Armand’s First Letter. Amelia’s First Letter.
L’Hôtel d’Esprit, Toulouse, Provençe
30 September 1015
My dearest cousin Armand,
This week I hope to bring my story up-to-date; for the whirlwind has at last settled down into a serious of occasional gusts.
Maximilian has begun his work at the embassy, burying himself in the minutia of Toulouse political and social life in the mornings, and wandering the streets of Toulouse in the afternoon. Some days I accompany him; and other days I do not, all according to my own activities—and to the quarter of the City that he intends to canvas. On the latter days he dresses in apparel “of the most disreputable”, as Mlle. Sophie puts it, and sneaks out by the back stairs.
I would not wish to give you the impression that Mlle. Sophie disapproves; her attitude is quite other. “He is a good man,” she said to me with a forwardness I found rather shocking. “And all good men have something of the rogue, n’est-ce pas?“
I must say, it is the first time I have seen my Maximilian in the light of roguery, and I am not sure I approve of the notion. Certainly I much prefer his company when he has resumed his normal garb, for his rogue’s apparel has quickly acquired a certain…air.
Leaving my husband’s—Oh, how I thrill to that phrase!—leaving my husband’s moral character to the side, I must now tell you about Dr. Laguerre.
Several days after our arrival in Toulouse, after we had met with Mr. Gainsborough and I had been attired to Lady Ellemere’s liking, Maximilian escorted me to the environs of L’Ecole du Sorciers—which are far other than I imagined.
I had expected that L’Ecole (as I shall call it) would be situated in the complex of buildings and halls that comprise
the University of Toulouse; and that however grand the University might be, the surroundings would be swarming with students living in near-tenement conditions—for they do not arrange these things in Toulouse as they do in Edenford.
The students in Edenford, as I am sure you know, are mostly gentleman’s sons; they live in college and all too often do their best to live beyond their father’s means. But in Toulouse, any young man can aspire to higher learning. Very good for them, of course, but it changes the atmosphere distinctly; and having no means, they must yet live somehow.
I was somewhat apprehensive, therefore; for Provençese students are notorious and Maximilian will not always be available to escort me. I had been considering asking Mr. Gainsborough for the loan of a stout young man from the embassy.
As it happens, L’Ecole is in another quarter of the City altogether, the neighborhood called the Bois D’Albertine. It is a cheerful place, though grown rather shabby from the Troubles and their aftermath; where it was previously the home of old, respected, but relatively impecunious families, it is now the home of small merchants, budding lawyers, and other hopeful but not yet entirely successful members of the la societé apres-Maréchal, the post-Maréchal society.
I have used that phrase as though it means something; but though it is on everyone’s lips I am unsure that it means the same thing to any two people to whom one speaks. La Maréchal is gone, that is undeniable; Provençe is not what it was, this is quite true; but what it shall be, no one knows but everyone wants to seek the highest place they can. It is quite odd for one used to the stability of Cumbrian society; but as Mr. Gainsborough said to us, nature abhors a vacuum, and that goes double for the Provençese.
But I have gone astray in my tale.
L’Ecole du Sorciers is plopped down in the middle of the Albertine (as we Cumbrians are wont to call it), but is not quite a part of it. It shows to the world a narrow house of three floors that fronts on the Rue St. Albert, a house that looks little different than the other houses on the street save for a small, discreet plaque by the door; but this house is no more than the Porter’s Lodge. One speaks to the porter and states one’s business; and then, if one is admitted, one passes through and out the back and into a large tract of land surrounded by a wall that is quite eight feet high. The land is studded here and there with the buildings of L’Ecole, with paths and gardens, and with alarming blackened spots and places where the air seems permanently hazy.
Dr. Laguerre explained to us that L’Ecole has been situated her since time out of mind; it was built well outside the bounds of the City (as it existed at that time) so that the studies of its inmates would not disturb le bourgeois. The Albertine has since grown up around it, and indeed taken its name; for it is said that L’Ecole was founded by the great St. Albert himself.
The porter directed us to a small house not far from the Lodge, where, he said, we would find Dr. Laguerre.
Oh, Armand, I fear I have been too loquacious! I had so wanted to tell you of our meeting with Dr. Laguerre, but I have expended my paper on details of the City instead. Though I suppose no harm is done, as Mama will simply add this letter to the stack and hand it to you with the rest when you arrive in Yorke.
Your penitent cousin,
Photo by Léonard Cotte on Unsplash