Sorrows Into the Night
Winter is a sad time, leafless trees are barren
darkness pervades the days with limited light.
We become prisoners of hearth, resting under
heavy quilts with radiated heat, stay more indoors
Even though there are holidays, of Christmas and New Year's,
there is still, genuine sadness in the air
So many we have known, and loved
who own our hearts are physically gone.
Spring comes with hope, a renewal of life
greenness all around, the drab becomes brighter
becomes hope, but only for limited time.
With hot summers, we finally long for the cool of fall
where slowly we head right back to more darkness
The seasons are different, offer us momentary changes, variety in life
yet, we feel an emptiness.
Sooner or later, 'it' returns to linger inside us
no matter how much is different outside us.
The greater part of our lives
is consumed with memories of lovely things
of what was and no longer is
joy and happiness are fleeting.
Still love persists, even when loved ones don't
and without completeness, because of this, in Life
For the second time in two days, Hélène saw her man off to work with a hug and a kiss. The first time it had been a novelty and one which generated much thought. The second day it brought tears to her eyes. In retrospect, it might have been a response to the underlying sadness in Howard's eyes. The information he received, the previous night, changed the perspective on everything he thought about himself and his wife. There was still another day to face, more information to receive. All of it could be his undoing.
She prayed that the loving attention offered would mitigate some of the hurt. Their breakfast was simple. Howard had an early meeting and some straightforward government business until noon.
'Barring any major catastrophe, I should be home by 2 pm. The sun is shining. There is no heavy snow in the forecast. A major weather event would be my most immediate concern. Anything else I can handle on the run.'
'I'll let Diana know. Do you want to drive up with her from Albany?'
'I think not. I want us to share the information at the same time. What I miss, you will hear. I value your opinion in everything.'
Hélène was sure that Diana would hold her own counsel throughout the car ride but kept that to herself. Ledgister promised to stay in town until she called. 'While I wait, I'll do some shoppin' for dinner, Ma'am.'
Hélène took the time to apprise her children in Montreal and her granddaughter in New York of her progress. She wasn't sure how the day would end but events might dictate a change in plans. By late afternoon, the trio were all seated in the living room, drinking tea and chatting easily. Despite her business-like demeanour, Diana could be charming. Hélène suspected that she used the time to gauge Howard's possible response to the information she planned to share and assess his views of certain behaviours. When he seemed ready, she became very professional.
'Before I start, I want you to know that I have been as discreet as possible in all this. Your name and position has not been connected to any of the inquiries. I will tell you that I had to dig deep into the past, a past which includes your great-grandmother.'
Howard frowned. 'I can't imagine where this is going.'
'Just keep an open mind mon amour. No one knows the destination before the journey. We will travel together.'
Howard held the hand which covered his. Being called mon amour stirred something inside of him. He felt safe. In less than a heartbeat, it was easy to recognize that the past was over and done. It may affect the present, but could not change it. He invited Diana to continue.
'I am assuming, correctly I hope, that you are aware of the history of your Grandmother Marguerite Corniche?'
'Yes, I got the full story from Jacob when we were trying to trace my Father's life. I know she was the only child of Leland Corniche, born in Louisiana and she was of mixed blood. She married Solomon Smirski, a Russian Jewish immigrant. My mother Amelia, or Desirée as she was known, was their last child and only daughter.'
Diana nodded. She wanted to make sure that there were no surprises in Howard's direct line. While it might seem practical to work back from Rose's life, she felt that the information might make more sense if he saw how the diversion of the two families evolved. Howard agreed. His questioning glance to Hélène received a positive smile.
'It seems that my family has skeletons or spirits which are begging to be heard. Never believed in all this stuff. What I know now is that learning your history gives a completely different perspective, whether for good or bad, but above all I want to be fair.'
'Can I say Governor, that I am happy you are the chief executive of this State? I didn't think I could actually say that seeing as we have different political views but I do believe that fair-mindedness is the better quality for any leader.'
Diana wasn't given to praise. He had known her as Senator Joe Maxwell's rather unyielding wife for the better part of a decade. The compliment warmed his heart and helped him to relax.
