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Louis Killington

The Chase Leads to Chevreuse (Monday)

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Chevreuse was staying at the guest house of the Duke of Buckingham.  Basildon knew the location well enough. 

Armed with new information and speculation from Worcester and two bottles of Irish and Scotch whiskey, Louis arrived in the late morning to pay his respects to the important Frenchman.  Dressed in dove grey attire, and a cloak, there was no reason to stick out in the morning gloom.  His carriage waited as the Earl made his presence known to the servant who answered the door.

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The servants of the house did not seem to be surprised to see Lord Basildon arriving as the noon hour approached. Perhaps that was because some of the servants of the house were Buckingham's, or perhaps it was because the Duke of Chevreuse was an exceedingly perceptive man, perchance the sort that had a large spy network of his own. Anything, truly, was possible. Chevreuse did have an intimate connection with the earl's cousin, after all. An interest in her could have yielded much information about Basildon, indeed.

 

"Good day, my lord," Basildon was greeted. "The Duke will receive you shortly and meanwhile begs you to have a drink without him."

 

There was a short wait for the earl. It could have been that Chevreuse was a late riser like Buckingham or it also could be that Catholic Easter rituals were more lengthy. It was some twenty minutes later before Basildon was led into another room, a parlour attached to the main bedchamber, where Chevreuse, in his pretty and French glory was putting the finishing touches on his dress for the day in front of a large mirror. It seemed the delay was because the Duke had been enjoying a bath, not kneeling at prayers. The air was humid and the room warm, with a scent of masculine rosemary, a popular bath additive of the day. The Duke adjusted the ring that had been placed back on his fingers by a brown-haired youth and then offered the other hand for his signet ring, looking up and over as Basildon's arrival was announced. He waved away the addition of an expensive lace cravat, for the time being, and smiled at the English earl.

 

"You must have been eager to leave chapel, Lord Basildon," the Duke joked. "Then again, like master like man, I suppose. I heard tell not even an hour ago that His Majesty left with the Queen early. After so very long, Easter Monday is a trying day for even the most devout, I think. You cannot blame a gentleman for wishing hotter pursuits after such devotions, or using any excuse to escape them early."

 

He paused to give a servant a little gesture of a wave to offer Basildon more to drink.  For a moment, he raised his own glass in that artistic manner of the French and refreshed his own palate.

 

"To what do I owe the pleasure of your company, my lord? Your dear cousin Mademoiselle Vauquelin is well, I hope?" He raised a brow lightly. The Duke wondered how much Basildon knew of that entire affair. Did he know that Nicci's mother was an honored guest of the Duke of Saint-Aignan, well, the elder and the younger? Either way, asking about a countrywoman with whom he had clearly been friendly on his last trip was no strange thing. He had no intention of betraying a woman's secrets to any man. It was not the French way. 

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Helping himself to the offered drink, Louis tasted the best brandy that he could find, leaving the two bottle of whiskey nearby.  Twenty minutes was a short wait for a French duke, but a long one to an impatient Englishman.  Louis attempted to school himself in tempo and thought through the conversation that was to follow.

"Good day your Grace," Basildon greeted with a flourish, quite comfortable with the French morning rituals.  "My cousin is in fine form, as always.  She would have insisted on joining me had she known my destination.  She will wish to express her greetings in person as it is quite the privilege to have you back in London again." He did recall that his aunt was a guest of the Duke.  She was a French subject after all.  Being a Hugenot in France these days was a dangerous position. 

As for talk of Sunday services, the Earl sighed.  "The fifth day is the hardest," he admitted.  "I was thinking that one day of prayer for each cross on Calvary would be sufficient."  He offered a more cheerful smile than the high holy days might allow.

"I brought both Irish and Scot fire that they call whiskey, charitably, as a strong salute to the resurrection, and I mean Christ's too," he jested.   Relationships had died or failed in 1677.  Danby had fallen and was perhaps dead.  The English-French alliance had been broken.  The Sun King was dealing with the Blond Villain. There was finger-pointing at who was behind the assassination attempt.  A war was ongoing.  The Northern Secretary was in the Tower.  Ireland was said to be a powder keg. Old relationships needed to be resurrected.

"I assume it was England's famed corn beef and cabbage that has brought you back to see us again," he continued to jest.  "I know I would brave the miserable April weather and a Channel crossing for it."

Basildon preferred to get to the point directly, but it was not the French way.  The Duke would signal when he was ready to progress past the small talk and jibes.  "How are things in Versailles and France these days? Is my aunt well?  I know that Nicolette shall be asking after her."

