Hostage to the Revolution
216 pages
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216 pages
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Sequel to Escape the Revolution. In 1796, ruined countess Bettina Jonquiere leaves England after the reported drowning of her lover, Everett. In New Orleans she struggles to establish a new life for her children. Soon a ruthless Frenchman demands the money stolen by her father at the start of the French Revolution. Bettina is forced on a dangerous mission to France to recover the funds. She unravels dark family secrets, but will she find the man she lost as well?

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Date de parution 01 juin 2015
Nombre de lectures 1
EAN13 9781773622262
Langue English
Poids de l'ouvrage 1 Mo

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Hostage to the Revolution
The sequel to Escapethe Revolution
By Diane Scott Lewis
 
Digital ISBNs
EPUB 978-1-77362-226-2
Kindle 978-1-77362-227-9
WEB 978-1-77362-228-6
Print ISBN 978-1-77362-230-9
Amazon Print ISBN 978-1-77362-229-3
 
 

 
Copyright201 5 by Diane Scott Lewis
Cover artby Michelle Lee
 
All rights reserved. Withoutlimiting the rights under copyright reserved above, no part of thispublication may be reproduced, stored in or introduced into aretrieval system, or transmitted, in any form, or by any means(electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise)without the prior written permission of both the copyright ownerand the publisher of this book .
 
Dedication
Dedicated to Alleyne Dickens, writer friendand critique partner, who helped me through this novel in its earlyversion. And author Ginger Simpson, who was kind enough
to be my Beta Reader forthe first version.
Chapter One
 
Bettina swiped aside salty hairtendrils and stared over the ship’s rail at the sea so long empty.A knob of land jutted up through the morning mist gathered over thechoppy gray sea they sailed through. A bird squawked overhead andher spirits lifted. Firm earth awaited on the horizon.
Genevre wriggledin her arms. Bettina grinned at her daughter and squeezed herclose. “Have we made the right decision, ma petite ? Will we like thisAmerica? Will we find what we need?” The baby poked her finger ontoBettina’s lips. She kissed her sweet skin.
The June air blew warm and rustledher straw hat. The voyage had taken two endless months—so distantfrom Cornwall. Storms had tossed their vessel like a discardedleaf.
Sailors shouted from the rigging,their cursing and noise a common background to her now. The man inthe green coat glared at her from near the mainmast. He’d alsoboarded in Plymouth, and Bettina’s flesh prickled each time he cameclose, his scrutiny unnerving. Had he followed her fromEngland?
Frederick jostled up beside herwith Christian in tow.
“That’s Long Island Sound.”Frederick pointed to another body of water as he leaned on therail. “We’ll be traveling up the East River to the New YorkHarbor…according to the mate I spoke to.” His blondish-brown curlswaved in the wind. Everett’s nephew had grown tall for fourteen andhis sun-browned cheeks suited him.
“I’m relieved toknow there is land at this end of the world.” Oleba walked up and tookGenevre. The maid brushed the one-year-old’s silky blonde hair fromher plump cheeks, her voice light and teasing. “For awhile I hadserious doubts, but we’ve made it.”
Bettina glanced again at thescowling stranger and then forced a smile at the Negro woman —as ifhe didn’t matter. “I could never have managed this journey withoutyou.”
“Maman , Papa’s in America?”Christian stared up with large brown eyes so like herown.
Bettina’s breath hitched.She reached out and clasped her son’s hand. “No, no, I told you, weare here to search for your grand-mère.” At almost four, the boystood tall and lean like her lover. Everett. She clenched her otherhand on the rail until her knuckles blanched white.
A turbulence of seagulls sweptover them, their calls sharp and mournful. The city of New York anda busy harbor loomed closer.
“All women passengers withchildren return below until we dock,” an officer barked.
Bettina balanced on the heavingplanks and guided her son down the steep ladder to their cabin. Thesmell of mildew wrinkled her nose. “I am so relieved this voyage isover.”
The added danger of the harassingFrench warships as they sailed away from England made for a jarringtrip. The war had snatched so much from her, and it still raged on.The rebels couldn’t have sent Greencoat after her. She’d told themeverything she knew.
“No more seasickness, little one.”Oleba tickled Genevre under the arm and raised a smile. The roughcrossing and stink of bilge water had sent them all scurrying tovomit their stomach contents into buckets the firstweeks.
“And enough of that salted beefand oatmeal porridge.” Frederick pretended to gag until Christianlaughed. “I’d like to eat some good roast beef.”
“Let us hope the Americans willwelcome us.” Bettina pulled out a small mirror from her belongingsand checked her hair. Her black tresses were crisp with the saltshe’d never washed out since a week away from Plymouth. Adjustingher hat, she tightened the blue ribbon beneath her chin. Shestraightened her children’s rumpled clothes, their garmentscrackling with salt, and waited.
An hour passed; the wooden hulksettled. When word was given, they gathered their few belongingsand left the cabin to go above, shuffling in a line of people todisembark.
The docks swarmed with porters andcarts. Numerous ships were being loaded and unloaded amidst aconfused jumble of wooden sheds and crowded wharves that projectedlike splayed fingers in every direction. The moist air held thesmell of smoke and fish.
“It is warmer here than inEngland. The air is so heavy.” Sweat dappled her brow as Bettinaled her brood down the gangplank. “Stay togethereveryone.”
A man checked the passengers’passports. When he hesitated on Bettina’s, she swallowed hard. Herpassport was fake, forged in Cornwall for her, a stowaway intotheir country.
He waved her on and she clutchedthe document to her chest and sighed.
“Frederick, help me look for ourtrunks.” She kept a tight hand on Christian while Genevre squirmedand complained in Oleba’s arms. Greencoat seemed to havedisappeared into the crowd. Perhaps she’d been mistaken about hisinterest.
Impatient merchants and travelersjostled them. Sailors yelled orders and bells clanged. Baggage andcargo were dropped in a pile on the quay. The activity remindedBettina of London, the Thames waterfront near the Camborne shippingoffice. She stiffened and forced her mind to her mission inAmerica, locating her mother.
“At last on land that doesn’tmove,” Oleba said, rocking Genevre.
Bettina felt she still swayed asshe looked around the area where rough wooden houses fronted a roadlittered with garbage. A few stone and brick buildings and churchspires were visible beyond.
Frederick jumped aside as ahogshead almost smashed his toes. “Maddie wouldn’t care foranyone’s manners around here.”
Bettina shook off more sadness,recalling the two women who became like family. Maddie and hersister Kerra, dear friends they’d left behind in Cornwall. But shemust put the past behind her. Standing on this foreign shore, sheprayed she hadn’t made a huge mistake in leavingEngland.
A man in an apron rolled a hogshead smellingof molasses past them. More hogsheads were stacked on the pier,their surfaces marked for ‘molasses’ or ‘rum.’
Frantic moments were spent locating theirbelongings. Then Bettina, after a few rude brush-offs, was directedto the harbormaster. She bustled up to him, shoulders squared tohide her anxiety. She swore she’d glimpsed a flash of green off toher left. “Monsieur, how do we travel to New Orleans in Louisiana,please?”
“Have to catch another ship,Ma’am, and hope the Spanish don’t close the port like they beenthreatening to do lately.” The ruddy-faced man raised a brow at herand spit on the planks.
Bettina lifted her skirt andside-stepped the splatter of tobacco juice. She raised an annoyedgaze to him. “Is it not possible to take a coach? Is it far fromhere?” She dreaded another hectic sea voyage.
“Pretty far, yes, Ma’am. The roadsbetween here and the south aren’t good. Don’t even know if there isa road all the way through. Where’s your husband? Women oughtn’t tobe traveling such distances alone, it’s dangerous.”
“She’s not alone. I’m with her.”Frederick stepped up, head held high. He’d insisted on joining heron this journey and she was glad to have him, though he was still achild.
Bettina fingered her unblessedring. “Will you find us another ship, please, monsieur?”
“I’ll check on it for you.” Theman glared over at Oleba. “I hope you aren’t harboring a runawayslave.”
“I’m a freed slave, sir. I have mypapers.” Oleba’s mellow voice belied her defiantly raised chin. Herslender form stood as straight as a willow switch.
Bettina put a hand on her arm. Shehadn’t imagined this particular problem bringing Oleba back home toAmerica. “She was born of slaves, but she traveled to England withher owner and he has freed her. She works as nanny to my childrennow.”
The man tipped his hat and walkedoff.
“MonDieu . We women manage on our own, do wenot?” Bettina bristled. She’d heard similar warnings about lonewomen on the voyage from Plymouth and had suffered enough. Still,men such as Greencoat made her wish for an adult male in theirentourage. No decent woman travels alone , she recalledfrom her first few weeks in England, fleeing the revolution inFrance, before she’d ridden to Cornwall, before she’d met EverettCamborne.
 
