Chateau Aubrey: Chapter 4

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Catharine and Mimi had seen their sister ride her bicycle in Rouen many times that summer, presumably for Rendezvouses with her lover, Jamie Beaumont. They knew that she met him at one of the new moving picture palaces which had just opened up,

Madeleine’s twenty-first birthday fell in September and her father had given her a white roadster. Catharine came into the library to speak with her parents after a ride and overheard her mother complaining about what a silly and extravagant gift it had been. She was confused and annoyed to find that they were talking about Madeleine when there were so many more important things to talk about, such as the preparations for her wedding.

The library at Chateau Aubrey was a comfortable and surprisingly informal room. There had been a scrolled ceiling, ceiling high cases of books which were never read and had a musty smell, dark paneling, and heavy hangings which muffled the sounds of the outside world.

“I gave Catharine two thoroughbred horses for her last birthday,” The Chevalier said in response to Madame’s complaints, “And I’m paying for her wedding next month. I also gave Mimi two pointers for her last birthday and her coming out is next Spring. Madeleine must do something. Catharine rides, Mimi shoots, maybe motoring will be her thing.”

Madame was as uninterested in hearing about Madeleine as Catharine was and was relieved when her favorite child had come through the door.

“Catharine, there you are my dear,” she had said, “Has Madame Celestine called about the next fitting for your dress?”

Catharine’s wedding day arrived on the eighth of October. It had been unusually warm for October, so all of the mullioned windows in the drawing rooms and great hall had been left open. The grey and austere stone great hall had been decorated with white roses and orange blossoms. Garlands were wrapped around the banister of the exquisite staircase which lead up to the minstrel’s gallery. All of the family portraits and had been carefully dusted. The large doors which lead into the library were blocked by a buffet table for refreshments.

The wedding was an important event in Rouen. The Chevalier d’Aubrey’s beautiful eldest daughter was marrying the handsome Georges Thomas and everyone loves a fairy tale.

After the ceremony at St. Ouen, the guests returned to the chateau for the reception. Catharine and her new husband had stood with their parents in the great hall receiving congratulations from the guests.

James, thanks to Madeleine, had been invited, and they stood together in the Minstrel’s Gallery overlooking the crowd below.  

“You don’t want to marry me,” Catharine overheard Madeleine say in English, “I’m a handful.”

“I’ve got two hands don’t I,” James responded, “And two arms as well.”

He put his arms around her waist.

“It’s not that I don’t want to marry you, it’s just that my parents will never approve.”

“Oh hang them, we can run away together and go anywhere. But that isn’t what you want, isn’t it?”

“You must understand how it is for me. For years I’ve lived in the shadow of my sisters. Now Catharine’s had this great big wedding and Mimi will probably have one as well. You must think I’m silly and petty and jealous but I’ve spent my entire life promising myself that I’d have everything they’d have and no one would think I wasn’t as good as them.”

“So I’m not good enough for you?”

“You remember what Catharine said to me on the night of her engagement party that made me cry? She said that I would never have an engagement party and I wouldn’t have a wedding either. I can’t let her win. She wins everything and she can’t win this time.”

“I thought you loved me.”

“I do, and if you loved me, you’d understand.”

“I do, and if that’s what you want, the least I can do is speak to your parents. I promise you’ll have your fairy tale.”

Catharine had thought it was terribly rude of him to propose to her sister during her wedding.

James took Madeleine’s hand and they ran downstairs where the Chevalier and Madame d’Aubrey were standing and chatting with guests. The Chevalier politely turned around to speak with them while Madame looked annoyed.

“Monsieur, Madame,” James said to them in French, “I’d like to speak to you about something important.”

“Yes, Monsieur Beaumont,” The Chevalier had answered, “Please tell us.”

“Well, Madeleine and I love each other and we wish to be married.”

“Madeleine, is this true?”

“Yes Papa,” Madeleine had joined in, “We’ve come to ask for your blessing.”

“And when did you decide this?” Madame asked.

“Back in July.”

“Madeleine, you are an inexperienced child,” The Chevalier joined in, “I’m certain Monsieur Beaumont is a worthy young man, but he’s the first you’ve ever known.”

“I don’t see why you’d want to throw your life away like this,” Catharine interrupted.

“You’d be the first to say I have no life.”

“He has no money and no family to speak of. Where would you live? How would you live?”

“I’d go to Tombouctou if it meant I could get away from you, Catharine.”

“Catharine and your father are right,” Madame said, “You can’t always rely on your first infatuation to be the right person to marry and if you act impulsively, you will regret it.”

“I know you all mean well but I’m of age now and I’m old enough to make my own choices.”

“Not when you make the wrong choices.”

“You all are mean and hateful and want me to be unhappy.”

Madeleine sulked off to her room and Catharine thought “Good. If she’s going to be that way, I don’t want her here spoiling everyone else’s fun.”

She did not understand what they could have possibly said to upset Madeleine so much. But Madeleine usually got upset for the silliest of reasons.

“Still want to marry her after that, Monsieur Beaumont?” Catharine said to James.  

“It’s amazing you people survived the revolution,” he said, taking his hat and starting to leave.

The Chevalier, who had always been a good and rational man, in the end came up with the decision that James and Madeleine must wait a year. If they still felt the same way about each other in a year’s time, they could marry.

