The Trouble With Huguenots – Snippet 04

“A bit out of plumb, like the king. But Louis only tilts this far.” She placed her elbow on the chair arm and moved it about ten degrees to the left. “…and he, Louis, tilts both ways.” She moved it an equal number of degrees to the right. “Isaac’s all the way to the left.” Her arm went down to a right angle, parallel to the floor. “…but that doesn’t keep him from being entertaining.”

“Out of plumb?”

The little duchess viewed Henri’s German friend with exasperation. “Are you so naïve? I am telling you that he is out of kilter. As our Provençals would say, gai. Slanted. The man is not straight. He might be a threat to the reputation of my cousins, Maximilien or François, but not to mine. Don’t you have a word for it in German?”

Bismarck almost strangled, but swallowed hard. “None that we use in the presence of respectable young ladies of 17 years, Your Grace.”

“How odd. In any case, soon everyone will know that he’s the best at planning galas and spectacular entertainments and we will have sponsored him first. Some day, he’ll be in their new Académie française. There’s hardly any doubt about that, and he’s one of ours–a Huguenot, I mean–so there is also no way that Maman will let Richelieu and Mazarin seize the glory of having discovered him for the Catholic party. This ballet will be a real coup for the Protestant cause.”

Bismarck had difficulty envisioning a ballet directed by a sodomite as a coup for the Protestant cause, but was tactful enough not to say so.

* * * *

Some hours later, the young duchess disappeared to be dressed, so that she might join her still-invisible mother for a yet-unspecified mandatory social occasion.

Ruvigny and Bismarck headed off for a tavern, to meet some of Ruvigny’s old friends from his first years in the Royal Guards in Paris. Who were late, of course. They ordered ales while they waited.

“I had no idea you were on such close terms with the Rohans,” August said, shoving his mug around the table and leaving a wet streak.

“It’s not the Rohans.” Henri answered. “I don’t know the duke very well and I’ve never presumed on any acquaintance with him for advancement in the service of Grand Duke Bernhard. It’s the family of the senior duchess–that is, it’s the Béthunes who are our patrons. Our families have known each other just about forever. It was through her father, the duc de Sully, that my father got his sinecure as lieutenant-governor of the Bastille. I was three when Papa died, so I don’t remember, but Maman has repeated constantly to all of us, ever since, how much gratitude we owe to the Béthunes. Sully himself was godfather for my oldest brother, who died in the Royal Guards. Sully’s wife and one of his sons were godparents for my sister Rachel. For my little brother Cirné, too, but he died when he was no more than an infant.”

He shifted on the bench. “I’m not personally comfortable with Rohan’s politics. At the siege of La Rochelle, I was with the royal forces. If the Huguenots have any hope of surviving in France, they’ll be better off practicing a policy of ‘respect the crown and placate the king’ rather than rebelling.”

“Doesn’t Peter, in the Epistle, say ‘honor the king’ rather than ‘placate the king’?”

“At the French court, it’s ‘placate the king.’ Not that such an approach succeeded either, according to the up-time books. Nor does competence. Sully is still out of favor. Nobody loved him when he was chief minister, even though he perhaps did more for France than anyone else who served Henri IV. The Catholics hated him because he was Huguenot and the Huguenots hated him because he remained loyal to the crown after Henry of Navarre decided that Paris was worth a mass.

Bismarck nodded. “It’s hard to deal rationally with fanatics. The electors of Brandenburg did better when they let their subjects remain Lutheran even though they converted to Calvinism a couple of decades ago. The principle of cuius regio, eius religio that has governed the Holy Roman Empire since the Peace of Augsburg doesn’t require that subjects must be of the same faith of their ruler, actually–it only states that the ruler gets to decide. He can tolerate religious dissent if he wants to.” He grinned. “Or if it’s expedient; think how the up-timers have boxed Gustavus in on that issue.”

* * * *

The elder duchess appeared at breakfast the next morning, not apologizing for anything, but making a fuss over Ruvigny. She wasn’t bad looking, Bismarck thought, for a woman who must be past forty and who had borne ten children. But nowhere nearly as good looking as his own mother, who had borne eight. Mutti must be a dozen or so years older than the duchess. The last time he had seen her, which was close to ten years ago now, she would have been about the same age as the woman to whom he was making a bow in this year of 1635. She had looked a lot younger and healthier, in spite of all the troubles of the war.

Making a fuss over Ruvigny stopped the instant he carried out their mission and handed over Rohan’s letter. The duchess did not respond to it with appropriate wifely compliance, much less biblical submissiveness. Her reaction was more along the lines of indignation amounting to anger. Fury, perhaps. Even the ire of the classical Furies themselves.

“No way,” she screamed at Ruvigny. “So ‘chaos is coming.’ I am quite prepared to manipulate, to the benefit of Rohan, any political advantage that is to be attained from looming chaos, but I can only do that in Paris. So ‘danger lurks.’ I am not prepared to abandon the court. Nor will I agree to send away my daughter, who is at long last getting old enough to play her own part and therefore belongs at the center of the world, in Paris, and not in the boondocks of the Free County of Burgundy. Doesn’t he think I am capable of protecting her from some forced Catholic marriage?”

No one of any importance, she finished, ever went to Besançon. Or ever would, in all probability. Not within her lifetime.

After which she flounced out.

“That went a lot better than I expected,” Ruvigny said, “considering that the duke pointed out that in the other world, where the encyclopedia was written, she did not manage to protect Marguerite from such a marriage.”

Bismarck thought that the French ate breakfast too late. He had practically starved before food appeared on the table.

The breakfast, as late as it was, didn’t last long because there was another rehearsal, to which he was again relegated to being a spectator and involuntary recipient of the female lead’s constant chatter at those times she was not onstage. Today, she was trying to explain her mother, “because I do not want you to think poorly of her, M. von Bismarck. Henri, of course, already knows it all. He lived through a lot of it. Not when she got married, of course, because he wasn’t even born yet.

“She was ten years old when the late king–Henri IV, that is–commanded that she should marry my father. Not just be betrothed to him, at that age, which would not have been so unusual, but marry him. The ceremony was in the temple at Ablon. She wore a white dress, and some joker asked, loud enough for the other guests to hear, ‘And who is it that presents this child for baptism?’ Papa was 25. He went back to the army and Maman got to live with her mother-in-law.”

She stopped. “How old were you when you got married, M. von Bismarck?”

“I’m not married. I’m 25 and I can’t afford to get married, any more than Ruvigny over there in the chorus line can. Maybe not ever.”

“Do you have a mistress?”

“If I could afford a mistress, I could afford a wife, and I would much rather have a wife, I assure you.”

“Does Henri have a mistress?”

“No, Mademoiselle.”

“Oh, good. But then Maman grew up and became pretty, with those big eyes, high cheekbones, and little pixie curls fluffing around her headband. She isn’t quite so pretty any more, but she is very old now. She was 41 on her last birthday. By the time she grew up, though, Henri IV was dead and the Rohans were in revolt again. Maman has always been fiercely loyal to Papa. She has defended the Rohan political cause tirelessly to the court; she has raised immense amounts of money for his ventures, even when she and my grandfather thought they were too risky.