Disclaimer: see chapter one. E-mail : tocornelia@eudoramail.com

Notes: It may be a bit confusing, so I explain. In the park of the castle of Versailles there are two other palaces as well. Le Trianon and Le Petit Trianon. Le Petit Trianon is very homy and Marie-Antoinette lived there when she wanted to have some privacy and be alone with her friends. Le Trianon is a much colder environment. For the story I made it the residence of the other woman.

I took the pictures, March this year, so you can have a look at Le Palais Royal. Many famous writers and actors, among them Colette, occupied the apartments. "Les liaisons dangereuses", the book by Choderlos de Laclos, has been adapted for the screen several times. One of them is the Stephen Frears movie with Glenn Close, Uma Thurman and Michelle Pfeiffer. Perhaps you saw it. While I typed this chapter I enjoyed listening to Dusty Springfield. So I picked out two of her songs.

Many people attributed to this chapter, Nadine with her support, Martine with her Temps Très Limité, my one and only mon chou Trekbeez with her Extra Special Spare Time in between baby-sitting, la chevalière Anik with her Exquisite 18th Italian Words which are perfect to pepper up this piece of work, and finally Rose who had some In Between Beta Time, and who made me work a bit ...ahum ...more. Ah... merci, my dear! Und danke Chevalière for let me "borrow" the lady. For posting it, merci à toi Julia, je pense toujours à toi, sans faille.

 

 

Béatrice, La Reine De Mon Coeur

Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5

How can I be sure
In a world that's constantly changin'?
How can I be sure
Where I stand with you?

Whenever I
Whenever I am away from you
I wanna die
'cause you know I wanna stay with you

I love you, I love you forever
You know where I can be found

How can I be sure
In a world that's constantly changing?
How can I be sure?
I'll be sure with you.

(How can I be sure by Cavaliere,Brigati)

 

Chapter 6

Quietly, my heart pounding in my chest, I left les cabinets de la Reine feeling full of joy, loved and cherished by Béatrice. I joined Dominique in the park. While I shared these lovely moments with Béatrice, he examined the crown prince. He did so at her request. Le dauphin is a boy who is sick very often. Dominique told me that his health is precarious. He has to go to the mountains for fresh air and change his food habits.

"She is a good mother," I told Dominique, "she will send the boy to the Swiss, I am sure of that".

We went to the labyrinth again. We waited for the other woman and her lover to appear. After some time we were able to overhear a conversation. It was them. We heard nothing interesting. They gossiped about people in court and kissed at length, which I endured hoping the conversation would continue. It did not. I decided to follow the man, and on two hired horses, Dominique and I galloped very quickly to Paris.

Now we are nearing Le Palais Royal. The man we follow disappears into the crowd, and despite our efforts, we do not see him again. Le Palais Royal, nearby Les Tuileries, which is in the centre of Paris, is surrounded by a huge gate, but everybody can pass through it and enjoy the garden and the galleries.

"Who is residing in the palace?" I ask Dominique.

"I am uncertain. The family of the king," he says, "maybe Mesdames his aunts, maybe one of his brothers."

We leave our horses and take a stroll. Dominique's wig is making him sweat again and he looks tired. Not a very athletic man, preferring the comfort of my library, he had to make a considerable effort to follow me on my horse. Carriages pass by carrying people in the direction of the Opera house, or in the direction of Les Tuileries.

"Let's see if there is an entrance to the palace which is unguarded or not well protected," I tell Dominique.

We enter the palace garden, which is very lovely. Writers, artists and people of various professions inhabit the galleries. The garden atmosphere is very animated and known to be the centre of questionable practices, where women offer their bodies in return for money. When a woman winks at me and makes a sound with her tongue to attract my attention, I realise that nothing of the reputation of this place is an exaggeration. Dominique seems to be embarrassed and turns his face away.

A very beautiful woman is surrounded by a group of admirers, mostly men, who are laughing at her jokes and are trying to seduce the lady with flattery. " She is an actress," Dominique points out, "but I am unable to recall her name."

 

We pass a man with a less than trustworthy appearance; his clothes cut roughly, his features grim, and his face covered with scars. Missing an eye and several fingers, I am sure he is has to make a living by begging. But I am mistaken. He gives us a piece of paper, a pamphlet, in which sa Majesté la reine, my lovely Béatrice, is portrayed as a lustful woman, kissing the brother of the king, le Comte d' Artois. I look with disgust at the paper, reading the malicious rhyme that accompanies the ugly drawing. I realise at the same time that I have to show no discomfort with the content, so, surprising Dominique, I laugh loudly, poking my friend in the ribs. "Smile," I say under my breath. He understands and bursts out in laughter, patting me on the shoulder with enthusiasm. The man nods appreciative.

"There is our man," gestures Dominique suddenly and he runs towards the entrance of the garden with a surprising rapidity. I follow him and as we pass through the gate I see that the man crosses the square and enters a bookshop called "Delamain".

" Go in there," I tell Dominique. " Find out who he is and what he wants."

"He will recognise us," my friend objects. "So what?" I reply. " Don't you want a book yourself, perhaps...les histoires libertines du Marquis de Sade, or maybe the new book of Pierre Choderlos de Laclos.

"Les liaisons dangereuses", Dominique adds quickly. "Very well, I am sure that will make a good impression. Men like him prefer this kind of erotic reading, no doubt."

