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    Mark Arbour
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Northern Exposure - 33. Chapter 33

January 6, 1801

Mitau Palace

Mitau, Courland

 

Granger was having a very interesting conversation with the Comte d’Avaray about how he helped spirit Louis XVIII out of France during the tumultuous first years of the revolution. The man had already given Granger a complete description of the backward and barbaric Russian court, using words that would only further inflame the Tsar if he heard them. “I daresay, my escape from France was a bit less dramatic,” Granger joked.

“You spent your time in Paris with Monsieur de Talleyrand, no?” d’Avaray asked in an accusatory way.

“I was wealthy enough to enjoy that privilege,” Granger replied.

“And you would consider the former Bishop of Autun to be a friend?” he demanded, as if to entrap Granger into the equivalent of perjuring himself.

“I do,” Granger said. The Comte looked at him in amazement, stunned that Granger would so boldly admit to such a relationship. Here, in this Royalist bastion, the denizens had nothing but contempt for Talleyrand, but d’Avaray did not seem to realize that Granger was largely unconcerned about their opinions of him. He was not about to adopt the bigoted views of these banished aristocrats just to ingratiate himself with them.

“Most interesting,” d’Avaray said, with scorn. They were fortunately interrupted when the Abbe de Firmont approached them. “I will see you later.”

Granger bowed to d’Avaray in acknowledgment, then turned his attention fully to the Abbe. “Your man has arrived, my lord,” he said.

“Excellent,” Granger said. “Perhaps you can take me to see him?” Granger followed de Firmont through the palace to an anteroom where he found a terrified Winkler waiting for him. Mitau Palace was quite ornate, a fitting residence for an exiled king, and while this was merely a small side room, it was decorated just as ornately as the rest of the building. Granger had to bite back his laughter at Winkler, who stood almost at attention, horrified at being alone in a royal palace.

“My lord!” he said, with evident relief when he saw Granger.

“I will leave you two,” the Abbe said, and exited the room, discretely pulling the door closed behind him.

“Is everything alright my lord?” Winkler asked nervously. Granger realized that asking his young steward to bring him a large amount of cash was bound to be disconcerting.

“Everything is fine, Winkler,” Granger said. “I have arranged to buy some of the Duchesse d’Angoulême’s jewelry from her.”

“That is not what I was expecting, begging your pardon, my lord,” Winkler said. “I was almost worried it was to ransom you.”

“While my reception here was initially not all that friendly, no one has yet tried to kidnap me,” Granger said, laughing.

“I am glad to hear that, my lord,” Winkler said, frowning.

“You do not seem to be overly comfortable here in Mitau Palace,” Granger teased.

“It’s a bit stuffier than I’m used to, my lord,” Winkler grumbled. He handed Granger a wooden case. “I was able to fashion this into a container for your guineas.”

Granger opened it up and saw them neatly stacked. “You did well. Thank you.”

“You’re welcome, my lord,” he said. “Just so you know, my lord, you’ve gone through most of the gold in your first chest. I’ll transfer some from the other one when we get back to Riga.” After his trek around the world, Granger had had two bespoke sea trunks crafted such that the sides and the bottom were hollowed out to create a cavern where guineas could be stacked. Winkler and Jacobs were the only people besides Granger who knew of these compartments, and he and Winkler were the only ones who knew how to access those compartments. Such was Granger’s trust in Winkler that Granger gave him the responsibility for making sure the coins were well packed and balanced so they were not discernable when the chest was moved.

“I suspect we’ll be fine until then,” Granger said.

“I certainly hope you acquired some nice jewels, my lord,” Winkler said dubiously.

“I have not seen them yet, but they were the Tsar’s wedding present to the Duchesse, so I suspect I am getting a very good deal,” Granger said with a smile.

“I suspect her ladyship will appreciate them when we get back to England,” Winkler said.

“I suspect she will,” Granger replied. He patted Winkler on the shoulder in a reassuring way. “I would like you to remain here until I return.”

Winkler blanched at that, as he was most anxious to flee from this place, but swallowed hard and replied in a steady manner. “I will be waiting, my lord.”

