Authors: Helen A Rosburg
|By Honor Bound|
|Helen A Rosburg|
Honneure Mansart, orphaned child of a lowly servant, never dreamed that she would one day find herself at the glittering palace of Versailles as a servant to the young and lovely Marie Antoinette, future Queen of France. Nor could she have imagined the love of her life would turn out to be her beloved foster brother Phillipe, who also served the young princess. Their lives were golden.But the young princess, Antoinette, has a mortal enemy in Madame du Barry, the aging king's mistress. And Honneure has a rival for Phillipe, a servant in du Barry's entourage. Together the women scheme to destroy both Antoinette and Honneure. Then Louis the XV dies, and his grandson inherits the throne. Marie Antoinette becomes the Queen of France.Honneure and Phillipe, their lives inextricably entwined with those of the king and queen, find a second chance together. Yet as France's political climate overheats, sadness and tragedy stalk both couples once again . . . tragedy, and a terrible secret that might lead Honneure to the guillotine in the footsteps of her queen.
Compelling! A real page turner! "A richly developed novel full of well drawn characters and interesting historical details." --
Romantic Times BOOKclub Magazine
Helen A. Rosburg
is a writer and owner of Medallion Press. She lives with her husband James and daughter Ali on a farm in Odessa, FL.
Published 2012 by Medallion Press, Inc.
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is a registered trademark of Medallion Press, Inc.
Copyright © 2003, 2012 by Helen A Rosburg
Cover art illustration by Sam Spratt
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any electronic or mechanical means, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system, without written permission of the publisher, except where permitted by law.
EPUB ISBN 978-1605424-47-7
First edition 2003
Second edition 2012
I would like to thank the love of my life, James Rosburg, not only for accompanying me to France in the dead of winter but for toting all the research materials home.
October 16, 1793
The final few steps were difficult. Though the injury to her leg had been a long time healing and the pain had lessened greatly, it was still not gone completely. The last stairs to the ground floor had to be taken carefully, and Honneure leaned heavily on her cane. Finally at the bottom, she rested against the wall for a moment to catch her breath and wipe the moisture from her brow. As she did so, the hood of her cape fell back and she immediately stiffened with fear.
A quick glance up and down the narrow street assured Honneure that no one had noticed her. She pulled her hood back up, tucking in stray wisps of pale, wavy hair. The sidewalks usually teemed this time of day. No doubt the crowds had all gone to the square to witness the execution.
A wave of nausea coursed through Honneure’s frail form, so strongly it rocked her. She fought to keep down the meager breakfast of bread and tea Dr. Droulet had pressed upon her.
She could not be sick now. She could not. She had to be at the square also. She had to be there, at the end. She could not allow her friend to die alone. No matter how great her own personal danger, the bonds of love could not, would not, be denied.
Honneure squeezed her eyes tightly shut. It was ironic, she thought. So ironic. All of her adult life she had lived for and served her queen. Again and again she had sacrificed her own wants and needs for her sovereign’s. She had believed it to be her duty and had been bound by honor to fulfill it. Honor bound. All her life, honor bound. And now?
Honneure shook her head, a humorless smile on the soft curve of her mouth.
Once again she risked all for her queen. Once again she was about to take the chance that she would never again see her beloved Philippe. This time, however, it was not from a sense of duty but out of love. It was a lesson she should have learned long ago. If she had she might, even now, be in the arms of …
No. She mustn’t think that way. There was no going back, only forward. The choices she had made in the past had led her to this moment in the present. She had to take what she had learned and keep moving. For as long, at least, as she was able.
Another swift glance up the street assured Honneure she was virtually alone. Leaning on her cane, she started on her journey. She only prayed she would arrive in time.
The closer she came to the square, the more crowded the streets became. A few people glanced at her curiously. But perhaps it was only because of her limp. Or because of the dark cloak and hood she held closed at her throat on such a warm fall day. She recognized no one, and no one recognized her. No one had the slightest clue that she was a fugitive from the revolution. No one could possibly guess that she, too, had been slated to be fodder for the hungry blade of the guillotine.
Nausea churned again in Honneure’s stomach. She could almost feel the blood drain from her face. But she did not hesitate. With one leg in rhythm with her sturdy cane, she hobbled onward.
Urgency quickened her lopsided gait, however, when she heard a cry from just ahead.
“She comes! The Widow Capet comes!”
“The Austrian whore,” came another shout. “The whore meets Lady Guillotine!”
Urgency turned to rising panic. Honneure stumbled as someone jostled her shoulder. “Sorry,” she mumbled, although it was not her fault. “Sorry.”
An overweight man with grizzled hair scowled at her. “Watch where yer goin’.”
Several others around him, wearing rageful expressions, turned in her direction.
