The Poet's Princess

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The Muse and the Dandy

The flames in the fireplace soak in dusk, streaking it with a twinkling sparkle. Light flutters over a coldly handsome man hiding in an obscure corner. Shadows slither along his blade-shaped body unable to loosen up even in sleep. His steel-grey eyes are hollow dark pits in his pale face veiled by a stylish melancholy.

Perfectly still, immersed in his scheming, François de Marsillac, the Duke de La Rochefoucauld, is rigid as a reptile thawing his winter stiffness out. Words, stifled laughter, whispers break against the fake detachment of La Rochefoucauld.

Despising the “beau monde”, though lusting after their admiration, he would sell his soul for their applause, their homage to his “mot juste”, to his well-built sentence. Like a cat-after-mice, he is all-eyes, all-ears, always on guard. Words, unsuspicious of the danger, parade before him groomed, gallant, decked in their Sunday best. Wiggling their hips, dainty as a virgin in guest of a husband, the words let themselves to be caught. With feigned indifference, the Duke sharpens his claws, stretches his arm and gets them. The pillage is ferocious. He shreds sentences. Words burst open. The collapsed strings of flowery language hang sadly in the hands of the courtiers who persist, quite unsuspecting of the carnage, in their conversation.

La Rochefoucauld grins. Ready to steal the show, he steps out into the glitter of the limelight and starts boasting about the supreme elegance of his mind, groomed with the fussiness of a dandy who cares for the perfection of his attire and the acuteness of his mind. He is the only “bel esprit”. All the others are compulsive talkers.

As happy a lark, Madame de Longueville exchanges one pastime for another. Born to be an object of delight, she sparkles under the limelight of a unanimous praise. True and happy, she offers herself to her admirers. Owing nobody an explanation, she does as she pleases. To belong to herself only and nobody else is the supreme glory of a “précieuse”.

One moment from now, La Rochefoucauld’s dagger-sharp glance will cut her off from the world she belongs to. Take care, Anne de Bourbon! Giving all to this man you’ll be left beggar! Alone against all, life will close in on you. Hollow and forlorn, you will be abandoned in the desert. Beware of deceit, Anne de Longueville! Mine are no idle threats! This man will rob you of everything, your family, your friends, your integrity! He will take your heart and crush it to a pulp. Poor Princess! Poor Duchess! Poor Anne! This man will never love anyone else but himself!

All of a sudden, music slows down. Like a stone dropped out of nowhere, the Duke de La Rochefoucauld appears at Madame de Longueville’s side. Candles dim. Lilies, piled up in opal vases, fade. The brittle rustling of their drooping petals echoes in the darkening salon.

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