The Trouble With Huguenots – Snippet 17

Whereas the maid had thanked the Lord in Highest Heaven for the park in a loud voice, Ruvigny mentally praised Him for perfect timing. Schoolmasters were inclined to ask curious questions when one of their pupils disappeared without an adequate explanation.

After some time he asked, “When is Madame likely to return from the park?”

“When she is about to collapse from exhaustion or the boy starts to scream that he is starving, whichever comes first.”

“Perhaps, then, it would be more prudent for me to find them in the park. If you would be so kind as to direct me?”

He found Madame and the boy at a duck pond. The boy was soaking wet. The ducks appeared to be panicked, but not quite panicked enough to abandon the bread crumbs that Madame was strewing at the edge of the water. The child was trying to catch the drake nearest to the shore and chanting, “Ducks with white feathers. Ducks with brown feathers. Ducks with gray feathers. Drab ducks, drab ducks. Jean who has been to L’Amérique says that they have ducks with blue feathers. Ducks with green feathers. Ducks with little red feathers on their heads. Feathers he says are ‘iridescent.’ Madame, what does ‘iridescent’ mean?” Do you think that I can ever go to L’Amérique? Do you think that I can ever go to the moon? If I can make paper fly through the air, why can’t these big balloons that Pierre at the tailor’s shop told me about–they are made of silk, he says, and cow guts–why can’t they fly to the moon?”

Pardon, Madame! I come on a matter of some urgency.”

“In regard to the child? You must speak with my husband,” she said.

“Why do you assume it concerns the child?”

“Nothing else in our lives is urgent.” She turned. “Tancrède, come, we must go home.”

“I’m not hungry yet.”

“Now.” She grabbed his hand.

Non.” He dug in his heels.

“Come,” Ruvigny said. “I can tell you not only about silk balloons, but about machines that fly.”

“Airplanes!” The child, he had to be Tancrède, pulled himself out of Madame‘s grasp and barreled toward Ruvigny so fast that it was impossible for him to save his trousers from the dripping water. “I saw one, I saw one, I saw one. It went over the city and I saw it. Nobody can tell me how men can make them fly. How do they fly? How do birds fly? Do airplanes have bird guts inside them and feathers inside their wings? Where do they build them? Can I go see them build airplanes? I’ve been to the zoo but I’ve never seen anyone build an airplane.” He stopped. “Who are you?”

The LeBons proved to be amenable to returning the boy to the care of his natural mother. Somehow, Ruvigny was not surprised.

Containing him in the rear quarters of the Hôtel de Sully proved to be challenging.

“What are these? Where did I find those? I found them under the bed; aren’t they interesting? We didn’t have a chamber pot this shape at the Lebons’ house. What’s it made of? I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to break it. Can we go to the park? I saw horses out the window; I want to visit the horses. I don’t take naps; naps are for disgusting little babies that still drool. Why can’t I go see the LeBons again; they’re nice to me. You’re no fun! No, I won’t give it back. It’s interesting. I saw you kissing Marc. I drew pictures on the wall with the duchess’ rouge because I couldn’t find any pencil and paper and I like to draw pictures. Why? Where did M. de Ruvigny go? When’s supper? Why?”

Susanna raised her eyes to the skies. Why me, O Lord in Highest Heaven? I’m a dressmaker, not a babysitter.

When she verbalized the question, Raudegen said, “Because Ruvigny can trust you. It’s an open question how many of the staff we can trust. Trust in the absolute sense, or trust to be discreet. They aren’t paid much and expect to accumulate money for their retirement by way of pourboires; reporters pay for stories. Christ himself said, ‘Lead us not into temptation.'”

* * * *

La petite Rohan would be a true prize. The royal advisers agreed on that. Her husband should be Catholic, and preferably an adherent of the dévot party. The royal advisers agreed on that. Then, of course, the question arose of who would be the best match, upon which there was far less unanimity. Each of them appeared to have a son, a nephew, a brother, a ward, a cousin, or a protégé who would benefit from marrying the Rohan estates. For every candidate, there was an objection. This one was in feeble health, so might die and leave her as a powerful widow; that one was already betrothed and the relatives of his fiancée, who had also thrown their allegiance to Gaston, would be offended if the match were broken off. Soissons was a prince of the blood and an ally (he had, in fact, been the first fiancé of the king’s first wife who had given birth to little Mademoiselle de France before she died), but a Rohan marriage might bring him too much power.

“Does it have to be someone mature?” The question floated through the room.

“What do you mean? The king needs strong allies.”

“Why not find someone the same age as la Rohan. He could be a trifle younger, even–someone malleable. Perhaps if we chose a royal ward who is not yet of age, it could be arranged for his guardian, our lord the king, to assume responsibility, temporary of course, for the Rohan estates. Her husband need not control her; the king would be in a position to control them both. That would prevent the problem of a constellation of too much power concentrated that led you to refuse Soissons.”

Young. That brought a sizable flock of new candidates to the fore, but still no unanimous agreement.

“The king has been displaying his magnanimity. Why not prepare a list of, let us say, six candidates who would be acceptable to the crown and give her the liberty of choosing among them.”

The other advisers looked upon this suggestion and found it to be good. The comte de Lafayette had two sons of acceptable age. The younger of Effiat’s orphaned sons, the one who had inherited the Cinq-Mars title, was sixteen.

“Not fully orphaned,” someone complained, “and his mother is a harridan.”

“He’s pretty, though, which might appeal to a girl. All that curly auburn hair. And he dances well.”

“There’s the de Bussy heir. He studied under the Jesuits.”

Sheer ennui brought agreement on six names. The list didn’t suit everyone, but compromises rarely do.

* * * *

“No, of course I’m not happy with the idea,” Soubise said.

Mademoiselle Anne was direly unhappy and letting it be known.

“I don’t want to see la petite Marguerite married off to a Catholic any more than you do,” he continued.

Mademoiselle Anne clenched her teeth. “Especially not to one who will be no more than Gaston’s puppet.”

“It hasn’t happened yet. If we continue to maneuver to obtain Gaston’s favor….”

“If we succeed in obtaining Gaston’s favor, you mean, and can keep it once we have it.”

“There are other young Catholic men in the world than those on Gaston’s list, some of whom are probably more malleable.”


Soubise reached down into the small magazine caddy located next to his comfortably upholstered chair–some of the innovations brought by the up-timers were positively inspired–and extracted a piece of paper. “I’ve obtained this article from an up-time encyclopedia. Yes, it’s true that in another world, the Louis XIV who existed there forced her into a Catholic marriage. It appears to have been happy enough, even if far from expedient for the Huguenot cause. In any case, the man she married in 1645, one…” He consulted the paper again. “…one Henri Chabot, seigneur de Saint-Aulaye, was of no particular political significance, nor does he appear to have had a strong personality.

Anne raised here eyebrows. “And?”

“My modest proposal is that we find the boy. He’s scarcely more than a boy now–only a year older than our niece. Offer him as a Catholic alternative to the candidates on Gaston’s list; one more acceptable to the family. If Marguerite liked him in that world, which appears to be the case, she may well like him in this one. In due time, when the fortunes of our cause rise again, he seems to have been–to be–will be obliging enough that we can convert him to Calvinism.”

“In the meantime, we as her concerned aunt and uncle will have provided the heiress with a more palatable choice.” Anne smiled. “It’s not our best option, but it never hurts to have several different possible routes to one’s goal.”