Chateau Aubrey: Part 1: Chapter 5


James saved for a year to buy an engagement ring.  In early October, 1912, he had enough to buy one, but later felt slightly ashamed of it, because it was little better than costume jewelry.  On an unusually summer-like day that month, Madeleine offered to show him the sights in Rouen. They had a pleasant time, she laughed and smiled and twirled her parasol around.

“No, the Gros Horloge is a little bit to the east,” she said, “and the Tour de Jeanne d’Arc is up a few blocks. Have you seen the cathedral yet?”

“No, not yet,” he responded.

“We can go there next.”

“You look tired, we should sit down for a minute.”

She did not look tired, but he wanted to talk to her about something. They sat down on a nearby bench in the Place du Vieux Marché.

“It’s rather hot, isn’t it? Why don’t we sit here for a little while and catch our breath.”


He reached into his pocket and felt for something, then put his arm around her.

“Mado, do you realize that it’s been a year since we’ve met?”

“Yes I was thinking about that. Catharine and Georges’s first anniversary was a few days ago.”

“It’s been both the longest and shortest year of my life. It went by quickly because I had you and it went by slowly because I did not have you. I now know that my life will never be complete without you.”

He took the ring box out of his pocket and opened it to reveal the ring inside. It was very pretty but did not look very expensive, but she did not seem to mind.

“Jamie, of course I will. I want nothing more than to be your wife and to have your children. But you know this already. I’ve been saying more or less the same thing all year.”

He put the ring on her finger.

“I’m the luckiest man in the world.”

“Promise me you’ll never forget that.”

He kissed her and said  “come, let’s see the cathedral.”

Their engagement was formally announced the following February with a dinner party. The rococo dining room at Chateau Aubrey was is the oldest part of the house, which was a couple degrees colder than the rest of the building. The ladies in their diaphanous and sleeveless dresses shivered a bit.

Madeleine was asked to show her ring which was worn over her glove for the purpose.

“It’s a cheap trinket,” was all Catharine could say.

At the dinner table, Madeleine was seated next to Georges and James was seated next to Mimi. Footmen brought out soup terrines and ice buckets filled with wine bottles. They poured everyone a glass of champagne and ladled them out a bowl of either melon glacée or mock turtle soup along with a little tower of smoke salmon and crab mousse in aspic served on a plate with braised carrots.

“Beaumont,” Georges said to James, “I saw a lovely color photograph of yours in Le Rouennais. It was the one of your dear Mado standing by a window holding a striped ribbon.”

“Oh yes,” James answered, “oh yes, that one came out pretty well didn’t it.”

“That was a new ribbon I bought purchased early that day,” Madeleine joined in, “The colors all stand for something: green for hope, purple for dignity, and white for purity. They’re the colors the suffragettes over in England wear.”

“Mado’s fascinated with them,” Mimi added, “She follows all the news about that Mrs. Pankhurst and her daughters.”

“I don’t understand how any of that could interest her,” Georges said, “You’re much too lovely, Mado.”

James’s nostrils flared slightly at this flirtatious address to his fiancée

“What do you mean?” Madeleine asked.

“That sort of thing is only for ugly women who’ll never get married.”

“Well, politics is filled with ugly men who shouldn’t be married and no one seems to have a problem with that.”

“Well said!” Mimi added.

“When’s the wedding to be?” Madeleine was asked as the second course was being served.

“June 16th at St. Ouen,” she answered.

“Will the Archbishop perform the ceremony?”

“No, it’s going to be fairly simple.”

The second course consisted of cod au gratin, boiled mutton with caper sauce, quail pudding, and french fried potatoes, washed down with a palate cleanser of  punch à la romaine.

“We’re all very happy very happen for you, Madeleine, aren’t we, Emmeline?” The Baron asked his wife.

“I’m very proud of you, my dear.” Baronne d’Aubrey said to her daughter.