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"I should expect nothing less of the Mademoiselle." The Frenchman tilted his glass in salute of her.

 

He then laughed at the sacrilegious brightly, brown eyes crinkled by the press of his cheeks upward. He was not much older than Basildon himself, if at all older, but he made an impressive man of himself in his presentation. It was obvious why he was a favoured companion of Le Roi.

 

"Whiskey, you say? Are you here to poison me then?" he teased. "England is proving to be a dangerous place, even for a man who keeps to the crests of the waves in Versailles, a palace that is like the edge of a blade," he added, chuckling more. "Do you Englishmen actually drink the stuff? We see you so oft with our wines and cognac." 

 

At the mention of some strangely prepared meat and a vegetable best suited to Germans and peasants, Chevreuse cheerily declared, "Now I am positive you are attempting to poison me, and I am quite sure, this time, that you do not truly eat that!"

 

Chevreuse could hold witty conversation all day long, but there was always something one learned even from polite niceties.

 

"Versailles is the envy of all, of course. Le Roi has taken early Spring ground against the Dutch, as I am sure you have heard, so spirits are quite high. Were it not for this business, my master would have no stresses on his mind, but He would not be blamed, this time, for attempts on your King. 

 

"So, here I shall remain, until matters are settled." 

 

Which was as much an opening as Louis was likely to get that the Duke invited the conversation toward the true purpose. If Basildon had wished to pay social calls on his arrival, it could have been done at least a week before, so Chevreuse knew that there was a greater purpose. He was on his guard of it, regardless of his pleasant demeanor. One did not survive and thrive easily in Versailles, but it could be argued that the grandson of Marie de Rohan, the famed Duchesse of Intrigue, had such things running deep in his blood.

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"Tut tut," Louis laughed, "poison is a woman's weapon."  There was still some time for laughter.

"I far prefer the civilized taste of wine, brandy and cognac," the earl confessed to his French companion.  "Whiskey, is saved for special occasions I find.  It is almost a dare to insult your senses so.  It is like walking naked into the sea during winter.  It is not to be recommended; but, when done on a dare and done in good company, it can build a sense of comradery. "  One of his purposes was to build comradery with the French duke.  Half of his family was in France, he was of the French party loosely in England, and Le Roi was the most powerful and wealthy man on the planet.  A man would be a fool to not curry favor with the Sun King and those adroit enough to survive the court of vipers that was Versailles.

The Duke provided his opening and Louis was ready.  "Ah yes, the matter."  The smile was replaced by a more intrigued look.  "A worthy web spun by more than one spider.  I have found myself, at times, ensnared into most each one.  Some might curse such luck, but I find it a worthy game.  There is much to learn as I am but an insignificant piece in the middle of the board, perhaps a knight who cannot travel in a straight line without a slight detour at each step," he chuckled, "and surely no bishop."  His own path had involved both Danby and Buckingham, as well as French and Dutch (through his wife and his own relationship with Princess Mary, now Queen Mary.  "Sadly, I cannot see the whole board nor through all the threads of the web

"I do hope the matter is settled in a satisfactory way for your Grace and our masters.  Though, I confess I am intrigued to see if I can solve some of the mysteries before the game is done.  My skills are in need of honing and you are a master, so I pray that you might indulge me in a bit of spirited guesswork and a worthy contrast to our last five days of solemn spiritual cleansing."

 

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"Ah, then you are on a daring venture here?" Chevreuse said, with the raise of one brown brow. "Then fire water it shall next be to burn our throats and easy our discourse." The Frenchman was amused.

 

"Lord Basildon, finding yourself snared in such webs simply means that you are at the heart of court and of some threat to others," Chevreuse said. "Advancement comes at the cost of escaping such webs before the spiders come along to devour you." 

 

The Duke took another sip of his drink and moved a bit closer to the hearth, whether there were chairs in front of the fire, gesturing for Basildon to join him. His hair was yet damp, and he found England to be inhospitable, even in the Spring.

 

"You likely see more of it than you realize," Chevreuse guessed, as he sat delicately down and draped an arm prettily on the armrest, the other holding his drink.

 

As Basildon put forth his desire to sleuth about and guess what the intrigue was about, Chevreuse nodded. "But of course. That would be a most amusing pass time." The Frenchman was, after all, not bound by any oaths to the English King. Therefore, Basildon might find out something from the Duke that he would not elsewhere. 

 

Or the Duke might find out something about Basildon thereby. 

 

"Joyeuse, the fire water for our game of guesses," Chevreuse called for the young man who had placed his rings.

