At lunch in the Benoitville, the five reward recipients ate together at a table in the shady rear of the Hotel’s garden café accommodation.
Pierre sought to improve his standing with Christine in particular – “That Berthe is a ball-tearer” as he thought about how she has stood over the cashier – actually man-handling him – and how she had stood over him to foil his plan to make off with all the reward money “she is not for my taking”. He proposed a toast to the good fortune of the five of them and somewhat patronizingly referred to the “good moves” by “the Mesdemoiselles”, unable to bring himself to praise the contribution of Berthe.
After the lunch was eaten, the men continued to carouse. Berthe stood and demurely said, “Christine and I shall repair to a separate table to allow you gentlemen to drink on. We have women’s business to discuss”. The two women moved away, despite entreaties of all three men to stay and enjoy their company. And sat at a table for two with view of the road to Barneville-Carteret.
Berthe opened “This is a good time to plan our futures in St. Helier. We have 800 francs between us and good prospects of starting a liquor business there. We can get an agency for Auguste’s Calvados. We could even offer him an interest, (not part ownership because we want to keep it strictly business and not be too cosy with him.”
“I remember when Mssr. Dupain was talking to that Jersey boy and his father about “bigger profit” and “in London not Paris” and “ship via St. Helier”. There must be good trade reasons for that. Remember how Pierre and Francois talked non-stop on the way to Bayeaux about French wines and liquor, the prices, the supply, the storage, and transport for business in St Helier? I was making a mental note of it. They talked about ‘wholesaling’ and ‘retailing’ and buying their own vineyards and distilleries.”
“That is something we can plan to build up. I feel this trip to Jersey is making us women of the world, with eyeopeners to the weaknesses of men. They might think the wine and spirit business is for men only, but I think we can push our way in with our new-found fortune to exploit the opportunities.”
“Mon Dieu Berthe!” exclaimed Christine. “Is it only a week since we left Yonville where we were living in a squalid lean-to and you were dispirited, smelly and dressed in grubby clothes? Now we are planning to conquer the world – well the St Helier part of it anyway. I am right with you ma Cherie. I can’t think of anyone I would rather partner in business.”
As they continued to discuss the rosy future of their plans, Christine saw out the window that it had started to rain. She got up and went to Auguste. “Messieurs, we must leave now before the rain makes the road impassable”.
Auguste was somewhat the worse for wear, bur Pierre and Francois hustled him, saying “Auguste, we have business in Barneville-Carteret tonight. We must leave now.”
The travel to Barneville-Carteret was a nightmare. The rear covering of the cart, replaced, but still bloodied from its recent use as a cadaver wrapper, had to be rolled down and very little light penetrated the interior of the liquor stacked cart’s “cabin”. Christine shivered constantly, as she thought about the slain bushranger and the potential for retribution. Through pouring rain Auguste nursed Hercule and Jupiter along the road past Les Pieux, Saint Germaine-le Gaillard, Surtainville and Baubigny. Each time he came to a rivulet or ford, Auguste would dismount and lead Hercule and Jupiter to the safest crossing. Mercifully, the rain and the urgency had sobered him.
The rain had stopped as the went past Les Motiers-d’Allone, where they were stopped by two mounted gendarmes. “We want to check your load for contraband and stolen goods. Open up the back.” The four passengers groaned at the delay as Auguste unlaced the rear covering. “Mesdamme e Monsieurs. We must check the cargo. Please step down outside.” The five passengers complied. A shiver ran down Christine’s spine. There was something about these gendarmes which was not right. They carried military muskets, not the type issued to gendarmes. Her anxiety increased when they showed no interest in the cargo.
“We are the brothers of Didier Robert. Which of you is Pierre du Houx?” Ice clutched Christine’s heart. The devil had come to claim his prize in the League of Death. “There is no Pierre du Houx here” said Francois nervously. “You lie” said the taller ‘gendarme’. “We have been to see and identify Didier’s body at the morgue. The officer there, one Charles Cheminer, told us Pierre du Houx delivered his body and signed for it. It was wrapped in a sheet like this cover here. And, sacre bleu, here are the bloodstains of our brother Didier. Reveal the shooter and the reward claimant to us and the rest of you may go on your way.”
Berthe spoke up, “Sir. You know that your brother was a highwayman robber who threatened his victims with a firearm. It appears he was shot dead in the course of a robbery. Do you not allow that to be self-defence?”
“He shot our brother dead” said the taller one. “An eye for an eye. A life for a life”.
Pierre was shaking but said “Sir. I am Pierre du Houx. I understand your grief and can say no more than I shot your brother in self-defence to protect these vulnerable young ladies (‘this should make me a hero in Christine’s eyes’ he thought) from a stranger who threatened all of our lives. I am sure you know I received a reward and I will gladly hand it over to you in return for safe passage.”
He climbed back into the cart and drew from his briefcase, his pistol. The tall man’s musket shattered the quiet with its explosion and Pierre fell lifeless to the floor of the cart, without getting off a shot.
“The debt is paid. We do not want our brother’s blood money. Now, be on your way.”
Auguste quickly mounted the driver seat as the passengers re-embarked as the “gendarmes” watched. Francois removed the cover and once more it was used to wrap a cadaver. The irony of the shared temporary ‘coffin’ was not lost on Christine. On the journey the two women and Francois fell into numb silence enduring the last few kilometres to Barneville-Carteret where they arrived and booked into the hotel at 6.30 pm. Francois had Auguste drive him immediately to the gendarmerie to report the killing of his companion and to deliver the body to the local morgue. Afterwards, each of them retired to their respective rooms without dinner. None expected they could keep it down.
