asked the maids to do it, as a proper lady, but ___ preferred doing her chores herself. She didn't come from a family as wealthy as the rest of the girls in Lady Alice's care. She didn't mind doing some work herself.
___ entered the kitchen, one of the kitchen maids immediately attending to her orders, she soon heading back towards Alice's chambers with a bottle of wine and a tray of fruits and cheese. As she reached the stairs she happily noticed that the maids had left, but their words still echoed in ___'s mind.
“He stole the hearts of all the ladies at court! His hair is like gold and his eyes like the sea! He makes your very core shiver!” ___ mimicked with badly hidden mockery, making all the gestures a bit too grand and her sighs a bit too dreamy. It all just seemed so blown out of proportion to her. There was no such thing as magic, and even if he was handsome, it could not be enough to win the heart of every woman with one single glance. He was most certainly a true Casanova with a great ego, wooing ladies with big words and his artistry, ___ was sure of it.
“Finally back!” Alice said with a tired sigh as ___ stepped into Alice's private chamber, which more looked like a battlefield than a bedroom. Alice was standing in the middle of the chaos, finally deciding for a blue dress with black lace and embroideries of silver. Her long blonde hair fell down around her shoulders in magnificent curls, held up by pins decorated with blue stones. “What do you think?”
“You look very beautiful, Lady Alice.” As Alice let out a pleased noise, ___ put the bottle of wine and the tray with the rest of the food by one of the big windows at the other side of the room. The other girls were busy cleaning up after the morning-mayhem, the five of them sending each other meaningful looks and secretive smiles, all of them thinking of that stupid painter. It made ___ so tired. Didn't they have more important things to think about?
There was a knock at the door, Alice only turning her head slightly to see who it was before she returned to looking at herself in the mirror. “Yes?”
“Baronne... Master Bonnefoy has arrived.” As the servant's words sunk in the room went into slight panic. The girls hurried to finish cleaning up while Alice made sure that everything on her body looked the way it should, it eventually calming down after a minute or two.
“Very well... Let's meet this master Bonnefoy then, shall we?” Alice said with a wry smile, the whole party following her out of the room and through the corridor to the room where the painter was waiting for his new client, the servant leading the way.
Once they arrived at the right room, the servant stepped inside and held the doors for Lady Alice and her companions. “Her Ladyship, Baronne Alice.”
Francis immediately turned away from the painting he had admired and lowered his head in a graceful bow as Alice entered the room. He was dressed in the most fashionable way, wearing a red coat and breeches with matching waistcoat over his white shirt with laced cuffs, his leg clothed in white stockings from the knee down. In his right hand he held a black hat that he had removed in the bow, letting some strands of his blond hair fall down over his face, though most of it was tied in a black ribbon at the back of his neck. Hanging over his shoulder he had a bag that probably contained his painting equipment, at least what he needed for this first session.
Alice stopped in front of him, letting her hand getting seized by his as he placed a gentle kiss on her knuckles before raising his face to look into her green eyes with his own blue ones. “Baronne...”
“Master Bonnefoy,” Alice answered with a short curtsy, her French still carrying traces of her native tongue. “You're quite famous, and very talented according to Her Majesty.”
___ watched from the door, her head slightly tilted to the side as she let her eyes study the young painter, the smile that was supposed to charm every woman in France, his sea-colored eyes that were supposed to snare you with magic and the hands that were said to be instruments of God — and not only when it came to painting. He seemed to be precisely what ___ thought him to be, and to see all the other girls swoon and get jealous of the kiss Lady Alice received made her sick. He was handsome, but not that handsome.
“I feel honored, Baronne.” The sudden transition to English made Alice curve a thin eyebrow in surprise, as well as ___ and the rest of the ladies. Although he had a thick French accent, it was clear that he was a literate man.
“You speak English?” Alice asked, her voice in a slightly higher pitch than normal due to her surprise.
“Yes. You're not the only Englishwoman I've painted, Baronne.” Francis gave her a sly smile, the girl closest to ___ letting out a soft giggle at the sight, causing Francis to turn his eyes to the ladies in Alice's company.
“Mesdames, please forgive me for not properly greet you earlier,” he said while taking another graceful bow. As he straightened himself up a smile was yet again playing on his lips, a smile both sweet and charming, making some of the girls blush as he looked them into the eyes with his deep, blue ones.
As he came to ___ he suddenly got a look of surprise. His eyebrows got slightly raised and his smile faltered for a few seconds as his eyes locked with hers, ___ feeling slightly uncomfortable by the stare. However, she did not avert her gaze, not until the smile returned to his lips and she had to look away in something that was a mix of disgust and shame, for she had felt heat rush towards her cheeks and her heart pick up its pace even though she had promised herself not to get affected by his charms.