Granger turned and began to retrace his steps to the halls where the Court socialized, hoping to find the Abbe, but he need not have worried, for that man was waiting for him as soon as he passed through the large entry hall. He eyed the box in Granger’s hand and nodded. “I will take you to see Her Royal Highness.”

“I am most appreciative,” Granger said, and followed de Firmont through the corridors of the palace until they came to a specific panel that was designed to be almost indiscernible. The Abbe pushed on the panel and it popped out, revealing a narrow passageway behind it. These were clearly the private apartments of the Royal Family and were sequestered from the public rooms much as they had been at Versailles. The corridor was dark and narrow, but there was light at the end of it, clearly a room that had access to windows.

The Abbe led him into this room where he found the Duchesse d’Angoulême sitting with a few of her ladies. In this most formal of Courts, even in the most relaxed of settings such as this, etiquette was rigidly adhered to, and that meant that the Abbe formally introduced Granger much as he’d been introduced to the King. Granger was impressed that the Abbe got all his titles down correctly. Granger bowed in his most practiced manner, conscious that here any slight aberration or lack of smoothness would be noted and used to pillory all Englishmen as being uncultured buffoons. Granger hoped he had represented his countrymen well.

“What a pleasure to meet you, Lord Granger,” the Duchesse said, and deigned to stand to receive him. She was attractive in a surreal way in the same way that Granger found with most Royals he had encountered; it was as if there were an aura around them that made them seem otherworldly. Still, she was perfectly proportioned, and had grave blue eyes that seemed to reflect both the rumored imperiousness of her mother and the serenity of her father. Her mouth drooped a bit, as if to tell its own tale of her past, for this was the woman who had been raised in the most glittering of Courts only to find herself imprisoned by the revolutionaries in the notorious Temple prison. She had been freed from that nightmare in exchange for some captured French generals and had then been sent here to Mitau where she had been married to her cousin, the son of the Comte d’Artois. Granger had not met the Duc d’Angoulême, who was currently serving with the Bavarian Army, but had already heard that he was reputedly dull as a board and impotent as well.

“Your Royal Highness, the pleasure you refer to is solely on my end,” Granger said, shooting her his smile and doing his best to be attractive and charming. She smiled in return, and although she was not as attractive as Granger, she did have both charm and charisma. She turned to her Maid of Honor and whispered something imperceptible, the result of which was seen immediately when the other ladies in the room vanished.

“You gentlemen will please indulge me in taking a seat, but please do not tell the others that you did,” she said jovially, referring to the tight rules of decorum that ruled their lives.

“Thank you for that singular honor, Your Royal Highness,” Granger said. They stood there, nonetheless, waiting until she sat down. Before she did, she walked over to a bureau, opened it, and took out an elaborate wooden case. She returned to her seat, and as soon as her posterior hit the silk upholstery, Granger sat in a chair with no arms, while the Abbe opted to sit on a tabouret.

In what could have been awkward, but strangely enough seemed perfectly choreographed, the Duchesse handed Granger the jewels, while Granger handed her the money. Granger first studied the case, which was ornately engraved with both the Tsar’s Imperial crest and the Fleur de lys of the Bourbons. He then opened it and found a diamond necklace, earrings, and brooch, all so exquisitely crafted that they sparkled even in the dim light of this room. Granger stared at the mesmerizing gemstones, stunned at their size, their cut, and their value. He thought of the diamonds he had bought Caroline after he’d captured the Precieuse of Funchal, and while they were remarkable stones, they could not compare to those in the case in front of him. “Lord Granger, thank you for helping us in our hour of need,” the Duchesse said, pulling Granger out of his daze.

“Your Royal Highness, 500 guineas is a paltry sum for such beautiful diamonds,” Granger said, feeling guilty at all but robbing the poor princess.

“Perhaps,” she said, “but items are only worth what one can sell them for, and I fear that I have no other potential buyers, so what you offer is indeed a princely sum.”

“I am sorry you find yourself in such straits, Your Royal Highness,” Granger said. “I would ask that you contact me when you are in a place where you have access to reputable bankers.”

“And why would I do that?” she asked.

