Mr. Carrefour
Comes to Call
An Online Adventure by Mystery Max
People Places Plots

Paris, July 1837

Camilla DuBois

The letter reached her in Paris. Her father had fallen ill. A palsy, it said, brought on by the loss of his shipping fortune in a financial crisis earlier in the year. Her mother begged her to return to New Orleans as quickly as she could.

"Your brother is a wastrel with no more sense than a cow in the slaughter house," she wrote. "Only you have the strength and determination to save us, my dear. Please hurry home."

Camilla, daughter of Pierre and Anna Maria Dubois, nee Moreau, read the letter a second time, then closed her eyes, wishing she could be magically transported home, foregoing the long voyage once she’d broken the news to her Moreau relatives, made the arrangements, and packed.

The disparaging remarks made concerning her brother, Gabriel, were unfortunately true, though she wasn’t sure what her mother thought she could do unless she found a rich husband on-board ship or a wealthy gentleman near home who’d ask her to be his mistress. The last thought made her smile, knowing her mother would not approve, and there were enough brothels in the city already for her to establish herself as a madam. Sighing, she just decided she’d do what she could once home and hope it was enough and that her father’s health wouldn’t deteriorate further. She’d always been closer to him than her mother, Papa’s little princess he called her, even at twenty-one, long past the age many of her friends were married, some with children. As long as she married by twenty-five, she’d wouldn’t be considered an old maid.

New Orleans, September 1837

At long last, her voyage was over and she was on dry land again. Glancing around, she assumed her brother might be there to fetch her along with her trunks.

"Camilla! Cam! Here we are!"

His voice, deep and booming, cut through the frenetic babble of sound that swamped the docks, The place was crawling with people, passengers descending the gangplank, porters manhandling luggage, locals who were either just there to see whoever had arrived, or like her brother had come to meet someone in particular.


Gabriels_Outfit He seemed to have grown since she last saw him, less than six months ago. Well over six feet tall and at least two hundred pounds in weight. With his sweeping dark hair and bluff good looks he might have been a Greek god wearing a dark green frock coat that emphasized the broadness of his shoulders and buff colored pants tucked into high boots. A tall stove pipe style hat completed the look and made him stand out a foot or more above the majority of the milling crowd.

He forced his way through the masses and caught her up in a bear hug, laughing in delight at the sight of her.

"You look very French," he said, nodding at her clothes, "and very pretty, too." The compliments had always fallen so easily from his lips. He really was a charming fellow. Too bad that he had no head for business and enjoyed nothing more than the bottom of a bottle or a young woman to flirt with. Nevertheless it was wonderful to see him, and she held tightly on to his arm as he dispatched the men he had brought with him to collect her luggage.

"Good job we brought the cart with us," he laughed as he watched the trunks piled high. "You must have bought out the city."

On the journey away from the smelly docks, he spoke of inconsequential events, coffee house gossip, squabbles with friends, new ladies he was paying court to, and the like. She had to demand that he tell her of what had happened to Papa, and even then he was vague.

"Not good, Cam. I think the old man has lost a fair bit of money, and he's taken to his bed these last two months. I think he might be ill. You'll have to ask Mama. She's been looking after him."

They rode along the Esplanade, away from the docks, past Clairborne Street and out into the outskirts of the First Municipality, which some were now calling the French Quarter. Here the houses were not crowded together, many being set back from the road along sweeping driveways and well hidden behind the spreading limbs of the great Live Oaks all draped in Spanish Moss. The air was warm and humid filled with the smells of her childhood, wood smoke, barbecue, sugar pulp being boiled down to molasses. She felt at home and safe, yet also terrified of what she would find when they arrived.

Windover Hall "Here we are, my darling!" cried Gabriel as the cart turned into their drive way, past the stone pillars topped with statues of lions. "Windover Hall, just as you remember it."

But it was not just as she remembered it. The grass was shaggy. The trees unpruned. Mama's flower beds were gone to seed. Nowhere did she see the gardeners nor did the grooms run forward to hold the horses when they arrived at last in front of the house. She shivered with the first inklings of real fear as Gabriel helped her step down and she stood looking up at the big hall that had been her home all her life.

