The Countess de Mondeau

The Countess de Mondeau

Ben Leyb

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In a time of political unrest and cholera outbreaks, one man finds the woman who will satisfy his every passion...but at a very high cost.

 

Edouard Herzen is a mild mannered worker in an investment firm by day, by night he's devoted to a new radical movement, the Lazulists. Their main objective is simple - they will rock France's already shaky foundation, both economical and sexual. The Lazulists await the coming of the next messiah - a female savior.

 

Secrets and untruths shadow the Lazulists.

 

It's no different for Edouard.

 

Will his love for the Countess de Mondeau take him on a whirlwind of destruction or to a new life?
 

 
PUBLISHED BY: Eirelander Publishing
ISBN: 1451542232
PUBLICATION DATE: 2010
WORD COUNT: 103000
SEXUAL CONTENT RATING: 1
EBOOK READER RATING:
CATEGORIES: Romantic Fiction, Historical
KEYWORDS: Literary erotica, erotic romance, historical, anal play
 

EBOOKS BY Eirelander Publishing

EBOOKS BY Ben Leyb

 
EXCERPT
COPYRIGHT Ben Leyb/2010

No year has given rise

To as many theories about humanity

As the year 1832 has spawned

In one single day.


—Alfred de Vigny, Otello

 

 

 

BOOK ONE

Paris, December 1831

 


Chapter One


The atmosphere in the hall crackled. The packed audience filled all three tiers of the meeting hall on the rue Taitbout, eager to hear about the Lazulists, the newest social movement. This radical group hoped to overthrow the restored French monarchy and revolutionize even the most intimate relationships.

Gathered in the hall were rebellious students in shiny leather caps; young women who worked in hat shops, perfumeries, and florist stalls; workers from forges, stables, mills, and workshops, trying not to show the stains on their trousers; middle class clerks who scrivened all day in dark, candlelit offices; engineers eager for a society based on reason and merit; financiers in top hats who dreamed of a world where birth did not block their ambitions; aspiring artists who sketched barely clothed models in the studios of the great Romantic painters; and even a few enlightened members of the nobility who traded new ideas in Paris salons over slices of goose liver pâté.

In the front of the first balcony a beefy and very pregnant blonde held two empty seats, draping her black woolen shawl over three chairs to mark them as reserved.

“Hey, are those seats taken?” asked a workingman in a patched overcoat who was standing in the aisle at the end of the row.

“You bet they are,” the blonde insisted.

“Who by, your lover and his other woman?” the man badgered.

“Never you mind who by!” The blonde used her muscular arms to stretch her shawl menacingly over the two unoccupied seats to be sure no one got any idea of taking them.

The man who wanted to sit down tried again: “It’s past the starting time. Give up the seats!”

A woman with thick dark hair worked her way along the row from the other end. “Thank you for saving our places, Wilhelmina.” As she reached one of the empty seats she shucked off her brown wool overcoat to reveal a light blue silk dress that was a twin of her eye color. The audience members nearby exchanged whispers when they recognized the infamous arrivals: the woman in blue was the scandalous Countess de Mondeau; her companion in a black dress and short matching vest was the famous actress of Spanish descent, Françoise Léal; and their elegantly attired escort with gray hair smoothed back from his brow was the Baron de Basse-Rivière, a prominent figure in the countess’s sparkling salon.

“If it’s all the same to you, madame, I’ll go now,” Wilhelmina said to the countess. The servant patted her pregnant belly. “I’m not feeling my best today.”

“Of course. Go and get some rest.” The others in their row grudgingly stood again to let the blonde squeeze by.

The woman sitting behind Mademoiselle Léal passed her the back of a laundry receipt and asked if she would sign an autograph. The actress obliged with a smile.

“Really, Amandine,” the baron scolded the Countess de Mondeau when they were finally settled, “is it necessary for you to make us late for every event?”

“Absolutely.” The countess draped her overcoat over her chair back and turned to face the Baron de Basse-Rivière: “In any case, Hervé, they’re just getting started.” She gestured toward the stage, which was empty except for several arcs of benches. The first few rows of orchestra seats were also unoccupied, roped off.

The audience watched curiously as a group of men began to file onto the stage, dressed in unusual outfits. They wore loose-fitting, buttonless jackets, thigh-length and without a collar. These outer garments were made entirely of cloth of the deepest blue, while their pants and shirts were white. Many sported beards and hair longer than the fashion of those days. They filled the benches on the left side of the stage.

“And who might they be?” Mademoiselle Léal asked her companions. “Have the twelve disciples gone forth and multiplied?”

“That’s the lower rank of the Lazulist leadership, madame,” a workingman explained. He sat next to the three well-dressed audience members. His breath smelled of cheap red wine and his shaggy gray hair wanted cutting. “You’re some fancy folks to be attending a rally of a people’s movement!” He squinted at them suspiciously.

