Chateau Aubrey-August, 1906
Chateau Aubrey was famous in its day for the dinner parties held there. As the beautiful and eligible eldest daughter, Catharine was their crowning glory. Suitors had been lining up to court her from the moment she had her coming out three years earlier. The Chevalier and his wife weighed her various prospects. A good match for her would smooth the way to equal or superior matches for her younger sisters.
Catharine herself was having none of it. Being gawked at by ridiculous, starched collared buffoons always turned her stomach, but she bore it with saint-like fortitude because it was expected of her.
Clémence, the head housemaid, came to help Catharine dress and prepare for the dinner party. Her two sisters sat on her bed and watched as Clémence arranged her glorious dark hair into a pompadour. Ten year old Mimi swung her legs around and kicked against the bed.
“I don’t see why Maman and Papa won’t let me come down to dinner tonight” nearly sixteen year old Mado whined.
“Well if you’re going to behave like a child,” Catharine retorted, “You’ll eat in the nursery like one.”
Mado pouted. What had gotten her into so much trouble was sitting in the garden on a particularly hot day, wearing only her chemise.
“Where every groundskeeper could see her,” their mother had said.
“I’m sorry you can’t eat dinner with our guests,” Mimi said to Mado, “We could play with my toy theater and act out Princess Belle-Étoile.”
“Oh, leave me alone you horrid little brat!”
“You were only trying to be kind, weren’t you my darling,” Catharine beckoned Mimi over for a kiss on the cheek, “Although God knows she doesn’t deserve it.”
“The two of you can rot in the family crypt for all I care.”
“You don’t mean that, Mademoiselle Madeleine,” Clémence but in.
“Who are you to tell me I don’t mean it.”
Clémence changed the subject and asked Catharine who was coming to dinner.
“I have to sit next to Louis Legrand,” Catharine answered.
“He’s not bad looking…”
“And has six hundred thousand francs a year. If he hadn’t, no one would look twice at him.”
“That’s unkind,” Mado joined in, “I’m sure he’s very charming once you get to know him.”
“Well, If you behave yourself, you can sit with him next time. What ghastly children the two of you would have.”
“Is there anyone you hope to see, Mademoiselle Catharine?” Clémence asked.
“No, it will only be Maman and Papa’s dull friends.”
The first course consisted of fried sole in anchovy sauce, mutton curry, pigeons à la duchesse, and creamed spinach served with red wine. Catharine picked at her food, only taking an occasional mouthful.
Louis Legrand tried to make small talk with her. He was a balding, middle-aged widower with nothing particularly interesting to say. She did her best to answer his questions politely but without encouraging any more.
The discussion at the table turned to the exoneration of Alfred Dreyfus and his reinstatement into the army.
“I always knew the man was innocent,” Papa insisted from one end of the table.
“That’s not what you said back in ‘94,” Maman rebutted from the other end, “I seem to recall you saying that he was nothing but a jew traitor who deserved to stew on Devil’s Island.”
“I’ve heard that they’re going to give him the Legion of Honor,” a lady sitting next to Papa added.
The centerpiece of the second course was a bailed calf’s head served on a platter garnished with parsley. The calf’s brains were served in a butter and herb sauce and its ears in tomato paste. Alongside this gruesome spectacle were partridges and truffles, chicken liver and brandy pâté on toast, cold game pie, braised red cabbage, and white wine. Catharine ate only a piece of toast and pâté and a few forkfuls of cabbage. Her low appetite for food had been satiated by the little she had eaten during the previous course. She took an almost ascetic-like view on indulgences such as gluttony. Temperance was a virtue that she greatly prided herself on.
Among the guests that evening for that evening were the young de Bohun brothers, two strapping redheads whose parents owned an estate near Chateau Aubrey, where their mother bred horses. The family was well-known in racing circles because they owned a number of prized winning thoroughbreds. Rémy de Bohun, the eldest sat across from Catharine, ogling her breasts. Emmanuel, his younger brother, sat a few seats away from him. He had recently taken a shine to Mado.
“I’m sorry your sister couldn’t come tonight,” he said to Catharine, “I was looking forward to seeing her.”
“See excused herself because she said she wasn’t feeling well,” Catharine responded, “But she told me that she just wanted to avoid some boor who wouldn’t stop pestering her. She said that he kept going on and on about how well his horses did at Longchamps this year.”
The young man looked both disappointed and relieved; disappointed because apparently the girl was not interested in him, relieved because he had not made too much of an ass of himself in pursuing her.
She had done Mado a favor, really. Being forced to listen to Madame de Bohun talk about which mare should mate with which stallion for the rest of your life was something she would not submit anyone to.
