Retribution: Chapter 32

1aaa4a042c7d34481bee523f68064764

A summer-like heat wave hit Paris at the beginning of May; a week of dry, heavy, and sultry days. At the height of this hot spell, Charles and Adèle opened up their swimming pool. With a pitcher of bee’s knees, the afternoon passed pleasantly.  Charles was bringing Adèle, who was sitting on the diving board, another cocktail when Benoît came outside and announced that Madame Brady was there to see them.

“Show her out here,” Charles told him.

Adèle walked over to kiss Sarah’s cheeks when she appeared.

“Hot enough for you?” Sarah asked.

“It’s supposed to cool down tonight,” Adèle answered.

“The wisteria vines out front look lovely.”

“They’re our gardener’s pride and joy; I’ll send on your compliments.”

“Can I get you a drink?” Charles asked Sarah

“What do you have?”

“Bee’s knees.”

“That’ll do.”

Adèle put on a pair peach colored beach pajamas over her white bathing suit.

“Tonight’s the opening of La Bayadère,” she informed Sarah, “I’ll have to get ready to leave in a few hours.”

“We have an extra ticket,” Charles joined in as he poured Sarah a drink, “Are you free tonight?”

“I would love to,” Sarah answered, taking the glass from Charles.

She took a seat at one of patio tables. A number newspapers were spread out on the table, along with a photograph of a young girl with a halo of blond hair and a radiant smile.

Charles had promised to pick Sarah up around eight and take her to dinner before the ballet. They met Charlotte and Alexandre at the restaurant. The curtain rose at about ten to reveal a set made up of a model of the Taj Mahal, Arabic arches, and latticed screens. Adèle made her entrance as the stunning temple dancer Nikiya, tantalizingly shrouded in a gossamer veil which she slowly and seductively removed before dancing.

“Who was the lovely young creature in the photography you had on the table?” Sarah whispered to Charles.

“My daughter, Marianne,” he answered.

“I think I’ve seen her before.”

“Where?”

“At an antique shop in Montmartre called Trésors Trouvés. She was wearing a large straw hat.”  

“Where is Trésors Trouvés?”

“I forget the exact street, but it’s close to Sacre Coeur.”

Adèle shone in the role of Nikiya. Her performance was particularly poignant in her death scene, where Nikiya dies from the bite of a poisonous snake hidden in a flower basket by her rival, Gamzatti. Towards the end of the second act, Solor, Nikiya’s lover, has an opium fueled dream of his deceased beloved dancing with other spirits, dressed in diaphanous white chiffon and gauze.

When Adèle returned to her dressing room to the sound of booming applause, she found a fiery wreath of yellow, red, and orange marigolds sent to her from her husband.

Marianne found that her new life in Montmartre was surprisingly ordinary. She and Augustin woke up every morning, entwined in each other’s arms, and then have breakfast together before he set out for the day. Her position in Faucherie’s household was something between a secretary and a housekeeper. She tidied up the house, ran errands, answered the door and the telephone, took notes and fetched things for Faucherie when whatever else was needed to be done. Augustin would come home in the evening, hang up his hat, kick off his shoes, and throw himself on the sofa with his head in her lap. She would read aloud from The Odyssey until dinner. Often he would interrupt her to talk about what he had done or some stream of conscious thought he had, like how the Cyclops reminded him of fat old Père Fameuil, the bouncer at one of the gambling dens that Faucherie had a stake in, who was every bit as ugly and stupid. After dinner, they would listen to the radio; the men would go up onto the roof for a smoke while she worked on a needlepoint pillow she had started and Hélène brewed up her special tea.

The only complaint that Marianne had with her new life was that she was often lonely. During the day, Hélène was the only other person around. She would sleep in till noon, make herself a cup of black coffee and a piece of toast, and then head out for a few hours, come back and spend the rest of the afternoon at the piano, only exchanging a few words of small talk with Marianne in the process. Hélène was polite, almost friendly, with her but was not one for confidential girl talk.

