Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Chapter 1 of "The French Orphan"


This is the first chapter of my next book. It's still a draft, but readable. I have the beginning and the end written. Meanwhile, I'm working on the middle where Lady Katherine, Sir Simon, Henriette, and O'Reilly (not to mention their Aunt Sally and Henriette's sister Alice - who aren't in this chapter) are embroiled in a tangled mix-up in the village of Gooik and near the city of Ath. (Aren't Belgian names wonderful? It sounds like they're from a science fiction book, but they're real places.)

Chapter 1

The seagulls were having a feast on the fishermen's scraps and calling raucously as they wheeled out to sea in the Harbor of Boulogne-sur-mer. Commerce with England had restarted with the signing of the treaty of Paris and the cross-channel ferry had just landed in the harbor. Its cargo of English gentry were anxious to see the sights of the continent so long denied them by the wars of the revolution and the French empire. That evil Corsican bandit was constrained to Elba, good King Louis XVIII reigned and all was right in the world.
A spry, just into middle-aged, English gentleman who walked with a limp and his slightly younger wife debarked from the ship and sauntered over to customs. “Simon,” the woman asked her husband, “Are you sure you want to do this? We could just use the diplomatic passports.”
“Katherine,” he replied, “It will be fine, I'm just using an old cover name. We were married during the war and I never did take you on a honeymoon, just us, alone. It will be easier if we travel as private citizens, not having the mayor want to talk to us as representatives His Majesty and all that.”
Time had treated Katherine very well. Despite her extensive adventures she was still a beautiful woman, to whom time had only added a patina of distinction. She'd married Lieutenant Simon Bates, now Colonel Sir Simon Bates attached to the foreign office in some mysterious manner. They were married shortly before he was posted as a military attache to Vienna. Vienna was an exciting posting where their first child, David now at Eton, was born. They managed to hear Beethoven conduct the premier of his fourth symphony before things became undone. With the ignominious surrender of Vienna to Napoleon they fled with their new child across the wastes of Poland and the Ukraine to Russia. A long sequence of diplomatic postings, Moscow, St. Petersburg, Stockholm and Lisbon finally ended with a chance to return to England. Simon's parents had insisted on having a chance of getting to know their grandchildren, and giving them a chance to learn to be English. Both Simon and Katherine found the peace and consequent idleness profoundly boring. Life in the Essex coastal village of St. Osyth was even more boring, if that were possible. Much to the distress of their families they leaped at the chance to be posted to Bruxelles. They'd left their brood with their grandfather, the Reverend Gregory Bates, in St. Osyth and gone to find quarters in Brussels.
The French customs agent asked, “passports and names?”
Simon replied, in the Norman French he had mastered ten years ago, “Je m'appelle Henri Simon Beaufort and this is my wife Katherine Beaufort.”
The customs officer checked his papers, then whistled and called up a pair of Gendarme's. “You sir, are under arrest. There is a warrant for you.”
“Simon!”, Katherine interrupted in a testy voice, “give them your real name. I'm tired, it's been a very long day and we need to get to the inn.”
“Yes dear, as you say , my name is Simon Bates and this is”
The customs officer stopped him abruptly, “There is a warrant for him as well, with a large reward, 1000 francs, it's an old warrant but still valid.” With the hyperinflation at the end of Napoleon's rule, the reward was only worth about a shilling, but a shilling saved was a shilling earned. The Gendarme's stepped forward and grabbed Simon by the arms and escorted him away. “This way, Sir.”
Magistrate Pigne had a problem. The prisoner was clearly one Henri Simon Beaufort also known as Simon Bates. He remembered interviewing the prisoner himself when he'd been a mere sergeant in the gendarmes. There was not much of a question about his identity or, for that matter, about his guilt. He'd been a British spy eleven years ago, fooled the lot of them, assaulted a colonel in the intelligence, stolen a boat at gunpoint and disappeared into the channel. A month later, a long requested report from Paris had finally arrived. It stated unequivocally that there had never been a 'Henri Simon Beaufort' in the Grande Armee, and certainly not one who had been honorably discharged with a wounded leg. To make things worse, now he had a diplomatic passport and a wife who was insisting that he used it to leave, now. The situation was fraught with difficulties.
