Once upon a time in Paris, society revolved around the salons and on the good word of influential people. Into this rarefied world stepped the Lady Medusa, from where she came nobody can recall. She was a woman of some means and considerable beauty who exerted an incredible pull on the men around her. She was aware of her power with men and used it to build that influence that brought her into the fringes of Royal society. She developed a reputation for using men, bachelors and wedded, bewitching them with her beauty and then discarding them lives ruined. That she was a predator in the world of society there is no doubt. Some tell it that her ultimate ambition was the heart of the King himself.
A woman of such means and reputation does not sail through the salons of Paris without making a few enemies. The betrayed girlfriends, wives, daughters, nieces of gentlemen whom she had bewitched and ruined formed a cabal of their own determining to put a stop to this foreign lady before she stole the very heart of the nation. To this end they enlisted a man, a most unusual man. Jean Baillehache was a man only recently returned to France from adventure and pilgrimage to the Holy Land. He had left at the age of 19 a healthy strong risk taking young man and returned three years later much older in wisdom than his years and most strikingly of all – completely blind. Being a man of significant wealth, not drawn from the land, he was not significantly disadvantaged and liked to claim that it was god’s will and he must suffer it, refusing any inspection by persons of the medical profession.
Jean spent most of his time away from court but had earned the favour of the King with his accounts of life in the Holy Land and vivid descriptions of the places Jesus had gone and travelled. For a man tied to his throne and to his duty, living through Jean’s experience was a most pleasing activity. For this Jean was regularly invited to balls and other events at the Palace of Versailles.
It was one such invitation that he received after being contacted by the cabal of vengeful women that he employed as a lure for the Lady Medusa. Sending his maid, less likely to be ensnared by the woman’s charms than his manservant, with a complimentary invitation he asked the Lady Medusa to accompany him to a Masquerade at the Palace. Though she did not know of this Gentleman Jean Baillehache, his proffered entry into Royal society aroused her aspirations and she consented.
The Lady Medusa was collected by carriage and met by the masque wearing Jean Baillehache who complimented her on her dress and offered his arm to her which she politely accepted, her other hand holding her own masque. He walked with a cane, which she assumed was to do with an injury from some adventuring. They chatted and drank, snacked and danced. Each one appearing somewhat distant to the other. She with eyes searching for the King, he focused on her voice so as not to betray his handicap. Disappointment began to settle on her as the evening wore on and it became clear the King would not be appearing, though it being a Masquerade she would not know if he was there at all!
Her attention instead began to focus more and more on her escort for the evening, her questions asserting his wealthy background and status. As the conductor signalled the last dance of the evening Jean invited her to follow him to participate in a cotillion. However, prior to leaving his seat he did a strange thing and felt the wall behind the chair a little uncertainly. He then placed his masque down and asked the Lady Medusa to do the same. Beguiled by his piercing eyes she placed hers down and moved into the centre of the hall, following Jeans deliberate steps – almost as if counting. They took each other’s hands and danced. Jean Baillehache and the Lady Medusa stared into each others eyes for the duration of the dance. Part way through she saw over his shoulder a fleeting glimpse, a reflection for the briefest moment, of herself. As they turned and moved in step with the music she kept glancing over his shoulder, looking behind her, trying to catch glimpse of herself again through the crowd of dancers who only had eyes for each other. And then a gap in the dancers opened open and she stopped in mid step with Jean, who unable to see her stop stumbled a little.
He blinked, unseeingly and listened… to nothing.
For the Lady Medusa, in her ball dress, was stood staring into the mirrors of Versailles at her own reflection; Seduced by her own beauty, unable to tear her gaze away. The power she had wielded on so many men now turned back on her. The crowd of people began to gradually thin out, leaving in their various carriages until there was just Jean Baillehache and the Lady Medusa.
Jean stepped back from the Medusa.
He got no response. He nodded a little to himself and retraced his steps carefully to the chair which his cane rested on and departed the Hall of Mirrors smartly leaving the Lady Medusa alone. Yet she was not alone, for she was not even there herself anymore. Her skin growing paler, the fabric of her clothes growing stiffer and draining of colour until all that was left of the monster of the salons of Paris, the predator of aristocratic man, was a statue: Her size and height, with her same absorbing stare, but one which was now utterly powerless. The most perfect image of female vanity.
A flash, and then another.
Slowly, a group of chatty excitable Japanese tourists move past the statue.
“If you will please… come this way, please. We are now in the Hall of Mirrors which was part of the third building campaign of King Louis IV, or the Sun King as he styled himself. Work began on the extension in 1678 under the auspices of the architect Jules Hardouin-Mansart…”
I hope you enjoyed reading the above interpretation of the story of Medusa as much as I enjoyed exploring it. It was inspired from a sudden realisation this summer that the Medusa story was about vanity not bravery and has given me the urge to read up on those classic myths which are still such fertile ground for ideas about the world we live in. Feel free to share any comments about the above story below, or about your favourite Greek myths. I am considering expanding The Lady Medusa to about a 4,000-5000 word short to more fully explore the themes tentatively explored here.