The Jewel Thief

The Jewel Thief

by Jeannie Mobley

Hardcover

$18.99
View All Available Formats & Editions
Members save with free shipping everyday! 
See details

Overview

A lush, slow-burn romance set in 17th century France, and based on the history of the Hope Diamond—The Glittering Court meets Alex and Eliza.

Her story begins . . . in Paris. The only daughter of the King's crown jeweler, Juliette marvels at the large, deep-blue diamond Louis XIV has commanded her father to make shine like the sun. But Jean Pitau has never cut a diamond quite like this, and shaping it is a risky endeavor. As Jean spirals into depression, Juliette takes it upon herself to cut the stone, and with every misstep, brings her family closer to ruin.

Her story resumes . . . in a cold, dark cell of the Bastille prison. Charged with stealing the King's diamond, Juliette has but one chance to convince him that her motives were pure. If she fails, this night may very well be her last. Though, death wouldn't be her worst fate. Because recording Juliette's confession is René, a court-appointed scribe, and the man she loves. But René holds his own grudge against Juliette, and this is her one and only chance to win back his heart.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781984837417
Publisher: Penguin Young Readers Group
Publication date: 05/26/2020
Pages: 368
Sales rank: 452,986
Product dimensions: 8.20(w) x 5.60(h) x 1.40(d)
Age Range: 12 Years

About the Author

Jeannie has spent much of her life daydreaming herself into other centuries. This tendency has led her to multiple degrees in history and anthropology, and a passion for writing fiction. She is the author of three historical middle grade novels (Katerina's Wish (2012, McElderry), Searching for Silverheels (2014, McElderry), and Bobby Lee Claremont and the Criminal Element (2017, Holiday House), which have received starred reviews from Booklist, Kirkus Reviews, Publishers Weekly, and Library Media Connection. Other honors include the Willa Award, Colorado Book Award, Junior Library Guild Selection, and inclusion on numbers notable lists, including the Amelia Bloomer List for Feminist Literature, Library of Congress 52 Great Reads List, the New York Public Library Notables, the Jefferson Cup List for Historical Fiction, as well as a variety of state lists. Her favorite stories are those of ordinary people who achieve the extraordinary. She is currently a professor of anthropology and department chair at a college in northern Colorado.

Read an Excerpt

One

 

Louvre Palace, April 25, 1673

I kneel, gritting my teeth against the pain of my cracked ribs and blistered hand. The hard, cold edge of the marble step bites into my knees as the king’s glare forces me down against it. Such cruel irony. I am exactly where I’d planned to be on this day, kneeling before the glory of Louis XIV, but so very far from the victory I’d envisioned. I should be here with my father, beauty beyond imagining in hand. Instead, I am chained and beaten, a delicious spectacle for this heartless court, and Papa—well, who knows exactly where Papa is. I pray to the Virgin and every saint in heaven that he is finishing our grand project and not lying in a drunken stupor somewhere, rendering all our hard work and sacrifice in vain.
“Juliette Pitau.” The king’s voice draws me out of my prayer. He rolls my name slowly across his tongue as he might an old wine, deciding if there is any sweetness to it, or if it has soured to vinegar.

I raise my eyes to his gleaming presence. Louis XIV is all that he claims to be—the living sun—ablaze with the fire of his own vanity. Black-clad ministers orbit him, their muted coats and manners only sharpening his brilliance. When they glance my way, they register cold indifference to colder disdain, but I don’t care. The king alone matters. He alone will sanction death, and how much pain I will endure before it comes.

 

He alone is the one I must defy.

I clench my teeth and dare a glance at his face. A mistake, I realize too late. He snares my eyes with his own and I cannot look away. Knowing I am pinned, he smiles and leans back in his gilded chair, luxuriating in his power to hold me dangling, poised to fall the moment he wills it. He stretches out one silk-hosed leg, allowing the court to admire his strong, curving calf, his shapely ankle, and, of course, his stylish, well-heeled shoe with its preposterously large bow.