'Let's get started then.'
As she had done the previous day, Diana pulled out a series of papers from her briefcase. Each had printed information and boxes filled with names. Some of the boxes were highlighted in various colours. They were laid out in a pyramid format. At the top was a singular box with the name Charlotte Cortês.
'My father was a man of Portuguese-Moorish background. I was darkly complected and by virtue of this could not live with my family in the Algarve. My mother was French. She called me Charlotte.'
'These are among the first words written by your great-grandmother sometime around 1860-64. Her diary, which still exists, contains information about how she viewed her life and the events which impacted her. We could not bring the actual documents to you, but my colleague in New Orleans sat with the family, read some of her history, and translated a little of the still legible passages. She was a prolific writer. Most of what we learned comes from her words.'
'I knew there was more family in New Orleans but my grandmother, Marguerite, was the only child born to…Charlotte and Corniche. I really had no connection with anyone else until Ledgister came into my life.'
'Ok, as long as you are not surprised by all this. First, I want you to know a little of Charlotte's history. As she wrote in her diary, her skin was Moorish in appearance, meaning that she was quite dark, but that's relative to European white. Seems she was named after a former Queen of England who had similar colouring. She was also extremely gifted in the arts. Because of this she was an anomaly in her family. Her best talent was her ability to write. She also used numbers in a way that allowed her to see into the future. This is called Numerology today. Many cultures have some form of it and Charlotte used it extensively throughout her life.
Charlotte couldn't remain with her family in Portugal. She was sent to Brazil at age 14 to live with a relative of her father who had arranged a marriage. Apparently, her colour would have been less of a problem there. Leland Corniche owned the ship on which she was travelling. As he was on board for that journey, Charlotte's father trusted the old friend to watch over her. She was accompanied by two servants. Despite the significant differences in their ages, the older man was delighted by her wit and often engaged in deep conversations with the young girl. She seemed fearless and wise beyond her years. Charlotte talked as if she were a much older person.
He is like my best friend. We are reunited spirits. He laughs easily but I see the sadness beneath. What lies in his heart cannot be shared.
Whatever Charlotte knew or understood intuitively, in fact, she had no control over her life. She arrived in Brazil to meet the distant relatives who would organize her marriage. The parting with Monsieur Corniche was painful. He offered to meet with her again in a year when the ship returned to Brazil but he could do nothing else.
If I were to have a daughter, I would wish her to be like you. I shall not, but you will remain forever in my heart, he said. I buried those words within me at our goodbyes.
Charlotte saw more of herself in the people of Brazil but she was desperately unhappy. Her husband-to-be was older and a drunk.
He filled himself with wine and alcohol. He smelled like pigs in a pen. I could not let him near me.
Rather than marry, Charlotte feigned illness due to the change in circumstance and stayed in her room. As time passed, she saw no way out and decided to run away. For three months, she hid in the small shack of a servant. When Monsieur Corniche returned to Brazil a year later, Charlotte was waiting.'
Hiding as a servant does, hoping for a pittance of grace.
'How in God's name did she manage to do that?' Even as Howard asked the question he thought about his mother and grandmother. They had been extraordinary women who did remarkable things in secret. They never let gender stand in the way of their desire to be pioneers.
'I think that the ability to see into the future helped her make decisions and take chances.' Diana remained silent for a moment allowing Howard to digest yet another part of his incredible family history. When he seemed ready, she continued.
'I begged of him to please take me. Whatever I can do for you I will. Let my father believe that I have died. If I marry that man I will take my own life. It will be one and the same.
Charlotte didn't know that Leland Corniche did not live in Europe. He was of French descent but lived in New Orleans.
The Americas! My luck. I will live my life there in that strange new world. I will care for M. Corniche and one day find a husband to marry for love.
'I am going to make some assumptions here. I believe that Charlotte did not want to be a daughter to M. Corniche and marriage didn't seem feasible. I think his wish to have a daughter was the one thing she was prepared to do as thanks for saving her life because she writes,
I calculated the best day for our coupling. The number 4 was a constant. He did not penetrate into my privates fully. My face and body was covered so he could offer his life source to me without fear.
