The Trouble With Huguenots – Snippet 19

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The Trouble With Huguenots – Snippet 19

“With you, Madame Duchesse, center stage as the proud and happy dowager in the finale.”

“I can get Soûlas to come and be an acting coach,” Ruvigny said.

“Who?”

“That theater-mad ensign who ran off to join a troupe of actors. They’d hoped to go to England last year, but didn’t make it because of the political troubles there, so he’s somewhere down in the Marais district, looking for work. Who knows? If Montdory likes him when he sees him working on this, he may get a permanent slot.”

“So you’ve taken care of the religion and politics of the playwrights. Does it make any difference if the professional actors you bring in are Catholics or Huguenots?” Bismarck asked.

“Not really.” Benserade shook his head. “The Catholic Church excommunicates actors just for being actors and the Calvinists aren’t thrilled with them either, so no one will expect them to be in good standing.”

* * * *

Bismarck wandered into the mews loft that Gerry had taken to calling the chop shop. “The moon will be full on the 16th.”

Raudegen looked up.

“They’ve gotten to the point of setting a date for this extravaganza. That’s what they’ve decided to call it. An extravaganza. As far as I’m concerned, they can call it anything they please, but do we want moonlight for this project, or don’t we?”

“It would give decent illumination for several days before and after. Unless it’s cloudy, of course. We could see better to drive by night if the moon was out. If we had bad luck and someone followed us, though, they could also see better. It’s a toss-up.”

“The fireworks will make a better show without moonlight,” Ruvigny said.

“Understood. Let me go tell them to pick one of the dark of the moon weeks, either before or after the middle of the month.”

* * * *

One could not, of course, give a gala in honor of the king and queen unless they agreed to come. The duchess sent out feelers. Their Majesties agreed, but Gaston’s people insisted on insinuating Tristan l’Hermite, a hanger-on with literary ambitions (thus far not realized, in the sense that none of his plays had been performed) into the planning. His presence had a stultifying effect on conversation.

Except for Benserade and Cinq-Mars, who flirted madly backstage during the rehearsals.

“Oh,” Cinq-Mars said. “I adore skirts; they’re so wonderfully swishy, don’t you know, with all those petticoats. I hated it when I was taken out of my baby skirts and made to put on ‘little man’ breeches. They’re so tight and uncomfortable. At home, I’ve always snitched my sister’s clothes to lounge around in, whenever she would let me.”

* * * *

Tancrède adored the harmonica.

Gerry was quite willing to share. “Just don’t lose it,” he warned.

“I won’t. Thank you so much, sir.”

Tancrède’s future did not involve a career as a musical prodigy.

He did lose the harmonica.

“Keep looking kid,” Gerry said, “but don’t worry Susanna too much if you can’t find it. I have a spare.”

On his way out, he threw a different admonition at Susanna. “If you’re the one who hid it, I don’t blame you, but I do want it back.”

She threw up her hands. “Not me.”

****

“I am so thankful,” Bismarck said, “for my two left feet.”

“My inability carry a tune,” Gerry added.

They had found a comfortable refuge in the chop shop.

Within certain parameters of comfortable, of course. The hay was softer than any chair in the most luxurious rooms in any château in France, but it did tend to prickle.

“Would you mind if I asked something?”

“Nah.”

“Why don’t you object to addressing the duchesses as ‘Your Grace’? I’ve heard that the up-times believe that all men, well, ladies too, are created equal.”

“I make myself not think of it as giving a title to a person. I’m giving the title to an office. Say, the spring we got transferred here, if our class had taken a field trip to Washington, DC, which we didn’t, and I had gotten to meet President Clinton, which I never did…but if I had, I wouldn’t have called him ‘Bill.’ I’d have called him ‘Mr. President’ and I should have. That’s only polite. It was a matter of the office he held. In spite of Monica Lewinsky and all.”

Bismarck enjoyed what Gerry could dredge up about Monica from his recollections. Which wasn’t much.

“Hey,” Gerry protested, “I was only a kid.”

* * * *

He enjoyed it a lot. So did both of the duchesses when Bismarck had Gerry repeat it after supper that evening as they all stood around in the back rooms, free, for once, from the busy ears of l’Hermite.

