So much do to within just a few days! So thought the young woman sitting in the courtyard with her parents and young man. She was a lovely girl of sixteen, with a delicious complexion as smooth as satin. Her coloring was a delightful testament to the intermingling of her Black mother's blood and that of her French father. Mounds of chestnut hair, fashioned in tasteful ringlets, complimented her delicate toasted almond complexion. Her hazel eyes lit up the moment they met those of her young man. The generous lips parted with a shy smile, for she knew she was deeply in love with Laurent, and at this moment, no man in Paris could compare with his beauty.
This was Sybille LaCroix, the daughter, and last child, of Vincent LaCroix, spice merchant par excellence. Her mother, Isabelle, a full-blooded Senegalese woman but French by birth, was renown for her exotic beauty. The father, Vincent, still managed to turn heads; his handsome face and slim figure belied his age of more than sixty springs. Seems fitting, thought Sybille, that such a family blessed with good looks should welcome a young man of equal beauty. Sybille was crazy about Laurent, an artistic, sensitive young man of eighteen. With a head full of thick golden hair and arresting blue eyes, Laurent was a young lady's dream come true. He was musical and blessed with the gift of poetry, qualities that Sybille came to love right away. He was also one of those up-and-coming gentlemen whose later descendants would be destined to make their mark in the "New World".
The LaCroixes approved the marriage, although there was no information
concerning the boy's parents. All they knew was that Laurent's mother still
lived in Paris. The poor woman selflessly gave her only child to her married
friend to rear. Now that friend was here in attendance on this occasion.
Marguerite never told the LaCroixes the entire truth about Laurent's parentage -- that the father was a drunken, violent man who forced his young bride to take desperate measures. That the mother, out of fear that the husband would harm her and her child, faked her own death, gave up the child, then hid within the streets of Paris, living in complete obscurity. But why?, Marguerite asked herself. Why did Martine insist on staying on in Paris when she could have gone with me, to Nantes. Henri never would have found her there. Moreover, why did she choose to stay on in Paris and not once help her cousin's orphaned children? I don't understand it. Martine was able to care for the children yet she chose to live in absolute poverty and anonymity.
Ah, yes...Everyone thought Martine was dead...No wonder she never contacted
the children...Those unfortunate souls...
Marguerite shook her head as she watched and listened to Laurent play his lute and sing the most beautiful songs. Laurent was so gifted in an artistic sense, just as his mother. Marguerite remembered the times when she and Martine, as children, would perform for their parents. Martine was a particular favorite of the family, so it was a pity that Martine ended up paired with Henri. Ugh! Martine deserved better...Pity, that we women must put up with all this unfair treatment...
As Laurent continued to serenade his bride-to-be and future in-laws, Marguerite stared at the medallion suspended from the golden chain around the boy's neck. Just a simple gold disc engraved with the image of a mighty oak. Surrounding this image was this inscription: "La famille -- les graines -- les racines -- les branchements" (The family -- the seeds -- the roots -- the branches). On the back bore the name "Martine d'Anges, née de Chateaupers". Now Marguerite, being such a good family friend, knew perfectly well that there were only two such medallions made. Many years ago, when the oldest child went off to war, the father gave both his children those medallions. It was hoped that if the son was killed in battle then it would be easier to identify the body. As for the daughter, it pained the father to give his remaining child to a man who would eventually maltreat her. He made Martine promise to never lose sight of that medallion. "Give this to your children," he said to Martine just before she left the warmth and comfort of her parents for such a profane man as Henri d'Anges.
Humph! "d'Anges"...There was nothing angelic about Henri! The man was a loutish, swinish, brutish...
Marguerite allowed herself to mentally revile the man who made her dear friend's life a living nightmare. It was on that last night before Marguerite spirited the infant Laurent to Nantes that Martine handed over that medallion. "Make him wear it always, lest he forgets who he is..."
"My dear Laurent, your talent rivals that of Raimon Cauant..."