'It seems crazy. I don't know how she could have known all this but I suspect M. Corniche was homosexual. The chance to have a baby of his own seemed to fulfill an inner longing. Whatever the reason, she did have a daughter whom she named Marguerite. M is represented by the number 4.'
'That's my grandmother. Seems strange that this was happening over 130 years ago, and yet Marguerite is just my grandmother. So few generations in so many years.'
'So, you know the story of your grandmother. She was raised by Leland Corniche. Charlotte did not remain a part of her life although she watched her grow up from afar.'
'That's like being a modern-day surrogate.' Hélène was intrigued. 'What happened to Charlotte? Giving up her daughter must have been difficult.'
'After she weaned Marguerite, M. Corniche set her up with her own home in New Orleans. It was understood that Marguerite was a gift to him. Charlotte would play no part in her upbringing. Grateful for the chance of real freedom, Charlotte accepted the agreement and moved on. The mix of races and families in New Orleans allowed her to live in relative freedom. Her ability to 'see' was central to her independence. She didn't practice Voodoo but she found her own tools and became a well-known and much sought after seer. For very select clients, she used cards, scents, and of course her astrology and numerology tables to help people.
Three years after giving birth to Marguerite, she met and married Jean Batteaux. With him, she had four daughters. They all had names beginning with R which correlates with the number 9. After he died, she married again to Jorge Garza and had four more daughters with names beginning with R. Her first four children were slightly darker in complexion and the second four were light skinned. In each of the two sets of daughters, one died.'
Diana paused and showed Howard the list of names, birth dates and deaths of the eight girls.
'Yes and based on the spacing, I suspect that she didn't lose any in between. There is no mention of this in her diary. Some childhood pox took the life of the two that died. I find it remarkable that she achieved so much. It appears that she had an unyielding intention to succeed. She believed in the ability to find the answers within her practice. Curiously, the daughters were also assigned their own numbers, based on their date of birth. Each daughter's child was named by a letter assigned to that particular family.'
Howard and Hélène were stunned. That someone could sit and work out such details in pursuit of an ideal seemed crazy but Hélène thought of the tradition in her own family of naming the eldest girl after a grandmother. She supposed that each family developed practices which met their needs. They decided to take a short break and eat. Ledgister had prepared an early evening meal.
'He is a good cook. I haven't tasted food this delicious for ages. I am not much of a cook myself.'
'Ledgy learned to cook in New Orleans. His food always has flavours which defy logic. Spicy-delicious I call it. I asked him if he was interested in joining us. He is related to one of those women on the list.'
'He is related to one of the women on the list. That's why he came here, to find me, to make a connection.'
Whatever shocked Diana for a moment, she recovered quickly. 'Of course, I know your family is mixed. I just never connected the two of you as family.'
'I have no issues with being of mixed blood. It is his choice to stay in the background but I can trust him implicitly. Hélène and I have been grateful for his discretion.'
When they returned to the living room, Diana made some new notes on her papers.
'This part gets to the heart of why we are here. Rita, the eldest daughter of Charlotte was born in 1883. She gave birth to her last child in 1921. Rita was given the letter R so all her children had names beginning with that letter. Her last daughter was named Rebecca. Rebecca died giving birth to her first child, a girl, also named Rebecca in 1951.
By that time, in New Orleans, things were changing socially. The division between the races and all the people in between, was heightened by some politicians who were looking to create the same Black and White class system which existed in many other parts of the south. You can look up that historical information. It is quite compelling reading. I am sure it isn't new to you but the way of life in Louisiana had been quite different, more inclusive, until the 1930's.
Getting back to the story, Rebecca, the child was not raised by her grandmother Rita. She had a very light complexion, shocking red hair, freckles and could pass for white and so she was given to Symone and Sam Reynolds who had three sons. They were on their way to Texas to start a new life. Symone was the second child of daughter number 7, Regina. Symone and Rebecca (1) would have been contemporaries. Like all things, it was a family decision. Charlotte, as matriarch, presided over every family decision, but this one hurt. It reminded her of the way in which she was ostracized from her family for quite the opposite reason. She was too dark, Rebecca was too white.'
