The Quiet Chat
It had been several weeks, of back and forth between the Cardinal and, ‘the Queen’. His ardour, growing with each letter. Once again, Jeanne was sitting in a carriage, exhausted, after a long night’s composition, but with a letter tucked in her sleeve. They were at a tricky point. The Cardinal was anxious to press his suit and regain entry to the court, where, he imagined, he might pursue a relationship at some level, with the Queen. How were they to get him over the lip of this problem, without having him turn up at Versailles, and discover what had been going on. It was the soul subject of conversation among the conspirators. It was the, all consuming, concern that filled Jeanne’s mind at this very moment.
The latest letter had been almost frank, in the Cardinal’s desire to have a date, by which he might be received and recognised, at court. They had to find a way round it, and Jeanne didn’t think he could be persuaded out of it easily. Tired as she was, it took several minutes for Jeanne to realise, she was not on her usual route home. She knocked on the communication hatch. There was no reply, and the carriage didn’t slow down, the horses going at a steady clip. She frowned.
Leaning out of the window, she again tried to get the drivers attention, and, failing that, to get the people on the street to wave him down. That, was when she noticed they were about to pass through the gate, in the recently built tax wall around the city. As they did so, the horses picked up more speed, and the thought of trying to jump from the vehicle, was dismissed as quickly as it had presented itself. Her mind began to spin. Who could be doing this? Had the driver simply forgotten he had a passenger, and gone on to… well, where? They were traveling at a fair pace, and the road took on a familiar cast. Versailles, they were headed to the palace, but again, why?
Had the Cardinal decided to send a message, and the driver thought it was that, that was his first priority? Had the coach been summoned? It was hardly grand enough for a member of the court, who could be powerful enough to demand something like this. It had to be one of two people, the Cardinal, or the Queen. The idea the King was involved never troubled her for a second.
There was nothing for it, but to wait and see, who was at the other end. Of course, if they sailed on past Versailles, she would throw herself from the carriage, but she thought, she would be too difficult to explain away to be stolen. She had heard stories of girls being taken, but she was a married woman, no real point any more.
Sure enough, the palace slowly appeared in the window, or its familiar grounds did, at any rate. Not long to wait. But when the carriage rolled to a stop, and the door was opened, it was not in any part of the complex she had been before, and the face at the door, was not one she recognised. He leaned in, he was an officer, so there was that, at least.
“Madame de la Motte?”
“And you are?”
“Madame, I am the Comte de Rochefort.”
She shrugged, “Should that mean something to me monsieur?”
He thought about that, clearly it hit home, good.
“Not yet madame. Would you please join me?”
“Joining me madame, and walking with me, will be less undignified, than having my men drag you out.”
She thought about this, and wondered whose dignity she’d be saving, but climbed down. The Comte offered his hand, and when she didn’t take it, he took hold of her arm and led her to the building. They walked in silence, to what was clearly a servants entrance in the palace. Jeanne had resisted the urge, to give the driver a venomous look as she passed. Inside, they went through a series of short corridors, and up several flights of stairs. Above the main apartments, she was now in a part of the building still unfamiliar to her. One long corridor, and a door on her right swung open as she and the comte approached, and another officer stepped out. This one offered a shallow bow. They went inside.
The room, larger than Jeanne had expected, but still not large. A wide table, covered in papers, stood in the middle of the room, surrounded by several chairs. A fireplace at one end, beside which was a small table, and four chairs, apparently brought in for the day. It was at these, Jeanne was directed. She sat to the right of the table, the three other chairs and the door in her sight. The two men stood beside their chairs, and did not sit. Not for the first time that day, Jeanne frowned.
“Am I brought here by you gentlemen, for you to wait upon me? If that was what you wanted, we could have done it in Paris.”
Neither replied, but Rochefort stole a quick look at the door, from where a rustling sound could faintly be heard. They all waited. It suddenly struck Jeanne, that, in their passage though the building, they had not seen another soul. Versailles was a complex, with between three and ten thousand people there, depending on the season, and time of day. To walk through empty corridors was something few people could achieve. The knot in her stomach grew, and she began to suspect.
The rustling grew with the knot. Suddenly, the question was answered, as a figure appeared at the door, the two gentlemen turned and bowed, and Jeanne jerked to her feet, and curtsied deeply. The light laugh, did little to relieve the tension.
“Really madame, be seated, gentlemen, sit. I have asked my friend Madame de Merindol to bring some refreshment shortly.” She walked across the room, and took her seat, as did the others.
“Jeanne, so nice to see you again, and married I hear, scandalously, in the provinces as well. I wish we had time to hear all about it, but we have very little.”
“I am at the Queen’s service, when ever she wishes to hear more.”
“I know, I know. But it’s your other activities we would like to hear about this morning.”
“Oh, don’t be all coy now, I hear you’ve been seeing the Cardinal de Rohan, no doubt for devotional purposes.”
“He offered me… instruction, madame. I had some difficulty, with my husband, at first.”
“But all is well now?”
“It is madame.”
“But you still attend the Cardinal’s apartments, I understand. Sometimes long into the night. That can be so hard on the knees, don’t you think?”
The Queen watched her subject, saying nothing. Rochefort cleared his throat, seemingly about to say something, and the Queen’s hand shot out with a finger raised, and he fell silent. Footsteps. A man appeared at the door, a large tray covered in things, as though for a friendly tea, in his hands. A lady walked just behind him. He walked across the room, placed the tray on the table, and then retired. As his feet faded down the corridor, the lady, unintroduced, but presumably the aforementioned Madame de Merindol, poured the tea, handed it out, to her Majesty, and then, she herself, left. The Queen drank.
She smiled at Jeanne, replaced her cup on the table and reached out, to offer one of the other cups to Jeanne. Up until this moment, Jeanne’s hands had remained in her sleeves. Now, not thinking of anything, but that the Queen was handing her tea, she reached out and took the cup. From her sleeve, dropped the letter, addressed to the Queen, but not intended for her, at least as far as Jeanne was concerned.
Four sets of eyes, saw nothing but the letter. Silence still reigned. The Queen’s voice broke in on whatever anyone was thinking.
“Jeanne, your tea.”
Not knowing what else to do, Jeanne took the tea. The Colonel, for he was the other officer, bent down, and lifted the letter. The Queen held out her hand, and he handed it to her. She examined the letter, turning it over and over in her hands. She turned to Jeanne.
“Why madame, it is addressed to me.”
“From the Grand almoner himself, it would appear.”
“How very fortunate. A startling coincidence, one might say.”
The Queen thought about it, and looked at the letter carefully, examining the seal. Then she broke it, and unfolded the letter. She read. Jeanne looked at the gentlemen’s faces, she could see Rochefort longing to look at the contents. The Queen, looked up several times, but betrayed nothing of what she was thinking. She appeared to read the letter twice, and then she folded it and held it on her knee. She examined the outside of the missive, and seemed to make a decision. She smiled brightly.
“Gentlemen, could you excuse us?”
Rochefort, was on the verge of saying something, but the Colonel standing changed his mind, and they left together, closing the door. Marie-Antoinette looked at Jeanne, with an unreadable expression. Jeanne knew something was coming, just not what.
“What are you up to?”
“A joke, madame.”
“On the Cardinal?’
“This is revenge for your sister? Ridicule?”
“Is this all? Be careful how you answer, this is enough to send you away for a long time, I am a forgiving woman, but not if you lie to me.”
Jeanne thought about it, she wondered if she could trust this woman, who had so easily cast her and her sister, aside. She wondered if she would be condemning herself alone, or all of them? Then she thought of the Cardinal, and her sister. Taking a deep breath, she decided to risk everything.