Clementine's presentation at court fast approaches in only a week. Her mother has consented to allow her to attend events in advance of it, but only those hosted by me (it seems I am to be trusted, after all), and only when accompanied by a chaperone; usually the Dowager herself.
I find that this does not make my course of action any clearer, but rather more difficult to discern. I hosted a light dinner the other day, with cards to follow. The weather was unseasonably fine and we were obliged to open the windows to cool the room, but still the old cat dozed in her chair in a corner of the room after the dishes were cleared away. Without the stern gaze of her mother Clementine quite came alive, her eyes sparkled, she engaged in conversation, she laughed, and in so doing I believe she caught the eye of quite a few gentlemen; but she herself seemed to have eyes only for one. The Marquis de Menars played a hand for her, since she has had little opportunity between the convent and home to learn, and she stood behind him fanning the back of his neck to keep him cool. He claimed the effort of his brain to win for her was making his head too hot and that he would have to remove his wig, at which she exclaimed with a laugh that he should not dare to, and tapped his shoulder reproachfully with her free hand.
His manner towards her is so sweet, so lively, and so seemingly genuine that I find myself wishing to provide no impediment to what would in any usual circumstance seem to be a good match. I catch myself believing his intentions to be right, but only one of three things can be true; he is a clever villain, he is something of a deceiver, or he is guilty of merely having a strong temper. They say the gentleness of a woman may soothe the temper of a beast, but if Clementine is to enter into an imperfect marriage I would prefer that it be the one which allows me access to F-'s private dealings. Still, I hesitate to knowingly ruin a young girls potential happiness. Good and evil wrestle within me.
One of my other guests noticed my intent gaze as I was watching Menars and Clementine, and she asked after it with the kind of arch curiosity which supposes it knows the answer. The matter between he and I is not so far in the past that people have forgotten it. I answered that I was thinking how proud the late Comte de Rodez would be of his sister, who has blossomed so charmingly.
Later Clementine herself took me aside and said "You were very close with my brother, and you have been so kind to me. I hope you will not think me impertinent if I ask...are the rumors about the two of you true?" I looked at her, thinking that a lengthy silence would quell any desire to continue the conversation, but she persisted. "Were you...lovers?"
"No." I answered. "Merely good friends." Still she continued.
"Then, as you were so close to him, perhaps you could tell me if another rumor is true." Again I waited, and eventually she continued. "Was he...fond of men."
"He had many male acquaintances of whom he was very fond. He had a very charming manner."
"Yes, but did he prefer their company...to that of women."
I paused a while and said "I understand what it is that you are asking me. The truthful answer is that, yes, he did prefer the company of men, and one in particular; the Marquis de Franconville-aux-bois. In fact, the Marquis was present when your brother died."
Clementine thanked me, but I ceased to really listen, because a horrible thought had occurred to me. The Marquis was present when R- died, and he was the one who informed me of everything I know regarding that terrible event. If I can not trust him, then how much of what he has told me can I also not trust? Most chillingly of all, did R- really die the way he said he did? I have never spoken to his mother of the specifics of that day, and I don't know how to begin, but she is the only other person who was there; she and the doctor. Somehow I feel I must find out exactly what happened.