Madeleine sat seething in the carriage, amongst all her packed things. After reading The Lady Anglais’ cryptic journal, she had wanted more than anything to go to London to see her mother – to help.
But Eli had reminded her: she was the last of the Moreau line. Neither her grandmother, nor her mother, was fit to produce another heir.
Those next in line were boys, and beyond them, women married and betrothed to men who would gladly swoop in and take over their wives’ inheritance. The Moreau Matriarchy would be no more.
And so, Basile won in the end. Madeleine would go to the countryside against her will; and to seek counsel from Mamie against her mother’s wishes. Eli promised to see her safely there, and then to return to London to keep an eye on Charlotte from a distance.
The road to the countryside was rocky and perilous, but the horses and their driver knew the way, and that brought some comfort. Madeleine was also glad for Eli’s protection, and the company of Rosalie and Regina. There was safety on the lonely roads in numbers, but even more safety in the company of men.
When they arrived, Mamie was already sitting at the gate in front of the original Moreau Estate, smoking a pipe. Her white hair was worn long and disheveled, and her feet were bare.
“Mamie!” Madeleine had never been happier to see her. She jumped from the carriage and hurried into her grandmother’s arms. “I meant to surprise you,” she said in old Romany.
“Surprise a seer? Ha!” She hugged her granddaughter tightly, and then pushed the gate open for the carriage and horses to enter.
Eli left his post next to the driver, and approached almost sheepishly. He removed his hat, and bowed his head. Whatever respect he owed Charlotte, he knew the Moreau Elder commanded twice as much.
“Elijah Bernard,” she completed for him. She then continued in French, “My late husband’s eldest son, and rightful heir to his Haitian estate.”
Eli looked at first surprised, and then uncomfortable. “I’m a bastard,” he said matter-of-factly, “and not of pure blood.”
Mamie only scoffed at that, as she led the way into the home. “I’m sure Charlotte and Madeleine must have showed you by now, how little we care about ‘pure blood’ in this family. You are nearly a Moreau yourself, and welcome under our roof at any time.”
She paused to look at him then. “But you won’t be staying, will you? You plan to leave tonight, and will politely request to borrow one of my horses to return to Barfleur, where you will then go on to London to watch over my daughter.”
Eli stumbled over his words as he tried to come up with an answer. “Yes, if it’s not too much to ask; I hoped to hurry home to Charlotte.”
“I already asked the servants to ready a horse for you. He’s waiting in the stable,” she said, as she moved towards the house. “But first, you will sup with us. I’ve already set a table for eight, and will not be refused.”
There was a feast waiting inside when they entered – roasted meats, steamed vegetables, baked pies, fresh fruits, and the best wine and cheese from Paris.
Conversation flowed easily as Mamie’s Romanian paramour shared stories of his travels into Eastern Europe; and Mamie surprised the ladies by reading their future. But at long last, the festivities had to end, and it was time for Eli to leave.
“Shouldn’t you rest first?” Rosalie suggested.
Eli eyed her compassionately, and kissed her hands, but insisted it was best he return to Charlotte as soon as possible. After he had gone, Mamie’s lover respectfully retired to the guest quarters two acres south of the main house.
“Your mother sent me presents,” Mamie said to Madeleine when they were alone. “But you want to talk first.”
“I will have Charlotte’s gifts now,” she replied. “We will talk on the morrow.”
Mamie was not a woman the wise argued with, and so Madeleine complied and then went to the room she kept at the residence. Rosalie and Regina shared the room across the hall, and the carriage driver slept downstairs away from the ladies.
“Your grandmother scares me,” Rosalie confessed to Madeleine, as she brushed out her hair. “I bet she doesn’t hear ‘no’ very often, not even from you.
“She has this confidence… you know she’s in charge, and good at it. Some people fumble with authority. It’s like she knows exactly what to do with it.”
“Perhaps, that’s what it takes to be head of the family,” Madeleine replied.
“And will you be like that when your time comes?”
“Perhaps,” Madeleine answered. “And perhaps not. A true leader must find their own way of inspiring loyalty and trust in the people around them. This is Mamie’s way.”
The following morning, Mamie was waiting downstairs in the anteroom. She summoned Madeleine to the back rooms, where she did her readings; and asked the maid to bring breakfast.
For a moment they sat in silence, while Madeleine picked at her food.
“I thought you had much to say, child,” Mamie said in Romany. She reached across the table and took her hands. “Tell me all.”