“Juliette Pitau,” he says again, his voice languid like a cat lazily stretching, flexing its claws. “I am waiting for an answer.”

I swallow and draw a breath. I have prepared an answer, though I know it is not the one he wants. I force out the trembling words. “I confess to all charges, Your Majesty. I alone am guilty.”

His smirk tightens ever so slightly. “It seems to me, Mademoiselle Pitau, that you are at the center of a large conspiracy.”

My heart contracts with fear and my words tumble out too quickly. “No, Your Majesty. The others are innocent. They had no knowledge—”

“Where is my diamond, Juliette?” My name cracks like a whip on his tongue.

I swallow again as desperation flares through my body. Doubtless, the king can hear it in the quiver of my voice. But this is my only chance. “You will have it, Your Majesty. If you will only give us two days! All we have done is for your glory. You will shine like the sun, I assure you!”

His eyebrows raise in their exquisite arch, his control tucked neatly back into place. “Do I not shine like the sun already?” He shifts, letting the gold embroidery on his velvet robes catch the light. Rubies and diamonds flash from every finger.

“You are le Roi-Soleil,” I reply, obediently. The Sun King, resplendent in his jewels and power. “The day you came into power is the day the sun rose on all of France.”

Amusement ripples across his features, and I realize I have slipped into a trap. Like a cat, he will play with me for a time before the fatal blow.

“And your father?” Louis asks. “Did the sun rise on him too?”

I grit my teeth again. What answer does he expect me to make? The mouse never knows the rules of the cat’s game, except, perhaps, that it can’t win. All I can think is to repeat a warning I should have heeded a year ago. “If you are the sun, Your Majesty, my father is Icarus.”

“Ah, Icarus, who flew too close to the sun in his waxen wings and fell. Do you expect my pity, mademoiselle?”

A single tear falls down my cheek before I can stop it. “My father believed he was doing your bidding, Your Majesty.” It’s what I should have said before.

“And was that your intent too? To do my bidding?”

I lower my gaze to the enormous bows on his shoes, hoping humility will lend credence to my answer. “Yes, Your Majesty.”

“Then tell me where the diamond is!” he demands, slamming a fist on the arm of his chair. The assembled ministers jump, puppets on a single string.

I jump too. Pain explodes along my ribs where I was kicked mercilessly the night before. My hand jerks instinctively toward my side, but the chains that bind my hands deny me that comfort.

“Spain, perhaps? Were you working for Charles of Spain?” the king asks, pulling my attention back.

“Our work has been for you and no other, Your Majesty,” I assure him, though my mouth is nearly too dry to speak.

“Then why do you defy me?”

Choosing words wisely has never been my talent, but I struggle forward. “The diamond is not ready, Your Majesty. Give my father two more days and you will have it. I swear on the Virgin Birth, I am telling the truth.”

“You will forgive me if I have little confidence in your claims of truth,” he says.

I raise my eyes to his again. Such boldness could cost me dearly, but he must see my sincerity. “If you will grant us the time, I will confess all and the diamond will be returned more glorious than you can imagine.”

His lip curls in an arrogant smile. “You underestimate my imagination, mademoiselle.”

I smile back, dangerously matching his arrogance, knowing I do not. “Two days, Your Majesty. Please.”

“And if I do not grant you that time?”

“Then I will tell you nothing and your diamond will be lost.” The words are out before I can stop them, but even as I speak, I know I have gone too far. If stealing the diamond didn’t solidify my fate, my impudence surely will.

The king throws back his head and laughs so hard it sets the long black ringlets of his wig bouncing. His ministers try to join in, but they cannot seem to muster more than a nervous tittering.

As for me, I must clench every muscle in my aching body to remain still.

“I have no need of your bargains, mademoiselle,” the king says when his mirth has died away at last. “Monsieur Colbert, have the charges read. She is wasting my time.”