New York City- December, 1898

Jimmy believed that he was now too old to be afraid of the machines. They rumbled and roared and belched up great clouds of smoke and steam, like the dragons he read about in storybooks and were strong enough to break your hand or foot or tear off a finger or toe. Often they did so to prove how tough they are.  He had seen a girl get her hair caught in one of them and nearly get her scalp ripped off. She only survived because they cut her hair off  with a pair of scissors. After this, all of the other girls were ordered to wear their hair short so it would not get caught up in the machines.

He had been battling these monsters from seven in the morning until seven at night every day except sunday for as long he could remember. His job was to climb them and change the spools when they filled up and tie the thread whenever it broke. Fuzz and dust covered everything; it got in Jimmy’s mouth and made him cough. There was no heat in the factory floor; his feet nearly froze because he was not allowed to wear shoes. Wearing shoes might make you slip. If Jimmy talked to one of the twenty other kids who worked on the factory floor, the foreman would strike or yell at him. He had learned this the hard way.

When he was five and just started working here, he had got down from the machine and ran over to talk to Laurie, who was an apprentice mechanic then.

“Get back to work!” Abatti, the foreman, a burly middle aged man with a beer belly, a beet red face, and a soup strainer moustache, had shouted at him, before coming over to slap him on the cheek. Jimmy cried and obeyed him.

By the end of the day, his legs and back ached and his arm muscles felt sore and heavy.

“Going home, Ezra?” he asked one of his friends.

“No, “ Ezra let out a loud sneeze, “I have to stay and close up.”

“Hey Faber!” Abatti, shouted at Ezra, “Turn off the boilers and oil the machines on the east wall, they’ve been squeaking, then you can go home.”

“Yes sir,” this yes sir came out amidst a series of coughs and sneezes.

Laurie appeared from one of the dimly lit corners of the factory floor, where he had been tightening some of the bolts on the looms.

“You sound like hell,” he told Ezra, “Go home, I’ll take care of the boiler and the machines on the east wall.”

“But…”

“Leave that son of a bitch, Abatti, to me. I’ll take care of it.”

Ezra quickly bid them goodbye and rushed home.

Abatti ordered Jimmy to run over to his building a few blocks away and bring back the dinner his wife had prepared for him. It was getting late. The machines of the factory had been so noisy that it took a few minutes for Jimmy to be able to hear again.

The daytime world of people bustling about their daily business, the world of vendors pushing their carts and selling their wares, of people going to and from work and shops , of ragged little boys shouting the headlines at the top of their lungs, of noise and activity, of the busy and mundane, had disappeared and been replaced with the nightime world, the world of dark shadows and gaudy lights, of honky tonks and saloons, of painted up tarts loitering on street corners, of secrets and vices. The people walking by passed from shadow into light, appearing and disappearing like the flame of a flickering candle, each face nameless and menacing.

Mrs. Abatti gave him a tin pail filled with meatballs to bring back to her husband. On his return to the factory, he encountered a friend of his. Jake, a gangly boy of about sixteen, stood on a street corner, selling the evening edition of that day’s New York World.

“Hey, Jake,” Jimmy shouted to him, “How’s the news today?”

“It’s been slow since the war ended back in August,” Jake responded, “I made as much money as I do in a week when the Maine sunk and I bought this hat after Governor Roosevelt and the Rough Riders rode up San Juan Hill.”

“Hopefully there’ll be another war soon or better yet an earthquake or a volcano eruption.”  

“Here’s hoping.”

Lit up by a streetlight, a well dressed woman came into view. She was petite and shapely and dressed in silvery white. Golden curls were piled up and artfully arranged on top of her head. Jake whistled as she approached.

“Evening paper, lady?” he asked her.

“Why not,” she responded in a high, girlish voice with a peppy twang.

She took a penny out of her handbag and gave to Jake in exchange for a newspaper.

“Are you selling papers too, sugar?” she asked Jimmy.

“No ma’am,” Jimmy answered.

She pinched his cheek.

“What a pretty little doll you are.”

Jimmy was able to get a good look at her face. She had a pale complexion with doll-like rosy cheeks, large blue eyes, and delicate little upturned nose. Her eyes sparked and her smile was warm and saucy. He thought she was the most beautiful lady he had ever seen.

The woman disappeared back into the night and he returned to the factory. Abatti was given his tin of meatballs and began to shove bits of ground meat and tomato sauce into the narrow slit under his moustache.

“Alright, you can go home now,” he told Jimmy, who scurried back outside to find Laurie, who was waiting for him.

“Ready to leave, kid?” Laurie asked.

As they walked to the lodging house together, Jimmy was excited to continue reading the latest Beau Colt dime novel. He was able to read the chapter where Beau Colt foils a stage coach robbery and rescues a beautiful young school marm named Miss Jane, before he was too tired to go on any further.

“I love you very much, Jimmy,” a high girlish voice with a peppy twang whispered to him.

Jimmy’s eyes flickered open and he noticed that his head was resting in the lap of a woman who was twisting his blond curls around her fingers. She was small, delicate, and doll-like with exaggeratedly rosy cheeks and large blue eyes and was dressed in silvery white.

Jimmy smiled and closed his eyes.

“Goodnight, Ma,” he said, clutching the red bandanna he always had with him.

 

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