Midsummer Day’s sun blazed white in the center of the sky. The sky burned blue to the horizon.
The flagship of the King crossed abruptly from the limpid green of shallow water to the dark indigo of limitless depths.
The galleon’s captain shouted orders; the sailors hurried to obey. Canvas flapped, then filled; the immense square sails snapped taut in the wind. The ship creaked and groaned and leaned into its turn. The flag of Louis XIV fluttered, writing Nec Pluribus Impar, the King’s motto, across the sky. The emblem of Louis XIV, a golden sunburst, shone from the galleon’s foretopsail.
Free of the treacherous shoals, the galleon plunged ahead. Water rushed against the ship’s sides. The gilt figurehead stretched its arms into sunlight and spray. Rainbows shimmered from its claws and from the flukes of its double tail. The carven sea monster flung colored light before it, for the glory of the King.
Yves de la Croix searched the sea from the ship’s bow to the horizon, seeking his quarry along the Tropic of Cancer, directly beneath the sun. He squinted into Midsummer’s Day and clenched his hands around the topdeck’s rail. The galleon moved with the wind, leaving the air on deck still and hot. The sun soaked into Yves’ black cassock and drenched his dark hair with heat. The tropical sea sparkled and shifted, dazzling and enrapturing the young Jesuit.
“Démons!” the lookout cried.
Yves searched for what the lookout had spied, but the sun was too bright and the distance too long. The ship cut through the waves, rushing, roaring.
Dead ahead, the ocean roiled. Shapes leapt. Sleek figures cavorted like dolphins in the sea foam.
The flagship sailed toward the turbulent water. A siren song, no dolphin’s call, floated through the air. The sailors fell into terrified silence.
Yves stood motionless, curbing his excitement. He had known he would find his quarry at this spot and on this day; he had never doubted his hypothesis. He should meet his success with composure.
“The net!“ Captain Desheureux’s shout overwhelmed the song. “The net, you bastards!”
His command sent his crew scrambling. They feared him more than they feared sea monsters, more than they feared demons. The winch shrieked and groaned, wood against rope against metal. The net clattered over the side. A sailor muttered a profane prayer.
The creatures frolicked, oblivious to the approaching galleon. They breached like dolphins, splashing wildly, churning the sea. They caressed each other, twining their tails about one another, singing their animal sensuality. Their rutting whipped the ocean into froth.
Yves’ excitement surged, possessing his mind and his body, overcoming his resolution. Shocked by the intensity of his reaction, he closed his eyes and bowed his head, praying for humble tranquility.
The rattle of the net, its heavy cables knocking against the ship’s flank, brought him back to the world. Desheureux cursed. Yves ignored the words, as he had ignored casual profanity and blasphemy throughout the voyage.
Once more his own master, Yves waited, impassive. Calmly he noted the details of his prey: their size; their color; their number, much reduced from the horde reported a century before.
The galleon swept through the fornicating sea monsters. As Yves had planned, as he had hoped, as he had expected from his research, the sea monsters trapped themselves in their rapture. They never noticed the attack until the moment of onslaught.
The siren song disintegrated into animal cries and screams of pain. Hunted animals always shrieked at the shock of their capture. Yves doubted that beasts could feel fear, but he suspected they might feel pain.
The galleon crushed through them, drowning them in their own screams. The net swept through the thrashing waves.
Desheureux shouted abuse and orders. The sailors winched the net’s cables. Underwater, powerful creatures thrashed against the side of the galleon. Their voices beat the planks like a drum.
The net hauled the creatures from the sea. Sunlight gleamed from their dark, leathery flanks.
“Release the pigeons.” Yves kept his voice level.
“It’s too far,” whispered the apprentice to the royal pigeon keeper. “They’ll die.” Birds cooed and fluttered in their wicker cages.
“Release them!” If none reached France from this flight of birds, the next flight would succeed, or the one after that.
A dozen carrier pigeons lofted into the sky. Their wings beat the air. The soft sound faded to silence. Yves glanced over his shoulder. One of the pigeons wheeled, climbing higher. Its message capsule flashed silver, reflecting the sun, signaling Yves’ triumph.
The procession wound its way along the cobbled street, stretching fifty carriages long. The people of Le Havre pressed close on either side, cheering their King and his court, marvelling at the opulence of the carriages and the harnesses, admiring the flamboyant dress, the jewels and lace, the velvet and cloth-of-gold, the wide plumed hats of the young noblemen who accompanied their sovereign on horseback.