“The people have friends in many quarters,” Mademoiselle Léal replied.

The worker nodded appreciatively to the actress, but the baron made an expression as if he’d just bitten something sour.

From backstage a contingent of female Lazulists wearing violet dresses filed into the hall, many waving to friends as they occupied the first few rows of the orchestra.

“The women’s division,” pointed out the workingman to the left of the baron.

“That much I gathered,” the baron responded.

A smaller group of men entered from backstage, dressed as the previous male contingent but with jackets in a lighter blue, bright as stained glass.

“The Sacred College,” the workingman whispered, his tone respectful.

Two high-backed armchairs on the platform were still unoccupied. There was a pause, and two men strode onto the stage clothed in even lighter blue jackets, and took the chairs closest to the podium.

“Enter the High Priests!” The baron jested to his companions.

“Not at all, sir,” the workingman interjected. “That’s Oscar Gomès and Auguste Lepetit, our leaders.”

Around the stage, waves of light blue doublets gave way to deeper and deeper shades of cobalt garments. The room fell silent.

“I like the costumes,” Mademoiselle Léal whispered to the countess and the baron. “These Lazulists know a thing or two about stagecraft.”

“For a political movement that purports to represent the common man,” the baron observed, “they seem to have an uncommonly high percentage of extremely attractive men and women.”

“Hervé!” Mademoiselle Léal nudged the baron. “We are here strictly for research.”

The baron smirked. “Research has many aims.”

At stage right a man stood up from his seat and walked purposefully to the podium. He had a bearing that was both dignified and relaxed, with curly brown locks and beard in the style of the apostles in Renaissance paintings.

“Would you say he is evidence for your theory that the followers of this group are quite attractive?” Mademoiselle Léal whispered.

“Oh, most definitely,” the baron returned.

“Hush, I want to hear what he’s saying.”

“How civic of you, countess.” The baron turned to face the stage.

The speaker looked out at the audience, nodded to a few familiar faces in the first rows, and began. “Good day, citizens.”

“That’s Edouard Herzen,” the workingman called out proudly, “he’s one who speaks for us.”

Edouard Herzen’s glance traveled all the way to the balcony where the countess, the baron, and the actress were seated. He seemed a bit fearful of the large crowd. “And it is a good day. Because soon the long eclipse of justice will be over.”

A murmur of approval fluttered through the hall and seemed physically to buoy the speaker.

“We, the followers of Henri de Lazuli, called the Lazulists, say that the French monarchy will soon collapse like a rotted-out pumpkin. The people have tasted the ripe berries of liberty, and we cannot get that sweet taste out of our mouths.” More cheers from the audience.

The baron looked over this handsome speaker from head to toe. “Sweet taste, indeed.” He winked at his female companions.

Edouard Herzen gazed up at the balcony again. “Those who toil in the heat of the forges and those who stoke the kitchen fires will soon feel the cool breeze of freedom. The world’s armies will cease to slaughter. Instead, these battalions will build hospitals, railroads, and homes for those without dwellings.”

The crowd grew excited. Shouts of approval ricocheted through the hall.

“He certainly has a penetrating voice,” the countess murmured to Mademoiselle Léal.

“Deeply penetrating.” The actress gently rapped the countess’s wrist with her fan, in mock punishment.

Edouard Herzen’s words now rose on the wave of the audience’s excitement. “Those of humble birth and those of noble birth will soon have paths of equal width. Inheritance will be abolished!” A great roar poured into the hall.

“Oh, now, that’s a low blow,” the baron quipped .

“Hervé,” the Countess de Mondeau reprimanded the baron, “you don’t even have any heirs!”

“You mean you don’t want my wealth?” he whispered to the countess.

The countess rolled her eyes. “Your debts, you mean? Shh, I want to hear the speech.”

The speaker, Edouard Herzen, continued: “We Lazulists pride ourselves on being the first political movement ever to take up the cause of women. The feminine gender has been beaten, subjugated, and ignored, but it will soon take its place in the same ranks as men.”

At this the higher voices of the women in the audience cheered loudly and the rows of women at the front waved their scarves in the air, creating a sea of purple.

“All of Europe will be united in peace. There will be one European currency, one European parliament.” With this new idea, the skeptics in the audience had had enough, and yelled out, “Traitor!” “Sure, the French and the Prussians will be allies!” “A fool’s utopia!” But Herzen had too much momentum now to stop for those few hecklers.

“Our dreams as Lazulists aren’t limited to national borders. We also call for the rehabilitation of the flesh. The gifts of the body are as fine as the gifts of the soul.”

“Amen to that, my friend,” Mademoiselle Léal whispered to the countess, who smiled at her from behind the fan she was now using to wave away the strong smells of the crowd.

Edouard Herzen continued, “The human body will stand up with pride.”

The baron could not resist remarking to his companions, “I do wonder what part of the human body he’s referring to.”

