Rossignol burst into the Vicomtesse's chambers, crying and a mess. The Vicomtesse leapt from her settee with an expression of alarm at the sight of her beloved page's muddied, wet form, left knee poking through a hole in his stocking and raw red with blood.
"My Rossignol!" she cried, her velvet draped arms extending themselves towards the boy. He thought, in a moment of joy at the concern on her face, that she appeared very much like the figure of the Madonna in one of the vividly colored paintings the Vicomtesse stood him before silently for hours. But then he was on his knees before her voluminous skirts, hiding his face in his hands and crying piteously. Her cold, slender hands worried themselves through his soft hair, the underbelly of her rings scraping against his flesh. "Rossignol, who has accosted you?" she demanded of him angrily, her voice biting as snow. "Tell me!"
With a pitiful whimper, Rossignol dared to lift his eyes a half inch, assuming an attitude of shame. "I've failed you, my Vicomtesse!"
She gathered his face between her hands, lifting it forcibly so his blue eyes could gaze into her black ones. "What do you mean, my cherub? Who has hurt you so?"
He tore his face from her grasp as though he could not bear her to look at him. "I was robbed! A gypsy witch pounced on me as I made my way hastily to the Palace of Justice, she beat me hard and tore my pouch from me, I believe she would of dragged me away had I not managed to slip free of her!"
"My poor Rossignol! My sweet, defenceless one! A gypsy, a murderous accursed gypsy!" in her outraged indignation and horror that her prize pet should so be treated, the Vicomtesse's shrewdness seemed to have gone momentarily on hiatus, for otherwise she would surely have found it odd that Rossignol's hand was still crowned with the glittering ruby she'd given him, that the slender gold chain around his neck was intact, that his rich tunic, apart from being muddied, was otherwise untouched. But the sight of crystalline tears on the boy's cherubic cheeks touched something within the Vicomtesse - an anger at seeing one of her possession's marred and touched by such filth. She rose swiftly, all but knocking the soiled Rossignol to the ground and swooped for the door, wrenching it open with such force the impact of the gold handle caused a black dent in the wall and the china to rattle within their cabinet.
"Fetch Rossignol a bath and clean tunic and be swift! Go, now!" the new maidservant's worn black shoes slipped helplessly on the marble floors as she scurried to follow the Vicomtesse's orders, determined not to sufferthe same fate as her predecessor. Ginevra turned back to where Rossignol was slouched on the ground, face hidden between pink and white hands, sobbing sorrowfully. Seating herself gracefully on the settee, she drew the boy into her arms, holding his muddied cheek to her bosom where he breathed her perfume in deeply.
"Hush now, Rossignol."
"I have failed you! I am shamed and disgraced!"
"Hush now! In what way have you failed me, you have been attacked and robbed by a gypsy?"
"Oh Vicomtesse! I plead your forgiveness!"
"You are forgiven!" she declared with a dash of impatience. "Now tell me what has happened?"
"She stole from me the letter my Vicomtesse sent me to the Minister of Justice with!"
Any who had been witness to it would not of believed it possible; the Vicomtesse's face went whiter. Where there had previously appeared to be no color, there apparently was, for her face was now more stark, more pale against the black of her hair and eyes, than before.
"The Minister's letter?" she repeated after a spell, her voice quiet to hide the hoarseness behind it. Rossignol nodded into the pearls and bloodstones of her bodice.
"That is right, she tore it from my belt with my pouch."
The Vicomtesse sat up, pushing Rossignol with her, grasping him by the shoulders and shaking him hard. "Tell me everything, Rossignol, everything!"
Faltering, nervous in the face of the Vicomtesse's anxiety and determined to keep his role, Rossignol dashed tears from his eyes and let his lip tremble. "It is just as I said - I was hurrying along when the rains set in. I paused bearby the Cathedral steps to wait until it became lighter, and then she appeared out of the rains - and she walked up to me with all of her sharp and pointed teeth bared and pounced on my tear, tearing at my clothes and hair and pulling my pouch from me and shoving me back hard. She was about to pounce on me again, to pull me away, when I managed to scurry onto the Cathedral steps, and when she saw the Church she gave a shrief and ran away, even as her flesh began to sizzle!"
The Vicomtesse mulled over this for several moments, her eyes stonily fixed on Rossignol as he began to fidget under her intense gaze, squeezing a few tears more from his eyes in the hopes it would make his story more plausible. She startled him to jump a second later. "as there anything odd about her, this gypsy witch?"
Rossignol raced over the details in his mind,and his heart leapt gladly when one distinguishing characteristic leapt forward. "Oh yes! Its how I knew she was truly a witch and a Daughter of Satan!"
"What was it, what was it?" The Vicomtesse's voice was livid in its urgency.
"She had eyes of two different colors! They did not match!"
The Vicomtesse released Rossignol who fell with a gasp back against the settee, before rising agitatedly to her feet and striding over to her alcove to gaze out of the double windows to the bleak grey of the skies beyond. The whore of the Town Square a week ago had had mismatched eyes. They could very well be the same. undoubtedly they were the same. The Vicomtesse shivered as she remembered the girl's bared teeth and flashing eyes, the evil red of her hair as it snaked over her shoulders. Clearly the witch was out to wreak revenge for her gypsy-man, her wicked consort.
"Vicomtesse?" Ginevra jumped violently, turning back with an infuriated scowl for the maidservant who hovered uncertainly in the doorway.
