Notes: see chapter one.
The translation of Phèdre, the play written by Racine, is from Ted Hughes.
A special thanks à ma Parisienne préférée, merci for those last minute corrections, chérie!
Béatrice, La Reine de Mon CoeurPart 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4| Part 5Part 6 |
And she said, "I've swallowed a secret burning thread
It cuts me inside, and often I've bled"
He laid his hand then on top of her head
And he bowed her down to the ground.
(The Queen and the Soldier, Suzanne Vega)
Eleonore serves the delicious duck on a silver plate. She carves it and gives a slice of the meat to our guest, the lovely lady, who sits opposite of me at the table.
"I do not want it."
I speak loudly, without hesitation, my voice commanding.
"I do not want this piece of jewelry. It is too much, and I do not deserve it."
"Then give it to them. Because they deserve it".
Béatrice d'Audovère smiles faintly.
"Sell it and give the money to the wives without a husband, the orphans, to the old and forgotten who have lost all of their loved ones. I am sure there are those of whom I speak that reside in the safety of your property."
Her face stills maintains the paleness from her ordeal; her lips are slightly swollen. I can detect she is in pain from the wound in her chest. The dim light of the fire illuminates her face softly and the soft blonde tresses of her natural hair peek from underneath the white wig she wears.
I selected my red coat adorned with golden braids and large gold buttons. Underneath I wear a white silken chemise, the delicate needlework expertly sewn. I have chosen my large black boots made of the finest leather, the heels bestow me with added height. The high polished leather covers the length of my calves and contrasts brilliantly against the white leotards made of silk. I placed the wig of rich auburn curls on my head, the color a near match to my own. I powdered my face, and darkened my lips; the appearance was one of greater femininity and for reasons I cannot fully explain to myself.... It pleased me.
I nod to her elegantly.
Béatrice d'Audovère presses her lips to the glass filled with an exquisite Italian vintage and takes a small swallow rolling the flavor of the bouquet on her tongue.
"Tell me dear count," she continues after sampling the wine in front of her.
"Jean-Charles," I gently interrupt.
"Jean-Charles, your home is a distance from Paris, does not its solitude play upon you? What of guests, I would suspect you are not accustomed to receiving many, the arduous journey would be too much of a strain for many of Paris's elite class."
"You speak as if I am lonely that this solitude imprisons me."
I think better of my reply and continue softly, the whole of my emotions evident on my face.
"Béatrice, there is comfort in this quietness that I derive and brings me pleasure. I have come to discover that solitude suits me well."
"How so?", her face betrays her thoughts and I am able to detect the subject intrigues her.
Before replying, I take the time to sample a piece of the succulent duck, allowing me the moment to gather my thoughts. Her blue eyes bore into me, they invoke a melee of emotions within me, and it was not the least bit discomforting, yet distract me from my thoughts.
Shall I confess unto her the truth of my self imposed exile, of the loneliness that lies within me?
Can I tell her about my lonely moments?
When pity and despair are my only company?
When I long to be among the living again, enjoying the splendor of a moon filled night or the warmth of the sun touching me and engulfing me with its brilliance?
Can I tell her that sometimes I feel so lonely that even the radiance of the sun cannot fade away the darkened clouds of my desperate mind?
Or should I speak of my alter ego of the count that I have created, the proud man that revels in solitude of his castle, seeking comfort and guidance in the words of Dante, Plato and Montaigne. Gazing upon the moon and stars with my telescope, a marvelous scientific instrument, viewing the universe with the knowledge of those great men of science, Galilee and Copernicus, while I try to comprehend the equations of Descartes.
Should I tell her about the dark side of the moon?
Perhaps I can tell her a little of everything.
"I will not deny that this castle is a bit isolated at times, nor that I miss the presence of female company. Where it not for Lady B and Eleonore, there would be little reminder to me of the eloquence and beauty of the female spirit. Moreover," Béatrice interrupts me before I complete my words.