* * *
 
Bettina stared around the cramped,canvas-draped, makeshift cabin, the only accommodation left on thetwo-masted brigantine. Not even a porthole to spy out after theyboarded to see if anyone followed. On this second day under sail,she regretted forcing her children to endure such hardships.Cornwall, however, held too many sorrows for her.
Genevre whined on the crude pallet where Olebacuddled her and started to tell a story.
Bettina pushed aside the doorflap, anxious for fresh air. Frederick and Christian stood in thefar corner on the gloomy orlop deck, watching a sailor whittle aship.
“I’ll be on the topside,” she toldthe boys before she climbed the ladder. She stepped out on deck.The wind soothed her cheeks and swept away the stink of body odor.Yet she worried over leaving her family unprotected below. She’donly stay a short while.
At the heaving rail, Bettinastudied the land as they skirted the coastline going south. Americawas a drier looking country with widely separated wooden towns. Notlike the cool, lush greenness of England, with her quaint stonecottages and ancient cathedrals. This was a primeval land—wilderand bolder. She leaned over the rail, watching the choppy wavesslap the ship’s hull. Overhead, the flapping sails rippled againstthe wind. She took a deep breath, the air refreshing in herlungs.
A barefoot sailor jumped down fromthe rigging, doffed his hat to her and muttered something shedidn’t catch. Her pulse trembled. She had to stop behaving soskittish. Though almost being murdered would make anyonetense.
A short, stocky woman joined herat the rail.
“Ignore him.” The woman gave thesailor a dismissive wave. “They don’t need much encouragement, butwouldn’t dare harass a paying passenger.” She turned to Bettina.“Are you sailing to New Orleans or Charleston?” She had an oddtwang to her speech, with an underlying trace of French.
“I’m travelling to NewOrleans.”
“That’s where I’m boundto…finally. My name is Charlotte Beaumont.”
Bettina’s new acquaintance didn’tlook much older than her own twenty-four years. “I am BettinaCamborne.” She had to perpetuate the lie, using Everett’s lastname, though they hadn’t been able to marry due to his ‘missing’wife.
“Do you live in New Orleans?”Charlotte pushed back her auburn hair that framed a wide face, herpug nose sprinkled with freckles. She turned and propped her backagainst the rail. “No, you look recently off the boat fromEurope.”
“Yes, it is my first time.”Bettina smoothed down her traveling dress, pondering what in heraspect betrayed her as a foreigner. Yet the woman’s tone wasn’tspiteful. “My mother, she lives there.” At least she hoped MadameJonquiere still resided in New Orleans. Her cousin had told her inPortsmouth that her mother had escaped from France and traveledwith other émigrés to Louisiana.
“I live across the river from NewOrleans. In Mahieu. It’s much smaller but nicer. Mygreat-grandfather founded the town back when Louisiana belonged toFrance.” Charlotte uttered the last with a wistful air. “By theaccent, you’re French, aren’t you? We are still predominantlyFrench in Louisiana. The Spanish keep a few solders there, a fewofficials…but they’re extremely resented.”
Bettina widened her eyes. She’dread some of the history of this strange colony she traveled to.“Do these officials treat the French kindly?”
“They have no choice since weoutnumber them.”
A cabin boy ran by chasing a goat.He yelled for the creature to stop.
“Louis XV gave the territory toSpain, over thirty years ago, did he not?” Bettina steadied herselfon the moving deck. A fishing boat bobbed past on the undulatingwater.
“The lazy kingabandoned his people, because France could no longer afford us, orprotect us from England, whom they were at war with.” Charlottepoked her elbows behind her on the rail, her mouth in a grimace.“And are at war again , if you can believe it.”
“If there is still so muchhostility, I may not want to settle there.” Bettina lamented oncemore her insistence on undertaking this voyage.
“No, we need to stay strong andresist the Spanish. My grandparents told me all the stories. One ofmy ancestors fought the transfer to Spain in the name of the Frenchcolonists, and was executed for it. My family has been in Louisianafor over seventy-five years.” Her smile broadened her cheeks. “Howlong has your mother lived there?”
“A very brief time. I have been inEngland these last few years.” Bettina noticed two sailorswhispered near the mainmast, casting looks in their direction. Herskin prickled.
“Spain is tired of our littlecolony,” Charlotte continued. “They even offered us back to Francelast year, but the Directors in Paris said the price was toohigh.”
“The Directors are too busy withanarchy in their own country…my country.” Bettina sighed. She hadno country. An exile from France, she wasn’t an English citizeneither.
Charlotte turned to face seawardand gave a slight nod toward the men. “Our friends there arecontemplating why two luscious belles such as you and I aretraveling with no male escorts.”
Bettina stifled a grin. Shewatched other passengers mill about, not one with the menacingcountenance of Greencoat. She tried to relax her hunched shoulders.“Are you traveling all alone?”
“I didn’t start out that way.”Charlotte studied her. “You’ve lived in England you said. Do youside with the British or French in this currentconflict?”
“I don’t sidewith anyone. I loathe wars.” Bettina flushed hot inside. She’dgrown up nurtured on French soil, a countess in a land where titleswere now outlawed. Her loyalties remained torn. France had attackedand sunk her lover’s merchant ship—Everett was presumeddrowned—she should side with England. She stiffened her stomach muscles. “Whyare you unaccompanied?”
“My aunt fell ill on our New Yorkvisit, so my cousin stayed to take care of her. But I was anxiousto get home to my husband and children. I see you have threechildren with you, but the older boy couldn’t be yours? Where isyour husband?” Charlotte’s manner was so easy, her inquisitivenessdidn’t seem threatening. Still, a woman could be a revolutionarythe same as a man.
“I am a widow.” Bettina hated touse the word. It fostered a bitter taste, tinged with the lie. Butmasquerading as a widow kept her more respectable on her journey.“The older boy, he is my husband’s nephew, he lives with menow.”
“You’re so young to be a widow, mysympathies.” Her eyes softened with kindness.
Bettina turned away for a moment.She clung to the hope that Everett wasn’t really gone, that somehowhe’d survived. After a slow breath, she fixed a smile on her face.“You say you have a husband and children, MadameBeaumont?”
“Charlotte,please. Yes, three children, two girls and a boy. My husband worksfor the Commissary of Police, or as the Spanish have to call it,the Alcalde de Barrio , and I own a pastry shop.”
“A policemanhusband? And a pastry shop, oui ? I too plan to run a business.In New Orleans, perhaps, after I find my mother.” Bettina surveyedmore people around them. No one acted interested in her. “I havenot seen her for a few years.” Six years to beexact.
“Oh, as long as that, a pity.What’s your mother’s name?”
“Her name…isMadame Laurant.” Bettina used the alias she herself hid behind inEngland. Charlotte had approached her and asked a lot of questions. Bettina mustremain circumspect, though using the Camborne name could directsomeone undesirable toward her.
“Unfamiliar, but I don’t keep upwith many people in New Orleans. If I can ever do anything for youwhile you’re there, please come to visit.” Charlotte then chattedabout her family and the area. “Of course, the Spanish are causingproblems again, according to my husband’s last letter. There is atreaty giving the Americans the right to use the Mississippi port,yet with Spanish resistance I hope we can get into theharbor.”
“I don’t know if you are worse offcontrolled by Spain. The French rebels are evil people, destroyingthe old regime and now each other.” Bettina’s words snapped out,but Charlotte’s expression showed only compassion.
Bettina scratched her fingernailalong the rail, her life in constant turmoil for one reason oranother. Her father’s death, the revolution, her guardian forcingher onto the ship to England under false pretences. She swayed asthe vessel heaved. Another ship sailing toward a precariousfuture.
 
