Authors: Chelsea Quinn Yarbro
Chelsea Quinn Yarbro
Copyright © 1978 by Chelsea Quinn Yarbro
Published by E-Reads. All rights reserved.
A nous les amours et les roses
Act 4, Massenet's
Le Comte de Saint-Germain
Excerpt from a letter written by La Comtesse d'Argenlac to her niece Mlle. Madelaine de Montalia, dated September 13, 1743:
The entertainment provided that night was musical, and Madame la Duchesse had gathered a truly brilliant assembly for her salon. Even Rameau, though he is sadly aged, attended, but he did not perform. Mlle, la Trevellon sang Italian ballads, and the King's Own Musicians played several delightful airs for strings.
Saint-Germain was there—this is not Comte Louis, but another, quite mysterious gentleman who arrived in Paris only last May—and he played several pieces of his own composition on the violin and harpsichord. Rameau congratulated him on his work and commented that he had once met a musical man quite like him in appearance, but that had been long ago, in 1701 or 1702, and the man he had seen was then about fifty, whereas this man is no more than forty- five. Saint-Germain was truly graceful in his return of the compliment given him by the great musician. He said that if the man Rameau remembered had left so clear a picture in his mind, then he (Saint-Germain) could wish that it were he that Rameau recalled, for certainly no ordinary man would live so long in Rameau's memory. Rameau mentioned that the name of the man he had known was il Conte Balletti, and that, like Saint-Germain, he had been a well-traveled and most remarkable gentleman....
Although we had hoped to see Mme. Cressie there, la Duchesse told us that she had been ill, and could not attend, so we did not have the pleasure of hearing her perform on the viola d'amore. We were all saddened to hear she was unwell, and Saint-Germain was kind enough—there was such an expression in his eyes—to desire his compliments be conveyed to La Cressie and to say that he had composed three airs for her instrument and was anxious to hear them realized by her skill.
Beauvrai was also there, and noted that all the ladies are fascinated with Saint-Germain, and predicted that we would be sadly downcast when he was shown to be a charlatan. Poor Beauvrai, with his scents and jewels and bandy legs, cannot but be jealous of so elegant and delightful a man as Saint-Germain is. Beauvrai was part of Saint Sebastien's set, which is a connection no one should boast of. Only his wife's good name and bon ton give him entry to the best of circles, which infuriates Beauvrai....
Your uncle and I look forward with delight to your visit, dear niece. We are pleased that your parents are willing at last to send you to us, for where daughters are concerned, we must be realistic. A woman of your beauty and wit must not be allowed to bloom unnoticed in Provence. Assure your parents that we will take care to bring you to the attention of those hostesses who are most likely to know what is due a woman of your faultless lineage and sensibilities. I trust you will not be shocked by my plain speaking, because I believe that it is best for girls to realize early the practical demands of life.
Until I may kiss your cheeks myself, I commend myself to you and to your esteemed parents, in particular my brother, the Marquis, and beg that they will send you to me before the end of September. I have the pleasure to be
Your affectionate aunt,
Claudia de Montalia
He was known as Le Comte de Saint-Germain, although he had had other names, but few in Paris would have recognized even the most illustrious of those names, for the glamorous court of Louis XV cared little for what happened beyond French borders, or before the Sun King had reigned.
There were parts of France, also, which the glittering court did not know, such as the squalid dark street down which Saint-Germain picked his way, his intense dark eyes turned to the task of searching out the piles of filth that filled the night with a smell that was almost palpable. Slums at night, Saint-Germain reflected as his long memories stirred, were the same the world over.
The gentle chuckle of running water was in his ears, and it annoyed him. It was like the sound of an insect, constantly buzzing, reminding him that the Seine was very near.
In the shadows, the red eyes of rats glared out at him, and the gibbering his passing caused made Saint-Germain bare his teeth in what might have been a smile. He had never learned to like rats, though he had often had to live close to them.
At the next crossing he stopped, uncertain of which way to go. No sign marked the alley leading crookedly away from the river. He stared into the dark, then turned down the narrow way. Above him the old buildings almost touched, leaning together, heavy with the weight of centuries. Stepping even more warily now, he trod the rough stones that served as paving.
Up ahead he saw a lantern shine, and he stepped back into the overhang of a doorway to wait for the Watchman to pass. He pursed his lips impatiently. There were ways he could slip by the Watchman unnoticed, but such doings were often inconvenient, and occasionally led to the kind of discovery he had come to loathe. At least a dozen times before in his long career an impulsive move on his part had exposed him to the full glare of public notoriety. So he waited.
When the Watchman was gone, Saint-Germain resumed his walk. In spite of his high-heeled shoes of black brocade, he went silently, his well-knit body moving with fluid grace remarkable in a man his age.