Marie-Josèphe de la Croix had dreamed of riding in such a procession, but her dreams fell short of the reality. She traveled in the carriage of the duke and duchess d’Orléans, a carriage second in magnificence only to the King’s. She sat across from the duke, the King’s brother, known always as Monsieur, and his wife Madame. Their daughter Mademoiselle sat beside her.
On her other side, Monsieur’s friend the Chevalier de Lorraine lounged lazily, handsome and languorous, bored by the long journey from Versailles to Le Havre. Lotte — Mademoiselle, I must always remember to call her, Marie-Josèphe said to herself, now that I’m at court, now that I’m her lady-in-waiting — leaned out the carriage window, nearly as excited as Marie-Josèphe.
The Chevalier stretched his long legs diagonally so they crossed in front of Marie-Josèphe’s feet.
Despite the dust, and the smells of the waterfront, and the noise of horses and riders and carriages clattering along the cobblestones, Madame insisted on opening both windows and curtains. She had a great fondness for fresh air, which Marie-Josèphe shared. Despite her age — she was over forty! — Madame always rode on the hunt with the King. She hinted that Marie-Josèphe might be invited to ride along.
Monsieur preferred to be protected from the evil humours of the outside air. He carried a silk handkerchief and a pomander. With the silk he brushed the dust from the velvet sleeves and gold lace of his coat; he held the clove-studded orange to his nose, perfuming away the odors of the street. As the coach neared the waterfront, the smell of rotting fish and drying seaweed rose, till Marie-Josèphe wished she too had brought a pomander.
The carriage shuddered and slowed. The driver shouted to the horses. Their iron shoes rang on the cobblestones. Townspeople poured into the street, thumping against the sides of the carriage, shouting, begging.
“Look, Mademoiselle de la Croix!” Lotte drew Marie-Josèphe forward so they could both see out the carriage window. Marie-Josèphe wanted to see everything; she wanted to remember forever every detail of the procession. On either side of the street, ragged people waved and cheered, cried “Long live the King!” and shouted “Give us bread!”
One rider moved undaunted through the crowd. Marie-Josèphe took him for a boy, a page on a pony, then noticed that he wore the justaucorps à brevet, the gold-embroidered blue coat reserved for the King’s most intimate associates. Realizing her mistake, she blushed with embarrassment.
The desperate townspeople clutched at the courtier, plucked at his gold lace, pulled at his horse’s saddle. Instead of whipping them away, he gave them the King’s alms. He handed coins to the nearer people, and flung coins to the people at the edges of the throng, the old women, the crippled men, the ragged children. The crowd formed a whirlpool around him, as powerful as the ocean, as filthy as the water in the harbor of le Havre.
“Who is that?” Marie-Josèphe asked.
“Lucien de Barenton,” Lotte said. “M. le comte de Chrétien. Don’t you know him?”
“I didn’t know —” She hesitated. It was not her place to comment on M. de Chrétien’s stature at court.
“He represented His Majesty in organizing my brother’s expedition, but I had no occasion to meet him.”
“He’s been away all summer,” Monsieur said. “But I see he’s kept his standing in my brother the King’s estimation.”
The carriage halted, hemmed in, jostled. Monsieur waved his handkerchief against the odors of sweating horses, sweating people, and dead fish. The guards shouted, trying to drive the people back.
“I shall have to have the carriage repainted after this,” Monsieur grumbled wearily. “And no doubt I’ll miss some of the gilt as well.”
“Louis le Grand puts himself too close to his subjects,” Lorraine said. “To comfort them with his glory.” He laughed. “Never mind, Chrétien will trample them with his war horse.”
M. de Chrétien could no more dominate a war horse than could I, Marie-Josèphe thought. Lorraine’s cheerful sarcasm amused and then embarrassed her.
She feared for the count de Chrétien, but no one else showed any worry. The other courtiers’ mounts descended from the chargers of the Crusades, but Count Lucien, as befitted him, rode a small, light dapple-grey.
“His horse is no bigger than a palfrey!” Marie-Josèphe exclaimed. “The people might pull him down!”
“Don’t worry.” Lotte patted Marie-Josèphe’s arm, leaned close, and whispered, “Wait. Watch. M. de Chrétien will never let himself be unhorsed.”
Count Lucien tipped his plumed hat to the crowd. The people returned his courtesy with cheers and bows. His horse never halted, never allowed itself to be hemmed in. It pranced, arching its neck, snorting, waving its tail like a flag, moving between the people like a fish through water. In a moment Count Lucien was free. Followed by cheers, he rode down the street after the King. A line of musketeers parted the crowd again; Monsieur’s carriage and guards followed in Count Lucien’s wake.
