The Trouble With Huguenots – Snippet 03
From: Susanna Allegretti, Brussels
To: M. Leopold Cavriani, Geneva
Most honored patron and friend,
I regret that I must request a favor from you. Because of certain difficulties that have arisen here in the household of the king and queen in the Netherlands, I feel that it will not be wise for me to remain in my current situation any longer than absolutely necessary. If it would be possible for you to arrange for me to transfer to the household of the Stadthouder in the northern provinces, I would be sincerely grateful.
Your devoted friend and servant,
From: Susanna, in Brussels
To: Marc, wherever you may be (c/o M. Leopold Cavriani, Geneva)
My dearest heart,
I’m getting so mad about all of this that if I weren’t a seamstress who can’t afford snags in the lace and satin that earn me my daily bread, I’d be biting my fingernails right to the quick. Or kicking the non-gentleman colonel from Lorraine where it would hurt him the most. Which I can’t, because he has “important connections.” Of course, with all the excitement about the expected baby, nobody could expect the queen to have time to worry about the trials and tribulations of one of her dressmakers. Not even if she is an outstanding dressmaker, which I have become if I may be so bold as to say so.
No matter how impeccable the personal conduct of the king and queen in the Netherlands is, its impact on the court as a whole is not strong. Of course, one could say the same about decades of impeccable conduct on the part of the marvelous Archduchess, who is, alas, still old and still ill.
So. This obnoxious exile, even after the truly entertaining demise of his duke last spring, will not take no for an answer, and what’s worse, most of my colleagues in haute couture don’t see why I’m not willing to say yes to his demands (which are more demands in the English usage than requests in the French usage). He’s offered generous terms, they say, and it’s not as if I’m some petite bourgeoise subject to the rules of German guilds. When he ended an arrangement with a generous settlement (they say, they say, they all say, or at least most of them say), not that I think that he has enough money to do that, apart from any considerations of morality, then I would have a bigger dowry than I do now and could make an even better match than expected with some other upper servant in the court than I can now aspire to.
But I don’t want to do this, so I have written your father asking him to get me sent to the court of Fredrik Hendrik and his wife in The Hague.
I miss you so much.
Where are you?
Bismarck didn’t have any idea how they would be received at the ducal residence and hadn’t wanted to ask. He hadn’t expected that within minutes after they presented their credentials, the duc de Rohan’s daughter would dash into the entryway and throw herself into Ruvigny’s arms with a squeal of “Henri! I haven’t seen you for ages!”
“Well, if it isn’t the itsy-bitsy, teeny-tiny, seed pearl, all grown up.” Ruvigny responded to her enthusiasm with a brotherly hug, looking her over. “Our daisy has grown petals.”
In spite of the double entendre, Bismarck knew a brotherly hug when he saw one. He had four sisters to go along with his three brothers. Before he decided that he would rather embrace a military career than continue dragging around in the genteel poverty that had been their mother’s lot since the wars devastated the Altmark shortly after his father’s death, he had lived in an affectionate household. Even though she, all of her offspring in tow, had made nightmarish treks that took them to Magdeburg, Hamburg, Salzwedel, and Braunschweig in search of semi-permanent refuge from the marauding armies, in sorrow and in joy the eight of them had hugged each other all the time. Their mother, even though she prided herself on exercising firm and serious discipline in their upbringing, had hugged them. For that matter, they had hugged their father, before he died. He shook his head, throwing off the memories as unsuited to his present duties.
As for itsy-bitsy, Ruvigny was not teasing. The young duchess was short. Pretty enough, he supposed, in the way that it’s hard for a girl to be ugly when she’s 17 and healthy, with a clear complexion, but short.
Introductions followed, with the accompanying protocol, etiquette, and general necessary politesse, with the little duchess excusing her mother’s non-appearance as hostess on the vague grounds of “she’s busy.”
As they migrated from the entryway toward a side salon, Bismarck whispered, “Is there something you haven’t been telling me?”
Ruvigny shrugged. “Oh. Well. About five years ago, during the Savoy campaign, La Valette sent me to Venice to recruit a regiment of light cavalry. The duke was there, then. I stayed with the Rohans.”
“And he paid attention to me,” the little duchess said. “I was twelve. He talked to me and teased me and told me stories about the campaigns and…and nobody else there ever paid any attention to me at all. Henri is my best friend ever.”
Bismarck added “has sharp ears” to his mental list of what he knew about the duc de Rohan’s daughter.
* * * *
They woke up the next morning to still no senior hostess to welcome them. Ruvigny said that she probably was busyâ€“she handled, with the assistance of business agents, of course, all of the duke’s financial and administrative affairs in France and had throughout his years of exile.
There was also what seemed like a mass invasion of the HÃ´tel de Sully by the staff of every theater in Paris. An expected invasion.
“Oh, Henri, you have to stay in Paris a little bit longer,” Marguerite proclaimed. “I won’t let you go. What need does that upstart Bernhard have for you right at the moment? Winter’s coming on. Nobody’s going to fight anybody in bad weather. We’re putting on a ballet for the court. Papa’s house on the Place Royale is nice, of course, but Grand-pÃ¨re is letting us use this one, since he’s still in the country on house arrest. He bought it two years ago, brand new and already furnished; it’s so much bigger and nicer. We wouldn’t have any place to rehearse if he hadn’t. I’m dancing the lead role and everyone will be thereâ€“utterly everyone. You have to dance, too, Henri. Remember how we used to dance on the balcony of the house in Venice?”
“What I am is out of practice, little daisy,” Ruvigny protested. “I’ve been doing other things these last few years, remember?”
“Oh, poof. You can do it. Mama got Isaac de Benserade to script it. He’s the newest literary sensation this year.” She grabbed his arm and towed him in the direction of the ballroom, Bismarck trailing along behind.
The little duchess turned around. “You dance, of course, don’t you?”
“I would say that I’m modestly competent in a ballroom. I’ve never even seen a ballet.”
“Well, that’s disappointing. Autres temps, autres mÅ“urs. I suppose that applies to other places as well as other eras. You can watch.”
Three hours of strenuous rehearsal later, the little duchess, not even mildly winded, plopped herself down next to Bismarck while Benserade and the choreographer put the male chorus, once more, through the final routine.
“Benserade is a slave driver. Even before the cast rehearsals started, he had me in here for five straight days, just learning my own part.”
“If you are as careful of your reputation and virtue as all say that you are, Mademoiselle, I am surprised that you spend all these hours in the company of a young man in his twenties, quite unaccompanied.” He looked around. “Well, unaccompanied except for a company of costumers, not to say several set designers, a half dozen carpenters, and ten or so miscellaneous servants.”
Marguerite sniffed. “Benserade is no threat to my reputation. I could take him to bed and he wouldn’t be a threat to my virtue. Everyone knows he’s tilted. Everyone who matters, at least.”