It really was ridiculous. My hand was caught in his passionate grasp. Or at least I think it was intended to be passionate: it was only hurting my fingers. I was trapped on my bench by him kneeling in front of me. I dared to glance around for help, but there was no one in sight.
“Mademoiselle, you are like a spring flower. Your beauty shines brighter than even -and I do dare to say this- brighter than the queen herself! Tell me you’ll be mine and I will seek your father’s permission to marry you.”
He stared up at me hopefully. It took every effort not to laugh. “Monsieur le Vicomte, you honor me with your request,” I said, trying to pull my hand free. Did he really have to hold it so tight? “However, my duty is to the queen, and I have no intention of marrying at this time. Thank you, but I cannot accept.”
Like the two young men who’d come before him, his face showed shock as he stared up at me. “But-but,” he stammered. “This cannot be your final answer! I refuse to accept this as your only response to me!”
“You should because it can and it is my final answer,” I told him, standing up quickly. He fell back, his hand jerking painfully on mine before he let go. “Please excuse me.”
I turned and began to walk away. All of the sudden, I felt fingers wrapping around my wrist, and the Vicomte jerked me to a halt. “You can't just walk away from me!” he said. No longer did he look shocked and pitiful. In fact, he looked rather angry. “You will not make a fool of me!”
“You're doing a fine job of that yourself!” I retorted before I could think better of it. His fingers tightened painfully. That was it. I'd had it. I put my right hand over the hand that held my wrist. “I'm going to say this once more, and that's all. I cannot accept your proposal. Good-day!”
Swiftly, I pried his middle finger up and shoved it back with all my might. He yelped in pain and released me. This time when I walked away, he didn't try to follow me.
As I walked out of the garden, I didn’t feel any remorse or regret. His was the third proposal of marriage I’d received since I’d come to the palace. And of course there have been many of the not so appropriate proposals that I hadn’t dignified with a response. At seventeen, I know I’m practically an old maid compared to other girls, but as of yet I haven’t met a man who would respect me.
I met Nicolette Thenardier, one of my fellow ladies in waiting, when I left the gardens. “Her Majesty has been asking for you,” she told me. “Where have you been? You can’t have spent this much time out in the garden.”
“The Vicomte de Rignee found me,” I said by way of explanation. I thought I spotted a look of jealousy on her face as I brushed past her. “Is Anne in her sitting room?”
“Yes,” Nicolette answered, turning to walk beside me. “So, what did the Vicomte want?”
Before I could even begin to think of how to answer that, we met a man in the hallway. “Monsieur,” I said, recognizing the former captain of the musketeers: Monsieur de Treville. I bobbed a quick curtsy.
“Mademoiselle,” the man answered, nodding once before hurrying on his way.
Even with the musketeers disbanded, it was not uncommon to see M. de Treville in the palace. Everyone knew he was working to get the musketeer corps reinstated, though Cardinal Richelieu continued to maintain that his guards were all that were necessary and the musketeers had only been a nuisance. I’ve never heard what had been the cause of the disbanding; it had happened just before I’d taken my place with the queen.
I realized Nicolette was looking at me expectantly as we walked. What had she just said? “I’m sorry,” I said. “My head was in the clouds. What did you say?”
“The Vicomte de Rignee,” she reminded, her tone impatient. “Did you accept his proposal? I’m assuming that’s the only reason he would seek you out.”
“That was the reason, and I did not accept.”
Even though she looked pleased, Nicolette grabbed my arm and pulled me to a stop. She kept a tight grip on my arm. What is with people and grabbing me? “Constance!” she exclaimed. “What is wrong with you? The Vicomte is a good catch! He is wealthy and-.”
“A complete popinjay,” I finished for her, interrupting. “If you are so interested, he is all yours.”
“Do you think you will always serve the queen?” Nicolette demanded, ignoring my invitation. “One day, Constance Bonacieux, the queen will have no further use for you and by that time you will have nowhere else to go. No man will be interested in a middle aged cast-off!”
“And that is why I am Her Majesty’s friend, and you are just another lady in waiting. I know she will never turn me off,” I snapped. I turned my back on her and walked away. How dare she try to insinuate that I was just a pawn to the queen? Anne was my friend, and nothing would ever change that.
