Chapter 1 : Mademoiselle's Introduction
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by Violet at TDA
Imogen Poots as Elise Saint-Denis
Tom Hiddleston as Luc de Valière
Natascha McElhone as Marie-Cécile de Valière
Felicity Jones as Madeline Poisson
Romain Duris as Captain Walter Rigfort
Sarah Parish as Blanche Deuxmoulin
Sinéad Cusak as Madame Poisson
It was a dreary evening for a party, her Mamma no doubt thought to herself as she nodded deceptively to her fellow guests. But Paris was a place of celebration and gaiety. It required a certain number of smiles, a certain manner of laughter, a certain length of conversation and a certain degree of civility. Being the old, widow that she was, Madame Poisson had none of which in abundance.
“Young people dance far too much for their own, in my good opinion. Far too much activity! They’re likely to dance themselves to the grave with all of their exertion,” she coughed.
“Mamma, please. It is all perfectly well and good to indulge in some frivolity on occasion.”
“Some indeed! Certainly not! No where in the Bible does it say that children should indulge such a pool of sin!”
“I am quite certain that people danced in the Bible as well, Mamma.”
“Salome,” she scoffed. “And look where it got her.”
Madeliene rolled her eyes. If only the day would come when a handsome, young gallant would take her away from the old crone. Or perhaps, with some stroke of luck, the old crone would do her a service and leave this world out of her own volition. At the banging of her mother’s cane and her continuous coughing, Madeliene fluffed her pillow and fixed the blanket on her lap. She’d much rather be dancing, but it was un-Christian to think of disobeying one’s parents. Madeliene sighed.
Her mother always complained during parties. Her back. Her head. The profuse helping of noise. For Madame Poisson, the Devil himself might as well be playing the violin. But as it was, society dictated that they attend any and every party thrown by Paris’s elite. She had to come, no matter how poor her opinion of it was.
“Mademoiselle Barillot looks like a harlot with her hair piled on her head thus,” Madame Poisson wrinkled her nose. “I’ve never approved of red hair on a woman. Simply vulgar.”
“Well Mamma, one hardly has a choice on one’s hair color.”
“One could have the decency of wearing wigs.”
Her mother had a criticism for anyone and everyone. But as she was old and rich, no one truly minded her at all. More so that there were more pressing things to pay attention to.
Madeliene arched slightly to her left, hanging her ear to poke at the conversation in the adjacent group. It was the Madame Deuxmoulin and her flock of chattering canaries, sharing Paris’s latest news. When one wanted to hear interesting things, one need only eavesdrop on them to be well informed and amused.
“One can hardly blame that woman,” Madame Deuxmoulin laughed. “Vienna is barely engaging as it is, let alone to a woman such as Marie-Cécile de Valière. It was only a matter of time until she gathered up her skirts and flew back into the city with a storm about her.”
The news reeked of intrigue. She had heard many tall tales about the elusive Madame de Valière but had never had the pleasure of meeting her. To hear that she was back in Paris was intriguing news indeed! Madeliene turned a quick glance at her dear Mamma. Still occupied with Mademoiselle Barillot’s hair. She leaned a nondescript inch closer.
Madame Deuxmoulin continued. “She’s brought her son with her.”
“Unattached I hope,” laughed Madame de Rozette.
“Yes, and with the de Valière fortune on his heal. Certainly one of our girls should catch his eye. After all, Austrian women are no match for a daughter of France. Why do you think I invited her?”
They all laughed.
Just then, the doors of the grand hall opened and the steward announced a new arrival to their little party.
“Madame Marie-Cécile de Valière, Monsieur Luc de Valière and Mademoiselle Elise Saint-Denis.”
All heads turned towards the entrance and whispers followed the trio’s every step as they entered the hall. It was Madame Deuxmoulin who first got up and welcomed the prodigal Madame de Valière. A bow of courtesy and a kiss on each cheek as if they were long lost friends, not the reputed bitter rivals.
“Marie-Cécile! At last you are home. Paris has been such a bore without you.”
“Well Vienna had me yet it was a bore even then! I cannot see how I can improve the situation!” Madame de Valière laughed.
In person, she lived up to all the gossip told about her. She’d heard the woman be called plain, but by jealous wives whose husbands she’d stolen. The truth of the matter was that Marie-Cécile was anything but plain. To Madeliene, she looked almost mythical. A creature from the books her mother had forbidden her to read. Standing tall and proud with a crown of rich brown hair, Madame de Valière, despite her pale cream dress, she might as well have been dressed in scarlet the way the men looked at her. And despite her sex, Madeliene found herself fascinated as well.