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With no pause, Basildon joined the Duke beside the fire.  The move could also serve to draw their conversation further away from prying ears.

"Yes, do bring the whiskey." Louis urged.  "You shall have your choice of bottles for this dare your Grace.  The Irish are deeply enmeshed in the game it seems.  The Scots less so, surely to their chagrin," he chuckled.  As a southern lord, Louis held the other of the Three Kingdoms in lower regard.

"Might I suggest for the rules that if I go in the wrong direction, you order me to drink.  If I observe something worthy, you would be at liberty to take a drink from your own glass.  As the host and of much higher rank, I shall place myself at your mercy completely," Louis dared.

"How do you wish me to proceed?  Do you wish to set the stage so to speak, have me walk through the steps, or would you prefer to pose questions to me?  Though if the latter, if you know not the answer before you ask it, then I would ask you to signify it by sipping your whiskey at the end of the question.  Is the game fair?"

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"Those rules are agreeable," Chevreuse replied, with a smile. "Though the rest of the day should prove most interesting." Because, if the conversation went on overlong, they were likely to be roaring drunk.

 

"Ask or pose whatever you wish to me. Let us start with that." The Duke was not sure if he had questions to pose to the Englishman, but he would surely reserve that for later if need be. "Alas, I confess, my lord, that with the backing of France's network that I likely know far more than you do unless you have spent much of your fortune on a new venture of intelligence for yourself," Chevreuse revealed in a kindly teasing manner. It never hurt to remind that when one spoke of Le Roi, the scale used must be far greater than those used for others. One must know such with the understanding of France's deep purse-strings. Even if Basildon was not being told everything by his masters now, Chevreuse figured that a man like Basildon knew of at least one of the many times France had paid King Charles. 

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"Excellent plan," Basildon agreed.  "Yes, my means are small when compared to the likely greatest network in the world."

"Let us start at the beginning of the Danby affair," he offered.  The attempted assassination of the King was a more prickly subject for France.  "I have assumed that you saw Danby as the greater threat to France than Shaftesbury, though both are enemies of France, at least in their rhetoric.  I know your master provided the treaty to Ashley-Cooper.  It was inspired because it turned two enemies against each other, but it has had the effect of stirring the populace more against France, as opposed to ruining Danby in a way more benign to France.  Surely some embezzlement could have been discovered, for example.  I am guessing that since he survived the last impeachment for misconduct, you thought you needed a bigger cannon?  Is that a fair appraisal?"

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Chevreuse snorted, "Danby was a greater threat to everyone, yes. Everyone knows he was no friend of the French, but he did his royal master's bidding there with our Secret Treaty to advance himself and weaken others. I think that was much the end of him doing entirely the bidding of your King." Danby had done much for his King, true, for one would have to on the surface to maintain influence, but as many men did, the moment he had the taste of power he used it to advance his own purposes. 

 

As Basildon continued, Chevreuse could not help but chuckle, "My lord, if you think this is all some elaborate French scheme, I shall end up having the servants carry you to Buckingham's so that you might sleep it off before seeing your wife, for you will be in no fit state!" He could not help but imagine how quickly that bottle might disappear, if Basildon thought the French behind everything. Even the sun could not shine twenty-four hours a day! "Le Roi would never stoop to work with a man like Danby."

 

Chevreuse reined in his amusement. Well, at the very least he knew the English aristocracy had a good opinion of Le Roi's power! 

 

"Or deign to spit in the face of God by assassinating other Monarchs," he said more seriously. "It is not the French Catholics who believe such positions are granted by popular opinion; God's Will, my lord, is no small thing." He gave a short huff of annoyance at the thought. "If Le Roi wished your King dead, I could leave this cold place and take my place fighting more honourable battles, for He would simply never have sent me, honoured as his friend. My King would have simply let things play out without intervention if it suited him." It did not suit him in many ways...many, many ways, and so here was Chevreuse. Cold and wet. Dealing with unseen battles.

 

"Yes, the letter in which Danby acknowledged the secret treaty was given by my master to Shaftesbury. After this I told the Duke of Buckingham that the King's post-script was on the letter in Shaftesbury's possession, and Buckingham made certain that Shaftesbury would not betray that or present it to all in sundry. He intimated that it was not a difficult task. I am sure that you may have guessed that bit also, if you were even aware that the King was also compromised by the letter." Le Roi did not leave things to chance. He wanted Danby gone, not the King. The business of murdering Kings was not a French precedent, but an English one, who had done so at least thrice that all acknowledged!