Honneure lowered her gaze and tried to push her way through the mob in the opposite direction. She was going to have to be very, very careful. The mood of the crowd was murderous, indeed.
“There,” a woman’s voice screamed. “There she is!”
Honneure felt her bladder weaken. Taking a deep breath, she dared to glance up from the littered ground.
All heads were turned to the left. Fathers hoisted little children on their shoulders so they could see better. Women stood on tiptoes.
Honneure could see nothing. She was only able to hear the creak and groan of the tumbril’s wooden wheels as it rolled through the crowded, cobbled square. Emboldened by her growing horror, Honneure elbowed her way through the massed and stinking bodies.
Irritated grunts and rude curses filled her ears. She ignored them. She had but one thought, one purpose. She had to get there in time. Her friend must know she did not die alone.
There was so much pushing and shoving by all that hardly anyone paid any attention to Honneure. Ducking, squeezing sideways, and pushing by turn, she managed to make her way to the front of the crowd. Only a few heads bobbed in front of her. She was able, at last, to see her queen. Tears immediately rushed to Honneure’s eyes.
She sat facing backward, hands tied behind her. Her posture was rigid, chin held high. The cart rumbled to a halt.
The former queen had to be helped from the tumbril. Honneure noticed her pretty plum shoes as she slowly climbed the ladder to the scaffold. Her white piqué dress and bonnet were immaculate.
How like her. How very like her. A sob caught in Honneure’s throat.
Though she remained erect, Antoinette began to tremble at last. The executioner seized her roughly and forced her to her knees. He tied her to the plank. The guillotine towered above her, blade glinting in the sun.
“You’re not alone,” Honneure whispered. “Antoinette, dearest friend, you’re not alone,” she said a little louder. Heads turned in her direction, but she paid them no heed. Pressing closer still to the scaffold, she slipped the hood from her head.
For one moment, Antoinette raised her eyes.
“My queen!” The tortured cry rasped from Honneure’s throat. She stretched out her hand, cane clattering to the ground.
The blade fell.
Pandemonium erupted. A thunderous roar, as if from a single, giant throat, burst from the crowd. General cheering followed. A few screams punctuated the tumult as the mob surged forward, crushing a few of its own under its terrible weight. Honneure feared she would be carried along with them, but the few who surrounded her were not moving. They had noticed her when she cried out. Now they stared at her.
Though choking on her tears, Honneure quickly pulled her hood up. It was too late.
“It’s that woman, from the Tuileries!” a pockmarked crone cried out. “It’s her, the one who escaped!”
“Who? Who is it?” someone asked. A small crowd within the crowd had formed.
Honneure tried to back away, but a hand grasped her skirt.
“The bastard whore,” the scarred woman exclaimed.
Honneure screamed as another pair of hands tore at her, ripping her bodice.
“Get her! Don’t let her get away!”
Searing pain shot through Honneure’s head as someone pulled her hair. She saw a great handful of it come away.
“Leave me alone!”
Hands dragged at her, pulling her down. She was losing footing. A fist connected with her nose and blood splashed.
“No,” Honneure screamed.
But she could not save herself.
She was going to die …
It was cold, as cold as Honneure had ever known it to be in her young life. She was loath to leave the warmth of the kitchen and brave the frigid hallways of the old stone château. She inched closer to the flames leaping and crackling in the hearth.
“Get a move on, child,” Cook urged. “Madame will be waiting, and she’s in quite a state. I believe there’s something wrong with her little dog.”
“There’s nothing wrong with her dog. She’s just heavy with pup,” Honneure said as she took a reluctant step away from the fire.
“Be that as it may, you know how she is about her pet. And in the fuss Marguerite’s gone and broken a vase or some such thing, and it needs cleaning up. Go on now. Off with you. Remember, you’re doing this for your mother and you’ll want her to be proud. Madame will report to her on your performance, have no doubt.”
Mention of her mother was the final prod Honneure needed. She had to fill in adequately for her absent parent, for there was always the fear of losing the coveted position of servant in the château. It was her duty to be loyal, devoted, and hardworking at all times. Without further hesitation the girl hurried from the room.
The shock to her flesh was immediate. Moments later the cold penetrated her plain woolen dress and the chemise beneath. Her shoes were thin and, despite her stockings, her toes were numbed at once. It was well and truly winter in the Loire Valley.
Honneure’s footsteps echoed hollowly along the stone corridor, then were muffled as she reached the long, ornate carpet outside the master chambers. She knocked on a door at the end of the hall and quickly reclasped her arms across her thin breast.
,” a voice called from within. Timidly, Honneure entered.
The scene was muted chaos. The mistress, Madame Choiseul, stood in the center of the chamber wringing her hands and murmuring distractedly. Her maidservant knelt in front of the fireplace attempting to calm a small dog who intermittently whined piteously and snapped at the hand trying to stroke it. The remains of a shattered vase were scattered across another red-hued carpet.
