The Trouble With Huguenots – Snippet 14
Then maybe we could go to Magdeburg. Or at least to Kassel. And I could see my sisters.
KÃ¤the frowned. It wouldn’t hurt Solms-Laubach, either, to have an influx of skilled workers. Albert Otto rarely gave a lot of thought to remote contingencies, but she put his aunt’s letter on top of the stack of correspondence his secretary had left for him and wrote a letter of her own to her sister offering their services to Hesse should they ever be needed.
Rohan, as Bernhard’s Statthalter and present on the spot, learned the truth of the papal assassination “attempt” almost at once. With the grand duke not only out of town but away in Lorraine, he had his hands full. Far too full to pay detailed attention to what his family was doing or envoys accomplishing in Paris.
“I’m glad Uncle Soubise will be here for quite a while,” the little duchess said over a folder of fabric samples. “I hadn’t seen him for ages, but I like him even though he blusters most of the time and mutters the rest of it. He doesn’t really mean any of his complaints. I think he’s cute.”
Susanna looked up. “Should I be sitting in your presence, Your Grace? I have been concerned about this. After all, your status and mine….”
“You’re not here as a dressmaker for me. You are here as the fiancÃ©e of M. Cavriani, whose father, if not noble, is rich and knows everyone. You are here as Maman‘s guest, not to work for us. You will stand in my presence in the public rooms, of course, should you be called to be present. In the private rooms, you are my own guest because I invited you in. Here, I say that you may sit. Maybe you are even someone who might become my friend, if we know one another long enough. Friends can sit to look over a book of fabric swatches, can’t they?”
“I guess so.”
“Then that’s settled. Now, about Uncle Soubise, what I wanted to say is….”
Susanna meditated for a moment on whether or not she was now on such terms with Marc that she ought to start practicing how to acquire intelligence data.
Yes, she was.
“Marc says that your uncle is much shrewder than he pretends to be.”
“Papa thinks so, too, that Uncle Soubise is undervalued.” Marguerite hesitated, as if she were about to reveal a secret sin. “I have read some of the drafts of Papa’s mÃ©moires. Grand-pÃ¨re Sully’s also. I started because I miss them, but parts are interesting. Don’t tell my mother. She loathes the femmes savantes, even though she owns quite a lot of books herself. It’s probably because Tante Anne is one: she reads Hebrew and writes poetry. So I wouldn’t want Maman to think that am in danger of becoming intellectual. I don’t think it’s likely that I will become a savante, do you, even though Grand-mÃ¨re Rohan was almost one? I don’t think they had a word for it, way back then. In any case, she was a most indomitable woman, as shown by her actions during the year in which she and my Tante Anne were held captive by the Catholics after La Rochelle surrendered. Such splendid recalcitrance in the face of persecution!” She giggled. “Richelieu said that she was malignant to the last degree. But, what was I talking about? Papa thinks that if the English commanders and the authorities in La Rochelle had listened to Uncle’s advice during the last revolt, then things might not have gone so badly for us. I don’t remember much about that time, though.”
“How old were you?”
Marguerite calculated. “Ten, when it started. Eleven when it finished. I don’t remember the revolt before that at all, because I was only six. For it, I know what people tell me.” She closed the sample book. “They don’t tell me much.
“Marc thinks….” Susanna began.
Margerite’s mind flitted away. “I saw Marc kiss you at breakfast this morning.”
“I kissed him back,” Susanna said. “It wasn’t the first time and it won’t be the last time. I’ll probably marry him some day, when we are old enough, if I can learn to live among Calvinists.”
“I thought that you are already his fiancÃ©e.”
“Our families haven’t signed any contracts. His father forwards our letters to one another, though. My mother and stepfather are aware that his father, though a Calvinist, is also in a position to provide for his future very well indeed. So. Well. ‘Flirt to convert’ is what my stepfather said. Anyway, M. Cavriani was there the first time we kissed each other.”
“So. Well. Anyway,” Marguerite mocked her. “It sounds to me as if you are indeed his fiancÃ©e, whether you know it or not. I have never kissed anyone. I never will, unless I get married. Perhaps then I will have to. Would I have to kiss a man if we were betrothed but not married yet? I hope my husband will be businesslike about begetting and not….” Marguerite made a little gesture that somehow reminded Susanna of worms, spiders, slugs, snails, and swarms of things that crept and crawled. “…not put his hands all over me or slobber all over my face. How can you stand it? How can Maman stand it?
“Also….” The little duchess assumed a facial expression that would have better suited a Scots preacher’s wife with seven decades of life under her belt. “It’s bad for your reputation.”
Susanna raised her eyebrows. “Don’t you have something more important to worry about than my reputation? You’re in the middle of a country that’s cheering for an usurper and from all I hear, the usurper is on the other end of the spectrum from trustworthy. For what it’s worth, Your Grace, I assure you that my virtue is quite intact. As for reputation, girls like me don’t have one. Or need one, for that matter.”
“Girls like you? It’s women like Maman and the other court ladies who don’t have reputations. Not, at least, good reputations. Don’t you want a good reputation?”
Susanna’s forbearance snapped. “Where would I get one? You’ve lived in courts all your life. You know what the morals are, and they aren’t what your Calvinist preachers would like them to be. They’re not even like the way your ordinary provincial official or school teacher or shopkeeper or artisan manages his household. Even in the Netherlands, where both couplesâ€“the king and queen and the Stadthouder and his wifeâ€“are so generally well behaved most of the time, although it is said that Frederik Hendrik only married Amalia of Solms because she refused to become his mistress and his brother said he had to get married to someone, it doesn’t mean that all the people who revolve around them follow their example. No one raises an eyebrow when a servant becomes a nobleman’s mistress. And if, when he ends it, she comes away with a generous settlement, she has a better prospect for marrying some other upper servant rather than a worse one. If I had given into that Lorrainer colonel and he had really had as much money as he claimed to have, my dowry would have been a lot bigger than it is.”
“Well, I will never take a lover. A husband will be more than enough.” Marguerite bowed her head. “My Tante Catherine, one of Papa’s other sisters, died before I was born, but they tell me that when Henri IV made a galant advance to her, she answered, ‘I am too poor to be your wife and too well-born to be your mistress.’ Too poor or too proud, I will never be any man’s mistress. It’s hard to think of virtue separate from reputation, though. Isn’t reputation a mirror of a person’s character?”
Then she popped her head up again, her eyes bright. “What colonel?”
Susanna tsked. “Not one you know. Just remember. Reputation is nothing but what ‘they say.’ A lot of what ‘they say’ can be maliciousâ€“rumor, insinuations, allegations. But I don’t have to care. I am who I am and Marc believes me and not anyone else’s gossip. And if he damages my ‘reputation’ by kissing me, he’ll take the greatest of care for me, for myself and not for what anybody says about me.”
“It’s almost worse,” the little duchess concluded, “when what ‘they say’ is true rather than false.”