* * *
 
Swatches of land spread across thesteamy water. Their vessel had rounded the tip of Florida, enteredthe Gulf of Mexico, and now sailed through a myriad of glisteningislands.
Bettina plucked at her bodice. Her clothesclung to her in an air thick with moisture that wrung out herenergy.
“At last! Over there is LakeBorgne, and beyond that is Lake Pontchartrain.” Charlotte pointedover in the distance where a shoreline came into view. “I hope Inever leave again.”
“We areclose, grâce à Dieu! I hope I’ll want to stay.” Bettina strained to feel like anexplorer on an intriguing journey. A wilderness of junglevegetation skimmed by them, with the sweet smell of decay. Acolorful variety of birds flapped through thesky.
Frederick ran up to the rail.“That looks more like a bay than a lake.” He turned and bouncedacross the deck and back again, brandishing a pointed stick towhere Oleba held Genevre a few feet away. “Avast, Mateys. If I hada cutlass I would slay any pirates who attempted to raid our shipand kidnap the fair Genny to make her their piratequeen.”
“No!” The little girl reached outand batted his upturned nose.
“Frederick, why are you sofascinated with sharp objects?” Bettina asked with a laugh. Shewalked over and kissed her daughter’s cheek. She caressed the topof her son’s head as he followed on her other side, his little faceearnest at the sights.
The ship tacked to starboard andnavigated the Mississippi River delta. Silt and sand clogged thearea. Reed filled marshes sat in a miasma of sweltering heat.Several rivers seemed to spill out here, and they sailed up a widetributary brown with mud. Shifting lumps of sand almost impededtheir progress. The Spanish soldiers on the banks, riflesshouldered, watching their every move, disturbedBettina.
“Is Papa here ?” Christian asked,his expression hopeful.
“No, mon fils . He is nothere. Not yet.” Bettina smiled at her boy, her throat tight. Sherefused to tell her children they might never see their fatheragain. The last article she’d read in the Plymouth newspaper hadadmitted the Admiralty made mistakes in investigating attackedvessels. Then she’d deserted Everett’s homeland. She fought backtears. Her children’s welfare had to remain upmost in her concernsfrom now on.
Charlotte hurried up beside her.“We have a few more days up the river. I hope you have yourpassport in order. Be careful, the officials here don’t like theEnglish. Also, the Spanish are suspicious of the French since therevolution. They fear the same revolution in Louisiana.”
Bettina squeezedher son’s hand, which was clammy with sweat. In these past weeks oftravel, she’d come to trust Charlotte a little more. “I think wewill manage all right, merci .”
Everywhere she went, she seemed tocome under suspicion. In England, under the Alien Act, she’d morethan once eluded arrest. The English too feared revolutionspreading across the channel. What of the men who’d pursued her,insisting she possessed money her father stole from them to stopthe anarchy? The catalyst for her papa’s murder.
Bile rose up, burning her throat.The rebels didn’t know she’d spent the money; they could stillpursue her. She clutched her inside pocket, where her documentswere hidden, and had to believe no one followed her toLouisiana.
 
 
Chapter Two
 
Bettina licked her cracked lipsand stood on tiptoe against the rail. After four sultry days ofriver navigation they’d arrived at the city on thecrescent.
“NewOrleans, voila .”Charlotte swept up her hands as if she conducted an orchestra. “Youshould have seen it before the fires. Now, unfortunately, it’srebuilt in the Spanish style. Several years ago, a huge blazedestroyed most of what the French built. Two years past, hurricanesand another fire did more damage.”
“After so much destruction, itstill does not look so terrible.” Bettina scrutinized the uniquefrontier city. She’d expected a rudimentary outpost and woodenshacks. New Orleans simmered in the August heat, a brightcollection of light-hued stucco and plaster buildings, roofed withcurved red or flat green tiles.
“A French architect designed it,so a little French colonial peeks through. A tragedy though, in theheart of town only the convent was left unscarred.”
“Look out for pirates.” Frederickhoisted up Christian to lean over the rail. “We’ll slay thebuccaneers and Indians, won’t we, cousin?”
“At least it’s a large city. Ithought we’d end up in a swamp,” Oleba said, perspirationglistening on her dark forehead. Genevre pouted in her arms, herbright blue eyes staring.
“The area is still a swamp.”Charlotte laughed. “The buildings can’t have cellars, or be builttoo high. They would sink right into the marsh. The CarondeletCanal, built two years ago, connects the back of the city along theriver levee with Lake Pontchartrain. This has opened the city tomore commerce, especially sugar. Cane’s a big crop now. See thelevee there?” She pointed over the rail. “That keeps the river fromflooding the city.”
Once again on solid land,Charlotte gave them the name of an inexpensive lodging house andher address in Mahieu. Then she hurried off to catch a ferry acrossthe river. Other ferries, barges and flatboats crowded the muddywater.
“Like last time, I feel I’m stillstanding on the ship. The ground’s still wobbling.” Frederickstaggered for Christian and Genevre’s amusement. “I can’t get ridof my sea legs.”
“This heat I did not expect.”Bettina swallowed down her thirst and tugged at her damp bodice,chafing under her arms. The air felt so thick she could havescooped it with a spoon. She stared around at the hustling people;many were Negros like Oleba. The atmosphere did seem primitive andshe hugged her children close.
An official checked everyone’sdocuments. The swarthy-faced man glared at Bettina, his dirtyfingers rubbing the pages of her passport. “You areEnglish?”
She stepped back, her breathsharp. “I’m the…widow of an Englishman. I am from Franceoriginally.” The admission slipped out, despite Charlotte’swarning. Bettina tried to snatch back her passport, irritated byhis scrutiny.
“French, English, bah, why do youcome here?” He waved the document in her face.
“I come towork, monsieur .To settle here with my family. May I pass, please?” She reached outher hand, forcing a smile to hide her jumpingpulse.
“We are respectable women, sir.With small children to care for.” Oleba cast down her eyes as shenudged up beside Bettina with her documents.
“Are you a free woman of color?”He ruffled through Oleba’s papers, glared her up and down as shenodded. He shoved back their documents and waved themon.
Bettina slipped the passport backinto her inside pocket, grasped the two boys’ shoulders and rushedthem along. She released her pent up breath and pictured a nicelong soak in a refreshing bath. If she never saw another ship orcustom’s official, she would be relieved.
She instructed Frederick to hireporters to carry their trunks.
Their group walked through thebustling port. Sailors, slaves, and all sorts of men pulled carts,dragged ropes, loaded and unloaded boats. The heavy stink of theswamps and people’s perspiration filled the air. French voices,many in strange accents, flowed from the men theypassed.
They followed the hired porterswith their belongings into the vibrant looking city.
The inn, a modest yellow stuccobuilding not far from the waterfront, was more a private guesthouse. No baths were available, but Bettina was given a pitcher ofwater and splashed herself and the children in their small room.When she removed Genevre’s dress, she saw the baby had a rash underher arms. “I need Maddie’s herb creams now. I pray this is a heatwave, and it’s not so humid every day.”
She and Oleba managed to settlethe children down in a bed with clammy sheets. Frederick insistedon exploring the area, and promised to bring back food. Hoping fora breeze, Bettina threw open the windows. Shouting from the port,music from somewhere reached her ears. She stared down at the busystreet and sighed. “Tomorrow, I’ll search for mymother.”
The sun set, though the airremained sultry, and Bettina sagged with exhaustion. She couldbarely eat the spicy sausage Frederick had brought back. All shewanted was to slide into bed and sleep. She removed her moistdress, petticoats and stockings. Then she rubbed her feet as shesat in her sticky linen shift.
A buzzing noise started low, thenlouder. Insects trickled through the open window, pinging off thewalls, biting at Bettina’s skin.
“MonDieu !” She slapped and hopped around.Genevre whimpered and flung her arms about.
“Maman , it stings!” Christian cried,smacking his arms and legs.
Oleba ran around swatting at the tenaciousinsects. Frederick slammed the windows shut.
Bettina jerked on her clothes andran downstairs to the concierge. “What can we do? These insects,they are eating us alive.”
The innkeeper merely chuckled.“Sorry, I didn’t know you’d never been in the swamps before. Wasthere no nets near your beds a-hanging? I’ll fetch some. They’recalled baires and you got to drape ’em ’round your bed at night orthe insects will chew you raw.”
Bettina snatched the nets andhurried back to her family. What a strange land to have to sleepunder gauzy barriers. The baires swathed around them, she huggedher whimpering children, disappointed with this introduction to NewOrleans.
 