Would they loose it? How badly had things gone?

Camilla couldn't help but notice how Gabe avoided the subject of the hard times the family had fallen on, speaking mostly of inconsequential things on their ride home. She had to smile at the talk of the ladies. Even if he was her brother, she thought him roguishly handsome, sure he’d break his fair share of hearts before he finally settled down. In appearance, they favored. Camilla had the same dark hair and brown eyes.

Finally, she did bring up the subject. "Two months?!" She could hardly believe he’d been ill that long, and she hadn’t been summoned sooner.

"Mama said he has palsy." She thought her brother deserved to know as well as she.

It was easier to look at the landscape as they passed than to think about what she’d be facing once they arrived. Paris was fabulous, but she’d missed home, breathing in the smells as her eyes were drawn to familiar surroundings.

She smiled and put a hand on his thigh when called her ‘my darling’ as they reached Windover Hall. The smile faded quickly; however, at the dismal scene as they entered the drive.

Once he came around, she placed her hands on his shoulders so he could help her down, hugging him close to her, willing the tears not to come. He might be younger?, but right now Camilla needed his support till she could pull herself together. The last thing she wanted was for their parents to see her thus since it was her they were counting on. They could worry about bringing her things in later. She’d be more than willing to help him since there were obviously no servants about.

Greyson, the family butler, greeted her at the top of the steps leading up from the driveway to the front door. He seemed older than she recalled and less portly, but he beamed in delight at seeing her and welcomed her home.

"Thank goodness your home, Miss Camilla!" he spoke with heartfelt honesty. "Your Momma is going to be so pleased to see you."

Indeed, she heard her mother's voice from inside the house and hurrying inside, she watched as her mother, still lithe and beautiful, hurried down the sweeping staircase to catch her up in open arms.

"Darling! Darling girl! I'm so happy to see you.

"Let me look at you!" She let go of her and spun her around at arms length to see her outfit and marveled at how grown up her daughter looked.

"A woman indeed," she assured her. "Very Continental."

She laughed aloud in pleasure and hugged her daughter again, but then she moved on to the serious things that needed to be spoken about. Since Camilla could remember, she and her mother had been the only ones in the household to talk about life and events honestly. The men, her father and more lately her brother as well, always spoke as if everything were proceeding according to God's plan and that even the worst setback was nothing more than a temporary hitch in their steady progress towards wealth, influence and marital bliss.

To some extent this had been true over the years. Her father had been a bold and adventurous sea captain when he had met and married her mother some twenty five years ago. Neither of them had been wealthy, but her mother came from an old French family and her connections had given them entree to the households and soirees of the rich and powerful. Her father with his eagerness and bold ideas had parlayed those connections into a business and built up that business into a small empire.

The DuBois Shipping Company was well known in New Orleans as well as up and down the Mississippi River for providing excellent service and solid value. As long as Camilla could remember her father had been respected in the city and regarded as one of the guiding lights of New Orleans as it emerged from the eighteenth century and into the new prosperity of the nineteenth. This had been part of her life, as certain as the rising of the sun and the swelling of the tide.

But, she was beginning to suspect, things were not as they had always been. Dawn might not be quite the guaranteed event it had been in the past.

"Your father," her mother began, steering Camilla away from the front hall into the 'drawing room, "has been ill. He suffered an attack of some kind during the night and did not wake for two days. This was in late July. He did eventually open his eyes, but has been unable to speak or rise from his bed since then.

"A palsy, the doctors say. A constriction in the blood vessels to his brain. It is unlikely he will ever fully recover, though he may regain some function over time. We pray for him.

"I wanted to warn you before you see him that it will be a shocking sight. Please do not let him know how scared you are. He can see us and I believe knows who we are, but is unable to speak or even move move than a finger at a time"

She twisted the ribbons of her gown into a bright silken knot as she spoke, pacing around the room, casting anxious glances out into the main entrance hall, watching in case Gabriel should come there way. But the young man seemed to be involved with helping the staff, much diminished it seemed to Camilla, as they carried her luggage in from the cart and up to her bedroom.