Thus said Vincent LaCroix as he praised Laurent d'Anges' musical gifts. The young man entertained his rapt audience with a series of poems ranging in subject from heroic adventure to tender romance, set, in part, to the music of the man Vincent mentioned. Laurent smiled at this compliment, saying, "If the melody sounds familiar, I took an earlier tune of M. Cauant's and grafted it onto one of my own. I had the pleasure of meeting Raimon Cauant in Nantes. He had just returned from an extensive tour of our northern country and was on his way back to Toulon..."
Vincent LaCroix nodded as Sybille continued to stare at her young man with a dreaminess her father couldn't help but notice. He leaned over to his wife and said, "My dear, I believed you looked at me the same way when I courted you."
Isabelle smiled at her husband as she squeezed his hand. The smile grew even broader when she replied, "I still get dreamy-eyed whenever I look at you."
The LaCroixes were now joined by Jehan Frollo, who came to collect the
family to meet Laurent's mother. Both Vincent and Isabelle expressed their
warm wishes for Jehan's full recovery, and they wished Claude was here.
"I believe," began Vincent, "that your brother should be here for this
momentous occasion." His eyes traveled from Laurent to Marguerite, then
he said, "It's a pity that the mother was unable to care for the lad, but
Laurent turned out to be a fine young man indeed. Brilliant and talented!
Those qualities will carry him far."
Jehan only nodded as Marguerite caught his eye. She looked at him as if to say, "What is going on? Where is Martine? And where is...?"
She needn't convey much else because Jehan knew exactly what she meant.
Once the party made it's way up the street toward Martine's 'home', Jehan took Marguerite aside, saying in a hushed voice, "I made a few contacts since Martine came to me those few days ago. The one about whom you inquired is indeed alive and well. I've instructed..."
Without warning, Jehan was interrupted by Laurent d'Anges cantering
up alongside the carriage. Overcome with joy and so ecstatic that he was
about meet his mother for the first time, Laurent rapped on the carriage
door, asking, "M. Jehan Frollo, what does my mother look like? Tante Marguerite
has told me what Maman looked like in youth, but what about now?"
Jehan Frollo couldn't answer that without some degree of exaggeration. He instantly replied to Laurent that, "Your mother was a woman of delicate beauty in her youth, but now...Laurent, Martine d'Anges' beauty has only improved with age. While she may not be as sparkling as in youth, I believe she's far more lovely in her mature years..."
Marguerite only looked at Jehan and said under her breath, "I do hope you are telling the truth. The last thing I want is to break this boy's heart, and he is so happy..."
Felise shushed her friend with a warm embrace. That was Felise -- always ready to quell frazzled nerves with an embrace or loving touch. Gilles immediately calmed down, sighed, then gradually broke out in smiles and laughter. In a way, Felise reminded Gilles of Claude Frollo's lady. Yes, Mlle. Danisha is nearly like Felise, all warm and friendly...Jehan says Danisha is the best thing that happened to him, and that he would die for her if necessary...I wonder if Jehan Frollo is actually in love with his brother's lady.. "Gilles," said Felise LaCourbe, interrupting the young man's thoughts, "when the LaCroixes arrive, I want you to leave."
M. Vinet raised an eyebrow and said, "But why? Pray, Felise, are you
dismissing me so I won't let on that..."
Felise shook her head, then pressed something into Gilles' hand. She told him, "Do you remember what we discussed earlier today? I want you to seek him out and show him this. Then bring him here. Martine should thank us for this..."
A servant came into the hall and announced that the visitors had arrived. Now the real test began; it was truth or consequences. Simon LaPiere sauntered down the staircase just as Felise motioned to the servant to open the front door. Simon smiled as he announced, "Ah, right on time. My dear Felise and Gilles, may I proudly present Madame d'Anges." With little trepidation, down she came just as those special guests entered the house. After the prerequisite introductions all eyes focused to the woman descending the stairs. For several awkward moments no one said a thing as the woman drew closer to the company. It was Laurent who finally broke the silence.
"Maman! Maman!," was all he said as mother and son, for the first time in eighteen years, tearfully and tenderly embraced.
Go to Part "Cinq"
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