The room was grand, but lit as it was, with so few candles, dark. The three men were finishing a lavish meal. Boehmer dropped the bones of, something, on the plate while Bassenge dipped his fingers in a bowl of water and wiped them carefully on a large white napkin. The Cardinal, leaning back in his seat, cup in hand, and watched with a predatory eye.
“So gentlemen, three rejects, feeling fortunate nevertheless, because we have cheated a thief, and won a victory, however small. Here is to small victories.”
The others reached out, and raised their glasses, touching over the table with an expensive ‘ting’, and they drank.
“But tell me this, gentlemen, did you know those people in that room, the witnesses to our humiliation?”
“Oh Eminence, humiliation is too strong a word for it. Humiliation only happens if they accuse you of using cheap gems, or substandard workmanship.”
“Or serving terrible wine.” Bassenge chimed in, and they laughed.
“Perhaps, you are used to being rejected, the rough and tumble world of commerce must offer you many such experiences. But I am not in commerce. I have been a Bishop from a very young age, before even I had had a woman. I am Grand Almoner of France, and Abbé of two of the richest and most prestigious monasteries in the Realm. I am a Prince of the church, and have been an Ambassador plenipotentiary of France to the Queen’s mother, Marie-Therese of Austria. I, gentlemen, am not used to being told, ‘go away’, like a tradesman, or a pestilential child.”
His companions sober up a little and sit a bit straighter.
“It is true that we might be more used, though it doesn’t happen very often, we are very careful to understand our client’s wishes, you know, but all the same, it does happen, that we get rejected, from time to time.” Bassenge said, trying, so far as he could allow himself, to be tactful. Boehmer nodded seriously, as he spoke. The Cardinal leaned forward.
“But did you know them?” The Cardinal pressed.
The jewellers looked at each other, then back at de Rohan.
“The people, in the room. The people who saw it, did you know them?”
Boehmer, looking at his partner said,
“For the most part, yes, they would be known to us, clients, and friends of clients.”
“Good, good. There was one young woman, particularly striking, no ring on her hand that I saw, come to think of it, no jewellery at all. Sitting beside her majesty, did you notice her.”
Boehmer frowned, trying to remember through the fog of wine and good food.
“Was that young, de Valois St Remy? You’ve met her Bassenge?”
“Oh, I think her younger sister, Marie-Ann? I think, yes, I think that’s her name. A very devout young woman.”
“Devout, is she? Why is she at court?”
“The Queen likes her sister, but they have something of a difficult reputation, the father...”
He mimicked someone drinking from a bottle.
“...And they are dirt poor, but still, distant cousins of his Majesty, so not to be dumped, no matter what you think. The Queen is very kind to them.”
“She is? I wish she was as kind to me. She doesn’t understand, you know. I was young, being used by the Duc d’Aiguillon, he was against the ‘Austrian marriage’, I thought I was working for the good of the King, for the good of France.”
The master craftsmen, unused to such outpourings from the upper echelons of society, exchanged alarmed glances, as the Cardinal appeared to be on the verge of tears. But, he straightened up, and pulled himself together.
“Marie-Ann you say? De Valois? How fortunate, and the Queen wishes her well? Perhaps I can help, you know some patronage, introduce her to the best sorts, eh?”
“The Queen might look on that very favourably, Eminence.” Boehmer pronounced.
“Oh yes, she might indeed.” added Bassenge enthusiastically.
“And they are poor, you say? Not many resources, I could do several good turns here.” The Cardinal, appeared almost to have forgotten that he was in company, a vision playing out in his head and a small smile drifted across his face. Even as it did, so he realised he was not alone, and he turned the inner smile to something more bland and deliberate.
“Gentlemen it has been a very good evening, rescued from the jaws of a very unpleasant one. Would you mind showing me once more that wonderful necklace, spurned by the Queen?”
The jewellers grinned, and Bassenge took out once more, the thin tube of leather, and uncorked the end. Sliding The folded leather onto the table he unrolled it and then patted the extraordinary piece flat. The Cardinal moved the candles closer and admired the multi-coloured vision in front of him.
“This is indeed a work fit for the neck of a Queen. What would it cost?”
Boehmer smiled, and his eyes twinkled, no other word for it.
“Two million livres, Eminence.”
“Two million, well, I can’t say I’m surprised, but who could afford it?”
“Only a King. It was made for the King’s grandfather, for his friend, and only the King could have the resources to pay for it now.”
“So what will you do?”
“We know the Queen likes it, but it was made for a woman she detests, and the price is, I admit, extravagant. She is, though, the Queen of France.”
Waving his hand at it, the Cardinal said,
“Put it away sir, you are very great craftsmen, a tribute to France that it can contain such talent.”
Bassenge carefully rolled up the jewel and slid it home. The Cardinal stood and smiled.
“Thank you Gentlemen for a fine evening and seeing your handiwork was an honour, I hope it finds a suitable home.”
He smiled and they turned. The man at the door opened it, and they passed through and out of the building, to where their carriage waited. In a few more minutes they were well on their way home. Boehmer turned, and looked at his partner with a critical eye.
“What?” asked Bassenge.
“I have changed my opinion of you several times this evening. Admiring your calm at the court, furious with you, that you revealed the necklace had not been stolen, when it provided the perfect chance to break up the thing, honour saved. Then, watching his Eminence, I believed you’ve been coaxing him to become a buyer. Now, I don’t know if you're a genius of a salesman, or a fool who doesn’t realise even the Cardinal doesn’t have the money to buy it.”
The other man shrugged.
“I didn’t think it would be great if we’d just been held up by some cheap highwayman, and I thought, so close to Versailles, people might see it as a criticism of this Majesty. I wondered about the Cardinal, he has very deep pockets you know, and more than that, he has many friends.”
“Hmm, worth considering at that. Alright, then you’re not a fool, but the jury’s out on your genius.”
Bassenge smiled at that, and their carriage wound it way through the narrow medieval streets of Paris, and into the damp night. But dark streets have dark eyes, and everyone is watched, especially if they are unloved by the Queen.