The Trouble With Huguenots – Snippet 10
Aunt Alis also sent the scullery maid out to scrub the front steps again, which earned the guests a sour faced glare as the woman walked around the pile of dripping, filthy, clothes they had left on the mud room floor.
Soubise’s valet rummaged through the luggage and managed to find a dress suit that he deemed presentable, so the duke remained to take the noon meal with his hostess, his unhappiness much ameliorated by an excellent leg of lamb accompanied by young peas, grown in Mme. Cavriani’s own little hothouse on the roof of her stables, and some outstanding wine. They agreed that Wilhelm Wettin had been a fool to let himself be drawn into Oxenstierna’s manipulations and that the Crown Loyalists would suffer for it in the forthcoming USE elections. They mulled over Monsieur Gaston’s possible responses to no longer being heir to the French throne should Anne of Austria produce a son for Louis XIII next summer. They meditated on possible outcomes for the forthcoming theological conclave to which Pope Urban had summoned the continent’s theologians, this made more titillating by the presence of Soubise’s brother in BesanÃ§on, where it was to be held.
Having paid due obeisance to demonstrating that they both fulfilled their obligations to remain au courant with European politics, they got down to the matter of the financial status of the House of Rohan, which tided the conversation over until the servants started giving them pointed looks that reminded Alis that certain someones should be permitted to clear the table and get the dishes washed before the unexpected houseguests for whom the cook was not prepared came back in their large numbers, because they would expect to be fed. Mme. Cavriani’s domestic staff was feeling much put out.
* * * *
Susanna was, as Raudegen had predicted, where she had arrived in November of 1634 and where she had been the last time Leopold Cavriani heard from herâ€“at the Coudenberg Palace, in the service of Queen Maria Anna. She was not, however, happy to be there and voiced a litany of indignant discontent, much of it focused on the obnoxious colonel, subject of numerous annoyed letters she had sent to Marc and his father, a man who made a practice of “dropping by” the atelier and, “although I make every effort to ensure that I am never alone there, still it seems like the mistress of the dressmakers is always sending the other women away on this or that kind of errand or they say that it is time for them to leave for the day and….”
To Marc’s great disappointment, his beloved was not in a mood for displays of public affection. Or of private affection. He felt that this situation should be remedied as soon as possible.
“When does he ‘drop by’? At any particular time?” Raudegen asked. He looked benevolently at his former charge.
“Usually just as we are finishing our work. For a few months last year, he was blessedly absent, but he survived Duke Charles’ campaigns in Lorraine. The quality of work we need to do requires daylight, so at this time of the year, he comes about the time of vespers.”
“Every day?” Raudegen asked.
“No, but too often.”
After giving her a chance to put on one of her good dresses, they hired a sedan chair so she could keep the hemline clean and returned to Aunt Alis, Marc being of the opinion that she would be able to think of something. Oh, she could. Her eyes sparkled, she waved her hands as she talked, and she began to choreograph a response. Even Raudegen got caught up in the project.
The unwelcome suitor did not reappear at the palace either of the next two days, which occasioned some waiting around. Soubise was more than happy to be in a comfortable house which served outstanding meals.
On the third day, the colonel arrived somewhat earlier than customary and found that there was no obstacle to his entering the atelier. Except for Susanna, it was abandoned.
After he had waited for a few minutes, Marc stuck his head around the jamb of the storage room door and saw the sun glistening on Susanna’s red-gold hair. It was a sun that should have given up the futile struggle against the thin clouds and dirty window panes, but it had wrought mightily and triumphed in order to provide a personal halo for the loveliest girl in the world. He blinked.
What he heard when he stuck his head around the doorjamb was a series of venomous and vicious threats being directed at the same loveliest girl in the world.
“M. le Colonel, you are overly persistent. If you may recall, we have conducted this discussion on previous occasions.” Susanna gestured toward the cast on his foot.
“I do have contacts. You are alone. Entirely alone. If you continue to refuse me, continue to try to refuse me….”
Marc looked over his shoulder at Raudegen and grinned. Then he tiptoed out of the storage area, ran into the corridor, and rushed through the main door of the atelier, his arms open, crying out, “Darling! Have you found a beautiful velvet in all the shades of autumn leaves to make your wedding dress yet?”
The Lorrainer colonel turned around. Even on crutches, he could take care of this upstart boy. Wait! Wedding dress? There was a fiancÃ© in the picture? A fiancÃ© might signify squadrons of interested relatives. Perhaps the little dressmaker was not as isolated and without resources in the middle of a foreign country as he had assumed. He hesitated.
There’s a proverb. “He who hesitates is lost.” The moment of the colonel’s hesitation was when Raudegen sauntered out from the storage room.
When Raudegen left, he had the colonel by the back of his collar. As soon as they were out of sight, Susanna kissed Marc. Their second kiss was even better than the first had been, Marc thought. The third was delightful and the fourth verged on spectacular. It was a beautiful afternoon in Brussels.
Brussels was no more mud-free than the surrounding countryside. Leaving the happily reunited young couple to their mutual admiration and appreciation, Raudegen located a fine, damp, well-fertilized lane behind the royal stables and left the Lorrainer to contemplate his future from a supine position. Face down.
* * * *
“You’re going to Vienna with us, to visit your sick mother,” Raudegen said that evening. Aunt Alis’ servants had cleared off the table and they were dawdling over their wine.
“It’s the best we can do with the documentation I can scratch up here,” Marc said.
Susanna leaned back against his shoulder. “But Mama isn’t in Vienna. She wasn’t ever in Vienna. I was working there, for Archduchess Maria Anna, and then went to Munich with her, but Mama was working at the court of Tyrol, for one of the ladies-in-waiting to the regent. I’m not supposed to go haring off to Vienna or anyplace else with you. I’m supposed to go to The Hague to work in Frederik Hendrik’s court and learn to live among Calvinists.”
“We’re going to France, not Vienna,” Raudegen said. “Nor to Tyrol, for that matter.”
“Then I’m not supposed to be going to France with you. Brussels turned out to be no help at all for learning to live among Calvinists, at least not in the couture shop at the palace. We know that the alliance exists, of course, but for all practical purposes, this is a Catholic court and I might as well have gone back to Vienna from Basel. I’m working for the same person.”
“We can’t leave you here.” Marc fingered the stem of his glass. “Even after Raudegen finished with the colonel this afternoon, the guy’s likely to heal and come back, bringing associates.”
“He isn’t even seriously injured,’ Raudegen said, “although he seemed to believe that I was, to use your words, overly persistent about pulling his crutches out from under him every time he tried to walk away from my voice of rational persuasion. Overly persistent from his perspective, at least. Also, there are Calvinists in France. We will be stopping at a Huguenot household.”
Marc focused back on Susanna. “I can’t send you up to the Hague by yourself. There’s no trace of the transfer documents anywhere. We suspect the mail is being interfered with.”
“The mail here was interfered with at the level of the head dressmaker,” Raudegen said. “I got it out of the colonel that he bribed her to destroy the letter and not say anything to anyone. As for the mail to The Hague, I’m in no position to say. This backstairs section of the Brussels court looks to me like a nest of pro-Spanish vipers. We need to get you out. Our first obligation, though is to deliver our packages to France, so that’s where you have to go.”
“But…,” Susanna protested. “They aren’t all vipers.” She grinned. “Joseph the cobbler is a sweet old man. He fixed my shoe heels to have narrow tips with metal ends, so I could break the colonel’s instep when I stomped.”