Protecting the Seed

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Paris

Mid-September, 1633

 

Sunday in the d’Aubray household presented difficulties.

Before, Sundays had been idyllic, the Lord’s Day, the Day of Rest. Marie Ollier and Antoine Dreux d’Aubray mère et père would attend either morning or evening Mass at Notre-Dame de Paris while three-year-old Marie-Madeleine and one-year-old p’tit Antoine stayed at home in the good care of their governess Madame Robert and other servants of the household.

Then came the 1911 Britannica with its pernicious article detailing the murdered future of the d’Aubrays.

Afterward, leaving Marie-Madeleine and little Ant without either parent felt dangerously naïve.

Monday to Saturday Marie could be at hand most times, with Antoine doing what he could when not in court and/or fulfilling his duties to the king.

Sundays, however . . . Sundays were difficult.

The principal difficulty was that Sunday was not simply the Lord’s Day, nor was Mass only a religious requirement.

Sunday and Sunday Mass was when the more principled or the most ambitious of the court of Louis XIII had to be seen. Had to.

Yes, withdrawal from society often happened. A death in the family, debts, loss of favor at court, a loss of face at a salon, public scorn for moral failings, accidents, disease—those were the usual suspects for a person or a family not being seen on Sundays at Notre-Dame.

The d’Aubrays for several reasons could not withdraw. Could. Not.

First, they had done nothing requiring withdrawal. No deaths, no debts, no loss of favor or face, no moral failings, no accidents, no diseases. Nothing—except be the subject of a Britannica entry.

Second, withdrawal would likely cause more trouble than not. Never mind how withdrawal would set uncouth ill-mannered tongues wagging and snapping. Were social suicide the price of long life and loving family, Antoine and Marie d’Aubray would pay it. Pay it, and laugh!

If only it were that simple.

Marie-Madeleine Marguerite d’Aubray was three years old. Decades away from being that boorish, vain, stuck-up, vapid, driveling, doltish, shallow, cheap harlot murderess La Stupide.

The d’Aubrays were not ashamed of their daughter. Appalled at what befell her in the OTL, determined history would not repeat itself, yes.

Ashamed, no. Never.

But withdraw now and even the kindest might wonder. Would wonder. Did the d’Aubrays fear their daughter? That already she was the poisonous Marquise de Brinvilliers?

Worse, would one day Marie-Madeleine think that?

To stay in society had dangers, yes.

But not as many as leaving it.

Retreat in the face of the news of Grantville could not be done. So Marie d’Aubray with her understanding of the belle monde concluded, and so had Antoine d’Aubray agreed. Unjust though it was, in the court and in the salons appearance oft counted more than ability.

Regular attendance at Mass fulfilled many social requirements of the d’Aubray parents; now, with several copies of the 1911 Britannica in Paris and with those that pernicious article, perhaps Marie-Madeleine Marguerite d’Aubray also had to attend.

Her father’s protests that too much was now expected of Marie-Madeleine met with regret from his wife. She absent-mindedly twirled a stray curl of hair as she explained, the sole outward sign of her inner anxiety.

“I agree, Antoine. It is too much! But to appear in public without her now would set all Paris alight. It is entirely too much to hope we and the Cardinal are the only ones to know of what befell her in that other world. Should she not be seen, you will be in the rather odd position of having to prosecute ourselves for her disappearance!” Her lips quirked upwards at the thought and the image.

As did her husband’s. “I could wish that were only the oddest case this year, Marie, but I would lose! Very well, but the ten o’clock Mass only, ma chère. Without her nap Marie-Madeleine grows cranky in the afternoon, I have learned.”

To her credit, Marie d’Aubray refrained from telling her lord and master she and Madame Robert had known that already, but thank you for the elucidation, Dear!

****

Marie-Madeleine’s first few appearances in public at Notre-Dame de Paris had passed without incident. Cognizant of Marie-Madeleine’s age, the d’Aubrays had not brought her to every Sunday ten o’clock mass.

