A Proposal out of Town
It took two days before Jeanne was ready to leave Paris. The parting with her sister had been subdued, and Jeanne would worry for the entire time she was away. Marie-Ann, had simply accepted her sister was leaving, would be gone for several weeks, and was not to be convinced that her sister would return. Jeanne got the impression, that she had expected to be abandoned, deserved it even, and no amount of reassurance would change the sense of fatalistic calm. She spoke with reverend Mother about it, and was assured that Marie-Ann would not be left alone, and they were alive to the possibility of despair. Can you be sure to watch someone, every hour of every day? It didn’t matter, Jeanne couldn’t stay, and without taking the veil herself, she had to trust the sisters.
They were to travel separately to Troyes, in Champagne. The provincial capitol vied with Rheims for preeminence in the region, but it looked like it had past its peak. Hardly developed much since the end of the last century, it had a certain charm. As far as Jeanne and la Motte were concerned, it was close enough to Paris to allow gossip to reach there, but far enough away to stop people coming to find out the truth.
Some things had been agreed upon. They were actually to be married. They had rooms reserved in the largest inn in the city, at first separate, but Cagliostro had a discreet hold on a double room after a short time. They had testing roles to play, and had to get them right. Jeanne would travel in the company of another young woman, a ’cousin’, the same Francoise Mary who had proved so entertaining, that night la Motte had stolen the wrong necklace.
Cagliostro had ensured an audience, by paying for a troupe of musicians to be there at the same time. It was an interim gig, their next stop was in Paris. So the couple’s performance was to be given largely for them. It would, of course be possible for the musicians, simply to be paid to spread the news, but the Italian judged a truly romantic account of the affair, had to be based on reality, if Jeanne and la Motte were up to it.
The first evening after their arrival, they came down to supper. La Motte, ‘noticed’ the unhappy young woman eating with her companion, and made discreet enquiry. Then, through Francoise, he asked for an introduction. They walked out as a trio, the next morning, and that evening they ate together, all three.
This was the first evening the troupe were there to play. One or two had stayed at the inn on the previous night, there to make preparation for the troupe, and they were familiar with the budding romance. La Motte asked for a series of tunes to be played to cheer up his ‘friend’, and the musicians were suitably charmed, and charming. It was clear to them, by the end of the evening, that the gallant Gendarme, and the shy young lady, in Troyes, they understood, because of an unhappy family event, or perhaps illness, they weren’t sure, but they were getting on very nicely. Their music was of course, the food that was nourishing this romance.
The second day and evening followed, and a third, by which time it was clear the demure young lady, was falling for the handsome Comte, oh yes, he was, Captain, the Comte de la Motte.
The band were making bets on whether he would try bed her, or go back to Paris and marry her. One grump, said he would continue on his journey to the south, and not be distracted by a woman, but he was the percussionist, and no one listened to him.
As it turned out, the couple were actually getting on very well. Francoise was a good catalyst, and not at all possessive of her sometime lover. Jeanne was feeling worried and unhappy about her sister, and la Motte did make her laugh and forget her concerns, while they were together. The project was less and less of a burden as the time passed, and they got to know one another. For his part, he found her quick and clever, never mind her physical attractiveness. They got on well, she laughed at his jokes, and he began to trust her. The one thing that began to bother him, was the prospect of her having an affair with the rapacious Cardinal. That night on the road, de Rohan had not impressed him as a potentially attractive bedfellow, now, with a woman he was beginning to admire, it began to get under his skin.
Walking out on day five, they had chosen one of the many river walks in the town, intending to take a bite of lunch, in one of the many small inns beside the stream.
“How long before we tie the knot?” Jeanne asked.
“He has us on a fixed schedule, any time in the next three or four days, I think. The band have to leave to be in Paris in about a week, and I was thinking it would be a nice touch to get them to play, you know, at the ceremony, they could be witnesses as well.”
“You don’t think that’s going too far?”
“Musicians? I don’t think that’s possible. They make their living off the idea of love and longing. They are the first ones who buy the thought that it’s real. That is, until it’s them involved. They’re like poets, doubting true love would be like a baker explaining the flour was off.”
“I really know very little about the world. Are musicians and poets that bad?” she asked.
“Believe me, I’m being nice.”
“You’d think the rough childhood I had, would teach you everything you’d need to know about life, and then you find there are parts of it, you never believed existed.”
“Have a rough childhood?”
She smiled and nodded, “My father was mostly drunk, what we might have had to eat, was downed each evening from a bottle. I had five siblings, only three of us survived infancy. My father used to go on and on, about how we were descendants of Hugh Capet, children of the kings of France, and that he was sorely used to be left thus in the gutter. But he never thought to try rescue his own, from the same gutter.”
“So how do you come to be at court?”
“Marie-Ann and I used to wander about the village, trying to find food, the local priest was scandalised and he did something about it, something that didn’t involve taking advantage of the situation for himself.”
“Unlike our Cardinal.”
“Very. When the Queen came into her own, she thought to help when she heard about us. I, though have something of a reputation…”
La Motte looked at her with raised eyebrows, the hint of a smile about his mouth. She smiled back,
“Not deserved, I assure you, but useful. My little sister was still in Longchamp and the Queen took it upon herself to introduce her to society.”
“Like introducing a gazelle to jackals. If it hadn’t been the Cardinal, it would have been someone else.”
“They are all of a seam.” He agreed.
“Yes, don’t misunderstand me, I wish to destroy the Cardinal, I would have wanted to destroy whoever it was, but I don’t think, by his lights, he realised what he was doing was so wrong. He might even now be intending to help her. But she isn’t made for that world, even a respectable marriage would destroy her.”
“If you don’t think he’s wrong, why go to such trouble to destroy him?”
“I do think he’s wrong. I said, he doesn’t think he’s wrong. I hate all of them. They believe, they have a right to whatever woman takes their fancy.”
La Motte, looked at his shoes, uncertain he isn’t also, of that same stripe.
“Your fight is with the world itself.”
“My fight, is with people who think this is the way the world should be. I think it can be otherwise.”
He turned to look at her fully, and he took her hands in his and knelt and kissed her hands.
“Jeanne, would you do me the honour?”
She smiled and touched his forehead and nodded. Francoise, who had been listening, could not have had a broader smile on her face.
“Oh, you two are… I don’t know.”
La Motte rose and putting his arm round Jeanne, they walked together back to the inn, to see if they might find a priest.
But, the course of true love…