 

"So, if we were to count, that would be...what? Four drinks for you and two for me? Perhaps it best if we drink the difference each round instead, or I truly fear for you." He smiled, "Two of yours for my two leaves you with two, I believe?" The Duc thought he was being quite generous, both with the game and information.

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"Did I tell you that the English drink whiskey out of very small glasses," the Earl laughed as it was becoming apparent that he might need to take many drinks.  "Yes, let us impose only a net number of drinks upon me or I shall never make it to my final questions.  I did bring along an extra footman in case I needed to be carried out," he continued to offer with an amused chuckle.  Quick to accept his debt, Louis drank two rounds of whiskey, the grimace on his lips giving evidence to the effect on his body.  "Perhaps this should be employed more on prisoners to torture them into intoxicated confessions?"  It was meant in jest but it did strike Louis as a viable plan.

"I did not deign raise a question about Le Roi's complicity in the attack upon the King.  Your master is no fool and I trust people to act in their own interests.  My master is a friend of his cousin, as we know.  Even though his brother would be one as well, any hint of French involvement in the death of good King Charles would be to destroy more than what was ever gained.  No, if anyone was involved it might have been Monsieur, who may have been galled at the selection of a Palatinate ... princess over a French one.  That is a theory espoused by those who are no friend of France bit not so foolish to ascribe foolishness to Le Roi.  I had come to believe that that fanatics, either Catholic, Protestant or even Dissenters were behind it. Yet, as I gather evidence these days, I look to who would benefit the most from such an attempt.  Clearly anti-French Protestants would stand to gain the most.  There are hints that it could originate from the Dutch, though they have hidden it well from Princess Mary."  The Duke would know that he and Lisa were close to the Princess.  "Of course she would not forgive assassins of her uncle."

"I wonder if the plan was intended to fail.  Think on it.  Who attempts to kill a King by shooting at him from the shore?  If the Protestants were behind it, would they not want to leave my master alive, rather than to trust in the mercies of his Catholic brother?  Most strange."  He looked to Chevreuse in invitation to provide evidence.

"Danby was involved in much of the intolerance in this kingdom, but I cannot imagine he was involved in that particular treason.  Different treason, yes, but he would not be so foolish as to involve himself with a clumsy conspiracy unless he was sure that each conspirator was dead within hours of the event." Basildon was musing aloud as he mentioned it.

"And that leaves the fate of Danby, my former patron.  Did you know that I saw him the night he went missing?  I thought him off to the Dutch but he disappeared instead.  I now think he never left England."  His eyebrow shot up invitingly as he hoped the Duke would know more than the French should.

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Chevreuse then said with a confused look, "I do not speak of prior assassination plots. The results of that are already quite known. I speak of the current one, or did you not know that there are such dangers afoot?" He then added, for clarity, "From the Dutch?"

 

"Though I do not doubt there are some Protestant sects on the continent involved with both."

 

"There have been plenty of rumors of the Dutch plots, and the Dutch protesting there is no such thing...though I grant there are also rumors that we French are fabricating the intrigue to keep your King from joining the Dutch in war against France." Chevreuse sighed, "We don't need to fabricate such things, Le Roi already had an agreement with your royal master by which to postpone England's entrance to mutual advantage, without the Dutch being any the wiser."

 

As to Danby, Chevreuse said, "I do not know where Danby is. I doubt he would flee to the Dutch, for the other conspirators involved would most like to see him dead."

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It was Basildon's turn to give a confused look.  "A current plot?  The Dutch? Want to kill King Charles?"  His head was slowly shaking in the negative.  "That would be an act of lunacy," he mumbled and moved to take another sip of whiskey.  "I have heard tales of Dutch plots, but I thought them to be attempts to hide possible involvement with the prior assassination attempt," he confessed.  :No doubt whispers about the Dutch are slower to reach me because of my wife's close relationship with Princess Mary.  I suppose we picked the worst time to host a Dutch girl with some royal blood.  Now I  wonder whether she is a spy for Orange," he offered with a dark dismissive laugh.  Buckingham had warned as much.

"So tell me about these plots, if you would.  Are they planning to harm my master or just engage in the more traditional lies, manipulation, blackmail, bribery, rumormongering, spying, kidnapping and low level murder," he listed aloud with a wry grin.  "I want to know how worried I should be for my master and whether I need to take action unbidden."

It was interesting to hear the French duke so free with the admission that the French were paying subsidies to the King to delay entry into the war.  Louis supposed it was a compliment to his trusted status.

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Chevreuse could not help but chuckle at Lord Basildon's reaction. He was apparently not one for digesting rumors; a rarity at court, especially in Versailles. 