A bright flock of young noblemen galloped past. Outside the window, Lotte’s brother Philippe, duke de Chartres, dragged his big bay horse to a stop and spurred it to rear, showing off its gilded harness. Chartres wore plumes and velvet and carried a jeweled sword. Just returned from the summer campaigns, he affected a thin mustache like the one His Majesty had worn as a youth.
Madame smiled at her son. Lotte waved to her brother. Chartres swept off his hat and bowed to them all from horseback, laughing. A scarf fluttered at his throat, tied loosely, the end tucked in a buttonhole.
“It’s so good to have Philippe home!” Lotte said. “Home and safe.”
“Dressed like a rake.” Madame spoke bluntly, and with a German accent, despite having come to France from the Palatinate more than twenty years before. She shook her head, sighing fondly. “No doubt with manners the same. He must accommodate himself to being back at court.”
“Allow him a few moments to enjoy his triumph on the field of battle, Madame,” Monsieur said. “I doubt my brother the King will permit our son another command.”
“Then he’ll be safe,” Madame said.
“At the cost of his glory.”
“There’s not enough glory to go around, my friend.” Lorraine leaned toward Monsieur and laid his hand across the duke’s jeweled fingers. “Not enough for the King’s nephew. Not enough for the King’s brother. Only enough for the King.”
“That will be sufficient, sir!” Madame said. “You’re speaking of your sovereign!”
Lorraine leaned back. His arm, muscular beneath the sensual softness of his velvet coat, pressed against the point of Marie-Josèphe’s shoulder.
“You’ve said the same thing, Madame,” he said. “I believed it the only subject on which we concur.”
His Majesty’s natural son, the duke du Maine, glittering in rubies and gold lace, cavorted his black horse outside Monsieur’s carriage until Madame glared at him, snorted, and turned her back. The duke laughed at her and galloped toward the front of the procession.
“Waste of a good war horse,” Madame muttered, ignoring Lorraine. “What use has a mouse-dropping for a war horse?”
Monsieur and Lorraine caught each other’s gaze. Both men laughed.
Chartres’ horse leaped after Maine. The young princes were glorious. On horseback, they overcame their afflictions. Chartres’ wild eye gave him a rakish air; Maine’s lameness disappeared. Maine was so handsome that one hardly noticed his crooked spine. The King had declared him legitimate; only Madame still made note of his bastardy.
His Majesty’s legitimate grandsons raced past; the three little boys pounded their heels against the sides of their spotted ponies and tried to keep up with their illegitimate half-uncle Maine and their legitimate cousin Chartres.
“Stay in the shade, daughter,” Monsieur said to Lotte. “The sun will spoil your complexion.”
“But, sir —”
“And your expensive new dress,” Madame said.
“Yes, Monsieur. Yes, Madame.”
Marie-Josèphe, too, drew back from the sunlight. It would be a shame to ruin her new gown, the finest, by far, that she had ever worn. What did it matter if it was a cast-off of Lotte’s? She smoothed the yellow silk and arranged it to show more of the silver petticoat.
“And you, Mlle de la Croix,” Monsieur said. “You are nearly as dark as the Hurons. People will start calling you the little Indian girl, and Madame de Maintenon will demand the return of her nickname.”
Lorraine chuckled. Madame frowned.
“The old hag never would claim it,” Madame said. “She wants everyone to think she was born at Maintenon and has some right to the title of marquise!”
“Madame —” Marie-Josèphe thought to defend Mme de Maintenon. When Marie-Josèphe first came to France, straight from the convent school on Martinique, the marquise had been kind to her. Though Marie-Josèphe was too old, at twenty, to be a student at Mme de Maintenon’s school at Saint-Cyr, the marquise had given her a place teaching arithmetic to the younger girls. Like Marie-Josèphe, Mme de Maintenon had come to France from Martinique with nothing.
Mme de Maintenon often spoke of Martinique to the students, her protégées. She recounted the hardships she had endured in the New World. She reassured the impoverished high-born girls that if they were devout, and obedient, as she was, His Majesty would provide their dowries and they too could escape their circumstances.
Monsieur interrupted Marie-Josèphe. “Do you use the skin cream I gave you?” He peered at her over his pomander. His complexion was very fair. He whitened it further with powder, and accentuated his fairness with black beauty patches at his cheekbone and beside his mouth. “It’s the finest in the world — but it won’t work if you insist on staying out in the sun!”
“Papa, don’t be mean,” Lotte said. “Marie-Josèphe’s complexion is ever so much paler than when she arrived.”
“Thanks to my skin cream,” Monsieur said.
“Let her be,” Madame said. “There’s no shame in being a little leaf-rustler, as I was. As His Majesty says, no one at court enjoys the gardens anymore. Except me, and now Mlle de la Croix. What were you saying a moment ago?”