"Show him that we share his ideas, and that we are no friends of Marie-Antoinette," I suggest.

Dominique enters the shop and I wait patiently for him to return. Both writers are controversial but very popular in some circles, especially in the intellectual clubs in Paris, who are composed of members with so called 'free spirits'. Having time to let my mind wander, soon I am thinking of my last encounter with Béatrice. As I recall the softness of her skin, the full lips searching out my mouth, the sweet tenderness of her gestures, my blood starts à nouveau to rush dans mes veines. I am feeling remarkably happy, being filled with a love so exceptional, d'une femme tellement gracieuse et si sensuelle.

Si sensuelle...

Mon Dieu, there are no words to explain what I feel.

After some time, the man and Dominique are leaving the shop together. They are engaged in a very animated discussion. Then, having crossed the square, the man bids farewell. Dominique joins me and we retrieve two fresh horses. Following the banks of la Seine we trot comfortably to l'Île St Louis.

" Do you know who he is?" Dominique asks me with a twinkle in his eyes.

" I have the feeling you are going to tell me," I reply.

" Monsieur Pierre Choderlos de Laclos himself!"

" Vraiment...?"

I look at my friend with a bemused look. It seems to me I am about to discover a new side of him. Could it be that he read those frivolous manuscripts? Then we have more in common then I thought. We both have been reading erotic literature in secret.

"Really, I discover more of you every day," I tease the man.

He does not dare look at me, but instead he remains focused on his horse. Shyly, with a weak voice, he confesses, "I know his work very well."

He pauses, and adds with a wry smile around his lips, "...and you will meet him. Tonight. In the house of Madame Renée, who will show us ses filles. "

" Mon Dieu," I stammer under my breath. Now it is my turn to feel rather shy. I gasp for air, while I hold tightly the reins of my horse. Madame will show ses filles, ce n'est pas un problème, but what will I show?

" It is a safe place where we can talk privately," Dominique explains. "Because I know the contents of his book and showed my admiration, he trusted me. So he suggested meeting us dans cette maison de plaisir, as he called it."

" Very good, I will look forward to it" I speak boldly.

As we cross the bridge, I sigh. How will I get myself out of this! When Madame shows ses filles, there is no possibility to refuse without having a problème gigantesque. I cannot refuse any of her girls. No! What will I do? Somehow I will find a way.

But how? I have to find a way. But in the meantime I am so tired of this. To behave like a man while I am a woman.

*

Pierre Choderlos de Laclos sits quietly between two girls and with his index finger he points at me, while talking with Madame Renée.

" Show the poor fellow Marguarita", he orders.

Then he says, with some contempt in his voice, " in Paris, you will find the most beautiful women, whatever your taste is. There are no such women dans la province!

He laughs and anger rises in my body. I would love to challenge him for a duel and wipe that smile off his face, but I cannot do this without betraying myself. So I grin a little good-naturedly, following the example of Dominique who pats me joyfully on my back.

Madame is laughing too. She takes me by the hand.

" Jeune homme, I can see that you have not much experience when it comes to women, she says softly," caressing my cheek with the other hand.

Doesn't she see the wrinkles around my eyes? Surely, my skin fools the woman. Much softer than the skin of most men, she must be thinking that I am still very young. Most of the time, dust and mud, even scars from duels mask the softness of my skin, but it has been a while since I had to fight, and Madame Renée has the eyes of a connaisseuse.

" Viens ici, chéri," she whispers. "Marguarita will show you the way." And she winks at me. I nod understandingly, but this is one of those moments I wish I had never been born.

If my mother had lived until I reached the age when I was to be given away to a man in a marriage, then she could have prevented my father from doing so. She died, and I had to do it on my own.

I swallow away my tears. Why do I have to choose always the most difficult path? Why can't I control my temper, my feelings? Why couldn't I stay with my father at his castle? Why did my mother have to die so quickly after I was born? Is it my destiny? Is it the hand of the Creator? Or is it just me, Catherine de la Janvier, being difficult?

I did not have a choice at that time. I left the soil of my childhood. Staying with my father, being an obedient girl, it would have been a life without any freedom, with much pain and humiliation.

I had to follow this path of bloodshed and masquerade.

But on this path I may taste of love and liberty. Had I stayed...I would have never known l'amour.

I set my teeth. I must stay faithful to myself, and surely, I will find a way out of this delicate situation, without giving up my disguise.

How I would love to be back in my castle, à Milou, watching the stars, contemplating the equations of Descartes, and the words of Euripides. Dreaming of flying, maybe one day...like a bird...Oh, Leonardo da Vinci, how I would like to be in the company of your words and drawings à cet instant!

Madame Renée takes me to a room, furnished with only a large bed, the ceiling and walls covered with red and golden tapestry.

A woman, she must be in her late twenties, is draped across the bed. An almost transparent gown is covering her flesh, and she smiles at me, very seductively.

She has long curly hair, of a dark brown colour, and her eyes are like diamonds, twinkling and fixing me with a gaze I cannot avoid. Her lips are full, and there is something about her that tells me that her family is originated elsewhere. Naples perhaps, or Venice?

"Magnifico!" I exclaim, pretending to admire the features of the almost naked woman. Marguarita smiles invitingly. I give Madame Renée the money. She caresses my cheek once more, and then she leaves the room.

