He settled into an armchair facing the four-post bed. His last time here, he had a lovely maiden tied between those posts, moaning and writhing with delight to his skill with the crop. His surroundings and the brandy sank in, warming his blood. A shame he would not be able to partake in the events of the Chateau. But his mission was clear.
It was unfortunate that Marguerite was not willing to accommodate his request. Who better than the proprietress herself to convince Trudie of the inappropriateness of the Chateau? And she would have spared Trudie the embarrassment of facing her husband, though he took some gratification at the thought of witnessing his wife’s mortification. Surely she would think twice about deceiving him and running off to places such as the Chateau Follet!
Now he had no option but to remove Trudie from the chateau himself. If he marched himself into her chambers, she would be too surprised and shamefaced to protest. But, as he had voiced to Marguerite, there was no guarantee that Trudie would not simply return at a later time.
He glanced at the longcase clock opposite him. The hour was indeed late. He had no affinity for traveling at night, and it would be too dangerous for a woman. He could claim his wife now, before any of the evening’s activities took place, but he admitted a growing curiosity to know the extent of her infidelity and whether she would truly consent to the debauchery here. He could not imagine Trudie would tolerate the extreme and sometimes violent nature of the carnality when she could ill handle the overtures of her own husband, but it had been over a year since he had approached her. Perhaps it was best to keep a furtive profile and depart on the morrow. He could keep an eye on Trudie to ensure her safety and discern who her possible paramour might be.
He rose and went to the armoire. Opening its doors, he found a selection of face masks. He picked a simple half mask of black satin. A matching black banyan hung beside it. The lighting at the Chateau was always dim, but he chose a powdered wig to further disguise himself from recognition.
As he donned the articles, he felt a strange anticipation.
HIS WIFE WAS NOWHERE to be found.
“Are you quite certain she is not in her chambers?” Leopold inquired of the maidservant he had asked to search the rooms.
“Yes, m’lord,” the woman replied.
“But her effects are still there? She has not departed?”
“Her portmanteau remains unpacked.”
Leopold returned downstairs to the assembly room, where the pairing ritual was held for guests to claim their partners. He saw Diana upon the lap of a handsome rogue, and thought of Charles joyfully watching the races, oblivious to his wife’s infidelity. Engrossed in murmuring into her paramour’s ear, she took no notice of Leopold. Even if she had, she would likely not have recognized him behind his mask and wig. He was tempted to ask Diana, who ought to have, as she had brought Trudie here, looked after her friend.
“Was she here?” Leopold asked of Madame Follet, who sat with her legs stretched upon a sofa while a young man several years her junior held a glass of wine to her lips.
“I’ve not seen the baroness since supper,” she replied after a sip. “I do hope she is well and can partake a little of the pleasures of the night. I would have tended to her more, but since you are here, I thought it unnecessary.”
“Are all your guests accounted for here?”
She looked about the room. “I think a few have left to begin the true start of their evenings.”
Leopold knew not how to receive the information. When first he had entered the assembly room earlier to see with whom Trudie might engage in criminal congress, he had been relieved to find her absent. Perhaps she had come to her senses and had chosen instead to retire for the evening. That she was not in her chambers left open the possibility that she might have gone off with one of the guests. It concerned him. She could not possibly fathom what transpired here at Chateau Follet, even if Diana had provided the most detailed of descriptions. Hearing of the activities was not the same as suffering them.
And what of the man who would serve as her dominant one? Would he be kind and gentle? Would he perceive her awkwardness and how easily she could be discomfited?
Leaving the assembly room, Leopold renewed his urgency to find Trudie. As he went through empty room after empty room on the first floor of the chateau, he began to consider how he might search the bedchambers upstairs without bursting in upon unsuspecting guests, but there was no way to prevent such an event if he was to be thorough in his search. And he would not rest until he had found Trudie.
After he discovered her safe and unharmed, he would be tempted to give her the proper scolding she deserved. It mattered not if she had come to Chateau Follet at Diana’s urging. In coming, Trudie had acquiesced to committing adultery. She had acquiesced to making him a cuckold.
His anger should be tempered, he knew, by guilt over his own infidelity, but wives could not be made cuckolds. He had done his duty in marrying Trudie, had treated her with nothing but kindness, had seen that she had more than enough in the way of pin money and had never denied her anything of consequence. That he did not often visit her bed was likely a relief for her. And she would repay all this by making him a cuckold.
As he allowed his anger to stew, he heard music coming from behind the partially closed doors of a drawing room. Looking through the opening, he beheld a woman seated at a pianoforte, her back to him. Like him, she wore the fashion of the prior century. Her satin dress of dark indigo had petticoats that made her full hips appear even more ample. Her hair was done in a powdered coiffure, but he recognized her figure.
Entering, he stood at the threshold and listened. A skilled pianiste, Trudie often liked to challenge herself with difficult pieces. At present, she played the “Sonata in E-flat Major” by Joseph Haydn. The large composition reflected much of the composer’s late complexities and sophistication. At the instrument, she commanded a passion that did not appear in her demeanor. Or perhaps he had simply not noticed it before.
She finished the final notes with flourish. Having been engrossed in the music, she nearly fell off the bench at the sound of him clapping. She scrambled to her feet and nearly knocked the bench over. She steadied the seat before standing behind the far end of the bench. Though she wore a Venetian mask over her eyes, he knew by her movements that it was Trudie.
“You’re an accomplished player,” he remarked in low, hushed tones to disguise his voice.
“Th-Thank you,” she replied. She pulled at the sleeve of her gown, where layers of lace descended from the elbow. Knowing his wife, she could not be comfortable in such a garment. She adjusted the mask as she cleared her throat.
“Do you await someone here?” he asked.
“No, I—I passed by the room quite by accident and saw this instrument, a Broadwood, and I could not resist.”
He eyed the beautifully grained rosewood and mahogany beside her. In addition to its stately harpsichord case, the instrument produced more resonance than the Viennese she had at home.