At last he reached the sign he had been told of, the Inn of the Red Wolf. He pulled his long cloak of black velvet more tightly over his finery. He had taken the precaution of leaving his finest jewels at home, save for one flawless ruby sunk in the lace at his throat. Wrapped in the cloak, his dark hair unpowdered, he knew he could go safely among the men who waited in the darkened tavern. With one small, long-fingered hand, he threw the bolt and entered the Inn of the Red Wolf.
The nine men gathered in the squalid taproom looked up guiltily as the door opened, and some of them drew back in fear.
Closing the door behind him, Saint-Germain made a sign. "Good evening, Brothers," he said with a slight bow, his mellifluous voice pitched a little higher, his words slightly more clipped than usual.
"You are Prinz Ragoczy of Transylvania?" asked one of the bolder men after a moment.
Saint-Germain bowed again. "I have that honor." He reflected that the name was as much his as Saint-Germain was. Or Balletti had been. He had used Ragoczy for many years, in Italy, Hungary, Bohemia, Austria, and the German city of Dresden. "You are the Guild, I suppose?" he asked, somewhat disheartened. Sorcerers were always an uncertain lot, and these men were no different. A few had intelligent faces with eyes yearning for the knowledge that had become their deity. But the others. Saint-Germain sighed. The others were what he had come to expect They were the sly ones, men who operated outside the law, cynically dispensing poisons and abortions to those willing to be blackmailed and to pay: men of cunning in place of skill, of rapacity instead of passion.
"We were not sure you would come, Highness," said one of the sorcerers. "It grows late."
Saint-Germain walked farther into the room. "I am here at the time appointed. The clocks have not yet struck midnight."
From a nearby church, the six chimes of midnight rang out, solemn warning that the dread hour had come.
"I am, in fact," Saint-Germain said dryly, "early."
"Dead of night," one of the sorcerers murmured, and almost crossed himself. He turned to Saint-Germain, his crafty face twisted into a semblance of goodwill. "We were told you could help us in the matter of jewels."
Saint-Germain sighed. "You French are so obviously greedy."
Two of the men stiffened, and a few of the others smiled ingratiatingly. The one who had asked about the jewels shrugged and waited for an answer.
"Very well." Saint-Germain strode into the room and took the seat at the head of the meanly laid table. "I will give you the secret of the jewels, upon certain conditions."
"What conditions?" the sorcerer with the greatest interest in jewels asked, too quickly.
"I have certain services which must be performed for me. You will do them, and in as short a time as possible. When these tasks are completed, then I will give you the secret of the jewels. Not before."
The sorcerer scoffed. "And when this service is done, then there will be other services, and others, and eventually you will be gone and we will have nothing to show for our labor but empty pockets." He turned away.
"I have told you you are greedy," Saint-Germain reminded him.
One of the other sorcerers spoke, and this time it was one with the thirst for knowledge in his eyes. "I will accept your conditions. It is true you may betray us, but I am willing to take that chance."
Saint-Germain regarded him evenly in the ruddy light of the taproom. "What is your name?" he inquired, his finely drawn brows lifted.
"I am Beverly Sattin," he said, a trifle nervously, since sorcerers did not in general give their true names.
"English?" Saint-Germain asked in that language.
"Yes. But I have lived in France for many years. May I say that I have looked forward to this occasion for a long time. Your Highness?" He inclined his head with the remnants of the grand manner he must have had as a young man.
"Where were you educated, Sattin?"
"Magdalene College, Oxford," he said, pronouncing it "maudlin." He paused, then went on. "I was sent down in twenty-nine for irreligious practices. It was my second year.”
The other sorcerers were getting restless, and the one with the interest in jewels interrupted now. "I can't understand what you're saying," he complained, and signaled the landlord to fill their cups with more wine.
"It was rude of me to exclude you gentlemen," Saint- Germain said gravely in his slightly accented French.
Now the landlord was bustling around the table, his round face glistening with sweat and distress. He glanced furtively at Saint-Germain as he brought another cup and started to fill it.
Saint-Germain raised one small, elegant hand. "I do not drink wine," he said, and nodded a dismissal to the landlord, who bowed as profoundly as his bulk would let him and then hastened away, grateful to be free of those sinister men.
When the landlord was gone, Saint-Germain reached into one of the copious pockets of his black coat, and as the others watched, he drew out a leather pouch with embossed symbols on it. When he was sure he had their undivided attention, he said, "You want bona fides of me, and this is what I offer you." He opened the pouch and in the silence which was accented by the crackling fire, he poured onto the table a dozen large diamonds.
Not one of the sorcerers was unmoved by the sight of the superb gems. The one who had been so eager to have jewels started to reach for them, then drew back his hand, his face frightened.
"Please." Saint-Germain gestured his permission. "Pick them up. Examine them. Assure yourself that they are genuine. Then listen to me while I give you my instructions." He leaned back in the rough-hewn chair and stared vacantly toward the fire as the nine men seized on the diamonds and fell to talking among themselves in hushed voices. When the sorcerers were silent again, he spoke. "I expect that you, Le Grâce, think you have been clever with the substitution you have made," he said without looking around.