Last Sunday had been one of the ones they did.

It had been a near-disaster.

Because she was only three years old when she was with them after the sermon the d’Aubrays would make their excuses and return swiftly to their hôtel.

Well, as swiftly as possible in Paris’s cramped, crowded, twisted streets. The 1911 Britannica had also a map of that up-time Paris and a tantalizing article upon a Baron Haussmann and his rebuilding of the city.

Up-time, Paris was the City of Lights. God, the King, and the Cardinal willing, Paris would again be. Until then, know the streets yourself or hire one who did!

As for last Sunday, it had gone well until the time to make their excuses and leave. That day, the d’Aubrays had fled. Turned tail and ran.

It had at first seemed a Sunday much like any other. While Marie fussed over Marie-Madeleine, Antoine went to call over their coach and coachman, Jean-Marie Seron.

Antoine hadn’t made it out of the church's front doors. He had quickly come rushing back and, whispering why to Marie, had them ushered out a side door.

Marie-Madeleine had been too pleased at the unexpected journey through a new area of the cathedral to wonder at the change. Fortunately so, as her father and her mother would have had to lie to her, which they preferred not to do. A child lied to does not necessarily become a liar, but even before learning of her fate Antoine and Marie d’Aubray did so only under exigence.

Once lunch was over, and Marie-Madeleine settled in to her nap, Antoine had explained further upon his whispered urgencies to his wife.

“Marie, it is certain Paris, our Paris at least, now knows of the marquise. When I went to call Jean-Marie I overheard a conversation amongst people in front of myself. They did not see me, thank the Lord! Once I realized that, I backed away and came back to usher ourselves away. Fortunately, the sacristan understood the necessity.”

Marie, aghast at how close they had come to ruination, held up a hand close to her mouth. “Antoine, I am appalled at my oversight! I should have anticipated this eventuality and prepared ahead! I excuse you, ma chère, as with your professional duties you have already much to concern yourself with. I do not excuse myself—I with my claims of competence in society! Today was entirely my fault,” she finished.

For answer she was hugged and held tight.

“Antoine!” she cried, trying to push her way free.

Antoine did not let her succeed. He released her only to hold her by the shoulders. He gazed into her eyes, love, care, and concern in his eyes and voice.

“Marie, my love, this humility is misplaced. You, we, have had much to concern ourselves with since learning of those other d’Aubrays. We cannot possibly hope to anticipate every event. Life does not work that way.”

Marie placed her right hand upon the one on that shoulder. “A great pity, Antoine. Life would be much easier and far better for all. Though I suppose that were that so, Monsieur Gaston would be king. All the same, it is annoying. Extremely so.” She grasped her husband’s arm and took it off her shoulder. “Well, the milk is spilled. Now, to consider what to do—“ She lifted her eyes and tilted her head to a side, thinking.

Hoping to help, Antoine offered, “I would say the first thing is to not do, Marie. Not bring Marie-Madeleine to the Cathedral in future.”

Marie considered her lord and master’s suggestion. “I agree. It is not ideal, it will cause speculation and invidious whispers, but you are right. We cannot possibly hope to prevent word of the Marquise de Brinvilliers reaching Marie-Madeleine, although perhaps we should not.”

Alarmed, Antoine cried “Marie! That—I cannot agree,” he stated.

Pretending not to hear, Marie went on. “I am debating whether it is best to present the facts to her as simply and as unadorned as possible. If we treat it as insignificant, a bagatelle, Marie-Madeleine will most likely regard it so. She did with the cardinal, did she not?”

Antoine in exasperation ran a hand through his hair and regarded his wife and love with befuddlement tinged with exasperation.

“Marie, that was the cardinal! You notice he did not say to Marie-Madeleine why he had come, he but treated her as the child she is! I promise you, that will not be the case with others! That is why we left the cathedral by a side door today, I point out!”