Whenever she was hit by a bout of restlessness, Marianne found that the best cure was a long walk. She liked to pop into Montmartre’s many art galleries and antique shops and make her way up to the summit of the hill, lite votive candles in Sacre Coeur and say prayers for the souls of her mother and grandparents. On her way back, she would stop in a cafe across from the Moulin Rouge, a gaudy shadow of its belle époque splendor. The table where she usually sat was not on the main patio but on a sidewalk which ran alongside the cafe.  A balding, pot bellied middle aged man would often park his shabby old car across the street during his lunch break and enjoy a sandwich.

One day, out of nostalgia, Marianne ordered a diabolo menthe, something she had not drunk in years. As a convent schoolgirl, she and her classmates had been allowed to go into the nearby village for a few hours once a week. A popular haunt was a place called Bellamy’s candy shop, where they would drink whatever soda was the flavor of that month and think they were so very grown up.

“Marianne,” a deep male voice said to her, a large rough hand touched her shoulder.

She turned around to see her father standing behind her.

“Monsieur,” she responded.

“Will you be joining Mademoiselle?” asked the waiter who was bringing Marianne’s diabolo menthe.

“Yes,” Charles responded as he pulled up the other chair at the table and sat down.

“What can I get you?”

“Coffee with milk please.”

Across the way, the man in the broken down heap of a car had finished his sandwich. He blew a kiss to Marianne and drove away.

“Do you know him?” Charles asked her.

“No, not at all,” she replied, taking a sip of her diabolo menthe.

“Aren’t you a little old to be drinking that?”

“What are you doing here?”

“Do you sometimes go into a shop called Trésors Trouvés?”

“Yes.”

“Did you once talk about a pair of porcelain figurines with an American lady?”

“Perhaps.”

“That’s how I was able to find you.”

“So you’ve been having me followed?”

“Your aunts and I have been worried about you.”

“Where was all this concern when Edmond wouldn’t leave me alone? Where has all this concern been for twenty years?”

“Watch your mouth, young lady! You’re still not too big for me to throw over my knee and paddle.”

“I guess that’s how some men can only deal with women, by beating them into submission.”

“Your lover, how does he treat you?”

“Like a porcelain doll.”  

“Then what is that on your arm?”

Several purple and yellow fingerprint shaped bruises marked her upper arm. She adjusted the sleeves of her blouse to cover them up. Charles extended a comforting and affectionate hand to her.

“Darling…”

“Don’t call me darling.”

She put the money for their drinks on the table, then got up and left. Charles decided that he should do the same. Walking away was uncomfortable for him; his bad knee was acting up again. He playfully thought to himself that if he had thrown Marianne over his knee and spanked her, it would have hurt him as much as it hurt her.

Marianne stopped at a market on the way home to buy some mushrooms because she had promised Monsieur Faucherie that she would make casserole à la Champignons for dinner that night.

When she walked through the door, she found Augustin in the living room, playing tug of war with Johnny, using a piece of old rope.

“Be careful, he cheats,” Marianne warned him.

Johnny grabbed the rope near the end that Augustin was holding and nearly bit Augustin’s hand.  

“Watch it, you little mutt,” Augustin grumbled.

Marianne went into the kitchen and turned on the faucet over the sink and rinsed off the mushrooms. Augustin came in, stood over her, and kissed her on the neck.

“How was your day?” he asked her.

“I ran into my father,” she responded, “He’s figured out where I am.”

“How?”

“Apparently I talked with a woman in a shop, who turned out to be a friend of his. She told him that I’m in Montmartre.”

Augustin lightly put his hand on her shoulder; his fingers lightly touched the bruises on her upper arm.

“He must think I’m rough with you.”

“Let him think what he likes.”

A number of  Faucherie’s cronies dropped by that evening. They gathered in a small back room which was filled with a long table with chairs around it and crates filled with enough weapons to fight a small war. One of them was a man named Babet, who Augustin had taken to mocking with the name of “bouledogue”, because of his jowly face and gruff manner. Babet sat polishing his pistol with an old rag as Faucherie briefed everyone on the next heist. Anton-le-Basque, who has hiding out in Marseilles with his mistress, had given them a tip about a shipment of money orders coming into Paris. Babet was offered the job of being one of the gunmen.

“Are you up for the job, Bouledogue?” Augustin taunted, “Or is that pretty pistol just for show?”

“Listen, boy,” Babet responded, “I was doing this when you were still pissing in your diapers. Now, shut up and let the grown ups talk.”