"Does she satisfy you?"
I am shaken by the directness of her question and reply without giving it much thought.
"No, she does not. I...I find I am incapable of returning her feelings."
"I suspected as much." She replies quietly.
An uncomfortable silence settles among us and I take the moment to regain my composure and collect my thoughts. This woman has an effect on me and while in her presence I find I am able to cry and laugh at once. She is like a mirror, able to peer into me and read my thoughts, it cuts deeply into my heart. And I find that it wounds me and bleeds openly. I attempt to mask my emotions and defend myself against the assault of emotions she invokes in me. I rise and assume the persona of a man, and in a most masculine behavior, I seek to regain my defense against this woman, for I am unable to sustain her effect on me.
"I apologize," Béatrice says finally. It was not my intent to intrude, forgive my indiscretion."
I clear my throat before replying.
"As I said, solitude is not a stranger to me. I have discovered comfort and redemption in the arts and sciences. I have read the writings of the finest Greek and Italian philosophers, and most of the works of Montaigne who is like a dear friend to me. His words make me are of comfort to me and I find that I am able to laugh and cry at the same time."
"Fine scholars indeed. Tell me what of the works by Racine?" she asks.
Then she recites, "I have not forgotten my ravings.
Every gasp is still alive in me.
Even these walls remember them.
These ceilings are saturated with them,
Every room and passage in this palace
Is bursting to shout my secret
And accuse me."
After a moment I reply, "Phèdre
Would have come into the labyrinth with you.
She would have come the whole way beside you
To guide you back. Or be killed in there beside you."
"Wonderful, "she whispers. "Much of what you have said is what I too feel. Alas, my solitude is of a different one. People surround me and are in my constant presence, yet I find I am unable to feel a connection with any of them. I find their words of flattery bear no merit and are spoken in an effort to seek my favor and to achieve worldly gains."
Béatrice lowers her vision to the plate in front of her, her face creases with the sadness within her. She continues speaking to me, all the while her eyes remain settled upon the fine plate setting.
"I feel as if I am a stranger here, as if this place, this existence is not of my choosing. I am consumed with the desire to escape and yet the chains bind me to it without mercy. They imprison me to this life, to this ill begotten destiny. And I am unable to see the purpose of it."
She lifts her head slowly and her crystal blue eyes look into mine.
"You see", her memory returns to the cardinal that stole her virtue, "I am not a stranger to the acts of violence committed against my will. It was not the first time and no doubt it will not be the last."
A solitary tear finds its way down her cheek.
I find I am overwhelmed with the desire to protect this gorgeous creature before me and am unable to contain the emotions that take possession of me. I stand and without thinking find the words escaping my lips in a soft and protective tone.
"Do not cry, you are safe with me and no harm will fall on you under my care!" My voice inflects my desire to protect her and with it, I try desperately to reassure her.
"Chère Béatrice, I swear to you that for long as I love no harm will come to you and you can rest assured that I will be always present when you are most in need."
She smiles softly, as the tears continue to fall; she nods her head slightly and acknowledges my show of gallantry.
"Yes I can see that, Count."
I approach her tentatively and kneel before her, taking her hand in mine.
I look into her eyes and with a slight tremor in my voice, I continue, "Do you believe me?"
I raise her hand to my lips and kiss her fingers. She smiles tenderly at my gesture and I feel my heart beat wildly in my chest. She traces the contour of my jaw and her hand is warm against my flesh. Her touch is delicate and light like that of an angel, and I feel the heavens open before me. I close my eyes and take pleasure in the feel of her fingertips caressing my face gently.
"I believe you," she whispers finally.
She drops her hand from my face and I am forced to release her other hand from mine. She straightens in her chair, stands moving towards the glowing fire, staring into the flames, and her features return to a melancholy state. The look of one in mourning graces her features and the burden she carries within her is evident.
