The Legacy Of The Marshall Cousins - A Novel Of Deceit And Noble Intentions
Ferrand, France – September 1718
Charlotte’s deep resentment for the current state of affairs was equally divided between sheer boredom and being the subject of unsolicited attention by the gallant Captain de Molienier. She had expected her brother to stay home and she had counted on cajoling him to ride south toward the Mediterranean Sea, but Henri had abruptly left for Paris for a feeble excuse named Cybille. Did her brother, in his rash desire to marry her off, intentionally leave her alone to deal with de Molienier? The Captain admitted that Henri had asked him to keep an eye on her. The Captain assured her that he was happy to oblige. Charlotte expressed her opinion of both de Molienier and her brother, and the contents of her tirade almost - almost! - offended de Molienier and he left with a display of wounded pride. She fervently hoped de Molienier would stay away for a few days, but no such luck. She was not in the mood to deal with him, but now he was riding up in a meticulously cleaned and freshly pressed uniform.
“I will see you tomorrow, Mlle. Charlotte,” de Molienier stated after an hour’s visit, which was about an hour longer than she would have liked.
“I neither expect nor wish to see you before a week passes.” Charlotte would have loved to offer a year, but he was more likely to accept a week.
“Mlle. Charlotte, I will ride over to see you as often as my garrison duties allow.”
Charlotte clenched her fists. His garrison duties could allow him to be a daily nuisance. “For the glory of France, do not jeopardize your duties, Captain,” she begged. “Properly running a military establishment must be very challenging.”
“It is my duty and my pleasure to keep you safe,” he answered.
“We already had this discussion,” she reminded him. “Can I trust you, Captain, to respect my request to refrain from visiting me?”
“I will see you soon, Mlle. Charlotte.” He kissed her hand, made a precise turn around and left.
“Don’t bother to visit for a month!“ Charlotte said loudly to his broad back.
He momentarily stumbled, but pretended not to have heard her. She waited till de Molienier and his horse disappeared from view, lifted an empty bucket off the ground, banged it against the fence, threw her boot knife in the center of the fence post, picked up a stone and flung it to bounce off the bucket, and paced around, dissipating her anger by swearing aloud. De Molienier posed a complicated problem. Charlotte did not dislike him enough to run her sword through him, but she would never marry him, a fact that the smitten Captain stubbornly refused to accept. Charlotte retrieved her knife and sat down to think. She needed a plan.
It did not take long to conclude that her very presence at home caused high hopes for de Molienier. The logical solution was to disappear from Ferrand. Where could she spend the next month or two?
Lyon was her first choice, but this plan crashed upon a possibility that Antoine might be home. Her presence would place Mme. Marguerite and M. Laurent in a very awkward position, not to mention that Charlotte had no desire to deal with explaining the imaginary betrothal to Antoine. Charlotte’s own memory of him, reinforced by the unflattering second-hand knowledge of his character (the young women of Lyon described him as a heartless, callous, supercilious, uncaring man), indicated that he would be far from delighted at those disgraceful rumors. And rightfully so; she was not happy about it either. What had Raoul been thinking?
Her next viable destination was Troyes. Raoul would be attending the fencing school till December, unless he got expelled, so she could comfortably wait in town till either her parents or Henri came for her. Then again, if she were to travel across the country, why not straight to Paris? Charlotte’s spirits soared. She would ride Hera, which meant she’d need a suitable attendant for the mare. Stout, barrel-chested, Red Jacques looked like a brigand, but he was obedient, loyal, and proficient in the use of a hatchet and a musket.
“Prepare Hera and Dawnstar for a trip of two weeks,” Charlotte instructed the Elder Jacques. “I will travel light. Red Jacques will come with me. We are leaving tomorrow.”
His jaw fell open and his mouth moved but no sound came out at first. “ Mlle. Charlotte?” he finally croaked. “Where are you going?”
“Paris. Not a word to anyone.” Charlotte gave him a stern look to emphasize the point. “I do not want anyone - not even the de Paulet family, and especially not Captain de Molienier, to know my plans and destination. Hold your tongue!“
Jacques, who has been in her father’s service since before Henri was born, was quite capable and willing to argue with her when it suited him. “Mlle. Charlotte! Will you think it over?“ he protested.
“No.” There still was a chance for her to catch up with her parents before they headed out to escort their associate out of France - and it meant a trip to the shore! That was about the Company of the West business. She should more actively participate in any New World business. She was already eighteen years of age.
A day and a half later, Charlotte still had not left home. Short on patience, she punched Pierre when he continued to lie about the loss of the horseshoe. A new excuse only made matters worse.
“What do you mean, you cannot find the stirrup?!” Charlotte could not afford any more delays. “Did it hide itself up your arse? Find it!”
“Mlle. Charlotte!” Red Jacques called. “Visitors, two men.”
She did not need any more distractions, she had already wasted an hour on de Molienier.
Charlotte moved into the afternoon shadows of the large chestnut tree. “Find out what is their business,” she instructed Elder Jacques.
The nobleman in the lead rode a strong blue roan stallion with black mane and tail. His valet followed on a horse of unusual coloring, a mix of brown and gray patches, but the animal’s chest was white, and the mane and tail were a solid brownish-gray color. The riders slowed at the entrance. The young nobleman was the image of elegance. A sparse amount of white and gold ribbon trimmed the collar and sleeve cuffs of his perfectly fitting dark green doublet. His matching hat bore two expensive feathers - golden and white. Brown breeches, gloves, and sturdy high boots completed his ensemble. The sword hilt and scabbard were a simple and practical design, and he carried a set of matching pistols in the saddle holsters. His features were familiar. When his astute eyes briefly met hers before he switched his attention to Jacques’ greeting, Charlotte recognized him.