Monday, July 28, 2008

Mrs. Marston's Mystery

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.

The First Skirmish --by Sheria
Two months of preparations had preceded the Contesse's ball, "la danse des étoiles printanières." For nearly ten years, it had provided the start of the spring season of endless balls, intended to introduce the young women of society to young men, if they were lucky, and to gentlemen old enough to be their grandfathers, if they were not. No one used the cumbersome long title any more, and simply referred to it as "les étoiles," or the stars. It was the Contesse's jewel, her shining achievement that secured her place in the bosom of French Society, and as she stared at the woman swathed in black silk whose hand so delicately rested on the Baron's arm, she was not at all pleased.
As the pair crossed the room, moving towards her, the Contesse raised her delicate lace fan, a gift from an admirer, and languidly waved it across her slightly flushed cheeks.
"Good evening, Contesse. You look lovely, as always."
"Thank you, Baron. It's a pleasure to see you here."
The Contesse's words hung in the air, polite but yet somehow suggesting that the pleasure did not extend to the Baron's companion.
"May I present Mrs. Emma Marston, from America. Mrs. Marston, this is our hostess for the evening, the Contesse de Vermeil."
As the Baron made the introductions, both women acknowledged the other with a slight nod of their well coiffed heads.
The Contesse spoke first, "Welcome, Mrs. Emma Marston, I hope that you will enjoy our little party."
"I'm already having a delightful time, Contesse. The Baron is proving to be a most thoughtful host."
"Ah yes, I had planned to return home after my month at the Georges, but the Baron graciously invited me to continue to recuperate from my sorrow as his house guest for the summer. Do you know his summer place? It's just outside of the city and it is, how do you say it, magnifique? Your language is so beautiful."
Adjusting his ascot, the Baron coughed delicately and took Mrs. Marston by her arm. She lifted her heart shaped face to meet his gaze and for a moment he was lost in the dark pools of her eyes. She dropped her lashes and turned back to the Contesse.
"I feel a bit warm. You must tell me where you purchased such a lovely fan, Contesse. While in Paris, I must do as the Parisians do. Baron, could we go out on the veranda and walk in the cool night air? It was a pleasure , Contesse."
To all the watching eyes, the Contesse appeared unperturbed and her guests' disappointment was almost palpable. There had been no fireworks between the Contesse and the American widow, leaving the pursuit of sixteen-year-old Mademoiselle Adele St. Coeur by the Marquis de Tuilleries, 40 years her senior, the only entertainment of the evening.
Bidding her guests a momentary adieu, the Contesse retired to her private salon, closing the door behind her. From a darkened corner, a young man moved into her line of sight. He was tall and handsome, in a coltish sort of way, as if he might break into a canter at a moment's notice. The Contesse spoke quietly.
"How was your journey?"
"It was an excellent passage, Contesse, calm seas all the way from America."
"Good, now tell me all about your stepmother, the widow Marston."
Mrs. Marston's Ambiguous American Life
~by Beth
"Please, do not judge my stepmother, Madame de Vermeil."
The Contesse arched an eyebrow and wordlessly bade young Evan Marston continue.
"She was forced by circumstances to wed my father, a tyrant of the worst sort."
"I've met your late father. I never thought him a tyrant."
"Then you didn't know him at all. Or did you?"
The Contesse did not answer.
Evan chose to not press her lack of response, and began to tell the Contesse what he knew of his stepmother's life before she met his father. His father told him very little of the young Emma's life, but after his father's death, Evan was forced to question the much younger woman's background. At a mere 32 years of age--or so she claimed--and never previously married, Emma was an enigma, and as the sole inheritor of his father's estate, Evan felt it prudent to investigate. The strange circumstances of his father's marriage to Emma, and the full estate left to her upon his father's deathmade Evan very suspicious indeed. His father's sudden death, despite his degenerate proclivities, also concerned him.
"I discovered that she was born in New Orleans,"Evan told the Contesse. "The woman is Creole. Her parents came to Hispaniola from France, and she was born in New Orleans after her parents relocated in that city. Although I can't prove it, I have come to believe that her parents were involved in the uprising in Hispaniola."
"But how did your father come to meet this woman?"
"He spent time in New Orleans prior to the war, dealing with cotton merchants, and after the war began and the Union took control of New Orleans, he made deals with the just and the unjust alike. My father wanted nothing more than to accumulate a fortune. I don't know the full circumstances of his meeting my stepmother, but I do know that he met her there."
"I don't understand," said the Contesse. "Exactly who is this woman?"
"I don't know her entire background," replied Evan, "but I've discovered that my father first encountered her on Rue Bourbon."


indigosunmoon said...

I liked it!  Very Much!

markonit said...

... ooh a period piece ... trying to think of adding to it makes my arms shake ... I would have to jump on another style of writing ... this is beyond me ..!

aimer said...

Oh, my dear, this is delightful! Thank you for taking up the banner and adding such an interesting chapter. I'm so excited. I like the background on Emma Marston, so mysterious.--Sheria

aimer said...

P.S. I like the name Evan for the son.--Sheria

makemarc said...

Oh wonderful to see this take on a life of its own.  I will resist making any suggestions! I feel like a mother seeing her child off a boarding school, unable to furth intervene in his education!

bgilmore725 said...

I am keenly interested in the mystery of not knowing where this story is going as the authors change from chapter to chapter. I, too, love the name you chose for the son of Marston... Evan. Classic, noble, yet not overused. So we have here a former governess who marries her employer, and then he dies... mysteriously it seems, and she benefits. I'm imagining that Evan is attracted to the Contesse or he wouldn't be leaking so much personal information. I love your contribution to the story, Beth. bea

mleighin21st said...

I've got chills!  This is just too intriguing.....
What will the Contesse discover?  Does Evan have ulterior motives?  And what are the Baron and Widow Marston doing on the veranda for so long?  Only the next writer knows for sure.  
I can't wait!
                                                                                     :)  Leigh

mpnaz58 said...

This is fabulous!!!  Where can I get the book??  I love period stories, especially the aristocratic ton of society where greed, power, lies lead to seduction of the innocent and not so innocent.  I love a good story!
xoxo ~Myra

bgilmore725 said...

So now I'm waiting for the next installment... has any one taken up the challenge to continue this period history mystery romance? I want to know where to go next! Please let us all know. Someone please link us to the next chapter! Thank. bea