Chapter 2 : Curiouser and Curiouser
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by Violet at TDA
Imogen Poots as Elise Saint-Denis
Natascha McElhone as Marie-Cécile de Valière
Tom Hiddleston as Luc de Valière
Romain Duris as Captain Walter Rigfort
Talullah Riley as Anne the Maid
CURIOUSER AND CURIOUSER
It had been a fortnight since Madame Deuxmoulin’s party and rumors were now, not only spreading about Marie-Cécile, but about her protégée as well. Remy Saint-Denis’s sister, a budding courtesan in the tutelage of a celebrated master of the field. It was enough to make you roll your eyes in boredom. Honestly, though his Mamma found this news absolutely riveting, Luc could not be any more bored with it.
Though he was one for intrigue and was genuinely happy for the girl he’d already considered as his own sister, but the way his mother prattled on about it made it sound as if it were her own achievement and not Elise’s.
“Did you hear that Madame de Rozette’s son had even asked about her?” his mother had told him while they were having a carriage ride around the park.
It was a cold day in hell when his mother would be prevented from her regiment. The park was covered in a thick blanket of snow and there was hardly anyone out, save a few gentlemen on horseback but Marie-Cécile was a creature of habit and a force of nature. A dangerous combination, to be certain.
It was only too much a pity that Elise had not felt up to the excursion for Luc was sorely in want of her company. As it was, he had no other choice but to be subjected to the gossip mongering of his dear Mamma. God knew he loved the woman, but living with her was unbearable.
“The Rozette boy is barely old enough to wear long pants! Eighteen and for all we know, he’s as dull as a horse. I don’t think he would do for Elise. Not as the first, anyway. She should not have to suffer so early in her career,” he said. “Has a Captain Rigfort made any inquiries?”
“Captain Rigfort? No. Should he have?”
“Elise met him at the party and he seemed quite captivated with her. I should have guessed that he be on the head of your list.”
“Is he of position?”
“An Englishman. Sent as a delegation, as I recall.”
“What about wealth?”
“Enough I think. He has his own ship, from what I hear.”
His mother gave him a pointed look. A look he knew quite well. “Are you encouraging this man on her?”
“Good God no! If anything I want to dissuade her! A British officer and a politician’s dog nonetheless. Elise seemed to like him. She talked with him long enough. I made it a point to make some inquiries just to know what kind of man he is. But apparently we need not worry. Thank the heavens for that!”
“I want Elise to accept the right offer from the right man. And the Rozette boy has made a good offer.”
“And so will every man in Paris. He certainly won’t be the last, I assure you. Honestly, Mamma, it’s as if you have no confidence in her abilities!”
“I have every confidence in her abilities. Elise is a brilliant girl, and in time will be the object of every man’s desire. But as of now, she is as green as a caterpillar and can hardly be expected to handle a man of more advanced years or experience.”
“You underestimate her. Elise is as sharp as a razor and speaking from a man’s perspective, it is enough to entice you, whatever the age. That will be here mark, mind you.”
“I am just worried for her I suppose. Her mother bid her to my care. I will see this girl succeed.”
“She has you Mamma. I doubt she can help to do anything but succeed.”
“And what of you, Luc? I saw you pay great attentions to Mademoiselle Poisson that night. Are you inclined to pursue her?”
“Not in the least,” he scoffed. “Unfortunately, the girl is quite taken with me ---“
“And with good reason,” Marie-Cécile smiled. “Its your father in you. Perhaps that’s why I married him in the first place. They say the Veela, even those only in part, are irresistible to those who meet them. And your father was quite irresistible.”
“Pity the fool who believes that you married him for love.”
“He was my first attempt at retirement,” she said dreamily, the way his mother spoke when she remembered that time in her life. The great boredom of married life that consumed her and almost leeched the life out of her.
“How romantic, Mamma. Really,” he droned. “No wonder I am so disinclined towards matrimony.”
Marie-Cécile huffed as her son mocked her. “The Poisson girl was handsome enough. Not to mention her family’s fortune and connections. I suggest you take interest.”
“I am rich enough. I have no need to beg a woman for her jewels.”
“You burn through money,” she jabbed her finger on the lapel of his newly tailored coat. It was the blue velvet that she’d spoken against, but Luc did like antagonizing his mother. “You must think to the future, my dear. Let us be frank here. Fantasize as you will, you have no true talent for music. An accomplished pianist, at best, but as a composer, you lack the genius to be truly profitable. Once you’ve gone through your late father’s fortune, you’ll have nothing to live on. A wife would be a precautionary measure.”
“A wife would be tedious and unwelcome, Mamma.”
“Headstrong. That is the problem with you Veela. You cannot abide by anyone’s laws but your own. Not even reason’s,” she sneered.