“Well then, master Bonnefoy, how is this painting to be done?” Alice finally interrupted, seemingly unaware of the event that just had taken place — as well as the rest of the girls, who were too busy regaining consciousness from their own eye contact with Francis to notice ___.
“Ah, first I'd like to know where I will paint.” Francis turned his attention back to Alice, ___ happy to be free from his gaze as Alice took him by the arm to take him with her to show the optional rooms and discuss decor and background as well as colors and lighting, the other girls following a few meters behind while whispering cheerfully to each other.
___ took a deep breath and tried to regain her calm before she raised her head once more and saw how the rest of the party started to move to the next room, Francis politely answering Alice's questions and coming with proposals of his own of how to make the painting the most beautiful before he tossed a glance over his shoulder, meeting ___'s eyes once more, another smile threatening to make her heart race. Maybe he was a magician after all?
___ took another deep breath before she followed them, doing her best to ignore Francis' smiles and glances as they walked through the different rooms. Eventually they decided for a room with large windows facing the garden and Francis picked out a tiny book from his bag together with a dark, gray stick of charcoal with which he started drawing. “Baronne, would you be so kind and stand by that window over there?”
“Certainly,” Alice mumbled and moved to the desired spot, Francis continuing to draw for a few minutes, looking up every now and then to make sure that he was drawing the right lines, during which periods he sneaked another glance or two over at ___ who stood by one of the windows gazing out over the garden outside, not noticing the painter due to most of her back being turned towards him.
“Do I need to stand here much longer, master Bonnefoy?” Alice's voice pulled ___ out of her dreams and she turned her head to look at her smiling mistress, who — although smiling — clearly started to get tired of standing in the same spot — and probably dying to see what Francis had been drawing.
“No, Baronne... I think we're done for today,” Francis said with a smile, checking his sketch one final time before he put the book and the charcoal back into his bag.
“I don't get to see it?” Alice's smile didn't falter, although ___ noticed the disappointment in her eyes and voice.
“Not yet, Baronne. It doesn't give your beauty justice.” Francis' answer took away all the disappointment in Alice's eyes, the compliment clearly appreciated as she turned her head away for a few seconds to hide her blushing cheeks.
“Ah, well...” She made a pause to clear her throat, her skin regaining its normal color. “You will return tomorrow to start for real then?”
Francis gave a short nod. “Yes, Baronne.”
“Excellent. Until tomorrow, master Bonnefoy.” Alice made a short curtsy before she started to leave the room. Her ladies soon followed, ___ walking a few steps behind the others as Francis bowed while everyone passed.
Once it was ___'s turn to walk past him, he suddenly got up into his full height and reached for her arm to stop her from leaving. “Mademoiselle! Please, may I speak with you?”
___ stared at the hand holding her arm with eyes opened wide in shock, which soon turned to anger as she raised her gaze to look him into the eyes. “Monsieur, I've to leave. Lady Alice requires my presence!”
“I know, and I won't keep you for long. But I have to paint you. Please, come to my studio tonight.” He looked so urgent, so determined to get her to say yes, and she found herself getting lost in his gaze as she tried to form an answer.
“M-m-onsieur Bonnefoy!” was the only thing she managed to get out in a weak stutter, Francis only heaving a deep sigh before he pulled out his book and piece of charcoal once more, quickly scribbling something down in it and then handed ___ a piece of paper.
“This is my address. If you change your mind you'll know where to find me.” He took her hand in his, the one where she held the paper and then made another of his graceful bows and placed a soft kiss on the back of her hand before he stood up. The charming smile regained its place on his lips and he put the hat back on over his golden tresses. “Until we meet again.”
He left, ___ looking down at the paper in her hand, staring at it for a few seconds before she quickly tucked it away inside her sleeve and then hurried after Lady Alice and the rest of the girls who gave her questioning looks as she returned.
“Oh, did master Bonnefoy want something more? Perhaps a new muse?” Alice asked, looking a bit suspicious.
___ quickly shook her head and put on a faint smile. “No, it was nothing.”
Alice looked at her closely for a few more seconds before she shrugged her shoulders and then continued to walk. “Well, I wouldn't say no if he asked.”
Light laughs rose towards the ceiling, ___ trying to keep up a cheerful mask in front of the others. But no matter how hard she tried, she couldn't get his words out of her head and glanced down at her sleeve and the note that rested inside it.
mesdames — ladies
mademoiselle — miss
monsieur — mister
Baronne — Baroness
A/N: To make things clear, italics in conversation always means that they're speaking French. When I mix English and French in the same sentence I'll use the real French words, but when they only speak French I'll write it in English but in italics for convenience. I hope it won't be too confusing.
Yes, Alice is fem!England, so this would be my first time using a genderbent character. I know that Alice isn't the official name for fem!England, but as most fans I find it more suiting than Rosa, Victoria and Elizabeth (and every other possible name she has.)