Faucherie got up from his chair, opened the door, and whistled a tune. Marianne appeared.

“What can I get you, Monsieur Faucherie?” she asked him.

“Get a bottle of wine and some glasses and the cigar box,” Faucherie responded.

Marianne quickly returned with all of the items on a tray.

“What a good little bird you are.”

“What’s a sweet little thing like her doing here?” one of the men whispered.

“She’s about the same age as my daughter,” another added.

“So is your latest wife.”

“Marianne, will you bring me another plate of that delicious mushroom casserole?” Faucherie continued.

“Coming right up, Monsieur.”

She disappeared back into the kitchen.

“Augustin, there’s another gunman position in the gang. Are you ready to graduate to playing with the big kids.”

Augustin was hesitant.

“You said you were planning on going to hiding out in Egypt and Algeria. After this job, you take your share, go abroad, and use your money wisely, in a year or two, you and Marianne will be living like sultans from the Arabian Nights.”

“Sounds like a good plan,” Augustin answered.

“Do you think you could shoot a man if you need to?”

“It’s either shoot or be shot, isn’t it?”

“That’s my boy.”

By this point, Marianne had returned with Faucherie’s plate of casserole.

“I think he’s just showing off for Mademoiselle over here,” Babet sneered.

“I’ve brought down a tougher man than you.”

Babet eyed him skeptically and smirked, assuming he was still showing off.

The coolest part of the house later in the day was the rooftop deck. After Faucherie’s guests had left, Marianne went to go sit up there. She had brought up a pitcher of water scented with dried lavender and dabbed herself with a damp rag. The sweet smelling water felt heavenly on her overheated skin.

On the lower deck, she could hear footsteps and men talking.

“Now Augustin,” she heard Faucherie say, “What’s this you’ve been saying about that Camille Dupont fellow?”

Camille Dupont, Marianne thought, Manon’s brother?

Augustin was hesitant at first to tell the story but Faucherie gauded and coaxed him on. From the little the Manon had told her about Camille, Marianne could tell that he was unpleasant and possibly cruel. Augustin’s words painted an even darker picture. What he had suffered at the hands of Camille was apparently traumatic: his voice sounded as though he was holding back tears.

“And so I killed him. I stabbed him in the showers and made it look like a suicide,” Augustin finished after regaining his composure.

Marianne put her rag into the lavender water and then rung it over her head. A cool breeze whipped at her thin rayon clothing and made her shiver a little bit. She shook her head, trying to shake the words from her mind. She had not just heard that her lover had killed her friend’s brother.

Augustin and Faucherie looked up and smiled to see her up there, in only her lingerie. Faucherie went back inside while Augustin climbed the steps up to the rooftop deck.

“What did you hear?” he asked her.

“Everything,” she responded.

He unbuttoned his shirt and took it off. She soaked the rag again and rung it out over him.

“Ahh, that’s nice,” he sighed, shaking his wet head like a dog.

“I understand why you killed him. It sounds like Camille Dupont was a monster and did things to you that no one should have to suffer.”

“I don’t regret killing him, Marianne,”

“I don’t regret it either. If I was there, I would have delivered the coup de grace.”

He laughed and kissed her temple.

They went to take a look at a nearby apartment during the next afternoon, saying they were an engaged couple looking for a place to live once they were married. It was an airy, pleasant place with large windows which provided plenty of sunlight and a view of Sacre Coeur. The real estate agent looked at Augustin as someone he should envy; well dressed, obviously monied, with a pretty and adoring fiancée on his arm.

Marianne looked around the main room and smiled as if to say “I could be happy here.” Having a home of their own was a far away dream but one that was not too far away.

Johnny waited for them at the front door of Faucherie’s townhouse like a miniature Cerberus at the gates of Hell. Hélène greeted them as they walked in.

“Would you like tea or coffee?” she asked.

Augustin responded coffee. Marianne responded tea.

“I’m singing at Le Monstre tonight,” Hélène told them, “Would you two be interested in coming?”

“Sounds like fun,” Marianne responded.