"Nor is that the worst of it, my dear. Come and sit by me so we may speak quietly."

Drawing Room

She lead her daughter to a velvet sofa by an open window where a faint breeze from outside helped alleviate the stifling hot air of the afternoon.

"I have learned that your father's business has fallen on difficult times. This may have been happening before he suffered his stroke. It may be the stress that caused the attack. Be that as it may, since he became incapacitated, I have been the one to whom the bills and the past due dunning notices have been delivered this past ten weeks.

"I fear we are ruined. I have let go all but the essential staff. I have sold some of my jewelry to satisfy at least the interest on some of the most outstanding debts. But the amount we owe is well over the value of this house, and all of the ships in our fleet are mortgaged to the hilt. If a judgment is passed against us, forcing us to pay our debts all at once, we will be bankrupt upon the very minute of its signing.

"So far I have staved off this possibility. Our name still carries some credibility, if not credit. The fact that your father did not die means that the business is still in his name. If it passed to your brother it is a certainty that every creditor in the state would be standing in a line that reached from the front door to the Esplanade demanding immediate payment. His savvy is not well regarded in the City."

She clutched at her ribbons again and then forced herself to calm, smoothing the silk out with deliberate movements of her hands as she gathered her wits.

"It is up to us, you and me, to save our family from doom."

She gasped in a breath of air and then looked up from her lap to her daughter's eyes.

"You will have to marry. Someone wealthy. Someone you probably won't like because he'll be old. Someone who will shore up our lifestyle and will be willing to take on the debts your father has incurred just for the pleasure of . . . your company."

She forced a smile that left her eyes weeping and red.

"I can think of no other solution, my darling, other than to sell you into bondage.

"I do have a handful of suitors in mind, men who have expressed an interest in you over the past few years and have the wherewithal to take on the bad business that DuBois Shipping has become. If we can confirm a betrothal to one of them before the winter, I believe we can hold off our creditors until the wedding – as long as it in the spring."


The voice came as a crack of thunder in the room where the women whispered quietly to one another.

"We cannot sell Camilla as chattel to pay our debts!" he brother strode into the room, his brow deeply furrowed in anger. How much had he heard? Enough, it would seem, to understand the crux of the matter.

"But what else can we do, Gabriel?" her mother wailed, the long suppressed tears gushing forth now in a torrent that matched the thunder in his voice.

"We have one ship yet unaccounted for," the young man spoke with a quaver in his own voice. He had never been good at keeping his emotions in check. "The Formidable is overdue, but there has been no proof of her foundering. She sailed to the Pepper Coast six months ago and if she returns with her holds full, we shall reap a small fortune. Enough to hold the creditors at bay for a year or more, I'll wager."

Her mother sighed and shook her head.

"It's a slim chance to stake our fortunes on, Gabe, and if we miss this opportunity to gain an immediate benefit from Cam's betrothal, we will be known to be foundering, and her worth – I'm sorry to be so blunt , my dear, but these are times for brutal honesty – will be diminished. Even waiting six weeks at this time will reduce her status from the daughter of wealthy shipping magnate to a pretty girl with a mountain of debts entailed. The men who will bid on that package, I'm afraid, will not treat your sister well."

Her mother wept openly at the heartfelt opposition to her plan put forward by her brother. When Camilla offered to sell her own jewelry and her newly purchased finery, she shook her head.

"No, child," she managed to smile through the tears and stroke Camilla's face. "Quite frankly the value we gain by enhancing your beauty is more than we might realize by selling your gowns. Our job now is to get you noticed – and let the eligible bachelors of the city know that you are looking for a husband."

Drying her tears and standing up she took on the tone of the commanding head of household both of her children were more used to.

"Enough of this. You must go upstairs and see your father. He may not seem to react to your presence, but I am sure he can hear us. He squeezes my hand sometimes when I sit with him of an evening.

"Do not discuss our condition with him. I do not wish him burdened with any stress while his body fights to recover."

Sick Bed

Upstairs, Camilla found her father in the big bed in the main bedroom. The curtains were pulled shut against the bright daylight and the room seemed stifling hot. Her father lay still on the bed sheets in his nightgown and for a shuddering moment she thought he might have died. But then he breathed in, a ragged gasping breath that tore at her heart.

