Brown waves flew back as the girl ran through the streets of France, her blue eyes filled with confusion as she stumbled past the patisserie on the corner of the road and made her way into a white-stoned building. Elaine Thomas fought to catch her breath as she entered her apartment- a large, two-bedroom that looked over a river. Elaine sighed as she made her way to her room, sat at her worktable, and opened her journal.
Today, July 14, 1789, we were dismissed from classes early because they stormed the Bastille Prison. There was so much commotion on the streets- it was absolutely horrifying. Grandfather isn’t home yet, but he left a note about meeting with some revolutionaries, something about planning a revolt. I’m so scared. I want change to come, but not at the expense of my family.
Paris had been a beautiful city for as long as Elaine could remember- which was a short time, being that she was only eleven years old- but recently, the uprisings had left her home in ruin, division slicing through the people she’d once known as neighbors.
The clock tower in the town center rang out, suddenly, echoing throughout the city. Elaine checked the old clock over her bed. It was one in the afternoon. Around the time mother would be making me brunch if she were still alive.
The memories of her parents’ death still haunted Elaine. Both her father and mother had gone to help the American Revolution agains Britain and had lost their lives across the oceans, leaving Elaine without a chance to say goodbye. Since then, she’d been living with her grandfather, a crazed revolutionary and also a general of one of their armies.
Deep in thought, Elaine hadn’t noticed that her grandfather had returned and was moving about the kitchen, heating up a stove.
“Grandfather,” Elaine emerged from her room, “how are you?”
The old man gruffed, “Could be better, dear. How was school?”
“We were dismissed early- because of the attack on the prison.” Her grandfather stopped moving. “Did you know about it? The revolt, I mean? You must’ve- you work with these people.”
Her grandfather started working once more, ignoring her line of questions. It was always like that. The Thomas’ were secret keepers, and Elaine’s grandfather was the best of them. However, instead of the usual silence, Elaine’s grandfather responded.
“I need you to eat and get ready.” That was all.
“For what, if I may inquire?”
“You may not inquire. Just,” sigh, “make sure you look decent. We leave at crepuscule.”
Elaine slipped her journal into the pocket of her coat, along with a small set of ink and a pen. Staying close behind her grandfather, she waltzed out of the building and to a waiting carriage. The sun was setting, and the stars were beginning to dance overhead.
“Sir Bernard,” her grandfather greeted the man driving the carriage.
“Sir Thomas,” the man glanced down at Elaine, “and Miss Elaine?”
Elaine nodded. How does he know who I am? Sir Thomas helped Elaine onto the carriage, silently, got on, and then, they were off. The streets of Paris were slightly crowded, but they got emptier as the carriage approached an area she didn’t recognize. Then, she saw it.
The prison had been destroyed, ash and smoke filling the air around them. The carriage stopped in front of an abandoned building two blocks from the prison site. Elaine’s grandfather led her out of the carriage and through a black gate, into a small house. Inside were four men, two other women, and another girl Elaine’s age. They all turned simultaneously, a wave of fear passing over their faces until they recognized Elaine’s grandfather.
“Sir Thomas,” the man in the middle spoke, “so glad you could join us!” The man went up to them and greeted Sir Thomas’s hand. “You must be Elaine. I’m glad your grandfather could bring you. We need as many women as we could get.”
It was Elaine’s turn to speak, “What for? Who are you?”
The man’s eyes shone. “For the revolution, of course. I think it’s time the secrets come to an end. Miss Elaine, you are going to be a leader for a very important march we are planning to have.” He smiled, “Oh, and my name is Gilbert du Motier, Marquis de Lafayette. You can call me Lafayette.”
Elaine learned the names of the other people at the rebel meeting. The women, Alice King, and Charlotte Brodeur were sisters. The girl, Madeline, was Charlotte’s daughter, and one of the men, Abraham, was her father. The other two men were friends who joined the rebellion in hopes of a better France for all.
Lafayette wasted no time explaining what Elaine’s role would be. “Your grandfather has great things to say about you, especially about your intelligence,” I’m honored, Elaine thought to herself. She listened carefully, taking mental notes of everything he said. “We need you to gather women. Make them listen to the cause. Make sure they know what we’re fighting for. With luck, this march will be a turning point in our revolution.”
