The Queen’s Letter
The Cardinal’s hands shook, as he slid his thumb beneath the fold in the paper. The seal cracked, and the paper opened. He looked sadly at the seal. Jeanne leaned forward, and pressed her mouth to his ear,
“There will be more, Eminence.”
He stopped, closed his eyes and smiled, before continuing.
He, almost with reverence, pushed open the thick paper to reveal a careful hand, and a blot free missive.
“She wrote this herself.” He marvelled, and ran his hand across the surface of the paper, taking in the lettering with his finger tips. His hands shook. His eyes scanned the page, and he drank in the words, once, twice, before reading aloud.
“My dear, Cardinal, How surprised was I to receive, and read your letter, delivered me by my friend’s hand.” He twisted round and smiled at Jeanne, and then went on.
“Your words surprised me no less, than the arrival of the letter itself. Your character is quite other than I have experienced in the past, or have heard from others since. It speaks of a man of depth and thought, of compassion and understanding. If this is new in you, I encourage it. If it has always been there, I regret that prejudice and youth, has deprived me of it. Kindly though I have reviewed your words, our positions, would not allow of a public recognition of you, just yet. Let us instead, enjoy a correspondence and see if, in time, we might heal the unfortunate and unhappy rift, that has developed between us. - Marie Antoinette, of France.”
He ran his fingers across it once more, and breathed in the scent of it. He swallowed, before turning around to look at Jeanne.
“It is short.”
“She is testing the waters Eminence, even as you yourself did, in your letter. Like you, she is beset by enemies, and dare not put a foot wrong.”
“True. It is only that, her words, while reading them I longed for them to go on. She has a construction altogether unique, her majesty flows from each thought, each syllable. It is a shame, that we ordinary folk cannot express ourselves thus.”
“It is, Eminence.”
“No other hand but hers, could express so many complex sentiments, in such an elegant way.”
“Ah, Jeanne, you have made me a great gift, a great gift indeed.” And his eyes roamed across the inked surface once more, practically breathing in the idea, that she was almost present here, in the room with them. He shook, and Jeanne, holding his shoulders, had the distinct impression he had experienced some sort of ecstasy .
“We should answer her.”
“Yes now, when my emotions are so completely aligned with hers, that we might better, that is to say, more easily, cross the distance between us, just as St Catherine of Sienna closed the distance between her, and her lord.”
“You wish me still to be here, Eminence?”
“I do Jeanne, you are my muse in this, my vessel. You understand women and I understand me.”
“Very well Eminence, anything I can do to repay your kindness to me…”
“Let us retire to the table, and we can reconnect with that spirit, who has brought us thus far.”
They moved to the occasional table and the Cardinal sat, pulling out a quill and organising the paper, and the other paraphernalia of good penmanship round him. He looked up expectantly to Jeanne, who stood, back to the window and smiled.
“How would you like to begin Eminence?”
“I think, I must declare my love Jeanne, nothing else could honour such a letter.”
Jeanne was silenced by this, and for a moment she just stared at the prelate, trying to formulate a reply that was neither a loud guffaw, nor a stern rebuke. She cleared her throat.
“Eminence, if I may say so, you might create the impression you are insincere if you were to speak of love, just now.”
“How? It is what I really feel. This letter has inspired this feeling in me.”
“That might be true Eminence, but the Queen cannot know that. Your feelings for her, are necessarily experienced at a distance, and she knows, only too well the shallow feelings of those by whom she is surrounded at the court.”
“Ah, Jeanne, but of course my dear, she cannot know the workings of a true heart, not when all she sees are those, for whom truth is a foreign land. Have I not myself, fallen victim to just such personages, in my time at Vienna? Your youthful feminine insight, has saved me from an error I have made before. I am ever deeper into your debt…”
And so they fell to writing and editing, and rewriting, until Jeanne left, once more in the small hours, once more clutching, a heartfelt and longer letter, from a man whose feelings were such, that he could not bring himself to betray this lofty sensibility, by the mere experience of corporal lust.
The reading of the letter, the next lunchtime in the presence of Françoise, la Motte and the Italian, was one that Jeanne had expected to produce laughter, but rather induced shock. Even after Jeanne’s, careful control of the Cardinal’s more flowery sentiments, it was something of a declaration of intent to woo. It had perhaps, stopped short of tearing open the man’s heart. Cagliostro blinked, as was his wont, several times, before asking for a reread. After the second time around, Jeanne told them of the Cardinal’s response to the reading of the “Queen’s” letter, and her efforts to control his ardour.
“I would say, in the circumstances, you preformed miracles. However, it is just as well this is not going to Versailles, the court would be laughing so hard, I doubt the Cardinal would ever show his face in public again.”
“He is a passionate man.” Jeanne observed.
“Not very priestly though,” Françoise put in.
“Oh, I don’t know, how many priests do you know?” La Motte asked, “He certainly seems of a seam, with the ones of my experience.”
She thought about that and then agreed, “I suppose. But it’s not the way it’s supposed to be, is it?”
“The question,” Cagliostro said, always one with a mind on the job, “is how would the Queen reply?”
“You mean, once she’d stopped laughing and picked herself up off the floor?” La Motte asked.
“Yes, I do mean that, because we’re the ones who’ve set him on this path, so we have to keep him on it, or we won’t get what we want.”
“So, how do we slow him down? If we don’t want to slap him down?” Françoise asked.
Jeanne sat back, “What would the Queen say? Assuming, she is the same woman who wrote the first reply - she was much more forward than the real Queen, even if we imagine she would reply at all.”
“I’ve been accused of being a bit… forward, in my time. Ladies, who don’t want to send you back with a bruised face, usually let you down slowly. And that’s even when they want you.” La Motte said.
The others look at him, Francoise and Jeanne with a slight smile, Cagliostro, as though he was a general, offering advice to a council of war. Which in a way, he was.
“Alright, so, say yes, but not so fast. How do women go about it?” Cagliostro put to them. Jeanne and Françoise looked at each other.
“Let’s look at what he’s asking for first, and go from there.” Françoise suggested and they turned to the letter. A few moments and la Motte stood.
“At bottom it’s, ‘when can I have you and where?’ “ and he shrugged.
“Good, so how do we say never, and nowhere?” the Italian answered him.
Jeanne pointed the Italian to the paper on the writing table, “Eminence…”
Cagliostro looked up and grinned, “A simple word.” He shook his head and bent to the task.