“I will attempt to send you more money to make this arrangement fairer, Your Royal Highness,” Granger said candidly. She stared at him in shock, as did the Abbe, then quickly got her wits together. The daughter of Marie-Antoinette and the niece of the current king was certainly not about to make it seem as if she were accepting charity from a foreign aristocrat.

“That is most kind of you, Lord Granger, but we have made a deal, and that is the end of it,” she said.

“I thank you, Your Royal Highness,” Granger said. She just smiled at him, and Granger recognized that was the end of their interview, so he stood up, as did the Abbe. “I am not clear as to whether it is consistent with appropriate protocol, but if possible, I would consider it an honor to be able to correspond with Your Royal Highness.”

“Why Lord Granger,” she said in her most coquettish way, “it would be delightful to receive news of your latest adventures.” Granger smiled and then bowed as he backed out of the room, mimicked by the Abbe, although Granger personally thought he did a better job than the cleric.

“Thank you again for your assistance, my lord,” Firmont said, as he walked Granger back to the anteroom where Winkler was waiting. He noticed that they were taking a back route, one used more likely by servants, as clearly he did not want anyone to see Granger with the tell-tale case. Granger held the case in one hand and kept it inside the confines of his uniform jacket, unhappy for the first time that the excellent fit of his coat made such a maneuver difficult. It seemed to suffice, and in the end, they encountered no one of substance on their trek to the anteroom. Right before they entered, the Abbe paused. “I will return shortly to show your man out.”

“Thank you,” Granger said, and opened the door to find a very relieved Winkler waiting for him.

“My lord,” Winkler said, and stood up to greet him.

“I think you will agree these are worth the money,” Granger said. He opened the ornate case to display the jewels, getting a gasp from Winkler.

“Indeed they are, my lord,” he agreed. “I was of a mind to store them in the compartments where the money had been, but I am not sure how to do that without discarding the case.”

Granger pondered that. “The case is valuable itself, and I would hate to lose it, but if we hide the jewels and I have the case, any would-be thief would rip my trunks to pieces to find the gems.”

“That was my thought, my lord,” Winkler said. They pondered the dilemma for a bit, then Winkler came up with an idea. “Perhaps Jacobs or I could put the case in our baggage?”

“How would you explain a case with no jewels?” Granger asked.

“I would say that I bought the case for my wife, as I thought it was quite handsome, my lord,” Winkler replied.

“I thought you were the wife,” Granger joked, getting an annoyed look from Winkler. “It is an excellent idea. Your mind is as sharp as you are efficient.”

“Thank you, my lord,” Winkler said, blushing slightly. They were interrupted by de Firmont, who came in carrying a canvas bag.

“I thought this may make it easier to transport the case, my lord,” he said, and handed the bag to Granger, who put the case in the bag and handed that on to Winkler.

“An excellent idea,” Granger said.

“If you will follow me, I will ensure you can safely exit the Palace,” the Abbe said to Winkler. Granger nodded to approve that course of action, and while de Firmont escorted Winkler out, Granger returned to the main halls to join the French courtiers.

Granger thoroughly enjoyed conversing with these aristocrats who had followed the King into exile, provided he could keep them off the topic of current French politics. Among those who made an impression on Granger was The Duc de Guiche and his even more charming wife, who had both fled to Britain at the start of the revolution. The Duc de Villequier told him of his father, the Duc d’Aumont, who helped Louis XVI escape from prison on his ill-fated flight to Varennes. There were many others who were cultured and interesting to talk to, but as the day wore on and led into the evening, Granger began to grow tired of them. They talked of nothing but of how France had been before the revolution, and how that is how it must be again, and Granger was dismayed at the vitriol they exhibited towards their countrymen still in France. He suspected he was being unfair, considering the inexcusable bloodbath that was the Reign of Terror, an event that personally impacted all of these people, but their desire for revenge seemed to him to be wholly unhealthy. He felt as if he were in a time bubble, one that was stuck in 1785, and it was a world that was, in a strange way, both familiar and foreign to him. Searching for a distraction, he found it at the gaming tables. Granger opted to play whist, which was his favorite card game, and avoided the other games of chance. He was relieved that the impoverished Court played for relatively modest stakes, at least compared to what he encountered in London.