“I wouldn’t drink any of that tea tonight,” Augustin told Marianne, “I don’t know what that witch, Hélène, puts in her tea but it puts you out like a light. I hope there’s nothing unsavory it in. Your aunts wouldn’t like it if we turned you into a dope fiend.”

“There’s no dope in it! Just good old fashioned bourbon.”

“What time do you come on?” Marianne asked Hélène.

“Ten o’clock.”

They left to go to Le Monstre around nine o’clock. Augustin climbed down the steep stairs and walked in with Marianne on his arm as the band was playing swing music. He swept her up into a rambunctious lindy hop. When the song had finished, he went to bar to get them drinks. Standing next to him at the bar was another young man, about his own age. He was several inches taller than Augustin, blindingly handsome, and impeccably dressed and was watching Marianne as she swayed and bopped around on the dance floor.

Once had a gotten the drinks, Augustin walked up to Marianne and handed one to her.

“Thanks,” she said.

He took her other hand, the one which wore the silver ring he had given her months earlier.

“I think it’s time I made good on my promise. Faucherie knows of a clerk at the Mairie who won’t ask too many questions and a priest at Sacre Coeur who will keep quiet. What do you say, we make it official this Sunday?”

She threw her arms around his neck and kissed him.

“Yes!” she answered.

After telling Faucherie and Hélène their news, Augustin returned to the bar to get champagne. The handsome and well dressed young man from earlier had also returned. Again, he was watching Marianne, as she talked with Hélène about going to buy a wedding dress.

“Do you know that girl?” the young man asked.

“She’s my fiancée,” Augustin responded, “We’re going to be married on Sunday.”

“Congratulations, you’re a lucky man.”

He went to go join a tall dark haired girl sitting at a nearby table, dressed in a sparkling green evening dress which made her look like a mermaid.

The upcoming marriage was celebrated with bottle after bottle of champagne. Augustin drank more glasses than he could count. Back at home, Marianne fetched him a glass of water and a couple of aspirin tablets.

He always tried his best to keep up with the hard drinking men he associated with, but Marianne knew that he was something of a lightweight when it came to alcohol. After a bottle or two champagne, he would be out like a light.  

“Here, take this,” she told him.

Augustin gulped down the glass of water and swallowed the aspirin tablets.  

“Now sleep off some of that champagne.”

“Don’t talk to me like a child, Marianne.”

“I’m not, now go to bed like a good boy.”

Sure enough, her husband to be was soon snoring contentedly, lost to the world.

The Hamiltons, Part 1: I Hope That You Burn

14ccc6658969c64b116151223517

Eliza Hamilton smoothed the skirt of her new ball gown. The latest fashion was for high waists and a straight, column like silhouette. Gone were the tight corsets and immense panniers of her girlhood. All of the fashionable ladies in London and Paris were now dressing like figures from Ancient Greek vases.
Her sister Angelica had sent her the pattern, along with a bolt of finest muslin in Eliza’s favorite shade of pale blue. The pattern and the fabric had come with a rather feisty letter in which Angelica used the full vehemence of her pen to denounce Eliza’s husband, Alexander. The contrast to Angelica’s letters of previous years could not have been greater. No one had had a higher opinion of Alexander than Angelica before his fall from grace.
“…and if that harlot, Reynolds, ever has the misfortune to run into me,” Angelica had concluded the letter, “I will claw her face up so badly that no man will ever look at her again.”
Eliza’s latest quarrel with Alexander had been over an invitation to a ball. In her opinion, enough time had passed for them to be able to go out into society again. Alexander had said that it was still too soon for them to show their faces in public and insisted that they decline the invitation. When business had suddenly called him to Washington, Eliza wrote back to the hosts saying “General Hamilton will not be able to attend but Mrs. Hamilton, Master Hamilton, and Miss Hamilton will be delighted to come.”
To go with her new dress, Eliza’s hair was arranged à la gréque and adorned with a white ribbon diadem.
Suddenly knocking was heard on the bedroom door.
“Come in,” Eliza said.
The door opened, and her daughter, Angie, named for her beloved aunt, stepped in, dressed in the diaphanous white appropriate for a young lady just come into society. She was seventeen and every bit as lovely as the aunt she had been named for.
“Are you almost ready, Mamma?” Angie asked.
“Just about,” Eliza answered.
They went downstairs to the parlor. A warm, cheerful fire burned in the hearth. Alexander’s faithful hound, Tyson, lay snoring on the hearth rug. Angie’s white cat, Bramble, stretched contentedly in the window sill, and licked her dainty paws.
“The carriage is waiting outside,” Philip informed them.
Nineteen year old Philip was a younger version of his famously handsome father. The same wavy auburn hair and violet blue eyes. The same rosy complexion with a bridge of freckles crossing a striking Roman nose.
Angie bent down to pet Tyson.
“Poor Tyson looks quite dejected,” she said.
“He’s always like this when Father is away,” Philip responded.