“Can you be ready to leave at Midday?” It was a question that lightened the mood of Berthe, Christine and Francois.
The three had spent a miserable night in the hotel. Each had tossed and turned and when they finally drifted off to sleep nightmares about Pierre and his savage ending had them reawakening in sweaty fear. Lack of dinner the evening before and hunger pangs through the night added to the misery.
They all heard Auguste leave his room around 11pm and return roaring drunk in the early hours adding a further measure to the unpleasantness of the night in the hotel. The only compensation was that all three of them were ravenously hungry by the time that breakfast was served consisting of stale, coarse bread and cheese. They ate as if the meal was fit for a king and took vicarious pleasure commenting that Auguste would be in no fit state to enjoy any food when he eventually arose from his drunken stupor.
After breakfast the three headed for the harbour to check on the availability of boats bound for St.Helier. There was no regular ferry service to Jersey. Instead, there were many merchant vessels, almost all sailing vessels of varying size that transported cargo and sometimes paying passengers.
Francois took the lead in their search for passage as he had arranged transport for various cargo and himself to St. Helier several times before. He guided the two women knowingly past the first two vessels berthed. “They are both local coastal vessels, probably bound for St. Malo. No use to us.”
Then they came to a medium-sized boat simply named “Janvrin”. “That’s a Jersey boat.” remarked Francois. “Janvrin is a Jersey name, let us see if we can find the master”.
As Francois scanned along the gravel roadway on the top of the high harbour wall searching for someone who might possibly be the master of Janvrin, Christine nudged Berthe and whispered in her ear “Francois forgets I once lived in this town. I know who looks like a local and who looks like they are from Jersey. That group over there by the lobster pots playing cards. The man in the long navy-blue coat with brass buttons and smoking the clay pipe. I would bet he is our man”.
While Francois wandered further down the gravel roadway Christine moved across to the men playing cards. The man smoking the pipe looked up and speaking in Jersey Patois, close to French but unmistakably different, “hope you are not helping Roger cheat, mademoiselle, the rogue needs no special assistance”.
“No monsieur, I am trying to find the master of the Janvrin” Christine said demurely and pointed to the vessel.
“Well you have found him, what do you want?”, the pipe smoking man responded brusquely.
“If you are bound for Jersey, my two friends and I seek passage”.
“I am sailing soon to Jersey, but I specialise more in cargo than passengers” responded the pipe-smoking man.
“We have cargo to ship with us too Monsieur, a dozen barrels of calvados”.
The pipe-smoking man had tried to give an air of disinterest, but the master of Janvrin was very interested now that heavy cargo was involved. He had only light cargo aboard at present but the sea between Barneville-Cateret and St.Helier was very rough today. At high tide he did not want to set to sea too light and bounce precariously through the rough seas. He thought that he might have needed to take on stone ballast together with barely enough cargo to make the trip profitable. This Mademoiselle with two more fee-paying passengers and a heavy load of calvados was a god-send.
“James Bates is my name Mademoiselle and I can make you a bargain price of 100 francs for three passengers and your cargo”. With that he spat in the palm of his hand and thrust it forward to shake hands with Christine to seal the bargain.
Christine called Berthe and Francois across and giving them no time to disagree explained the deal. After a brief round of introductions James Bates said “Can you be ready to leave at Midday?”
“Of course we can” they responded. James Bates then said “See that long smudge on the horizon out to sea, that is Jersey. Looks near enough to touch doesn’t it. But in rough weather like today the usual 3 hour journey could take 12 hours. It may be too rough to enter through the harbour entrance at St. Helier and we may have to anchor in St.Aubin’s Bay out to sea until the weather settles enough to safely enter the Harbour. So near and yet so far. Just warning you what lies ahead”.
If the three knew what the crossing would be like they would have cared. But they did not know and so did not care. Instead, as they walked back to the hotel they were planning how to convince Auguste that he should stay behind while they took his calvados to Jersey to sell on his behalf.
In the end there was no need to persuade Auguste to stay behind. One look at the grey face and rheumy, red-rimmed eyes of the man slouched in his chair was enough for them to realise he was not simply hungover, but obviously ill and weak.
Francois was the first to react: “Alors Auguste, we have booked passage on the Janvrin for ourselves and the cargo, departing at noon today. It may be a week or more before the weather is good enough for another ship to sail. But you, my friend, are certainly in no state for even a short sea crossing.”
Auguste raised his head, “I’ve been this bad before, I’m ashamed to say,” he wheezed. “I’ll be fine next week but I’m damned if I can see any way of leaving today. And now I’m worrying myself sick about getting that lot to St Helier and making some money on it.”
Berthe knew just what to say: “Auguste, you can’t think of travelling further until you’re well. You need to look after yourself. And of course, you are forgetting that Christine and I have a contract to sell your calvados and wine on commission. Why, this will be our first consignment. All will be well, you’ll see.”
Berthe sounded so confident that Auguste decided it might just work. And no better ideas were forthcoming from his fuddled brain. He nodded in acquiescence and said, “We will talk over the terms and make arrangements. Mon Dieu, I will never drink again – or if I do, it will only be what I distill myself.”
By 11.30 they were all anxious to be on their way. Christine and Berthe had been behind closed doors with Auguste for over half an hour, and the smiles on their faces when they emerged told Francois everything he’d suspected: these wily women had negotiated a very good deal for themselves.
