A carnival came to Rouen some weeks later and settled itself in the Place du Vieux Marché, a picturesque town square surrounded by Maisons à Colombages. Red and white striped tents and fairy lights had been set up and men were there to sell bags of popcorn and brightly colored balloons on string and girls sold little bouquets of, somewhat wilted looking, summer flowers. Young men tried to impress their sweethearts by winning them prizes in games of skill or chance or strength. Other people stopped to watch acrobats, magicians, or listen to musicians.
A popular attraction was a marionette show with a girl singer.
In the center of it all were a carousel and a ferris wheel. This was where James saw Madeleine again.
The carousel had a sign on it which read “l’Arc de Noé” and two of every kind of animal you could think of went up and down and around as haunting calliope music played. Madeleine was seated upon a white tiger like some kind of Indian princess.
“Bonsoir Mademoiselle,” he said to her as he hopped up onto the platform of the carousel.
Madeleine blushed and seemed embarrassed and ashamed that she had let him kiss her the first time they had met.
“Bonsoir,” she answered, “Charmée de vous voir.”
Though she was embarrassed by her previous breach of propriety, she was glad to see him. They chatted about unimportant little things that had happened to them recently for the rest of the fifteen minutes of her ride. A breeze whipped at her skirt and she used her free hand to try to keep in down. He leaned against the tiger and put his arm around her waist. She blushed but did not seem to mind.
Catharine bought a bag of popcorn from a man near the carousel. As she nibbled at her popcorn, she watched the beautifully carved animals go up and down. Then she noticed her sister and a young man she did not know.
“There you are,” she said to Madeleine, as she and the young man were getting off.
“Catharine,” Madeleine said, ” This is Jamie. He was at your engagement party.”
“Bonsoir,” He answered. He extended his hand but she turned up her nose at it.
“So, you were letting a man you just met fool with you on the carousel. They should have thrown you off.”
“What is your problem?” He said this in English because anger caused him to revert back to his native language.
She ignored him and turned to Madeleine.
“If you think I’m not going to tell Maman about this…”
“Yes, go run to Maman like you always do,” Madeleine responded.
“I guess being fast is the only way a girl like you is ever going to get a man.”
“Who do think you are,” He but in, “Speaking to someone like that, especially your own sister.”
“I will speak to my own sister however I feel like speaking, Monsieur.”
“Oh, get over yourself, you frigid bitch,” he turned to Madeleine, “I’m going to a bottle of wine. There’s a bench at the other end of the square, Meet me there in ten minutes.”
“I will,” Madeleine answered.
She went towards the bench and he went towards the soda fountain, neither paying much attention to Catharine.
With the bottle of wine in hand, James found Madeleine waiting for him exactly where he had told her to.
“It was nice meeting your sister,” he told her.
“That’s how Catharine is,” she answered, “Whenever anyone’s happy, she has to go and spoil it. No one’s allowed to enjoy themselves but her. How silly of me, I agreed to meet you like this and I never asked you what your full name was.”
“James Beaumont at your service, Mademoiselle.”
“Beaumont, are you perhaps related to the Earl of St. Oswald?”
“Not that I’m aware of.”
“May I ask how you came to be at my sister’s party?”
“You know the Marquis of Hartshire, the Duke of Ryme Intrinseca eldest son?”
“He was at Catharine’s party. Are you a friend of Lord Hartshire?”
“Bless your heart no. But I am friends with his valet. You see I used to work for His Lordship’s father, the Duke, as a footman in his London house. Then I left London for Paris. Lord Hartshire’s valet wrote to me saying that he would be accompanying his master to Rouen and that I should come up and visit him. We both thought it would be a real laugh if I dressed up in one of his master’s tuxedos and went to your sister’s party.”
“So that’s why you were there, as part of a practical joke.”
“It was a lot more fun than I thought it would be. Now about you, tell me about yourself.”
“There’s not much to say. I have two parents who are like everyone else’s parents, I guess. You met my older sister and I have a younger one as well.”
“Hopefully you get along better with her.”
“Oh no, I absolutely despise her. Mimi’s a nice enough person, but she’s terribly spoiled by everyone and has everything in life too easy.”
“There’s a café near here, how would you like to get some supper and then go dancing?”
“My parents are sending the car to get us around midnight.”
“I can have you back by then.”
He took her to the café he described and was torn between wanting to impress her and hoping her tastes were not too extravagant. Then he brought her to a place where there was a ragtime band and he showed her how to do newfangled dances such as the turkey trot and the bunny hug. Madeleine appeared to be having a greater time than she had ever had.
At quarter to twelve midnight, he brought her back to the carnival, which was showing signs of winding down.
“Thank you, I had a wonderful time,” Madeleine told him.
“Ride the Ferris wheel with me before you go,” he asked.
“Oh no, I’m terribly afraid of heights.”
“Close your eyes and I’ll hold your hand.”
