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Authors: Chelsea Quinn Yarbro

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BOOK: Hotel Transylvania
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Mme. Cressie dropped her fork with a clatter and flashed a frightened look at Saint-Germain. He was no longer smiling. His dark, enigmatic eyes rested on the painted, ugly face before him. "Baron Beauvrai," he said pleasantly, "you are determined to force a quarrel on me for no reason. I have done nothing to offend you. You have chosen to single me out to fling baseless insults on me." He paused to see what attention they were attracting, and was annoyed to find that not only had the guests at supper stopped eating to watch, but also that several of the elegant gentlemen stood in the door to the card room, a certain barbaric eagerness in their faces.

"If you swallow that insult, you're a coward as well as a fake!" Beauvrai pulled back smugly and waited.

For a moment Saint-Germain resisted the urge to reach out and throttle the old roué. Pitching his magnificent voice to carry to all parts of the room, he said, "I have always been taught that when in a foreign country a man should behave as a guest, and be willing to respect his host. Certainly it would be both rude and ungrateful to start a brawl here, Baron Beauvrai. I would have thought that a man in your position, with so much scandal behind you, would not want to bring this unpleasant attention to himself. But then, I am not French, as you have pointed out." He felt the hostile reaction to his words, and took advantage of it. "I came here because I had heard fine French taste, culture, and learning praised all over the world. It would be a pity if such as you were to tarnish that splendid reputation."

"Sa-sa!" said one of the men in the doorway, and mimed a fencer's salute.

"I won't be put off!" Beauvrai insisted, but by this time he had lost his momentum. One of his company touched his arm to bring him away, but he shook this off angrily. "If you were a man, you would insist on satisfaction."

"It is not my practice to meet men clearly past their fighting days. It would be most reprehensible of me to kill you. And believe me, Baron, I would kill you." Although he had lowered his voice, his words were heard all over the supper room.

Beauvrai glared at him. "You will regret this," he said icily. He turned back to his party. "I find I have lost my appetite. This room reeks of commoner." He turned on one of his high red heels and stalked from the room.

A young man in rose-colored silk stepped toward Saint-Germain. "I must apologize for my uncle," he said, bowing uncertainly. "There are times he is not quite himself."

Privately, Saint-Germain thought that he had seen more of Beauvrai's true nature in the last few minutes than was usually visible under his occasionally polished veneer. "He is not as young as he used to be," he said to the young man. "Perhaps you might be at pains to be sure he does not stay here too late tonight."

The young man nodded. "It is dreadful. He spent the afternoon with Saint Sebastien." There was an embarrassed pause as many of the diners looked up, startled. "Saint Sebastien has returned to Paris, I am afraid." He made a nervous, resigned gesture. "We asked my uncle not to go, but he and Saint Sebastien spent much of their youth together..."

"I see your predicament. And it is difficult for a nephew to restrain an uncle, is it not?"

"Yes." The young man flashed him a grateful smile. "You do realize that, don't you? He is still considered the head of the family, although for a long time his fortune has not been in his hands..." Again his voice trailed off. He had spoken out of turn.

Saint-Germain gave the tiresome young Baron a gentle nod. "Such matters are always complicated," he murmured. "Your party is waiting for you," he added with a slight bow, indicating he was satisfied that the subject was closed.

The young man made a leg with a flourish, saying as he did, "I am grateful that you were willing to excuse my uncle. I will do my best to assure that you will not be troubled again by him."

"Will you?" Saint-Germain said softly as the young man went back to his party, his walk growing more confident as he neared the group. He had never met le Baron de les Radeux before, but had heard him described as having much better maimers than sense. Saint-Germain decided he shared that opinion.

"Comte?" Mme. Cressie said, now that the awkwardness had ended. "Will you join me once more?"

Saint-Germain looked down, studying her, a disquieting intensity in his dark eyes. "Please excuse me for the moment," he said musingly. "But be assured that you will see me later. Perhaps you will not be offended if I bring la Comtesse d'Argenlac to share your table?"

La Cressie's face brightened. "Claudia? Is she here, then?"

"I saw her not an hour ago. I understand she has some provincial relative under her wing, but you may be certain that la Comtesse will not allow a countrified relation to bore you."

"Ah, Comte, it is impossible to say when you are serious and when you are joking. Bring la Comtesse immediately, and I am sure I will be delighted with her relative for her sake." She nibbled at some of the food still left on her plate.

Saint-Germain made a leg and went off in search of Claudia, la Comtesse d'Argenlac.

He found her in the ballroom waiting for her niece to finish a set, as she explained when le Comte de Saint-Germain came up and begged her to allow him to lead her in to supper.

"I thought the child would die of fright when we first arrived. There are a great many people here tonight, and she is new to Paris. She said that she was sure no one would notice her in so grand an assembly." She gave a rippling laugh to indicate how ridiculous she thought this.

"If she is dancing, this must not be the case. Obviously someone did notice her." Saint-Germain smiled pleasantly. He liked la Comtesse, and knew that under her frivolous facade was a highly intelligent, acute mind. "Who is this poor girl?"

"Not poor, Comte. She is the only child of my elder brother, Robert. He has lived retired for some years, so you will not have met him. He is le Marquis de Montalia."

Saint-Germain inclined his head, and though he was not a tall man, this graceful gesture gave the impression of height. He was amused when he occasionally caught a tall man trying to duplicate his effect. "Where is this paragon niece of yours?"

"On the dance floor. Dear me, I wish it were not so crowded. I could point her out to you."

"Describe her to me. I'll see if I can find her."