I approach the woman. What can I do? Tired of pretending, maybe I can try something else. I sit next to the Italian beauty and show her some coins. She looks at the money with greedy eyes, then she licks her red lips with her tongue, seductively, making her intentions very clear. She will do anything to get her hands on the money, I am sure of that. Therefore, I conclude, I can buy son silence too.

" What is your name, mon chéri?" she says with a husky voice.

"Can you keep a secret?"

"Depends on what you are offering, does it not?" she replies very dryly.

"Do you think this will do, Marguarita?" I put one coin, a Louis d'or, playfully between her breasts, and it slides underneath her gown, falling between her legs.

" It is a start," she smiles.

After that she slowly slips the gown from her shoulders, trying to please me with the view of her naked body, but I make her stop. "Not yet," I tell her gently, "first I will show you my secret."

I take off my coat. "Look at me." I unbutton my chemise and show her my binded breasts. Her eyes grow wide, but she says nothing and her reaction tells me that I guessed right. She must have seen stranger things happen inside this maison de plaisir.

"Je suis une femme," I explain. "That is my secret. I want you to keep it," I continue with my most commanding voice. "Pretend that you made love with me and this money is yours."

Marguarita nods. "Whatever you want," she says with a bit of indifference in her voice.

As I put on my clothes, she adds with a twinkle in her dark eyes, " However...I still can be of use to you...ma chérie"

"Oh, I am sure you could ," I say with a smile, enjoying myself. "It is sweet of you, but not necessary madamigella Marguarita"

Clothed again I sit down next to her, making myself comfortable by leaning against the cushions. "Tell me, cor mio, the man who is with us..."

"Monsieur Pierre..."

"What do you know about him?"

Marguarita looks a bit bored. She replies, "he is a writer. Why?"

"A writer?"

"Sì. Lo dice così, he says so. Qualche volta, he spends the night in our company, tutta la notte, ma... he does not sleep with any of us girls. Dice che... he says he enjoys listening to our stories. Sometimes he writes all night, tutta la notte, in the bedroom of Signora Renée. I have never read what he has written... Non posso... I cannot read. E qualche volta... sometimes.... He does not write, ma lui...he..."

She looks down, and her voice betrays hurt and pain.

"...he..."

She looks at me again, unable to finish the sentence.

"He says we inspire him," Marguarita says with sadness in her voice.

"Perhaps it is true," I tell the Italian beauty, my voice soft. "Next time when I read one of his books, I will think of you and the other girls. Marguarita, what else do you know?"

She takes a moment before she answers, watching me intently, as if she is measuring her chances.

"He lives in Le Palais Royal".

"I assumed as much," I reply. "Do you know what his position is?"

She smiles agreeably. "Yes, I do. And I will tell you, if you compensate me."

"C'est entendu." 

I don't give her the money right away, but I let the coin, a Louis d'or, rest in the palm of my hand.

She eyes the money with greed.

"So?"

"He writes letters for le Duc."

"Le Duc?"

"Le Duc d'Orléans, a relative of the king."

"His cousin," I recall. "So he is the secretary of the king..." Pensive, I continue, "it all makes more sense now..."

"The money?", Marguarita interrupts my thoughts.

"Of course, donna gentile" I smile, and I give her the money. "You were most helpful, and remember," I take her hand and place it on my chest, "not a word about this."

She leans forward and places a chaste kiss on my cheek. I have to divert my eyes elsewhere, the generous assets nature has bestowed her, are very close. I pat her gently on the shoulder,because I do not intent to give Marguarita the idea that I would be interested by anything other than conversation.

"This work, belleza, isn't there another way for you to make a living? Surely you must have other talents?"

She shrugs her shoulders. "I cannot read nor write, I have a pretty face and two children à la maison."

"What about their father?", I ask with curiosity.

"I don't know who they were."

"I see...and Madame...she treats you well?"

Her eyes grow dark. She does not answer my question, but her silence is more telling than any answer would be. She must have a hard time being one of les courtisanes in this brothel.

"Marguarita," I say softly, "perhaps I can help."

"At what price," she says icily, her voice so devoid of warmth, it chills me to the bone. She eyes me suspiciously.

"Pardon?"

"Everyone has his price. You want to help me, but at what price? Everyone wants something in return and I have no reason to think differently of you, even if you are a woman," she explains, her eyes dark and almost threatening. "Do you want me to be à votre service, at all times, a private girl, a courtesan for your own need, comme une esclave? A lovetoy?"

"No!"Agitated, I jump from the bed. What did all these messieurs put in the head of the poor woman! I know the game of domination and being dominated, the game when sharing the flesh is a balance of pleasure and pain. But reading about it, in the books of the Marquis du Sade, I wondered if real love needs a game like this, and most of all, if it was invented only to pleasure the lustful minds of men. Men of 'free spirits' like Choderlos de Laclos, who without no doubt, used Marguarita for their wicked games, like their love toy. I shudder. Mon Dieu, I am so angry, and my heart is bleeding. Maybe I can do something for the poor woman, maybe I can soften the experiences she has had to endure.

"You have had propositions like that, to be a courtisane?" I spit out the last word with so much contempt, Marguarita looks at me very angrily.

"Because I share my flesh for money doesn't mean I am a woman without pride, without dignity, no soul, or that I don't believe in the La Santa Madre!"

