The room was silent. Normally, it would be filled with the quiet hum of polite conversation, with an occasional voice raised in delight at winning at Pharo, or listening intently to the Queen’s playing of the harpsichord. Not this evening.
In front of a shocked room, Paris’s foremost jewellers were, while trying to hold onto their dignity, packing away their most valuable piece, the object of that most recent, futile, break-in, what would soon come to be known as the Queen’s necklace. This evening they had gambled, that the Queen would not turn them down in front of the land’s most favoured ladies. But they were wrong. Very, very wrong.
“Gentlemen, you’ve brought this necklace to me before?”
“We have Madam.”
“You brought it to my Husband, the King?”
A look between them as the thought occurred that this might not have been the best plan. Boehmer spoke.
“We did Madam.”
“And my answer then, gentlemen?”
“It was in the negative Madam.”
“Also in the negative.”
“The necklace, has it changed?”
“Ah well Madam, you see these...”
“Appreciably, has it changed very much, gentlemen?”
“Have I changed? I hope you are not going to point to my greater age...”
“Eh, No Madam.”
“Given these facts, why would my answer change?”
The turned to each other, hoping, no doubt, to see an answer in the others eyes that was absent from their own mouths. They turned back.
“There is no reason Madam.”
Silence reigned. They were now uncertain, should they just leave? Or await a dismissal? If they tried to leave without being dismissed, it could be construed as an insult, if they waited, they might be seen as impertinent. She left them, and they were acutely aware that they were being left. Her hand, her left hand began to wave them away, and she turned her attention to her cards. They dived for the elaborate case and packed away the priceless and now, valueless, necklace, as quickly as they could, the difference in value, the mere wave of a hand. They packed as though wishing they could be gone before they had arrived. The case locked, they backed away to the door, little short of a run. The door swung open, and they collided with the red clothed figure of the Cardinal de Rohan, Archbishop of Strasbourg, Abbé of St Vaast, and Chaise Dieu, Grand Almoner of France. Being who he was, and who they were, they tried to get out of his way as quickly as they could, but were neither able to return to the room nor leave. After several seconds of tension, he stepped back, and they scuttled past.
The Cardinal swept into the room. The Queen, in spite of the whispering of ladies dresses rising and curtseying, as the great man passed, did not look up from her cards but played out the hand. The young ladies at her table followed her cue. The churchman bowed and stayed bent until the Queen was ready. Finally she put down the hand, turned and smiled. She stood, and curtseying she did not reach to kiss his ring.
He might have been about to say something, but the Queen turned away immediately to the very youngest woman at her table.
“Marie-Ann, you are too young, but I was even younger than you when I first saw his Eminence. It was at my mother’s court in Vienna. His Eminence was an ambassador from the King’s grandfather, the late king, he was so handsome, then, and so clever, always holding meetings and trysts, quite the talk of the city. Is that not so your Eminence?”
The singled out young woman is now crimson, and unable to find a suitable point for her eyes to settle. De Rohan, scarcely less embarrassed, flushed and bowed his head.
“I’m sure gossip inflated the importance of the ‘meetings’ Madam and the existence of the ‘trysts’ at all. The life of an Ambassador and man called to the service of God, is less interesting than young minds imagine it.”
“Ah yes gossip. The tales of your opposition to my marriage to the King? You and the Comte de l’Artois, I seem to remember, were connected in the stories and still close confidants, I hear.”
“I am always an admirer of the Queen herself and the Comte is a good and loyal servant to his Majesty and to France.”
“I am sure he is Eminence… To what, this evening, do we owe the honour of your presence?”
“A mere courtesy Madam, and enquiry after your good health and the simple pleasure of seeing you here at court, Madam.”
“My health is good Eminence, the pleasure you might have in seeing us all surely cannot be increased by duration but rather blunted by over exposure. It is always a delight to see your elegant and brilliant self, indeed such is it, that I fear to be exposed too often. I thank you for your visit, and bid you a good night and safe journey. Back to, Paris, is it?”
The Cardinal was completely nonplussed by this curt and rough treatment. He had little option but to bow and to leave. So that was what he did. The door closed, and as it did he could hear the not at all disguised or suppressed laughter, of the Queen and her ladies. It would be impossible to describe fully the emotion that crossed the Cardinal’s face as he glared at the door, but blind fury comes closest. He spun round and marched out through the corridors of the palace and down to the carriages where he knew he would have to wait, as his departure would not have been expected so soon. As he made his way back through the Queen’s apartments many’s the courtier had to make a swift retreat to avoid the onrush of the departing prelate.
He arrived at the carriage entrance and with considerable relief saw his vehicle just there, door open, ready. He headed straight for it and into it. Just as had his reception with the Queen changed in an instant from the fantasy to reality, so now his carriage changed into that, not dissimilar coach, belonging to the equally upset Boehmer and Bassenge. He realised his error only as his foot was on the step ready to mount inside. Two faces of the unhappy gentlemen peered out at him, and he stopped. Bassenge reacted first,
“Will your eminence join us? We are headed back to Paris, we will pass your apartments on our way.”
A quick calculation of those he would not meet if he chose this expedient, made his mind up.
“Gentlemen, an accident, but a happy accident, for all that. Thank you. If you don’t mind the imposition, I would be happy to accept your kind offer.”
They smiled and nodded at one another as the Cardinal made himself at home across from the artisans, the door slammed closed and the coach jerked into life, the three rejects nursing their injured pride together. But things are never so bad that they cannot get worse.