“Madame?” Honneure said softly.
“Oh … oh, yes. The vase.” Madame Choiseul waved absently in the direction of the debris. “Marguerite knocked into the table. My little dog … oh,
. What have I done? She’s far too small … She’s going to die.”
Honneure gazed sympathetically at the small animal with the grossly swollen belly. The dog was obviously in labor, frightened and in pain. Broken porcelain forgotten, Honneure went to the hearth and knelt beside Marguerite.
“Not the dog,” Madame Choiseul said irritably. “The vase.”
“The dog I can help,” Honneure replied without sarcasm. “The vase I cannot.”
Madame Choiseul’s brows arched over her close-set eyes. She started to speak, appeared to think better of it, then asked, “Can you really help
mon petit chien
madame,” Honneure answered confidently but absently, her concentration already on the small creature. For as long as she could remember, any animal in distress had always commanded her immediate and undivided attention.
“Careful,” Marguerite said as Honneure extended her hand. “She will bite you.”
The dog’s lip curled, but Honneure hesitated only a moment. As she spoke in a low, soothing voice, eyes averted, her fingers touched the animal’s chin with its beard of long, silky hair. The dog growled but did not snap. Honneure’s hand gently massaged along the neck to the small, trembling shoulder and, finally, down the back. Her experienced fingers worked in a slow, circular motion down the tiny spine, up again and down. The dog groaned and laid her head on the cushion of her bed.
“What are you doing?” Madame Choiseul said. “What have you done? What’s wrong with her?”
“Shh.” Honneure soothed both dog and mistress. “It’s all right now. It’s going to be all right now.”
A visible contraction rippled across the dog’s abdomen, and her head came up. Honneure’s fingers continued their caress, and she crooned softly under her breath. The contraction passed, but another soon came. The dog appeared to strain. Her tail curled over her back. Honneure never faltered. Her slow, gentle massage continued through spasm after spasm. Then a final contraction, and the animal bent her body in an effort to lick at something that protruded from the birth canal. A puppy appeared, struggling feebly against its sac.
The little dog licked at the membrane until the puppy’s head was clean. It no longer struggled, however, but fell limp and did not appear to breathe.
“Have you a linen, please?” Honneure said. “Quickly.”
Marguerite seemed rooted to the spot, her wide-eyed gaze fixed on the lifeless body. It was Madame Choiseul who finally came to her senses.
“Here you are. Here.” She thrust a length of peacock-blue material in Honneure’s direction. “Use this.”
Honneure took the item her mistress proffered, picked up the puppy, and rubbed it briskly within the folds of the silk scarf. The bitch whimpered softly but was distracted at once by another contraction, and within moments a second small form lay by her hind legs. She set about her duty, and the last pup made a healthy mewling sound as it wriggled blindly toward its mother’s warm and engorged teats.
“What about the other?” Madame Choiseul inquired anxiously of Honneure. “Is it all right? Is it breathing? It’s so still.”
Honneure remained silent. She continued her massage. Abruptly she stopped and held the puppy up, on its back, head unsupported. Nothing. Then, weakly, the tiny animal attempted to lift its head and right itself. It made a sound more feline than canine, and its tail began to rotate. Honneure took a deep breath, smiled, kissed the top of the miniature head, and tucked the pup against its mother.
“A miracle,” Madame Choiseul exclaimed. She clasped her hands, and tears glistened at the corners of her eyes. “You’ve brought it back to life. How can I thank you?”
Now that the drama was over, Honneure was plunged coldly back into reality. “It was nothing … nothing,” she muttered, head bent, as she gathered the pieces of broken porcelain. “I’m sorry I interfered. I hope I did not offend.”
“Offend? Interfere? Why, you saved that precious little life!” Madame Choiseul stooped briefly to stroke her pet and admire the two fat pups. She turned back to the child and regarded her as if for the first time. “You are Mathilde’s daughter, are you not?”
madame,” Honneure whispered, horrified to have so much attention turned upon her. A servant’s job, as she had been so assiduously taught, was to be invisible.
“Where is your mother, child?”
“Ill, madame,” Honneure breathed, head still bent. “Cook sent me in her place.”
“And well done, I might add. You have my thanks for aiding my little dog and her pups. Please tell your mother I pray for her return to good health. She has always been an obedient and willing servant.”
No more words would squeeze from her lips, even to thank Madame Choiseul for her kindness. The whole situation was simply too overwhelming.
Honneure dared not look up but from the corner of her eye saw her mistress turn away finally, back to her pet. With the shards cradled in her apron, she rose and tiptoed quickly from the room.
Praise from her mistress, Madame Choiseul, wife of the king’s minister, was heady stuff indeed. To have been able to do what she loved best, to help the little dog, save the life of the pup …
This time Honneure did not feel the cold that clutched at her skin. Her feet barely touched the ground. Something warm and wonderful raced through her veins.
