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Paris, 22 July 1633
Master Antoine Dreux d'Aubray, Prefect of Paris in The Year of our Lord 1633, stood listlessly against a door jamb, staring into the room in which his little daughter Marie Madeleine Marguerite slept. The moonlight coming in from a window illuminated her sleeping features, her blonde hair loose upon her pillow, a somewhat worn Barbie doll tucked close to her small gamine face.
There could be no cuter three-year-old in France, thought Antoine. Yes, all parents thought or should think their children were angels from God, but clearly none of those others had ever seen his Marie Madeleine as she smiled, laughed, and played.
None had ever had Marie Madeleine falling asleep in their arms, her absolute love and trust clear with every breath, her head resting upon their arms and chest.
None had ever simply stared at her, amazed that such innocence, beauty, trust, charm, intellect, and kindness could be found in one perfect little girl.
None could ever have sworn with such loving devotion as he that the cares and the cruelties of the world would be kept from her for as long as possible.
And none had ever had within their souls such despair and love as he now had.
Slowly he closed the door to his daughter's chambers, stiffening in dread that each creak might awaken his sleeping daughter. She would blink, and look around, and she would see him, and her eyes and face would brighten up, calling him "Papa!" as her arms reached out to him to be picked up and cuddled, protected from the night.
And that would let loose the tears already at his eyes, and she would look at him and ask "Papa! What's wrong? Why are you crying?"
And he would smile, and wipe his tears away, and say "Nothing for you to worry about, little one. Now hush, back to sleep."
And she would cuddle closer, safe in his arms, and slowly her breaths would deepen, her body relax into sleep, and he would return her to her bed, place her Barbie within her little hands, and leave.
And in the morning she would wonder why he had cried, and held her so close, and he would have to lie to her again.
The door closed, Master Antoine walked up the hall to his office.
There upon his desk lay the missive that had caused him to need to see his daughter sleeping, to know she was only three years old, still his little Marie Madeleine, his adored and adoring daughter.
He sat at the desk and stared at the document, his hands steepled in front of him. Then he leaned forward and studied the paper again.
Like everybody who had heard of the Ring of Fire, of Grantville in the Germanies, he had of course sought to learn what the future held, to learn if the future remembered him and how it did so. To know what to avoid and what to embrace.
Why would he not? Why would anybody not?
Well, perhaps now he knew why not. Man proposes, God disposes, and God knew he, Master Antoine Dreux d'Aubray, Prefect of Paris, Civil Lieutenant of Paris, counsellor of State and Master of Requests, a personal attendant to the king and member of the king's Conseil privé, had according to the 1911 Encyclopedia Britannica been disposed of in the most certain of manners.
The Britannica, in words he personally considered too calm and separate from emotion, stated
BRINVILLIERS, MARIE MADELEINE MARGUERITE D'AUBRAY, Marquise de (c. 1630-1676), French poisoner, daughter of Dreux d'Aubray, civil lieutenant of Paris, was born in Paris about 1630.
No. Not about 1630. The 22nd of July 1630. The Feast Day of St. Mary Magdalene the Penitent. Called so as, proud and beautiful, with seven devils within her, she had lived a life of sin. Then she met Christ. Who forgave her her sins, whose feet she humbly washed. St. Mary Magdalene, who three days after the Crucifixion became the first to know Christ had risen.
A fitting day for his daughter's birth, he had thought. Auspicious. And per the Britannica, the 22nd of July had for years augured good fortune for the penitent's namesake.
In 1651 she married the Marquis de Brinvilliers, then serving in the regiment of Normandy. Contemporary evidence describes the marquise at this time as a pretty and much-courted little woman, with a fascinating air of childlike innocence.
So. His daughter's life had been all that he or any father could want for his child. An advantageous marriage. A fascinating personality, a charmed life. An innocent life.
Then came the serpent.
In 1659 her husband introduced her to his friend Godin de Sainte-Croix, a handsome young cavalry officer of extravagant tastes and bad reputation, whose mistress she became.
The irony was almost amusing, thought Master d'Aubray. Mary Magdalene meets Christ, Marie Madeleine meets Sainte-Croix. But with such different results! The first becomes a better person, the second—not.
Their relations soon created a public scandal, and as the Marquis de Brinvilliers, who had left France to avoid his creditors, made no effort to terminate them, . . .
So much for the marquis, the cowardly cuckold. With bad taste in friends and finances as well. One could not blame his other self, reflected Antoine. How was he to know? Surely when approached for Marie Madeleine's hand in marriage he had joyously consented. His daughter, a marquise!