“Yes, Your Majesty,” Jean-Baptiste Colbert says with a reproachful glance at me. I have known him since childhood, when his frequent visits to Papa’s workshop were accompanied with bonbons for my brother and me, but his loyalty to Louis makes him now as cold as the rest. He turns and nods to a clerk, who steps forward from the shadows, breaking my heart all over again.

How could they be so cruel as to give this job to René? Dear, kind, gentle René. Of everyone I have hurt he deserves it the least. I squeeze my eyes shut and bite my lip to hold back the sob that rises in my throat, but his voice, hard and indifferent, tears a deep gash in my defiance, and I cannot hold my anguish.

“Juliette Pitau, you are herewith charged in the court of His Majesty King Louis XIV of France with consorting with Jews, conspiracy with known traitors, theft from the treasury of France, and high treason against the king.”

The room falls silent when he has finished. Hot tears slide down my cheeks.

At last, the king speaks. “You do not deny these charges?”

“I deny treason, Your Majesty. Of the rest, I am guilty.”

The king stands. “Take her away.”

The guards who brought me and forced me to my knees now grip my arms and haul me upright again. I lift my head at last and wince to find myself eye-to-eye with Louis, who rises from his gilded throne to get the last word.

He steps forward, and tilts my face upward to his with a painful grip on my jaw. The large ruby on his finger, a stone that I myself polished for his pleasure, bites into my throat. His breath is hot and foul on my face.

“Be assured, Juliette Pitau. Before you die, you will tell me what you have done with my diamond.”

 

Two

 

 

What you have done with my diamond. I almost laugh at his choice of words. There is so much more to that answer than simply the question of where it is. That is a story that might redeem me if I were allowed to tell it. More likely, I will be taken to the rack, where my answers will be necessarily brief. I shudder, and the rising laughter curdles into something bitter.

The king releases my chin and turns away. The guards yank me toward the door, but I refuse to be dragged away moaning and begging for mercy, so I find my feet, stiffen my back, and raise my head to glare around me at the dozens of gawking faces, eager for fresh gossip. Most of them are strangers—bored gentlemen twirling their wide mustaches, curious ladies fluttering fans—all indulging in the brief entertainment of a craftsman’s daughter’s condemnation. No doubt my defiance made it better sport for them. Gave them something to talk about in their salons this evening.

The few faces I recognize are no more comfort than the strangers. Suzanne du Plessis-Bellière looks wary, but she needn’t be. She has survived greater scandals than any that may arise here. Master and Madame Valin glow in triumph at my demise. They have never made a secret of their spite. I glare back and pray they will be rewarded for their role in this by the fires of hell.

André stands beside them, in a brocade coat far too fine for his status, his chestnut hair arranged in curls on his shoulders instead of pulled back in a practical ponytail as befits a craftsman. Apparently, he has profited nicely from all of this. I flinch despite myself when our eyes meet. I search his smooth face for something—anything—of his feelings. I have known André longer than any of them, and yet his expression is empty of kindness or sympathy or regret. Perhaps he feels none.

The guards pull me away, out of the room and down unadorned corridors meant only for servants and undesirables such as myself. At last they step out into the blinding sunlight of a small courtyard. I gulp down a few breaths of fresh air while I have the chance, before being stuffed into the black-shuttered carriage that will return me to my prison cell at the Bastille. It is a small mercy that, since the king is trying to avoid scandal, I am spared the open cart that exposes most prisoners to public ridicule.

Many of the cells in the Bastille are quite fine, intended as they are for the king’s enemies of noble rank. I, however, am only worthy of a small chamber of bare stone with one tiny window set high on the wall to let in the mere suggestion of light and air. The only furnishing is a single narrow cot covered with a worn woolen blanket, and a broken pisspot, its dried-up contents spread across the floor in the corner. The room is dark and reeks of suffering.

I retreat to the cot, toss aside the blanket, which is crawling with fleas, and curl myself into the corner, hugging my knees to my chest. Alone at last, I let the tremors rise from the cold dread at my core.