Captain James Bates looked up sharply as they arrived at the wharf. It was immediately evident that he and the crewman called Roger had been arguing and were now at a sullen impasse. The other two crewmen hovered nearby.
The captain beckoned Francois over and explained, “We have a problem with the ladies Monsieur.” Francois looked bewildered. “Old Roger here is very superstitious, he says he has never been on a ship carrying women without some tragedy befalling it. He says women on board will arouse the wrath of God and he will not budge.”
Christine and Berthe, who had heard every word, walked a little distance from the men, but not so far that they couldn’t hear. “This is ridiculous,” Berthe fumed. “I feel I have been reborn these past few weeks, my real life is just beginning. It is absurd that some superstitious old men should keep us from our destiny. I will not allow it!”
Christine agreed. “Women have always gone to sea, not just as passengers either. I know how these old ones blame women for all bad things, but they’ve never learned to use their brains.” She looked directly at Roger who eyed her malevolently in return.
Berthe adopted a sweet smile and reasonable tone to say, “I believe you were anxious for departure, Captain. If Roger is so much against women on board, perhaps you could grant him a day off. We are so close to Jersey we can see it, surely he won’t be missed on such a short journey.”
The captain’s bulging eyes and livid face alerted Berthe to just how much she’d misjudged the situation. With spittle flying from his mouth and nose he roared, “I’m the captain of this ship, young miss. I give the orders and if you don’t like it I’d be just as happy to leave you here. Might save me having to throw you overboard later.” He stormed off with his crew scuttling behind in stunned silence.
With a mounting sense of trepidation, Francois shepherded the women up the gangway. “It is only a few hours to Jersey, my dears, please do keep your indignation in check until we arrive. And then I promise you dinner in the finest restaurant you’ve ever seen.”
No allowance was made for passengers on the Janvrin; however, down a few steps from the deck there was a small salon with padded benches and they made themselves comfortable here while the crew – including the glowering Roger – weighed anchor and set sail. They could hear the shouted orders, the running feet on deck, the swearing and cursing, and they breathed a sigh of relief when they felt the whoosh of the ship lifting as it turned into the breeze. They were on their way.
In the open sea, the wind picked up and they felt every rise and fall as the ship was tossed from crest to crest. They heard the waves washing over the deck and the curses of the crew that followed. The very timbers creaked as the ship bobbed like a cork. Was that driving rain or just sea spray they could hear? Another argument had broken out on deck, voices were raised in alarm and then the captain’s voice had boomed out in some sort of warning. Was that the sound of timber splitting? Over-active imaginations, the passengers assured themselves.
The salon grew stuffy and their stomachs heaved with every roll of the ship. The argument seemed to have been resolved and the thudding of waves was the only noise from on deck. Francois looked at his watch, surely it was more than an hour since they left? He needed some air. Climbing the stairs, he pushed open the hatch then his knees buckled and he stumbled back down, his eyes wide with horror. “Mon Dieu, we are doomed”, he croaked and fell to his knees.
The deck of the Janvrin was a scene of blood, bedlam and disarray. The potent force of the raging gale had left the ship with ripped sales, frayed ropes and Captain Bates with a bloodied bandage around his head.
“Captain”, cried François, “are you all right? Your head ……”.
“Oh, it’s nothing,“ shouted Bates, “the boom swung free in the wind and I was knocked out for a while, but no cause for alarm.“ François noticed that there was a lot of blood spattered on the deck.
“The channel tide is helping us now,” declared Bates, “we should make it to Jersey within an hour or so.”
The two brawny crewmen were managing to sail the ship while Bates attended to his wounds but there was no sign of the churlish Roger. However, satisfied that all seemed to be under control François returned below deck in a calm manner to reassure the ladies of their safety. They both breathed a sigh of relief, their fears were allayed.
As predicted, the combination of the prevailing wind and the channel tide carried the Janvrin to a successful berth in St. Aubin. Captain Bates gave the signal for the party to climb up to the deck and invited them to disembark. The ladies were captivated with everything they saw before them. Patches of blue sky, a turquoise sea, a hub of small boats moored in the harbour and people, lots of people walking along the length of the harbour wall. The salty sea breeze gave spice to the atmosphere. Berthe felt her heart pound with the abundance of pleasure it gave her.
Bates and the crewmen saw to the luggage and the cargo while Berthe and Christine found themselves, at last, with their feet safely on the ground in Jersey and united their precious merchandise intact.
“What has happened to old Roger?” asked François.
“I locked him in the ship’s tackle room”, said Bates. “He was cursing and cussing the ladies and blaming them for the bad weather. I threw him in there with a bottle of rum; for the safety of the ladies, I had to do something with him. I will check on him later, he’s probably asleep.”
“Where do we go from here Christine?” asked Berthe. Before Christine could answer Berthe was distracted as she noticed a well-dressed man approach Captain Bates in a manner which suggested they were acquainted.
“Bates”, said the man shaking his hand, “You look the worse for wear my good fellow.”
“Henri – how good to see you again; yes, we had a very rough crossing today, but here we are in one piece, thank goodness.” Bates made haste to introduce his passengers to the man, Henri Duxelle, the Harbourmaster at St. Aubin.
“Delighted to meet you”, he said warmly.
Monsieur Duxelle seemed respectful and kind and he chatted for a few minutes with everyone in a lively and engaging manner. He enquired if the party had anywhere to stay and, importantly, a place to store their cargo. They informed him that they did not.