“Monsieur Pigne, I'm sorry for the fuss. We, Katherine and I.”
“Speak for yourself Simon.”
“Katherine, I thought we could finally have a honeymoon. This part of Normandy is beautiful, especially in June.”
M. Pigne also remembered 'Henri' as a decent sort of bloke, one of the few farmers who would fight over the honor of his wife. Gendarme's didn't make many, if any, close friends who weren't other gendarmes, but he'd liked Henri.
“Henri, Simon, Mr. Bates,” he began, “It's clear there's been a terrible mistake. These warrants should have been voided with the fall of the empire. I'll have to apply to Paris.”
Katherine asked, “How long will that take?”
“Dear, We don't want to cause a diplomatic incident. Monsieur Pigne, I can give you my parole for a couple of weeks, but then we really must move on to Bruxelles.”
“Your Parole?”
“My word as an officer, I won't leave Boulongne without your permission.”
“But Henri, you fled in the past. Why should I believe that you'd honor your parole now?”
Simon could see that Katherine was beginning to lose patience with the proceedings, which could only complicate matters. He turned to her and said, “Katherine, why don't you see that our luggage arrives at L'Hotel d'estrangers? I'll meet you there, this won't take long.”
“Are you sure?”
“Absolutely, If I'm not there for supper, you can come and bail me out.”
“Don't hold your breath, I'll wait at least until after supper or maybe tomorrow morning. If I decide to come at all.”
After Katherine left, Simon turned to M. Pigne. “Look, it's very simple. I'm traveling with a diplomatic passport, so it would only take a short message to the local English consul to have a company of soldiers come and remove me from your custody. But this would be embarrassing, both for you and for me.”
Oui, it would be.”
“Also it's unnecessary. Now I'd like to spend a week or two here, have a walk on the beach in the sunset with my wife, visit the countryside, try the cider, do some of the normal things that visiting English used to do before the war.”
“Ah? And”
“It would undermine your authority to just let me go wouldn't it?”
“Yes it would, so if I accept your parole?”
“Then in a few days, after some 'further investigation' you can dismiss the charges and everyone's happy.”
Pigne thought for a short while, trying to add up the pluses and minuses of Simon's seductive argument. Simon added, “I'll stand you a drink, dinner, you and your good wife?”
That settled it, dinner with a knight and his lady would improve his family's social standing no end, so he agreed to accept, very reluctantly accept, Simon's parole.

A few days later, Katherine brought the exciting news to her husband, “I've found your Marie”.
Simon was enjoying his enforced rest on parole, by staying in the town and systematically sampling the local wine, cheese and cider. Katherine took advantage of his diversions by arranging a carriage tour of the surrounding countryside.
No fool, she, early in their marriage, had wormed enough of the story about Marie from Simon to be upset with him. So in the end, he told her the whole story, which wasn't nearly as bad as her imaginings had made it. After all, she'd just thrown wine in his face, called him a puppy and trounced out of his life, refusing even to read his letters. So helping a personable young French farm-woman to avoid les Musikos, being drafted for the army brothels, while undercover in Normandy was while deplorable, at least excusable.

Katherine continued, “She runs Lion D'argent in Baincthun.”
Good thing we stayed L'Hotel d'estrangers then.” Baincthun was a few kilometers outside of Boulogne.
“and I've met your daughter, she's the image of our Alice.”
David, Alice, Jane, and Peter now had an older half-sister.
Katherine continued, a bit stiffly, for some old wounds never completely heal, “She told me that she was sure she'd have a child from an English Mi'Lor. In any case, they're coming to visit you tomorrow.”
“Oh God.”
“She's a Madame LeBrun by the way. Married a Thomas LeBrun, late owner of the Silver Lion, and is now widowed.”
“So this girl? She's”
“Nominally she's legitimate, apparently LeBrun didn't mind.”
“Well, at least that's something.” There was no way to make an illegitimate child legitimate, and while a male bastard could haunt the outskirts of society with his father's support, no amount of effort could rehabilitate a natural daughter.