* * *
 
Bettina urgedher party along the high brick sidewalks, or banquettes. With the morning sun,the oppressive heat returned. Bettina’s thick hair was tied up, herstraw hat shielding her face; she intended to explore the city.Contrary to Charlotte, she admired the Spanish buildings with theirornate, wrought iron balconies overlooking the streets. The housesin pale shades of blue, green, and yellow were built flush withthe banquettes .Small bricked or flagstone courtyards could be glimpsed tuckedbehind iron gates. Mature live oaks shaded lacy patterns overbenches, and blooming flowers grew in large Spanish urns. Thecloying perfume of tropical foliage sweetened theair.
Bettina grinned at this stillFrench city, surrounded by French signs and Frenchchatter.
“Be careful where you step.” Olebarebalanced herself, her foot nearly slipping on the loose bricksthat constituted the walkways. “This soggy ground is like asponge.” She carried Genevre and kept swiping the little girl’shands away from scratching at her bug bites.
Bettina winced in an effort not toscratch her own. Frederick ran ahead with Christian, skipping overthe muck. The boys dodged a two-man chaise that rambledby.
Two Negro men in shiny black frockcoats tipped their hats to Oleba.
“There are a lot of people herethe same as Miss Oleba,” Frederick said, rushing back with a smirk.“She won’t stand out like she did in Sidwell.”
Oleba laughed, shifting Genevrefrom one hip to the other. “I’ll try to blend in,Frederick.”
They walkedthrough the Plaza deArmas , a large, grassy expanse where thered and yellow flag of Spain flapped in the river’s breeze. TheSaint Louis Cathedral, with her bell-topped hexagonal towers oneach side, faced this square. As did the magnificent capitol house,called the Cabildo , with its arched façade.
Bettina glanced at the church.Here her Catholic faith would once again be dominant. She felt thepang of her past, a need to introduce her children to the religionshe’d grown up in with her parents. A calmness, and a basis ofsecurity, was what they all needed.
They wound around barouches and phaetons tothe area called the French Market.
The boys pointed at chatteringmonkeys perched on men’s shoulders. Scarlet and emerald coloredparrots screeched when they neared—the colors so vivid they sparkedin the air. Crouched in cages, small alligators slithered withsleepy eyes and menacing grins.
“Look at this, Christian.”Frederick bent down and poked a finger close to thebars.
“Step away from there, boys,”Bettina scolded.
Various skinned animals and birdshung from hooks in the stalls. Other stalls burst with lush,unusual produce. Spicy, pungent aromas swirled around them, alongwith the strange patois French spoken by the localpeople.
Negro women in bright cottondresses talked among themselves in melodious voices. They enticedwhoever passed with promises of the best, the biggest and thecheapest wares to be found.
“Buy from me, you won’t bedisappointed.” One woman in a yellow turban thrust out a trayfilled with sugary mounds of confection. “My praline is the finestin New Orleans.”
Bettina sampled the treat andsavored the sweet flavor. To the children’s delight she bought themeach a piece. “Such an exotic place this is,” she said, taking itall in as they munched their sweets. Her doubts about starting anew life here faded.
“Smell that cooking.” Oleba tippedher head back and sniffed. “They must use every spice known tonature. I would think it might burn off your tongue. Not like ourbland English fare.” She tried to wipe Genevre’s sticky chin in themiddle of her protests as they strolled by a stall with red moundsof cayenne pepper.
They passed a man with a green andyellow blanket over his shoulders, stacks of similar wares at hisfeet. His head sported several feathers and his face a disdainfulexpression that never wavered.
“There’s those Indians Charliewarned you about,” Frederick whispered when they went by. “Maybehis tomahawks are beneath the blanket. Hold on to your hair.” Hepulled on the top of Christian’s hair until the child laughed andscampered away.
Drained from the heat, Bettinadropped onto a bench. She peeled her damp dress from herknees.
“Let us return to the room torest. Then while the children nap, you and Frederick can washlaundry, if you don’t mind.” She was ashamed to turn her nanny intoa laundress, but they were desperate. “I must find a way to locatemy mother.”
 
* * *
 
Bettina passed a group of Negromen who played music in the street. One blew a doleful tune on atrumpet, another played a fife. She’d never seen so many darkfaces, which added to the exotic aspect of the city.
About to faint from the heat, sheducked under a sloping slate roof for relief from the unrelentingsun. Well past midday, she sagged with failure. Her feet ached andsweat drenched her clothing. Three days she’d spent searching, butthe heat kept her efforts low and sluggish. Unlike her caution withCharlotte, she’d had to bandy the Jonquiere name about the city.Yet what if her mother lived under an alias, like Bettina did whensent to England?
“How do you find someone in NewOrleans if you have no idea where they might be?” she asked thecafe owner who sold her a glass of lemonade. She sipped the tartbeverage, which felt cool on her throat. She pressed the glass toher forehead. “There is no listing for her anywhere. No one hasheard of her. Maybe she no longer lives in the city.” She set downthe glass and rubbed the coolness into her cheeks. Had she madethis journey for nothing?
After consulting with a few otherpeople there, the owner walked back to her table. “It may not help,but there’s an old woman two blocks down who brags of knowingeveryone in the city. She makes it her affair to…to be in otherpeople’s affairs. Her name is Madame Ray. Be warned, she isn’tfamous for her benevolence at times.”
Bettina thanked him and walked thetwo blocks. She knocked on the door of the address he’d given her,a pale pink building with wide arched windows. Pots of fragrantrosemary sat on an outer windowsill. Banana leaves peeked over awicket gate. A servant girl opened the door and showed her to aparlor where heavy shutters blocked out the sun. A large womanwearing a lace cap appeared to be dozing in a chair. The servantdisappeared without announcing her arrival.
A Negro child waved a fan over thewoman, barely stirring the fetid air.
Bettina moved toward the chair.“Excuse me, please, are you Madame Ray?”
The woman glaredup with flinty gray eyes with deep pouches beneath. “I don’treceive visitors on Wednesdays, that idiot maid knows that. Ma foi .” Her words wereclipped, and in a thick French accent.
“I am sorry to disturb you.”Bettina explained quickly her reason for coming.
“I’ll have to fire the incompetentgirl. A grand-daughter of my housekeeper, though stupidnonetheless. I’d hire another Negro, but they put glass in yourfood when you aren’t looking.” She slapped the fan aside, and thechild scurried from the room. “Oh, all right, what is your mother’sname?” she asked in French, her wrinkled neck wobbling. Shewriggled in the chair like a fat oyster in its shell.
“She is called Volet Jonquiere.”Bettina quickly described her mother, or what she’d looked like thelast time she’d seen her, certain this was one of the old woman’sunkind days.
Madame Ray’s eyes narrowed toslits above her cheeks. She pulled over a lone candle to better seeher visitor. “This suffocating climate forces me to exist in thedark. Most sensible people don’t spend summer in the city.Jonquiere? Yes, I do know of your mother.”
“You do?” Bettina’s heart leapt;she stepped forward. “Where does she—?”
“I have heardshe is a beautiful woman, with lofty airs.” Madame continued tospeak in French as she shifted in her outdated cream robe à la française . Thetight bodice strained over a stomacher, pleats falling from hershoulders. “In fact, I have wanted to call upon her. I haven’t yethad the time, or the energy for that matter. The yellow fever inthe city keeps me inside.”
“Grâce àDieu . This is wonderful news about mymother. Where does she live?” Bettina’s head swam, with the heat orjoy she wasn’t certain. She would have kissed the woman, if notpositive of being rebuffed.
“ She lives at the Bonne Maison on the RueRoyale. It’s a fancy residence for ci-devants . She’s getting married ina short time to one of the Spanish officials who works for thegovernor.” Madame Ray wrinkled her nose, her mouth puckered indistaste.
“Married, are you certain?”Bettina stared in surprise.
“Yes. I amappalled. A Spanish official indeed.” Madame Ray sneered as hersharp gaze appraised Bettina from head to toe. “And you are herdaughter. How very interesting, machere . Do you plan to stay long in thearea? Come back to see me when I’m not so ill.”
Bettina quivered under the woman’srude examination.
 
