A Gift for a Queen
When she’d arrived at the Cardinal’s home in Paris, she found him, in an adolescent fever. He had been up, all of the previous night, and most of the day, alternating between writing poetry, mercifully burning now in a small fire, and worrying over the rose, he had handed to the Queen. He had decided very firmly, he was in love, and he suspected, the Queen had also fallen for him. In that light, what he had thought of, as a peace offering, was now inadequate.
“The rose was all I could see.”
“A gift from nature, is never wrong, Eminence.”
“But it is a commonplace, Jeanne. The Queen is surrounded with flowers, inside and out.”
“She does love them, and you said, she seemed pleased, said, she would prize it, ‘when next she thought of you,’ ” Jeanne added to the downcast cleric.
“Yes, you’re right. But I need to give her something more…”
“More permanent, Jeanne. Something, that will speak of who I am. Like a statue. With a religious theme, perhaps”
“Where would she put it, Eminence?”
“She has gardens.”
“A bit… indiscreet, no?” Jeanne asked, her eyes widening at the thought, of the size of what he might be thinking.
“I suppose. No, you’re right, we need something more personal, something she can wear. Like a dress?”
“Queen’s change their clothes several times a day, Eminence.”
“You’re right. Still, something she can wear, but not clothing.”
Jeanne became silent, quietly waiting for the spasm to pass. They had hoped, to get this opportunity, but he was all over the place. She couldn’t be sure any suggestion, would stick, if it came from her. And then, an inspiration came to the Cardinal.
“Jewellery, Jeanne, all women like jewellery, don’t they?”
“Yes Eminence, I suppose.” Worried he would suggest his ring.
“What? You don’t like jewellery?”
“Oh yes, but the Queen has so many, rings and such. I can’t think of how you might commission something outstanding enough, but not, too outstanding, I suppose.”
He searched her face, as though seeking an answer to all of his questions there. Her hand clutched at her neck, bare of adornment.
“A necklace, Jeanne.”
“Well, yes, but she has a necklace for every evening of the year, Eminence. How could you get one that was unique?”
“Unique.” He grinned, held up his forefinger, “I know exactly what, and exactly where, if they haven’t disposed of it. It is the perfect gift, better than perfect. There is only one very small problem.”
She frowned, “What necklace, is more than you could afford?”
“ ‘The most valuable necklace in Christendom’, Jeanne.”
“I don’t know of anything like this, Eminence.”
“Have you heard of the atelier, of Boehmer and Bassenge, Jeanne?”
“Yes, everyone has.”
“One night, it is some time ago now, I was sharing a carriage with them, and we were held up.”
“Held up? The roads in Paris are always so busy.”
“No, not held up, held up!” and he pointed with his finger, as if it were a pistol.
Jeanne lifted her hand to her mouth, “No! Who?”
“I don’t know, we were saved by the Comte Rochefort, he seemed to know who he was after.”
“So did the villain take much, was he caught?”
“He thought he did. He was after a necklace, made by the two gentlemen. But they gave him a fake. The man got away I believe, I never heard if he was caught.”
“But he stole a fake?”
“Oh, yes. A very good one. Later, they showed me the real thing.”
“And, was it pretty?”
“Pretty? Jeanne, it was exquisite. It was made for the late King and so, of course, the Queen could not accept it.”
“The Queen has rejected it?”
“I have been informed, that she would truly like to have it, but, if she were to accept it, as an item to purchase, it would be, well, tainted, not right for one such as she. Perhaps extravagant.”
“But, and here is why I believe it is perfect, if were given to her as a gift, then…”
“Then it would be proper, and she could wear it. If it were from you, it could betoken more, than it seems, to the world at large.” Jeanne wondered.
“Exactly as I thought, Jeanne.”
Jeanne frowned, “But then, Eminence, can it cost so much, that even you would struggle to pay for it? Who could you persuade to pay for it, instead?”
“That is the conundrum. It is possible, the gentlemen could be talked into a reduction in price? They are desperate to be rid of it. I think.”
“That sounds hopeful.”
“Mmmm, I shall try that. But if not then…” and he shrugged. “First thing is first, can you find out if the Queen would accept it?”
“Certainly.” She brightened and added, “This will be nice, to bring such good news to a Queen.”
De Rohan smiled.”We could ask in a letter, but you suggested she might…”
“I think, it would not be right, to write down this request, if it were to fall into the wrong hands, we must be discreet above all.”
“Good.” He smiled to himself, and looked round the room as though expecting the Queen to be there , and when she wasn’t, he sighed. “I think I shall go to bed.”
“You do not wish me to stay, Eminence?”
He looked at her and thought about it, but then shook his head.
“Jeanne, you have been a wonderful diversion, and a great help, but my heart is set on…”
She smiled, “I understand Eminence, how could I compete, with a Queen?”
He smiled back, “Exactly, exactly.”
Jeanne, was in the bedroom of her apartments in Paris. She was sitting, looking out at the dark evening, the skyline of the city, just visible across the narrow street. The room, empty. A set of rosary beads, running through her fingers, but, if she was praying, she was not doing so visibly or audibly. The candle beside her, guttered and died. She looked at the thin line of smoke as it drifted up, before being caught by a draft, as a door opened outside the room. She turned, to see if the opening would produce a visitor. The handle turned slowly, quietly, and the door drifted open. La Motte, looked round the edge of the door, and seeing the bed empty he stepped in. He looked, she thought, disappointed. She moved, and he jumped in surprise.
“I thought the room empty.”
“It was not.”
“Yes, I can see that now. You are no longer passing your nights with his Eminence?”
“I have been thrown over.”
“Cast aside for a Queen, is not quite being thrown over, Madame.”
“I am curiously untroubled, by the slight.”
He smiled, and came across the room to sit on the edge of the window, with her.’
“Marie-Ann… I’m sorry.” This being their first meeting since her sister’s death.
Jeanne shrugged, “Just another young woman, dying because of rich men.”
“Not ‘just’, Jeanne.”
“He’ll pay. But he is one among many.”
“You suggested the purchase to him?”
“He suggested it himself.”
“Really.” She lightened, “You also featured in the conversation.”
“It was the tale of the night, of your last attempt to get the piece, by a more direct route.”
“Ah yes, he was there. He provided the means to have a few hearty meals, even if the jewellers, failed to provide for me, the item requested.”
“Mean of them.”
“I thought so.”
“The Cardinal was generous?”
“Very. I had no complaints.”
They fell silent, and just looked at each other. A tear formed in her eye, and he reached out to her. She leaned into his hand and he put his arms round her.
“We can still, just leave.”
Silence, and then he could feel her body stiffen, and she shook her head, “I will see them held up to the world, and shown to be what they are; and, I want the storm it brings, to sweep them away.”
“We will have to be nimble, if we are not to be caught in its wake.”
“They have taken everything from me.”
He pushed her back, still holding her, looking into her eyes, “Not everything. If you will have it.”
She looked at him and a gentle, sad, smile drifted across her face, “I have no room. My heart is filled with the pain of loss.”
He took her back in his arms, and held her.
“I can wait.”
They sat together in the darkness, looking out at the rooftops she used to use as a highway. All she could think of, was how simple the world seemed then, and how that had been snatched away by people, who counted others as nothing. Round and round her mind went, never escaping the pull of her loss, never trying to get away from the cold pain, or warming itself at the fire, offered by her need for revenge.