While Gerry played the raconteur, Susanna was walking around and around Marguerite, looking at her. When he had finished, she turned toward Ruvigny. “There’s no way on earth to disguise her as anything other as a noblewoman.” She sighed and curtsied to the duchess. “Much less you, Your Grace!”

“Why not?” Marguerite snipped, in full objection and protest mode.

“Because….”

“Because,” Gerry interrupted. “When people say that up-timers act like nobles, they aren’t really thinking. They mean that we act different from them, and we pretty much don’t kowtow to anybody just because he thinks he’s better than we are. Or she. But we don’t act like nobles. We don’t have the mannerisms; what people call body language. We don’t act subordinate, but we don’t act entitled, either. Because we–make that most of us–don’t think we’re better than they are, either.” He cocked his head. “I’ve got to be fair. Some up-timers do, of course–think they’re better than someone else, that is. They did even back in West Virginia. There was a sizable bunch who thought they were a lot better than the hippie Stones. But you guys have the body language and there’s no time for us to teach you how to get rid of it.”

“But,” Marguerite persisted. “How can you tell?” She glared at Susanna, who gave an exasperated sigh. “I’ve been dressing ladies of the high nobility for eight years now. Gerry’s right. I can tell, and so could anyone else who took a close look.”

“Disguise the duchesses as lesser noblewomen,” August suggested. “Someone like my mother or sisters. The lady of a country manor, somewhere out in wherever France’s equivalent of rural Brandenburg is.” He grinned. “A lady like that will think of herself as just as much entitled, in her own bit of the world, as a duchesse de Rohan is in France as a whole. But a country lady with her daughter and a small entourage won’t attract much attention.”

Susanna eyed Marguerite critically. “Yes,” she said, nodding her head. “Yes, that might work.”

“I will be her bodyguard,” Raudegen said.

He intended to be the duchess’ bodyguard. He didn’t trust her an inch. Given her well-known reluctance to leave Paris, she was being suspiciously compliant about this project, whereas Ruvigny and Bismarck were being much too gullible about her apparent change of mind. If necessary, he would physically remove the tied and gagged body of the duchess.

“You….” He pointed at Marc. “You are the assistant to the steward at her manor. The rest of you….” He pointed to the redheads. “You four are her staff. Upper servants–household servants. There’s enough difference in your ages. Three brothers and a sister. This family is not fabulously wealthy–Susanna will be doubling as maid for the ladies and nanny for the child. Susanna and Gerry won’t have any problems in their roles; you other two are their brothers in local militia. I’ve brought you along for extra muscle because of all the unrest. You’ve have been in the armies long enough to know how ordinary soldiers act. Now, what is your name?”

Gerry grinned. “Lapierre,” of course. “Or Stein, since three of us are more at home in German than in French. Ruvigny’s accent in German is execrable, but maybe he can keep his mouth shut.”

“Why would a French country lady have servants named Stein?”

“Alsace. She’s heading home.”

Raudegen nodded. “That will do. She and her daughter are French-speaking upper class. The four of us are German-speaking peasants. Cavriani? Any preference?”

Marc shook his head. “Either one is fine.”

* * * *

“It’s getting out of the theater that will be the trick. We’re lucky that Cinq-Mars has that curly red hair and wears it au naturel. In that last scene, Gerry can substitute for him and get Marguerite away when they promenade out. We’ll need to use plenty of spotlights, multi-colored and strobing around the stage, to distract people’s eyes from noticing that the lead actor has changed.”

“Who will distract Cinq-Mars from realizing that he’s not onstage at the high point?”

“Benserade, of course.”

* * * *

“What if you end up needing more than fireworks?” Gerry asked Raudegen.

“I’ve been thinking the same thing myself.”

“Well, I don’t have the famous Stone Boys’ Box of Tricks with me, but I might be able to cobble some primitive stuff together. Down-time kitchens don’t offer the chemical options that up-time kitchens did, and we don’t want to draw attention to ourselves by buying any, or gunpowder, or stuff like that. If you can get them to order a few extra fireworks, though, and a couple of dozen of those little earthenware storage containers….”

 

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