“It was nothing, Madame,” Marie-Josèphe said, grateful that Monsieur had interrupted her before she expressed her opinion of Mme de Maintenon. Expressing one’s opinion at court was a gamble, and speaking kindly of Mme de Maintenon in Madame’s presence was foolhardy.
“Whoa!” the coachman cried. The coach lurched to a halt. Marie-Josèphe slid forward, nearly falling from the seat. Her ankles touched the elegant long legs of the chevalier de Lorraine. Lorraine took her arm, most chivalrously, and continued to hold her when the coach steadied. His leg brushed against hers. He smiled down at her. Marie-Josèphe smiled back, then lowered her gaze, embarrassed by her thoughts. The chevalier was devastatingly handsome, despite being an old man. He was fifty-five, the same age as the King. He wore a long black wig, just like His Majesty’s. His eyes were blazing blue. Marie-Josèphe drew back to give him more room. He shifted, seeking a comfortable position. His legs pressed her feet, trapping them against the base of the carriage seat.
“Sit up straight, sir!” Madame said. “No one gave you leave to lie supine in my presence.”
Monsieur patted the chevalier de Lorraine’s knee.
“I give Lorraine leave to stretch, my dear,” he said. “My friend is too tall for my coach.”
“And I’m too fat for it,” Madame said. “But I don’t demand the entire seat.”
Lorraine drew himself up. The top of his wig brushed the roof.
“I do beg Madame’s pardon.” He picked up his plumed hat and opened the door. As he stepped to the street, he drew the egret feathers across Marie-Josèphe’s wrist.
Monsieur hurried after him.
Marie-Josèphe regained her breath and returned her attention to Madame and Lotte, where it belonged. “I’ll ride back to Versailles with Yves,” she said quickly. “Everyone will have more room on the way home.”
“Dear child,” Madame said, “that had nothing to do with the size of the coach.” She rose and climbed out. Monsieur handed her down, and Lorraine assisted Lotte. Marie-Josèphe followed quickly, anxious to see her brother again. Lorraine waited for her, treating her as if she were nearly on a level with the family of the brother of the King. He gave her his hand. His attentions both thrilled and embarrassed her. He left her off-balance. Nothing in Martinique had ever embarrassed her, when she had lived a quiet life keeping her brother’s house and helping in his experiments and reading books on all manner of subjects.
She stepped into the street beside Madame, who was far too stately to acknowledge the dirt and the smells. The King wished to meet his expedition at the waterfront, and Madame was a part of his court, so Madame accompanied him and did not complain.
Marie-Josèphe smiled to herself. Madame did not complain in public. In private the Princess Palatine used plain speech and seldom held back her opinions about anything.
Monsieur touched Lorraine’s elbow. Lorraine bowed over Marie-Josèphe’s hand. He joined Monsieur, but Madame had claimed her place at her husband’s side. Chartres leaped from his horse, threw the reins to a footman, and offered his arm to his sister.
Marie-Josèphe curtsied and stepped back. She must find her proper place at the end of the line of precedence.
“Come with us, Mlle de la Croix,” Madame said. “The chevalier will escort you.”
“But, Madame — !”
“I know what it is, to miss your family. I haven’t visited mine since I came to France twenty years ago. Come with us, and you won’t miss your brother a moment longer than necessary.”
With gratitude and wonder, Marie-Josèphe stooped and kissed the hem of Madame’s gown. Next to her, Lorraine bowed to Madame and Monsieur. Marie-Josèphe rose. To her surprise, the chevalier kissed Monsieur’s hand, not Madame’s. The chevalier de Lorraine offered Marie-Josèphe his arm, smiling his charming, enigmatic smile.
Entranced, Marie-Josèphe found herself near the front of the extravagant procession, where she had no right to be, in the company of one of the most handsome men at court.
The King’s carriage stood at the head of a line of fifty coaches. The gold sunburst gleamed from its door. Eight horses stamped and snorted and jingled their harness. They were white, with coin-sized black spots. The Emperor of China had sent the spotted stallions to his brother monarch for his coach, and spotted ponies for his grandsons.
“Be careful, Mlle de la Croix,” Lorraine said softly as they passed the magnificent team. The pungent smell of horse sweat mixed with the odor of fish and seaweed. “Those creatures are part leopard, and eat meat.”
“That’s absurd, sir,” Marie-Josèphe said. “No horse can breed with a leopard.”
“Don’t you believe in gryphons —”
“The world holds unknown creatures, but they’re natural beings —”
“— or chimeras —”
“— not mixtures of eagles and lions —”
“— or sea monsters?”