“But we do not wish,” Herzen said, “to sharpen the blade of the guillotine again.”

The baron took out his handkerchief and dabbed the perspiration on his forehead.

“We are now forming communities that will embody our ideas,” Herzen continued, “and those communities will set an example that will lean so hard on the state that it will crumble.

“There will be days, maybe decades, my friends, when many will doubt these truths. But History is in love with Freedom, and in the end, that couple must be united!”

Loud applause clattered through the hall. Edouard Herzen looked puzzled at the power of his own words, but appeared to remember where he was and gave a little bow to the crowd. He sat back among the ranks of the leaders. During the hymns and the other speeches that followed, Herzen seemed lost in his thoughts.

When the meeting was over, the Baron de Basse-Rivière, the Countess de Mondeau, and Françoise Léal made their way down the stairs to the stage level. They walked against the current of departing spectators to the front of the hall. Just as they arrived at the edge of the stage, one of the Lazulist leaders, Oscar Gomès, came up to congratulate Edouard Herzen. Gomès was a short barrel of a man with unkempt hair and a gray beard but no moustache, which made him look oddly like a leprechaun. He was accompanied by his wife, Renée, also a person of short stature but imposing presence.

“Excellent speech, Edouard,” Oscar Gomès said.

“Thank you.”

“Some people said when I recruited you to the movement, that a mathematician would not have the passion to be a public speaker, but I knew they were wrong,” Gomès said.

“Mathematics is a passion for those who love it,” Edouard commented.

“Oscar,” Renée Gomès entered the conversation, “I think we should let others congratulate Edouard.” She indicated the well-wishers who were behind them.

“Of course.” Oscar Gomès stepped out of the way.

To Edouard’s surprise, those who pressed forward to shake his hand included the Countess de Mondeau, the Baron de Basse-Rivière, and Françoise Léal, whom he had heard was the countess’s frequent companion.

“Monsieur Herzen,” the Countess de Mondeau greeted him, extending her suede-gloved hand, which Edouard took in his own. “I am Amandine de Mondeau.” She omitted her title. “I hope you will forgive my boldness in approaching you, but I must tell you I found your talk deeply moving.”

Edouard Herzen noticed her light blue eyes. “Thank you, countess. I know you by your reputation.”

“Oh, I hope not!” the countess parried.

“Allow me to present myself,” the baron intervened. “I am Baron Hervé Sosthènes Phillipe Victor de Basse-Rivière. And this is Mademoiselle Léal.”

“I have admired Mademoiselle Léal’s performances in several plays that have advanced the people’s cause,” Herzen said.

“Mademoiselle Léal is rather rash in her choice of dramatic roles.” The baron’s lips curled up in a grin. “Monsieur Herzen, if you would not mind sharing a snifter of brandy with your mortal enemies, the countess and I would like to invite you to our little salon. We wonder if you would explicate the doctrines of Count de Lazuli on Friday evening at her residence.”

“I doubt that you are my enemies,” Edouard said, confused about how to respond.

Just then, Auguste Lepetit, the other head of the Lazulists, approached their group. He was a lighthouse of a man, unusually tall, with long wavy, chestnut hair; green eyes like searchlights; and a soft beard. Mademoiselle Léal nudged the baron to draw his attention to this striking man. “Edouard, please introduce me to your friends,” said the Lazulist leader, beaming his calm smile at them.

Edouard gave all of their names. “They were just inviting me to discuss our doctrines at the countess’s salon.”

Lepetit paused. He seemed about to take offense at not being invited to this gathering himself. “Excellent!” he said instead, bowing slightly. “That is most kind of you, countess.”

“Not at all,” she replied.

“We were also wondering if Monsieur Herzen might bring with him one of the female followers of your movement,” said Françoise Léal. Lepetit looked puzzled. “Since your movement puts so much emphasis on women’s equality,” she prompted.

“Oh, yes. If you wish,” Lepetit said. “But I’m not sure who.”

“What about Cécile Kerlec?” volunteered Edouard Herzen. “She’s the best-spoken woman in the worker’s section.”

“Cécile, of course,” agreed Lepetit. “Excellent suggestion, Edouard. I’ll speak to her.”

“That’s settled, then,” said the baron.

“I’m afraid I must leave you,” Lepetit said. “Strong speech, Edouard. Amazing that you find time to write such a text, between your work and raising two children.”

“Well, Henriette raises the children. Family life is not my forte,” Edouard said.
“We’re glad that making speeches is.” Lepetit clapped Edouard on the back and then left to join another group.

“Till Friday, then,” said the baron to Edouard. He crooked his arms for the ladies to take them. “Amandine and Françoise, we must enjoy our all our wicked privileges before this man and his comrades spirit them away.” The baron smiled mischievously as he used his gold-tipped cane to salute Edouard Herzen before he and his friends took their leave.

**End Excerpt**
 

 
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