There will be torture—Louis has assured me of that. Will it be the rack? Hot pincers under my skin? Fear writhes like maggots inside me. I should have fawned and complimented and begged the king for mercy; perhaps then he would have granted me a quick end. Too late, my mind scrabbles for some way out, some way to once again twist ruin to opportunity, but this time, there are no further chances, I am as impotent as a rat in a cage, facing only a black, hopeless ending. My squirming gut gets the better of me, and I bend over and heave the dregs of bile from my empty stomach onto the floor.

To come so close only to end in such failure. My cause had been noble: to save Papa, save our Jewish friends, resurrect beauty out of the wreckage of my father’s despair. Instead, I have destroyed it all. If Papa is the classical Icarus flying too near the sun in his waxen wings, I am Daedalus, who crafted those wings and launched him on his fatal flight. I bury my head in my arms in a futile effort to ward off black despair.

When I hear a key in the lock, I sit up and I try to pull myself together. I expect the torturer, but it is not some faceless, shirtless brute from the bowels of the dungeon. It is Monsieur Colbert and René, still in their neat court dress, looking out of place in the filthy cell.

I scramble to my feet, carefully keeping my eyes away from René. Having him see me like this, my muslin dress torn and streaked with blood, my hair in a wild tangle, and my face bruised and tearstained, is a needless humiliation. Neither of us deserves this indignity, but all I can do is pretend it away and focus hard on Colbert. I curtsy before him, and his eyebrows arch.

“A bit late to find your manners, mademoiselle. More grace and less pride would have served you well before the king.”

“Oui, monsieur,” I agree humbly, though this is hardly a revelation. Now, however, is not the time to offer insolence, not when this might be my last chance to beg for mercy.

Stepping aside from the doorway, he snaps his fingers, and a bevy of servants scramble in. They set a table and chair in the middle of the room. I watch in confusion as they arrange a stack of papers and all that is needed to write—quills, penknife, pounce pot, and inkwell—on the table. Out of the corner of my eye, I can see René pressed against the wall beside the door, as if I am a poisonous serpent and he means to keep as far from me as possible in the close, entrapping space. Try as I might to pretend indifference, my rebellious eyes seek him out. He is dressed as usual in the unadorned coat and breeches of fine black wool, befitting his station as a clerk, but I think him the most beautiful thing in Louis’s court. His smooth brown hair is tied back simply with a black ribbon. It looks so soft in the dim light that my fingers tingle with the urge to touch it. His high brow and warm, honeyed eyes usually give his face an openness I find endearing. Now, however, anger has chiseled those features into a stony mask. Knowing that I am to blame for this transformation gouges me with guilt, and I wrench my eyes back to Colbert.

The last servant sets a jug of wine and a cup on the table and hurries out of the cell, closing the door behind him. Only then does Colbert speak.

“I do not know, mademoiselle, why the king did not pronounce a sentence this morning. You certainly gave him ample reason to condemn you.”

I stare, blinking, like a rabbit pulled from its warren. Stunned. I assumed, with my admission of guilt, that my fate was sealed. Hope floods through me at what the table, the papers, and the quills might mean.

“I thought it was to be . . .” My words trail off, unwilling to suggest the unthinkable.

“You play a dangerous game,” Colbert says, his tone cautionary. “You are very lucky the king is in a merciful mood. His Majesty has granted you one day to tell all before he pronounces your sentence. One day to make your confession and to produce the diamond that you claim now carries the sun within it.”

“He has agreed to my bargain?” A way forward opens before me, only to be slammed shut by Colbert.

“He agrees to nothing!” he snaps. “Are you so stupid that you think  you can bargain with the king before the whole court? Make deals with him for mercy in exchange for his own stolen property?”

I bite my lip. Of course, the king could not appear so weak.

“Make no mistake, no bargain has been struck,” Colbert continues. “Louis may end this little arrangement at any time he desires. You have piqued his curiosity. Perhaps it was in calling your father Icarus. The king likes a good tale, after all, and at the moment, yours might amuse him. And your accomplices will hardly smuggle the stone out of Paris now—every way is watched and every wagon searched.”