* * *
 
After receiving directions to theBonne Maison, Bettina was relieved to leave the old woman. Strangethat she mentioned a desire to call on her mother then expressedsuch profound disapproval of her. Madame Ray’s invitation to visitagain roiled her stomach.
And ‘lofty airs’ didn’t sound likeMadame Jonquiere. As for her re-marrying, that was an unexpectedshock. Bettina thought of her father and suffered a stab of pain.She fisted her hands and staggered over the loose bricks. A comtebefore the fall of the Bastille, Papa had been murdered by therevolutionaries who had embezzled money through his antiquebusiness. Did her mother know the horrible details? She swept asideher gloom and increased her stride.
Excited by the idea her mother wasclose, Bettina rushed the four-blocks in the muggy afternoon air.In a huff of breath, she approached the Bonne Maison in acourtyard, surrounded by majestic oaks dripping in Spanish moss,like waves of brown nets. The three-storied white structure hadlong windows with fan-shaped transoms and little balconies, givingit an Old World elegance. A butler sent Bettina to the top floor.She climbed the carpeted stairs, her anticipation mounting. Herheart and hand trembled when she knocked on the door.
The door opened.A woman stood there. Her large brown eyes blinked, then widened.“ Bettina ? Hélas. This cannot be!”She screeched and clutched her throat, the color draining from hercheeks.
“It isme, Maman . I amall right.” Bettina choked on a sob and gripped both her mother’sarms. “Don’t faint.”
Her mother dragged herinto the room and captured Bettina’s face between anxious hands.“Oh, ma fille, ma fille . This is a miracle. I thought you were…but you are here .”
“I am so happy to find you, atlast.” Bettina shut the door and embraced her mother, who sobbed onher shoulder. Her own eyes filled with tears. Her mother smelledfamiliar, like home, love, the security she’d lost yearsago.
“Where have you been all thistime?” Volet pulled back and held her at arm’s length. Her ovalface resembling Bettina’s, her full mouth smiled through her tears.“Armand said you were carried off by revolutionaries, dying enroute to…. How I have grieved for you. Oh, but here you are,healthy and lovely.”
“I was carried off. I’mafraid Armand was the…. He was not who we thought he was.” Sheclenched her jaw at the thought of the old steward. “And how couldhe have known my condition after he threw meout?”
“Threw you out? What do you mean?”Volet stepped back and pressed her fingertips to her chest. Herfaded pink sacque dress hung loose on her thinner frame. The dresshad mends on the seams and stains at the silk hem.
Bettina waited for her mother tocompose herself. Then she explained in guarded words the scurrilousdeeds of their late steward. The major-domo had tricked Bettina,sending her to Bath with blank papers she thought were messages tofurther the royalist cause.
“Il meconfond . I cannot believe Armand was sotreacherous, betraying us like that. But everyone behaved oddlyonce the revolution began. To think I entrusted you to him, andhe…? You were only seventeen.” Fresh tears formed in her mother’seyes. “Then this Mr. Little person you were sent to refused to helpyou, but admitted Armand was in league with him? What was the pointof it all?”
“I was never certain. Mr. Little’sdiscourse was cut short—and I had to go. Or rather, he did.”Bettina dropped her gaze and fingered a porcelain cupid on atable—a curio she remembered from their Paris chateau. Mr. Littlehad fallen to his death in Everett’s manor, after telling her ofher father’s murder and demanding the embezzled money; but shewouldn’t explain that yet. He’d threatened Bettina’s life. “Let usnot talk about the past right now. I hear you are to be marriedsoon?”
Volet stiffened and walked to thewindow where lavender chintz curtains fluttered in the breeze.Bettina noted the sprinkle of gray in her mother’s raven-blackhair, the deeper creases etched around her eyes. Though she wasstill beautiful at forty-five.
“He is a good man, veryintelligent and well-traveled. His name is Alfredo Alverez. He hasan important position with the Governor’s office.” Volet soundeddefensive instead of an enraptured bride-to-be.
“I am pleasedfor you, Maman .Do you love him?”
She hesitated too long, frowning,and Bettina had her answer. “Bettina, when I came here I broughteverything I could with me. Sadly, money does not last forever. Ihad to dismiss my personal maid months ago. Alfredo is a suitableman who will take care of me.”
Bettina sank onto a chair,disappointed by that reply. “Then you are marrying for someone tosupport you?”
“Many women marry for thatreason.” Volet moved around the opulent room in measured steps, herarms crossed, hands clenched on her elbows. A distressed postureBettina recalled from her childhood.
“You’reright, Maman .Many women do.” Bettina stared down for a minute at her mother’sscuff-toed shoes. She’d wanted her mother not to be one of thosewomen, but began to understand. “I am happy foryou.”
Volet sat on the sofa close toBettina’s chair. She stroked her hand. “We have so much to discuss.Where to start? Please, tell me of your life inEngland.”
Bettina took in a long breath. Somuch had happened to unearth before her parent, she’d have to cutopen still sore wounds. “When I first arrived I ran out of moneyquickly. I found work, then a second paid position. I worked in aninn and tutored a little boy. I toiled hard, saved my money. I fellin love….” Her throat thickened. She dug her fingers into the chairseat. “I have two children by the man I loved. He was lost on aship last year, presumed drowned. Then I traveled here searchingfor you.”
Her mother shook her head. “Mysweet daughter, you have suffered so much. Working to survive, howbrave of you. If I had only known.” Volet grasped and kissed herhands. “Your husband, you say he was lost at sea?”
Moisture throbbed behind Bettina’seyes. She couldn’t admit to her mother that she and Everett nevermarried. “I am very angry at France for attacking hisship.”
“Oh, my poor child—to lose yourhusband in this dreadful war. I…I know how devastating that is.”Her mother’s voice trembled.
Her father’s heart attack, ormurder? Which did her mother believe? Papa’s face swam up and shepushed it away and swallowed down her questions.
Volet laid a hand, gentle andcool, on Bettina’s hot cheek. “To have you with me again is myfondest wish. What can I do for you to offer comfort?”
“I have my comfort now, sittinghere with you.” She covered her mother’s hand with her own. “I wantto know about you. How did you travel to America?”
“Oh, such an upheaval. I couldn’tstand to stay in Europe, thinking you were gone.” Volet blinked. “Imet several aristocrats, a few I knew from Paris. We sailed fromHolland to Boston. Then on to here, for the French culture. Ofcourse, that was before the aristocrats were hunted down, beforethe guillotine.” She shivered. “I didn’t realize how fortunate Iwas to escape.”
“I suppose I should thank Armandfor that. Etienne said that he knew of no one in the family who metsuch a brutal fate.” Bettina scrutinized her mother forconfirmation.
“He’s right. Noone that I knew of in the family. Ah, yet so many friends.” Voletsighed. Then she looked over with a tremulous smile. “Let’s speakof happier moments, macherie . I’ll ring for lemonade, and thecook bakes the most scrumptious petitsfours . Then please, tell me about yourchildren.”
Settled in with refreshments—thelemonade tart, the cakes sweet—Bettina spoke of Genevre andChristian. Under her mother’s encouragement, she summarized andcensured the events in her life since leaving France. She refusedto dwell long on her time with Everett, exploring that stillwrenched her heart. The room darkened as the sun disappeared behindthe building across the way. Bettina rose. “I must return to myinn.”
Volet stood too and kissed hercheek. “Please do bring the children to see me tomorrow. Mygrandchildren.”
“Ofcourse, Maman . Beaware, though their father is presumed drowned, I don’t speak ofhis death with them. I still pray that he is alive.” She clung tothin strings of hope.
“Oh? Very well,I understand, mignonne .”
Bettina left,her spirits soaring at finding her maman . She rushed back through theold city as men lit oil burning street lamps.
“Ah, putain , do you walkthese streets?” a man asked in a drunken slur as he reeled in frontof her.
She hopped from the banquette andhurried across the gutter in the filthy street. Confused and dazedby so many emotions, she’d neglected to think of her safety alonein the dark.
 
 
Chapter Three
 
Bettina dressed her children thenext morning and walked them through the muggy air to the BonneMaison. She left Oleba and Frederick at the guest house so herchildren could meet their grandmother unencumbered by otherpeople.
Her mother’s face lit up at thesight of Christian and Genevre.
“ Bonjour, Grand-mère ,” Christiansaid, expertly repeating the words Bettina taught him. His smileshy, he didn’t back away when Volet bent down to hughim.
“Christian, youare so handsome.” Her mother kissed his cheek and ushered them intoher parlor, where a pitcher and glasses awaited. “I have lemonadeand calas, the little fried rice cakes everyone enjoys here.” Shereached out for Genevre. “Come to grand-mère .”
The little girl stiffened inBettina’s arms, digging her small hands into hershoulders.
“She is shy,” Bettina said. “Shewill take longer to know you.”
“An adorable girl. She looks likea little angel.” Her mother stroked the baby’s hair.
“I also have an older child livingwith me.” Bettina rocked from side to side with Genevre. “Everett’snephew, Frederick. He is the one I used to tutor. We are veryclose. I am his only family now.”
“You should havebrought him with you,” her mother said with a sad smile. “I knowyou have had a difficult time. I wish I could make it up to you. Iagonized all last night. How could I have been so foolish to allow Armand…?” Shelowered her head and shook it. “He had worked for your father forso many years. He was like one of the family.”
“Oh, Maman , it was not yourfault.” Bettina never blamed her mother for not protecting her. Shesaw her as a victim as well. “Armand joined the rebels, the commonpeople. Strange for a man so old to bother, but…I suppose hebelieved in the cause. The events were not so terrible as theylater became.” She fought the tremor in her voice. “As I saidyesterday, it is difficult not to despise my own country for whathappened to…you understand.”
Her mother raised her gaze. “Youare still so young, things will change.”
Bettina nodded, though shecouldn’t imagine anything filling the hole that gaped inside her atEverett’s loss.
“Maman , I’m thirsty,” Christianwhispered in Bettina’s ear as she sat on thesofa.
Volet poured hima glass of lemonade. “There you go, mignonn . Be careful, don’t spill thedrink.” She smiled at her daughter. “Bettina, you will discoverthat time does soften pain. We do move on. I would like you to meetAlfredo, soon.”
“Another person close to me usedto say that about time easing pain.” Bettina thought of Maddie, hersurrogate mother in Cornwall. The indomitable woman who ran the innwhere Bettina had worked. “And I would be honored to meet Mr.Alverez, whenever you say.”
Genevre, still clinging in herlap, started to whine. Bettina gave her a sip from her brother’sglass.
“I want you to see—I do enjoy hiscompany, his attentions.” Volet glanced down at her hands, claspedtight in her lap.
“I understand.You don’t need to explain, Maman .” Bettina tried to pull theglass away from Genevre who held fast to it, rippling the liquidinside.
“I wish I had a toy for you,Christian.” Volet traced her fingers through his thick brown hair.The boy grinned and looked around as if one might be hidden in theroom.
She turned to Bettina, her eyessad. “We have lost so many chances for intimate mother daughterdiscussions, you and I. Now you are an adult, a young woman. Idon’t even know what you want out of life.”
Bettina handed the glass back toChristian and settled Genevre against her. Her daughter squirmed toget free. Bettina sniffed her lemon-scented hair, the innocence ofchildren. Christian sat cross-legged on the floor, half listening.He nibbled on a rice cake.
“What I want is simple. A home ofmy own. Nothing big or fancy. A clean place, where I can have myown things and fill it with memories for my children. I have beenso unsettled these last several years, living in other people’shomes. Now I want something that is mine.”
She wanted Everett back inher arms, safe. Would she ever have that chance? She squeezedGenevre and the baby squealed. “I need some sort of occupation thatwill satisfy me.”
“That is all commendable. Still,with your beauty, you might find another man to carefor.”
“Maisnon , no other men.” Bettina’s pulsethrobbed in her throat and she kissed her daughter’s silky head.She’d said almost the exact words to Everett’s mother after hisdisappearance. “I don’t need any.”
 