Elaine smiled, adrenaline and excitement flowing through her veins. “We don’t need luck. How much time do I have?”
Lafayette turned to Elaine’s grandfather. “Well, actually, courtesy of your grandfather, you have until October first.”
The first? “How wonderful! That’s only four days before my birthday.”
This time, it was Sir Thomas who spoke. “Yes, my dear. You see, the march is going to be on October fifth.”
There was a moment of silence before Lafayette smiled, “Happy birthday, kid.”
August 12, 1789
Madeline and I are becoming good friends. I’ve started my search for volunteers for the march. Some school friends called it ridiculous, but others called it inspiring. A lot of girls are going to tell their mothers and sisters about the march. One of my schoolteachers heard about it too, and she wants to march with her husband.
The months leading up to the march were increasingly difficult. Food became scarce, harvests turning to nothing. The French began to starve.
Elaine could hardly manage. She spent every waking minute planning the march, meeting with and talking to women and girls. She got small groups together whenever she could, meeting in the most remote places she could find. Madeline became her right-hand-woman and, together, they arranged everyone. Madeline found more women to help lead the march, over 100 of them- volunteering from all of Paris.
By the end of September, Elaine counted over 6,000 women who were ready to march. She watched over her beautiful city, dim lights going out as the night approached.
September 29, 1789
There are no words to describe how nervous I am. Lafayette tells me that I am making history. I’ve never seen my grandfather so proud of me as he was today when I told him the number of women we reached. There’s little below a week until the march, but every detail has been planned. The march will start after the working day is over. We are going to Versailles to demand food. Some men will be joining us, as well. Madeline has scheduled everything, and one of our leaders in the poorer areas of Paris, Nathalie, says that she and her women will be bringing pitchforks, machetes, rakes, and other tools from their farms. The time for change has come. The royalty shall live more luxuriously than us no more.
The day arrived. Elaine’s birthday. The day of the march. The day the women of France would make history.
Elaine woke up before the sun, unable to sleep. She tried to be as quiet as possible as she made her way towards the kitchen, trying to avoid waking up her grandfather. However, he was already awake, sitting at the table. A single candle dimly lit the room, casting shadows on his face.
They said nothing to each other, tension settling over. As the march neared, Elaine’s grandfather had been distancing himself, and Elaine had been doing the same. She was scared that something could happen to her, and he would be left alone.
“I got you a small muffin from the patisserie down the street,” he said, suddenly. “It took a whole week’s wage, but it’s worth it.”
Elaine was overcome with emotion, but couldn’t look her grandfather in the eyes. “Thank you, it means a lot.” With that, she took the muffin and went back into her room to dress. We’re dressing up, some as men, and others in the most extravagant dresses we can find, Madeline had said. Elaine kept this in mind as she put on a blue dress that reached her feet. The dress was delicately embroidered with swirls and designs, all adding texture and beauty to it. It was the dress Elaine’s mother had worn on special occasions, so it seemed proper for the day.
As the sun came up, Elaine took her journal and put it in a small bag, packing what she could find that could be necessary. With that, she made her way out of the apartment and towards Madeline’s house, to start rounding up the women.
October 5th, 1789
Happy birthday to me.
The groups began to join together, marching to Versailles. Voices chanted together, raised, sending their messages to the royal family. We will no longer suffer at your hands. Madeline and Elaine walked hand in hand, leading the women towards the Palace of Versailles. Torches were lit, and the clamoring people crowded down the streets.
Finally, they reached the palace, where Marie Antoinette was feeding like a savage. Elaine peeked through one of the windows to see stacks of cakes, bread, and all sorts of food being prepared. Fury rushed through her.
“There’s a mob outside, your majesty! They’re all angry. Les affamés!”
The queen looked at the servant without a care in the world. She was a selfish, evil woman, who would not stand down. The guests around her looked frightened, but all Marie Antoinette said was: “Qu'ils mangent de la brioche”.
Let them eat cake.
The march turned into a riot as the people persisted outside the palace. Elaine watched as the chaos around her grew. Then, the gates flew open, and all hell broke loose. Before rushing in, there was only one thing that went through Elaine’s mind: Today I am twelve years old. I am doing this for the people, for the better of the people, and for all of France.
Then, she charged.