“The Blue will not be smuggled out,” I assure him. “It only wants polishing and a setting fit for a king.”

“Then why not reveal its whereabouts now?” Colbert asks.

His question is sincere, his tone almost imploring, and temptation tugs at me to tell him. But for any of us to earn the king’s pardon, the stone must be perfection, and I must have the chance to prove that the others are innocent, even if I am not.

“Many months of hard work and great skill have gone into the stone, monsieur. It should go to the king a finished masterpiece. After all, the Blue is the work of two masters,” I say, hoping he understands. “Truly, it will far exceed the king’s expectations.”

Colbert considers me for a long moment while my eyes plead with him. Finally, he sighs and, with the flick of his hand, signals to René, who has remained beside the door. Still silent and scowling, René steps forward, pulls out the chair, and seats himself. He picks up the penknife and begins sharpening the quills one at a time.

“You have one day, Juliette,” Colbert says. “As your hand is unfit for writing, my assistant, René, will take down your words. The king has been gentle with you so far, but he does not have to be.”

I try to flex my burned hand, which, even if I survive, might never write again. He has a strange idea of gentle, but I say nothing.

Colbert does not notice. He picks up a quill and considers it, running his fingers along its smooth white length.

“Do you see this feather, mademoiselle?” he says after a moment. “It is not wax. It will not melt in the sun. It holds within it the power of flight. Of freedom. Remember that, if you wish to save yourself. You must tell all, truthfully, and with respect. Comprenez-vous?”

“Oui, monsieur.”

He sets the quill back on the table and straightens his velvet coat with a crisp tug at its embroidered lapels. “I have other matters to attend to. The affairs of state do not wait on the whims of a foolish girl.” He nods once to René, then turns abruptly and is out the door, which is sealed and locked behind him.

I wait in silence until the lock clangs shut, then I let out my breath and turn to René. It is a blessed relief to have a friend at last, even a friend who is angry with me. Not that I can blame him. I owe him an apology after our last meeting, and my arrest must have put him in an uncomfortable position at court. Yet I am surprised at the set of his jaw and his complete refusal to look at me. He sharpens a quill, then uncorks the inkpot, moving in a measured, methodical way, as if I am not even in the room. As if I am not even alive, which, come tomorrow, may very well be the case.

I know I must swallow my pride and apologize if I am going to set things right between us, so I clear my throat and speak.

“René, I am sorry.”

The granite contours of his face shift but don’t soften. He says nothing.

“I am sorry,” I repeat, more insistent this time. “I do not blame you for what happened when—”

His eyes narrow. “Perhaps, mademoiselle, I blame you,” he says, anger clipping each word.

I wince at this unexpected jab. My apology could have been more humble, but this retort seems unfair.

“I never meant to hurt you,” I assure him, hoping to explain. “You know I’d been dealt a terrible blow when we last met.”

“You think this is about our last meeting?” At last he looks at me, and I am forced back by the blaze of his eyes.

A new fear grips my heart, and I can’t breathe. What if this is no mere quarrel between us? What if I have lost his love for good?

“To think I imagined myself in love,” he sneers, unmoved by the horror that must show openly on my face. He rises from his seat and stalks away from me.

“René—”

“You’re not capable of love. Everything between us was a lie!” He turns back to glare at me, challenging me to defend myself, but I am so appalled by the injustice of his accusation that I can only gape at him. Even my silence seems to offend him, and he begins pacing the cell like a trapped beast.

I feel trapped too, as if there is not enough air in the room for the two of us. I push down my rising panic.

“René, I don’t know what you’ve heard,” I begin, trying to keep my voice steady, “but—”

“Damn it, Juliette! I’ve heard it all!” He slams his fist against the wall, and I shrink back. “I know about the other men—about your long history of seductions to get what you want.”

“What are you talking about?” This is a version of me I’m sure he’s never met, as I am not aware of it myself.

“I was there yesterday for André’s full testimony. Imagine what a fool I felt.”

