Because this is a family time of year, December’s teaser from The Paris Affair show Suzanne/Mel and Colin with his honorary uncle, Simon, visiting a family of new characters in Paris’s Left Bank.
I’ve also just posted a new Fraser Correspondence letter in which Aline writes to Gisele about the Fraser/Ramnoch Christmas in Paris in 1815.
“Thank you for coming with me,” Suzanne said to Simon, as their fiacre clattered through the cramped, twisting maze of the Left Bank. Colin bounced on her lap, face pressed to the grimy window.
Simon grinned. “I’m always pleased when you and Malcolm let civilians assist you.” He leaned back in his corner of the cracked leather seat and studied her across the fiacre. “How are you?” he asked softly.
Suzanne steadied Colin as he squirmed on her lap. “You mean besides investigating another mysterious death?”
“I haven’t asked you in a while. You look a bit less haggard than you did in Brussels.”
“Aren’t we all?” Her mind went back to their house in the Rue Ducale in Brussels, the black-and-white marble floor tiles lined with pallets on which wounded soldiers lay, the smells of laudanum and Waterloo had touched all of them, but in addition the investigation into Julia Ashton’s murder had been a strain, not just on Suzanne and Malcolm and Cordelia and Harry, but on Simon and David as well. The secrets uncovered had scarred all of them.
“Quite,” Simon said. “But I don’t think you’re finding Paris entirely easy, either.”
Simon understood her confoundedly well. Which meant he saw far too much. She often thought it was because like her he was an outsider in the beau monde, so the usual assumptions didn’t apply. “You have to admit the atmosphere in Paris is rather fraught.”
“And the politics not what one could call convivial.”
Simon was a Radical. He hadn’t supported war when Napoleon escaped from Elba. The politics in Paris now weren’t convivial to him or to Malcolm or to David. It didn’t mean he had any special knowledge about her and her past. She had to remember that. “Scarcely.”
Simon tilted his head back. “Just remember that I’m here to listen if ever needed.”
Colin bounced in her lap. “Dragons,” he said, his face pressed to the glass.
Three British dragoons had stopped before a bakery to flirt with a couple of Parisian girls. Colin had become good at spotting different types of soldiers in Brussels. Simon gave an ironic smile. “Even on the Left Bank.” He glanced out the window. “I grew up only a few streets over. One saw more tricolor in those days. And then Republican soldiers.”
They pulled up in a narrow winding street before a blue-shuttered house with a riot of violets spilling from the window boxes. Emile Sevigny himself opened the door to greet them, a wiry man in his early thirties with a bony face and a shock of disordered dark hair. His neckcloth was carelessly tied and a spot of blue paint showed on the shirt cuff peeping out from beneath his rumpled blue coat. “Simon, we got your note this morning. Splendid to see you.”
When Simon introduced Suzanne and Colin, Sevigny said, “Forgive the informality. Simon and I’ve known each other since we were boys. His father was my mentor.”
Emile Sevigny took them through a hall with walls hung with bright watercolors, charcoal sketches, and vivid oil portraits, and floorboards strewn with blocks and tops and a toy wagon, and out into the back garden. Louise Sevigny came towards them. She’d been fashionably dressed when Suzanne met her at the exhibition at the Louvre . Now she wore a simple muslin gown and her red-brown ringlets slipped from their pins beneath a gypsy straw hat. “Simon. It’s been too long since you’ve come to see us.” She lifted her face for his kiss and then held out her hand when he introduced Suzanne and Colin. “Of course. Madame Rannoch. Your husband is the dashing man who does all sorts of secret things for Wellington.”
“My husband would say not to listen to gross exaggerations. Colin, make a bow to Madame Sevigny. You saw some of her husband’s pictures when we went to the Louvre.”
Colin bowed and shook Madame Sevigny’s hand. Louise Sevigny called over her own children, two boys of about eight and two, and suggested they might like to show Colin their fort. The three boys at once darted across the garden to the fort, a paint-spattered tablecloth draped over two bushes. Louise and Emile Sevigny smiled. It was a good thing, Suzanne thought, that most spymasters didn’t realize how wonderful children were at creating diversions and putting suspects at their ease.
Louise Sevigny waved the adults towards a wrought-iron table set in the shade of a lilac tree. A maid emerged from the house with a tray of chilled white wine and almond cakes.
Emile cast a glance at the children as he poured the wine. “Simon and I were like that once at his parents’ house.”