“So my dear,” Madame Deuxmoulin went on. “Who is this lovely young lady you’ve brought with you.”
“Oh forgive my manners Blanche. May I introduce my companion Mademoiselle Elise Saint-Denis. Elise, cheri, this is Madame Blanche Deuxmoulin, the finest hostess in all of Paris.”
The young Mademoiselle Saint-Denis bowed with the grace of a practiced ritual, skillfully hiding behind her silk fan. She seemed to be stifling a laugh, and the young man standing beside her looked as if she shared the joke. If her startling gray eyes weren’t enough to spark interest, then certainly her mystery was enough to distract the men from her mistress, even if for a moment.
“And of course you know my son, Luc. Luc, darling, you remember Madame Deuxmoulin.”
The gentleman bowed as well, taking Madame Deuxmoulin’s hand and kissing it. “Of course I remember. How could I forget such a woman? I don’t know if you remember Madame, but Mamma had me play at one of your parties before we left for Vienna. And from what I can see with this grand assembly, your patronage for the arts has not waivered in the least.”
Madame Deuxmoulin blushed and rightly so. The young man, Luc, was quite handsome and had a charm that worked as well as his manner. He hadn’t his mother’s dark hair, rather his was fair and bright, and had a sly smile that made Madeliene blush to even just look at it.
As Madame Deuxmoulin spirited their vivid guest away, the young pair were left to their own devices, strolling around the room and whispering as they went.
Mademoiselle Saint-Denis looked well amused with Monsieur de Valière as he made grand gestures, flourishing his hands, pointing here and there and making commentaries on the various characters collected in the room.
Madeliene could not take her eyes from him. She excused herself from her Mamma, who’d happened to doze off in her chair. She twirled her fan on its string and kept eyes on him and his companion. She found herself a new seat, near where the two had positioned themselves and eagerly, through subtly turned her attention to their conversation.
“Luc you promised me you wouldn’t do anything wicked tonight. I’m nervous enough as it is,” Elise said, chiding her friend with a firm but light tap on his arm.
“It’s because of your nerves that I say wicked things, if only to make you laugh. Take a breath Elise. This isn’t the Inquisition. All eyes are on you.”
“All eyes are on your Mamma. Not me. Now don’t say another word or I’ll be forced to leave your company.”
“Well I can see at least one eye on you.”
Madeliene could not help but turn and look. He saw Monsieur de Valière blatantly pointing at a familiar face.
Madeliene knew him for they’d been introduced once or twice. He was Captain Walter Rigfort, an officer in the British Navy accompanying Sir Richard Forthbey, the British Ambassador. A vile man, Sir Forthbey, but the same could not be said of Captain Rigfort. In fact, Madeliene could not say anything of the officer for he did not often speak. Not to her. He spoke to the other gentlemen, talked politics with them and on occasion, of hunting. Her father said that Captain Rigfort was an amiable man at worst and an excellent man at best. It was only unfortunate that he was not inclined to the young ladies of Paris.
Though that may have changed with the coming of their new arrival.
“See how he looks at you,” Monsieur de Valière said to Mademoiselle Saint-Denis.
“I’d say he looks like a hunter inspecting a rifle he wants to purchase.”
“That’s how all men look at all women. Especially women of your singular profession. I’ve seen enough of them geared at Mamma. Believe me Elise, I’ve grown up seeing those looks and have given a few of them myself.”
“Well I don’t like him. He looks rather plain don’t you think?”
“Plain? I wouldn’t know. I think myself rather handsome, but as you’ve constantly told me, I think too much of myself. What more when I judge others.”
Then he did something quite unexpected. He tapped Madeliene’s shoulder. She almost jumped off her seat. Monsieur de Valière knelt down beside her, took her hand and kissed it.
“Excuse me mademoiselle,” he bowed to her. “Might you settle a debate between my friend and I?”
Madeliene did not know what to say. It would be bad form to talk with him, not without chaperone and without introduction. She sat there like a fool, distracted by his fine features and persuasive smile. She’d never been a fool for any gentleman till now.
“Luc! See how wicked you are! You’ve jumped on this poor girl without even introducing youself,” she laughed.
“Is that why she sits quiet? I was afraid she disapproved of me too.”
“No!” Madeliene said all too quickly. “No…” she composed herself. “I mean, mademoiselle is correct. My mother would never approve.”
“Approve? Well you’re talking to us now. Was that so difficult?” He was teasing her.