“Well”, he said, “My sister is Madame Robillard and she has a fine establishment not far from here, the “Auberge D’Aubin” where you can find pleasant and affordable accommodation. I imagine that you are eager to rest after your tiresome voyage. May I be of service? “
“You are very kind monsieur”, said Berthe, feeling happy and reassured to find such kindness.
“It is my pleasure to assist you. Wait here and I will find an equipage to take you there. Oh, and your friend François is also most welcome.”
Captain Bates indicated that he was going back to the Janvrin to free old Roger from the tackle room and to carry out some repairs to the vessel and that he would be remain there overnight before returning to Barneville-Carteret.
Monsieur Duxelle returned with two horse drawn vehicles. He accompanied the ladies in the first carriage and François travelled with the cargo in the second one. The ride to the “Auberge D’Aubin” was a short one. The Inn was old but charming, surrounded by a beautifully kept garden. As the carriages rolled up to the main door of the Inn an attractive woman came out to greet them. Monsieur Duxelle arranged everything and introduced his sister Madame Yvette Robillard.
Within an hour or so François and the ladies had settled in and were trying to forget the distressful encounters of their dangerous journey. They were ready to enjoy the pleasures of a wonderful supper. Madam Robillard’s cooking tasted better than anything they had ever eaten before. The words “delicieux’” and “magnifique” were uttered many times during the meal.
Christine and Berthe were about to retire for the evening when Madame Robillard heard a carriage pull up outside the Inn.
“That will be my husband and son”, she told them, “My son has attended his first meeting at the Chambre de Commerce this evening in St. Helier, with his proud father. Ladies, please stay a few minutes longer and I will introduce you.” The ladies exchanged glances indicating their willingness to comply with Madame Robillard’s request. The introductions took place; first to be introduced was Madame’s husband Monsieur Jean-Paul Robillard; secondly Madame’s son Monsieur Christophe Robillard. Berthe’s knees began to shake with discomposure. It seemed almost impossible but there could be no doubt; standing before her was the handsome countenance that had never left her thoughts. Madame’s son was the “Jersey Boy” from the cotton mill.
Berthe was eager to drag Christine away and gave apologies for their excessive fatigue which excused them both and they retreated to their room immediately. Once they were safely alone together, Berthe began an earnest discourse with Christine.
“Christine, destiny did not give me the gift of a sister, but fate has delivered me a sisterly companion. An understanding has developed between us and I feel a trust in your judgement. You have taught me how to be wiser in the ways of the world. I recall how you once said that ‘There is a boy out there, a flame, a sweetheart for everyone, someone who will sweep me off my feet and that I will be carried away.’ ” Berthe gave a big sigh, and with a tear in her eye made a declaration to her friend, “I beg you Christine, show me how to be wise when it comes to matters of the heart”. Christine gave Berthe a warm hug. This reassurance of their sisterly bond was important to them both.
As François also prepared to retire for the evening, he overheard Monsieur Robillard speaking to his wife,
“Yvette, I almost forgot to tell you, the body of a seafarer was washed up at St. Aubin’s late this afternoon; your brother Henri believes it’s that old boy Roger who sails back and forth with Captain Bates.” François recoiled in horror as he thought, “Old Roger wasn’t locked in the tackle room; I’m willing to bet he was thrown overboard in the storm.”
Despite his position in the business world, François had led quite a sheltered life. Born in Poissy to the west of Paris, he spent his early childhood in and around the banks of the River Seine as it meandered its way to the coast at Honfleur. Boats were as common as velocipedes then and it was this familiarity and calmness which assisted the small group of travellers to survive the crossing to Jersey.
Unlike in his earlier life when, perhaps because of his stout stature and propensity to being amply padded, his interaction with the opposite sex was limited to his mother and a brief stolen kiss from young Madeleine who lived two doors down. His calmness on the boat to Jersey had put him, perhaps for the first time in his life, in a position where he had “hand” – this was particularly so with the vivacious Christine who had come to regard the roly-poly figure of François as more than a temporary supply of money and business opportunity.
François sensed this unusual feeling and on this bright sunny Jersey morning, there was a confident strut to his bearing – a confidence born of the adoring looks of his travel companion. Berthe was another matter, being of a scheming business-oriented frame of mind, François could see the same continual whirring of the brain that he had developed: the constant look-out for an opportunity; the constant brain machinations; the constant evaluation of the possibilities. François had not really thought about it before, but when he reflected on people of his acquaintance, he realised that this “gift” was bestowed on few – and he was sure that Berthe was one such possessor of the “gift”. That made Berthe, in François’ eyes, not so much a possible catch but a potential business partner – but one who would need to be constantly watched. Berthe’s other use, to the calculating François, was as a lever to Christine because of the obvious affinity between the two girls.
“Tonight ladies, we eat in that fine restaurant I promised you – the Cock and Bottle on Royal Square in St Helier. Despite the name, they have a French Chef so we will feel at home.” announced François as they settled down to their breakfast.
“Oysters washed down with Piquepoul from Languedoc” he said with a gleam in his eye.
“Then, ladies, the freshest fish imaginable – they’ll almost be flapping about in the Bouillabaisse flavoured with the finest Saffron. Finally, the pièce de résistance………..” Before François could finish, he was interrupted by a loud rapping knock at the breakfast room door.