She jumps up from the large bed and in one movement she takes off the gown she is wearing. Standing before me, without shame, I become suddenly extremely aware of her body, despite my intentions. I try to focus on her face and ignore the nakedness of the dark-haired woman. She cups her breasts in her hands, shouting at me, "It is work! This is my equipment..." Then she approaches me and confronts me with her body, pulling me into her arms, so that I cannot escape.

"Do you feel me! This is what I have." Her voice rough with emotion she whispers, "...all that I have...in here...But when I pass the threshold of this brothel, you have to understand, I am not Marguarita any longer...

She holds me tight, and she begins to sob. "I am a mother for my children...all this... I can only take it ... because...because..."

I hold the woman in my arms, and try to calm her by caressing her hair.

"Je comprends," I whisper. "Non piangere idolo mio, do not cry my love," as I recall some Italian words from my voyages to Italy.

Of course I understand. She has to earn money, because she is alone with her children and she has to provide them with food and a shelter. She is pretty, perhaps there was at first a hesitation... a thin line to be crossed...Maybe later it became easier, she created a persona to continue to endure the humiliation. To give her children a safe home she was willing to sacrifice her body and by doing so, she lost a part of her soul.

And my Béatrice, ma reine, is she any different?

She too has to endure the sharing of the flesh. If not, she cannot be a queen, she cannot live, she is useless to this society of men.

And myself, the only reason I am free, is that I am disguised as a man.

Maybe I can give the poor woman a chance. Maybe I can give her the change to find her soul again. "Please Marguarita, please, let me help you," I urge, while I take her back to the bed, with one arm around her waist, my fingers lightly touching the soft skin.

"Sit down and listen to me."

I pick the gown up off the floor, and with it I cover the naked body of this desperate woman.

After that, I empty all my pockets and give Marguarita all the Louis d'or I have.

"Please take this, and let me help you, will you Marguarita?"

She nods silently, still crying, her tears gliding down her face.

"Marguarita, trust me, and let me help you, it hurts me to see you like this."

She shrugs her shoulders. "Why?"

I sit down next to the beautiful woman, and gently place my hand on her shoulder.

I recall the memories I keep buried in the darkest corners of my mind, appearing sometimes in the form of nightmares. Seeing this fragile woman, at the mercy of lustful men, it reminds me of how I was when I was an innocent and a defenceless young woman.

My voice trembles, when I speak. "I can imagine what you have to endure. Why do you think I am clothed like a man? I escaped from a brutal force by this disguise. If not, my flesh would have been wounded forever."

My eyes fill with tears. Speaking of those memories, I feel the hurt and the pain once again. I turn my face away, to recompose myself. Marguarita, hearing the emotion in my voice, lifts her head and looks at me with interest, her eyes still red with tears.

I swallow, and with a more decisive voice I assure Marguarita, "believe me, I would take you with me now, but I have some things I must take care of in Paris. I have a castle en Normandie, and I am unable to tell when I will return. When I do, will you come with me? You can be of assistance in the kitchen perhaps. I have an excellent cook, Eleonore, and I will teach you to write, so that you can be my secretary, if you want to. Or something else if you like. We will find you a task that suits you. You can bring your children with you and start a new life. Would you want that, Marguarita? "

"Is that true?", she whispers with a small voice.

"Mais oui." And I add crisply, with bitterness in my tone, "I am not like those men you serve."

Suddenly she is all over me, her breasts pushing against my chemise, and she holds me so tightly I cannot breathe properly.

"Oh merci, merci... grazie... grazie infinite. You are an angel...sei un angelo, un angelo, l'angela mia!"

"You can let go of me now," I say soothingly, "it is alright, you don't have to thank me."

She continues to hold me, not making an attempt to release me. Instead she whispers seductively in my ear, "let me thank you, there must be something you are dreaming of when you are all alone, all by yourself. When the night is long and your heart is yearning for someone."

I try to get a grip on her arms and to the push the woman away, but she is much stronger than I expected. I sense the fragrance of her flesh, and her thick dark-haired tresses are tickling my cheek.

I might have been tempted, yes, at another time, in another place. Mais maintenant, an aristocratic and dignified lady occupies my mind, and I resist the temptation without much effort.

Persistently she murmurs, "there is so much I can do to make you happy...Then, without listening to my answer, she moves her full lips behind my ear and I feel the press of her lips, very softly.

"No, Marguarita, no...," I protest.

She doesn't listen but continues to wet my skin with her tongue, and by doing so, despite myself, I shiver.

"Marguarita," I say more loudly, that is not you your real name isn't it?"

"Believe me, I will be very glad to pleasure you... in the most delicious way," Marguarita murmurs tenderly. "You cannot refuse me," and she eases me down on the bed. Lacking my usual strength because of my fatigue, she surprises me by her action. " Admit that you want me," she continues, that you are enjoying this..."

"Please no, Marguarita..."

With determination, I push the woman aside, a bit briskly perhaps, because instantly she bursts out in tears again.

"No Marguarita," I say as gently as I can, "as much as I appreciate your offer, and understand what you are trying to do, I simply cannot accept!"

Desperately she cries out, "I am not desirable to you then!"

I sigh. I am not in the mood to argue, and I am starting to lose my patience.

"Not at all," my voice a little too harsh. "What is your real name?"