Part of her wanted to ask him to go on, but the part of her that her mother ruled wanted to chide him immediately and note him as a cad. Luckily, his friend seemed to share her distaste and he relented.
“See how Mademoiselle Saint-Denis looks at me? I feel like a child who’s stolen a treat from the kitchens. And I see you feel no better. Well I cannot have two beautiful women object of me so, now can I?” He stood upright and straightened his waistcoat. He bowed. “Mademoiselle, allow me to present myself. Luc de Valière, at your service. And this is Mademoiselle Elise Saint-Denis. We recently arrived here in Paris with my mother, Madame Marie-Cécile de Valière. And you are?”
“Well…I…what I mean is…Madeliene Poisson.” She hurriedly stood up and bowed to them, earning a fan-hidden laugh from Mademoiselle Saint-Denis.
“Now that we’ve been properly introduced, I trust that you will think of us as friends. And as a friend, it entitles you to you settle our little argument?” Mademoiselle Saint-Denis took a seat beside her while de Valière stood behind them both.
“You see that man over there. The officer?”
“Why Elise, I do believe we’ve made an informed friend. How fortunate of us! You see! We’ve made a fine choice indeed!” He bent down close enough to Madeliene’s ear. It made feel a flush about her. He whispered, “Elise here is a very harsh judge on appearances. She calls the gentleman plain. What do you say? I am sure you are a fair judge of people.”
She took a deep breath, considering her words well. She wanted to impress Luc, most certainly after he sang such praises to her character. It was only polite to repay the compliment. “Well, I’ve been acquainted with the gentleman before and have had the pleasure of looking at him at close range. I would say that though he is not quite handsome, he is certainly not plain, I would think.”
“What a diplomatic answer,” Elise took her arm. She looked at Captain Rigfort again and raised an eyebrow as he nodded to her. A bold move! “I suppose he is not so plain. But I am sure his character will affect this. Tell me Madeliene, what sort of man is he?”
“Well…my father quite approves of him. Though Mamma says that no good can come of being British. But Mamma thinks a number of things can come to no good.”
“British you say?” Luc’s interest was piqued. “Ah, now I think I’ve heard of him from Mamma. Something about him and an ambassador of some sort having the gall to say that they will aid France, which in their language means saving Her from herself! Napoleon has left and the King has returned. It is not as if we’d been stricken by the plagues to have need of some savior to come running to our aid. I’ve changed my mind Elise. I do think he’s rather plain. In fact, in some light he looks a bit slight.”
“I tell you Madeliene, it is a very wicked friend you’ve made in Luc. But not to worry. I shall protect you from him. We women of intelligence must not be divided by such a fool.”
“You have not told me what you think of him Elise. Or am I to take it that you agree?”
Elise smiled and put a gloved finger to her cheek. “No. Actually the fact that he is British and seemingly a man with airs intrigues me. Truly intrigued. I do believe that the look of him has improved.”
You will not be overwhelmed, Elise. He is a man and you are above him. You will not be overwhelmed.
Marie-Cécile had taught her to keep her wits about when a handsome man makes eyes on her. As they’d established, the man called Captain Rigfort was not handsome, but his eyes were on her. They followed her like a shadow across the room. She felt conscious of herself, of every little thing. If her dress had a crease or of her hair had come undone. This was a very important night and it would not be ruined by a girlish fit of fancy.
She held closer to her new friend Madeliene and laughed to hide her discomfort. The poor girl was smitten with Luc, and being the man Luc was, he knew that fact well. This was a game Luc played well. To catch a lady’s eye, make her blush and make herself a fool admiring him. They could not help it. He says it’s the Veela in him, but she knew better. Veela’s had pretty faces but a pretty face’s spell wore off. What Luc had, what Marie-Cécile had, what they were both trying to teach her was charm. Unbridled charm. Even with a head full of fluff and nothing but empty compliments to pay, if a person had charm, he had the world.
Luc had the world. His small little world where he could get anything he wanted. Including the innocent Mademoiselle Poisson.
“I would stay clear of Luc, if I were you. He may be more than you can handle.”
He was dancing with another young lady, one similarly speechless around him, leaving poor Madeliene not knowing what to think. After the attentions he’d paid her, the things he’d said, seeing him dance with a far prettier thing would have confused the dear. “It is not to say he is unkind. On the contrary, Luc is one of the kindest people I know, when he wants to be. But he is…too much to handle.”
Madeliene didn’t seem to hear a word she was saying. She was still looking at Luc, watching him sweep through the dance floor like he was walking on water. “He dances so gracefully. As if the music itself were coming from him.”
