Please see Sheria's entry for the full story behind this, and feel free to join in! And Marc and Sheria, be careful what you wish for....
The Introduction--by Marc
All eyes were on the Contesse de Vermeil when her former lover, le Baron de Genolhac, arrived at the ball with Mrs. Owen Marston, the widow from the United States known simply as"l'Americaine" ever since she'd taken rooms at the Georges V less than a month ago and rapidly insinuated her way into every lesser salon and drawing room in the 16th arrondissement. Emma Marston's late husband's fortune had been made supplying the Union Army with uniforms during the American Civil War 20 years earlier, which he made with Southern cotton smuggled through the blockade and repurchased from the warehouses of the Baron. It was an exquisite arrangement that meant the Baron had been hosted numerous times over the years in Marston's townhouse on lower Fifth Avenue. When a taste for rich food and a surfeit of cigars eventually felled Owen Marston with an attack of apoplexy as he walked up the stairs of his favorite Chambers Street bordello, what could the Baron do but introduce his dear and now considerably wealthy widowed friend to the lights of Paris?
Mrs. Marston continued to technically acknowledge the convention of mourning by wearing black, even as its positively festive style indicated the true spirit of its wearer. She had married at 19, when her husband was 47, having been governess to his children after the death of his first wife. She was now past 30--how far was a matter of some debate--but they had rather less of an idea in Paris than in New York. Only the Baron knew that her origins were rather more humble than the vaguely Bostonian Brahmin biography floated when necessary at dinner parties. In America, money could buy anything, including a past.
Emma timed her entrance into French society well, as the advent of the Second Empire was creating all sorts of opportunity for reinvention. Money talked rather fluently in France as well as it did transatlantically, but while it could get you in the door, it would not necessarily grant you a second invitation. Unlike their British counterparts, the doyennes of French society considered less the social class to which you were born than the breeding which you exhibited. Style, wit, the ability to make interesting observations about the events of the day--this is what mattered most. At least to the Contesse.
She had no idea that she was about to meet her match in Emma Marston.