The Beginning of Scandal
Lady Anglais was an infamous woman of five and thirty.
Seventeen years prior, she had appeared in town, well-dressed, well-loved, and well-sought after. With ease, she had wooed the wealthiest man in Barfleur, a soon-to-be unfortunate, Lord Pierre Anglais.
After wedding, each learned the other had grossly misrepresented their wealth. The young bride had escaped a ruined family in Italy, and the young groom had gambled away his recent inheritance in London, only months before.
Thus, a promising love turned sour, while each complained about the other’s past deception, but said not a word of each other’s present indiscretions. And so it was at some risk to her reputation that young Madeleine found herself in Lady Anglais’ company.
On the outside, the large home sat amidst a well-manicured lawn, helped along by the coming of winter. But inside, beyond the opulence of the anteroom, the furnishings were sparse, the household small, and the provisions poor.
The anteroom itself kept the secret well, with its golden fixtures, animal-skin rugs, and expensive Italian paintings.
A maid in the archway to the left announced that The Lady Anglais would appear shortly, and offered refreshments. Madeleine politely declined, but accepted a seat in a white, upholstered chair with lion heads carved into the armrests.
At length, Lady Anglais appeared with a million apologies. “Forgive me. I was not expecting company, you see,” she explained, “and was not at all dressed to receive a young Lady, like yourself.”
Madeleine kissed both cheeks, and settled into the chair once more. Lady Anglais chose the larger one adjacent to her, and extended the maid’s prior offer for tea, wine, or cheese. Again, Madeleine politely declined.
Lady Anglais fidgeted with her hands a bit, and then asked, “To what do I owe this pleasure, mademoiselle? It is not often you come to visit at the Anglais Estate.”
“Actually, I hoped you could help me resolve some personal- matters at home, involving my father,” Madeleine said, innocently.
Lady Anglais’ eyes widened for a moment, as she struggled with words. Then, she regained her composure, lifted her chin and said, “I have no idea what you’re referring to, child. Your father and I are only acquaintances, in passing. There is nothing else between us.”
Madeleine feigned confusion, and then pulled a piece of paper from her pocket. “I mean to surprise Father, while he’s away visiting with Mother at the London house. I’m afraid I’ve spent more time in books than learning how to beautify a home, and know your skills would far surpass my own. That was my reason for coming. I did not mean to cause offence.”
Lady Anglais’ entire demeanour changed after that. She was filled at once with an odd mix of guilt, regret, and pride. Nevertheless, she then launched into expert advice on how the Moreau Mansion might be better improved.
As she listened, Madeleine had the sneaking suspicion that Lady Anglais had thought long and hard on this before. After an hour or so, she put an end to the farce and thanked her for her time.
“Do come by again if you need help with anything else, and I hope I haven’t bored you,” the older lady told her guest. “Father always put me in charge of these things in Italy; especially after Mother died. He said I had an eye for making a beautiful home, and for class.”
“That you do,” Madeleine replied. “I’ll call again, should I need further assistance. And do let me know, if ever you should have need of mine.”
Madeleine then hurried from the house and through the winding streets to the local merchant. He was surprised to see her instead of her coloured servants, but sniffed an opportunity immediately. He wasted no time in introducing his twin boys, home from college to help their old man with the shop.
They were handsome young men, well-learned, and charming, with bright futures ahead. But Madeleine had no desire to become the housewife of a lawyer or doctor, when she could be a lawyer or doctor herself.
“Have you seen my friend, Rosalie?” she enquired.
“The negro from your household, ma’am?” one of the twins asked. It was hard to say which one.
“Yes, my friend.”
“Not yet,” the other brother answered.
“I’m expecting her,” she explained. “Would it be alright, if I wait here for a few moments? I’m sure she’s just a little late.”
“Of course!” the merchant piped up. “I’m sure Olivier and Thibaut will not mind keeping your company, while I return to the shop.” He gestured to two customers waiting.
Before tending to them, he offered her some of the best wine, cheese, and grapes he had from the cellar.
In spite of their father’s less than altruistic intentions, the boys did make fine company. They shared stories of life at Cambridge, and of trips to Asia and Africa with their father for trade.
Nevertheless, she was glad when Rosalie appeared, enquiring after her.
“It’s a late hour now,” the merchant noted as they prepared to leave. “A beautiful young woman, such as yourself, should not walk home alone.”
“You are too kind, but I believe The Lady Moreau’s safety might be better entrusted to a soldier than two green boys,” came a voice from behind.
The green boys did not take the slight well, but knew better than to challenge a British knight. After all, they carried naught but knowledge, and him, a gun. They politely excused themselves from Madeleine’s company, while Rosalie settled the bill with their disappointed father.