For reply Marie stared calmly at her husband and his dudgeon. “Antoine . . . do you know, we wives speak of our husbands to one another, quite often in fact.”

Antoine closed, opened his eyes. His nostrils flared as he took in and expelled air. “Marie, I am sure you do. What relation does that have--?”

Interrupting, Marie went on. “It is always most embarrassing to me, Antoine, when I admit to them that you are often most correct, as you are now. I plead my embarrassment at my earlier oversight for my error in judgment. We must one day explain to Marie-Madeleine the relevant facts, and treat those with the insouciance I have described, but that day is not today, my darling. Not even next week, or next year.”

Biting her lip in thought, Marie continued. “I wonder when she will be of an age to hear. Surely in the centuries between this now and that of the up-timers there have been advancements in child care. That is another thing we must check upon when we reach Grantville. Myself, I would choose—seven? Ten?”

She looked at her husband, face showing her emotions. Tense, distraught, she told him, “It is so hard to know, Antoine, and I-want-to-know!

For answer Antoine again hugged her. She did not resist.

For a time they stood still, holding each other. Marie moved first.

“Again, thank you, Antoine.” Her mouth curved upwards in a quick smile. “You are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my marriage.”

Antoine’s mouth curved upwards also in a smile at Marie’s appropriation of the words of Jesus. “Quite the responsibility, Marie!”

“Oh, pfui,” said she, hand waving in her usual airy dismissal of any concern. “One marriage is hardly a whole Church! A sacrament, perhaps.” Displaying again her propensity for sudden turns of thought, she stated “As for Marie-Madeleine, yes, of course, we cannot now take her to the cathedral. Ourselves alone, Antoine. The husbands will approach you with the concerns of their wives—do let me know which if any do not use that excuse, Antoine, those will be the honest ones—and the wives will offer either genuine assistance or false sympathy, and I will know which is which—“ Her right hand curled into a fist. “—on that have no doubts, Antoine!”

“And if they offer other, Marie? Blame, reproof, accusation?”

Her eyes flashed, as thanks to her husband her power was restored. “Why, so long as they are civil so shall I be.” She stumbled momentarily in her speech as she sought to explain to Antoine and herself her thoughts. “I am not—that is—I do recognize there are concerns, Antoine.” She frowned, slightly upset at having to recognize that others had a point, possibly even that cow Bovary. She went on.

“Were I in their place so should I be. I should and do hope that were it their daughter, I would be—" She hesitated, searching for the word. “—circumspect, but not foolishly so. As I judge we have been, in our consideration of Marie-Madeleine,” she concluded, satisfied that again her mind and her wit had brought her thoughts safely to anchor.

Antoine d’Aubray, marvelling once again at the woman chosen him for wife, ran a hand once more through his hair, now in respect, admiration, and humor.

“Consideration, Marie? I thought it was love.” He gave her his best little-boy smile.

Smiling in return, Marie d’Aubray took her lord and (sometimes) master by a hand. “Well, of course, dear! That goes without saying. Do try to keep up!” Her face and voice gravened to serious as she reminded herself and her husband of the danger facing all d’Aubrays. “Remember, Antoine. Next Sunday, ourselves alone!”

****

Next Sunday proved alone, indeed.

By then Marie had developed a slight cold, and Antoine stood against her accompanying him to church.

Her protests of “Antoine! We shall have enough explaining about Marie-Madeleine not coming, but if I do not come—Antoine, even our closest friends will wonder—Antoine, I really am not that ill—Antoine!” met impassive, immovable, impenitent. In short, the rock she had foolishly called him. Cursing herself inwardly for giving him ideas, she stood patiently as her lord and master who should be on a high horse for real went on and on.

“Marie, I do not care. You will stay at home, and you will recuperate. You have been driving yourself to arrange all for our trip to Grantville, more so this past week, and it has affected you. We may not be able to cry off tonight’s soirée at the Palais—yes, Marie, I admit we cannot, as it is for our friends—but God Himself recognizes sufficient unto the day and so shall you!”