"Sofia."

"Well, Sofia," I say tenderly, caressing the line of her chin, lifting her head towards me, so that I can look her in the eyes. "You are like a Venus, so very beautiful, so exquisite. But my heart is taken. I do not want to betray the one who holds my heart with... this." I make a gesture with my arm in the air, to point out what I mean. "Even if it is nothing, just a mutual attraction, a fling, work like you called it, I know what it means to love and I want to be fidèle to my beloved."

Despite my words, she throws herself back in the cushions, hiding her face, sobbing silently.

I sigh once again, feeling myself a bit torn. After a while she calms down a little. Placing a hand on her hip, I say, trying to console the woman, "but you can do me a favour. Find out everything you can about Monsieur Pierre." I give her a friendly pinch. "Will you do that?"

She rolls over on her back, and looks at me with some fascination. Silently I wipe her last tears away. She eyes me with more warmth and kindness, as if crying dissipated the last clouds of her mood.

"You look worn out," she states finally.

"I am, I am," I admit. She gives me her hand.

"Will you grant me this favour?" I ask again.

"For you, anything," she smiles. "I will make him talk. You can be certain of it. Now, ma chevalière, take off your boots and lie down with me to rest." I raise my brow, but she assures me, "I will be a good girl, promise!"

I do as told, and lie down, and close my eyes. I really need to rest and I think Sofia can be trusted, now that I made it clear that I am not interested in faire l'amour.

"It is amazing. You are such a fine person," she says sweetly, admiring my profile. "A woman, with the capacities of a man. If I had met you before, my life would have been much different." She kisses my hand. "Go to sleep. With me you are safe. Just for now."

And I drift away with a smile on my face in a deep slumber.

*



It is nothing to do with the wine
Or the music that's flooding my mind
But never before have I been so sure
You're the someone I dreamed I would find

It's the way you make me feel
The moment I am close to you
It's a feeling so unreal
Somehow I can't believe it's true
The pounding I feel in my heart
The hoping that we'll never part
I can't believe this is really happening to me

(I close my eyes and count to ten,by Clive Westlike)


In a carriage we drive slowly to the palace of Versailles, Antoine and me. I am very excited. This evening le bal masqué will take place in La Salle des Glaces. I dressed up as much as I can, with a beautiful wig made of scarlet curly hair, a colour as red as the blood in my veins. I wear a purple coat made of satin, adorned with lace and golden seaming. I will wear the ring with the seal. Antoine will give the jewel back to me, and I will wear it, as a token of love from my queen, la reine de mon coeur. I'll hope I will recognise easily my love in the crowd. But just in case, she described the four dresses she will wear during the night.

We saw each other once, very briefly, in the old palace of Les Tuileries, just before she had to go à la messe.

Jacques spoke with the king on several occasions, mostly in the forest during the hunt. Members of the royal family, a younger brother, a cousin, and Mesdames, the sisters of his father Louis the fifteenth, are envious of his position and they do not like his wife Marie-Antoinette. Louis does not see them as a threat. I am not convinced at all, as I told Béatrice. I believe le Duc d'Orléans is involved in the uproar. Béatrice didn't seem surprised. I am sure I only confirmed her suspicions, but she had no time to reveal me more about les intrigues de la cour.

I didn't tell ma reine about my rendezvous with Sofia. Partly because she was in hurry, but also my presence in a brothel would have given perhaps a wrong impression. I paid a visit to Sofia on several occasions the past week, just to get some rest in the tranquillity of her room, and to know what she found out about Choderlos de Laclos. I do not like keeping this from mon amour ma reine, but some day I will tell her, I hope when we are all together in peace at my castle en Normandie.

Dominique has become well acquainted with Pierre Choderlos de Laclos and he managed to find out that the man is one of the authors of the pamphlets ridiculing the royal family. The pamphlets have one main goal, making the queen, Marie-Antoinette out to be the cause of their misery. It was the other woman, who, acting like Marie-Antoinette, ordered the expensive necklace. Choderlos de Laclos, sa complice, set up the trap, suggesting that the queen purchased the jewel at the expense of the people. As for the necklace she gave to me, it was a necklace of her mother, Maria Theresia of Austria.

That Choderlos de Laclos is one of the authors of the pamphlets is no surprise to me. I disliked the man instantly, the first time I saw him in the labyrinth, and knowing that he is capable of writing rhymes with pornographic content about the woman so dear to my heart, only makes it worse. There will come a day he will pay for his sins. I will make him pay, and if I am not in the capacity of doing so, my prayers go to heaven that the disrespectful man will be taught a lesson by the hand of the Almighty.

Antoine, my very good-looking friend, smiles. "Do you feel like dancing tonight?" he asks, raising his voice over the drum of the horse's hooves on cobblestone. "Oh yes!" The smile on my face is broadening.

Antoine will pick up Lady B tonight and bring her back to the house on l'Île St. Louis. I have had a bad feeling about Lady B ever since I sent her away to serve the other woman in Le Trianon, the palace where she resides. Antoine had to charm the other woman, and I hope he was able to steal some secrets by doing so. Curiously, I ask, "What did you find out? Did she confess you anything that might be useful to us?"

"She is a beautiful woman," he states first, "but her heart is cold. She has many lovers, and among them are people who visited the other side of the ocean, and who are inspired by the declaration of independence of the United States of America. Their ideas, I apologize Charles, were difficult to understand, and I cannot rephrase them for you. But one thing became clear to me. They refuse the authority of a king and a queen."