“— or demons and human beings!”
“I forget, you study alchemy, as your brother does.”
“Not alchemy, sir! He studies natural philosophy.”
“And leaves the alchemy to you — the alchemy of beauty.”
“Truly, sir, neither of us studies alchemy. He studies natural philosophy. I study a little mathematics.”
Lorraine smiled again. “I see no difference.” She would have explained that unlike an alchemist, a natural philosopher cared nothing about immortality, or the transmutation of base metals to gold, but Lorraine dismissed the question with a shrug. “The fault of my small understanding. Mathematics — do you mean arithmetic? How dangerous. If I studied arithmetic, I should have to add up all my debts.” He shuddered, leaned over, and whispered, “You are so beautiful, I forget you engage in… unusual… activities.”
Marie-Josèphe blushed. “I’ve had no occasion to assist my brother since he left Martinique.” Nor to study mathematics, she thought with regret.
Young noblemen leaped from their horses; their fathers and mothers and sisters stepped down from their carriages. The dukes and peers and the duchesses of France, the foreign princes, the courtiers of Versailles in their finery, arranged themselves in order of precedence to salute their King.
Beside the King’s carriage, the count de Chrétien slid down from his grey Arabian. The other men of Count Lucien’s rank all carried swords; a short dirk hung from his belt. He stood below the height of fashion in other ways. Despite his gold-embroidered blue coat, the sign of a favored courtier, he wore neither lace nor ribbons at his throat. Instead, he wore an informal steinkirk scarf, its end tucked into a buttonhole. His small mustache resembled that of an army officer. Chartres still gloried in his success on the summer’s campaign, but all the other courtiers stayed clean-shaven like the King. Count Lucien’s perruke was auburn, knotted at the back of his neck in the military style. It should be black like the King’s; it should fall in great curls over his shoulders. Marie-Josèphe supposed that someone who enjoyed the King’s favor could dispense with fashion, but she thought it foolish, even ridiculous, for the Count de Chrétien to dress and groom himself like a captain of the army.
Leaning on his ebony walking stick, Count Lucien gestured to six footmen. They unrolled a gold and scarlet silk rug along the wharf, so His Majesty would be in no danger of coming in contact with slime or fish guts.
The courtiers formed a double line, flanking the Persian carpet, smiling and hiding their envy of Count Lucien, whom the King favored, who served His Majesty so closely.
Marie-Josèphe found herself near the King’s carriage, separated from it only by a few members of His Majesty’s immediate family. The legitimate offspring of His Majesty stood nearest to the King, of course. Madame marched past Maine and his wife and his brother, insisting on her family’s precedence before the children His Majesty had declared legitimate.
Count Lucien called for the sedan chairs. Four carriers in the King’s livery brought his chair, and four more brought Mme de Maintenon’s.
Count Lucien opened the door of His Majesty’s carriage.
Marie-Josèphe’s heart beat fast. She stood almost close enough to touch the King, except that the carriage door was in the way. Its golden sunburst gazed at her impassively. She caught a glimpse of the sleeve of the King’s dark brown coat, of the white plumes on his hat, of the red high heels of his polished shoes. His Majesty acknowledged the cheering crowd.
One ragged fellow pushed forward. “Give us bread!” he shouted. “Your taxes starve our families!”
The musketeers spurred their horses toward him. His compatriots pulled him back into the crowd. He disappeared. His desperate shouts ended in a muffled curse. The King paid him no attention. Following His Majesty’s example, everyone pretended the incident had never occurred.
His Majesty entered the sedan chair without stepping on the ground or on the Persian rug.
Mme de Maintenon, drab in her black gown and simply-dressed hair, entered the second sedan chair. Everyone said she had been a great beauty and a great wit, when the King married her in secret — or, as some claimed (and Madame believed), made her his mistress. Marie-Josèphe wondered if they complimented her in hopes of gaining her favor. As far as Marie-Josèphe could tell, Mme de Maintenon cared for the favor of no one except the King, and God, which amounted to the same thing; she favored no courtier but the Duke du Maine, whom she treated as a son.
Count Lucien led the sedan chairs down the ramp to the wharf, limping a little. His cane struck a muffled tempo on the Persian carpet.
Mme de Maintenon’s carriers took her sedan chair aside, waiting to enter the procession in her proper place. In public, the King’s wife ranked only as a marquise.
The double line of courtiers turned itself inside out to follow the King: the widowed Grand Dauphin, Monseigneur, His Majesty’s only immediate legitimate offspring, proceeded first. Monseigneur’s little sons the dukes of Bourgogne, Anjou, and Berri, marched just behind him.