* * *
 
“I am glad your mother is well andhas found someone to care about.” Oleba draped the baires aroundthe bed where Genevre slept restlessly. Frederick stared out thewindow and Christian hopped into the bed they shared. Olebaarranged the net around that bed.
“Merci . I do hope she does careabout him, or he about her. “Bettina rubbed rouge on her face, butthe humidity in the air made it cake. She resembled a clown. Sheswiped a cloth over her moist cheeks, turned and stumbled over atoy wooden ship. “I am sorry we’re stuck in this one room rightnow. I almost miss the cavernous Bronnmargh.”
She’d hated Everett’s manor, darkand drafty, freezing in the winter. Yet she’d adore some of thecoolness now, the life she’d had before. “I promise I won’t be toolate.” She was meeting her mother and Mr. Alverez at a café onBourbon Street, farther into the area called the FrenchQuarter.
“Don’t worry. Ihave plenty of mending and laundry to keep me busy.” Oleba smiledand sat in the chair by a lit candle. Bettina often wondered abouther too complacent manner. She must have dreams or concerns of herown. Did she miss her own mother, dead years ago from a Londonfever? But selfishness, her need for Oleba, kept Bettina from asking thequestions.
“Let me go with you. I’ll be yourescort.” Frederick turned hopeful eyes on her. The boy wasobviously bored, constrained here for three days since she’d foundher mother. “This city isn’t safe. It’s full of noisy taverns andbrothels.”
Her hand on the doorknob, Bettinawanted to keep him inside and not exposed to the dangers she’dheard about this wild town at night. She thought of the drunk fromthe other evening. She had to let Frederick grow up sometime. Shesmiled. “Perhaps you’re right.”
He snatched his hat as she liftedthe net and kissed Christian goodnight.
They exited the inn into thesultry evening. Sailors passed them, making indecent remarks, theirstares leering, and Bettina clasped the boy’s arm. They walked theuneven bricks on the banquettes as Bettina steeled herself to meetthis man her mother planned to marry. Frederick would offer moralsupport.
At the little cafe, sulfur burnedin Spanish clay pots, permeating the air with the smell of rotteneggs.
Bettina wrinkled her nose. “Thatis offensive.”
“The concierge told me it’s whatthey do to keep away the insects,” Frederick whispered.
Her mother sat at a table on thebanquette. A man stood by her chair. Of medium height, his shirtstrained around a barrel chest and thick neck.
“Good evening. Adaughter so much like you, querida, ” he said in a harsh Spanishaccent, his smile wide beneath a thick black mustache. Mr. Alverezpulled out chairs for Bettina and Frederick. “And who is this tallyoung man?”
“This is my nephew, FrederickPrescott.”
“Welcome, both of you, to NewOrleans.” He swept out his hand as if he owned the city.
Introductions were made all aroundas they sat. Two Negro children waved fans nearby, swiping away theheat and insects from the diners.
Alverez said something in Spanish to hermother, who grinned like a girl.
Bettina stared at her and Voletblushed.
“Alfredo and I frequently conversein Spanish when we don’t want others in these crowded cafes to knowwhat we talk about.” Her smile demure, Volet fiddled with the silktassels on her reticule.
“ I remember Grand-mère telling younot to lose your Spanish.” Bettina brushed a damp tendril of hairfrom her forehead. “I hope you don’t revert to that in front ofme?” She smiled as her mother raised an eyebrow at herdefensiveness.
“No, no, mostassuredly not. We are delighted you can join us.” Mr. Alvereznodded his dark head streaked with gray. “Where is that lazywaiter?”
Some might consider his swarthy,square face handsome. With deep lines on his forehead and aroundhis eyes, Bettina guessed him to be in his earlyfifties.
“How did you two meet?” sheasked.
“At a party, was it not? Did youknow your lovely mother was living under an assumed name here atfirst…what was it, nearly three years in our colony? Yes, a commonMrs. Moreno she called herself.”
“Alfredo, please.” Volet seemed toshrink in her chair like a wilted flower, her red velvet cap withwhite feather drooping.
“When I met herI thought she was a Spanish lady, until she admitted the truth.”His laugh was as brash as his accent. “I told her not to be ashamedof her past. She was an aristocrat, be proud. French, yes, but anaristocrat just the same. I’m jesting with you, querida .” Alverez patted Volet’shand.
“I thought I would be safer, afterwhat was happening in France. It was my mother’s maiden name.”Volet’s voice came out breathy. “Still, you were right,Alfredo.”
“Aren’t I always?” He flashedlarge yellow teeth.
“I wondered if you were using thefamily name when I first searched for you. So many used assumednames in Europe. After reading the local newspaper, I see itdoesn’t appear to be necessary here,” Bettina said.
“Precisely my advice. Though wekeep a sharp eye on anyone trying to foment your revolution here.You said you found your mother through Madame Ray? She’s such avicious gossip, everyone should stay away from her.” Alverezsmacked the table to get the waiter’s attention and Bettinaflinched. He then barked an order for oysters, hot peppers, shrimp,buttered squash and Spanish wine. “I take the liberty of selectingthe food, since you are new to our region.” He inclined his head inpracticed deference to Bettina.
“How thoughtful of you,” Bettinasaid through stiffening lips.
Her mother sat silent like a dazedchild.
Frederick stood. “If you’ll excuseme, I’ll walk down the street until the food arrives.”
“Don’t go far, please.” Bettinawatched him traipse off. He was no doubt thrilled to be out of theroom, in the city. He walked toward a tavern where loud musicblared out the door.
“Isn’t this weather atrocious? IfI didn’t have work to do, I’d find a country home during thesummer. The Creoles love their cooler plantations.” Alverez pulledout a box of snuff and snorted a pinch up each nostril, thencoughed.
“It does take getting used to. Ihope the autumn is milder.” Bettina spread a napkin on her lap andglanced across the table. “Mr. Alverez, in what capacity do youwork for the governor?”
“Ahhh, I feel we are merelyjailers here, keeping peace and order. We Spanish must rule theCreoles with a heavy hand.” Alverez waved his hand in the air,almost slapping the waiter who brought their wine. “They are not asrefined as we. They have plebeian tastes, as well as manners—butwhat do you expect from colonial peasants? This place is also acesspool of disease, malaria, yellow fever. We suffered a hugeoutbreak of fever this year.”
The waiter uncorked and poured redwine into three glasses.
“Are you saying the Spanish makeno attempt to integrate with the local population?” Bettina sippedthe rich wine, trying to relax. “Does that not make it awkward foryou?”
“These people are cretins. Youcannot lower yourself to their level. When we took possession ofthis colony it ran rampant with sin…brothels, gambling dens. It wasa major struggle to tame these Creoles.”
Another waiter arrived and setplatters on the table. Slithery oysters in open shells, pink shrimpand peppers covered with red spices and yellow squash swimming inbutter.
Bettina turned and craned her neckto see where Frederick had gone. He stood in front of the tavernacross the street, staring in the window. Loud men strode in andout the place’s door. She waved the boy over to thetable.
“Do you realize that France spentmany years dumping their undesirables into this colony?” Alverezasked, his stern dark eyes on Bettina. “These people aredescendants of criminals.”
Frederick hurried up. “I heard noone wanted to settle here.” He plopped into his chair, picked uphis fork and stirred the strange food around on the plate. “Theyheard of the fevers and soggy land. There are pirates close by,too.”
“Many countries dump theircriminals like that. Look at England with the former colonies ofMaryland, Virginia and Georgia.” Bettina’s teeth on edge shestabbed a shrimp with her fork.
“Can we talk of somethingpleasant?” Her mother cast down her eyes.
Alverez threwback his head and guffawed. “Volet, querida , you have a very intelligentdaughter. Perhaps too intelligent. We’ll have to marry her off toone of my officers, tame her down a bit.”
“I’ll handle myown life, merci .”Bettina cringed inside but kept her tone even. She bit into thepliant pink shrimp, the spices tickling her nose and tongue. “I’mlooking into running a shop of some type.”
“A shop, no, no. A woman ofbreeding should never stoop so low.” He said this as if she’dplanned to shoot someone. “A remarriage is what youneed.”
“I do not need that at all.”Bettina’s jaw ached from clenching it. “A shop is perfectlyrespectable.”
A group of dark-skinned men walkedby, one carrying and playing a fiddle.
“This city is overrun withNegroes,” Alverez said. “There are so many slaves here. First itwas for the tobacco and indigo. The indigo crop was eaten bycaterpillars and other insects. Tobacco is not so important anymoreto Spain. Now we grow cotton and, since last year, sugar cane.Unfortunately, slaves are needed for this strenuous work. They arean unsettled group, and we even allow them to dance on Sundays inthe square.”
“I’d like to see those dances.”Frederick wriggled his shoulders as if he danced and tasted ashrimp, chewing slowly.
“You may, young man. An amusingentertainment.” Alverez took a gulp of his wine, then swiped hissleeve under his mustache. “Now you two lovely ladies should notworry your delicate little heads over such problems as criminalsand slaves.”
“Women should be concerned aboutimportant events. Perhaps the slaves are restless because theyresent being slaves?” Bettina thought of Oleba and for the firsttime pitied these people dragged from their homes and forced intolabor.
“There are many free people ofcolor here. Slaves sometimes buy their freedom. Coming from Africa,they enjoy this weather more than we do.” Alverez laughed. “I won’tbore you ladies with any more details, our food will get cold.” Heshoveled an oyster into his mouth as Bettina stared in disbeliefover his arrogance.
She took a bite of rice to quietthe spicy food that sat uneasily in her stomach.
Two hours later, after dusk,escorting them back to the Bonne Maison, Alverez regaled Bettinawith details of a social gaffe he had witnessed at the Governor’srecent ball. This was perpetrated by a gauche Creole who dared toimagine himself one of the better classes.
“Well, dear, what did you think ofhim?” Volet asked after he gave her a paternal peck on the cheekand left them in front of the mansion.
Frederick shuffled off away fromthem and stood beneath a street lamp. Insects buzzed and flutteredthrough the lamp’s shaft of light.
Bettina expelled her breath; shehad to be honest. “Are you happy with the way he…acts?”
“He is outspoken, and has strongopinions.” Volet averted her gaze. “Does that botheryou?”
“In England many people lookeddown on me because I was a foreigner. Mr. Alverez condemns allthese people he helps to govern because they are not Spanish,therefore not equal.”
“Bettina, that is absurd.” Hermother fanned herself, mouth pursed.
“I read that the Creoles are thehigher class here, and he ridicules them.” She shook her head. “Andhe is condescending toward women…marry me off…delicate littleheads.”
“You have made up your mind not tolike him, haven’t you?” Volet stared at her with wounded eyes. “Ithought I’d raised you better than that.”
“I amsorry, Maman , itis how I feel. He’s very arrogant.”
“Maisnon , you don’t even give him a chance.”Volet’s voice thickened. In the shadows she looked so young,vulnerable. “He’ll give me a good life.”
“You’re not in love with him. Hetreats you like a child.” Bettina said it softly, seeing hermother’s distress. “You could make your own life. Find a job andsupport yourself.”
“Don’t be ridiculous.” Voletglared, chin raised. “I am not a common laborer.”
“Maman , I survived by my own effortsin England. I intend to do that now.” Bettina stepped close, herhand on her mother’s arm. “We might findsomething—”
“Not everyone is made to work.”Volet pulled apart from her. “I’ve always had servants, money tospend. You must judge me fairly.”
“What isfair, Maman ? Lifeis not fair. Is it fair for my children to have no father? Is itfair for me to lose the only man I’ll ever love? Nothing is fair.”Bettina’s vehement words surprised her. She’d held her anger in toolong. “I’m sorry.”
“You’re only prejudiced againstAlfredo because you loved your father.” Volet sniffed, jerking ahandkerchief from her reticule. “He’s gone and is never comingback. You should realize the same about your husband and considerone of the local officers, as Alfredo said.”
Bettina winced, verbally slapped,punctured in her most sensitive area. “I cannot.”
“Then I must say good night fornow.” Volet whirled and entered the mansion, slamming the doorbehind her.
Bettina sagged against the stuccowall. How could her sweet mother even consider marrying such a man?She sighed and stepped into the light toward Frederick. Tugging athis arm, she urged him through the night, slapping asidemosquitoes.
“Are you all right?” Frederickeasily kept pace with her. “You fought with your mother. But Ididn’t like that man either.”
“We’ll make amends later.” Shesqueezed his arm.
At the inn,Bettina frowned at the cramped, disordered room. She pushed backher moist hair. Her heart still hammered from her confrontation.“Oleba, it’s time we find permanent quarters. These past days Ihave looked everywhere. The city is too expensive to live in, and Ifound no business to buy into, as a lone woman.” She lowered hervoice, aware of her sleeping children. “Everyone asks where myhusband is. Ma foi.”
She sunk onto the narrow sofastrewn with dirty clothes. At the other end, Oleba scrubbedgarments in a bucket filled with discolored water. The chambersmelled of mildew.
“Let’s find a boat and live on it.People do that here.” Frederick tossed his hat onto a chair,plucked his dripping breeches from the bucket and wrung them out.He hung the garment over the four poster bed to dry. “I wish Iplayed an instrument, I’d work in one of the taverns.”
“Shush now. You need to go back toschool, to prepare for college as your uncle wanted.” Bettina hopedhe wouldn’t argue as in England, when he desired to be a soldierand fight in the war.
The boy grimaced and pulled offhis shirt. His lean form glistened in the candle light.
“What about the woman you met onthe ship? Mrs. Beaumont.” Oleba wrung out a petticoat, then brushedher arm over her damp forehead.
“I have thought of her. Tomorrowwe’ll catch the ferry across the river. She may have ideas for us.”Bettina removed the scarf tucked in her low cut bodice, wiped itacross her sweaty chest and sighed.
She quelled herself-pity and upset with her mother as she gazed upon the peoplewho depended on her. Her precious children. “Don’t worry, mes petits , we willfigure out something,” she whispered to tamp down her ownfears.
 