Dessert was made up of Russian jelly, a “tipsy cake” made from Savoy cake and amaretti cookies soaked in wine brandy, a frangipane torte, berries in cream, furmity with pears, red wine jelly, white wine jelly, and spice plum mousse with honey. Catharine did not have much of a sweet tooth and only took a piece of Savoy cake. Too many sugary things made her feel sick and was the worst thing possible for the figure.
Everyone adjourned to the drawing room when the dinner was over. Catharine was sent to go check in on Mado. She had been weeping on her bed for hours, still in the clothes she had worn that day.
Catharine sat down on the bed next to her. Mado’s eyes were puffy and red from prolonged crying.
“What do you want?” she asked.
“You know, you’ll lose your looks if you don’t stop crying and get some sleep,” Catharine told her.
Mado’s dinner tray lay between them, the food on it had not been touched, which was odd due to Mado’s healthy appetite.
“And skipping meals won’t stop you from getting plump.”
“I should hang a crucifix above my doorway,” Mado responded, “That’ll protect me from witches.”
She buried her head in the pillows, and asked “did Emmanuel de Bohun asked about me?” in a muffled voice.
Catharine lied and said that he had not even mentioned her.
It was for her own good. In a way, Catharine envied her sister for not having to been put on display, bothered by dull old men like Louis Legrand, and stared at by boors like the de Bohun brothers.
She rung for the maid to help Mado get ready for bed, bring her uneaten dinner down to the kitchen, and bring her something else to eat.
During August 1914, Germany declared war on France and planned to invade through Belgium. France was taking the opportunity to try to reconquer Alsace and Lorraine, regions on the German border which they had lost back in ‘71. The newspapers were full of stories of the atrocities which the Germans were committing in Belgium. Germany was portrayed as a bloodthirsty monster who murdered and violated women and slaughtered children.
October brought the first allied victory and also Madeleine’s child, a tiny towheaded little girl who was too delicate to be brought to the cathedral in the winter cold of December and was baptized in the drawing room at Chateau Aubrey and given the name Rose Marianne Aurore Louise Beaumont.
James fell in love with the new arrival at first sight. Madeleine would joke that she now had a rival for his affection but she was every bit as infatuated with their baby. She had her mother’s eyes but had his smile.
“Catharine, isn’t our daughter beautiful?” James asked his sister in law at the baptism.
“I have to say, she is rather sweet,” Catharine answered.
“I wish I knew,” Madeleine added, “He never lets me hold her.”
“I hope he won’t spoil her too much,” Madame d’Aubrey said.
Mimi was holding her other niece, Catharine’s ten month old daughter Mathilde.
“Mathilde’s getting so big,” she said.
“God willing she’ll have a little brother soon,” Georges answered.
“How soon?” Madeleine asked.
“In July,” replied Catharine.
The looseness of her dress and the roundness of her belly suggested that she was pregnant again.
A young man named Henri Bellerose had been invited to the baptism. Mimi had met him during her season as a debutante and they had become especially close during the previous summer. Her family expected a proposal any day now because he would go off to the front soon. He wore his lieutenant’s uniform that afternoon and Mimi thought he looked even more handsome. She had confessed to Catharine that she felt that she might be in love with Henri and that she hoped he did propose to her.
“Congratulations on your new niece, Mimi,” he said to her.
“Thank you, Henri,” she responded.
“May I speak with you alone?”
They went and stood by a window. He took one of her hand while with the other arm, she cradled her baby niece Mathilde.
“I’ll be leaving for the front soon but I’ve been working up the courage to do something very different. I love you, Mimi and I did not want to leave without you knowing that.”
“Oh Henri, I love you too.”
“Then will you marry me when this war is over?”
They shared their first kiss in front of that window in the drawing room while no one was watching them. It was even more exciting for Mimi because she had never been kissed before.
That night, Madeleine went to say goodnight to her daughter in the nursery. Madame d’Aubrey had the nursery redone for the next generation about a year before. The old wallpaper had been changed to a pale blue floral print, and white curtains had been put up. A new crib with a white canopy and bedding had been brought in for Mathilde, while Marianne, the newest arrival, was put in the cradle. Nounou was putting the two babies to bed when Madeleine came in. She took her daughter from Nounou, swaddled her to her breast and began to rock her.
“ Au clair de la lune,” she sang:
“Mon ami Pierrot,prête-moi ta plume pour écrire un mot. Ma chandelle est morte, Je n’ai plus de feu. Ouvre-moi ta porte pour l’amour de Dieu. Au clair de la lune,Pierrot répondit : ” Je n’ai pas de plume, Je suis dans mon lit. Va chez la voisine ,Je crois qu’elle y est, car dans sa cuisine on bat le briquet.”