After they exited the shop, Sir Andrews took the goods from Rosalie and pitched her a coin as encouragement to walk ahead. Rosalie caught the coin, and with Madeleine’s permission, continued out of earshot.
“Nice of you to carry the goods for Rosalie,” Madeleine commended him in English.
“She is a lady, just as you,” he replied. “A man should not allow a woman to dirty her hands, when he has larger, more capable hands to dirty himself. And… I rather enjoy using every opportunity possible to impress you.”
She laughed, then. “You know, Sir Andrews, I am much older than most men like their women.”
“And yet, you are exactly as I love mine…” He turned to look at her, but Madeleine looked straight ahead. She knew his game. He had been three years at playing it now, with no success.
“I am also more stubborn than most men have use for,” she told him.
She could feel the mischief in his grin beside her. “A strong man requires a strong woman; a weak man seeks a slave.”
“A strong man oft’ seeks a strong woman he believes he can conquer,” she bantered.
“Ah, but it is you that has conquered me, with your wit, and charm, and beauty. There is none other like you. I want no one else.”
It was not much longer before they arrived at the entrance to her estate. Rosalie sheepishly approached to take the goods, and then darted into the house.
“You are charming, Sir Andrews,” Madeleine replied, only then meeting his gaze. “Too charming.” She looked up at the dying sun, and at the shadows creeping in at every corner and every turn. “I should go before darkness finds me in your company. The town does love to talk.”
“Yes, and of your father especially.” His tone was cautious, and his face serious. He looked deeply disturbed by what he meant to share, yet also resolute. “He soils your mother’s good name with his licentiousness, but I daresay one can expect little more from a Frenchman, if I may be so frank.”
Madeleine soothed his concern that he may have offended her with a smile. “And do you propose an Englishman might be better?”
The spark of playful mischief returned to his eyes, then. “Well, Mademoiselle. I’m afraid I can only swear for this one, so choose wisely.”
Just then, Rosalie bolted from the house, and from a few feet away, bowed and curtsied. “I am sorry to interrupt,” she said in French, “but Madeleine you are needed inside, immediately.”
Sir Andrews rested a hand on his holster. “Is there trouble?”
“No, no, sir. Just family matters,” Rosalie said, but her eyes belied the calm she now tried to exude.
“It was a pleasure speaking with you as always,” Madeleine told Sir Andrews. “And thank you, for helping Rosalie with the load. It is not often that people bother to be kind to her.” She then turned and hurried with Rosalie into the house.
Eli was pacing at the front door when she entered, while Betha sobbed softly in a chaise lounge at the other end of the room.
Panic rose in Madeleine’s throat like bile. “Where is Mother?” she demanded. “Why are you not with her? Why are you here?”
“In London, with your father,” Eli answered the first question, attempting to quell his own nerves for Madeleine’s benefit. “She asked me to give you this.” He offered her the letter from her mother.
“And I found this in Madame Anglais’ study.” Rosalie held up the journal she had snatched, snooping around the Anglais residence while Lady Anglais was distracted by her young visitor.
“Father said he was delivering gifts in the countryside to his family – that he would be gone until the day before his trip.”
“He lied,” Regina piped up.
Madeleine had not noticed her in the room, before. Somewhere in the far reaches of her mind, she remembered duty: that dinner was to be made, and shared; and that rooms should be prepared for the guests. But at the forefront of her mind were words yet read.
She moved to one of the chairs by Betha, and opened her mother’s letter.
My Dearest Madeleine,
You have always been gifted in ways neither I, nor even your grandmother, ever enjoyed. We could but hope for your skill, though perhaps the burden of knowledge would be greater than us ladies could bear.
Even so, I must suggest that perhaps just this once, this vision is but a fancy of yours born from hatred of your father. I wish you would not hate him so. Our soured marriage has no doubt tainted your idea of the man I married, and who fathered you, but he is a good and honest man, who means us well in his own way.
Please, do not share these dreams of yours with anyone else – least of all Mamie. It would only cause needless worry and concern, and perhaps, great scandal.
I have never felt safer in London, and at your father’s unexpected arrival, I have sent Eli and Betha back to Barfleur to give us some privacy, long overdue.
I do apologise for the short notice, but thought you could use Betha and Eli’s company to pass the holidays. I have sent gifts that I’m sure you’ll all enjoy; and I do hope you will be so kind as to deliver your grandmother’s before the holidays are over.
With all my Love,
Madeleine read the letter again, and again, and again, before finally addressing Eli. “Was she drunk when she wrote this?” she said, angrily. “Mad, perhaps?”
Eli was so engrossed in the journal that he barely looked up. “You need to read this, Madeleine,” he said, distractedly. “I will read you the very first lines from today’s entry.”
Basile has gone to London to do the deed. I trust the imbecile will be successful, and that by the end of the winter holiday, he shall be a rich widower, and I, his bride.
To be continued…