 
Chapter Four
 
The morninglight shimmered on the river, but the bright sun promised moreheat. Bettina held fast to Christian’s hand and walked her familydown to the wharves below the VieuxCarre , where their ship had landed themdays before. They boarded a ferry across the vast flow of theMississippi River.
Frederick hung over the ferry’sside, fascinated by the river and her many boats. Oleba huggedGenevre close. Bettina rocked with the vessel, trying to forget thequarrel with her mother.
Mahieu rose up on the oppositebank. Their party disembarked across another levee and walkedthrough weeping willows to a clean, attractive village. The streetswere lined with one- and two-storied stucco and plaster buildings.These white, yellow, and peach structures sat like blossomingflowers amidst fragrant magnolia trees and hemlocks. Anunpretentious white plaster church faced a large grassy square. Aline of quaint shops fronted the river road.
“This is acharming place,” Bettina said. She and Christian led the trek pastthe shops. They peeked in the window of a milliner and anapothecary. At a print shop, the New Orleans paper, La Moniteur de la Louisiane , displayed on a rack out front touted the date of August 21,1796.
Her heart sank. In four days hermother would marry Mr. Alverez. She deeply regretted falling outwith her. The ineffectual woman she’d become wasn’t the motherBettina remembered. She hurried past the shop, determined to find away to reconcile with her later.
At the end ofthe street sat Charlotte’s shop, Beaumont’s Pastries, next to agreen, marshy field intersected by a creek. Entering the shop to atinkling bell, they stood in a cramped waiting area with a counteralong the back wall. Beneath the counter a glass case displayedvarious delectable looking pastries, Pain au Chocolat , Profiterole andÉclairs. The fragrances made Bettina’s mouthwater.
The door behind the counter openedand Charlotte emerged. “Bettina, how nice to see you. Did youlocate your mother? Hello children, Oleba.” A sheen of perspirationon her face, Charlotte leaned her elbows on thecountertop.
“I’ll take the children out to thegrass, to let them play.” Oleba tapped Frederick’s shoulder andhustled her charges back through the door. Frederick grimaced andfollowed, mumbling his displeasure at being included among thechildren.
“I did trackdown my mother, merci .” Bettina’s throat tightened for a moment. “However,Charlotte, I came to ask your advice. I cannot afford to live inNew Orleans. We desperately need a place of our own. Frederickshould be back in school. I don’t see any business opportunitiesthere either. I do like this town. You’re right, it is veryappealing.”
“It’s cheaper to live in, too. Letme think.” Charlotte ambled from behind the counter and they stoodat the window gazing out to where the children romped. “I mustfirst warn you, your girl has to wear a tignon over her hair. It’sthe law.”
“What is a tignon? And why is it alaw?”
“A tignon is a kerchief. Oleba isa Negro, and they’re forbidden to wear a fancy headdress, so ascarf is mandatory to show their lower status.” She said it somatter-of-factly.
“That’s terrible, a lower status.”Bettina frowned. She watched the graceful woman outside, her brightsmile and gentleness with Christian and Genevre. She filled withmore sadness as she recalled Mr. Alverez’s dismissive talk ofNegroes and slaves.
“Here in Louisiana we have aspecial law called the Code Noir. That stipulation is in the code.”Charlotte swiped a dead fly from the window sill.
“A very unfair law. I would haveasked Oleba to stay in England if I’d thought she might be treatedbadly here.” Bettina’s shoulders drooped. Had she dragged all herfamily to Louisiana for no purpose?
“If she follows the rules, she’llbe fine.” Charlotte stared again out the window. “Oh, how forgetfulof me.” She tapped the glass. “Do you see over there, those littlehouses?”
Charlotte pointed beyond thecreek. A bridge arched to the other side where four neat littlecottages sat at the water’s edge among clusters of pale green reedsand twisted wisteria vines, the flowers dark purple. “On the bayou,the third one down. A sweet old woman lived there. She died onlylast week. I know the man who owns it. I’m sure I can find you afair rental price. Are you interested?”
“I am, yes. Can you show it to menow?”
“I’ll fetch the key from MonsieurCorbett. Won’t be a minute. Meet me at the bridge.”
 