François turned to stand up and was cut short by a command in the local patios: “Please remain seated monsieur and keep your hands on the table.” It was the senior constable of the St Helier Paid Police, John Plod who had been appointed to that position after their recent formation. He was keen to make an impression – even though he was not allowed to charge anyone – he had to refer them to the Centenier of the parish who was part of the Honorary Police.
“I need to ask some questions” Plod said with as much authority as he could gather.
Plod would have preferred to have Captain Bates under interrogation but he and the Janvrin had left the dock at first light on the rising tide.
Berthe and Christine looked at each other searching for a clue but François, having overheard about the washed-up body last night, was well aware of what Plod’s line of questioning would be.
“Please, Senior Constable, please take a seat” suggested François, “perhaps you would care for a bread roll and coffee?”
“No, monsieur” he replied stiffly remembering the recent training he had had on interrogation methods (pace behind them and make them uncomfortable) then did a text-book hands behind back pacing to and fro behind François as he carefully formulated his first question.
Francois’ mind raced. Either Captain Bates was a murderer or was simply trying to protect the sensibilities of his passengers from the horror of a man being swept overboard by the huge waves. Francois answered all the probing questions from the Senior Constable as best he could without giving any opinion about what he really thought had actually happened. The Senior Constable would have to wait until Captain Bates and the Janvrin returned to the jurisdiction of Jersey on the next trip to continue his investigations. Having found that Francois could be of no further use, the dispirited Senior Constable departed with the disappointing knowledge that this mysterious incident would not be able to be resolved quickly.
Francois looked at Berthe and Christine and shrugged his shoulders. Even though Berthe and Christine did not like old Roger they both shuddered to think that he went overboard, with or without assistance, and drowned. It tended to put a dampener on their enjoyable breakfast and their plans for a sumptuous dinner at the Cock and Bottle in St Helier that night.
To change the subject, Berthe suddenly brightened up and said “This morning I want to check out the warehouse where our barrels of calvados are stored. Do you want to come?”
Christine immediately replied “Oh, yes please”, but Francois said that he had some of his own business work to do and so would meet them later that day so they could travel together to St. Helier for dinner. He gave Berthe the key to the warehouse which was one of a number in a row of old stone buildings nearby facing the waterfront.
Berthe and Christine walked briskly along the cobbled road to the rustic warehouse and excitedly unlocked the large padlock on a heavy rusty chain and pushed the wide rough timber door open. There in the middle of a huge cavernous space was their precious dozen barrels of calvados.
Berthe said quietly “The calvados is valuable in these 400 litre barrels but would be more valuable in bottles. All we have to do is buy the bottles, fill them, put on our own label and sell them in Jersey or ship them to England for sale. We could get 500 bottles of calvados out of each barrel. Do you not agree?”
Christine was amazed at such an audacious idea but was wanting to be the voice of reason without being negative. “Where would we be able to get the bottles, how could we fill so many, and how would we know how to sell them? Maybe we need Francois with his business knowledge to help.”
Just at that moment the shadowy dark figures of two men entered the warehouse. One was medium build, bald-headed with a patch over one eye, the other was short, fat and with a hook instead of a left hand. They looked sinister and shivers went down the spines of both women.
“Good morning ladies. Let me introduce ourselves. I am Xavier Hoggard and this is my twin brother Rufus. We are in the business of insurance which may be of interest to you. We have heard that you have twelve barrels of calvados which you intend to on-sell. It would be a pity if you weren’t insured and something happened to them. As you can see for yourselves even we had an unexpected accident some time ago which caused the loss of my eye and my brother’s left hand, so nobody is immune from unexpected events. Bad things can happen to people who are not insured. This appears to be your first venture and so we could offer a special rate of 5 Jersey pounds per month if you sign up today. What do you think?”
“What I think” replied Berthe who had gone quite red in the face with exasperation, “is that you are both rogues who are trying to blackmail us with your implied threats. We have only just arrived in Jersey and are new to the wheels of commerce but we would expect and appreciate mutual respect in dealing with business people in this country, not attempted intimidation. Now please leave.”
Xavier Hoggard was obviously stunned by the temerity of this young upstart but was not willing to back down. “You be careful as to what you say to us, young miss. We’re not going to take your insults without there being repercussions, just you wait and see. It’s just insurance. We will return at this time tomorrow to collect the 5 pounds and sign up the agreement for your own protection. Do not tell anyone else of our conversations or there will be severe consequences that you will regret. Goodbye.”
The two sinister beings departed leaving Berthe shaking with rage and Christine shaking with fear.
“Come on mon petit” cajoled Berthe”, trying to calm Christine’s shaking. “We have overcome worse threats than this. These two are just battered bits of flotsam and jetsam” a phrase she remembered her father using to describe some of his wounded soldier patients. We will first talk to Francois to see if he knows anything about them and what we should do.”
Francois had not heard of the Hoggard brothers. He pondered a while. “This is why Pierre and I acquired the pistols we used on the highwayman on the way here. There are many demobilised soldiers here and abroad who have no employment and insufficient pension to cover their carousing habits. We need a protector we can rely on. There is a man I know called Albrecht Torrance who is here called ‘El Torro’ because he is a bull of a man who served in the German Cavalry under Marshal Blucher in support of the Duke of Wellington. Although he was only 22 in 1815, he was a dominating fighter assigned to lead cavalry charges because he was so highly respected by his men. He was discharged as Oberst, a colonel, with a chest full of medals. He came to Jersey as many demobilised soldiers from both sides did, for warmer micro-climate and cheaper living on his half pension. He spoke French, being from Alsace-Lorraine and quickly acquired Jersiaise, the local language here, which endeared him to highly placed locals. When General George Don was constructing roads here to link coastal fortifications, El Torro was appointed to command the workforce and deal with opposition from landowners. He was recently second in command of the Jersey gendarmerie which they call States of Jersey Police, but when he was passed over for the office of Bailiff, which is the equivalent of the Chief Justice, he resigned from government service and set himself up as a cattle farmer with oyster leases on the side. He is the man we need to speak to. He is gallant about women who are being taken at disadvantage.”