Time had not treated Mme. Marie LeBrun well. While the traces of her beauty could still be seen beneath the wrinkles, the sun and difficulty of managing an inn had left her prematurely an old woman. Losing her husband and father within a few months of each other had not helped either. To Simon's eyes, there was something else as well, a sort of withdrawal from life. She seemed to have a catch in her breath, as if it hurt. The spark of vitality that had so animated her as a younger woman, and was such a part of her allure, was missing. Her daughter, Henriette, was pretty enough for a eleven year old, but was quiet and subdued, either due to natural shyness, fear of these English strangers or both. Despite her travails Marie had done well enough materially, Henriette was well-dressed, wearing a white silk dress and a silver chain necklace that complimented her clear blue eyes and striking auburn hair.
The meeting was awkward. Marie and Katherine verbally danced around each other, sparing for wind and wanting to talk about things that the presence of a husband and a daughter made difficult. “Marie, Katherine,” Simon finally interjected, “I'll take Henriette for a walk, down to the harbor, maybe pick up a sweet.”
Henriette and Simon strolled down to the harbor. They were both silent within their own thoughts, which matched the gray sky and drizzling weather. With the peace, the level of activity in the harbor was rapidly increasing. Only three months ago there was just a scattering of fishing boats but now there were several ships unloading cargo and producing a level of activity that hadn't been seen since before the revolution. While they were watching the activity, Henriette turned to Simon and stated simply, “You're not my father.”
“I know, Mademoiselle LeBrun, but your mother and I were good friends – she nursed me when I was sick, maybe even saved my life, so I owe something to both of you.”
“That might be, but I'm French and you're English, un rosbief
“True.”
“Mother made me come for this visit, I didn't want to come here.”
“I expect so, it's a bit of a bore inst it? Do you enjoy life at Lion D'argent?”
She replied, “It's good.”, in a tone that suggested otherwise.
“Tell me about it, do you have friends, do you go to school?”
“I did, but.”
“But?”
“I finished parish school, and l'academie doesn't accept girls.” Henriette clearly was not happy about that, she liked school.
“Oh, that's not good, did you know I can do something about that if you want?”
Henriette brightened for a moment then added, “Mama needs me.” She was resigned to living at Lion D'argent, even if meant her dreams of better things would remain dreams.
“Ah, that brings up a question I wanted to ask you, about your mother,” Simon paused, “is she well?”
“I don't know and she doesn't say anything to me, but she often visits Dr. Moulin.” Simon knew better than to probe further. He could always talk to the good doctor later.
“Well, Henriette, we should walk back to the inn. By now Mrs. Bates and Mme. LeBrun will either be firm friends or they'll appreciate a referee calling time.”
“Didn't you promise me a sweet?”
“We can stop at the patisserie on the way.”
Bon, I'd like that,” she skipped along, staying in front of Simon as they walked back. “Come on, I'm hungry, hurry up!”

With the weather finally breaking into a spectacular sunset, Katherine grabbed Simon for a stroll along the Boulevard Sainte-Beuve, up toward the bluff to the north of the city. “You've been sitting too long Simon, and we need the exercise.”
As they left the gray city with the tidal flats below it extending into the harbor and started the climb, Simon asked, “Katherine, what did you think of Marie?”
“Frightfully common, but nice enough. I'm glad you showed at least some taste, Simon.”
“So you didn't fight?”
“Not at all, she's a farm girl, runs an inn. We don't have much in common.” Katherine left off the unspoken, “except you.”
“That's good, better than what I expected.”
“and your daughter Mlle. LeBrun?”
“She's a sweet thing, bright, but destined to be a farmer's wife. Not sure it isn't a bit of a waste, though.”
“Simon,” Katherine's tone was dangerous, “We're not supporting her if, or at least not any more than you already do.”
“You know about that do you?”
“Of course, do you think I'm ignorant of your doings?” Simon had been diverting the occasional few guineas to Marie's family, using his connections with 'Captain' John Wolfe of the foreign office and some bank that financed the sale of wool cloth, nominally to Denmark but in reality to uniform the Grande Armee, to send the funds covertly. Changing the subject, he added, “Did Marie seem healthy to you?”
“She's just old, that's all.”
“I'm not sure, Mlle. Henriette said she sees a Dr. Moulin often. I'm going to have to find out why.”
