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The Legacy Of The Marshall Cousins

The Legacy Of The Marshall Cousins


Book excerpt

Prologue

Adventure is my mistress;  I am always at her command.   

Francis de Brangelton to Henrietta d’Arringnon - 1694

Lyon, France – July 1707

“The Great Mogul Diamond is the largest diamond in existence,”  Laurent de la Fleure, Comte de Chatreaux read aloud from The Six Voyages of Jean Baptiste de Tavernier. “The only Western record of it exists here.” He handed the book to Francis de Brangelton, Comte de Tournelles.

His old friend held  the diamond to the light.  He examined the illustration, glancing back and forth between the fortune in his hand and the page in the book. ”This must be it.“  He tossed the diamond to Laurent and leaned back, absorbed in reading.

Laurent eyed the clear sparkling jewel in the light.  It matched the description perfectly: the right size and shape, the surfaces cut in the same way as the one shown in the book, and almost colorless. There could be no mistake. “Only de Brangelton,”  Laurent marveled. What were the chances of anyone else accidentally discovering and appropriating the Indian Great Mogul Diamond in the New World?! “Is your curiosity satisfied?“  he asked over his shoulder.

“Who moved this diamond to the New World? How could he, and why would he? I am certain its sanctuary in the ruins was granted recently, but when exactly?”  De Brangelton flipped through the pages of the book. “Keep this sparkler for me till I find out more about its previous ownership, will you?”

Laurent sat down and flattened a sheet of paper.  “I, Laurent de la Fleure, Comte de Chatreaux, solemnly and in sound mind stand witness that the diamond described below and contained within this package is the rightful property of Francis de Brangelton…”  He diligently recorded the deed, signed it, set his seal to the top and bottom of the page, and left the page to dry.  He polished the diamond on his sleeve. “You don’t mind if I show this jewel to Marguerite, do you?”

“As long as she promises to keep it secret.” The sly reply started an unexpected sea of memories for Laurent.  A dozen years had passed since Marguerite’s arrival to Paris had triggered a chain of events which led him, a Lieutenant of His Royal Musketeers, to quit the regiment, return home to Lyon, and settle into marital bliss. His  peaceful civic existence was continuously enhanced by participation in the creative activities hatched by his friends, mostly de Brangelton, whose recent adventure to New World deposited his children, Henri and Charlotte, with Laurent and Marguerite for  a year. Henri was a year younger than Antoine, and Charlotte was a year older than Raoul. The quartet always kept Laurent and Marguerite on their toes. Laurent became aware of the children’s voices drifting from outside and leaned out of the window, just in time to witness the beginning of a commotion between Raoul and Charlotte. Even at her tender age of seven, the girl was willful, clever, adventurous, and reckless, and Raoul was mortified by the mere thought of failing to keep up with her. His fears were mercilessly exploited and fueled by Antoine and Henri - these two young miscreants found endless entertainment in no-holds-barred competition between their younger siblings.

Right now, Antoine and Henri were arbitrating a game of tug-of-war between the arguing youngsters. Raoul had a slight advantage of pure strength, and he used it to tug hard on the rope. Charlotte toppled forward, her toe barely touching the dividing line, but her sudden move caused Raoul to struggle for his balance. She took the advantage and jerked the rope back. Raoul stumbled forward and his bare toe landed on the line. The older boys hooted.

“You cheated!” Hands on hips, Raoul glared at Charlotte.

“I did not!”  She mirrored his posture.

“You are a weasel!” Raoul articulated his unrefined opinion.

“You are a lout!” Charlotte, unburdened by the concept of nicety, readily retorted.

 “Shrew!”

“Dung beetle!”

At that shot, Raoul failed to find a suitable response and unceremoniously shoved the girl backwards. She reciprocated. He pushed her again. Charlotte took a swing at him. In a heartbeat, the two were rolling on the ground. The older brothers half-heartedly commanded them to stop and were duly ignored. They finally separated the fighting parties before either one landed a punch on the other.

“You are…”

Henri’s hand over Charlotte’s mouth cut off her endeavor to quarrel.

Antoine twisted Raoul’s arm behind him and waited till his younger brother stopped struggling.  He released the boy and jostled him away from Charlotte. Raoul stomped away with an air of righteous indignation. Henri nudged Charlotte in the opposite direction.  The older boys suspiciously watched Raoul and Charlotte till the combatants reached the opposite sides of the yard.

“Is my girl finished exchanging pleasantries with your son?” de Brangelton asked.

“Add yet another trivial scuffle to their affectionate history. I appreciate your desire to make certain your strong-headed girl is capable of self-defense, but I wish my younger son was less willing to tussle with her.” Laurent turned away from the window.