The sight of him, laid low, when she was so used to him being the commanding ship's captain that he had been when he met her mother made her weep for the first time since she had arrived home. The tears rolled down her face as she sat with him and held his hand. He seemed completley unaware of her presence, though his eyes did open from time to time and he seemed to look around the room but see nothing.

As she sat with him, her own eyes drooped to slits. It had been a busy morning, full of emotional turmoil and now this sorrow. The hot, dimly lit room made her feel drowsy. And as she teetered on the edge of sleep it seemed to her that she could see long threads, almost like a spider's web, clinging to her father. Jolted awake by the thought of him being attacked by insects, she lost sight of the threads and when she swept her hand across his face, thinking to dislodge them, she felt no silks, no stickiness, nothing at all.

This puzzled her for a moment, but she put it down to a dream of sorts brought on by the sight of her father so diminished. Nevertheless the image of those threads disturbed her on a level she was not quite sure of. Insects were a part of life in the tropical climate of her home. But something about the threads seemed unnatural and dark an a way she couldn't quite identify.

Before she could think more on the oddity, her mother came quietly int the room and sat on the other side of her father.

"He seems so peaceful, doesn't he?" she smiled at them both, her tears dried and vanished.

"Spend a little longer with him and then come to see me in my parlor, my dear," she said, rising to leave. "We have a campaign to plan."

Half an hour later they sat on her mother's sleeping porch with cold lemonade. A slight breeze stirred the oak leaves that shaded the second story balcony and brought welcome relief from the oppressive heat. Camilla missed the chillier climate of Paris, but she had grown up with the heat and knew she would soon get used to it again.

"When we are here," her mother started, "we must speak frankly about our intentions. We are not mother and daughter simpering over wedding plans, but two generals plotting out the best tactics to win a war.

"I have narrowed the list of possible suitors down to four," she put her lemonade down and ticked the list off on her fingers as she spoke.

"Colonel Tobias Smollet. He's a Yankee, recently widowed, and wealthy. He has no land to speak of in Louisiana and I know that he would like to put down real roots in our community. These are factors in the plus side of the column. On the negative side, he is ostracized from our society because he is a Yankee, and he is quite . . . ugly." She shuddered a little as she said it and Camilla had to wonder just how horrible the man must be to evoke such a strong response.

"Mister Jonathan de l'Arete is a bachelor, heir to a considerable fortune – mostly cotton fields north of here. He is a younger man, not yet fifty, and may not come into his full inheritance for some years, but his credit is good and he would fit the bill. He has, however a reputation of being a mountebank and quite viscous towards his field hands. I have also heard , only once or twice, mind you, that he may lean more towards . . . men than women."

She moved on quickly to her next option.

"The Reverend Beauregard Herrington is an Episcopalian churchman. A bishop here in New Orleans. He is in his sixties and has recently inherited a considerable fortune from his uncle. He has purchased a fine old plantation upriver and is setting himself up as a landed gentleman in his old age. He needs a wife to manage his social life and introduction into real society. His church allows marriage, unlike the Catholic faith, though to all accounts he has been perfectly happy as a celibate cleric all his life and is not much in the way of a ladies man. He might be lackluster, but the least odious of the options so far

"Last on my list is Peter Danforth. Yes, 'Uncle' Peter. He has been your father's boon companion for man years and they have shared joint business ventures in the past. He is an old family friend, has dandled both of you on his knee when you were tiny children. I would not have even considered him, but he happened to mention the idea some weeks ago. I do not know how he knew you father's business was in such straits, but he did. And he spoke to me quite bluntly that he would see things settled for Gabriel and me if you were to be his bride."

She could not meet Camilla's eye as she spoke, wringing a handkerchief between her fingers until the delicate silk was quite mangled. She plunged on while she still had the courage to speak so openly.

"I thought that I would arrange a ball in a week or two to celebrate your return from Paris, a social event where we could invite all four gentlemen to attend and you might meet them on fairly neutral ground. Will this suit you?"