Jeanne marched through the doors of the Convent at Longchamp, as quickly, as she ever had left. Pulling off her gloves as she went, a young nun running, trying to keep up, breathless, as she answered the questions being fired at her.
“Just this morning, a little after Prime, there was a very loud banging on the door, and a driver was there holding her up. She was in a state, I can tell you.”
“What did she say had happened?”
“That’s just it, we couldn’t make out what it was, all these words came tumbling out, but none of them made any sense.”
“What were they?”
“What were what?”
“The words, what were they?”
“Just words, not sentences.”
Jeanne stopped suddenly, letting the nun run on, who had to stop and come back.
“Oh, um, ‘Cardinal’ was one, several times, ‘Eminence’, was another. She did keep saying, ‘I didn’t...’, but not what it was she...”
An older woman, in a larger habit, with another nun, turned the corner in front of them, silencing the young nun, who curtsied. Jeanne stopped just short of her, and she also curtsied.
“Mother.” Jeanne said quietly.
“Jeanne, I’m glad you’ve come so quickly, we should go to my office, before seeing your sister.”
Jeanne held back from the angry demands that were building inside her, conscious as she was that, whatever she thought of these people, they were not to blame for what led her sister here again. The confines of the place were what had driven Jeanne out, and its constant judgement, of her and her thoughts. Of course, she couldn’t escape judgement, society passed that, and it seeped into the convent, not the other way round, as most people supposed. But outside, she was freer, more able to act, the judgement was there, but she didn’t have to bite her tongue, play nice. They reached the Mother superior’s office, and she bade the other two nuns to go back, to sit with Marie-Ann. She held the door open for Jeanne. She entered, and went to sit at the chair pointed to by the reverend Mother, waiting for the older woman to take her seat, then sat. They looked at each other for a few moments, no smiles appeared.
“What do you intend to do?” Reverend Mother asked.
“I don’t understand. About what?”
The older nun pursed her lips and shook her head.
“Are you saying you haven’t been told?”
“I have been told nothing, Mother.”
“Your sister has been dishonoured.”
Jeanne stared at the still figure opposite, she coloured slightly, took a deep breath, and examined her lap, before,
“I don’t know.” The nun shrugged.
“Where was she?”
The Mother said nothing, but stared back stonily, and Jeanne surmised that this was the heart of the issue. She nodded.
“So, he’s a churchman.”
“I didn’t say so.”
“Anyone else, and you’d have been quick enough, Mother. Which one? Powerful? Or some grubby little priest.”
“Jeanne, don’t forget yourself. You’re in a house dedicated to the glory and honour of God.”
“Yes, and whoever you’re hiding took vows of chastity, which they have clearly dishonoured, and with a child, who you know to be innocent as the lilies. Do not protect them Mother.”
Reverend Mother paused again, and then suddenly decided.
“What are you going to do?” she asked.
“I know nothing, so what I might want to do, or decide I can do, depends on what’s happened and who did it.”
“Alright. Early this morning Marie-Ann was brought to the house by a coachman. It turned out he had found her, hysterical, wandering the streets in Paris. He couldn’t get anything out of her, that he could understand, except the name of this convent. So he brought her here. She wasn’t even properly dressed.”
“Was she physically harmed?”
“Oh yes, most definitely.”
“Do you know who?”
“Know? Not certainly, but she was quite likely with the Cardinal de Rohan.”
Jeanne’s turn for silent contemplation. The reverend Mother watched her, then,
“You can’t hurt him, you know, but he could crush you and brush away any evidence of you, without a thought, and he could destroy your sister.”
Jeanne looking up met the other’s eyes, and then agreed, before taking a deep breath.
“What can you do?” Jeanne asked.
“Against the Cardinal? Nothing. We can though, take your sister in, she was already talking with us about coming back, I don’t know if she told you that.”
Jeanne shook her head and looked at the floor, a tear escaping before she could stop it.
“But, if you go on a public crusade against the man...” she waved her hand indicating impotence.
“I know you Jeanne, what will you do?”
“I don’t know, I might not be able to do anything.”
“That’s not stopped you in the past.”
“True, but I’m not the only one involved this time. First, I need to see her”
“She is, fragile.”