“I stand in awe at how excellently Antoine and Henri have perfected the skill of blaming Charlotte for all their mischief. They experimented with gunpowder because Charlotte wanted to see an explosion. They snuck out to ride at night to prove to Charlotte they are not afraid of the darkness. They lost track of time and thus failed to present themselves to our visitors  because Charlotte insisted on tracking a magpie. They stripped Raoul to the breeches and painted him - and his breeches - in war colors like a New World savage and made him run across the wood clearing to the accompaniment of drum beat and these war-yells you taught them. Stop laughing. This performance happened to take place during the formal reception at our neighbors’ garden facing the aforementioned wood clearing. Some young heads gathered to give chase, and I felt obligated to advise on strategy. Thus the performers safely reached home. When Marguerite and I arrived, Antoine and Henri were frantically scrubbing the paint off Raoul.  Washing the soot out of Raoul’s hair took three baths --and yes, his hair was darkened for the occasion. Our fine boys did not miss a single detail. Did I mention that the little savage brandished the spoils of a fake scalping? One of my household horses is missing half a tail. And the reason for this escapade?  Charlotte dared Raoul. Upon hearing that explanation, I could barely keep a straight face, and merely sent them all out of my sight without even a lecture on their unacceptable behavior.”

Tours, France - May 1710

Under the ominous gray clouds, the fine foggy mist enveloped the streets, and the murky dusk descended much faster than Henrietta de Brangelton had expected.  People hurried indoors before the rain fell, and Henrietta cut through the narrow alley behind St. Martin’s Basilica to shorten the trip. She and her daughter were halfway down the lane when two seedy-looking men stumbled toward them. The daylight was almost extinguished and the street was deserted. Every building had closed their shutters in anticipation of the rain. Henrietta glanced back. No one behind her, which meant no ambush was likely to be forthcoming, And yet, the relative safety of the busy street, filled with witnesses, was too far.

She put a protective arm around her daughter’s shoulders. “Stay behind me and out of their reach,” she whispered to Charlotte and steered to the left, keeping her daughter between herself and the wall. If these men meant trouble, they would try to surround them. Henrietta slipped her hand to the slit in her skirts and closed her fingers around the hilt of her small sword.

The men leered at her with bleary eyes and slouched against the wall.

Henrietta tensed in anticipation of confrontation.  “If there is a fight, run forward onto the street and head home. I will catch up with you,”  she instructed her daughter, who fearlessly, even appraisingly, stared at the men. Fortunately, the men ignored the child as they focused on disengaging themselves from the supporting wall. “It’s a fine evening, Madame,” one of them said with a malicious sneer when only a few paces separated them.

Henrietta steeled herself for action and confidently strode forward.

“Will you join us for the celebration, Madame?” the second man slurred.

Henrietta pretended to tighten her left arm around Charlotte’s shoulders, aware she might be forced to make her daughter run. “Move out of my way,” she commanded and continued to march forward.

The men startled at the unexpected notes of authority in her voice. They warily looked around, but recovered from surprise at the moment her path aligned with them. “That was unfriendly, Madame. Is your daughter…?” The first man reached for Charlotte.

Henrietta’s caution transformed into intense fury. She nudged the girl forward and backhanded the man with her right hand. His feet lost contact with the ground, and Henrietta used that split-second advantage to follow through with a heavy punch into his temple with her left arm, throwing her whole weight into the swing.  The second man belatedly attempted to seize her hand, but the crumbled body of his friend collided into him.  Henrietta used that moment of confusion to draw her small sword and faced the second adversary who, with an effort and copious obscenities, finally untangled himself from his collapsed friend. He blinked at the sight of the steel and fumbled for his weapon. Henrietta swept her blade in front of his face and advanced. His widened  eyes focused on the point of her sword. He recoiled and flattened himself against the wall.  Henrietta held the sharp blade against the side of his throat, under his jaw. He still frantically fumbled to untangle his sword. He was not sober enough to comprehend that he was completely on her mercy. With her left hand, Henrietta deployed a solid punch into his jaw, perfectly timed with the removal of the edge of her blade from his neck. His head bounced off the hard wall with a thickening thud as he slumped forward and slid down to his friend on the muddy ground.

The alley remained deserted. Henrietta concealed her weapon and, tightly holding Charlotte’s hand, ran onto the main street to blend into a thinning crowd of hurrying citizens. She glanced over her shoulder, both men remained motionless heaps. “Serves them right,” Henrietta fumed. “In fact, the one who reached for Charlotte should be grateful I did not kill him …”

“No one witnessed the clash.“ Charlotte was perfectly calm. “I watched the windows. Nobody peeked. No one was in the street either.“

Henrietta’s stride faltered for a moment.  “Not a word about it outside the family, Charlotte. I just injured two men, and I don’t care to justify my actions to the city magistrate.“

A reckless grin, just like her father’s, spread across the girl‘s face. “Mother, did you figure these bastards meant trouble before they spoke to you?” Charlotte had inherited her father’s  expressive dark blue eyes, his slim build, his agility and grace, his disregard for danger, his thirst for adventure, and, thankfully, his quick wit. Unfortunately, she also had a tendency to repeat his vocabulary, although she knew better than to use such language in company.