The ball was held in a new building of assembly rooms which had recently opened up. Fine crystal chandeliers hung from the ceilings; the light from their expensive white tapers glittered off of the glass mirrors and their gilt frames. When the Hamiltons arrived, the band was playing Epsom Spring.  Angie was quickly engaged for the opening grand march and Philip went to go join a group of his school friends.
Eliza sat in one of the chairs which lined the walls of the ballroom and watched her children enjoy themselves.
“There’s the Hamilton woman,” she heard a lady whisper.
“Didn’t you notice that her husband isn’t here with her tonight?” another female voice added.
“I wonder who he’s out with this time.”
“Can’t keep him at home, can she?”
Eliza did her best to pretend she had not heard any of this. The conventional wisdom, though it was rarely ever proved true, was that if you ignored something, it would eventually go away.

After the La Boulangére, the guests went downstairs for refreshments such as claret punch and ices. The hot atmosphere of the ballroom had made Eliza terribly thirsty so she went straight to the table where the punch bowl was and poured herself a glass.
“Ah, Mrs. Hamilton,” standing next to her was Thomas Jefferson, Angelica’s old admirer and Alexander’s adversary in Washington. Eliza had met him a few times before things between him and Alexander had soured and found him perfectly charming, but once the split had been made, Eliza steadfastly decided that her husband’s enemies were her own.
Jefferson gave a slight bow.
“Mr. Vice-President,” Eliza curtsied to him.
He took her hand and kissed it.
“General Hamilton is not here with you tonight?”
“He was called to Washington on government business and wasn’t able to attend.”
” It’s been far too long since I’ve had the pleasure of seeing you, madam, or the charming Mrs. Church. Is she here this evening?”
“No, she and Mr. Church are still in London.”
“Then come take a turn with me in the garden and you can give me that latest news about the enchanting Angelica.”
“It would be a pleasure.”

“Miss Schuyler, may I present my husband’s aide-de-camp, Colonel Hamilton…” 
Lady Washington presented a shapely brunette girl with strong, striking features. A pair of lively dark eyes being her most arresting feature. 
“Colonel Hamilton, may I present the Belle of Morristown.” 
The girl blushed at being so praised, demurely lowered her eyes and curtsied. Alexander then gave a gallant bow. 
The arrival of General Schuyler’s daughter, Elizabeth, in Morristown had been the talk of the officers’ mess. The Schuyler Sisters were widely reputed to be the pride of Albany and an ambitious soldier looking for a well-heeled beauty to wed and bed could hardly do much better. 
“Are you enjoying your stay here in Morristown?” he asked her. 
“Yes,” she responded, “I’ve been helping my Aunt Cochran and her husband, the Doctor, tend to the sick and wounded.” 
Doctor Cochran was surgeon general to the Continental Army, best known for completing the monumental feat of inoculating the troops against smallpox when they were stationed in Morristown three years earlier. 
The official reason given for Elizabeth Schuyler’s visit was to help out her aunt and uncle but the true reason was finding her a husband, which had become of greater importance after her older sister, Angelica, had eloped with an Englishman. 
“How was your journey from Albany?” 
“Long and, thankfully, uneventful.” 
“I was told that your father arranged for you to have a military escort.” 
As the daughter of an important general, she would have made a valuable hostage for the British. The romantic image of a helpless damsel at mercy of the red coats had concerned all that was gallant and chivalrous in Alexander. 
“Miss Schuyler, would you do you me the honor of joining me for the minuet?” 
“The pleasure would be all mine, Colonel Hamilton.” 
The minuet involved each couple taking turns in the center. As Alexander went through the slow, stately steps with Miss Schuyler, he was aware that everyone’s eyes were on them. The dashing young colonel and the general’s lovely daughter; they made quite the pair. 
“I do believe we are the spectacle of the evening, Colonel,” she whispered to him, “They must all be thinking ‘what could possibly interest him about plain little Betsey Schuyler besides her money’.” 
“More like, ‘how could that insolent upstart possibly think he could ever be worthy to stand in the presence of such an angel’.” 
“I’ve heard talk of you, Colonel Hamilton. It is said that you are the most ambitious man in America.” 
“I do not deny it, Miss Schuyler, nor am I ashamed of it.”  
“Lady Washington said to me, when I told her that I was anxious to meet her august husband, “I will see that you make the acquaintance of Hamilton, my husband’s aid. He should be of much more interest to you. ” She then told me about her cat.” 
Alexander blushed. It was a well known story that Lady Washington had named her rather high spirited tom cat after him, in reference to his reputation of chasing after every pretty petticoat in sight. 
He danced with Miss Schuyler once more that evening during the Scottish Reel. She had told him that she disliked the minuet and much preferred the less formal reels and jigs.  After the Scottish Reel, Mrs. Cochran began complaining of a headache and told her niece that they would be leaving early. Miss Schuyler went to bid Alexander goodnight before they left. 
“Goodnight, Miss Schuyler,” he responded. 
“Most people call me Eliza but my family calls me Betsey.” 
“I like Betsey best.”

