How to play a Big Fish
“He is hunting la Motte.”
“What? Why?” Françoise asked.
“Who?” Jeanne asked, possibly more importantly.
“Who? I believe it is the Comte Rochefort. It was a man from his regiment, I noticed, and he was followed by another of the same. Why? I don’t know yet. I managed to find out that they had been asking about la Motte.”
“But no one else?” Françoise asked.
“No one else.”
“So, this doesn’t have anything to do with what we’re doing?” Jeanne pressed.
“Now, that I do not know. It could be he has heard about something la Motte said, or did, and it piqued his interest.” Cagliostro answered.
“This goes back further, than what we’re doing, I think. When he raided the Inn, he seemed… I don’t know, obsessed, maybe? He wanted to get la Motte, he wasn’t as interested in the necklace, as he was in the man.” Françoise frowned remembering that evening, and then shook her head.
“We can only find out more by asking la Motte, it could be, there is a personal grudge between them.” Cagliostro said.
“So, we don’t stop?” Jeanne asked.
“We have to be careful, but then, we’ve always had to be careful. No. If this gets more serious though, we have to be prepared to stop, and leave immediately, or to face execution.”
“Alright. Can we make things move more quickly?” Jeanne pressed.
“It’s a nice balance, isn’t it? Go too fast, and we risk the Cardinal’s suspicions being aroused, too slow, and he might become bored. Now, this. We will have to make sure no messages get from Rochefort, to the Cardinal. Be on the lookout madame.”
“So what’s next?” Françoise was moving on already.
“Next? The Cardinal, has been the answer to madame’s prayers, she is grateful, can she do anything for him? Why, yes she can, and, yes she will.” Cagliostro outlined.
“But what is it?” Françoise asked again?
Cagliostro smiled, “Why, the court. Not, in one step, but we are going to offer him the world, or the bit of it he cares about.”
“How?” Françoise asked.
The Italian walked around Jeanne at the window, looking at her holding out his hand, before turning to Françoise.
“This, is how you think of her, as that sweet girl, you’ve been with these last few weeks, but you’ve already found out, she is a thief, daring, strong. Now learn, how she can reach into the highest places in the land.”
“But she told us, she’d been rebuffed. The Queen as good as exiled her.” Françoise objected. Jeanne looked at Cagliostro with a slight smile.
“That was before. Before, marriage, before Troyes. Now, she is romantic, with a whiff of the disreputable. Ladies, bored with their safe lives, love nothing more, and that whiff, is pretty safe, isn’t it?”
“But, it’s Versailles, she’s been kicked out.”
Cagliostro turned and shrugged, “What of that? Anyone can go to the palace, dress properly and no one will stop you. Oh, if you try to enter some apartments, they’ll run you through, but for the most part… Then you will see. It’s not only the fish, we are seeking to attract, but the bait as well. A big fish, needs a delicious bait.”
He stood looking at Jeanne who, it seemed to Françoise, had turned her kaleidoscopic nature one more click, and changed completely once more. Who was she? And, was she going to bring them all to the gallows? She loved her for it.
The aftermath, given the state of the bedclothes, of a once more vigorous session of ‘counselling’, and ‘healing’. Jeanne eased herself off the cardinal’s ample torso, and flopped back on the bed. The man himself, out of breath, grinning from ear to ear. Tried to speak, but it took a few moments.
“Madame, you are without equal. An intoxicating mix of innocence, and wantonness. I think, perhaps one derives from the other. Maybe, it is the action of the holy spirit in you, allowing you to act free, of normal constraint.”
He turned awkwardly and grabbed her hand, kissing it.
“I admit I’m grateful, for having had this opportunity to help you.” He mumbled.
“So, Eminence, you think my husband should have no complaints?”
“None, madame, he should be on bended knee every night, for the good fortune of having you there for him.”
“Thank you, Eminence, I will be forever in your debt. I wish there was some small way in which I could repay you.”
He laughed, “Jeanne, I lack for very little. I am one of the richest men in France, I hold offices that are practically hereditary. I am a prince of the church. I cannot imagine, you have anything I want.”
“Perhaps you could work your magic on the Queen and return me to Royal favour?”
“I don’t understand Eminence.”
He laughed bitterly, “No, nor should you. I have all that I mentioned, yet I am an exile from court. It would take a Richelieu, to bring me back.”
Silence. The Cardinal slowly recovered. After a few minutes he began to look around for his wine glass, the mood turned cold.
“What?” he tone brusque. He took a deep breath, and turned over on his side, “I am sorry, I have poisoned the evening with my troubles.”
“I don’t pretend to any understanding of high affairs of state, but is there not something I might do?”
“Such as my dear? This, is not something a sweet smile can cure, and I don’t think the Queen is desirous of female flesh.”
“What is the problem? Did you do something terrible?”
“Yes. No, I don’t know, it depends on who you are.”
“I confess, I am lost.”
The Cardinal, took a long unhappy, draught from his glass.
“A long time ago, before I was a Cardinal, and before the Queen, was the Queen, before even, she was married to the King, the Dauphin, then. A part of the court, was deeply against the connection to the court of Austria. The Queen’s mother is a spider, like all of the Hapsburgs, and this was another of their, dynastic intrigues. A powerful man, the Duc d’Aguillon, closely connected to my family, had me sent to Vienna, to work against the union. I did as I was asked. Not too surprisingly, the Queen didn’t like that, and bears a grudge.”
“Is that all?”
“Oh, she dresses it up with her being scandalised, by my sleeping with a few of the women around the court, but I was young, what is a man to do?” and he drank again, draining his wine from the glass in his hand, and then examining it.
“I… I don’t wish to presume, or to over promise, but I think, I have the Queen’s ear, Eminence.”
The Cardinal stopped looking at his glass, and slowly moved his attention to Jeanne.
“What do you mean?”
“I mean… I think, Eminence, I know nothing of men, but I do know women, and many of our frailties.”
“But what has that to do with her Majesty?”
“I converse with her.”
“With the Queen?”
“Marie-Antoinette of France?”
“We correspond. She had, before my marriage, been very kind to me. Since my marriage, we correspond, by letter.”
“Almost daily, Eminence.”
His mouth apparently dry, he tried to take another drink from the empty glass, his eyes fixed on Jeanne.
“Have you mentioned, me? That is to say… this… assistance I am giving you?”
“Not yet, Eminence. I suggested to her, about the course I was set upon, and she… encouraged me.”
“Huh, she would.”
“I’m sorry, Eminence, what?”
“That is, you didn’t mention me?”
“Not yet. But I was about to, in my next letter.”
He lay back, twisting onto his back and leaving the glass on the bed. Jeanne watched, as the last drop trickled onto the white sheets. The stain caused her some distress, as she watched it spread.
“Should I not, Eminence?”
“That depends. What would you say?”
“What would you have me say?”
“That I am a good and pious man. That I say mass, twice a day, and my office too. That I attend the poor. All true Jeanne.”
She reached out and touched his head, seeing him earnest for the first time.
“That may win her admiration for your goodness, Eminence, but it will not win you an invitation to court.”
He moved himself up onto one arm, and looked again at the woman beside him. His opinion of her, began to change. Seeing it, in his eyes, Jeanne knew, she was at one of those moments…
“I told you Eminence, I know women.” She noted, she had saved the moment.
“What then, do you recommend?”
“I recommend Eminence, we get her to fall in love with you.”