Monsieur and Madame, Chartres and Mademoiselle d’Orléans, and Lorraine and Marie-Josèphe entered the procession. The courtiers accompanied their King in strict order of rank. Only Marie-Josèphe was out of place. She felt both grateful to Madame and uneasy about the breach of etiquette, especially when she passed the Duchess du Maine, who favored her with a poisonous glare.
The King’s galleon rocked at the far end of the wharf, its sails furled, its heavy lines groaning around the stanchions. Apollo’s dawn horses, gleaming gold, leaped from the stern, the motion of the ship giving them the illusion of life.
A breath of breeze crept in from the harbor, pungent with the smell of salt and seaweed. The King’s sigil fluttered, then fell again, limp in the heat. Sailors unloaded Yves’ belongings to the dock: crates of equipment, baggage, a bundle like a body in a shroud.
Yves swept down the gangplank. Marie-Josèphe recognized him instantly, though he had been a youth in homespun the last time she saw him. Now he was a grown man, handsome, elegant and severe in his long black robe. She wanted to run the length of the wharf to greet him. Saint-Cyr and Versailles had taught her to behave more sedately.
A half-dozen sailors trudged down the gangplank, bowed under the weight of shoulder-poles. A net hung between the poles, cradling a gilded basin. At the end of the narrow ramp, Yves placed his hand on the rim of the basin, steadying its sway. The captain of the galleon joined him, and together they strode up the dock. Yves kept his hand on the basin, protecting and possessing it.
A haunting air, sung in exquisite voice, flowed over the procession. The unexpected beauty of the melody so surprised Marie-Josèphe that she nearly stumbled. No one in the King’s entourage would sing here, or now, without his order. Someone from the galleon must be singing, someone familiar with the music of foreign lands.
Yves approached. He reached into the gilded basin. The song exploded with a snort, a growl.
His Majesty’s court gathered, flanking His Majesty’s sedan chair. Marie-Josèphe found herself next to Madame, who squeezed her hand.
“Your brother’s safe, he’s well,” Madame whispered. “That is what’s important.”
“He’s safe, and well, Madame, and he was right,” Marie-Josèphe said, only loud enough for Madame to hear. “That is what’s important to my brother.”
Yves’ small group met the King at the border of the Persian rug. The sailors did not step on the rug; the sedan chair carriers did not leave it.
“Father de la Croix,” Count Lucien said.
“M. de Chrétien,” Yves replied.
They bowed. Yves’ pride and triumph shone behind his modest expression. His gaze passed across Louis’ court. Every courtier stood on this filthy dock, as if it were the Marble Courtyard, because of him. Marie-Josèphe smiled, taking pleasure in his position as the King’s natural philosopher and explorer. She expected him to smile back, to acknowledge, perhaps with surprise, her success in her brief time at Versailles.
But Yves scanned the court, and he did not even pause when he looked at her. Madame pressed forward, drawing Marie-Josèphe with her, trying to get a clear view inside the basin.
The song rose again, a whisper surging into a cry, into a shriek of anger and despair. Marie-Josèphe shivered.
The shape in the basin shuddered violently. Water splashed Yves and the sailors. The sailors flinched. The creature fought the canvas that swaddled it.
Count Lucien opened the sedan chair. His Majesty leaned out. His court saluted him with bow or curtsy. The men removed their hats. Marie-Josèphe curtsied. Her silken skirts rustled. Even the sailors tried to bow, laden as they were, and ignorant of etiquette. The creature shrieked again, and strands of its black-green hair whipped over the edge as the basin rocked and tilted.
“It lives,” Louis said.
“Yes, Your Majesty,” Yves said.
Yves pulled aside a flap of dripping canvas. The creature thrashed, splashing Louis’ silk coat. Louis drew away, raising a pomander to his face. Yves covered the creature again.
His Majesty turned to the captain. “I am pleased.”
The King withdrew into the sedan chair. Count Lucien closed the door, and the carriers quickstepped away. Marie-Josèphe curtsied again. Louis’ court stood aside, bowing to their King as his palanquin passed.
Count Lucien handed a small, heavy leather sack to the galleon’s captain. The count nodded to Yves, then followed the King’s conveyance.
The captain opened the King’s purse, poured gold pieces into his hand, and laughed with delight and satisfaction. Count Lucien had presented him with a double handful of louis d’or, the gold coins commemorating the King. For a man of the captain’s station, it was a fortune.
“Thank you, Your Majesty!” the captain called after Louis’ sedan chair. “Thank you, royal jester!”
