He clicked his heels together and bowed his head.
"At your service, Madame."
"Please take a seat." She pointed to an armchair near the fireplace and sat opposite him.
"I have a letter from Malleval for you." He pulled a thick envelope out of the leather bag which was strapped to his belt, leant closer and handed it over.
She glanced at the red wax seal bearing the letters A M in the centre. She was eager to read Malleval's letter, but not wanting to appear ill-mannered, she dropped the papers in her lap.
"Did you have a pleasant journey, Capitaine?"
"Not really." He pulled a face. "The captain is unfamiliar with the waters in these parts. He didn't know about the currents and the reefs and our ship almost tore open on some rocks at the entrance of the bay. It was only by a stroke of luck we avoided disaster. A woman warned us from the cliff." His lips stretched in a condescending smile. "The crew said she was an angel descended on a ray of sunshine."
Marie-Ange cleared her throat, embarrassed. "It was no angel, I'm afraid, only me. The cutter was heading straight for the Devil's Tooth and I…"
Capitaine Saintclair narrowed his eyes to look at her. Her heartbeat quickened under his scrutiny and an awkward blush heated her face.
A smile stretched his lips. "Well, thank you, Madame. I owe you my life."
She nodded but made no answer.
"When can you be ready to leave for
? The cutter is moored in Wellcombe harbour for now, but I want to sail back as soon as possible." France
Robert raised his head. Marie-Ange was aware of him staring at her with pleading eyes and her heart twisted a bit at the pain her leaving would cause him.
"I have been expecting you for some weeks," she said. "My things are ready. We can leave tomorrow if you like."
"Not tomorrow! Not so soon!" Robert jumped to his feet, stormed out of the drawing room, and slammed the door behind him.
"A hot-blooded young male," Capitaine Saintclair remarked, arching his eyebrows.
Embarrassed by Robert's outburst, Marie-Ange looked down. The sight of her dirty boots met her appalled gaze. Whatever must the captain think of her? She shuffled her feet under her dark grey skirt, itself damp and splattered with mud, and sat upright. At least Saintclair wouldn't find fault with her demeanour and clothing. She still wore half-mourning clothes—her dresses mostly dark greys, browns and greens, with high collars and long sleeves.
"I apologise for Robert," she said stiffly. "He is very protective of me. He is also young and has lacked the presence of a man here. His brother—my husband—was a Royal Navy Commander and was reported missing after the battle of Corunna." She could never say Christopher was dead. She never truly believed it was so.
"I'm sorry." Saintclair sounded sincere.
She let out a sigh and stared out into the fire, her fingers playing with her wedding band. A tingling sensation on her skin soon made her glance up. The Capitaine was looking at her, his blue eyes serious and intense once again. Heat spread over her cheeks and throat.
"Please come with me," she said, standing up. "It is time you were shown to your room."
She rang the service bell and led him into the hallway where an elderly servant soon joined them.
"Make a fire in the green room, Francis, and have some hot water and tea brought up straight away for our guest," she told him. The green room was
Norton Place's best bedroom—at least, it was the one with the least damp patches on the ceilings, mould stains on the wallpaper and draughty windows.
As soon as the French officer disappeared up the stairs, Marie-Ange went back into the drawing room to read Uxeloup Malleval's letter.
After enquiring about her health, Malleval explained the documents concerning her inheritance were ready at Beauregard. He was researching the history of the chateau and asked her to bring along any old family papers she might have, especially regarding her mother's godfather, Count Saint Germain. Having heard of her mother's talent as a painter, he also wished to see her sketchbook.
Marie-Ange sighed. She didn't have any family papers. In fact, she knew next to nothing about her mother's childhood at Beauregard and the traumatic events she escaped from in 1791. She died when Marie-Ange was five years old, and her father only told her the bare minimum about the French side of her family. "What is past is past," William Jones would always say when she asked him about the Beauregards. Since his death, there was nobody left who could answer her questions. Would Uxeloup Malleval know anything about her family? The man himself was a bit of a mystery, and so was this bequest he promised her. Maybe Capitaine Saintclair would be able to tell her more.