“André. Of course.” My indignation rises to full boil. I hardly dare imagine the lies André is spreading with that treacherous serpent’s tongue of his. “And I suppose he’s cast himself as an innocent victim in this whole affair? One of my hapless conquests?”

A stricken look floods across René’s face. Apparently, that is exactly what André has said. My hands go to my hips.

“Honestly, René, how can you believe André?”

“Madame du Plessis-Bellière  has given an account too,” he says.

This brings me up short. André has condemned me with lies, but Suzanne du Plessis-Bellière might have condemned me with the truth. No wonder René thinks the worst of me. I shudder. If I have poisoned his sweet heart into something hard and bitter, perhaps I deserve the punishment that awaits me. And yet my motives were always pure. I cling to that solid fact amid the flotsam of my once-glorious plans.

“Just hear my side of the story,” I beg.

He gives a sharp, cynical laugh. “I have no choice, do I? My penance for falling into your web is to record your confession.” He takes his seat again and dips the quill in the ink. “If it were up to me, the king would have condemned you and been done with it.”

His words wound me, as he intends. If they are true, the king’s pardon would hardly matter, but I am not willing to believe them so easily. I plant my hands firmly on the table and lean over it, bringing us face-to-face.

“Look me in the eye and tell me you mean that,” I demand.

He glances at me, then quickly away. It is enough. I have seen the wounded love still within him, and I know what I must do. My confession must acquit me with the king, but more than that, it must reach deep into René’s injured heart and rekindle the affection there. And yet some of what I must tell the king will surely hurt René more deeply.

So, this is my choice, then: to strive to save myself and in so doing lose René, or strive for his forgiveness and forsake my life? I close my eyes for a moment to quiet my pounding heart and gather in the chaos of my thoughts. I have faced the impossible before and overcome it.

The king only wants to know where the diamond is and how I managed to steal it from under his nose. But if I am going to win back René’s love, I must tell more. I must relive all the tragedy and heartbreak that brought me here. It would be so much easier to just tell the king what he wants to know, but the king’s pardon without René’s forgiveness? Life without love is not enough.

Strengthened by this conviction, I start at the beginning.

 

Three

 

 

The day of Cardinal Mazarin’s funeral, my life changed forever. Many people’s lives changed when he died, not least of all Mazarin’s. Of course, King Louis would say that when Mazarin died, the sun rose in the court of France. With his death, Louis claimed his inheritance, which included more than just the crown. It included the cardinal’s famous diamonds, eighteen seemingly miraculous stones that glittered with an internal fire, unlike any other diamonds in the world. Possessing those stones kindled a new fire in young Louis’s heart.

“You are meant to be confessing your crimes, mademoiselle,” René interrupts impatiently, “not recounting the history of France. Mazarin died more than a decade ago.”

“But that is the day it all began,” I insist. “If I don’t start there—”

“I am only here to record your confession. Tell me how you stole the diamond, and nothing more.”

I don’t want to argue, so I simply continue where I left off. “Papa had been an ordinary gem-cutter before that day, with our apartments over his workshop and Maman taking commissions and selling fine trinkets from a counter in the front. That morning, with Mazarin barely in his tomb, soldiers came to Papa’s workshop and took him to the king. I was only six, but I remember that day vividly.”

“No doubt,” René mutters. He is turning the quill idly in his hand and not writing anything down. “Even then you were calculating how you might rise in the world.”

On the contrary—I was terrified. Imagine how you would feel to see the king’s men come for your beloved father. I cried, and Maman paced the floor until he returned an hour later, his eyes ablaze with excitement. He strode directly to the table, and there, on its bare surface, he tipped out a velvet bag. Three raw amethysts clattered to the tabletop.

Maman looked at him, her gaze full of question and hope.

“His Excellency the Cardinal has left his jewels to the crown,” Papa said.

“His diamonds?!” Maman exclaimed, her eyebrows raising. I had heard the Mazarin diamonds excitedly discussed on more than one occasion. When master gem-cutters dined together, the mystery of their rare brilliance was often the topic of debate.