“Can you take us to him?” urged Bethe “those scum will be back tomorrow, hell bent on mischief if we don’t pay up”. Francois replied “I will go now and see if I can interest him in helping you. Wait here in the warehouse. I will be back within the hour”.
Less than an hour later Francois returned with the man. He was close to two metres tall with broad shoulders and a square jawed face with high cheekbones, crowned with a mop of thick brown hair. Alert blue eyes held the two young women in a steady gaze. They knew he was this year 57, but he had the agility and youthfulness of a 45 year old. Fading facial scars were a legacy of his battle experience.
“I know of these Hoggard brothers” he said in French. “They were English infantry privates at the Battle of Waterloo where they sustained the injuries you saw. I will talk to them and inform them that if they wish to continue with the remaining eyes and limbs they now have, they must give up their insurance scheme. I will offer them honest work on my oyster leases if they want it. Men who fought at Waterloo, on whichever side, deserve a chance to survive. If they don’t want work, my former colleagues at States Police will make life unbearable for them in Jersey.”
“Thank you so much” spoke Christine and Berthe together. Berthe continued “We are much in your debt. We would like to deliver to you a firkin of our best Calvados as token of our gratitude.”
“Well now”, rejoined Torrance, “I am having guests for dinner tonight and would be delighted to share your Calvados with them and with you three, if you will accept my invitation” Christine muttered to Berthe “We’ve got nothing to wear!” Berthe shot back under her breath “Don’t panic. We have a little money. This is an invitation we must accept”. Then turning to Torrance, whose face was creased with amusement at the females not-so sotto voice exchange, “Sir, we most certainly accept your generous invitation, do we not Francois?” As the latter nodded his acquiescence, Berthe resumed “May we inquire if our time of arrival at 7 o’clock is suitable?”
“Of course” Torrance replied.
As Torrance took his leave from the warehouse, Berthe turned to Francois. “Take us to a good ladies’ dressmaker and a hairdresser in St Helier, Francois. Christine and I need to make an investment in our futures. Monsieur Torrance can help us advance our business here as he has two businesses of his own and knows this island intimately. I have a feeling we will meet important and influential people at dinner tonight and we must look our very best”
Mary Halkett was that rare creature, a woman of substance. She had inherited the best ladies’ wear shop in St.Helier just over a year ago when her dear mother had passed away after a long battle with consumption. The business was thriving as there were many women in St. Helier with wealthy merchant husbands prepared to indulge their every whim. Mary Halkett’s shop stocked not only the best locally tailored garments but many fashionable dresses and accessories from London and Paris as well.
Mary Halkett was mostly very happy with life. The shop was generating a handsome income and she had a beautiful house just around the coast from St. Helier at Gorey with fine views of the ancient castle and harbour. Mary was very well off, but she lacked really good friends, especially male friends. Mary had spent so much time looking after her ailing mother in her late teens and early twenties. When she was not looking after her mother, she was busy at the shop standing in for her mother. There was simply no time to make good friends. There were good customers and acquaintances but Mary had come to realise over the past year that she wanted more from life. She did not want to wake up in ten years’ time a middle-aging spinster – albeit a very wealthy spinster.
There were plenty of handsome young businessmen in St. Helier and Mary had set her sights on one in particular, Christopher Robillard. It was the father, Jean-Paul Robillard who had guided his son in Mary’s direction at one of the regular dance evenings held in St.Helier for the well-to-do and their families. They had danced and she was smitten. Christopher Robillard was everything Mary dreamed of in a man. So tall and handsome and from a wealthy merchant family to boot. Mary dreamed about what a fine couple they would make.
They had only met properly once at the dance four months ago. Since then Mary and Christopher occasionally had chance meetings in the streets of St.Helier where Christopher would nod acquaintance, say a polite word or two and then be off.
In Mary’s mind that was enough. Christopher was obviously hers and they would be wed one day.
From Christopher’s point of view, Mary was another young woman his father wanted to foist on to him. A good catch for the business. Mary was charming enough, but he was not in the least interested in pursuing the relationship. Christopher had seen very few young ladies that had caused his heart to miss a beat, but there was one and one that would have appalled his father initially.
Christopher remembered the face peering up at him from under the spinning Jenny in France. Grubby as it was it was the face of an angel. Then miraculously he had been reintroduced to that same angelic face here in his parents’ house in St. Aubins – now a clean delightfully attired young lady with a name – Berthe Bovary.
Francois had found a two-horse sulky and sat on the front board with Christine on one side and Berthe on the other. The two young women chatted and laughed as Francois took the road around the edge of St. Aubins Bay to St. Helier. Francois knew there was only one place in St.Helier that could provide the outfits these two young ladies would appreciate, Mary Halketts. Francois stopped the sulky on the opposite side of the road from the shop. He helped both of the young women down. Christine made sure that Francois had to all but lift her off the sulky clinging with both hands cupped behind Francois’ neck and brushing her cheek past his on the way down.