The Biblical quote brought Marie’s puckish sense of humor out from her thoughts to the hall. “Calling our friends evil, Antoine? You have met Jacques and Suzanne, have you not?”

Antoine, ruining his wife’s earlier-in-the-week characterizations of him as a model husband, crossed his arms and stood foursquare before her, trying his best to present firm resolution and not stiff-necked obduracy.

He didn’t entirely succeed, but Marie conceded a point.

“Antoine, I dislike our arguments when they come to this, we both lose when genuine regard for the other becomes domineering and waspish. A fault in us both. Please, unbend.”

Antoine lowered his arms and softly spoke. “Thank you, Marie. I confess, I wasn’t liking it, either. That said, you still won’t attend church.”

Contrary to what her husband and most of society believed, Marie d’Aubray could hold back a quip. Resisting the urge to say What, for the rest of my life? The Pope shall hear of this! she instead replied, “All right. It is an inconvenience—but then, I suppose thinking my absence and that of Marie-Madeleine will be the center of gossip is the sin of pride. Misplaced pride. We shall esteem today as a lesson I—“ She smiled as her puckish humour returned. “—possibly deserve. There!” she said, kissing him upon the lips. “You are armored against the scold!”

Returning her kiss, Antoine gently corrected her. “Against all misfortune, Marie. Such is the strength of your kisses.”

Chuckling, Marie after a few seconds of enjoyment pushed him away. “Enough. Go now, or none of the d’Aubrays will be in church today, and that scandal we cannot afford!”

****

Antoine d’Aubray cautiously opened the door into the d’Aubray manse. Upon sighting his wife, he whispered, “Is it okay—is all well, Marie?” he corrected himself, shaking his head at himself.

Marie d’Aubray whispered back “Yes, Antoine, Little Ant and Marie-Madeleine are napping, with Madame Robert watching. And really, Antoine, you need to get over your préjugé concerning that word.”

Antoine d’Aubray shook his head in refusal. “Madame my wife, I refuse. That word grates upon the ear, a fact l’Académie agrees upon.”

“Really?” asked his wife. “And yet I heard Claude use it just the other day.” Claude was Claude de Rouvroy, Duke of Saint-Simon, one of the King’s friends and a leading light of the cardinal’s newly-founded Académie Française, in this world as in the other the arbiters of the French language.

“Yes, well,” admitted Antoine, cautiously avoiding that one area of the parquet floor that simply would not stop squeaking no matter the repairs, “that is that word’s deviltry, Marie. It presents itself as too useful to be ignored. But enough. How were the children?”

“Quite good,” admitted Marie, taking her husband’s light coat from him. “Marie-Madeleine did not fuss when I told her she would not attend church today. I perhaps again commit the sin of pride, but I do think having me almost all to herself pleased her. After I read her and little Ant Puss in Boots, she insisted on repeating it to him and Barba-doll. It boggles the mind to think she be so sweet a child today, yet another—“ She trailed off, leaving the words unspoken.

“Indeed,” agreed Antoine. “Which is why we are soon to head to Grantville. How goes it with the preparations here?” he asked.

“As with Marie-Madeleine and little Ant, quite well,” she said, walking before him towards the d’Aubray solar room. Inside, she placed the coat on a table and with a nod of her chin showed Antoine where upon a table a carafe of chilled light wine and glasses awaited them. “We truly could leave today. Our trunks await only loading, and the du Barrys are pleased to take into their service the servants we shall not be needing and to maintain the house until our return.”

She continued her discourse as she poured a glass for Antoine and then for herself. “I must say, that pernicious article has done some good. I would never have thought it possible Madame du Barry would quit her association with that cow Bovary, nor that she and I would become, if not friends, at least willing to grant the other just recognition of merit. Then there is how our fears for Marie-Madeleine have made us far more involved with her and petit Antoine. Strange, the workings of Providence.”


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