“Lord Granger, you have come all this way only to take what little money we have left,” the Duchesse d’Angoulême said in a coquettish way. “I should have tried my luck at lansquenet instead of whist.”

“I must beg Your Royal Highness’s pardon,” Granger said affably. “I can only hope that I am charming enough to make up for plundering your purse.”

“Let us see if I can draw you as a partner this time,” she said. Granger found that the Duchesse was the most interesting person in Mitau Palace, with the possible exception of her father-in-law, the Comte d’Artois, whom Granger had seen little of since their brief encounter earlier. They drew for partners and her wish was granted.

“I will have to hope my luck does not run out, Madame,” he said.

“And I will have to hope that it does,” said the Duc de Villequier, who had drawn Madame d’Avaray as his partner.

“I understand that Versailles has changed much,” the Duchesse said sadly.

“I did not see it when your father was King, Your Royal Highness, so I can only imagine how beautiful it was then. It is still impressive, but it is not magnificent,” Granger said.

“When we return, it will once again thrive as the center of France,” she said wistfully.

“I would wonder if the populace has grown used to Paris as the center of government, Your Royal Highness,” Granger offered cautiously.

“What the populace wants does not matter, Lord Granger,” she said in her haughtiest of ways. “God has ordained the King of France as the arbiter of what is to happen, and the populace, as you call them, are to follow his commands.”

“Imagine poor France, all but devoid of her rightful rulers, with barely an aristocrat in the government at all,” Madame d’Avaray scoffed.

“I had observed to Monsieur Sieyes that all they had done was turn their lawyers into lords, and their lords into lawyers,” Granger said, getting a laugh from this group.

“I take it he did not appreciate your words, prescient though they were?” the Duc de Villequier asked with a smile.

“He did not, but then again, we were not on very good terms to begin with,” Granger noted.

“I suppose there is always Monsieur de Talleyrand,” Madame d’Avaray said with a snide expression.

“Ah yes, the apostate Bishop of Autun,” the Duchesse said with a sneer. “He is worse than the others, because he has betrayed us all.”

“I can understand where Your Royal Highness would have reason to be vexed with Monsieur de Talleyrand, but he was most helpful to me during my captivity,” Granger said. “I do not know if I would have survived the snakepit that is Parisian politics without his guidance and protection.” That got him annoyed looks from the people at his table.

“I suppose that if one is in a snakepit, one would find it wise to befriend a snake,” Madame D’Avaray said, to which everyone laughed but Granger, who allowed himself a slight chuckle so as not to be rude.

“It is possible that when Your Royal Highness returns to France, you may find him useful as a link to this new regime and the people in it,” Granger suggested. It only made sense to him that they would need some sort of liaison between the old government and the new one.

“Lord Granger, you have a delightfully English view of things, where you must worry about what the mob thinks,” the Duchesse said, with barely concealed condescension. “When we return to France, the people will be elated to have their rightful rulers in place, and to be blessed in the eyes of God. Their approval is not required, nor sought after, but their happiness is our goal and they will appreciate our care.” Granger was of a mind to remind her that not considering the thoughts of ‘the mob’ had cost her parents their heads, but restrained himself from being so rude.

“Of course, Your Royal Highness,” Granger said, stunned at her response. They finished their game, and fortunately Granger’s luck had continued and he and the Duchesse had won.

“It appears that you have indeed kept your lucky streak going, but I fear I have become fatigued. I will bid you good evening,” she said. They all rose, and her ladies gathered around her to usher her off to bed.

“I cannot thank Your Royal Highness enough for allowing me the honor of playing cards with you,” Granger said.

“I will be happy to do so again, when we meet at Versailles,” she said. Granger watched as she left, then noticed von Beckendorf off to the side. He nodded to his young friend, and they broke off their conversations and began the arduous effort of taking their leave of this place. Granger was relieved to finally find himself in the warm vozok heading back to their lodgings.

“You were most definitely the star of Mitau tonight,” von Beckendorf said with a grin. “Which is surprising, since you were almost not admitted in the first place.”

