Angelique's Storm

By Paula W. Millet

Historical fiction, Literary fiction

Paperback, eBook

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482
5 mins

Chapter One

It was early morning and the post-dawn sky still wore its cloak of red and gold as the black-curtained carriage slowly meandered along the cobblestone streets. The driver avoided cracking his whip, having found that a simple “yaw,” was sufficient to guide the magnificent animals, who bore the weight of the buggy. They were stealthy and strong, these steeds, and seemed to avoid water-filled holes and other hazards by instinct. He often thought of the term “horse sense” as he drove the wealthy to their destinations. Sometimes it seemed that the stallions and mares had more intellect than those who held the money and power in this city. Guiding the horses off of the main road and onto the dirt path of the cemetery, he silently counted the rows until he reached the familiar spot. And they too, seemed to know that they had reached the right place, having taken this trip on so many a morning. They stopped short before the driver could even whisper “whoa.” He slid from the high leather seat and paused to pet his equine colleagues before opening the door for his employer. He knew where his loyalties lay. Angèlique Chauvin Latour extended her gloved hand as she carefully descended from the carriage.
      “Madame,” the driver said, tipping his hat in a gesture of courtesy.
      Without uttering a word, the woman slowly began the short walk to the large white tomb inscribed with the birth and death dates of her husband. “January 6, 1856,” she whispered, kissing her fingertips and placing her hand on the engraved marble, “that’s most certainly the day that I died, too.”
      “Jean Paul,” she spoke his name, tears forming in her eyes, “how could you leave me so utterly alone?” It was a rhetorical question, and she knew it. Like so many of the details surrounding his death, she was only left to wonder. And perhaps that was why she made this regular morning pilgrimage. Although it defied all logic, she somehow expected to find the answers here, where the remains of her beloved rested. She prayed that he was at peace, although she had her doubts. The old ones say that an untimely death makes the soul restless, and it often prowls its earthly home in search of the door that will take it to the light of what lies beyond. That thought was more unsettling than losing him.
      “Rest in peace, mon chèr,” Angèlique whispered, as she raised the black veil which covered her face to wipe the tears away with her linen handkerchief. “Je t’aime.”
      She paused to lovingly touch the tiny angel that denoted the other inhabitant of this ghostly home, her child. “Ma petite fille,” she said in a barely audible voice. Her beloved daughter had perished only thirteen months earlier in the horror which was the yellow fever epidemic and yet, the grief was still so raw that she felt as though it had happened only yesterday.
      Angèlique thought back to that terrible time when she had stood watch over the child’s sick bed, praying to the Blessed Mother to have pity on her and intercede to save her baby’s life. The cold compresses she had placed without fail on sweet Josephina’s forehead became hot almost immediately, and she knew that only Divine Intervention could change the inevitable outcome. And yet, on the seventh day of her illness, she managed to find a glimmer of hope when the child opened her eyes and smiled. “Mama,” she had said, and Angèlique had managed to get her to take a few sips of the dark tea that the old slave, Hannah had made that morning. It was a sure cure, the woman had claimed of the recipe, given to her by her mother and grandmother. And Angèlique, although afraid to ask what was in the concoction, would have believed in anything, if it meant the possibility of curing her baby girl.
      For a moment, Angèlique thought that there was some improvement, and she found herself dozing in the slipper chair that she had pulled by Josephina’s bed as she held her vigil. She awoke with a start at twilight and hastily moved around the nursery to light the oil lamps. She looked over at her child, so beautiful and calm in sweet slumber. Her heart swelled with love. Reaching over to touch the child’s forehead, she knew immediately that the life had left her baby. She was cold. Angèlique opened her mouth to scream, but it came out as an inhuman cry, much like that of a wounded animal. Jean Paul and the rest of the household ran into the room to find her holding Josephina in her arms, rocking her back and forth as she screamed “no, no, no,” over and over again.
      For three days, Angèlique refused to let anyone near her baby, anger and sorrow overtaking reason. “You will not put my child in a darkened tomb,” she wailed. “She will be afraid and all alone.” And she threatened to kill anyone who dared try. In the end, Jean Paul had enlisted Hannah’s help once more, knowing that Angèlique trusted the old woman who had been with her since she had been a child herself.
      “Drink this, honey,” Hannah said, offering Angèlique a powerful sleeping potion.
      “No,” Angèlique replied, steadfastly refusing to take even a sip.
      But Hannah was a shrewd one and used a bit of logic. “Baby, you can hold Josephina for a month if you want, but how long you think you gonna hold up with no food or water in your body?”
      “Until I die,” she replied. And at that moment, she would have chosen death just to be with her precious daughter.
      “Well, you think that beautiful chile would want her momma to die?” Hannah asked. “She up there with the angels having a good old time. Shoot, she sitting on the lap of Our Lord Jesus right now. Sugar, she done left that body three days ago.”
      “Stop it,” Angèlique snapped. “I don’t care.”
      “Well, you should ought to care, Miss Angèlique, because you got some more babies up there in that same heaven waiting to be born to you and Mr. Jean Paul. What ya gonna tell dem?”
      Angèlique stopped for a moment and considered what the old woman had said. Was it possible that she could have other babies? Josephina was irreplaceable, of course, and losing her would leave an empty place in her motherly heart forever, but to fill her home with the laughter of children was all that she had ever hoped for in this world.
      She turned to Hannah and wiping the tears from her cheeks, she took the cup from her, gingerly sipping from it. Within minutes, her eyes became heavy, and she loosened the grip on the body of her dead daughter. Jean Paul and the undertaker moved in quickly to take Josephina from her, placing her in the tiny casket that had been procured for her internment.
     When Angèlique woke the next morning, Jean Paul sat beside her on the bed, patting her hand in an effort to console her. “Our baby is at rest,” he said. But it brought her no comfort.
      “How could this be God’s will?” she questioned.
     But Jean Paul had no answers for her, no Biblical verse or whispered prayer to ease her pain. And it wasn’t until a full week later that she was able to make the short journey to the cemetery to visit her daughter’s marble grave. But doing so brought her a strange peace, and she found herself making the trip on most mornings.
      Angèlique, numb with the pain of her loss, had gone through those days of sorrow out of habit as she simply went through the motions of her daily life. Unable to sleep, she took to walking the house like a phantom in the night, reliving the moment of Josephina’s passing over and over in her mind, torturing herself with thoughts of how she might have altered the tragic outcome.
      No friends had come to call, fearful of the house of death. The fever aroused terror in the hearts of everyone in the city and they avoided any place where the contamination might linger. But letters of condolence came, and Angèlique read each, written with care, hoping to find some solace and comfort there. But none came.
      She ate meals alone in her bedroom and refused to dress, preferring instead the silk dressing gown until Hannah insisted that she change clothes lest the neighbors begin to complain of the smell. Angèlique spent so little time with Jean Paul that she didn’t notice his long absences from home. She had detached herself from him so completely in her grief, a reality that she would come to regret a year later. Perhaps if she had been more aware of his pain; perhaps if she had acknowledged his sadness; perhaps if she had been a better wife, she might have saved him. But perhaps there was nothing that she could have done. Nothing at all.



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