Mariana Gabrielle, author of Royal Regard, provides us with an insight into her duc de Malbourne, in this account of an interview by a researcher of her imagination.
While researching the remaining French noble families scattered across Europe, I have interviewed hundreds of émigrés from Scandinavia to Portugal and Ireland to the Austrian Empire. While other scholars are focused on dynastic details, I am fascinated by the human condition.
After thirteen requests to meet with Adolph Fouret, Monsieur le duc de Malbourne, the last surviving member of la famille Fouret, I was invited to his small manor house near Dover, inherited from his late duchess. While the house is no more than thirty rooms and two stories, the surrounding property encompasses tenant farms, a fishing village, a quarry, and a sizable parcel of woodland.
According to diocesan records, Monsieur le duc is past fifty, but apart from hair greying at the temples, might be at least ten, even twenty, years younger. His face remains relatively unlined, his figure tall, back straight, and limbs well-muscled, perhaps a sign of continued interest in swordplay, such skill still legend in Paris.
We have been joined by Madame Michelle Lemaître, presumably his paramour, if not wife in common law. As we settle into worn wing chairs in a rarely used parlor, Madame Lemaître pours a fine hock, welcome refreshment on an overly warm day.
Monsieur le duc seems disinclined to idle chatter, waiting patiently for me to begin, never asking me directly to state my business. Madame Lemaître, however, makes it clear by manner and gesture that she would prefer not to entertain company, particularly not mine.
Research indicates you lost most of your immediate family during the Revolution.
“All,” he clarifies. “I lost all of my close relations. Four sisters, their husbands, and all of my nieces and nephews went to the guillotine, twenty-six in total, two still babes. Also, four aunts, two uncles, and nineteen first cousins murdered. My wife and child as well, if one believes fear can cause death in childbed.”
After long minutes of silence, Monsieur le duc hands his glass to Madame Lemaître to refill. As she does, her dagger-like glances attempt to cut out my tongue. His dark eyes, by contrast, are dull and motionless, staring past me, face chiseled from ice above his entirely black ensemble.
“It is not enough Monseigneur must live through this?” She finally snaps. “You come to stir up old troubles, long buried? Finish your questions and leave him in peace.”
Sipping the wine slowly, carefully, he awaits the next question as though I, myself, am a guillotine.
What is your greatest fear?
“Monseigneur is not a coward,” Madame Lemaître growls, staring down her nose at me until Malbourne clicks his tongue.
“Ma chére, the gentleman is not so unwise as to call me a coward.” The look on his face first demands, then accepts, an apology to the lady, whose indignation remains palpable.
Once satisfied his honor is intact in her eyes, he taps the back of her hand and says simply, “I am a Fouret; I fear nothing.”
“I have never thought love so important I should count its worth.” Madame Lemaître’s face turns away, eyes downcast, shoulders tensed. “Romance is for peasants who have no money to keep them warm, nor family name to bring them notice.”
His idle index finger tucks a strand of loose hair from her coiffure behind her ear, drawing her attention back to him.
What is your most treasured possession?
His fingers tighten on Michelle’s knee as he shrugs, “I was able to save a folio of sketches by Jean Clouet when I escaped the Revolution. It has been in my family almost 250 years.” His hand slips under hers next to her leg, intertwining their fingers. Her lips turn up infinitesimally.
Where would you like to live?
His nostrils flare and the heel of his latchet shoe begins tapping against the floor, stopping only when she grips his hand so tightly two sets of knuckles turn white.
Forcing his gritted teeth apart, he finally answers, “Had verminous peasants not overrun my family’s land during the farmers’ uprising, I would be living now at le Chateau de Fouret in the Vosges Mountains. This estate…” He waves his hand about the small, dusty room. “This manor house is a hovel.”
What is your greatest regret?
His face twitches as though trying to stop the sneer manifest in his voice. “That I did not execute every peasant in Alsace in 1785.”
What do you consider your greatest achievement?
“Monseigneur is sixteenth in line for the French throne,” Madame Lemaître exclaims, as proud as if he had discovered a cure for the Black Death. Her hand flies to her mouth, apparently unsure if she should boast on his behalf. The incline of his head both reassures and confirms her claim, and his thumb caresses hers.