Instead of returning directly to the kitchen, Honneure took a detour to her favorite spot in the château. She ran lightly up the brick-paved, spiraling path to the top of the tower and out into the dreary, freezing afternoon. Her breath plumed about her reddened cheeks as she gazed at the magnificent vista.
Château D’Amboise, since the eleventh century, had dominated the Loire River, the island, and the bridge. Sitting atop the bluff, it was master of all it surveyed. The village spread below like a three-dimensional quilt, varied chimneys thrusting into the air. But it was not the view so much as the history that thrilled her.
Honneure had never known her father. He had died, so her mother had told her, before she was born. There had been only the two of them for all of her eight years, and a life of poverty and toil.
But there had also been evenings and the stub of a candle in a corner of their small, bare room, a few scraps of paper, and a bit of charred wood. With these poor tools her mother had taught Honneure to write and to read. She had taught her a bit of geography, the history of the country in which she had been born, and a chronicle of the château that had been their home since Honneure’s birth. She rewarded herself now with a stolen moment to revel in the priceless things she had learned.
It filled her with excitement to recall stories of the young Count of Angouleme, Francois, who had spent his adolescence at the château. As King Francis I, he returned often to the favorite home of his childhood. And it was to Amboise the fabled Queen Catherine de Medici fled with the young King Francis II during the plot of March 1560, when Condé, a prince of royal blood and leader of the Huguenot party, intended to seize Francis. A fierce and bloody battle had ensued between the plotters and the royal army. In the end those traitors who had not been hung or quartered already had their heads cut off in front of the entire court. Until recently, when Louis XV had given the château to his minister, Choiseul, it had been a prison. Its aura haunted and thrilled her in a way she could not put into words. She treasured the connection it gave her to the world of royalty she could never know. Its characters peopled her dreams and colored a life that would otherwise be only gray.
But Honneure’s shivering was not from excitement, and the mantle of history she so loved could not warm her. It was time to return to the kitchen, her duties, and her ailing mother.
The thought of her only parent lying pale and ill on her straw pallet tightened a knot of fear in Honneure’s abdomen. For the last three winters her mother had had a lingering cough, but it had never incapacitated her. To see her mother helpless frightened the child in a way she could not comprehend, and she found herself running back toward the warmth and light of the kitchen.
“There you are, miss.” Cook, a thin, gray woman whose figure belied her profession, glared at Honneure with mock sternness. “I was beginning to wonder what had become of you.”
“I had to clean up this mess.” Honneure dumped the debris from her apron into a slop pail. “And Madame’s little dog was having her puppies. I … helped.”
“Did you now?” The woman smiled. “That was a timely event. You’ve always had a way with animals, haven’t you, little one?”
Honneure ducked her head shyly and shrugged. “I love them,” she replied simply and cleaned up the remains of the leeks and dried apples Cook had been preparing.
“Here now, you’ve done enough for one afternoon, and you’ll have made your mother proud.” A shadow passed over the woman’s features, but the child did not notice. “I’ve made this broth. Be a good girl and try to get her to take a bit of it. It’ll give her some strength.”
Honneure murmured her thanks and carefully took the bowl. She walked steadily along the narrow corridor to a series of storage rooms, one of which had been converted to a chamber that served as their tiny home. A small fireplace provided modest warmth and, at the moment, the only light in the windowless room. As Honneure’s eyes adjusted to the gloom, she knelt at her mother’s side.
“I’ve brought you something to eat,
,” she said softly. “Cook made you some broth.”
There was no response. At first Honneure thought her mother was sleeping, but her eyes were open and she moved her head slowly from side to side as if she was in pain. Sweat beaded her brow.
Still no reply. Mathilde’s gaze did not focus on her daughter. She seemed to see something at a distance, beyond the stone walls of their room. The knot in Honneure’s stomach tightened.
“How is Mathilde?”
Honneure jumped, startled by Cook’s voice. “She’s …” The child suddenly did not know what to say. Dread, like a lion closing in on its prey, threatened to overtake and overpower her. Tears welled up in her eyes. Angrily, she dashed them away with the back of her hand. “She’ll be fine,” she declared defiantly. “My mother will be fine.”
The kindly woman’s initial response was to agree with the child. But to comfort her with false hopes would no longer be a kindness. “Honneure, your mother is very ill. There’s a chance she will …”
“No!” The heat of denial flooded Honneure’s face with color. Without realizing she had done so, she covered her ears.
Cook sighed. “Very well, Honneure.” She placed the cup and bowl on the floor near the child and gently pulled Honneure’s hands from her head. “But if you are to continue to nurse your mother, you must keep up your own strength. Eat what I’ve brought you. And sleep. I will check on you both later.”