I nod appreciatively. "I think these people belong to the clubs in Paris. Le Palais Royal protects them. Friends of le Duc D'Orléans, the cousin of the king, take part in those intellectual discussions. Still there is one thing that puzzles me," I continue pensive.

Antoine looks at me with interest. A wig covers his blond hair, and he plays with the masque he will wear when we arrive in Versailles. He has powdered his face, and put rouge on his cheeks, which is the custom at court. He is very handsome in his blue coat, and I can understand his charming appearance is enough to break the heart of more than one lady.

"Why does the other woman associate with people like them?," I ask Antoine. "She replaces Marie-Antoinette. It is only in her best interest to be loyal to the royal family. What does she achieve by betraying the trust of those on whom she depends?"

Antoine, animated, pats my shoulder "Clever thinking mon ami," he says. "That is something I wondered too."

"Béatrice told me that the other woman is but a country girl." I think aloud, phrasing my ideas, as they pop up into my head. "She replaces the queen, but she not the queen, and she never will be. She will stay always the country girl from the Elzas, never a member from the nobility. So...perhaps she hates everything that is representative of the higher classes."

"That must be it," exclaims Antoine. You are not only a musketeer, but a clever man as well!"

I blush, liking it when my talents are truly appreciated. "Thank you, mon cher. A little smile around my lips, moving closer to my boyish friend, I continue, "now, just between us, from man to man, tell me, did you made a lasting impression on the woman?"

He coughs shyly and looks away. "I have to make a confession."

"What is it?"

"I have lost it."

"What?"

"The ring, I have lost it."

"What? How can that be?"

I have given the ring to Antoine, to let the other woman believe that he is close to the queen, and that he could be useful to her. But the loss of the jewel, a gift of love from Béatrice, upsets me greatly. Tears of disappointment well up in my eyes.

"I am so sorry," he whispers, "I know how much this ring means to you."

Outraged I look away through the glass of the carriage.

"How can that be," I utter.

"It must have slipped off my finger. One moment it was still there, the next moment..."

I raise my voice angrily. "When was that, when she tried to get you into the bed? Couldn't you try to be more careful?"

"The ring made me an interesting object of desire," he muses, and..."

"What! Don't tell me she succeeded!," I shout. "No wonder she could easily purchase the ring! You were so distracted by her physical appearance! "

"Perhaps it is just lost," he argues.

"You don't really believe that, do you!," I say my temper growing. "Couldn't you try for one moment to control your arousal! Mon Dieu, must I do everything myself!"

"Oh, but Jean-Charles, the woman's curves are so generous," Antoine teases, "you must be aware of that too. And she has such incredible legs..."

I sigh.

"Yes, I was tempted," he says more seriously, but I did not indulge. As I said, she has a heart that is cold. Looking in her eyes, I saw a soul that is lost."

"A lost soul," I repeat, my calm returning.

I look at him, at his youthful appearance, and although he is no longer a young man, he is always very playful. It is as if he never completely left the years of his childhood. Sometimes he can be reckless because of that, and I have saved Antoine from himself on more than one occasion. Very outspoken he always says what is on his mind, and truth be told, that is why I grew very fond of him.

"I was tempted," he says once more. "She used every trick to seduce me. I had a hard time to conceal that I might be aroused, and at the same time, I had to show some interest in the woman, to keep her talking. My body, I have to admit, betrayed me once and again. I kept fighting against my physical needs, thus making me more interesting as an object of desire."

He pats my hand with gentleness. "I am sorry for the ring, Jean-Charles. Truly, I am. I am glad I don't have to confront the other woman again...But I do long for two lovely arms, some warmth, and a little bit of tenderness."

Immediately my thoughts turn to Sofia.

"I know a woman," I say, "one of the girls of Madame Renée. She has a brothel near Le Palais Royal. She is a very sweet girl, and a mother of two children. I intend to take her with me when this is over. Send her my regards, and try to be kind, Antoine."

He nods. "I will."

*

Antoine and I separated as soon as we arrived at the gate of le chateau. He goes to Le Trianon, to collect Lady B and to bring her safely home.

I don my mask, made of red silk, which covers the upper part of my face. Just for the decorum, I wear a small sword, une épée. Carriages are arriving and depose their royal and noble guests, all masked. I enter the impressive hall of mirrors, the hall built by Louis the fourteenth, le Roi Soleil, to impress royal guests from foreign countries by its grandeur. Indeed, the sight of the couples dancing in the lights of the huge quantity of candles, their multiple reflections in the mirrors, astounds me. An ensemble is playing music of Mozart, music very cheerful and despite my worries, I intend to enjoy myself tonight.

I feel very honoured to be invited to this event by ma reine. Yet, I do feel a little out of place. Je ne suis que le Comte Jean-Charles de La Janvier. I am only the Count Jean-Charles de La Janvier, who lives in his small castle in Milou. I suppose it is the grotesque display of opulence that causes my discomfort, and I doubt I will ever find comfort in an atmosphere like this. I would not have the courage to mingle in the crowd, if there was any doubt in my mind that my beloved queen possesses another kind of wealth as well. A spiritual wealth.

