children, comes out with the infant in her arms and a grimace on her face. Excitement evaporates like dew on a hot morning and the palace quickly drains of courtiers. The bells ring for only a few minutes, and all fireworks are canceled. There is of course much mumbling that the curse of daughters, famously begun by Queen Marie—six daughters and only one son who survived childhood—is to be revisited on this generation.
Louis comes briefly, kisses me, and leaves; despite it being agirl, there is still protocol and order to attend to. But all ceremony around the unwanted baby grinds to a halt when the dauphine, just turned twenty and in seemingly excellent health, dies three days after the birth.
In the wake of a royal death, etiquette dictates that the king and his household must leave Versailles. At Choisy, Louis finds solace in my arms and barely leaves my side for two days and nights. Despite his strained relationship with his son—the dauphin is a perfect prig who overtly disapproves of his father’s lifestyle—I know Louis cares deeply for all his children. He grieves for his son, who is inconsolable, and for the fate of the Spanish alliance this marriage was supposed to ensure.
“Death—death,” he says to me, lying in my arms. “All around us, springing at us from the dark corners of every room. That poor, poor girl.”
“You are so kind,” I say gently, and it is true—hardly anyone spares a thought for the Spanish princess, dead in a foreign land, so young and so alone. If she had produced a son it might have been different, but as it is she will quickly be forgotten, just a cipher for the history books.
“Only you, Pomponne,” he murmurs to me. “Only you understand me. I feel so close to you—we are one soul in two bodies.”
“One soul in two bodies,” I repeat as I cuddle him to sleep. I kiss his tearstained face and stroke his brow. I am beginning to understand that despite being surrounded by people, Louis is an intensely lonely man. His need for me and his dependence are touching, I think, gently licking away the salt tears that stain his cheeks.
The next day Louis invites me to sit beside him at an impromptu council, called for this national emergency. With the dauphine’s body not even opened or buried, quick decisions must be made.
“Shall we wait for Monsieur le Dauphin?” inquiries Maurepas, the naval minister.
Louis shakes his head. “He is overcome. We shall leave him to his grief.”
Though disapproval hangs as heavy as the black velvet cloths that are everywhere since mourning began, no one dares say anything about my presence. And this room is filled with an absolute cabal of my enemies: both Maurepas and Argenson are present, amongst others of lesser importance but equaled hate.
Argenson, the minister of war, clears his throat and starts on the list: “The daughters of the King of Sardinia must be considered.” The man has darting goggle eyes and appears unable to keep them off my bodice. I surreptitiously check I do not have a stain there—the noodles at noon were rather messy.
“A request will be prepared,” says Puysieux smoothly. The Marquis de Puysieux, with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, has declared himself a friend; curiously, he is also rumored to have been the first lover of Louise, the Comtesse de Mailly. A good-looking man, I often find myself thinking.
“Sire, what about her sister?” suggests Maurepas, in his high-pitched, whining voice.
“Whose sister?” says Louis, looking longingly out the window, and I know he wishes he could be out hunting.
“The late Madame la Dauphine, she has a younger sister.”
“An ugly dwarf, with dark skin and a hump, here,” interjects Orry, the finance minister, patting his left shoulder.
“Well, the looks are not important—we saw that with poor Thérèse—but sisters—no. We French are not fond of incest,” declares Louis, picking at a bit of skin hanging off his thumb, ignoring his own