ranking, the reverberations of which, Bernis confides to me with the hysterical tone he reserves for only the greatest of etiquette tragedies, are still being felt today.
My Louis is adamant that he will never do the same and has not acknowledged paternity of the Comte de Luc, his bastard with Pauline de Vintimille. But I doubt he loved Pauline as he loves me, so it will only be natural that he will want to claim our children. They will have the rank of princes and princesses of the blood, and will be treated with reverence, make grand marriages. And of course my darling Alexandrine will also marry well. I actually think that the perfect match would be the Comte de Luc, now five years old: my child, with Louis’ child.
On the third panel, the one that catches the light of the afternoon sun, Boucher paints a little boy with adorable chestnut curls, dressed in a red velvet suit and holding the bridle of a pony. This child, I decide, is Louis, our firstborn, and I watch in contentment as he is slowly painted into life, surrounded by his future brothers and sisters.
The day is hot and muggy. The land below Crécy is slightly swampy and the mosquitoes are out in force. I am with my landscaper, planning the back gardens from the terrace. Bernis and Elisabeth trail along after me, Elisabeth complaining about the insects and the heat, Bernis wobbling on a new pair of shoes that he is determined to break in before returning to Versailles.
“Madame, I suggest we remove that village,” says Monsieur d’Isle, my landscaper, gesturing to a cluster of houses in the distance.
“Oh, no, we cannot do that.” I am shocked at his suggestion.
“My dearest Marquise, why ever not?” says Bernis, scrambling to regain his balance after almost tripping over a cobble. “A wonderful suggestion. If the village and those unsightly—huts—I don’t know what else to call them—were moved, then we wouldhave a clear view beyond the river and could enjoy the sunset without it being marred by—what are those things? Surely not houses. Cow houses? Do cows have houses?”
I waver. “Such a displacement. The people . . .”
“Jeanne, do not think of such things. You must learn to think as one born to this place and station,” Elisabeth chimes in. “You must learn to be grand . It is beneath your dignity to think of such petty concerns. Oh, get off me, fly! What—do they travel in pairs?!”
I stare at the little houses in the distance; despite the heat of the day, a curl of smoke rises from one. But it is true—the view would be vastly improved if they were removed. And the point is perfection, is it not?
“Very well, have them moved,” I murmur to d’Isle, who bows in approval.
We continue along the terrace to inspect progress on the stone staircases that will lead down to the river. White limestone from Limousin, the riser of each step carved with curved waves and fish.
“I shall walk down, and up, twice. Observe me,” says Bernis, setting off in teetering determination. We laugh at his progress and after a wobbly descent, he gives up and takes off the offending shoes, their red heels almost two inches high.
“These mosquitoes, really!” complains Elisabeth, smacking one against her cheek, leaving a faint smear of blood that blends with her rouge. “That’s the fifth one today. Never mind that village—what can be done to get rid of these flying fiends?”
But soon those petty concerns fade before my own private sorrow: the baby is no more. A mess of blood and tears, and a retreat into my bedchamber to cry the pain in my soul away.
From Maurice de Saxe, Maréchal de Saxe
Commander of the King’s Army
Brussels, Austrian Netherlands
June 24, 1746
I thank you for your latest missive as well as for the bottle of Madeira wine—however did you discover my fondness for that particular drink?
Madame, the king continues in excellent health; you will have heard by now of our victories in Flanders and of the
Kit Tunstall, Kit Kyndall