She went up to her room to finish packing. Opening the drawer of her writing desk, she pulled out a hard leather pouch. Inside was a dagger with a finely carved bone handle Christopher brought back from his first voyage to the
West Indies as a good luck charm. He had forgotten to take it on his last mission to …from which he never returned. Thoughtful, she pressed it against her heart for a moment before slipping it into her bag. Spain
Her mother's sketchbook was, as always, on her bedside table. Over the years, she had flipped so often through the pages covered with sketches and watercolours of Beauregard it seemed she already knew the place. It had all the charm of an enchanted castle with its round towers and walled rose garden, with its circular dovecote and the park surrounded by a dark forest. She traced with a finger the gold crest embossed on the book's cover—a unicorn surmounted by two Fleurs de Lys, Count Saint Germain's coat of arms.
"An extraordinary man," her father once said with unusual enthusiasm. "He was a philosopher, a scientist, and an outstanding statesman. Your mother was very fond of him."
She slipped the sketchbook into her bag too.
The mantel clock struck seven. She changed quickly into a dove grey gown and went to the drawing room. Capitaine Saintclair sat in front of the fireplace, holding a glass of whisky in one hand and stroking Splinter with the other. He rose when she came in, but she gestured for him to sit down.
She enquired after his needs and he assured her he was happy with his room. She cleared her throat and hesitated, suddenly shy.
"I hope you will forgive my curiosity, Capitaine," she started, "but Monsieur Malleval's letter inviting me to Beauregard to collect a bequest from his father came as a great surprise. May I ask you how long you have been acquainted with him?"
He nodded. "About fifteen years. We met at the regimental barracks back in 1800 when we were both very young men. I joined the cuirassiers and Malleval, the Hussars. Since then our regiments have fought all over
Europe together." He drank a sip of whisky.
"So he was a Hussar…" She knew of the Hussars' reputation, both on, and off, the battlefield. "I hope he is not too seriously injured."
Saintclair looked up, puzzled. "Injured?"
"In his letter, he mentioned a battle wound which troubles him greatly. That's why he could not come here himself."
"Ah. Yes. His battle wound…well, it depends on…the weather."
The French officer's answer lacked of conviction. Maybe Uxeloup was more seriously hurt than he let on.
"In any case," she resumed, "it is very chivalrous of you to volunteer to escort me to Beauregard, and I much appreciate it."
"It is my pleasure, Madame," he answered. "I was at a loose end anyway since our new king put most officers on leave. I believe you and Malleval are related, is that right?"
She nodded. "I am, in a way, his niece. My grandmother, Aline, married his father in 1791 after my grandfather, Philippe, was executed. She was Edmond Malleval's second wife."
"He probably had your grandfather killed to make way for him."
She gasped. "Why did you say that?"
Captain Saintclair shrugged. "As a public prosecutor in Beaujeu, then as a representative of the Public Safety Committee in Lyon during the Revolution, the man sent hundreds of people to their death—not just aristocrats but commoners, too. Anyone he suspected of plotting against the Republic." He paused. "Or, some have said, of being in the way of his ambition."
Marie-Ange's nervous fingers played with her wedding band again.
"I had no idea he was one of the revolutionaries who terrorised
and turned the country into a giant charnel house. Thank goodness these awful times are over and France is at peace. Now Napoleon has been exiled and the king is back, everything will be all right, won't it?" France
His jaw tightened and his eyes flashed with anger.
"Spoken like a true royalist, Madame. You will get on well with the captain of our ship. He's a staunch Bourbon supporter. I think I should warn you however that there isn't much sympathy among ordinary French people for émigrés now flocking back to claim their estates and their fortunes. Neither is there much love for the British nation as a whole. Napoleon is still very much alive in French hearts."
She raised her chin, stung by his tone.
"I don't care what people think. I am a Beauregard and I have every right to visit the chateau of my ancestors." She stood up. "It is getting late. Shall we make our way to the dining room?"
Like the rest of the manor house, the dining room was austere, with a damp, frigid feel even with a roaring fire in the stone fireplace. Robert was there already, a glass of red wine in his hand, which judging by his flushed cheeks, wasn't his first. She gave him a stern look which he answered with a shrug, and took her place at the head of the table with Robert sitting to her left and Capitaine Saintclair to her right.