Berthe smiled at Christine’s antics, but then she turned and caught sight of Monsieur Robillard and his delightful son, Christopher, walking towards them.
“Monsieur Robillard” Berthe murmured “how delightful to see you again. We are here on a shopping expedition”, the words barely out as the world started to swim in front of her and then blackness.
The blackness turned to grey and then indistinct figures. She could make out worried voices and then the world returned to colour and what colour. Her head was cradled in Christopher’s lap and he was looking at her, concern in his eyes turning to wide-eyed delight as her eyes fluttered open. Berthe wished the moment could last forever. Christopher wished the moment could last forever too and he intertwined his fingers into Berthe’s fingers.
Berthe’s fainting fit had caused quite a commotion and a small crowd had gathered around. Mary Halkett had seen the small crowd gather and left her shop to see what was happening. At first, she could see very little. Then she saw her Christopher sitting on the ground and cradling the head of a very attractive young lady. Then she noticed that Christopher’s hand was tightly clasped in hers. But what really upset her was the look on both of their faces. Christopher had never looked at her that way.
As Mary stormed back across the road to her shop, she thought by god Christopher will look at me that way or I will have him skinned. But I just might have that strumpet skinned first.
By the time Mary flung open the door and rushed into the shop, her jealous fury knew no bounds. Her forehead throbbed with white-hot anger until she felt it would explode, and blazing red pulsed behind her eyes. Blindly picking up the dressmaking shears on her worktable, she lunged at the nearby mannequin, stabbing wildly half a dozen times, ripping at the stuffing until her energy was spent. The frenzy passed, her eyes cleared and she stared at the dummy lurching brokenly on its stand with horsehair spilling from the slashed calico.
She forced herself to calm down. “For a minute there I wanted to kill someone. Oh, God, what’s wrong with me,” she gasped, making the sign of the cross.
In her distress. Mary rushed to the window and watched Christopher and his father assisting Berthe to her feet. People who had stopped to help were moving on, offering solicitous remarks, and Berthe was thanking them prettily. Christine was brushing dust from Berthe’s dress and, to Mary’s dismay, Christopher’s supportive arm remained protectively around the girl.
Mary was finding it hard to breathe and needed some fresh air. She’d just decided to shut up shop and take a walk to clear her head, but then she noticed Christopher was answering a question from Christine by pointing directly at Mary’s shop; his hand went up in a salutary wave. They’d seen her! They were coming over. Now she couldn’t lock the door and sneak out the back.
Quickly she dragged the butchered dummy into the storeroom, leaving trails of horsehair she hoped would go unnoticed. Everything must look normal, she told herself as she dabbed on a little perfume, Christopher must be persuaded that I am the sweetest, most attractive and desirable woman in St Helier, or anywhere else.
Mary ushered her visitors through the door with the best smile she could muster and arranged chairs for the two women.
“I’m sure a cup of tea would be welcome,” she suggested, but before she could escape to the backroom for a few minutes, Christopher touched her lightly on the arm setting off such a frisson of delight that it was difficult to breathe. “Before you make the tea, Mary, perhaps I should explain our mission. The ladies are seeking gowns for this evening’s soiree at the Torrance’s. I’ve told Mademoiselle Berthe and Mademoiselle Christine that there is no finer couturiere than you, even in Paris.”
Mary placed her hand on Christopher’s arm in what she hoped would signal to Berthe that she had got him first, so hands off. “Tonight? Oh, Christopher, you’re always so flattering, but it can take weeks to make a perfect gown. Although these ladies are so attractive and well-proportioned that they will look exquisite whatever they wear.” Her eyes met Berthe’s, and she gave Christopher’s arm a squeeze for good measure then started pulling a selection of dresses from the hanging rack, explaining as she went. “These are lovely gowns I’ve copied from Parisian designs. A few of my customers wait on these creations. Perhaps the mademoiselles will find one here they like. I can do small alterations if they’re needed.”
She looked at Christopher expecting some expression of admiration and grateful thanks. His face was beaming, but his smiles were directed at Berthe.
With anger and resentment building, Mary left to make the tea and, to her surprise, Francois followed, explaining he was out of his depth with dresses and womanly things. However, he seemed quite in his element taking orders from Mary, passing saucers and bowls and arranging cups. “We need sugar,” she called. “Second shelf, third canister.”
Francois reached up for it and his hand landed on a tin, which he handed to Mary, then snatched back and thrust in front of Mary’s face. “Good God, do you want to kill us all?” The colour had drained from his face as he read the label: ‘Rat Poison’. Mary shrieked in alarm and scolded him, “You didn’t listen. This was on the third shelf, and I asked for the sugar on the second shelf.” He apologised … and yet he was sure he’d taken it from the second shelf.
By the time the tea was ready, several gowns had been chosen for trying-on. The men decided there were better ways to spend their time and arranged to meet the ladies when they’d finished at the hairdressers.
Christine and Berthe agreed the dresses were very nice, however Berthe had spied a stunning blue dress she knew would make her the centre of attention and Christopher wouldn’t be able to take his eyes off her. It wasn’t one that Mary had offered, but Berthe had taken it from the rack and was holding it up against herself and swishing the skirt as she admired her reflection in the mirror.
“That dress is not for sale!” Mary’s cold voice startled Berthe and Christine, who until then were enjoying their unfamiliar roles as ladies of the world. “It is already spoken for I’m afraid,” Mary tried to soften her words. Despite Berthe’s most determined efforts, Mary would not relent. This dress had been made with the sole aim of impressing Christopher, and Mary was relishing the thought of seeing Berthe’s face when she made her entrance wearing it.