Katherine was not pleased with this idea and would have let Simon know, in no uncertain terms, what her opinion of it was, when they were interrupted. A bedraggled man dressed in the remains of a French uniform stood in front of them and pulled an old army pistol from inside his tattered greatcoat. “Your money. All of it. Now.”
Simon's reactions were swift. With his cane, one that was not simply fashionable, but fashionable and weighted with an iron bar, he knocked the pistol out of the mans hand and into the field, and then quickly pushed it into the man's midriff and gave the poor man a crack on the head that dropped him. Examining his handiwork, he paused. “I think I know that man.” He stretched a bit, stiff and sore from the exercise, and said in a slightly breathless voice, “Katherine, I think I'm getting too old for this. Time to settle down somewhere in the country. We could raise sheep or something.”
As the object of his handiwork slowly recovered consciousness, he looked up at his assailant. “Oh my head, what, who, wait you're Bates, Lieutenant Bates wasn't it?”
“Colonel Bates, and you're Lieutenant O'Reilly late of Legion Irlandais, aren't you?” The man started to nod his head but winced at the pain. “Yes. Les Battlion D'estrangers.
You used to be a honest man, O'Reilly.”
I used to have a full belly.”
Simon thought for a moment, considering his options, then handed the man a couple pounds worth of Francs and added, “Get shaved, have a bath, something to eat, some clean clothes, and meet me tomorrow morning at L'Hotel d'estrangers
Simon! No! Please, not again.”, Katherine was not overjoyed, this wasn't the first time Simon had picked up an encumbrance during their travels. It had not always ended well for the encumbrance. There was a string of graves through Eastern Europe and Spain from various encumbrances who had come to bad ends in the service of the British crown.
You'll be there O'Reilly, won't you? Or do I need to talk to the gendarmes?”
I will.”
Good, now Katherine, let us continue our perambulation, unmolested. The sunset is especially beautiful, I'm so glad you convinced me to take this stroll.

Ahem,” the waiter coughed, interrupting Simon and Katherine's breakfast.
Yes?”
Sir, there is a personage who wishes to speak with you.”
Oh? Can you show him in?”
He is not suitably dressed for the dining room.”
Vaguely presentable, but battered, bruised and showing it, Charles O'Reilly, lately Lieutenant of the Legion Irlandais, and somewhat earlier sergeant in His Majesties 4th foot, patiently waited in the courtyard. He had mixed thoughts about that damned Englishman, Bates. He'd have much rather not accepted charity from him. Nonetheless, O'Reilly had to admit that a wash, a shave, a full belly and clean, if well used, clothes restored some of his normally optimistic lookout on life. Bates emerged from inside and promptly walked over. “Sorry about that, last evening, but highway robbery, O'Reilly, that just won't do, just won't do at all.”
What are you going to do about it?”
Depends, you know, it rather depends on what you are willing to do.”
I don't like you English.”
I'd gathered, sergeant, but you're stuck with us.”
So Colonel Bates? What are you planning?”
I need an agent. You aren't associated with the Fenian's or any group like that are you?”
No. I am, no was, a professional soldier.”
Good.”
Simon!, where are you?”, it was Katherine. “I warned you not to – Oh, it's your friend O'Reilly.”
O'Reilly continued, “I'm not sure about you Sir Simon, how do I know I can trust you?”
You don't. O'Reilly, let me put it this way, you're damned lucky I was there and acted first. Mrs. Bates would have just blown your head off.” O'Reilly looked at Lady Katherine and saw a blank, hard almost hungry stare pass across her face. He gulped, he'd seen that look before, but never on a woman, he turned to Simon and noticed that he didn't object, indeed the same look flickered across his face as well. O'Reilly shivered, the last time he'd seen that look, its owner was a Prussian officer who would kill a man with as little compunction as he would have had in swatting a fly. He looked back, and the bland expressionless, slightly vacant look of the English upper class had returned to their faces.
Simon continued, “We've been keeping count and Katherine's tally is higher than mine. She tends to be impatient, while I prefer to use finesse.” then he paused, “So O'Reilly, what's your price?”
I want to go home, to Ireland, free – without a price on my head.”
That's a tall order, but is that what you want?”
Yes.”