 

"I do concur that the current situation would find that a most disagreeable circumstance for the Dutch, but plots rarely originate in the here and now but are the results of many years planning. The Dutch surely have had many a reason in the past, something your King wished to quell by the marrying of his niece, an event cemented by Monsieur and French Protestants being solely blamed for the last attack," Chevreuse said, before lifting his drink again. "I beg your indulgence for the attack of faith, but I find Protestants rarely act alone and solely for their own State." He then considered, "But nor do the Jesuits, so...I confess to disliking them too." 

 

Chevreuse had a manner of friendly finery and an elegance of gesture. 

 

"Apropos of that, the Dutch wish to get rid of the evidence, as it were, before intrigues of the past catch up with an inconveniently favourable present." The Duc had been saying so quite liberally the entire time he was in England. "I do not know their ultimate goal now, but I do know that it was to kill the King, thereby allowing the English mob to crucify York whilst anti-Papist sentiment was at fervor levels. My guess is that, now, quite a few people other than Danby fear for their heads...in both countries. And if the English then now choose to side with France in this war." Chevreuse smiled and shrugged. With the early Spring gains, it did not require an intellectual colossus to realize the Dutch would be in trouble. If the Prince of Orange was complicit in the entire thing, even an uncle could not ignore such behavior. It would alter continental events irrevocably. 

 

That might explain the large Dutch and French contingents that were all about London. The power play was potentially far more than anything involving just Danby. The former Lord Treasurer was simply the piece that fell off and created the ripples that drew attention.

 

"If you wish more evidence of such...ask yourself whom has the King been trusting more as of late? Have you not seen Lord Arlington around him, and if e'er there was a secret Catholic, my lord, it is Arlington. But, a Catholic can be trusted not to be plotting with the Dutch." Surely, Lord Basildon was astute enough to add things up himself. He helped it along with an obvious observation, "Buckingham, though not Catholic, is too much associated with the French for your King to hold close if he worried over France's role. And the Duke would hardly rent me the use of his house if he had any concern I was up to nefarious deeds. No man is so stupid, official ambassador or not." Chevreuse then considered, "Well, unless his King ordered him to so that they might spy on me, but foreigners are easy to spy upon no matter where they reside."

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The plot history and goals were confirmed.  Louis had feared a new plot of murder was afoot.  He found himself drinking the Irish whiskey again, as he listened.

"That gives me additional context.  Merci.  And so, both the Dutch and French contingents are here to ensure that the truth comes to light."  He offered a smile at that.  The only truth that mattered was the one that was accepted.

"No slight taken, your Grace.  I have adopted His Majesty's call for tolerance.  While there will be times that I will need to insult Catholics on the floor of Lords to prove myself free of Rome's conspiracies, real or imagined, I will serve my master by urging that all faiths and dissenters should work together to serve the realm, and the Crown thereby.  Still I do not find selfishness and betrayal to be a Protestant staple.  It is the man, and not the faith, that is to be trusted or not.  Yet, I agree that the Jesuits are rather ... bad company."  He offered that line with a serious tone and then broke into a smile.

"Arlington," he repeated.  "A man who betrayed the King to the Dutch, betrayed his religion for an office, married a Dutch princess, joined the Dutch party to no avail, and now lives on crumbs of kindness from His Majesty.  I find him as an odd choice to become an advisor in a court of Dutch suspicion."  He gave a glimpse of his low regard for the older man with the black plaster on his wounded nose.  "I suppose there is solace for the advice of men who once gave advice when you were more in need of it."  Chevreuse was a young man like himself.  Surely he would understand.  "Does Le Roi take solace in the advice of old servants that betrayed him I wonder?"

"So tell me, my lord, if you will, would you advise that I sit back and let Buckingham and old friends steer the course while I continue to cultivate friends and contacts with each of the parties?  Docility is not in my nature, but I can endure it for a time.  I am enmeshed in no plots, as sorry as that sounds."  The last was added with humor, bringing forth a smile.  When there was a game afoot, Louis wanted to be a player.  But, this one was a more dangerous variant.  He would be advised, he assumed, to follow the lead of others and he would prevail in the end.  He had friends in both the French and Dutch parties.  He was well-regarded by royalists and the Court Party, so what did he have to fear?  He almost fought a yawn.  To combat it he took another drink of whiskey in salute. 

"That leaves us with predictions.  That is a grand game.  William will try and bury his tracks on past and current plots, employ other Protestant rulers to remind England of its duties  religiously and to contain the French menace to the Continent.  You will remind my master as to the value of an alliance with his cousin as opposed to a nephew.  Your presence here is proof enough that King Charles does not blame his cousin for the unpleasantness of the not so distant past.  If another English lord will fall, I wonder who would be next.  The uninformed think it might be me, but that would be wrong.  Had the King not embraced Arlington, he would have been a worthy guess for Dutch conspirator.  I suppose there is Ormonde."