“We will talk at home.” Henrietta held onto a weak hope that she would not have to explain her militant tactics,  but she knew her daughter. Charlotte would not abandon the subject until all her questions were answered. They reached their lodgings without any further incidents just as the first rain drops fell. A few minutes later, Francis, Henri and the surrounding fumes of rum and smoke entered the room only few moments ahead of the violent downpour.

“Our son discovered his limits of rum consumption,” Francis released his grip of Henri’s collar. Their son was as tall as his father, and this fine fourteen-year-old young man swayed and held on to the wall. His smile was a vacant reflection of the rum-induced swirling chaos in his mind. Francis kissed Henrietta on the cheek, kissed Charlotte on the top on her head, and positioned himself by the fireplace.  He shook his head when Charlotte headed toward the settee in the middle of the room. She retreated back to the fireplace, and they all watched Henri with unbridled amusement.  Henri did not move from the spot Francis had left him.

“Henri, my boy, sleep the rum off,” the father advised the son with a wide grin.

Henri slowly and unsteadily wobbled toward the stairs, but collided into the wall. He frowned at the settee, lurched himself towards it, and collapsed face down. He lay still before raising his head and clawing his way to a seated position, leaning forward to pull off his boots. He  barely caught himself from falling down on his face and attempted to lie down. He realized that his short sword was between him and the back of the settee. His fingers gripped the backrest of the settee as he worked his way again to a sitting position and then carefully  lay down on his other side, his sword dragging on the floor. Upon completing these intricate movements, Henri immediately fell asleep.

“He is a very practical young man.” Francis proudly winked at Henrietta and focused his attention to Charlotte. “What news are you bursting to share, my girl?”

To the accompaniment of Henri’s soft snoring, Charlotte’s delivered a detailed account of the altercation. The account was complete with unnervingly exact demonstrations of Henrietta’s moves.

 

“Why are you upset tonight?” Francis unerringly read Henrietta’s mind when they retired to their sleeping room. “Punching out a couple pisspots, who – mind you, deserved it! - cannot possibly bother your conscience.”

“I can hardly believe Charlotte’s lack of fear! Did she even comprehend the danger?  Or is she unable to obey? Take your choice!”  Henrietta shared her exasperation with her husband. “I instructed her to run if there was a scuffle. Did she do that? No! There were no signs of fear, Francis.  For a moment there, I was concerned that she would jump in the fray to assist me!...” Henrietta trailed off. “I was terrified to see her exposed to danger.”

Her husband was unperturbed. “I assume her account of the skirmish was accurate.”

“It was a precise military report!” Henrietta paced back and forth in time to the beat of the heavy rain ranging outside. “But she is only ten years old, Francis.“

“She has confidence in you, my dear. Charlotte is wise beyond her years. She has an excellent sense of self-preservation. After all, the girl inherited your determination and de Brangelton blood.” He pulled Henrietta into an embrace. “Now hold still while I untie your laces.”

 

“Good morning, father, mother.” Charlotte sat at the breakfast table. She had parted her thick, straight  black hair in the middle and evenly combed it into the shape of a hood.  “And a very fine morning to you, brother. Is your head all clear?” She ignored his incredulous stare.

“What did you do to yourself?!”  Henri croaked.

“I look more like mother this way,” Charlotte explained. “I will be just like her when I grow up.”

Henri rolled his eyes.

Francis smiled indulgently at his girl. “Your mother devoted time and effort to become the extraordinary woman she is today.”

“What do I have to do, father?” Charlotte, oblivious to the platter of food in front of her, eagerly asked.

“Learn to pass for a boy.”

“I had no choice!” Henrietta interjected. Her husband, the man known as devil de Brangelton among the adventurers and cutthroats in all of France and outside its borders as far as the New World, was wrapped around the little finger of their daughter, and he unreservedly encouraged her to do anything she pleased.

Charlotte glanced in her direction. “I can do that,” she responded to her father.

“I doubt it.” Henri rubbed his temples.

His sister frowned at him. “Being a boy is easy.”

Henri dropped his face into his hands. “You have no idea,” he raised his head. “Just how will you accomplish that?”

The Eternals

The Eternals

Cousins' Club

Cousins' Club