What is the quality you most like in a man?
“I find men, on the whole, an inferior breed.” His hand smooths a wrinkle in Madame Lemaitre’s sleeve, trailing a fingertip down her forearm. “Women are much more satisfactory companions.”
What is the quality you most like in a woman?
“That must depend, monsieur,” he laughs, “whether the woman will grace my bedchamber or my dining hall. For a lover,” he says, tugging at a lock of Michelle’s greying red hair, “I prefer a flame-haired wench of loose morals who will meet my appetites.” When she blushes, he taps the tip of her nose and almost smiles.
At the smallest movement of her head toward his shoulder, he shifts away and the hair pull becomes a warning to keep her place. “Were I to take a second wife, which is not my inclination, I would seek a woman whose conduct will bring credit to me, a noblewoman of sophistication and refinement.”
Madame Lemaître sniffs and turns her shoulder to Malbourne, but at a sharp pinch to her arm, she turns back, watching his face closely, stopping her motion when he raises a brow. As she settles against the back of the sofa, he rests their joined hands on her thigh.
“In either case,” he says, attention on Madame Lemaître, eyebrow still raised, “I value obedience most highly. It is best for females to be subject to the will of their fathers or husbands, lest their capricious natures bring them to harm.”
What is the trait you most deplore in others?
“I detest commoners. They are lazy and stupid and smell of pigs.”
Clearly, given her heavy rural Lorrain accent, Madam Lemaître is not of noble birth, but a stark nod denotes complete agreement.
“The bourgeoisie, though, are grasping, ill-mannered vipers.” Ignoring the flush on her cheeks, the only indication thus far of her pedigree, he continues, “It is hard to know which is worse.”
What do you consider the most overrated virtue?
Madam Lemaître laughs aloud before he answers, an ironic twist to his lips, “Chastity is a ridiculous notion, but for faithful servants of God and unwed noble daughters.”
On what occasions do you lie?
“You say now Monseigneur is a liar and a coward?” Madam Lemaître tugs at his wrist, as though to pull him out of the room. “He is cousin to the Kings of France, monsieur, and you are no one.” She waves her hand as though to sweep me from the room. “Not a horse dropping on Monseigneur’s shoe.”
With a firm jerk, he reseats her at his side and silences her outburst. “Noblemen do not lie,” he says, with the barest twitch of his shoulder.
At her harrumph, he adds, “Clearly, I must remove Michelle before she does you some injury. I should not like to be you, monsieur, should she find reason to use teeth and talons in my defense. Ma doux pute has a sharp tongue but her fangs, they are like rapiers.
“If you do not believe me…” he says, a teasing note in his voice, tugging at the knot in his black cravat, “I can show you…” The corners of his lips turn up, closer to a smile than at any time since my arrival, seeking her reaction from the corner of his eye. For a moment, he appears inexplicably young, like a small boy playing a prank.
She slaps at his knee and giggles, so he abandons his mischief and they rise, Malbourne holding her snug against his side. One of her arms reaches around his waist; the other rests lightly on his hip, and with her head tucked under his chin, he absently caresses her cheek. Placing a kiss on the crown of her head, he says, “I expect, monsieur, you can find your way out.”
To learn more about le duc, read Royal Regard.
After fifteen years roaming the globe, the Countess of Huntleigh returns to England with her dying husband. She soon finds herself plagued by terrible troubles: a new title, estate, and sizable fortune; marked attentions from the marriage mart; the long-awaited reunion with her loving family; and a growing friendship with King George IV.
Settling into her new life, this shy-but-not-timid, not-so-young lady faces society’s censure, the Earl’s decline, false friends with wicked agendas, and the singular sufferings of a world-wise wallflower. Guided by her well-meaning husband, subject to interference by a meddlesome monarch, she must now choose the dastardly rogue who says he loves her, the charming French devil with a silver tongue, or the quiet country life she has travelled the world to find.
Mariana Gabrielle is a pseudonym for Mari Christie, a mainstream historical and Regency romance writer. She is also a professional writer, editor, and graphic designer with twenty years’ experience and a Bachelor’s in Writing from the University of Colorado Denver, summa cum laude. She lives in Denver, Colorado with two kittens who have no respect at all for writing time.