A large basket filled with an arrangement of fruit served as the centerpiece of table. Stuck among the fruit were little pieces of Turkish delight. The guests were encouraged to help themselves to the basket’s contents along with the apple Charlottes and little glasses of ginger liqueur which were brought out for the dessert course.

The Baron raised a glass to propose a toast.

“To James and Madeleine,” he said.

“To James and Madeleine,” they all responded.

Madeleine sat at her dressing table on her wedding day while a maid arranged her hair. A dressing gown had been placed over her wedding dress. Her mother was seated on the bed with her large, fashionable hat placed on her lap.

“You look very well, my love,” Baronne d’Aubrey told her daughter.

“Thank you, Maman,” Madeleine answered.

The maid placed the lace veil on Madeleine’s head and then held it in place with a tiara woven from delicate golden leaves which had first belonged to a Françoise d’Aubrey, whose claim to fame was having once danced the polka with Napoleon III, and had been worn by every d’Aubrey bride since.

“I’ve come to wish you luck today,” Catharine said as she came into her sister’s room.

“Thank you, Catharine,” Madeleine answered.

“I know we haven’t always been the best of friends but I hope you’ll be happy.”

“I know I will be.”

“I can’t tell who’s happier today, you or Mimi. She thinks the world of Jamie. I hope he will live up what’s expected of him.”

“I know he will.”  

Catharine kissed Madeleine’s cheek and the Baronne helped remove the dressing gown.

“Come, it’s time to leave,” Madame said.

The cathedral of St. Ouen was decorated with white lilies for the wedding of the Baron d’Aubrey’s second daughter and her penniless Prince Charming. Rich golden sunlight shone through the large cathedral windows and the organ began to play the Mendelssohn wedding march as the young bride came down the aisle on the arm of her father.

James stood at the altar and was nervous and uncertain, not because he had cold feet about marrying Madeleine but because he was surrounded by a sea of people who were judging him.

“Who is he exactly?” He imagined them asking.

“No one, exactly. No money and no family to speak of.”

“She could have done much better.”

When Madeleine got to the altar, they solemnly knelt down on white satin cushions as the priest made the sign of the cross. James wondered if anyone there understood any of the latin mumbo jumbo of the mass. He did not feel as though any of it was necessary since Madeleine had been his wife since they had signed the marriage certificate in the Rouen Mairie earlier that day but he agreed to all of it to please his pious Mado.

Mimi did a reading from the bible in French:

Wives, submit to your husbands as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Savior. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything. Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word,and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless.In this same way, husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. After all, no one ever hated his own body, but he feeds and cares for it, just as Christ does the church–for we are members of his body. For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.” This is a profound mystery–but I am talking about Christ and the church. However, each one of you also must love his wife as he loves himself, and the wife must respect her husband.”

The only other parts of the mass which were in French rather than Latin were the sermon and the vows.

“Do you, James Charles, take Madeleine Elisabeth to be your lawfully wedded wife?” the priest asked, “To have and to hold from this day forward, for better, for worse, in sickness and in health, as long as you both shall live?

“I do,” James answered.

“Do you, Madeleine Elisabeth take James Charles to be your lawfully wedded husband? To love, honor, and obey from this day forward, for better, for worse,in sickness and in health, as long as you both shall live?”

‘I do,” Madeleine answered.

“I know pronounce you, man and wife.”

James and Madeleine kissed.

The best bedroom at Chateau Aubrey was made up from the wedding night. This best bedroom was one of the largest and most beautiful rooms in the chateau. It contained an elaborately carved mantle piece, a scrolled ceiling, and some very valuable Gobelins tapestries. There was also an exquisite rococo bed with gold brocade hangings and a gold satin coverlet.

Madeleine came and sat down next to her new husband and leaned in to kiss him.

“Now I have you all to myself,” he said.

“I love you, James Beaumont,”she responded.

She untied the laces of her negligee and then lay back against the pillows. He bent over and kissed her.


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