Well, not now. Not ever. Not unless this world's marquis proved himself more worthy than that—that disgusting worm, that—Nothing!—who had left his marital difficulties to his father-in-law to sort.
Which he, Master Antoine Dreux d'Aubray, had sought to do.
M. d'Aubray secured the arrest of Sainte-Croix on a lettre de cachet.
A lettre de cachet. An order of the King, or more probably his chief Minister, authorizing incarceration without trial.
Simplistic, this Britannica entry. Naive, even—insulting. Yes, of course he, Master Antoine Dreux d'Aubray, Prefect of Paris, Civil Lieutenant of Paris, counsellor of State, Master of Requests, an attendant of the King and member of the Conseil privé, could obtain a lettre de cachet.
But not as easily as this cursed missive implied! Lettres were serious legal documents, not play-bills and billets doux!
No. Clearly that other Antoine had tried all other means before this one. Appeals to his daughter, to his son-in-law, yes even to that Godin de Sainte-Croix.
None of which had been heard. The Marquis—well, what of him? Useless capon!
Sainte-Croix? Why would that devil listen to a father's pleas?
And Marie Madeleine, his sweet child, how infatuated with this Sainte-Croix she must have been, not to have heeded her father's words!
Dear Lord, how very infatuated she must have been!
For after a year in prison, a year in which Sainte-Croix is popularly supposed to have acquired a knowledge of poisons from his fellow-prisoner, the Italian poisoner Exili,
and a year in which a father might reasonably hope his daughter's passions would have cooled,
he plotted with his willing mistress his revenge upon her father.
Breathe, Antoine, breathe. Remember, she is only three years old!
She cheerfully undertook to experiment with the poisons which Sainte-Croix, possibly with the help of a chemist, Christopher Glaser, prepared, and found subjects ready to hand in the poor who sought her charity, and the sick whom she visited in the hospitals.
Who sought her charity . . . whom she visited . . .
In February 1666, satisfied with the efficiency of Sainte-Croix's preparations and with the ease with which they could be administered without detection, the marquise poisoned her father . . .
Thank God I made it to the window in time, reflected Master Antoine. Better I decorate the gardens with my heavings than the carpets. Dear God, there can't be anything left in my stomach, so why these pains? Why these cramps—oh God! No! Don't cry out, don't—oh Christ, stop it—oh God it hurts—why these convulsions—oh Marie Madeleine—Christ Almighty please stop it stop it stop stop . . .
Master Antoine Dreux d'Aubray, ashen-faced stomach-pained cold-sweating Prefect of Paris, cautiously lifted himself off the floor where for the most frightening hour of his life he had alternately convulsed in pain unable to breathe and lying exhausted shallowly panting.
Was that how it was for them? The poor, the sick—me? Was that how they—we—died? That pain? If so, Christ have mercy on us all.
Even Marie Madeleine?
Yes, even Marie Madeleine, you traitorous thought! Even Marie Madeleine, especially Marie Madeleine! Oh God, my sweet one, how? Why? Me, them, how? And why were we not enough? Why even not only me
but also the latter's two sons and other daughter should be poisoned, so that the Marquise de Brinvilliers might come into possession of the large family fortune.
Money, Marie Madeleine? For money? Was that all I—we—were to you? Your brothers, my sons? Your sister? Dear God, even your sister? Parricide, fratricide, sororicide, for money and—love? You and that God-damned Sainte-Croix, was it love? Was that love to you? How could you call that love? Did we—did I—not teach you love? Did we not show you love? How did we—did I—fail you, Marie Madeleine? How? Did we teach you money above all, position and privilege above all? Was that it? Did we—I—us, all, did we not—
Marie Madeleine, why?
I am lost. Worn. Weary. I am come to the end of all things. I am Antoine Dreux d'Aubray, and I am lost. All is gone, all emotion, all care, worries, joys, sorrows, all gone.
Like my sons.
In 1670, with the connivance of their valet La Chaussée, her two brothers. A post-mortem examination suggested the real cause of death, but no suspicion was directed to the murderers.
My sons, thought Master Antoine, my poor sons. They didn't even have their names mentioned. As dead to history as they were to Marie Madeleine.
Before any attempt could be made on the life of Mlle Théresè d'Aubray, Sainte-Croix suddenly died. As he left no heirs the police were called in, and discovered among his belongings documents seriously incriminating the marquise and La Chaussée.
Théresè. Her name was—is?—will be?—Théresè. My second daughter. My one surviving child.
I wonder, did she live well, after? Did Théresè marry, have children, live her full life? In that other France, when Grantville was brought back, did we have family? Did they know of their many-times great-aunt and what she did? How she died?