“Don’t blame bad blood for your sins, mother. I have none but you to thank for all my character flaws.” Luc smiled sweetly at her. “Speaking of sins, I hear you have been busy committing quite a few.”
She shifted in her seat and unknowingly grazed the furs that lined her neck.
Luc laughed. “I see. I have hit the mark, haven’t I?”
She snapped her fan opened and used the apparatus so forcibly it was as if it had been the middle of summer instead of the cusp of winter. “I have no idea what you mean, Luc. Did I really raise such a rude son?”
“Don’t play coy, Mamma. The Baron. Or did you think that I was the only one who took no notice of the way he looks at you? Or, for that matter, the way you look at him.”
Luc did not know whether his mother wanted to protect his innocence – which had long been destroyed by the pleasures of Vienna – or shield herself from his disapproval, but there was no light way of looking at the situation. Since Madame Deuxmoulin’s party, he’d seen her taking the affections of a young gentleman. Luc had charmed the man’s name from the hostess herself. A Baron Evrard de Manasier. Rich from what he heard. The sole survivor of the de Manasier family after the Revolution. The most eligible bachelor in Paris, many of the women said. The fact that this Baron was even bold enough to take up with his mother, a woman far and beyond his league, spoke multitudes of his gall.
“I must say, Mamma. You seemed to have developed a taste for infants as of late. Should I be worried? Will you have me call him Pappa next?”
“I will not be lectured by my own son. Though, if you must know, the Baron has made an offer.”
“Is that why he’s been sending gifts to the house?” He’d paid the maids to keep him informed of the comings and goings in their apartments and anything they deemed of note. There was no one more informed in Paris than the maids to the great houses. The intrigues that they managed to discover were so delicious that even a whore would blush. All it took were a few knuts, a smile and his morning breakfast to learn that the Baron was planning to woo his dear Mamma. Whether to gain her as a trophy, as many a man had once set out, to actually earn her love, which was a fool’s errand in its own, Luc did not know. But whatever the matter was, he did not like it.
“I shall dismiss whichever wretch told you that. I find it hard to believe you pay them better than I do,” Marie-Cécile laughed. Despite is horrid manner towards her, a glint in her eyes spoke of some swelling pride? And surprisingly, Luc found that he appreciated the sentiment.
“My, my. What a son I have raised.”
“Indeed Mamma. I am a singular person. A credit to you, I hope.”
“Always my dear.”
Luc loved his mother. He did. But it did not make her any better a person. Rather, it made her more interesting. How such a shrewd and heartless person could still be loved was beyond his knowledge.
They rode on through the park in silence. Luc kept his thoughts far from marriage and indiscretion. Instead, he occupied it with Vienna. As for Marie-Cécile? Well heavens only knew what his mother was scheming in her perfect little head.
She could not think. Despite drowning herself in the sea of books, Elise could not find the strength to think. The day had trudged tediously by and Elise did not feel herself inclined to partake in any of her previous engagements. She fancied herself ill. But in truth, the only illness she felt was that of being overwhelmed.
Utterly and completely overwhelmed.
She’d told herself that this was, in all essence, the end to which all her efforts were directed towards. An offer from a viably prodigious gentleman. One who would, in the words of her profession, “take care of her beautifully.” A man who would provide for her every need and whim while suffering her to she did as she pleased. The only price he would ask in return would be her intimate attentions.
The man’s name was Guy de Rozette, as she’d been told. To be honest, she did not know him. If they’d been introduced during the course of the evening or if he’d merely spied her from the crowd, she did not remember. She’d only met one man’s acquaintance that night, or rather; it was only one man’s attentions that she enjoyed.
“It is very cunning of you, my dear,” Marie-Cécile had whispered in her ear. “Entertain one man and keep the rest curious. Quite cunning indeed. I’ve taught you well.”
But it had been no strategy at all. The joy she found in Captain Rigfort’s company was genuine and stimulating. Up till then, the only men she’d been acquainted with were family friends, who took no notice of her, and Luc’s school friends none of whom she took notice of. There was a mutual appreciation between her and Captain Rigfort. Or at least, she hoped it was mutual.
Was it so abhorrent for her to wish he’d sent a letter of inquiry? To ask if she were eligible as Guy de Rozette had done. She’d become a simpering child, a fact that she’d well hidden from Marie-Cécile.
Guy de Rozette had offered her an apartment in Paris, a substantial allowance, horses, carriages, servants and the security that would last as long as his interest.
Though nothing was set in stone, if the time came that Marie-Cécile advised her to accept, she did not know how she could not oblige.
And if it were not Monsieur de Rozette, it would be another man. With a similar or greater offer. Whether he be stimulating or no.
A knock came to her door. It was Anne, the upstairs maid come to check on her again. Their rented rooms had no house-elves available. Instead, they employed squibs. Regrettable to most, but Luc found it better sport. As for Elise, she greatly improved their company as opposed to a house elf.
