The Cardinal's Sin - chapter 27 - From Letters to Billet-Doux

From Letters to Billet-Doux

They sat, still on the unmade bed. The tray was on the floor, as were most of the bedclothes. Jeanne had her customary glass of water, and the Cardinal, his of wine. All round them on the bed, were the tools of erudition and charm, that is to say, paper and pen, with copious supplies of ink. At first blush, things were not going well. Many sheets had been either torn into pieces, or balled up and thrown away. The two were engrossed in the task. The Cardinal waxed poetic, while Jeanne dragged him back to solid ground. He had thought it would take one, perhaps two drafts. She was determined to get it right. He had a natural inclination to the flowery language of a teenager, smitten by the first pretty face he had noticed, this, Jeanne had to coax out of him. But, by contrast, he had begun with a straightforward list of reasons the Queen should find him desirable. Jeanne had pressed him to think of that list, in more colourful terms. Then, once he had the bit between his teeth, she had the task of pulling him back, toning the colour, into something readable.

“This is a ticklish problem, madame.”

“This is the ultimate challenge for your skills Eminence. Your experience as a diplomat is perfect. You cannot simply flatter, or tell them you want a treaty. The other kingdom will suspect something and examine at your motives, they will pull away. But, you also cannot set out a list of demands, she will be affronted, and pull away.”

“Yes, I have gotten to used to sending out orders, or telling people I want something and it happens…”

“So begin with a little, not too much, self-effacement, your unworthiness, then describe her worth, and then back to your unworthiness.”

“Am I so unworthy?”

“Are you recognised at court, Eminence?”

“No.”

“But you wish to be?”

He took a deep breath and looked in Jeanne’s eyes.

“So much.”

She held his eyes and saw his need, far more profound than his desire for her, she thought, for this he would go far.

“Then we have to get it right. ‘Majesty…”


It took another draft or two, but, after breakfast, and mass, Jeanne had the sealed letter in her possession, and was in a carriage heading to her apartments. She was exultant, she was exhausted, she had the first concrete piece in her hand. So far to go, but she felt that now, she was on the way.


Arriving at the apartments, she noted the watching soldier, a few doors down, and wondered if their lack of discretion was deliberate. In her days on the rooftops of Paris, she certainly could not have afforded to be that obvious. She went up.

Inside, she found her co-conspirators taking an early lunch. Cagliostro, dabbed his mouth with his napkin and stood, as did la Motte. Jeanne was surprised at the butterflies in her tummy.

“I didn’t expect you back for another day at least.”

“I am on the comte’s business. Messenger boy. But, a well paid messenger boy.” And he smiled. He jerked a thumb at the window.

“I see you’ve grown company, since I was here last. We’ve just been talking about it. I don’t know him myself, but I do recognise the uniform. It’s the nasty colourless one, of Rochefort’s.”

“I think that might be his attempt at hiding.” Françoise said.

“Yes, I heard they did the same, against the English, in the last dust up.”

Cagliostro cleared his throat, “Enough of the military willie waving, no one here knows or is impressed by it. He will have to be watched, that is all.”

“Anyway, it is good to see you sir.” Jeanne said.

La Motte didn’t exactly offer a return smile, but he did incline his head, “And you madame.. I hear you have the man ensnared.”

“I believe so.”

“Did you propose acting as an intermediary for him?” Cagliostro, now anxious and engaged.

Jeanne grinned and pulled the letter from her sleeve.

“I offered and he jumped at the idea, we have been up all night, writing the first letter.”

“A letter? Straight away? He is even more desperate, than I thought.”

“It is eating his soul.”

They all wondered at that one. La Motte frowned.

“But what do we do? You’re not going to give it to the Queen? Would she accept it?”

Jeanne shrugged, “I doubt it, and I especially doubt it, from me. She turned her back on us, and left us to our own devices. My family, is at least as old and as noble as her’s, but she treated us, as though we were diseased. No, we won’t be giving it to her.”

Cagliostro smiled, “Not that the Cardinal will notice. Desire, makes people myopic.” He held out his hand for the letter and Jeanne gave it to him. He examined the seal.

“Excellent, we can copy this too, which might prove very useful. Now, to work.”

He took it over to the small table near the window, where several implements lay waiting. Sitting, he lifted a leather handled exquisitely sharp knife, and he took some care to prise the seal from the paper, without leaving a trace. He put the seal into a small box and put it to one side. Then, he carefully unfolded the letter.

“I don’t understand, if this is as far as the letter is going, why be so careful?” La Motte asked. Cagliostro looked up for a moment.

“Monsieur, it is always best to be able to retrace your steps, if necessary. I cannot know, what the future holds.” He bent to his task again, then stopped, and looked up with a smile, “But I am working on it.”

The letter open, he read, to himself, and then to the group. Finally he smiled at Jeanne, “Excellent work. Now we must concoct the reply. Intrigued, but cautious, a little distant, but not cold. I think we can achieve this. The big question is, how long do we make him wait?”

“A month.” Françoise said, not at all kindly.

“Too long, he will be dispirited, and may try to make his own enquiries.”

“Why wait?” La Motte asked. The women both turned to face him, then exchanged a look, and Françoise raised her eyes to heaven.

“What?”

Jeanne looked back and sighed, “If we reply too soon, he won’t believe it, or worse, won’t value it. He must suffer, a little, I agree with Senior Cagliostro, if it’s too long, he will go off the boil, but we cannot make the mistake of something the Queen would not do.”

“So, shall we say, ten days?”

“Still too long.” Jeanne said.

“I certainly wouldn’t wait for a woman, for ten days.”

“Said the last of the great poets.” Françoise muttered.

“ I think about a week, eight days, she is a busy woman and not just, a woman, she is, the Queen.” Said Jeanne.

“But, this is a letter she must write herself, with you there beside her, ready to take it away.”

Jeanne, thought about it and agreed, “Yes, I hadn’t thought of that, eight days then, and in the mean time, I can report back to him of its reception.”

Cagliostro looked over the letter once more and brushed away a little dust. He looked at the pile of papers beside him, and ran his thumb across them. Selecting three sheafs, he weighed them in his hand, and then tested them with his nail.

“We have the paper, we need the perfume, and the right nibs. Good, I shall write it tomorrow.”

Françoise lifted the Cardinal’s letter, looked it over, and then at her friends, “We are writing a letter from the Queen, to the Grand Almoner of France. Us. Now, it really is getting serious.” And she grinned.


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