It was some days later when the invitation came. Jeanne fretted, had she not been beguiling enough? La Motte, thought himself too intimidating. Cagliostro, who had also been in attendance, and had, by all accounts, chiefly those of Françoise his companion, believed they'd caught him, and was content to wait. The letter, was itself a piece of magnificent theatre. The finest parchment, the most florid penmanship, the loudest seal.
Jeanne, la Motte, Cagliostro and Françoise were all there, when the Italian prised open the seal. Unfolding the letter he looked round them all with a satisfied smile before reading.
“Good, very good… oh even better.”
La Motte rolled his eyes and leaned forward, “Are we to be treated to a commentary on your feelings, or the contents of the letter?” he asked.
Smiling again the Italian looked up.
“There’s nothing like a bit of dramatic tension, to improve the reception of the work, monsieur.”
There was a general murmur of dissatisfaction and he held up his hand,
“Alright, his Eminence, is inviting the Comtesse, note not the couple, to an afternoon of counsel and prayer, due to his great concern over the state of her marriage.”
“Is that, good?” Françoise asked.
“Oh yes, he is hungry, but circumspect. He has made, I should say, certain enquiries and his limited sources, have given him to understand the contessa is genuinely devout.”
“How do you know? He can’t say that, surely.” La Motte asked.
Cagliostro smiled, “His limited sources. Now, whom do you think…?”
“You?” Jeanne straightened.
“If we are to catch him, we must surround him. He has no reliable connection with the court, so we have supplied one. With it, a filter of the information he is told. None of it false. But, it is a picture of a world we wish him to see and, as it happens, it is one he wants to see as well.”
“Is there a date for this invitation?” La Motte asked.
“Indeed, in two days time. We shall send a reply, and prepare for the next step.”
Arriving at his Eminence’s apartments two days later, Jeanne was the epitome of innocent temptation. She was dressed simply, in pale green silk and her hair was as natural as fashion would allow, gathered behind her head with a bow. At her neck a small gold cross. Unlike on her sister’s visit, Jeanne was not kept waiting but brought straight in, to find the Cardinal reading his daily office, by a large window. His usual man waited at the door, with today a matronly maid at his side.
Upon her entrance, the Cardinal stood immediately, and almost rushed across the room to greet Jeanne. Holding out his ring to be kissed, he was slowed by Jeanne’s hesitancy. She curtsied, and touched the ring to her lips, looking up at him as she did so. He swallowed.
“Madame, I have been so concerned since the other evening, it is all I have thought about.”
“I am sorry Eminence, to have been the occasion of interference in your religious devotions.”
“Ah, no madame, it was through my devotion that I was able to relieve my concern. Come please sit. Will you take some refreshment? A little wine.”
“I do not drink alcohol, Eminence. Perhaps a little tea, if you have it?”
“I do, madame, of course.” And he snapped his fingers at the servants. Jeanne followed his Eminence over to the window, where two chairs were arranged around a small occasional table.
They sat. His eminence removed a rosary from his pocket and began to finger the beads. The tea arrived with a small plate of petit-fours, the maid poured and they, both man and maid, retired. Jeanne sipped the very hot tea. His Eminence coughed.
“Madame, might I enquire, the difficulties between yourself and your husband? I do not mean to pry, in a prurient way, but if I am to offer the assistance I so ardently wish to do, I need to know. All of Paris is talking of your… disagreement in Troyes.”
Jeanne teared up a little, “Oh sir, I did not know… does the whole world know our business then?”
“Not the detail, merely the fact of a young and troubled marriage.”
“The fault is mine, Eminence. I am too young, too unknowing of the ways of the the world.”
“But, this is as it should be madame, what a husband should desire in a virtuous wife.”
“He does not. He wants for a wife, one more knowing than I.”
“I don’t know what to say, madame. I think there are women aplenty in Paris who would oblige a man, but not so many who possess your virtue. Perhaps you could enquire of one of these ladies…”
“I am afraid that would ruin my husband’s reputation, he would or I might, become the subject of gossips and humour.”
“You need a discreet instructor then.”
“In these delicate matters, whom can a woman trust?”
“Well let us think. Now, your husband, he is a Comte, but only in His Majesty’s Gendarmes, could that be right?”
“And that means he is around Paris most of the time?”
“All of the time, Eminence.”
He sat back in his seat and ran the beads between his fingers. He thought now he had only to reach out his hand… but this could be delightful, a willing pupil to corrupt, and so well constructed. He caught her look, and quickly pulled himself together.
“Madame, I have a friend…”
“Oh, Eminence, I cannot be passed round like…” and she held out her hand to the plate of petit-fours.
“No, you misunderstand, my friend, the Comte d’Artois, he has a regiment, I believe I can get your husband commissioned in his service, it would mean, his leaving Paris, for days at a time. It would give you some time, alone, to reflect. And more income too I think.”
“I see, Eminence, and I might have the chance to find a discreet confidant…?”
“I think, with some thought, you might, madame. Yes indeed, God inspired, you might say.”
She looked at him with eyes that he hoped spoke of more than mere lust. It was a strange mix that he felt, of benevolence and desire, teacher and corrupter, shepherd and wolf.