“Save that Emile always dragged me off to the studio.” Simon accepted a glass of wine. “He found the sight of my father at work much more entrancing than I did.”
“It meant a lot, having someone take my youthful paint smears seriously.” Emile returned the wine bottle to its cooler. “I’ve started a new painting. The conspirators in the capitol after the assassination of Julius Caesar.”
Simon stared at him. “Good God, you madman.”
Emile gave a grin that turned him into a mischievous schoolboy. “It’s a classical subject. Something of a tribute to your father’s style.”
“My father could be a madman, too, when it came to running risks with the authorities.”
“And you’re a model of sober caution? I read the reviews of your plays, Simon. You’ve had the government censor close you down more than once.”
“There’s a big difference between risking a theatre being closed and risking—”
Emile shot a glance at Louise. She was watching him with a steady concern that reminded Suzanne of the moments she watched Malcolm go into danger. Knowing that to give way to any impulse to stop him would be to deny who he was. Not to mention who she was. Emile settled back in his chair. “People can take from the painting what they will. The assassination of a general who aspired to be an emperor could easily be a commentary on Bonaparte. A way of atoning for having painted the Bonaparte family.”
“My father would be proud of you,” Simon said.
“I hope so.”
“The truth is Emile has to do something other than society portraits or he’d go mad,” Louise said.
Simon took a sip of wine. “You both seem more at ease than the last time we met.”
Emile exchanged a look with his wife again. “We’ve just learned to laugh in the face of adversity. Forgive me, Madame Rannoch,” he added quickly. “These aren’t easy times for someone who painted the Bonaparte family.”
“I quite understand, Monsieur Sevigny. My husband deplores what’s been happening in Paris. As do I.”
Emile inclined his head. “It’s worse for others. Men like St. Gilles, who were more outspoken.”
“Including against Bonaparte.” Simon glanced at Suzanne. “Paul St. Gilles is a committed Republican.”
“So he was equally disgusted with Bonaparte and Louis?” Suzanne recalled a striking seascape by Paul St. Gilles she’d seen at the Louvre.
“He thought Bonaparte was the lesser of two evils,” Emile said. “Which is enough to render him anathema to the Ultra Royalists.”
Louise shivered. “I keep thinking about Paul and Juliette and the children. Dreadful.” She cast a glance at her own children, whose shiny black shoes and white-stockinged ankles peeped out from beneath the tablecloth fort.
“But I’m far less important than St. Gilles,” Emile said.
Louise turned her gaze to him, frowning.
Emile touched her hand. “My wife has an inflated sense of my importance.” He leaned back in his chair. “It hasn’t stopped the commissions, thankfully.”
Simon brushed crumbs of almond cake from his fingers. “I’d like to see what you’re working on. Particularly this Julius Caesar piece.”
“Of course.” Emile turned to the ladies.
“I’d best stay out here.” Suzanne glanced at the tablecloth fort from whence high-pitched chatter now emitted. “You wouldn’t think it, but ever since Waterloo Colin gets a bit nervous when I’m out of sight.”
“It will give us a chance to talk,” Louise said with an easy smile.
Emile refilled the ladies’ wineglasses before he and Simon went into the house, already deep in a conversation about capturing the quality of light.
“Simon’s a dear friend,” Louise said, looking after them.
“One of the first of my husband’s friends I felt at ease with,” Suzanne said. “I often think it’s because he knows what it is to be an outsider.”
“Yes, that’s it precisely.” Louise gave her a quick smile. “And that makes him at home anywhere.”
“It’s quite a knack.” Suzanne settled back in her chair in the sort of pose that invited confidences. “I can’t say being an outsider has quite done that for me. I certainly didn’t feel at home when Malcolm took me to Britain last year.”
“I know precisely what you mean. Marriage is supposed to make one belong, but sometimes it just makes one feel hopelessly lost and lonely.” Louise glanced round the garden. “Though it doesn’t seem to have done that for me.” She took a sip of wine. “I was married before Emile.”
“To the Comte de Carnot.”
“Yes.” Louise stared into the pale gold wine, as though looking into a troubled past. She must be in her midtwenties, but her wide blue eyes and soft-featured face made her appear younger than her years. “A very different life. I’d say it seems like a dream now, save that it’s more like a nightmare.”
Sometimes honesty was the best way to discover information. Which was rather a relief. Suzanne took a fortifying sip of wine and set down her glass. “Madame Sevigny. I confess I’ve been hoping for a word with you.”