“I’ve seen them, Marie!” Papa said, his eyes themselves glinting like diamonds. “They let me examine them. It is as I have always speculated. They are diamonds, like any other. But the cut! Mon Dieu, Marie! It is the cut that gives them that sparkle—that brilliance.”

My mother looked down at the three large, uncut stones on the table. “And these?” she asked.

Papa picked up one of the stones, rolling it between his fingers, examining how the light caught and shifted on it. “He wants to outshine Mazarin. He wants to outshine all the world, and I daresay he will, Marie. He is challenging every master gem-cutter in Paris to cut him stones that will outshine the Mazarins. From the result, he will select his crown jeweler.”

Maman drew in a sharp gasp of air. “Can you do it, Jean? Can anyone?”

Papa’s smile widened. “I have seen them, Marie. I have touched them. Mark my words, I will make young Louis shine like the sun!”

And of course, he did just that, at least with those first stones. When he was appointed as crown jeweler, our lives changed forever. We moved to the royal jeweler’s workshop and apartments in the Manufacture Royale des Meubles de la Couronne on the Left Bank. It was very grand, but it was the king’s property—all of it. We were—are—entirely dependent on the favor of the king. You accuse me, René, of striving for glory, but striving to see Papa succeed was not ambition. Our home, our lives—everything depended on it.

I was on the cusp of womanhood seven years later, in 1668, when Jean-Baptiste Tavernier returned from India, brightening a gray Paris winter with silks and gems and tales of adventure. Across the Seine in the Marais district, the salons of the nobility buzzed with his stories of forbidden delights and wealth beyond imagining. But for me, the real excitement began when the king invited Tavernier to appear—along with his rumored hoard—at the Louvre Palace. Tavernier’s audience before the king foretold great glory for us. He was rumored to have brought back hundreds of precious stones, and so we were invited to the spectacle.

Maman had fine new gowns made for both of us for the occasion. She needed a new gown to adjust to her changed figure since giving birth to my brother Georges just a year before, the first of her many pregnancies since my birth to bring forth a healthy child. She chose patterned, dove-gray wool for her gown that disguised her gradually thickening waistline and elegantly contrasted with her dark eyes and hair. As for me, Papa’s position had earned our family wealth and prestige over the past seven years, and Maman was determined to capitalize on his position to make a good marriage for me when the time came.

“They will see you as the fine bud you are and know you will blossom into a lovely wife for a lucky gentleman’s son,” Maman said, smiling approvingly as the seamstress fitted me in rosy silk, creamy lace, and boning that rendered me nearly too stiff to move. “It’s never too soon to be seen.”

I had no objection to my mother’s schemes on my behalf, but I was still a child at heart. I wasn’t thinking about gentlemen’s sons, but of Tavernier’s stories of tigers and elephants, powerful rajas and golden palaces. I was eager, too, to see his rumored hoard. The diamond mines of India were said to produce miraculously colored stones the size of small dogs.

As we arrived at the palace, my heart fluttered like a caged bird, trapped in the stiff bodice of my gown. Maman and Papa walked in front, and baby Georges had been left at home with a nurse, so I was free to crane my neck to gawk at the glories of the palace without Maman’s reproach.

The Louvre offered every pleasure to the eye with its high marble columns, painted ceilings, and polished floors, but what I remember most was the light. The way it flowed in through the windows and transformed the very air into something glorious. The way it livened the gilded plaster scrollwork along the walls, brightened the king’s ancestors where they looked down with cool arrogance from a dozen portraits. Everything was grander and mightier in that golden light, as if light itself had been bent to the service of the king.

“Isn’t it gorgeous, Juliette!” said André, my father’s apprentice, who walked beside me. While I had been brought along to be seen by prospective husbands, André had come to assist Papa in evaluating Tavernier’s gems. André had only been with Papa for about a year, and I still knew more about diamonds than he did. Maman, however, insisted I be seen as an elegant young lady, and that meant refraining from menial work.

Customer Reviews