Members of the court gasped. The chevalier de Lorraine chuckled and bent to whisper to Monsieur. Monsieur hid behind his pomander and his lace to conceal his amusement.
Count Lucien made no response, though he must have heard the captain. His walking stick thudded solidly on the carpet as he climbed to the quay.
Yves grabbed the captain’s arm to silence him. “His excellency Lucien de Barenton, Count de Chrétien!”
“No!” The captain laughed and shook his head. “Now you’re playing the jester, Father de la Croix.” He bowed. “A profitable voyage, sir. I’m at your service at any time — even when you hunt sea monsters.”
He strolled off toward the galleon.
Madame nudged Marie-Josèphe. “Greet your brother.”
Marie-Josèphe curtsied gratefully, lifted her silk skirts above the shiny stinking fish scales, and ran toward Yves. Still he did not acknowledge her.
Marie-Josèphe’s stride faltered. Is he angry at me? she wondered. How could he be? I’m not angry with him, and I have some right to anger.
Yves glanced at her. He raised his dark arched eyebrows. “Marie-Josèphe!”
His expression changed. One moment he was the serious, ascetic, grown-up Jesuit, the next her delighted older brother. He took three long strides toward her, he embraced her, he swung her around like a child. She hugged him and pressed her cheek against the black wool of his cassock.
“I hardly recognize you — I didn’t recognize you! You’re a grown woman!”
She had so many things to tell him that she said nothing, for fear her words would spill out all at once in a tangle. He set her down and looked at her. She smiled up at him. Sun-lines creased his face when he smiled. His skin had darkened to an even deeper tan, while her complexion was fading to a fashionable paleness. His black hair lay in disarrayed curls — unlike most of the men at court, he wore no perruke — while pins and the hot iron had crafted Marie-Josèphe’s red-gold mane into ringlets beneath the lace-covered wire and the ruffles of her headdress, a fashionable fontanges.
His eyes were the same, a beautiful, intense dark blue.
“Dear brother, you look so well — the voyage must have agreed with you.”
“It was dreadful,” Yves said. “But I was too busy to be troubled.”
He put his arm around her and returned to the gold basin. The creature thrashed and cried.
“To the quay,” Yves said. The sailors hurried up the dock. Their bare tattooed arms strained at the weight of basin and water and Yves’ living prey. Marie-Josèphe tried to see inside the basin, but wet canvas covered everything. She leaned against Yves, her arm tight around his waist. She would have plenty of time to look at his creature.
They walked between the lines of courtiers. Everyone, even Madame and Monsieur and the princes and princesses of the Blood Royal, strained to see the monster Yves had captured for the King.
And then, as Yves passed, they saluted him.
Startled for a moment, Yves hesitated. Marie-Josèphe was about to dig her fingers into his ribs — Yves had always been ticklish — to give him a lively hint about his behavior. As a boy he had always paid more attention to his bird collection than to his manners.
To Marie-Josèphe’s surprise, and delight, Yves bowed to Monsieur, to Madame, with perfect courtliness and the restraint proper to his station.
Marie-Josèphe curtsied to Monsieur. She raised Madame’s hem to her lips and kissed it. The portly duchess smiled fondly at her, and nodded her approval.
Yves bowed to the members of the royal family. He passed between the double line of courtiers. Graciously, he nodded to their acclaim.
Halfway up the dock, between the dukes and duchesses, and the counts and countesses, Marie-Josèphe and Yves passed the second sedan chair. Its windows were closed tight, and the curtains drawn behind the glass. Poor Mme de Maintenon, whose only task was to follow the King from Versailles to Le Havre and back, showed no interest in the creature and its triumphant captor.
“I wish I’d been with you,” Marie-Josèphe said. “I wish I’d seen the wild sea monsters!”
“We were cold and wet and miserable, and hurricanes nearly sank us. You’d have been blamed — on a warship, a woman is as welcome as a sea monster.”
“What foolish superstition.” Marie-Josèphe’s voyage from Martinique had been uncomfortable, yet exhilarating.
“You were much better off at the convent.”
Marie-Josèphe caught her breath. He knew nothing of the convent. How could he? If he had known, he would never have left her there in boredom and silence and lonely misery.
“I’ve missed you so,” she said. “I worried!”
“Whenever I thought of you, I heard your little tunes. In my mind. Do you still write them?”
“Versailles hardly has room for amateur musicians,” she said. “But you shall hear something of mine, soon.”
“I thought of you often, Marie-Josèphe… though not in such a dress.”
“Do you like it?”
“It’s quite proper,” she said, leaving out her own first reaction to the tight waist and low neckline. She had known nothing of court then.
“It’s unsuited to your station. And to mine.”