She was pretty, this Anne. Fair, curly hair, a round, soft face and a rather pleasant figure. No doubt she one of Luc’s spies, come to check how she was faring. Elise let her in nonetheless. It was not as if Luc was something that could be avoided.
“Thought you might like some tea, ma’am,” she fixed the clutter of books and laid a silver platter of tea and cakes in front of her. “Also, a letter has just come for you, mademoiselle. From a Monsieur de Rozette. Brought it himself, despite the cold. He could have just easily sent it by owl, but I suspect he wanted to be sure it was delivered. Caused quite the with the downstairs maids, I’d say.”
Elise caught herself before she shot up in surprise. “He delivered it himself?” she said nonchalantly.
“His valet brought it to the door, but he was said to be in the carriage ma’am. Wouldn’t leave until he knew you’d gotten it.”
Elise stiffened. “Are you certain it’s addressed to me? Not Madame de Valière?”
“So says the valet. I, myself, can’t read and write beyond my own name, begging your pardon, but you can see for yourself ma’am.” Anne took the letter out of her pocket and smoothed it out before giving it to her mistress.
“That will be all, Anne,” she waived her hand at the maid. “You may go.”
Anne had come and gone as silently as she came, but Elise did not hear the door close. The maid had left it ajar, probably hoping to spy a little longer. After all, Luc would not be pleased to know that his money was wasted on incomplete reports.
Elise smirked as she stood up and went deeper in the library. Luc was too spoiled. He should at least exert some effort to know her affairs.
Elise heard the door open and the stifled footsteps of the maid try to follow her. But Elise knew this library like the back of her hand now. Though relatively just settled in her new home, she’d made it a point to spend a respectable amount of time devouring the written word. Today, her knowledge of the terrain proved a useful ally.
She hid behind the novel section, a part of the library deemed as unseemly for ladies as bringing out her wand in public, and at the risk of spoiling her new dress, Elise sat down on the floor and kept quiet. She opened her letter and read it while Anne lost herself in a labyrinth of bookshelves, looking for her elusive mistress.
“My dear Mademoiselle Saint-Denis,” it began. “That is, if I may call you my dear, for I greatly desire to do so. I write to you as a ghost. You hardly know me. You have not met me. And to my own fault, I apologize for this grave misconduct. I am afraid my letters have preceded and spoke for me when the words should have come from my very lips.
“I greatly hope that you have received my offer. Thus far, I have received no indication of your receipt, but never have I waivered hope of a response. Know that my admiration for you is most ardent and my only desire is to have you well cared for, should you accept.
“There will be a concert at our salon by the week’s end. I have enclosed the selection. It will favor the modern composers whom my mother has a preference and hope it is to your satisfaction.
“Your servant, Guy de Rozette”
Elise put down the letter as she undid her hair and ruffled it, as she did when she felt perplexed. It was an odd letter. A very odd letter. It felt warm and affectionate for one she’d never made the acquaintance of. What had he used as a basis for his admiration? A pretty face? It was common enough. Even those of lower circumstance like Anne had it.
Elise did not understand this man. She could not understand any man who would judge her so distantly. Favorable or not.
She’d never met this man, as he himself so duly noted, but he appeared to pursue her quite ardently. This had been the third letter in the fortnight that he’d sent, though it was the first one that he’d actually sent to her.
She looked from behind the shelf. It looked as if Anne had given up her search. But still, she kept her wits about her. Elise took of her noisy shoes and walked over to the nearest street-view window.
She had to admit, she was hopeful of catching a glimpse of this Monsieur de Rozette. All that she’d heard from Luc was that he was young. Too young for her, he said. But Luc spoiled her too much, thought of her too much as a child. She would trust no one’s good opinion but her own, when it came to this man.
The streets were covered in snow and there was barely a soul out. The carriage was no longer there. In its stead stood a lone saddled horse, braving the blistering cold. It was neither theirs nor anyone’s that she knew of. Elise wiped the frost from the window and leaned closer.
A flash of blue swirled from the near the threshold. The blue of a British officer. At an instant, Elise recognized who its rider was.
She walked away from the window and abruptly backed into a shelf.
Captain Rigfort was knocking on their door.
At the risk of propriety, she quickly drew her wand and cast a spell to set her hair back to rights. She was alone and no one would know.
You will not be overwhelmed Elise. No.
She rushed down the stairs, putting her shoes on as she went and immediately ordered one of the maids open the door.
“If the gentleman asks to be let in, show him into the sun room.”
Elise composed herself as she sat down beside the roses and breathed softly, though her chest beat anything but. It had been ill thought to run down the stairs like that. Even more ill thought to have fixed her hair with a spell. As she caught a glance of it on the silver watering can, she saw that nothing could replace the quality of work by a good pair of hands.
But nothing could be done about it now.