Francis served a plain but hearty chicken and vegetable stew. Ignoring her disapproving frowns, Robert poured himself yet more wine. She let out a sigh and turned to Saintclair.
"Are you from the
Beaujolais region, Capitaine?"
"No, I'm from
Lyon," he answered curtly.
"That's a very large town, isn't it? Where is your estate?" Robert enquired.
"I don't have one," Saintclair answered. "My family isn't from the landed gentry, or any kind of gentry for that matter. My father owns a small silk workshop. He has worked all his life. He still does." He finished his plate and took hold of his glass.
"Then how did you get to be a superior officer? I thought these positions were reserved to gentlemen," Robert insisted.
The captain's eyes glinted with heat, yet his voice was calm when he spoke.
"Napoleon allowed all men, irrespective of their social standing, access to the highest levels of command. The only things that mattered were ability and bravery. Isn't that the way it should always be?"
Robert shrugged. "I suppose so," he muttered before drinking another gulp of wine.
"Unfortunately, our new king is reverting back to the old ways and promoting men according to lineage rather than merit," Saintclair carried on in sombre tones.
"You must tell us all about the battles you fought," Robert urged, and he went on to question the French officer about his military career, exclaiming in wonder when Saintclair said he had fought at Jena, Wagram and Austerlitz, to name but a few.
"Did you ever meet Napoleon?"
"The Emperor reviewed our regiment regularly. I often saw him during campaigns but I never personally talked to him." Saintclair's eyes clouded over and Marie-Ange wondered if the emperor was still very much alive in his heart.
Francis brought in a final dish of rhubarb jelly and Robert reached out for the bowl. His face was flushed, his blond hair tousled.
"Look at you, always the first one for pudding." Marie-Ange laughed as she proceeded to comb his curls away from his forehead with her fingers, the way she had done since he was a young boy.
Saintclair leant back against his seat and looked at her, his eyebrows arched. Suddenly flustered by the intensity of his gaze, she withdrew her hand, pushed her chair back, and stood up.
"I hope you do not mind if I bid you good night, Capitaine, I still have a few things to attend to before our journey." Then turning to Robert, she said, "Don't be too long."
Robert shook his head. "Don't worry. I'll come up to your room shortly."
A crashing noise startled them both. Marie-Ange whirled about to see Saintclair had dropped his glass of wine which shattered on the floor.
"Sorry," he mumbled. Bending down, he started picking the pieces of glass.
"Leave it, Capitaine. Francis will tidy up."
Once in her room, she undressed and wrapped herself in Christopher's large, faded blue dressing gown. Although it no longer bore his scent, she still wore it most nights to imagine his arms around her. While waiting for Robert, she set the draught board and pieces on her desk for their nightly game as well as sheets of paper and an inkwell for the French lesson she insisted on giving him while they played.
"I don't know why you still waste your time trying to teach me French," he said when he joined her shortly after. "You know how hopeless I am."
"You will find it very useful in the Royal Navy," she answered with a smile. "Not to mention at balls and parties when you want to impress young ladies."
But he was indeed so hopeless their lessons usually ended up in fits of giggles, and tonight was no exception.
"I shall miss our evenings," he said as he lingered in the corridor, long after midnight.
"I will soon be back. Hush now, we don't want to wake Capitaine Saintclair."
She gave him a kiss on the forehead and watched him climb the stairs to his room on the second floor. A noise at the far end of the corridor startled her. She froze and peered into the darkness, holding her breath, her heart beating uncomfortably hard. Was Capitaine Saintclair awake?
She shook her head. She was being fanciful. It was only the old manor house creaking and groaning in the blustering gale. She should be used to it by now.
and of course directly from MuseitUp Publishing at https://museituppublishing.com/bookstore2/index.php?page=shop.product_details&flypage=flypage.tpl&product_id=462&category_id=60&option=com_virtuemart&Itemid=1
Next post will be about that fascinating character, Comte Saint Germain...