I am able to detect clearly her pain, although the burden of woe that consumes her is eluding me. That she holds secrets buried deep within her is obvious, yet it only serves to provide me with more unanswered questions than answers.
I join Béatrice by the fire.
"Perhaps I can help, what is it that burdens you so?" I touch her shoulder lightly and attempt to provide her with comfort.
"You cannot," she answers firmly.
I am slightly dismayed by her rejection, and yet, I find I am unable to quell my eagerness in knowing more of the refined aristocratic lady before me. I rise my voice in timbre before continuing.
" Who are you? Why is it so difficult to reveal yourself? What is it that you seek to hide from?"
I feign anger, "I saved your life without a thought for my own, mon Dieu! Don't you think you at least owe me the truth!"
"Then you should have let me die", Béatrice replies softly, her eyes are staring coldly at me without blinking.
"It is only," I cannot disguise the desperation in my voice, "that I feel helpless in seeing you like this. Why don't you trust me? I..."
Irritated she turns to me, her stubbornness spilling forward interrupting my response.
"This is not a matter of trust!"
She clasps my hand in a brusque gesture.
"What do want from me? I cannot give you more then I already have!" and raises my hand slowly and presses it firmly into the soft flesh of her left breast.
"Or is it my body you desire, like the rest."
She lowers her face and I felt disheartened by my actions.
"If you like, I can give you my body, it is a small price to pay for saving my life."
Her lips are near my own lips and she guides my hand to the part of her corsage where I can feel the sweet softness of her skin.
"I know that this is what you desire."
She whispers in my ear, while her hand holds mine firmly against her swollen flesh.
"As for my soul..."
Her lips linger on my neck, and she pulls slowly my face towards them. I am taken aback by what is occurring between us and attempt to protest, mesmerized by the nearness of her beauty, the ardor of her desire urns into me and I am enthralled by the feel of her flesh.
"...My soul belongs to me."
Without little hesitation, she closes the distance of our lips, and with her hand in my neck, she forces me to accept her offer. I am unable to resist its allure, although I am aware that it is wrong of me.
Her mouth forces my lips to open and with the tip of her tongue, she explores mine. I close my eyes unable to resist the desire, forgetting everything around me; I fall victim to the vast ocean of desire and wander, why I let my guard down and that perhaps I can love this woman.
Her kiss is sweet and more experienced than mine is; I have never allowed a woman to kiss me like this. For even Lady B never dared to go past a chaste kiss on the lips.
I allow her to take control of me and in one swift movement, she removes my coat from me. Her hands find their way along the length of my body, and before I can stop her she unbuttons my chemise, gaining entrance underneath the silk, while her lips place kisses along my neck.
Without knowing how, I manage to regain my senses and quell the fevered desire she invokes in me. Using all of the strength I can master, I tear her hands from me and stammer.
"No," I try to gather my breath. "No, not like this." I repeat, "not like this!"
She let go of me, a distant look present in her eyes, and I am unable to read her thoughts. I put my coat on and attempt to dispel the awkwardness of our brief encounter.
"Are you wounded?" she asks.
"It's nothing," I reply. "It is better if I go." My reply is harsh in tone.
She responds teasingly, "is it really?"
"Madame d'Audovère,"I say, staring at her without blinking, "I am very sorry, but I'm afraid we have misunderstood one another."
My voice drops an octave to a husky timbre, inflecting it and using it as an instrument. In order, to seduce her with my words rather than with my body.
"You are right in your presumption, I do want this to happen. Like the sea, I want it to happen all in beauty and greatness, and not like this when desire can be confused with love."
Béatrice raises her eyebrow in surprise.
"Indeed, you are like no other man."
Not surprising, I think inwardly, a slight grin touches my lips. I step backwards and move towards the direction of the door, departing the company of my lovely guest whose lips I can still feel pressed against my face.
"May you have pleasant dreams, goodnight Madame," I murmur.