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Chevreuse contained his amusement well. England was no where near the intrigue machine that Versailles was, so it surprised him that so prominent a man as Basildon had not factored in other, lesser known, things into his evaluation.

 

"My understanding is that quite a few English lords with Catholic entanglements married prominent protestants in order to avoid suspicion of being Papist sympathizers. Lady Ormonde is Lady Arlington's sister, after all. Your King asked several secret Catholic lords to take the oaths, personally," Chevreuse said. "Many a man has been later defamed for doing as his king asked. It might make one wonder. His daughter is to be married to Cleveland's son, so I very much doubt he has betrayed the king as much as you might think. And he was as jealous of Danby, and kept down by him, as he was by others before Danby." The Duc enjoyed some more of his drink before he said, "Arlington had been suspected of telling Shaftesbury of the secret bit of the treaty, but that was simply the rumour of the time. It was likely Danby who started that idea, upon reflection." 

 

With a chuckle, Chevreuse said, "Your King and mine are two very different sovereigns governing two very different countries. Yours is more prone to forgiveness by nature. He has seen what rigidity begets from the English people. France, my lord, is quite different. We are a country surrounded by enemies; the fear of a strong stick is needed when one has no water to keep enemies away."

 

Louis had been king since he was a child. Charles had been exiled in France as a young man when the English had lopped off his father's head and bid him never return. Such created different kings.

 

"I would make sure you do not work at cross-purposes, but there is nothing preventing me from telling you that there are things the Duke of Buckingham is prevented from speaking to you about whether he would like to speak of them or not.

 

"He is protecting your interests; but were I you, I would make certain that I know everything of this Dutch girl your lady wife has brought back as I could. That interesting and timely addition to her return has aroused enough suspicion to keep you at arm's length."

 

It was probably enough to keep the rest of Lisa's family at length too if Louis considered his conversation with Lord Worcester from the day before. 

 

"My guess is that it is someone or someones well-placed but not so very well-placed to have too much to risk. The Duke of Ormonde has two positions of State. If I knew who it was in England, if anyone, my lord, I would be singing the name from the rooftops and would gladly tell you."

 

Indeed, Chevreuse had gladly told Basildon quite a lot. And it was all his own intelligence and information. "In actuality, I think it would suit my master more if less English or none were involved other than Danby."

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Louis had been told by more than one person the nature of the Catholic flight to Anglican connections.  It was all well and good but that did not mark the path to the resolution of Dutch and French plots.  It was more relevant to the Popish plot, which might have been the product of an unusual marriage of Danby and Shaftesbury.  He felt obliged to take another drink of whiskey, making him feel comfortably warm.

As for the Dutch, he was now realizing what a millstone Margetha was around the neck of himself and his family.  "The Dutch girl, Margetha, has royal blood but born on the wrong side of the sheets from Lady Ormonde and Lady Arlington.  As such, she is largely disdained by the ladies back in her home.  My lady wife took pity on her and thought that an English husband might be the answer.  I suppose I need to send her back, or find a husband in haste for her so we can be rid of this millstone.  Perhaps a French husband would be just the thing," Basildon laughed.  "Do you have a gentlemen that is a pebble in your shoe and we might make a grand match of them?"  Louis decided that a conversation with Lisa was in order.  If nothing else, they could send her to estates in Basildon to await them. 

"Buckingham holding a royal secret that he cannot share with me merely stokes my curiosity."  He wondered if the Duc knew the topic.  "Is it about Danby's current location and status I wonder?  In the past 48 hours I have come to revise my speculation as to where that pain in my backside went."

The French had yet to know which lord(s) might be involved in the Dutch plot, but it suited them that the plotters be foreigners, as it would only counter their cause.  "I would enjoy delving into the matter to ascertain the identity of the Dutch villain, but my instincts tell me that it would only heighten fears about my own loyalty if I were to call upon key members of the Dutch party.  I find myself in something of a predicament," he admitted as he looked into his glass of whiskey.  "A wise man suggested that I visit Shaftesbury of all people, as if he might be coaxed into assisting the matter.  I know the Earl to be a practical man who considers many bed fellows; but, we are of limited common interest."  It seemed that Louis was precluded from becoming the sleuth that would solve the mystery.  Far more capable powers were stymied and did not run the same risks of associating with the wrong witness as did the Earl of Basildon.  The better strategy, he imagined, was to use his newspapers to draw suspicion on Ormonde perhaps.  The man was not well respected.