I think I recognise my friend Jacques. He is dancing with a lady who laughs whole heartedly, and his eyes do not leave her delicate frame. Maybe she is Madame de Lamballe. Then the king and queen must be among the dancers. Béatrice told me that she would be wearing a white dress early in the evening. A page interrupts me in my thoughts.

"Monsieur, are you in need of a refreshment?"

I nod and I accept a glass of white wine.The wine is exquisite and I sip it very slowly, feeling the liquid with my tongue. It must be a Chateau Neuf du Pape A lady dressed in a white gown is looking in my direction. Even if it is not mon amour, I love dancing, and I could use the exercise to ease my nerves. I give another page my glass and approach the woman. She towers above me, just like Béatrice, but she is not the queen. I bow and invite the woman to participate in the dance. She accepts my hand and we follow the line with the other couples. I let my eyes wander, no I can see it clearly now, her chest is not as voluptuous as the bosom of mon amour, my beloved, and her lips are not as full. I focus on the dance. The lady moves very swiftly and when the dance is terminated I thank her with a smile.

Then I hear someone whisper in my back. "Je fus à Audovère, il n'y pas si longtemps. J'y ai rencontré un homme, il était si charmant. I have been in Audovère, not a very long time ago. There I have met a charming man."

I hear laughter and I turn around to look at a woman who wears a dress in the colour of lavender. She wears a wig of auburn curls and a mask composed of feathers of a peacock completes her outfit.

I recognise her instantly. "Béatrice d'Audovère?"

I make a reverence and give the lady of my heart a hand. She takes it and I guide the beautiful woman to the other dancers. We step in the line and she turns around, taking my left hand.

"How did you recognise me?" I whisper as we perform the next steps.

"Your voice. And your stature."

"I thought..."

"Oui," she smiles. "But, I changed my mind. A prerogative of a queen."

"Ah! Alors Madame, your attire pleases me."

She passes me closely and offers me a smile. ""Madame Bertin, my dressmaker, designed new gowns, à la dernière minute for this evening. They are expensive, but I could not resist. Qui sait, when will such an occasion present itself again? Let's enjoy this night to the fullest, my Count, while we still can."

"I am, I am." I put my hand on her back to support ma reine while she moves around me.

"And I have a surprise for you," she states calmly.

"Another?" I press her closer to me, while she is looking at me through the masque with those wonderful eyes.

Her voice drops and I can hardly hear the next words. "I will have a fourth child. There is no need to be cautious."

I know what she is telling me. We can be intimate in every possible way for she is carrying the king's child. I tremble. She swirls around me while I hold her hand.

"Tonight," she whispers, "I will be waiting. Dans la chambre de Béatrice, in Béatrice's room."

It is impossible for me to refuse. So will I be forced to tell her the truth? I would have preferred to wait a little longer.

"What is it my Count?" she asks, mistaking my trepidation for lack of enthusiasm.

I lie ,"I am a little dizzy. I have neglected to eat well, I suppose."

She stops dancing right away. "Oui, and it is warm."

I catch our reflection in a large mirror. Ma reine with her auburn curls, her elegant demeanour and her stately composure, she is such a pleasure to the eye. When she moves, she displays a gracefulness, no other lady possesses. Her attitude is like that of a queen, so even masked, and hidden by a wig, she will be recognised after a short amount of time. Myself, I am looking quite debonair, with my purple coat et mon épée. I kiss her hand.

"I will change," she says. "I don't want to be recognised tonight, so that I can dance with you as much as possible. In the meantime, in my absence, I suggest you digest some of les petits fours. And...," she pauses for effect, "the oysters, they are delicious."

Struggling to compose myself, I make a reverence. "Merci, Madame."

She makes a reverence as well.

"What colour?" I ask.

She offers me a very seductive smile. "Mon cher, you know me so well by now, et si intime, that I am convinced that it is not necessary to tell you more, other then that it will suit your taste."

Her smile makes my cheeks blush, and she disappears, knowing that she left me burning with an aching fire.

*

I see her again when she returns and she is dressed in pink with a mask composed of black feathers, looking very mysterious. The mask covers not only her eyes, but also her forehead and a large part of her cheeks. The dress is made of a special fabric, brocade maybe, and it is cut in such a style, that most of the naked skin of her breasts is exposed, white like lilies. A cape, made of black satin around the shoulders, she reminds me of Helena, the most beautiful woman of the antique world. I saw once a performance of the opera Paride ed Elena by Gluck, the favorite composer of ma reine. Her appearance like a queen of the night, telle une femme fatale masquée, maybe she was inspired by the beautiful music of this opera?

I watch the crowd. The king is dancing as well. I recognise him because he is not a very graceful dancer, but he enjoys himself exceedingly. Jacques, his scar carefully hidden behind his mask, dances again with the woman all dressed in white. He must find the lady very attractive, maybe I can ask him later about it.

Nervous as I am, I wait before I dare to approach the queen of my heart. Yes, I have to tell my beloved lady the truth. If I will share my love with this beautiful woman, so strong and gentle, so gifted, then I have to tell my secret this very night. I am not a man. Will she reject me? Or will she love me even more?

A chevalier tries to approach ma reine, so I step quickly in front of him and bow. "Madame."

She takes my arm with assurance and we follow the line of the other couples. "So," I start, taking her right hand in my hand.

"So?", she asks.