'You mean Charlotte was still alive?' Howard blurted out the question.
'Yes, she died in 1957. Where do you think your mother inherited her longevity?'
'Never thought of it. That's remarkable. I wonder if my mother knew that her grandmother was still alive in the 1950's.' He asked for a few minutes to ponder the possibility, trying to remember if at any time, Desirée had spoken about her family beyond the vague references to M. Corniche. He could find none.
'Symone and Sam had a good life in Texas, living the American dream. Rebecca did well in school but her cousins/adopted brothers were less settled. I am sure Hélène has shared my thoughts about the reasons why a young girl might have changed, but until I contacted my colleague in New Orleans, I thought it might have been about her size and colouring. To be honest, I now think she and the boys found out they were of mixed blood. This was brought home to all of them when the fourteen-year-old, barely into her teens, gave birth to her first son, by her cousin. Rebecca went off the rails. The baby was darker in comparison. At first, they thought it might be due to his prematurity, newborn jaundice and that initial struggle for life, but as he recovered, it became clear that he was mixed.'
'Is it possible that the baby could be someone else's?'
'No that was checked. The father's name, Simon Reynolds, appeared on the birth certificate.'
Howard drew in a deep breath. 'So Rose was Rebecca 2?'
'Yes, she was.'
'Do we know where the son is now?'
'Not yet. We are still looking.'
'Did Rose know that we were related? Could she have known?'
'I doubt it. Marguerite, your grandmother did not grow up as part of Charlotte's new family and Symone didn't connect with her New Orleans family very often after they moved away. Maybe she was drawn to you and your family because you are connected energetically. I can't believe that I just said that but nothing else makes sense.'
Howard was silent for a long time, digesting the information about his wife, her life, the deception, everything. 'Was it the religion which changed her life?'
'I'd have to say yes. The whole business tore the family apart. Sam left and took his youngest son Sebastian. The middle child Simon, the father of the babies, took to a life of drugs and eventually died. The older boy is surprisingly successful but desperately unhappy. He still lives in Texas. Symone died about 15 years ago in New Mexico. None of them ever returned to New Orleans for any extended period.
After the second birth, Rose was eventually moved into a foster home, which I believe, was also a kind of detention. The family was Evangelical, attended church every day in one form or another and helped Rose or Rebecca turn her life around. I suspect she changed her name to hide away from Simon who tracked her down when she was 17 and got her pregnant the last time. I don't know whether he loved her or not. He certainly seemed to be obsessed by her.'
'That is an incredible concept Howard. Suppose that he just loved her so much he couldn't do without her. Many long and enduring relationships start very young. They just happened to be in the wrong place for such a relationship to work. They weren't true siblings, a fact that might have displaced their conscience. She appeared more mature …..?' Hélène gave a wholly Francophone shrug of her shoulders and left him to fill in the blanks.
'I'd like to think that they were just star crossed lovers. If her children with him were lost to her or taken away she must have felt very empty, not wanting to have more, I suppose. You were right Yakiri, when you asked me to try and understand the heart of a woman.'
Hélène and Howard took a short break while Diana laid out the last of her papers. Most of them were photos copied from the family albums which had been accessible to the detective searching for information. Few had identifying names but the best picture was one of the six remaining sisters. Howard could see traces of his mother in some of them. There were numerous children of all sizes, shapes and shades.
'Unbelievable that all these people are related to me. I must go there one day. I wonder which one is Ledgister's grandmother? We should call him.' Howard picked up his phone and pressed a button.
'Since his name begins with an L, I have to suppose he fits in this family here. Rosella, daughter number 3, had children who were given names beginning with L. Their descendants carried on that tradition, for the most part. One of the ladies told my colleague that numerological lettering made it easy for La Grande Dame, La Mere Charlotte, to know who belonged to who. I apologize if I didn't say those words right, Hélène .'
'Pas un problème. You tried and I understood.'
Ledgister soon joined them. Like Howard he recognized most of the faces of the younger generation as well as the original six. 'This is my grand-mama, Rosella and her daughter Leonie, my mama.'