"This game is far too intriguing for me to be immobilized on the game board.  Perhaps you might have a recommendation  for an interesting move on my part?"  His eyebrow arched in invitation and then he paid the price with another drink.

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"Yes, a bastard. That much is known," Chevreuse said, seeing little purpose for the strange English colloquialisms. Did Protestants not find marriage an important concept? "The Dutch have very odd ideas of royalty." To the vast power of the French the little people next door were little more than nobility, and it was quite clear what Le Roi thought of much of the nobility...and the Dutch

 

He then added, "Such persons are notoriously known for doing just about anything for position or coin." There were reasons why bastards were not trustworthy. "I think, my lord, that is likely part of the problem. In my experience, those with little to lose and much animosity for others better born are very dangerous." His thoughts were not even prejudices but commonplace views and not even ones confined to the  nobility or even the gentry. 

 

Commoners frowned upon bastards and whores too. Whores were at least good for something.

 

"I am not certain there is a particular secret, but it is commonplace for kings to test people close to them in such times. If there are things no one is supposed to know and the duke has given his word, he will keep it. He knows your royal master better than anyone. The king will be using this time to find those with loose lips, not just those plotting against his close family. Plotters plot and kings seek to rule by staying ahead. Where Danby is mostly matters to the Dutch. If they get him first, some of their plot might stay covered and the plotters safe. If your King may yet find him or has him, or if we French end up with him, then there will be no secrets for the Dutch."

 

Perhaps France might protect an Englishman or two, for a price, if Danby was in their hands. Spies, especially well-placed ones were always very useful.

 

As to Shaftesbury, Chevreuse merely said, "Shaftesbury, in my experience, moves with whatever wind is best for England, with a dose of self-interest, as any man. He has never sought to be the natural enemy of the king, though his reluctance to blindly follow has cast him in that role, naturally. He does not wish disarray, for that makes a weak State. If he wished harm to the King and disarray, he would have betrayed the King's postmark on that letter of Danby's, but he has protected it. As I said, without much persuasion."

 

"I did not say to immobilize yourself, merely not to move at cross-purposes. With missing information it might be easy to step into a trap as to avert one," Chevreuse said. "But I think the whiskey must be impacting you if your move is not quite clear, Lord Basildon." He grinned, "If you know, tell me where Danby is." A soft chuckle of jest escaped after a moment, "No, summarily find out what your Dutch houseguest might know. You need not visit any of the Dutch party to do that. Religious days are prohibitive to information-gathering or someone might have found out something of her already. The lack of going about impedes such things."

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Bastard was such a tawdry word in polite company but Basildon found himself nodding.  Louis had plenty of his bastards running about.  One was in his own household.  One day there would be a price to pay.  "Oui, the whiskey must be slowing me," he agreed with a laugh.  Self-deprecation was a useful tool in such situations.

"William could promise her something in Holland perhaps, but she is not welcome there.  I had hoped to use her baseness to offer her something more useful and tangible here ... something for which she would be motivated to act in her own interest to assist me.  Rest assured she will be further tested.  She may yet prove herself an asset rather than a liability.  We shall see."

He asked about Danby, but it was in jest.  It made sense that the Dutch might be more incentivized to find Danby, if the Duc was speaking the truth about the Dutch plot being conspired with Danby.  Basildon would have paid a good amount of coin to sit down with Danby later in the day and challenge him as to what in the world was thinking.  The former Chief Minister had shared nothing with him beyond niceties. Curiously, the master plotter had no escape plan other than to blame Louis.  The Earl told himself that if and when he hatched such a plot, he would have a more elegant exit and excuse, with plausible deniability.  Such mediocrity from his former patron was disappointing.  "Do you have a idea as to why Osborne would kidnap the Hill brothers?  There is some connection to their grandfather."  Perhaps the French had better information that the speculation of Buckingham and Worcester.

It was also a surprise that the Duc spoke well of Shaftesbury,  Basildon had always viewed him through a lens of treason.  "A patriot in disguise?  That is an unexpected compliment to him.  The problem is that his view of what is good for England is different than His Majesty's."

"If you are to stay in London until the matter is settled, perhaps you will accept an invitation to join us for dinner later this week, or next.  I know that my wife and Nicolette should enjoy your company.  We can have Margetha there for you to engage.  Feel free to let slip a false military secret to test her," he chuckled.