La Comtesse rose on her toes and looked into the moving mass of dancers. "She is in a lavender gown of Venetian silk over an Italian flowered petticoat. Her skirt is caught up with silver ribbons, and she is wearing a necklace of garnets and diamonds. There are diamond drops in her ears. Where
that girl?" La Comtesse furled her fan in vexation. She had tried to point out her niece, but it was like trying to point out a figure on a carousel. "There!" she said at last. "Under the third chandelier from the door, with le Vicomte de Bellefont."

"He is the one in blue satin?" Saint-Germain asked, to be certain.

"Yes." La Comtesse let herself smile, and it seemed to Saint-Germain when she spoke that her voice came from far away. "Her name is Madelaine Roxanne Bertrande de Montalia. And while I certainly have an aunt's prejudice, I do think she is lovely."

Under the third chandelier from the door, the niece of la Comtesse d'Argenlac turned in the movement of the dance. Her powdered hair was simply styled, as suited a young woman just entering into society. Her fine brows were the dark color of coffee, emphasizing her laughing violet eyes. Although she was a trifle too slender, her carriage was elegant, and when she raised her chin in response to some comment of de Bellefont, there was a regal look to her.

Saint-Germain let his breath out slowly. "She is the most lovely young woman I have seen in very many years." He watched her sink into a curtsy at the end of the dance. "I predict she will have a great success, Claudia."

La Comtesse demurred, a smile in her eyes. "Come. Let me introduce you. And then you may take us away to supper. I am sure Madelaine is hungry, for just watching the dancing has made me famished." As she spoke, she was threading her way through the dancers who were now leaving the floor. Saint-Germain followed her, exchanging nods of greeting as he went.

"Ah, Madelaine," La Comtesse said briskly as she came up to her niece. She gave de Bellefont a polite curtsy and returned her attention to Madelaine. "Here is someone eager to meet you. I have mentioned him to you in my letters, the man who has us all guessing. Saint-Germain, pray let me present my niece Madelaine de Montalia."

He bowed over her hand, just brushing it with his lips. "Enchanted," he said softly, and smiled at the flush that suffused her face as she floated up from her deep curtsy.



Excerpt from a letter written by Mme. Lucienne Cressie to her sister, l'Abbesse Dominique de la Tristesse de les Anges, dated October 6, 1743:


The dreams of which I have told you continue, and I cannot stop them. Sometimes I fear that I do not want to stop them. I have prayed, but it is in vain. I have even told my husband, but he, of course, thought it

funny and advised me to take a lover to banish the thoughts of death from my mind. But it is not death that haunts me, my beloved Dominique. I do not know what this is, but it is not death.

On your suggestion, I went to my Confessor, and he said that I was near sin, and should beseech God for guidance, and promised that he, too, would pray for me. He also hinted that if I had children, I would not be so troubled in my mind. I was ashamed to tell him how it is with my husband and me. Achille insists that his tastes are as Greek as his name, and that in Athens his sins were virtues. Yet I am certain that if I had a child by another man, he would denounce me as an adulteress. So I am not to have children, it would seem, and the good Abbé counsels me in vain.

Saint-Germain, of whom I have written before, has sent me three new rondos to play. My viola d'amore is my only consolation. Perhaps I will venture to compose a few airs for myself, since I am doomed to so many empty hours.

I have ordered a violoncello from Mattel At Saint- Germain's insistence, I tried my hand on one, and was surprised at the instrument. It is shaped like a violin, you know, and is held between the legs like the viola d'amore and da gamba. It does not have the drone strings of the viola d'amore, and at first I found this disconcerting. But the tone was so sweet and its timbre of so fine a cantabile quality, that I could not resist it. Perhaps one day when I visit your convent I will bring my instrument and play it for you....

...I trust to the Mercy of God that all is well with you. Let me solicit your prayers for my sleep, and I will not wake with the fear of my soul upon me. Nor will I wake with the memory of unholy rapture in me.

It shames me to write this, but it is true. I have had the dream only three times, and when I wake, I am filled with horror at myself. But alone at night, when Achille is with those men who are like him, then I want to dream again, and feel my flesh made fire with pleasure. What am I, that my body betrays me so?

Five years ago, I thought our father a despot to send you to a convent rather than look for a husband for you. But today, I think I would beg him to let us trade places. He arranged marriage for me and not for you because he was certain that no maid with a misshapen foot—as if anyone sees a woman's foot but her husband—would be fit to espouse any but the Church. Forgive me for what I say, but you know it is true.

You have said that your vocation is genuine, but when I recall how we wept together, I am filled with worry. And our father, when he died, confessed he was not easy in his mind about you. Oh, tell me you are happy, my dear, dear sister. Let me believe that one of us is happy. I did not think you were too plain to marry, and your foot did not distress me.

Be patient with me, my Dominique. I am distraught tonight. If you had seen Achille with Beauvrai and those three young men, you would be even as I am. But there, I can do nothing now. So I will await my violoncello and the pieces le Comte de Saint-Germain has promised to compose for me. Perhaps the late hour has made me overwrought, and seeing Achille as he was tonight has hurt my judgment. Our mother told me that I had always fretted over things I could not change, and that it was a foolish waste of time. And certainly Achille is disinclined to change. I have my music, at least, which is more fortunate than Claudia d'Argenlac, who has no children, and whose husband gambles. At least Achille 's fortune is intact, and he does not mind what I do with it, as long as it does not affect him.

I will bid you good night, my dear sister. May you know the Peace that is not of this World, and may your soul rest untroubled in the night. With a sister's affection and a penitent's love, I am

Your most devoted

Lucienne Cressie






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BOOK: Hotel Transylvania
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