'Is she still alive?'
'Oh no ma'am. She passed quite a while now. That's when I left New Orleans and came to the Boss.'
'How did you find out? Very few people knew about Marguerite.'
'My Grand-mama. Her husband did drivin', like me. He knew 'bout M. Corniche from workin' the streets in a carriage, then a car. The story weren't talked 'bout 'til La Mere died, but I heard 'bout it and checked it out.'
Diana looked at Ledgister quite closely. He looked appealing, almost boyish. Too wiry to be considered handsome. Although he had a fair complexion, he looked more like a gently bronzed statue. She was quite intrigued but not in a sexual way. The man was multi-talented and seemed easy going. She probed a little more.
'So, tell me a little about Leonie. I see the people in these pictures but the story behind the faces always interests me.'
Ledgister spoke haltingly about the woman who raised him with his older brothers and sisters. He rattled off a list of names, all beginning with L.
'How do you keep track?'
'To be last was hard but everyone was bigger than me and most was gone by the time I came along. Leonie was really my grand-mama 'cuz I didn't know my real mother so she's the only one I know.'
'What happened to your biological mother?'
'Mama said she done bad things, getting on with drugs and selling herself. She took off and never came back. Didn't know my Daddy neither but Mama and Pops were good to me. Didn't know no other.'
Howard and Hélène stood by listening and marvelling at how easily Diana could get Ledgister to talk and share. Generally, he kept to himself.
'I've been curious about your name. You gotta admit it's different.' Diana relaxed her diction a bit, inviting confidence.
'Funny 'bout that. Mama always wanted to call me Regis. Said I was her little King. Said it'd be a fittin' name for me. She asked my older sister to go register me. She had a little speech thing goin' on. Cuz we were in the L thing, that's how it came out.'
'Funny that your Grandmother picked an R name.'
'Yeah, she said I was special because I was a fighter.'
'You sure are. I'm certain she would be proud of you.'
Diana looked at Howard and Hélène. Their stunned faces said everything Diana could not. She turned away and checked on her cell phone. When she turned around her eyes were suspiciously moist.
'I'll just leave all this with you. I should be going. Joe is coming for me. I just got the text. We're going back to the City tonight.'
Hélène took Diana away from the men. She saw the emotion. The younger woman had a story of her own somewhere deep inside, but now was not the time. 'Are you going to look into his story?'
'It's a yes or a no answer. That's all you will hear from me. If it's a no, I'll keep on searching.'
'Bless you Diana for bringing us this far.'
Hélène 's hug was warm and comforting. Howard is a lucky man, Diana thought, just as the lights of her husband's car came into view.
Much later, as Howard and Helene lay together in bed, they spoke the words which could not be said.
'Do you believe as I do, that he is Rose's son?'
'Yes, mon amour, I do. Symone was Regina's daughter. Ledgister was her great-grandson. He should have been given a name beginning with S but he was also Rita's grandson. I think Rosella would have like to defer to her older sister in this and use the R. Regis is a name that would fit with both Rita for the R and Regina for the 'little king' idea. I think Charlotte, in her wisdom, knew that such events in life occur and can be solved by planning ahead and making sure everyone understands the code. Clearly Rosella, his great-grand-mama knew what she was doing but a twist of the tongue altered something so profound. Are you going to tell him?'
'I don't know. His biological mother didn't take care of him at birth, couldn't even respect him as an adult.' Helene stirred in Howard's arms. 'Oh yes, I was aware of her feelings towards him but I made it plain he's staying! Right now, he seems as happy as he is comfortable. We'll let it stand.'
'As you wish, mon amour.'
'Yakiri, I could not have taken this journey without you. You have kept me steady when I might have faltered. And, if you call me mon amour one more time I must do something to prove the truth of that!'
'Bien sûr, mon amour.'
Look for more stories about Howard and Hélène in the weeks to come. Their original meeting can be found in Fanfiction, Beauty and the Beast, Slight Variations of Normal, Book 11
My thanks to AF for her wonderful original poetry 'Sorrows Into the Night and The Sadness Lingers', which serves as an inspiration and guiding light to my stories.