Granger laughed. “There is never a shortage of pettiness at a Royal Court.”

“I think you will not be surprised to find it is even more pronounced at an Imperial one,” von Beckendorf said. “For people who are in exile, they do not seem to be overly worried about their fate.”

“When I was in Paris, Monsieur Talleyrand was discussing the emigres, and noted that they had forgotten nothing, and learned nothing,” Granger said ruefully. “They think that they will return to France and the calendar will suddenly revert to 1785.”

“That does not seem reasonable even to me,” von Beckendorf said, “and I live in a country where progress is painfully slow.”

“I have been to France and met these new leaders, and I have even met General Bonaparte once,” Granger said. “Even if they are defeated and the Bourbons are forced upon them, they will not accept the status quo ante bellum.”

“Perhaps they will learn then?” von Beckendorf asked playfully, making Granger laugh.

“Perhaps, but I doubt it,” Granger said. “They are worried they are soon to be evicted from Mitau, and from Russia.”

“I think their fears are quite justified,” von Beckendorf said sadly. “As I mentioned, His Imperial Majesty has been most vexed by the lack of support King Louis has given to his acquisition of the role of Grand Master of the Knights of Malta.”

“And that is sufficient for him to banish them?” Granger asked for clarity.

“When the Spanish and Portuguese governments refused to recognize His Imperial Majesty as Grand Master, their ambassadors were escorted to the border and told not to return,” von Beckendorf said.

“That will seriously diminish my ability to speak Spanish while I am in St. Petersburg,” Granger joked. He was able to push the French Court to the back of his mind when they arrived at their lodgings and was even more able to forget them, courtesy of a more physical release with von Beckendorf.

 

January 10, 1801

Riga, Livonia

 

“And now our adventure truly begins,” von Beckendorf said as he rapped on the front divider to tell the drive to go. Today was the day they were beginning their trek to St. Petersburg. The vozok had been packed with their trunks and baggage to the point that it almost appeared to be overstuffed, but everything had ended up fitting well enough. Granger had managed to have his two trunks put in front in place of the seats that were normally there, to give them an extra bit of safety.

“I have found that every minute with you is an adventure,” Granger said, and gave the young Teuton a kiss. “I must say that this is a wondrous mode of transportation.” The vozok had turned out to be quite comfortable, and it was no chore to confine oneself to its plush surroundings.

“I am glad you like it,” von Beckendorf said.

“I fear the soldiers will be less happy about it,” Granger noted, feeling sorry for the twelve dragoons who escorted them.

“They will be well rewarded for their efforts,” von Beckendorf said. “They are used to adapting to all conditions. One day they are standing guard at the palace, the next they are on campaign, and the next they are freezing as they escort distinguished foreigners through Russia.”

“That would make one flexible,” Granger said with a chuckle. “Is it so dangerous that we must have this big of a guard?”

“I would think that when wealthy people travel in any country, they are wise to have an escort,” von Beckendorf noted. “You have seen that most of the terrain consists of forests, and that will not change until we get to St. Petersburg. That is an ideal place for brigands to attempt to rob unsuspecting travelers.”

“I can see why it is a wise precaution,” Granger agreed. Britain was plagued by highwaymen, while the French countryside had almost been ruled by them.

“You must also realize that in this country, having a sizeable guard like this is also a warning, telling anyone who would trifle with us that we are individuals of influence,” he said. Granger stared at him blankly. “There is still a warrant out for your arrest. This will keep most people from investigating who you are and what we are up to.”

“I understand,” Granger said. “I have felt so relaxed and welcome that I find it easy to forget I am a fugitive.”

Von Beckendorf laughed. “I think that perhaps calling yourself a fugitive is a bit exaggerated, but we have been in Livonia and Courland, places where few will trifle with me. As we leave these lands, things will be a bit different.”

“How will you explain my presence?” Granger asked.

“I will tell people you are an American, and I took it upon myself to escort you to St. Petersburg personally,” von Beckendorf said. His quick answer told Granger that von Beckendorf had already planned this out, a fact that impressed Granger.

“I am not sure that I can pass myself off as an American,” Granger said, thinking of the people he had met from that country. Even the most educated men from the United States had accents and mannerisms that were markedly different than those of an English aristocrat.