Simon offered his hand, and O'Reilly took it, shaking on the deal. “Done. We'll arrange it, but I must warn you it will not be easy. Might take a little time to get it arranged. Go to the servant's entrance and let them know that you're Sir Simon Bates' head groom, They'll find you a place to sleep. We have an errand in town and will be back in a few hours.”
Katherine looked at Simon, “An errand, dear?”
Yes, my love, Dr Moulin. I thought you didn't want me to visit him alone?”
That was an understatement.
I don't want you to visit him at all, Simon. But if you insist, I'm not letting you go alone and make a bigger fool out of yourself than is absolutely necessary.”
It did not take long to find the good doctor, and they waited in his consulting rooms while he dealt with the morning's clientèle.
Entrez,” he finally came to to the elegantly dressed English couple who were paging through the ancient copies of L'Moniteur that littered his office. Simon was sure he'd find a copy of his reward notice, but was disappointed. The papers were too old.
What is the problem?”
I need to ask you about one of your patients, a Marie LeBrun?”
I don't discuss my patients with strangers, who are you?”
Sir Simon Bates, and my wife Lady Katherine Bates.”
and how do you know Mme. LeBrun so well, that you would ask about her health?”
Simon cleared his throat a little nervously, looked at Katherine and replied, “I'm her English Mi'Lor. She may have told you about me.”
Oh,” the doctor paused, “Still, I cannot discuss details with you.”
I don't want the details, is she well?”
No, she's dying.”
Consumption?”
Non, a growth, now tell me. Why are you curious about her?”
She is an old friend. Can you tell me what will happen to her daughter when she dies? Does Henriette have family to care for her?”
No, not really, the war took her cousins, all her family. She'll be a ward of the parish.”
Damn.”, given normal French bureaucratic efficiency and especially how much worse it would be in these chaotic times, she'd starve before the parish even knew she needed help.
Katherine's eye's flashed, signaling her discontent, a danger signal that Simon rarely ignored, “Simon you will not, I will not take.”
Katherine, what would you have me do? I owe Marie. In fact you owe Marie as much as I do, if not more, because without her help I'd have never returned from France. I can never repay her for that, but I can help her daughter. Now Dr. Moulin, how long, roughly, does she have?”
He gave a Gallic shrug of indifference. “It is hard to say. Tomorrow, a few weeks, maybe a few months, but not long.”
Simon pulled a letter from beneath his coat. “You can read this when we go, but” and here again he looked at Katherine who was steadily simmering underneath her outward cultured veneer of calm, “but it contains my address and an offer to house Mlle. Henriette LeBrun. It may be useful, when the time comes.” He paused, for he knew what he would say next would deeply upset Katherine, but he felt he had no choice, “and, please, send your bills to me. Mme. LeBrun has enough to worry about.”
Katherine muttered, in English, through clenched teeth, “Simon, please don't embarrass us.”
and if you can, don't tell her who is paying. Please keep it secret.”
Of course, I'll be discrete. Now, if you'll excuse me, I have to get on with my rounds.” The doctor rose and showed them out.
It did not take Katherine long to let Simon know what her feelings were. He listened without reaction as she explained, in detail, why it was impossible that they should support Mlle. Henriette LeBrun and how outraged she would feel if he tried to support her, and why this was not a good idea, at all. Not now, not ever. When she was done, he replied, “Katherine, believe me, if there were any honorable alternative, I'd use it. However, there really isn't – if I just pay for her, everyone will think she's my natural child. It will ruin her.”
And if they see you two together, they'll know. She looks so much like Alice.”
Not if we adopt her.”
No, never. I'm sorry Simon, no.”
Yes. I'm serious, Katherine, I really am. She is a lovely, well-mannered child. She will need a family, a governess, a chance.”
Katherine was silent, lost in her thoughts. Simon continued, “You aren't still jealous of Marie are you? Whatever happened then is not Henriette's fault. If there hadn't been this damned war, Marie would still be married to her Henri, and you'd be pushing me to try for a bishopric.”
After a moment she said, “Simon, I don't know, I'm not sure I can be a stepmother to her, to give her the care she will need.” Simon squeezed her hand. “I'm not sure I can be a stepfather either, but I don't know anyone else who could do better.”