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ALPINE CAPTIVITY (BELSHAZZAR'S FEAST CHAPTER FOUR)

 
 
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...So after the warm, sun-bathed atmosphere of Burgundy, the sight of the Joux fortress filled me with a sense of depression. First of all, it was gloomy, secondly, I immediately realised that despite all of Emmanuel’s foresight, I could not expect any particular comfort here. My chambers, although thickly carpeted, were damp and no amount of tapestries could completely conceal the rough hewn stone walls. Thirdly, and perhaps most depressingly, Emmanuel who until then had treated me as a brother, came to my chambers on one of the first evenings after our arrival in Joux and made it clear that he intended to remain in my bed until the morning.

The sight of this black-haired curly youth dressed in a night shirt and silk robe on the threshold of my bedroom was no cause for delight. The news that Dr. Lasson had succeeded in his treatment was also no cause for joy. Any other woman may have found Emmanuel attractive, but I did not. Even his scent was unappealing, and my first impulse was to argue with him and send him away. But then… then I thought that sooner or later our wedding night would have to take place. The ladies in Versailles claimed that it was unnatural and incorrect for a woman to go for so long without a man, as I had done. Emmanuel, whatever he was, he was all the same a man… I would have to find accommodation with him somehow in this terrible fortress of Joux. So, suppressing my irritation, told him with a toss of my head:

“Very well. Come in, my Lord”.

I puffed up the pillows on the old, ancient bed and lay towards the wall.

"Your place is here, at the end of the bed. And you don’t have to stay all the night, I like to sleep alone”.

Emmanuel nodded understandingly, removed his robe, drew the curtains and carefully lay next to me under the covers.  His feet and hands were frozen. He must have been standing for a long time in front of my door in the cold corridor, before gathering the courage to enter. He was slender and well built, but even though he was wearing a long night shirt, I could see that his skin was fair and smooth, almost lacking in any hair, like a girl. Everything else remained a secret for me, since when he began to kiss me, almost suffocating me with kisses, he made little effort to undress. Fumbling with my lace, his fingers lifted the hem of my night dress. He groaned and raised himself on top of me. In shock I felt his flesh slip inside of me. To my astonishment, all that remained was to tolerate what he was doing with me. 

To my further astonishment, he was not as inept as I expected. Of course, I could say nothing flattering about him as a lover, but he knew what he was supposed to do, and he fulfilled his spousal duty quite tactfully. As I moved away from him, I stared with a look of surprise for some time at his slender profile, the curly hair falling over his damp forehead, and my head spun with all manner of thoughts: He must have been with a woman after his operation, there was no doubt about that! Perhaps even Dr. Lasson had taken him to a girl.  Another thought which occurred to me was that the last thing I wanted in the world was to have children from this tender young man. His family was ancient and a noble line descending from the knights of Picardy who had fought with Saint Louis, and sooner or later the matter of an heir would be raised. However, the thought of becoming part of their line was very displeasing.

Emmanuel was thinking about something completely different. He was happy, his cheeks rosy, and as he kissed my fingers he declared how much he loved me, and that he had been in love with for a long time.

I looked upon him with a mixed feeling of laughter and pity. On the one hand I was bemused that for the first time in my life a man as absurd as my husband had declared his love for me? On the other hand, he appeared to be absolutely sincere. Nevertheless, despite his classical beauty akin to Antinous, he was such a weakling, and that was the main problem.

“Well”, I asked after a short pause, “When did you fall in love me?"

“The moment I saw you”, he exclaimed triumphantly. "But on that day when you made such a selfless gesture, such a sacrifice, to leave the court for my sake, to be alone together in Joux, then I knew that I could not imagine life without you. There is no woman more beautiful than you! And I swear to you, you will never regret your decision. I am prepared to dedicate all my time to you. If you want, we can spend all our evenings together in front of the fire. I will read poetry to you, like the troubadours during the time of Philip Augustus. I can even write my own poetry!”

I said nothing, sensing that such an idyll was no temptation for me. Emmanuel had been educated in Saint Cyr military academy, so where had he acquired such enthusiasm?  Nothing within me responded to his admiration.

“I want to send for my horse”, I said finally. “I want to ride. I imagine that there is a lot to see in the mountains”.

“Of course! It is so beautiful here, in the summer and the winter as well. Joux is so beautiful in December when it is dusted by snow, that’s what Captain de Castel told me".

God forbid I shall have to stay here until the winter – I thought. However, the thought that I would have Arrow by my side comforted me. I had heard that the town of Pontarlier was close by. There would be balls there, probably. So apart from horse-riding, I would have some manner of social life. Of course, Emmanuel would not be able to accompany me everywhere, since his official duties would occupy him, and perhaps our evenings by the fire and our nocturnal encounters might be curtailed.

My husband’s attitude towards marriage caused my irritation. I was accustomed to hearing that aristocrats did not marry for love and that spouses did not really concern themselves with each other. Sometimes they spent years living in different places. This made life so much easier. However, the Prince d’Henin seemed to be an exception. I also foresaw that given his attitude towards me, he might also be jealous. There could probably be no point in even entertaining the thought that he might find a lover and leave me in peace. This raised great doubts in my mind about the success of our marriage, and I found it hard to imagine that we would spend years living comfortably together.

However, that night I naturally said nothing to Emmanuel. 

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