"What?" Ginevra impatiently snapped. The girl shrunk back as though the Vicomtesse had bitten her and bobbed a hasty curtsy.
"Your page's bath is ready and awaiting him, Vicomtesse." she said meekly. With a sigh the Vicomtesse nodded to Rossignol who huddled still by the settee, looking at her from round, anxious eyes.
"Go Rossignol, hurry and have yourself tended to."
Rossignol obeyed quickly, scurrying out after the girl, allowing himself only a twinge of dissapointment the Vicomtesse no longer attended his baths as she had when he was younger, if only to sit to the side and look on.
The Vicomtesse returned to her musings by the window, her hands balling themselves into fists. What would the witch do now? What *could* she do? The letter, though containing implications only, was more than enough to incriminate an extra-marital affair. She herself hinted at it to Henri, sometimes mocked him with it - but never once did she confess, nor say outright, nor mention it seriously. Never once had he either seen or caught her with a lover, unless it should be a casual conversation at a gathering. And now an unscrupulous, villainous gypsy had her hands upon a most important piece of evidence! Should the information get out - Ginevra shuddered more violently still as images of a repeat performance of the whisperings, mockery and snide remarks that followed the release of 'La Belladonna' played through her head. A biting pain in her hand caused her to gasp and the limb flew up in front of her face in shock. So tightly had she clenched her fists, that one of her finely pointed nails had broken the flesh, and she stared in mute horror at the gem of blood that welled from the cut, before clenching her fist shut once more and turning violently from the window.
She had nothing to fear, she reasoned. What gypsy could read?
 


 

Much later that evening, Clopin returned from the Court Center with more merriness in his breast than had been caused by good wine. As he'd expected, they'd demanded entertainment from him, and ever the born-performer he'd been all but too glad to oblige them, with songs, some sly legerdemain and cheery witticisms, all met with roaring approval. He'd been a little sorry that Herli had not been there for it all, he'd wanted to sit down and talk with her about lovely everything and joyous nothing, for the last two days had been busy for them both with little time to spare for the other - but she would insist upon idiocy disguised as independance. It was not that Clopin enjoyed spanking her - well under certain circumstances he did, but she invariably enjoyed it then too - if it were not for the way of the world, she could do many of the things she shouldn't and he would not try to stop her - within reason - but such freedom was not the way of the world, and Herli seemed determined to ignore the fact a woman could simply not get away with what a man could. Clopin did not know how strict propriety had been in India - Herli was reluctant to elaborate on such details and so provide her husband further ground to discipline her upon - but she had surely lived in France long enough to know what was acceptable. He knew she grew frustrated from caring for four rapidly growing children, and that not enough plays were put on during the year for her to act in and so vent that frustration - if it wasn't for the fact that she was risking her neck everytime she sought entertainment - Clopin sighed and tugged on his goatee, one long-fingered hand scratching lazily at his ribs - deliberately ignoring the duplicity of his reason. He risked his neck a dozen times a day in similar pursuits. But, then it all boiled down to the same thing - he was a man in a man's world. Halting by Bethan's tent, supporting himself inconspicously on a chair and trying not to breathe in her direction lest she detect the stain of alcohol on his breath, he charmed two roses from her and began a tottering path back to his tent. Well, roses should satisfy her for awhile, she was so damned fond of eating them.
Poking his head cautiously inside the tent, handsome long nose first, beautiful black eyes next, Clopin looked around for his wife. The tent, at first hazed glance, appeared empty.
Pulling his hat from his shaggy black head, Clopin pulled himself into the tent on lanky legs. "Herli!" he called towards the bed, none too softly - alcohol making him forget that sound travels quite easily over a ten foot distance. He crept in, and quickly lit the lamp which hung from the ceiling, before turning around and around, looking all over the tent. No it really was empty! Just to be sure he hauled up the bedsheets and looked beneath the bed.
"Herli?" he whispered. No, she was not there.
Clopin sat up from his bony knees with an effort, and with a greater one pulled himself onto the bed, releasing a heavy sigh, and pulling from his concealed pockets his wooden look-alike he addressed the Puppet drunkenly. "So, my young friend, you doubtless know where my wife is and are a conspirer in her plot! Tell me then, where is she?"
Puppet, whose head was never affected by wine,merely shook it vigorously at his master and retorted. "She's cuckolding you and I both!" and ducked swiftly when Clopin moved to slap him. "Truly, big oaf, if you did not indulge in your drink so much you might perhaps be more observant." and he gestured towards Herli's trunk. Bemused, Clopin craned his neck to see what Puppet pointed at - Herli had flung her clothes about and they lay haphazardly about the floor. Further investigation revealed the hardest of her shoes were missing, and Clopin's long road-worn cloak too. Scratching his head, and shaking it hard to clear it of the cobwebs which had set in swiftly after the tenth mug, Clopin pondered the dissapearance.
"Well, she's off on some divilment to be sure." he mused to his small wooden friend who nodded his head in terse agreement, his painted smile mocking the seriousness of the situation. Clopin remembered the glee with which she had danced home and the triumphant smirk which lit her face up like a small, winking gem. He frowned. "And she's leaving me out of it!"
"Fancy that, she can tie her laces without you!" Puppet trilled. Turning sombrely towards him, Clopin brought his friend's eyes in line with his own.
"One day," he intoned "I'll place you in a bucket of termites."
Puppet silenced him by clasping his nose between cloth gloves.