“Quite ordinary for composers I am afraid.”
“You mean to say he writes music?”
“Madame de Valière came to Vienna precisely to oversee his education. He plays the piano quite beautifully.”
Poor thing. She might as well have asked for his hand in marriage then and there.
Elise did not want to be this girl. She did not want to be so blinded by the illusion of love that she would find the most self-absorbed man in all of Europe as Adonis himself.
She took a quick scan of the room. Captain Rigfort was still looking at her. He was talking amongst his friends, smoking cigars and arguing about the Restoration and what it meant for the Magical Community; but amidst all that, he was still looking directly at her.
She almost wanted to walk up to him and ask why he was staring at her so intently, but what would Marie-Cécile think about that? A woman of her position did not go to men and ask them for explanations. They lured them in and trick them into divulging their deepest secrets.
She thought to herself of what she ought to do, instead of what she wanted to do. Finally a compromise.
She silenced her nerves and met his gaze. It seemed to surprise him. Even more so when she grazed her finger on the tip of her fan. I wish to talk with you, the act spoke for itself.
It did not take him long to understand. He excused himself from his party and made his way for them. As he drew near, Elise saw that she had judged him too harshly at first. He was not plain. Though, in agreement with her second opinion, he was not handsome either. He had dark hair and a sharp jaw. Commanding and stern enough to grant him the immediate respect of his ship, no doubt. She had not noticed it before, but he had a small scar on his right cheek. A curving slash. Not too deep to be glaring. Likely some injury of valor that he boasted about. Though a feeling prodded Elise that this man was not one for boasting.
He bowed stiffly before them. “Mademoiselle Poisson. I am sorry for not paying my respects earlier. I saw that you were quite deep in conversation and did not want to disturb.”
Madeline quickly detached her attention from Luc and offered her hand to Captain Rigfort, who kissed it.
He spoke French with such a strong English accent that it made Elise laugh. He looked slightly affronted but kept his composure. Perhaps giving her the benefit of the doubt. After all, it was his duty as the older gentleman of maybe thirty to give pardon to her twenty-one year old childishness.
Madeliene, being every the embodiment of propriety, introduced Elise before she’d made a scandal of herself, and Captain Rigfort, who’s name she’d already known, offered her the same courtesy.
“Captain Walter Rigfort at your service, ma’am.” He snapped into almost a formal salute without the actual salute.
He engaged Madeliene in small talk, perhaps to mask his true reason in coming to them. He asked about her mother, paid some compliments to her father, and asked about Madeliene herself. But to Madeliene, this all seemed like a hassle taking her away from gazing at Luc.
After a while, she grew silent, and so did she. Though he did not seem displeased for as soon as Madeliene resumed to her former occupation, Captain Rigfort turned his attentions to her.
“You do not dance, Captain Rigfort. The numbers are unequally matched and I am sure a young lady out there would appreciate a partner.” She offered him the seat beside her.
“I’m afraid I am not one for dancing. At the risk of exposing my flaws too early, I believe I would only make a right fool of myself and the unlucky lady in question. But you mademoiselle? Surely you cannot have been slighted?”
She did not know if he was playing a game or if he’d purposely insulted her, but Elise took it to cheek. “Not slighted sir. Simply not inclined as of the moment.”
“Then the numbers are balancing themselves. For if there are men who are unfit to dance and women that are less inclined to dance, then surely some order is restored. You need not worry for those confined to their chairs.”
A man of wit and conversation. Certainly he must not be all as bad as Luc had judged him earlier. For an Englishman, he had some amount of charm.
“Saint-Denis? I believe I recognize your name. Any relation to Monsieur Saint-Denis, the Secretary of Trade?”
“Well spotted Captain. My brother actually,” she trailed off. “Although I’ve barely had the chance to visit him since I’ve joined Madame de Valière’s in her travels.”
“She must be quite a woman then to keep you from family.”
“Madame is in a league of her own.”
Elise was barely sixteen when she’d met the infamous Marie-Cécile de Valière. It was like meeting a story or a rumor. Even then, people talked about her. Whispered and insulted her behind her back. But in truth, they all were the same. They were fascinated by her. Caught in her spell. By then she’d long been retired. The vile guillotine, that had taken many of Madame’s friends and family, had executed her most recent lover, the Duc de Pirot, and she was living in London in exile, keeping her money and her neck away from the revolution.
Elise’s family had fled to London as well. Though it did not take long before they buried her father, leaving her mother, her brother Remy and herself to live off the kindness of their British hosts. Her father had died of shame, the shame that forced him to fly from France like a thief in the night. The thought of it drove him to illness.