“It’s unsuited for a colonial girl. But you’re now the King’s natural philosopher, and I’m Mademoiselle’s lady-in-waiting. I must wear grand habit.”
“And here I thought,” Yves said, “that you’d be safely teaching arithmetic.”
They climbed up the wharf to the quay.
“I couldn’t remain at Saint-Cyr,” Marie-Josèphe said. “All the instructresses must take the veil.”
Yves glanced at her, puzzled. “That would suit you.”
The King’s departure saved her from making a sharp retort; she, and Yves, and all the courtiers bowed as their sovereign climbed into his carriage. It drove away, surrounded by musketeers. The ragged townspeople streamed after the King, cheering, shouting, pleading.
Marie-Josèphe looked around hopefully for the chevalier de Lorraine, but he climbed into Monsieur’s carriage. The other courtiers hurried to their coaches and horses and clattered after the King.
Only Count Lucien, several musketeers, the pigeon-keeper, the baggage wagons, and a plain coach remained on the quiet quay.
The pigeon-keeper hurried to meet his apprentice, who toiled up the dock with the baggage-carriers. The apprentice balanced an awkward load of wicker cages, most of them empty. His master took the cages that still sheltered pigeons.
“Put the basin there,” Yves said to the sailors. He gestured to the first wagon. “Be gentle —”
“I want to see —” Marie-Josèphe said.
The last carriages rattled across the cobblestones.
Frightened by the clatter and the shouts and the snap of whips, the creature screamed and struggled. Its horrible singing cry cut off Marie-Josèphe’s words and spooked the draft horses so they nearly bolted.
“Be gentle!” Yves said again.
Marie-Josèphe leaned toward the basin, trying to see inside. “Now, behave!” she said. The creature shrieked.
The sailors dropped the basin. The carrying poles and the net fell across it. Water splashed the cobblestones. The sea monster groaned. The sailors ran toward the galleon, nearly knocking down the pigeon-keepers. The apprentice dropped the empty cages. The master, who held live birds in his huge tender hands and let the pigeons perch on his shoulders and head, slipped his pets beneath his shirt for safety.
“Come back —” Yves called to the sailors. They ignored him. Their compatriots, carrying Yves’ other baggage, abandoned the crates and the luggage and the shrouded figure and fled to their ship.
Marie-Josèphe did her best not to laugh at Yves’ discomfiture. The wagon drivers had their hands full reining in the horses: they could not help. The musketeers would not, for fetching and carrying was far below their station. And of course Count Lucien could not be expected to help with the baggage.
Angry and stubborn, Yves tried to lift the basin. He barely raised its corner. Some ragged boys, stragglers from the crowd, rode the quay’s stone wall and jeered.
Count Lucien’s command stopped their laughter. They jumped to their feet, about to run, but he spoke to them in a friendly tone and threw each a coin.
“Here’s a sou. Come earn another. Help Father de la Croix load his wagons.”
The boys jumped from the wall and ran to Yves, ready to do his bidding. They were dirty and ragged and barefoot, fearless in the face of the creature’s moans. The boys might have worked for a bread crust. They lifted the creature into the first wagon, the baggage into the second, and loaded the shrouded figure into the wagon full of ice.
A specimen for dissection, Marie-Josèphe thought. My clever brother caught one sea monster for the King, and took another for himself.
“Yves, come ride with me,” Marie-Josèphe said.
“It’s impossible.” He climbed into the first wagon. “I can’t leave the creature.”
Disappointed, Marie-Josèphe crossed the quay to the plain coach. The footman opened the door. Count Lucien courteously reached up to her, to help her in. The strength of his hand surprised her. Instead of being short, as she had expected, his fingers were disproportionately long. He wore soft deerskin gloves. She wondered if he would permit her to draw his hands.
She wondered why he had stayed behind. She felt nervous about talking to him, for he was important and she was not. And, truth to tell, she wondered whether to stoop to his height or stand straight and look down at him. She resolved the question by climbing into the coach.
“Thank you, M. de Chrétien,” she said.
“You’re welcome, Mlle de la Croix.”
“Did you see the sea monster?”
“I am not much interested in grotesques, Mlle de la Croix. Pardon me, I cannot linger.”
The heat of embarrassment crept up Marie-Josèphe’s face. She had insulted Count Lucien without meaning to, and she suspected he had insulted her in return.
The count spoke a word to his grey Arabian. The horse bowed on one knee. Count Lucien clambered into the saddle. The horse lurched to its feet, clumsy for an instant. Carrying its tail like a banner, the Arabian sprang into a gallop to take Count Lucien after his sovereign.