“It will not be a challenge,” he replied. “Most people we will encounter have never even met an American, and even if they have, it has only been one or two. They will never know that you are not who you say you are.”

Granger thought about that. “Having been to America, I can probably pass muster with most people then, with the exception of a true American.”

“Then with that dilemma solved, you should allow yourself to relax and enjoy this trip,” he said.

“I will do just that,” Granger said, then a thought entered his mind. “If they ask where I am from, tell them ‘Philadelphia’.”

“That is a strange name for a city,” von Beckendorf said, as he tried unsuccessfully to pronounce it.

“It is not as if Russian cities are easy to pronounce for an outsider,” Granger joked.

“Why Philadelphia?” Von Beckendorf asked, slaughtering the pronunciation yet again.

“I stayed there for a fortnight and am familiar enough with it to answer any questions a typical Russian may pose to me,” Granger replied. “What will my name be, since I am traveling incognito, as it were?”

“I had not thought of that,” von Beckendorf said.

“Albert Ryde,” Granger said impulsively.

“Why that name?” von Beckendorf asked, puzzled.

“Albert is one of my middle names, and it is also the name of my middle brother. He is a bit of a rogue and would appreciate a scheme such as I am involved in now,” Granger said, chuckling as he thought of Bertie.

“He sounds like a fun person,” von Beckendorf said.

“He is fun, and he is one of the most charming and engaging men you would ever meet, but unfortunately his moral compass often fails to point him in the right direction,” Granger noted.

Von Beckendorf nodded. “A fate that impacts us all, to one degree or another.”

“I think it is the variation in those degrees that is the key,” Granger said. “Ryde is my secondary title.”

“I had heard them mention that when you were announced at Mitau,” von Beckendorf said. “Where is this Ryde?”

“It is on the Isle of Wight, across from Portsmouth, in the south of England,” Granger said. “You must come visit me in England, and I will show you the house I built there. It overlooks Spithead, which is the main base of the Channel Fleet.”

“I do not think travel to England is in my future, at least not until these wars have ended,” he said sadly.

“Perhaps you can work out a diplomatic posting,” Granger suggested.

“Perhaps,” he replied, but their conversation had evidently become boring for the randy young colonel, who decided to burn off some steam by fucking Granger.

Copyright © 2017 Mark Arbour; All Rights Reserved.
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Entitled people assume they are entitled...somethings never change.

Also liked the casual physicality at the end of the chapter.  It seems our author has regained all of his word magic!

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While Granger made a steal with the necklace, but I am sure that if possible he will get the Duchess some more money; he read the situation in Mitau perfectly.  The attitude is part of the reason that the Bourbons lost the crown the second time.  Charles X was very conservative and tried to reverse the Charter of 1814 which created France as a  constitutional monarchy with the King still enjoying significant powers but not absolute.  Charles X and his son were forced to abdicate and the House of Orleans took over.  

Love how Granger and Winkler truly understand each other; there is nothing that Winkler would not do for Granger and Granger considers Winkler so much more than just a man servant.  They have a long past and a longer future ahead.

On to Saint Petersburg, can't wait to see what happens.  A wonder chapter, and the writing just sparkles.  

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"Having regained all your word magic" implies a return to health – dare one hope that this is true. Remember, While Circumnavigation was my introduction to GA, I have developed a real passion for the Bridgemont series about the British navy over the years.

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Another fantastic chapter! I particularly enjoyed the contrast between the overly formal and backward-looking French court with the spirit of adventure and companionship of the journey to St. Petersburg. Thanks! Can't wait for more. 

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I was thinking about our beloved steward, Winkler. Who wound know a simple act of kindness on George's part ( giving Winkler food and then a real doctor to fix his leg and taking him into his service )  could grow into the bond that has developed between them. Some of the greatest moments in this saga are the interaction between these two. From fighting off the pirates in the Med, to sending Winkler off to London, and the reunion at Park Place, you can see the love, and trust between them. Yes love! Not romantic love but love never the less. Thank you so much for this wonderful story and these two beloved characters. 

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