MADAME POMPADOUR'S BLADE
They passed the carriage about an hour after they left Paris, as Geveaux had expected. It was a cool, sunny morning in early April. Even the peasants driving geese and pigs toward the city behaved as if they might be momentarily satisfied with their lot. Geveaux rode past the carriage on the left, with Francois behind him. He glanced at the windows but they were covered with dust. He would just have to assume Mademoiselle Arlette was seated inside. They were overtaking the carriage at the right point and it matched the description he had received from the spy at the Hotel Rousset: sandy brown with bright green wheels and trim, three bays and a black doing the hauling.
Geveaux raised his hat to the coachman. He shouted a pleasantry about the nature of the morning and the coachman saluted with his whip. The butt of a silver plated pistol gleamed above the sash the coachman had wrapped around his cloak.
Geveaux turned in the saddle as he galloped past the front horses. Francois was plowing down the road with his eyes fixed on his horse's neck. Normally, Francois would have been bending in half offering exaggerated bows to any ladies who might be hidden behind the windows.
They left the carriage behind and Geveaux dropped back. "We'll reach the wood in about five minutes. Ten minutes after that we'll be on our way back to Paris."
Francois raised his head. "Did you count them? Could you see their weapons?"
"Through those windows?" Geveaux said. "With the sun shining on the dust?"
Geveaux jerked his thumb at the scabbard that extended through the side slit in Francois' riding coat. "Just remember you've got that, my good count. There isn't a pistol in the world can stand against that."
"It is a disappointing circumstance," Geveaux had told the Marquise. "The sword is everything you have heard it is. But unfortunately, the fourteenth count of LechMutacque is everything he appears to be. As a courtier, Francois has all the necessary virtues. As a soldier...."
The Marquise had been wearing a loose, pale yellow gown. She had been standing beside her writing table when Geveaux entered the room-- the perfect image of a composed woman of affairs. If she had been posing in front of a map, she could have been taken for a female monarch, like the Empress Elizabeth of Russia.
In actuality, of course, she was a more important figure than any empress. The Czarina Elizabeth ruled a hundred million Oriental serfs. The Marquise de Pompadour dominated the courtiers of Versailles and all the magnificence controlled by the maitresse en titre to His Most Christian Majesty Louis XV.
To her adversaries, she was an upstart banker's daughter who had been elevated several leagues above her proper station. To most of her admirers-- including Maurice Geveaux-- she was a gift from providence. This was the first time Geveaux had actually talked to her but he had seen the fruits of her influence. Kings and czarinas exercised a secular, temporal authority. The Marquise reigned over the eternal republic of the mind. She was the tasteful, enlightened patron-- and even protector-- of the artists and philosophes who were transforming civilization.
"But you still believe he can be of some service," the Marquise said.
"I have been his companion for nine years. Francois was still a stripling when his mother placed him under my guidance. The sword is not a weapon that requires exceptional courage. With the proper direction-- and a firm motivation-- he can defeat adversaries who would send him scurrying if he were armed with more familiar weapons."
The Marquise smiled. "There are limits to my ability to solidify motivation, Monsieur Geveaux. There is nothing magical about the size of my purse."
"I understand, madame. I should be quite willing to trust to your generosity, if you should ever decide our services might be of value."
It was a conversation in which everything was understood. They both knew the Marquise was aware that Francois teetered on the verge of ruin. Francois' grandfather had mortgaged the family lands so he could cut a figure at the court of Louis XIV, Francois' father had mortgaged his patrimony yet again, and Francois had followed their example.
Louis XIV had subdued the aristocracy by turning them into courtiers who wasted their incomes on fashionable display and the endless gaming that constituted the primary social activity at his palace of Versailles. Louis XV was less relentless but the damage to the house of LechMutacque had become irreparable. Francois was the ultimate product of Louis XIV's cunning-- an aristocrat who bowed beautifully, dressed superbly, and provided the ladies of Versailles with a pliant, somewhat comic, instrument of carnal pleasure.
Geveaux also knew, on the other hand, that His Majesty's mistress needed the kind of help he was offering her. He had asked her for an audience because the court gossip had been buzzing with reports of an intrigue that threatened to terminate her reign.
Copyright 2006 by Tom Purdom. All rights reserved. This document may be printed out and archived for personal use. All other use is strictly prohibited.
Home | Science Fiction | Music Writing | Essays
Bio | FAQS | Writers | Friends and Relations | Quotes | Bibliography