I clear my throat, and say with a husky voice, " you were right, I did not need to know the colour of your dress. When you returned, I recognised you immediately," and eyeing appreciatively her corsage, I add, " the dress is so... fitting... suits my taste quite well...and a pleasure to the eye."

"I am glad." she states, a little smile around the lips.

"I have a surprise myself, but I am uncertain if you will appreciate it", I continue with the same thrill in my voice.

We separate, we bow for each other and then we close the distance between us, in unison with the other dancers.

"The evening is full of surprises", she says playfully, isn't that wonderful?"

"And this is only the beginning," I reply.

"Why wouldn't I appreciate your surprise?," she interrupts me, "should I be worried?"

She moves around me, while I guide her with my right hand.

"Perhaps."

"Intriguing."

"A mystery. Maybe it will be resolved in the room of Béatrice, cette nuit, when we are together..."

"In the room of Béatrice," she muses a bit pensive, the gaze behind the mask somewhat distracted.

"Or may be not," I tease.

"Very... intriguing."

"Can you wait that long?", I continue to tease.

"I admit," she smiles, "I don't think I can..."

Then, very quickly, she presses my elbow and while she passes me, she runs her hand along my spine, causing the fever in my body to return.

Mon Dieu, just with this one movement, she causes a sensation in my flesh, I feel I am unable to control any longer. My blood is burning, and my flesh is aching to be touched. I refuse to think about the possibility that she will refuse me. We are made for each other, I sense it in every moment we are together, every touch, every glance.

She whispers, "I will wait for you. Surprends-moi, as before...you are so good at it..." She lets go of my hand. She nods and I kiss her hand, as elegantly as possible. The dance has finished.

She moves with grace to meet the king, who is having an animate discussion with Jacques. No doubt, they enjoy talking about their common passion, the flora and fauna of the woods.

She bows and then she removes the mask of the king, Louis the sixteenth. After that, everyone present at the Salle des Miroirs, including myself and my friend Jacques, make a reverence, to honour the sovereign. He takes off the mask of Marie-Antoinette, ma reine de coeur. Together they leave the hall, while they take the time to nod and smile to everyone present, passing slowly between the noble people. I try to meet the eyes of the woman I love so dearly. Maybe she can give me a sign, just by looking at me. But instead the king is holding tightly the hand of his wife, and he gives her an endearing look now and then, a very affectionate look. The royal couple passes without noticing me, and I am a bit saddened.

However, I tell myself, it is of no importance. Béatrice has made a promise. It is childish to forget she has to perform her role as a queen when she is with the king. Even if she is amoureuse de moi.

I'll have to wait for several hours before I can join ma reine in Béatrice's room. So I decide to pass the time by dancing, in a attempt to forget my longing heart, aching to be cherished in the most tender way possible, by the woman who of all the women is the woman I adore the most.

.

*

Minuit a sonné. It is long past midnight. The air outside the palace is tantalising. I turn the key in the lock. I have a torch in my hand and I close the door quickly before anyone can see me. Holding my sword close to my body, as if I will gain some strength from it, I pass the narrow corridors quickly. Remembering them well, but very nervous, my heart stops whenever I hear a sound. Mon Dieu, I pray that the corridors are empty. I cannot explain my presence. Quelle vie!

Finally, I stand before the mirror. Shall I be able to find the right leaf of the wooden rosebud? I can hear my heart pounding in my chest with an unusual rhythm. So fast, I will surely swoon for lack of air, if I remain standing here. I swallow.

Mon Dieu, this is it.

Will I finally dévoiler myself?

Will I reveal my identity, my nature, my flesh?

Oui, je suis prête ã aimer cette femme.

Yes, I am ready to love this woman,

Je suis prête ã unir mon âme avec son âme.

I am ready to bind my soul with her soul.

Son âme qui est tellement belle.

Her soul, which is so beautiful.

I take one long final breath before I push the leaf of the rose button with my thumb. Then the mirror tumbles to the right.

There is no way I turn back now. And I will not, because I was not born a coward.

The room is dark, but with the flame of the torch, I can distinguish quite well the form of the bed. The curtains are closed. Maybe she is asleep.

I approach the bed slowly. I whisper her name. "Béatrice!"

I am trembling, but I know I must proceed. I will speak of truth and devotion.

Utter devotion for this noble woman. Perhaps by doing so, she will forgive me. Perhaps she will understand. And be able to love me as she loved me when she thought I was a man.

I stand before the bed. "Béatrice!"

I hold my breath, then I draw the curtains.

The bed is empty.

End of chapter 6

Special note.

There is a saying, history repeats itself. In my research for this story, very often I was profoundly shocked by the cruelty of that time. The death sentence, l'horreur, those scaffolds, this endless bloodshed of innocent people.

When violence is the only way to resolve the difference between you and me,

my friend,

the way we look at life,

the God we worship, the colour of our skin,

the place where we were born...

When violence is the only way to resolve our differences...

innocent lives who have nothing to do with our conflict

will perish in pain and agony.

The old man in the desert looking for his goats.

The woman who has to stay at home, she is not allowed to look her man in the eye.

The children who play between the remains of a bombarded city.

And the businessman who kissed his sweet wife goodbye at 8.00 in the morning, heading for Manhattan.

And who never returned.

I want to dedicate each word of this story to them.

Cornelia

Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5