Her Grace of Avon hopped into the coach and settled across from the Duke, making a business of settling her skirts while the lackeys lifted the steps and shut the doors. A single glance exchanged between the Duke and Gaston, and the coach gave a gentle lurch, then began to roll, Gaston's boots clattering as he climbed up beside the coachman.
"C'est fini, tout cela," Leonie declared. "Vidal shall marry his little bourgeoisie, and they shall be very happy, I think."
The Duke had been gazing out the window, his profile pensive. He turned his head, the light heightening the fine bones under his porcelain skin, and striking cold glints into his pale eyes. "You think, my dear?"
Leonie gave an emphatic nod. "I do, me. Sapristi! Such a one as I would not do for him, I am thinking. He is much like you with his sword--" Her small hands zipped this way and that. "—and his driving, so. But he is fiery, like me. He has not the red hair, but the devil's own temper."
The Duke did not mistake her tone for apologetic, and his lips twitched. Middle-aged she might be, but not staid.
"You do not think it a good match, Justin?" She put her head to one side. "This Mary Challoner and our Vidal?"
The Duke regarded her sitting there, perched lightly as a butterfly. Then she moved, quick and impatient, and the skirts of her extremely expensive traveling gown crushed beneath her as she curled her legs up. Her great dark blue eyes, so dark they seemed violet, were steady: occasional reflections from windows flared and faded in her enormous pupils. He had never believed in miracles. Except here she was.
"I think it a very good match," he said, because she was waiting for an answer.
And, dryly, "Self-examination being rare enough to sustain at least a modicum of interest, it also occurs to me that I have been given a better life than I deserved."
Leonie's breath drew in. "Ah! J'ai vu, moi. You thought something terrible would happen to Vidal, no? And the fault would lie with you. Not with me, not with him. With you."
"Shall I lay the blame at the feet of my Puritan grandmother? She would be pleased, methinks, that some of her dire predictions did linger."
"Tchah. I do not regard that cant, me." Leonie swept a hand out, a gesture partly peremptory, partly boyish, and entirely characteristic. "You frightened Mary a little, I think, when you said that his morals are better than yours."
"I always play fair."
"But your morals are good," she protested, and at his silent laugh, she shrugged, hands in a Gallic spread. "What care we for the lip service of les hypocrites? What did Selwyn say--No, me! I am wrong. It was Madame du Deffand, when I first came to her salon—"
The Duke leaned forward, took her little fingers, and kissed them. "Whatever you do, you do it with grace."
"A strange thing, that. It sounds better in French. But when I am very angry, oh, English is much better for the curse. Peste!" She laughed. "Your morals are very good, mon coeur. You have been a paragon of virtue to me and to Hugh. What more could anyone ask?"
"That is entirely due to the fact that capricious Fate gave me a Leonie and a Hugh."
And if I had been in truth a Leon? she thought. Then he might still have been devoted to a Leon and a Hugh, but there would never have been a Vidal. He had long ago declared he maintained an armed truce with the notion of a distant and indifferent Providence, but she had never lost her faith in le bon Dieu. Of course she must be a Leonie.
"We shall have grandchildren," she said. "They will all love me because I will give them pretty fripperies, and when they are naughty I will laugh," she predicted. "Life is good."
The Duke did not trust the world: there was trouble in Parliament consequent to the loss of the American colonies, there were far more threatening rumblings here in France, ignored by a court so ossified by tradition it seemed incapable of change. Prussia had shown teeth. But the world had been a dangerous place all his life. He did not trust the world, or the rational metaphysics of Leibniz and the philosophes. What he trusted sat before him in the rapidly fading light, until all he could see were the reflected flames of the lamps in her eyes.
How to express what was in his heart? His very facility with words made him distrust them. Ah, but she was quick. Before he could stir she lifted her chin, and with a rustle of tissue and a husky little laugh, she had whirled from her seat to his, and she leaned up against him, warm and inviting.
And as the coach bowled over the execrable French roads, gently swaying, she proved—without words—that though they might soon be grandparents, they were in the most important ways still young.