She and her mother were both afraid. Remy had inherited the Saint-Denis ambition that had lead her father down the path of disgrace. Success at horrible costs, her mother called it. And Remy, even in his young years, had the fire in him. The desire of revenge, a lust for power and the longing for respect from his peers.
Remy made connections his sole purpose and there was only one way a penniless man with a grand lineage could elevate himself in society. Through marriage.
Elise could never repay the kindness Marie-Cécile had given her. The life that she’d offered her. Nor would she ever forgive Remy for how little he valued her.
Elise did not want to think on it any more.
“Excuse me, Captain. I am afraid I am not such good company tonight,” she excused herself from Madeliene and from Captain Rigfort and stepped out into the garden for some air.
Outside it, the winter air blew cool and hard on her face. There were no flowers outside, only a light sheet of snow and tree branches left bare by the season. She took a seat and thought to herself: You will not be overwhelmed Elise. You will not.
She should not have been so surprised that her name was recognized. Remy had done well on his ambitions, leeched well from his new wife’s station and connections and managed to get all that he’d wanted out of life. Of course, it was at the cost of entering a loveless marriage with a woman whom he found to be unattractive and witless. From what she heard, their marriage was for appearances only and that he kept a mistress in Paris whom he visited more often than the woman who’d borne his children.
Marie-Cécile would be very disappointed in her, carrying on like this. She should be at the party, making acquaintances with all the right people. Not alone and sulking in the dark. She thought of what her mother would say if she’d been alive to see her like this. It was, after all, her mother’s wish that she be educated by Marie-Cécile so that she too could get all that she wanted.
And all that Elise had ever wanted out of life was freedom.
“Did Captain Rigfort upset you?” Luc gave her a handkerchief and sat beside her. A man who needed no permission to do as he pleased. No doubt he’d seen her little spectacle and rush off, gallantly, to talk her back to sense. “Because if he did, I have every intention to defend your honor.”
“Oh stop it Luc. You’ve never been in a fight in your life. I doubt you’ve ever engaged in such physical exertion.”
“Not in the traditional sense, no,” he laughed. “But for your sake I would. Now tell me what is the matter before I call Mamma.”
Elise sighed. “It is of no matter. I can take care of myself Luc. Besides, it was no fault of Captain Rigfort’s. It is not his fault that Remy is my brother.”
“Ah. Well it could not be avoided. Remy is a known figure and a member of the Ministry. He’s bound to come up some time. This is not Vienna anymore, Elise. Paris is a viper’s nest of gossips. Why do you think Mamma strives here so?”
“I just didn’t expect his name to come up so quickly. All these five years I’ve been away, I’ve been content with just hearing about him. His life. His work. His success. But now, it has dawned on me that there is actually the prospect of meeting him again and I don’t think I can bare it Luc. He thought of me not as a sister but as a commodity. Mamma died knowing that he would become just like Pappa. A heartless man who will pay any price to achieve the end he desires.”
“Is that what you’re truly afraid of? You cannot lie very well Elise. At least not to me.”
Damn Luc for knowing her too well. He was right. She was not afraid of simply meeting Remy. She was afraid that he might take her back. The happiest years of her life had been spent in Vienna. Free from obligation and the control of others. No noose around her neck and no bars closing in on her. That was what Marie-Cécile had offered her and what she took without question. She did not want to go back as merely being her brother’s sister. His pawn. His means to an end.
“For what it’s worth Elise,” Luc went on. “You’re not the only one who’s scared of the cage. Have you seen the way the women there have been looking at me? Like dogs looking at the finest cut of meat. I had not even realized I was that handsome, and as you say, I think too highly of myself as it is.”
Elise laughed, despite her mood, and Luc smiled as well.
“Now that is the Elise I’ve known and adored. Now keep that smile on your face and charm that room as if you’d poured a love potion in their refreshments. The chance is here. That room is the means to free yourself from Remy. Make them love you. Have them adore you. Charm that room and he can never take your freedom from you again.”
Luc wiped Elise’s tears and helped her up. “Now come on. Mademoiselle Poisson has been hinting, nay, begging me to dance with her all evening and one can only escape the inevitable for so long. Also, from what I’ve heard, the Captain has been thinking of asking you to dance.”
“He told me he did not like to dance.”
Luc offered her his arm.
He was right. This was her debut. Her rebirth into French society.
Elise opened her fan and covered the bright smile she’d put on.
She was a courtesan now. And her future was hers for the taking.
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