Christine had chosen an understated gown of grey satin that gave her an elegance she’d never managed to achieve, and when Mary added a silk wrap in delicate shades of apricot, she did indeed feel she’d found her place in society. Berthe was more difficult to please but finally chose a simple gown in gold when Mary agreed to give her a discount. It needed just a few tucks to show off her figure and while she pinned, Mary chattered away. “Christopher loves this colour you know.” Getting no response, she took it a little further, “Oh yes, his wife wore it often just to please him.”
There was a wonderful thrill of satisfaction as Mary felt Berthe stiffen and heard the intake of breath as she whispered, “His wife?”
“Such a tragedy you know. They were so young, married on her 16th birthday and dead two weeks later.” She shook her head. “But of course all Christopher’s friends stand by him. Yes, a tragedy – and a mystery.”
Berthe and Christine were contented with their gown selection. Now they were keen to get to the Salon de Coiffure, so they bid Mademoiselle Halkett a hasty “au revoir”, saying that they would return to collect the gowns.
Berthe was still visibly shaken by Mary Halkett’s mysterious revelation.
“Berthe”, said Christine, trying to comfort her. “We do not know if Mary is speaking the truth. She knows exactly where to stick her pins, the place where they will hurt you the most. It’s obvious that she wants Christophe’s affections for herself.” François nodded in agreement as he helped them into a waiting carriage.
The salon experience was very much enjoyed and gave them an air of style. A touch of rouge was strategically applied to enhance their cheek bones and a small pot of rose-coloured beeswax was provided for their lips. They now felt equipped to claim their place amongst elevated society. They asked François if he could collect the gowns. Berthe had no desire to see Mary Halkett. She knew that they would very likely have to “face off” again at the soirée.
On their return to the Auberge D’Aubin the ladies recognised Madame Robillard’s brother Henri, who greeted them like old friends.
“How fortunate to see you again” he said. “I have some news for you. The police physician has examined the body of Old Roger, he did not drown, there was no water in his lungs. It appears that he received a severe beating and his poor heart gave out. A witness has come forward who says that he heard a heated argument taking place between Old Roger and two other men, down at the harbour warehouses. The description he gave us fits that of the Hoggard brothers; they are known to the police and John Plod has launched an intense search for them.” Berthe and Christine breathed a sigh of relief. If the two Hoggard numbskulls were to be arrested for murder it would certainly resolve their “insurance problem “once and for all.
François arrived with the gowns and Madame Robillard advised that she had organised a carriage so everyone could travel together. Berthe and Christine were delighted by these kind attentions from her. At the allotted time they all gathered at the front door of the Auberge. François had his gaze fixed on Christine who had never looked so lovely and Christophe was equally mesmerised by Berthe.
On arrival at the Torrance home they were warmly greeted by Monsieur and Madame Torrance. Berthe and Christine were not entirely at ease to begin with, but their natural vivacity and charm rendered them captivating almost immediately.
Mary Halkett made a slow and smug entrance to the grand salon where the guests were assembled. She was wearing the blue gown. In her outlandish opinion this was the game changer gown. Her hopes and dreams hinged on its power to seduce, but nobody really noticed Mary. It was Berthe’s time to shine, her beauty and wit were obviously much admired. This was more than Mary could bear. A rapid surge of envy coursed through her veins and she felt the beast inside her gain strength moment by moment. She was so immersed in her jealous fury that she failed to watch her step. It all happened within a few seconds, but it seemed to unfold as if time was standing still. Mary stepped backwards into the path of a manservant who was carrying a huge tureen of potato and leek soup. The servant tripped over her, losing his balance and the tureen. It flew into the air and came crashing down onto the tiled floor. Its contents made a mighty splash and instantly adorned the sacred blue garment. The warm creamy soup seeped everywhere. There was soup in her hair and soup dribbling down into her décolletage. Mary was sopping wet with soup. This unfortunate spillage drew everyone’s attention to her. The ill-fated Mary embarked on a spillage of her own. In a tirade of verbal abuse her colourful language was enough to redden the face of a Normandy fishwife! She was quickly ushered out of sight by one of the housemaids. The guests were all in shock, but Madame Torrance hastily beckoned the ensemble of musicians to play and the incident was hastily smoothed over.
The maid led Mary to the quarters of Madame Torrance’s cook and found a change of clothing for her. Owing to Mary’s ample bosom, the cook’s clothing was the only choice that could be made.
“This is not the ending I had planned for this evening.” she cursed. “Sent home in a cook’s dress when I am a respected couturier!”
Back at the Auberge D’Aubin the party of six were busily discussing the enjoyment of their lovely evening. They all agreed that it had been a most successful occasion. Christine and Berthe had been introduced into Jersey society. Not only had they made some useful contacts, they felt that Jersey was a place they could truly belong. Christophe had shown marked attentions toward Berthe throughout the evening, but Berthe decided that she would keep her feelings in check until the truth of Mary’s claims could be unravelled.
Arriving back at her home, Mary’s mood had become even more dark and menacing. She tossed and turned in her bed, her mind full of vengeful plots. The next morning she packed up the cook’s dress and decided that she would return it, in person. Thinking strategically, she would also offer an apology to Madame Torrance for her outburst. She placed the parcel in a bag and then walked into the kitchen to get something else. Second shelf, third canister ……. and then she drove away in her carriage.