“What? No! No, absolutely not. Why?” Jeanne was livid, moving about like a caged animal.
“If you don’t, we cannot proceed. Perhaps there is some other candidate? Someone we all could trust?”
“No, no other ‘candidates’, and no, I won’t do it.”
Cagliostro slumped into a chair, and reached over the table beside him, for the bottle of wine. Pouring a liberal measure, he took a gulp, before glaring at Jeanne, and then shrugging his shoulders. La Motte, looked at his feet then at the Italian, and finally at Jeanne.
“So, not me then?”
“It’s nothing personal.”
He smiled, and with a turn of his head asked,
“Is it men, in general?”
“No. It’s marriage, in general. I do not want to be married, at all.”
Cagliostro sighed heavily.
“But you cannot snare this man without being married. It will not happen.”
“Why? Wasn’t he happy enough to attack my sister? She is not, to my certain knowledge, alone in this. He is a lot less particular than you think.”
Cagliostro turned in his chair, and he stared at Jeanne, and then at la Motte who stared back.
“Are you that unaware of the the formalities surrounding the court? Yes, he can tumble a girl or two, if they are not married. If he can get them, the whole thing is her fault, no one cares. She has no one to object to, as long as he steers clear of any of the more important families. The less important ones he can seduce, and they will cover it up. He will even perform a discreet marriage for them, at a reduced fee. But, we are talking of an affair, something much more drawn out. That cannot happen if you are not, protected, so to speak, by marriage. He, is then also protected, it’s almost respectable. If there’s a child, then it causes no scandal, and he daren’t go too far, as there will quickly be, an understandable, sword at this throat.”
La Motte was gesturing in agreement, and Jeanne looked at them, first one then the other, then back to the first. It appeared as thought a mist had blown away, and she was seeing the world in which she had lived, revealed at last..
“How permanent would this marriage be?” she asked.
“That, madame, is the point. You can get out of it as soon as the game is done, probably on the grounds of non-consummation.”
La Motte looked suitably abashed, but agreed. Jeanne’s eyes narrowed.
“I can trust you, can I?”
“You can. Which is why it has to be la Motte, I am not sure I could vouch for anyone else.”
“Alright, so it would be the three of us, is that all we need?”
“Oh no, we need a group sufficient to make this work, without our having to get people at the last minute, too many explanations. But first, we have to get you two out of Paris, a whirlwind romance, a marriage in the provinces and, in a few months, you will be back, married, able to be seen about town. You will need apartments, a small household, and something to wear that will draw the tiger’s eye.”
“That sounds like a lot of money.” Jeanne said.
Cagliostro smiled and leaned back, he took another drink, before nodding to himself.
“It will. But I know exactly where to get it.”
La Motte shifted uneasily and coughed. Cagliostro turned.
“Even if you do. All these people… that’s a lot of people, and this has to be secret. I want to be able to enjoy my winnings, if we win.” La Motte cautioned.
“Not everyone will need to know the game, but yes, they will have to be trustworthy. I’ll draw up a list later and find out who is available and who is… out of town.”
“When do we start?” Jeanne asked.
Cagliostro smiled, beamed, and raised his glass.
“We’ve started. Are you not enthralled, madame? Smitten by this handsome fellow. Is your distress not eased, by the appearance of this fine example of French chivalry.”
“Gendarmery.” La Motte said, Cagliostro shrugged.
Jeanne looked over at him and really did look at him, perhaps for the first time. She sighed and reached for her glass, which she raised in Cagliostro’s direction, she drank. La Motte bowed, he liked bowing, it made him feel noble, and then, he too reached for his glass, raised it for the toast and drank.
Cagliostro was now all business. “Right. When you get back, you are to be a delightful, but strained, couple. The whirlwind has died down. Marry in haste and repent at leisure, they say. You are truly at leisure. You will distract yourselves by entering into the social whirl that is Paris, between Christmas and Candlemas, and then you should have ample opportunity to snare our prize, and the game will really be on. In fact, I might just have thought of the perfect date.”
Getting up he took out a key from round his neck, and opened a small chest on a side table. He lifted out a small leather purse and threw it to la Motte. Catching it, la Motte put down his glass and looked inside. He looked up at Cagliostro and grinned, he closed it, and threw it to Jeanne who followed his lead. Her head jerked up in shock.
“Do we need so much? Where are we going and for how long?”
“You will need, and you will get, a lot more than this. We are hunting a big beast, nothing less than reality will be convincing enough for his sort, and that, is before we can work out exactly how to keep him. You both need to look the part. We have to strike just the right note. If you are too poor and in need, he will have you once, and throw you over. Too rich, and he will be insecure, and fear getting burned. Remember, this is a man who, in spite of his wealth and position, is outside the best circles, and he so wants to get in. Wants, no, needs, to be accepted.”
Cagliostro was looking inwardly now, and he smiled.
“I can almost taste his need from across Paris. We must capture him and devour him whole.”
He turned and looked at the faces of the other two. La Motte looked excited but apprehensive, Jeanne had a grin that could have lit up the entire room.
“I can work with that.” She said.
Cagliostro echoed her smile and nodded.
“Good, because you are risking everything, not money, not reputation, your very life, and if we get it wrong, they will take it.