Stop fidgeting Elise. He is only a man. You are above him.
Anne brought him in. “Captain Rigfort to see you ma’am.”
“Will you take a seat, Captain?” She gestured to the seat adjacent by her.
“No, mademoiselle,” he smiled. “Though I do appreciate your courtesy. An officer of Her Majesty’s Navy always prefers to stand. Makes him look less idle than he is. Though I would not mind some tea. It is bitter cold out there and I’m afraid I underestimated the French winters.”
Elise nodded to Anne, who went immediately to her duties, though she did it with a sort of a blush. Elise suspected she had a fascination for men in uniform and could not help but smile at the thought. A reaction that Captain Rigfort seemed to note.
“I’d rather you sit, Captain. For my sake at least. I find it daunting for company to stand while there’s comfort yet to be taken. Navy or not, you are my guest.”
“In that sense, ma’am, you make it very hard for a gentleman to decline.” He indulged her, taking the seat she’d offered and making himself comfortable.
It was only too lucky that she’d decided on the sunroom. Not only was it the warmest room in their apartments, but as it was filled with Marie-Cécile’s flowers shipped all the way from her home in Vienna, it made the dreary snow outside look less imposing.
Anne came back with the tea and it seemed that Captain Rigfort’s purpose for coming became less urgent. Rather, he looked as if he deemed her company the greater charge.
“I beg your pardon for not calling on you earlier. I have been occupied by matters of state. Dry, if you’ll ask me but necessary. With the armistice waning there is greater pressure on the Ambassador and myself to keep it from falling apart.”
“Minister Guizot and his government are against the restoration of our monarchy. I would suppose that your King is not appreciative of that.”
“You are well informed, ma’am. But come! Do not bore yourself with matters of politics on my account. A lady must not find them suitable discussion for midday tea.”
The tea came and Elise she poured the Captain a cup, and as she gave it to him, smiled. “There is a certain kind of lady that finds it stimulating, Captain Rigfort. I believe you will find I am one of them.”
He sat both astonished and amused at her manner. Though she’d shown him assertiveness at Madame Deuxmoulin’s, she had some doubt as to whether or not he would object of a thinking woman. If he had, then she would have to re-think his favor of him. Thankfully the need did not arrive.
“Is it at the influence of your brother, maybe? Or perhaps your father?”
Elise took a sharp breath at the mention of Remy, but she tried her best to hide her unease. She would not be undone as he’d been before. Elise tried to smile. “Neither, I’m afraid. It is actually Monsieur de Valière, Madame’s son, who first introduced me to it. You’ll find that he’s rather a fervent advocate of the Revolution. And of Napoleon.”
“I was lead to understand that he lived mostly in Vienna. I could not guess that he’d make an attachment to the Revolution.”
“He’s a Frenchman, Captain. We’d sooner forget France than our own mother’s face. I’d expect you would feel the same for King and country.”
“A different matter, mademoiselle. The Frenchmen tore themselves apart. Killed their own. Massacred hundreds for the sake of so called patriotism. Even threatened the crowns of other anointed monarchs.” The growing tension in his voice revealed itself.
“They fought for liberty. For freedom against the tyranny of absolute, abusive monarchs. Surely you can find some merit in their cause?”
Captain Rigfort took a sharp breath. “I was lead to understand that the elder Monsieur de Valière had been executed by the Revolution. How can he see merit in the very thing that killed his father? A revolution that forced your own family to seek safety in foreign shores. Our shores! How can your friend approve of a movement that caused so much death? I’ve watched men---” He caught his tongue before he went on any further. Elise saw a shadow on him. She saw beyond the uniform he wore and to what it meant. He would not have been a captain of a ship for nothing.
Once he’d calmed himself, he looked apologetically to her. “You seem distressed, mademoiselle. I’m sorry. I seem to have a talent for putting the wrong conversation on you.”
“Don’t think on it Captain. It is quite alright. Passion for one’s beliefs is never cause for apology.”
He put down his tea and abruptly stood up. “I seem to have forgotten my charge. Ambassador Forthbey has bid me extend an invitation for a concert at the de Rozette salon. He is most eager to make Madame de Valière’s acquaintance… as well as your own.”
As well as your own. He spoke it as if he’d rather have said different words. One could even think that it was his own devices he served in asking Elise. Not Ambassador Forthbey’s. It was an invitation she was more inclined to accept rather than Monsieur de Rozette’s.
Elise unconsciously blushed at the thought. “I am certain that Madame would be delighted to accept. For all of us.”
He took his leave of her and as he walked out of the door and on to his horse, there seemed to be a spark in his step. Despite the manner in which they parted, Elise had no doubt that the latter part of their conversation had lifted his spirits.
She could be certain of it. For it had lifted hers as well.
You are overwhelmed Elise. And it will bring you to no good end.
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