Madeleine needed no further encouragement. Alone with her grandmother, she shared her dreams, her suspicions, and her tears. She hated the tears most of all; and how weak they made her seem.
“I wish I was as strong as you, Mamie,” she lamented.
Mamie stroked the back of her hands. “Even strong men weep – perhaps the strongest.” She lowered her eyes and seemed to drift away into her thoughts. “My husband wept when I left him – when I sent him away. Seeing Eli is like watching a ghost parade as flesh, before my eyes.”
She stood then, and crossed the room to retrieve one of Charlotte’s gifts from a drawer in an end table by the window. “Do you know what this is?”
“It’s the original copy of Charlotte’s marriage settlement, and a new will reaffirming that should anything happen to her, you stand to inherit all.”
She took her seat before Madeleine, again. “Your mother asked me not to share this with you, just as she asked you not to share your suspicions, but I believe she knows better than to think we would listen. She never doubted you, Madeleine. You deserve to know that.
“You are especially gifted. Do you know why that is?” She didn’t wait for a response. “Some of us are blessed with the gift of seeing, like me; and others with the gift of interpretation, like your mother. You are blessed with both.”
Madeleine had heard these words before. “I don’t want to be a seer, Mamie. I want to finish my schooling.”
“As did your mother, and so she did. We are Moreau and we choose our own paths, whatever they may be. Still, before you choose your mother’s path instead of my own, there is something about our family you must know.”
Madeleine eyed her curiously, but did not interrupt.
Mamie lit her pipe, and savoured the warmth moving through her lungs. For a time, Madeleine thought she might not say anything else. But after a moment, she began. “Do you believe yourself superior to people like Eli, or Rosalie?”
“Superior in station and prestige,” Madeleine answered honestly, “but never in intellect or skill, or worthiness of fair treatment.”
“That is a good answer,” Mamie decided. She looked pleased. “It is good that you understand this, because you see, we are very much like them.”
“They are human, same as us.”
Mamie nodded. “Yes, and they are mulatto, same as us.”
Madeleine was confused. “The gypsies?”
Mamie shook her head. “We are not gypsies, Madeline; not true gypsies, anyway. Your great-great grandmother did live with the gypsies, and learned their language, their rituals, and their secrets.
“But before that, she was a Creole French in Haiti – the daughter of a planter, and a mulatto slave. Maria, they called her; and Olga, the mother.”
Mamie paused to puff on her pipe, and then continued. “Maria was like Eli: the African in her, barely obvious. And so she was accepted into high society, learned her letters, learned their language and customs, and wooed their men.
“But at the end of every night, she returned to her mother to learn something far more powerful than Latin and arithmetic. Olga was a healer and a good one. Even the planters often preferred her services to a doctor.
“Well… one day, a planter’s son fell ill, and Olga realised she could not heal him. She told the father as much, but he insisted on her caring for him.
“When the lad died, he had Olga flogged and hanged. Angry, Maria turned to the darker arts and called on the Devil to do her bidding.”
“She sold her soul?” Madeleine looked horrified.
Mamie puffed on her pipe. “She offered it to him, desperate as she was. Whether he took it or not, or how much of it he claimed, she never knew… But however much it was, it was enough. The deed was done. The planter died the following morning, and Maria fled the island and joined a gypsy family as a seer.
“She was more powerful than them, you see? And so they respected her, and feared her. But Maria had always preferred the finer things in life – the balls, the wine, the gentlemen – and so when the time was right, she wooed a wealthy Frenchman, and left the gypsy life behind.
“Her husband died without ever knowing her secret, and thereafter it is only the eldest women in the line who carry the burden of that knowledge.
“So you see, Madeleine. We may not look like them, act like them, or even talk like them. A few generations have watered down our origins and made us passable, like all the rest. But we are not like the rest.
“Our matriarchy did not come about because we see ourselves as better, or even equal to the men. It was because Maria Moreau knew what it was to be a slave – to be owned, and own nothing. She had only one child – a daughter, my mother – and she was determined to see her child have it all.
“But perhaps more important was the fact that she married a good man, and good father, who did not want to see his only child disinherited, because of her sex.”
She puffed on her pipe again, quietly watching Madeleine’s expression change from shock, to confusion, and then finally to acceptance.
“If it comes to it Madeleine, the Moreaus will once again call on Old Friends to do our bidding, though preferably not Maria’s Friend,” were Mamie’s ominous words. “The wrongs against your mother – against my only child – will not go unpunished, while I still have breath.”
To be continued…