Madeleine placed her baby daughter inside her cradle then leaned in to kiss her forehead.
“And how are my girls this evening?” James asked as he came into the nursery.
“We’re both well.”
“I have something I’d like to talk to you about.”
“What is it, my love?”
“I’m joining up. I saw that dashing Lieutenant Bellerose today and how proud Mimi was of him and it made me decide that I want want to go and fight.”
She threw her arms around his neck.
“Oh Jamie, I’m so proud of you. But I don’t think I could bare worrying about while you are away.”
“I’ll be back before you know it. They say it can’t last much longer. After that victory at the Marne, it’ll be all downhill from there. I’ll be back to watch our little Marianne grow up and chase the boys away from her.”
“I don’t think that’ll be for some time now. I imagine you’ll be back in plenty time for that.”
“I promise that nothing will happen to me.” He bent over to look at his little daughter sleeping in her cradle, “I won’t leave you for long, my little pearl.”
New York City- Winter, 1899
The Streets of New York were piled up with lays of ice, mud, and God knew what else known as corporation pudding and blanketed with a dense fog of smoke and a donkey, fishy smell. When the weather was sleety, they appeared to be rivers of bobbing black umbrellas churning their way through pushcarts piled high with pots, pans, brooms, and buckets. Others with potatoes, turkeys, hams, and fish. Women dressed in all black with shawls over their heads poked at the things for sale in the carts. Silent men stood next to small fires, rubbing their hands together to keep warm. Gangs of ragged looking boys pushed their way through the crowds, running, shouting, and laughing. Some of the buildings which flanked the streets were gloomy looking and so decrepit they appeared as though they would fall down at any moment.
The saloons, vaudeville theaters, and dance halls provided some much needed color and glamour. One of these dance halls had been rented out for the night by the owners of the factory where Laurie and Jimmy worked to throw a dance for their workers.
Jimmy sat on the floor in one of the corners of the hall, shooting marbles with a boy named Ben, a friend of his from the factory. Every once in awhile, he would look to see what Laurie was doing. Mostly he stood by the bar, drinking.
A tall, slender, graceful girl walked in with their friend and Ben’s brother, Ezra. She had dark chestnut colored hair, a warm complexion, and large, timid, fawn-like eyes brown eyes with long lashes. Her manner was more ladylike and refined than your average factory girl, who could drink and swear as much as any man when given the chance.
“Hey,” Jimmy whispered to Ben, “Who’s that with Ezra?”
“That’s Sarah, my sister,” Ben responded.
Laurie walked over, with the excuse of saying hello to Ezra, who then introduced him to his pretty sister. Sarah, blushing, accepting his offer of a dance. The band struck up “Maple Leaf Rag.”
“Ezra talks a lot about you,” Laurie began, “He says that you’re a maid.”
“Yes, to the Ackerman family,” Sarah responded.
“Then I guess we have the same boss.”
“It would appear so.”
“I bet those eyes get you plenty of admirers.”
“Being a maid doesn’t give you too much time for that.”
“It’s amazing they let you come here tonight.”
“It’s my night off and I said I was coming her with my brother.”
Ezra was coming down with a cold and Laurie convinced him to go home early, saying that he would bring Sarah home after the dance.
“What time is it?” Sarah asked as they were leaving.
“Almost midnight, I guess,” Laurie answered.
“I have to be home by midnight or I’ll get locked out.”
“It’s alright, I’ll get you home in time. How far away do you live?”
“I live at 567 Fifth Avenue.”
Honky tonk music and the shouts of drunks poured out of a saloon. A tall, bearded gentleman dressed in an expensive frock coat and top hat stepped through the doorway and began walking uptown. Looking around, he noticed Sarah and called to her.
“Mr. Ackerman,” Sarah shyly responded.
“What are you doing here, and out so late?”
“It’s my night off, sir, and I went to a dance with my brother. He wasn’t feeling well and went home early and Mr. Brady said he would walk me back. I guess I lost track of time.”
“You know you have to be back by midnight.”
“I know, I’m sorry.”
“Well I guess I can let it slide this time. Come with me, my child, and I’ll explain everything to Mrs. Abler.”
Laurie stopped them as they began to walk off.
“I’m sorry for keeping her out late,” he told Mr. Ackerman, “Goodnight, Sarah.”
“Goodnight Mr. Brady.”
As Sarah walked off with Mr. Ackerman, Laurie took a penny out of his pocket.
“Heads: she’ll look back,” he thought, “Tails: she won’t.”
He flipped the coin and it landed on heads.
“Come, my dear,” Mr. Ackerman said to Sarah as he ushered her forward after she stopped to take one final look at Laurie.