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"I suspect there is more than one reason. Those boys are attached to quite a few prominent names beyond the grandfather being in a diplomatic position to the Dutch. Were I Danby, and I wished to ensure a Protestant future rather an one with the Duke of York as king, I should make sure to incapacitate any Catholics close enough to protest; the unrest in Ireland may have much to do with Danby's provocation or invention. Papist hysteria is a very common physic to move the masses in your country, and it can take down powerful and influential people. My suspicion is that there were not illegal Catholic commissions at all, but like we have seen of far greater positions, those who are not wholly Protestant are taking the oaths required."

 

If one wished to get away with a great conspiracy, taking out the country's spymaster was surely one very good methodology. Something very great rested on both Sir John Trevor and the Hill's rich father, and Chevreuse suspected that the Hill's father knew something about Williamson and the Irish affair. Danby had likely felt safe after doing away with Williamson's influence and ability; He had not counted on a misplaced missive to Lord Arlington refusing to cooperate on measures of Toleration any further and Monmouth's inability to be discrete.

 

When the talk came back around to Shaftesbury, the Frenchman said, "He was one of your Republicans in his youth, what might one expect? Your Magna Carta allows for such. That is very inconvenient for royalty, yes." Chevreuse chuckled, "It is almost impressive Shaftesbury stuck to his principles to the loss of his position; such steadfast behaviour at the least makes one somewhat predictable. Le Roi would not have given the papers to Shaftesbury if he had thought it difficult to also protect your King while ridding Danby. Shaftesbury dislikes the Duke of York; that is nearly a moot point these days. King Charles' younger brother shall not have any place in government, ever, if the Queen shows ability to have a healthy child. The entire world knows your King can sire children aplenty and has only required to do so upon a fertile royal wife."

 

Chevreuse had no doubt that Shaftesbury would prefer to ride that tide back into Protestant royal good graces than stay on the outskirts of court life and State power. 

 

"You are very gracious. I would enjoy that immensely," the Duc said with a nod.

 

Then in an appropriately conspiring tone, he added, "...If the girl would dine with us, might we discretely have someone search her rooms and belongings? My man or Buckingham's might know better what would be suspicious and of interest, but you would be welcome to have someone of your own be involved." He was sure Basildon would look prior to that, but with his being held at arm's length by the King because of the girl (and perhaps other things Chevreuse was unaware of) it was no certainty that Basildon would find anything of interest. Chevreuse did not much mind what Basildon knew. 

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"So it was likely Danby that created the whole Irish problem.  No surprise there," Basildon admitted.  "I had thought Williamson too smart for it, but His Majesty chose to let the man sit in the Tower and sell his office to Sunderland."  That seemed rather unfair to Basildon, though he knew Sunderland to be friendly with France.

The Hill kidnapping became more clear to Louis in that moment.  Their grandfather knew the truth of Ireland perhaps and the boys were to keep his silence.

Interestingly, the Duc spoke dismissively of York, expecting the Queen to have a live child.  It would certainly mollify Shaftesbury and make him easier to work with going forward.  It was more understandable that, once York was no longer the heir, the Whigs would become more cooperative.  "Fair enough Your Grace."

As for Margetha, "her rooms are cleaned daily," he replied with a smile.  Of course, in the future, he would have her room examined even more closely.  "When you come for dinner, we could keep her occupied so that you can look for yourself," Louis jested.  "Or we could have your spy or Buckingham's spy in my household look as well."  His laugh continued.  His paranoia was in full bloom, wondering if he should replace all of his staff periodically just to make it harder on spies.  "It shall be a grand evening.  I shall ask Elizabeth and Nicolette to pick a date and an invitation shall be sent," he promised.

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The Duc chuckled at the joke about the spies in his house. Chevreuse did not have any there, and whether Buckingham did or not, the Frenchman had little idea. 

 

"Then I would not be asking the question or telling you to put her under more scrutiny, would I? For I would already know." 

 

While Buckingham only told him so much, Chevreuse was quite sure Buckingham would say if he knew the truth of Margaretha. It would not  make sense to hold secret on it. 

 

"I shall look forward to it," he said to Basildon with a gracious nod. "Until then, happy hunting on the Dutch girl."

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"Fair point," Louis replied with a laugh.  "Irish whiskey makes you think like an Irishman I fear," he continued as he felt compelled to take another swig.

"You have been most kind with your time your Grace.  We shall have an entertaining evening to be sure.  Have you any words of advice or warning in parting, other than next time leave the whiskey at home?"  He laughed at the thought but he worried that his mind was somewhat muddled and he may have forgotten to ask an important question.  If the Duc wished to deliver any other message, the Earl wished to afford him the opportunity.

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