I’m not sure what Nicolette did, but I went to find Anne in her sitting room. After a year, I finally could navigate my way through the palace without getting lost…well, not very lost. Anne was having tea when I entered. “Your Majesty,” I greeted, curtseying low. “You wanted to see me?”
“Yes,” Anne said, setting aside her teacup. She gestured for me to take a seat. “I was told the Vicomte de Rignee had come to see you.”
Why was I not surprised that she already knew? Somehow, Anne could learn anything she wanted about what was going on in the palace. I had, on occasion, been a bearer of such information, but it wasn’t often that anything of interest happened to me.
“He did,” I said to the queen. “He made me an offer of marriage.”
The other ladies in waiting whispered in excitement. “And what was your answer, Constance?” Anne asked.
“I refused, Your Majesty.”
That made the room buzz with astonishment. “I think you made a very good decision,” Anne said calmly. She smiled at me as the other ladies became silent. “What could I do without my ‘Constant’ companion at my side?”
I couldn’t help but smile at the pun on my name. “Thank you, Your Majesty. I’m pleased you approve,” I responded, reaching for some tea. I really wanted some wine, but at this time of day it just wouldn’t look right. “Have you had a chance to speak to the king yet today?”
“Unfortunately, Louis has had meetings all day,” Anne answered, her tone disappointed. “I believe Cardinal Richelieu is encouraging a peace treaty with England.”
“Peace would be nice,” I said, careful to keep my time neutral. I knew as well as anyone that King Louis and George Villiers, Duke of Buckingham, did not like each other. And Buckingham was the greatest influence on England’s King James. “What would you advise the king to do?”
“I would advise a peace treaty as well,” Anne admitted. She paused, frowning thoughtfully. “It would be best for France, and I cannot get a response from Spain as to which country they would support should there be a war. However, I wouldn’t trust Buckingham to convey the treaty to King James.”
Benita, one of the ladies in waiting who’d come with Anne from Spain, shook her head. “If it benefited England as well as France, why wouldn’t Buckingham present the peace treaty correctly?” she asked.
“Buckingham will do whatever he thinks will be best for him, not England,” Anne said sharply. I've never asked what happened the one night I know she'd met Buckingham, but she really does not like him!
“Perhaps you should speak to the king,” I said, “and suggest that some other noble be the ambassador?”
Anne nodded. “I intend to, but there may not be anything I can do at this point,” she answered, tapping the table with her finger. Something must be on her mind. She glanced at the other women. “Would you please leave the room? I must speak privately with Constance.”
Everyone filed out of the room reluctantly. I suspected there would be more than one ear pressed against the door to listen in. “What is it, Anne?” I asked, once the door was closed.
“Constance, I didn’t want to say anything in front of the others, else they get the wrong idea and embarrass you,” Anne said, her tone serious and low. I wondered if she had the same impression I had about some eavesdroppers. “You do realize that eventually you will have to marry…What?”
I was shaking my head, laughing softly. “You sound like my mother!” I answered. “In her last letter, that was all she wrote about. I do know I will marry someday. I just haven’t found anyone who meets the necessary standards.”
“And what standards have you set?” Anne asked.
Setting aside my tea, I hummed a note as I thought carefully about my response. “Well, first of all, he would have to be loyal to France and the king,” I said. “So that automatically rules out about half of the noblemen in France. Second, he will have to respect me and not fall in love with me because of how I look.”
“That is the first thing a man sees, Constance,” Anne pointed out.
“I know,” I replied, struggling to find the words. “And I would want my future husband to find me attractive. But I want him to listen to me, and to respect my opinion. A man who would expect me to keep quiet and look pretty all the time is not my idea of a good man.”
Anne nodded. “I understand,” she said.
“Of course, I have ruled out practically every man in France by those two standards,” I joked.
“I believe you have,” Anne told me with a smile.
I sighed. Despite my determination to remain by the queen’s side, I still dreamed about meeting…but I shook my head to clear it. There was no use dwelling on dreams when it wasn’t night. “Then, I suppose you shall simply have to be resigned to having your ‘constant companion’ as your lady in waiting for a very long time,” I said to the queen.She reached over and squeezed my hand. “One of these days, Constance, you will find someone who takes you completely by surprise,” she told me, her smile wise. “Now, go let the others back in. Their necks must be getting sore with them trying to listen through the door.