“I can imagine.”
“You have to be gentle.”
“She’s my sister, I am always gentle. Perhaps this is where that leads. I thought I could give her the kind of life she deserved.”
“This isn’t your fault.”
“Of course it is, she is a timid house cat, and I brought her into a zoo of vultures and jackals.”
“We should see her.”
Jeanne stood, anxious, afraid, steel. She was looking at her prone sister, on the bed in the small cell. The room was bare, a crucifix in one tiny alcove, the sole ornamentation on the wall, and it was raw wood with no figure. At the end of the bed was a trunk, not decorated in any way, wood, waxed not varnished. Its contents would be the spare set of underwear and habit of the nun staying in the room, a prayer book, a hymnal, a bible, a breviary and a copy of the lives of the saints were permanent residents. A small mat on the floor for knees late at night, a table for water and rosary.
Her sister slept, she looked serene, but Jeanne could tell from her hair and the bruising around her neck, and a little on her face, that she had been treated roughly. Perhaps it was passion, or perhaps, at some point, she had put up a fight. Marie-Ann moved, and Jeanne saw her wrist was also bruised. She knew these marks were part of the reason the order had been prepared to take in the unfortunate, evidence, in their minds, she had not gone along the path willingly. Jeanne, knowing her sister, thought it was likely a fair summation of the events, but she could also think of times when she had seen such marks on others, that were not the result of resistance. She was glad the sisters were not as worldly as she had become. It filled her with regret, at having led her sister into such a world. Her eyes brimmed with tears, and she walked to the bedside.
The sisters left them alone. Jeanne took a seat and prepared to wait, but Marie-Ann’s eyes flickered, and she turned over. Seeing Jeanne she smiled, and then the tears came. Jeanne bent, taking her sister in her arms, just holding her. Many minutes passed, great sobs wracking the young woman, before they slowed, and then stopped. She tried to speak, couldn’t. Jeanne reached over, lifted the cup of water, held it for her, and she drank. With that, came brief eye contact, and it was only with a supreme effort that Marie-Ann controlled the new wave of crying.
“It’s all right, you’re safe now.” Jeanne whispered.
“No, I’ll never be safe again. He can...” And the hovering hysteria rose again, stopping speech. Several deep breaths, “He can come here if he wants, I can’t ever get away.”
Marie-Ann shook her head violently, covering her mouth with her hand, terror running across her face.
“He said if I mentioned his name...”
“Shush child, only I am here, he will never know you have spoken of it. The servants know in any case, it is not something that can be secret, in this world.”
“The servants know? Everyone knows? I can’t...” and the tears once more overwhelmed her.
Jeanne waited. She didn’t need it confirmed, in truth but thought Marie-Ann had to speak it, or its - his, hold over her, would last forever. So she held her sister, prepared to hold on as long as she needed to. Eventually, the sobbing stopped, exhaustion and dehydration as much as calm. Marie-Ann held her sisters eyes.
“de Rohan, The Cardinal. I tried to stop him, but he had given me things to drink and then, I tried... He was too strong, I think it excited him anyway, and he threatened to bing in his man to hold me, said he would let him...” Her hand rose over her mouth again and she stopped speaking, her voice being squeezed out.
Jeanne nodded, smiled, and smoothed her sister’s hair, wiped her eyes, and brought the cup to her lips again.
“You are not to worry. The Mother here is strong, very well-connected, the Cardinal will not be able to get access to you if she forbids it, and she will. I promise you. As for the man himself... You are not to worry. You wanted to stay here, I am the one at fault for brining you out. Rest. They will take care of you, you are not the first, you will not be the last.”
Jeanne bent and kissed her sister’s forehead, and smiled at her again. She let her go and Marie-Ann slid to the pillow. She was asleep before Jeanne had walked to the door. One last look and she left. Sitting on a stool across from the door, the Reverend Mother waited.
“As you suspected. Will you take care of her?”
“I will get you what I can.”
“No need. Jeanne, what will you do? Nothing rash.”
Jeanne forced a smile.
“Nothing rash. I will see what I can do, he has many enemies.”
“But do you have friends? Good friends?”
“She has. We’re about to find out how good.”