She quickly draws near me and grasp me by the elbow, delaying my departure.
"Redemption for what?" Beatrice asks the words appearing out of thin air.
I stagger, startled by her forward question. I gently remove her hand from my person.
"I cannot tell," I reply firmly.
"A secret for a secret." she steps back, allowing me a path to depart. I understand. Have pleasant dreams as well."
I depart her company leaving her standing in a pose I come to identify her with, her back straight and rigid, while her hands are held behind her back. She tilts her head slightly to the right. There is something in her stance that reminds me of etiquette and dignity and her persona takes on one of properness. She is suddenly aware of her surroundings and the rules of etiquette she breached.
"Why now?" I ask inwardly and an idea begins to form in my mind. Perhaps she is a familiar guest in Versailles or Fontainebleau. The Tuileries...
I nod my head to her and quickly make my exit. My head is in turmoil and spinning wildly. I stop abruptly, turn to open the door again, and gaze upon her one last time. She remains without moving and stares at me intently reading my inner thoughts
Maybe she knows the little palace of love, the Trianon, where the queen invites her lovers, male or female. So they say...
I close the door behind me, and sigh.
Mon Dieu, those lips, those eyes...
What will become of me?
Damné those lips, damné those eyes, damné those feelings that I cherish in my pounding heart.
Je suis damnée
Impossible love, impossible life.
The night will be a long one.
The next few days I did everything in my power to avoid Béatrice d'Audovère. I hunted with my comrades, Jacques, Antoine, and Dominique. We continued to bring goodwill to those less fortunate around us, those living on my lands and beyond. Dominique, who possesses some knowledge about the medicinal effects of plants, and who is fascinated by the anatomy of the human body, helped a woman in labor. The woman whose husband was killed previously in the war gave birth to a beautiful baby boy. Jacques and I solved a crime, and Antoine found a lost child.
I visited Theodore in the little chapel of the castle. He is a man shrouded in mystery, who passes his time in meditation and reading books of religious content. He traveled to the East, to the lands of the Bedouins and farther east to Kashmir. He is of Jewish origin, and not a true follower of the Jewish faith, he is more like a monk and surprisingly practical and holds little reverence to earthly belongings.
I showed him the diamond necklace. He is certain with his contacts with the Jewish diamond merchants in Anvers, he will be able to sell each diamond separately or perhaps re-cut the larger ones to smaller stones, thus adding more value to the sale.
With the money I fetch I will be able to give the proceeds to the most needy, les misérables, like the mother with no husband who must raise her child alone, leaving perhaps a portion of the money for me to safekeeping.
However, relieving the pain of others does very little to relief my own. I find I cannot keep my mind from recalling the burning desire. The knowledge that I have to let go that my dreams will be unfulfilled forever, drive me to the edge of despair, and I dread those lonely nights ahead of me filled with the void that consumes my soul.
I tremble inside when I see the escort of Madame Béatrice d'Audovère arrive in the inner court of the castle. She looks around before she takes her seat in the carriage, nodding briefly at Lady B, who bids her farewell.
I am unable to contain my anxiety and descend the stairs of the tower, rushing forward out unto the pathway. She sees me and smiles sadly, a wounded smile filled with a deep despair, a despair that speaks of lost freedom. She removes a ring from her finger and throws it to me. I catch it and watch mournfully as the carriage drives away, the escort following closely behind, returning her back to Chambord. I swallow deeply lost in the thought that our paths will not cross again.
The candlelight's glow is soft and warm filling the room, I glance at the ring, which I wear on my finger, and it contains a personal seal, the kind used on important documents. I recall her words spoken to me "A secret for a secret." And I smile warmly.
I understand what she was trying to say to me and why she chooses to keep certain things from me. I owe you one, my dear Béatrice, ma chérie. The seal in itself is significant, its design is the shape of a lily, a seal that is well known to me.
End of chapter 2