Wanda Maureen Miller
Madeleine: Last French Casquette Bride In New Orleans
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Excerpt from Chapter 4
Madeleine recoiled at his crudeness and shrugged out of his grip, only to fall against the railing as a huge wave drenched the decks. With one hand, Captain Beauchamp grabbed her around the waist to keep her from falling down the ladder; the other he kept on the railing. This time she did not protest. The two of them swayed in the wind taking comfort from each other’s warmth. Madeleine, who had never been in a man’s arms before, was amazed at how pleasant it was to lean against his hard chest.
“Madeleine,” he said gruffly, “why are you on this voyage to that godforsaken Louisiana territory? You are beautiful and clever enough to find a husband in France, even if you are not a de Mandeville.”
Madeleine stiffened in shock but remained in the protection of his arm. To his surprise, she did not pretend ignorance or indignation but asked with resignation, “How did you know?”
“I seem to recall the boarding clerk mistaking your name on the day we left. I was watching, do you not remember? I looked over the Company’s register of names. I have a copy in my cabin. There is no de Mandeville, only a Madeleine Boucher, serf’s daughter and servant of the de Mandevilles.”
Madeleine paled at his words. She lifted her head and tried to look at him in the darkness. The captain could feel her breath on his chin. If he lowered his head, he thought, he could kiss her.
“What do you intend to do, Monsieur? What do you want from me? I will not beg you to keep my secret.” Nor will I give myself to you, she thought, straining away from his body as much as she could in his tight grip, but he did not let go.
“You silly chit, what do you think I want?” he bellowed. “Do you think I have to blackmail women into my bed? I don’t give a damn if you are the Queen of France or a woman of the streets. Mon Dieu, I don’t blame you for taking advantage of someone else’s mistake. That was quick thinking. Our countrymen in Louisiana are as class snobbish as they are in France.”
Madeleine relaxed in his arms again, “Then why did you not continue to pretend? Why did you shame me?”
“Ma petite, there is no shame in trying to be better than people think you are. The colonies are a good place to make a new start, but the French will forgive any lie except about family. That is sacred. Do you think you can carry it off?”
“Oui, I can carry it off. I must carry it off. I will never bow and scrape to anyone again.” She thought bitterly of her days at the estate.
The captain rumbled a low laugh in his chest, “I do believe you can. At any rate, no one will ever learn your secret from me.”
“Merci, Captain,” Madeleine lifted her head and grazed his cheek with her lips.