* * *
 
Over the bridge and walking upthree steps, Bettina followed Charlotte across a tiny front porchas a lizard scurried near their toes. They entered the cottage anda musty smell wafted out. The first room was a kitchen with alittle parlor after that. There were two bedrooms divided by anarrow hallway off the parlor.
“There’s an enclosed back porchdown that hall. You can use it as another bedroom,” Charlotte said.“All this furniture isn’t much, but it comes with theplace.”
Bettina looked around the smalldwelling, badly in need of care and paint. How far she’d fallenfrom elegant palaces; yet here she’d make this place her littlehaven. “I will take it, yes.”
 
* * *
 
Dipping a rag into vinegar andwater two days later, Bettina scrubbed the dirt and mildew on thecottage window sills. The spicy vinegar made it smell fresheralready. She thought of her first days at Maddie’s inn, cleaningrooms and fretting about her lost wealth and position. Bettina hadmet Maddie’s sister, the feisty Kerra, outside Bath. Afterdiscovering the man she was sent to, Bernard Little, no longerresided there, she’d traveled out to Cornwall with Kerra seekingemployment. In the little Cornish village she’d met the localsquire, Everett Camborne.
Bettina wiped the window glass inquick strokes, pushing down the familiar ache. Her Everett, a manunfairly rumored to have murdered his feckless wife. Miriam had runoff to London with Frederick’s father, who’d probably killed her,though they could never prove it.
Bettina slopped the rag into thebowl of vinegar.
Outside, Frederick played with thelittle ones near the bayou. She adjusted the jalousie, a blind overthe windows. The horizontal slats allowed in light and air butcould be positioned to keep out direct sun and rain.
She turned to Oleba, who knelt onthe floor, scrubbing the boards. Her maid wore a bright red scarftied around her wooly hair. Bettina had splurged and bought her theprettiest ones she could find. “I suppose we should—”
A strident scream rent theair.
“That’s Genevre!” Bettina rushedout on the porch to see her scarlet-faced daughter wailing at thebayou’s edge. Frederick was crouched down, frantically trying tocalm her.
Bettina hurried over the grass andclutched her child. A lobster-like creature had its pincher clampedto her daughter’s finger.
“She only got a crawfish.” A mansauntered out from the cottage next door. He pried the crawfishloose and inspected the finger. “She be all right now, just a bittybruise.”
The crawfish crawled back towardthe water as Christian followed it, laughing andpointing.
The man stoopedand scooped the crawfish up. “This will make good eatin’. You wantit, Madame?” He dangled the wriggling creature toward Bettina whoshook her head. “ Merci , it’s for my dinner then. I am Monsieur Duval.” He bowed hisbald head and traipsed his wiry body back to hiscottage.
Bettina lifted her upset daughter into herarms.
“I was watching her close enough,”Frederick said through clenched lips. “So you could finish. Thislittle girl is faster than anything. She won’t mind.”
“I know you did your best.”Bettina patted his arm, but Frederick moved away. He turned andstared toward the bayou, his body rigid. So like his uncle whenperturbed.
Bettina sighed and stroked herdaughter’s hair. Genevre buried a tear-streaked face on hermother’s bosom.
“This country is full of strangedangers.” Oleba walked up, her grin indulgent, and rubbed thechild’s shoulder. “She’ll know better before playing with thosecreatures again.”
 
* * *
 
When evening came, the fadinglight bringing the buzzing insects, Bettina kissed her childrengood night in their new beds. She draped the baires around them andjoined Oleba in the parlor. “I feel we still live like gypsies. Ihate to have you sleep on the rear porch.” Bettina stretched herback with a groan.
“I’ll survive. The bed iscomfortable. Don’t worry about me.” Oleba sat in a chair anddragged a pile of mending from a basket. “If there’s one thing I’velearned, it’s to adapt to any situation.”
Bettina stepped to one of hertrunks, listening to the insects smack at the windows. “I don’tknow how I would have managed any of this without you, MissRefused. Have you…never thought of finding a beau, marrying,starting your own life?” She finally asked thequestions.
Oleba sorted through the mending,her black eyes thoughtful. “I suppose I never really have. I seemto have been so busy my entire life, working.”
“We are hard working women. I sohope we find success here.” Bettina hid her selfish relief andopened the trunk. She pulled out a pair of silver candlesticksshe’d brought from England and placed them on the marred sideboard.A fine linen cloth covered the scratched table. She set out a cutcrystal vase sure to glitter in the window when the sun shonein.
“Now the cottage looks bright andpretty, your own little home.” Oleba threaded herneedle.
“Our home, if you please. A person does need somethingto call their own.” Bettina glanced again at Oleba. Maddie’s facedrifted into her thoughts. Another woman who threw herself intowork to push away personal desires.
Bettina stroked her hand over thesmooth tablecloth, then stared at the candlesticks, her eyesblurring for an instant. Inside she felt neither bright nor pretty.All their efforts couldn’t eradicate the smell of mildew from thecottage, or her soul.
“I should write Maddie, to giveher our new address. I’m homesick for England, as I was once forFrance.” She forced an airy tone but recognized her need to keep aviable connection between herself, England, and her memories. Whatif Everett had survived, and found his way home? She brushed herfingers over the trembling pulse in her throat.
 
* * *
 
Dishes wiped dry and put into therickety cupboard the next evening, Bettina started at a knock onthe door. She opened it, surprised to see her mother.
“May I come in?” Volet asked in ameek voice.
“Ofcourse, oui , wehave just eaten.” Her heart fluttered, warmed to see her parent.“Would you care for coffee or tea?”
“No, thank you. I received yourmessage about your new address.” Volet stepped in and glancedaround, her reticule clutched to her chest. “This is a cozy littleplace.”
“The cottage is small, but I canafford it.” Bettina studied her mother’s sad expression. Shethought of the opulent chateau they once lived in. All the space,servants, everything you needed and so much you didn’t. Who ownedChâteau Jonquiere now, the rebels?
“Please, Maman , let us sit in theparlor. The children are with Oleba. She is reading them a story.Frederick went outside to catch fireflies. He is so restless andneeds to continue his education.” His demeanor worried Bettina, andnow so did her mother’s.
She fluffed the cushions on theworn sofa. “Are you well?”
Volet sat on the sofa, her gazebrooding. She had dark smudges under her eyes. “Bettina, I am sorryfor what I said the other night. Can you forgive me?”
“Yes. I also said so much Iregret.” Bettina sat at the sofa’s other end. “I’m glad youcame.”
Volet twisted the tassel on herreticule. “I decided not to marry Alfredo.”
“Vraiment ? Why not?” Bettinabreathed deep, to mask her relief.
Volet hung her head. “You wereright. In many ways he is arrogant. I don’t love him. I wasmarrying for all the wrong reasons. He did often treat me like achild. I felt I had no one else at the time.”
“You have me now.” Bettina scootedcloser and clasped her mother’s hand.

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