There were still a few minutes left until midnight, just enough time to ride the Ferris wheel. She kept her eyes closed the entire time and he never let go of her hand.
He picked her up into his arms after they got off the ride and kissed her.
“Madeleine,” a voice called to the girl
They were confronted with the calm, dignified form of the Chevalier d’Aubrey, Madeleine’s father.
“We’ve been looking all over for you,” a delicately beautiful dark haired girl added, he assumed that this was Mimi, the other sister.
“Goodnight,” Madeleine said to him as she followed her father and sisters to the car.
“Goodnight,” he answered.
The dark haired girl took Madeleine’s arm and asked between giggles “Did you like it when he picked you up and kissed you?”
“What do you think?”
“Then tell me all about it.”
The three bedrooms which the sisters occupied at Chateau Aubrey were connected by a series of doors. Catharine’s room had a door which opened into Madeleine’s room. Madeleine’s room had a door which opened up into Mimi’s room. Being the room in the middle and able to be accessed the two other rooms, Madeleine’s room served as a meeting place for the three sisters. Catharine often made snide remarks about the ghastly mauve wallpaper her sister’s bedroom had been stuck with.
After returning home from the carnival and getting ready for bed, Catharine noticed that her sisters were in Madeleine’s room.
Mimi sat on Madeleine’s bed while Madeleine herself stood in front of the large French window which was open and a soft breeze coming in from the garden of pink rose bushes was blowing the diaphanous lace curtains.
“So what was his name?” Mimi asked Madeleine.
“James Beaumont,” Madeleine answered, “He’s a distant relative of the Earl of St. Oswald and is traveling in the suite of The Marquis of Hartford.”
“He’s so very handsome.”
To Catharine, Mimi resembled nothing so much as a lovely black spaniel who yipped and jumped up on people and wanted nothing more than to give and receive affection. Madeleine was usually the one who shooed her away but that night they were giggling together in a way which they usually did not.
“Shouldn’t you two be in bed?” Catharine cut in.
“Madeleine was just telling me about her new beau.” Mimi told her.
“Well I think you two better call it night. I’m sure the maids in the attic can hear you.”
“His name is James Beaumont and he’s a relative of the Earl of St. Oswald and he’s traveling with the Marquis of Hartford.”
“Sure he is. If was a gentleman, he wouldn’t have behaved the way he did. And if Madeleine was a lady, she wouldn’t have behaved the way she did.”
“You’re such a hypocrite, Catherine.” Madeleine said
“At least I don’t have to try so hard to get a man.”
The three sisters then bid each other goodnight and went to their respective beds.
Chateau Aubrey- April, 1909
Catharine was twenty-three in 1909 and her parents has begun to grow impatient for her to marry. After each of her tuxedo-ed swains was sent packing, they grew even more frustrated with her. That she would have to marry, eventually, before the stigma of spinsterhood set in, was something she had resigned herself to. A girl did not have many other choices.
A door separated Catharine’s bedroom from that of, Madeleine, her younger sister. Madeleine, as predictable as clockwork, was at her prie-dieu and rosaries. Her religious beliefs were those of a naive young girl; if she was good then God would put everything into place for her: handsome and wealthy suitors, a loving marriage, and a nice home filled with the pitter-patter of little feet.
The God that Catharine believed in had a cruelly ironic sense of humor and a low opinion of his creations. One of his greatest jokes was having her be born a woman. She was stronger and smarter than most men and the fact that she was subjected to them always stuck in her throat. Contempt was all she had for their sex, and it was difficult to relate to her own. Other women were either beneath her or a threat.
It was nearly dark in Catharine’s bedroom. The only lights were a pair of candles on either end of her nightstand, which cast shadows on the jars laid out across it. Their light illuminated her face; long and heart shaped with the straight, strong nose, heavily lidded eyes, and the pursed, bow-shaped mouth found in sixteenth century portrait. Catharine got an eyeful of her own beautiful reflection before blowing out the candles.
On the other side of the door, Madeleine was cheerfully singing as she herself was getting ready for bed: “I’m a timid flower of innocence. Pa says that I’ve got no sense. I’m one eternal big expense, but men says that I’m just “immense!” Ere my verses I conclude, I’d like it known and understood. Though free as air, I’m never rude. I’m not too bad and not too good.”
In her annoyance, Catharine could have kicked the Japanese vase by the door which contained a bouquet of peacock feathers. Why couldn’t she just shut up and let everyone sleep.
As if out of spite, Madeleine kept singing.
“Ta-ra-ra Boom-de-ay, Ta-ra-ra Boom-de-ay, Ta-ra-ra Boom-de-ay, Ta-ra-ra Boom-de-ay, Ta-ra-ra Boom-de-ay, Ta-ra-ra Boom-de-ay, Ta-ra-ra Boom-de-ay, Ta-ra-ra Boom-de-ay”
Catharine walked over to her bed and picked up the etched glass decanter on her nightstand to pour herself a drink of water. It was already half empty; her stupid maid had forgot to refill it.