After that night, Alexander’s friends used to say that he was a gone man. One evening after paying a call on his Betsey, he had returned to camp and found that he had forgotten the password. Luckily, the sentry on duty had taken pity on him and let him in anyways. 
Every visit and every letter made him more sure that Elizabeth Schuyler was the woman for him. He had only known her for three weeks, perhaps a month, when he heard rumors that she was going to leave for Philadelphia. 
The house where the Cochrans were staying was in the center of Morristown. Alexander rode there when he was able to get leave. 
Betsey must have seen him coming from the window because she quickly threw on her cloak and rushed outside. She must have been helping nurse her uncle’s patients because her dress was simple and she wore a stained apron over it. Her hair was tucked behind a mobcap. 
“I’ve heard you were planning on leaving for Philadelphia,” he told her as he dismounted his horse. 
“I was considering it,” she responded. 
“Well, I’ve come to remind you that your true friends are here. I’m determined to convince you to stay.” “Is that a proposal, Colonel Hamilton?” 
“Elizabeth Schuyler, I know I don’t have much to offer you now but when this war is over, I will rise above my station, higher than either of us can imagine.”   
“My parents are furious with me. They say that you’re nameless, penniless, good-for-nothing and your intentions are not honorable. That’s what this whole business of Philadelphia is about; they want me to leave here to get away from you.”  
“General Washington can vouchsafe for my good conduct and the purity of my intentions and I know I can win them over and convince them to give me your hand.” 
She took his face in her hands and kissed him. 
“I have every faith in you, my Alexander.” 
He took her into his arms. 
“You’ll be Mrs. Hamilton before the year is out if I have anything to do with it.” 
His prediction had turned out to be correct. They were married that December at her family home in Albany with the full blessing of her parents.

The first person to greet Alexander Hamilton when he arrived home was Tyson, whose bark shook the house and whose whip-like tail smacked against Alexander’s leg.
Alexander bent down to pet the animal and was reminded of how in The Odyssey , the first people to recognize Odysseus upon his return home were his loyal hounds.
Now where is Penelope? 
“Sir, we weren’t expecting you back so early,” said Dolley, the maid.
“We finished up sooner than expected,” Alexander responded, “Where is Mrs. Hamilton?”
“You just missed her, Sir. She went out to a ball with Master Philip and Miss Angelica.”
“Thank you, Dolley.”
“Is there anything else you need, Sir?”
“No thank you, I’m going back out again soon.”
Alexander went up to his room, where he freshened up and put on something appropriate for a ball. Martha, the nanny, brought down the children to see him before they went to bed. He bid goodnight to eight year old Johnny, three year old Billy, and one year old Little Eliza ( twelve year old Jamie and fourteen year old Alex were away at boarding school) prior to leaving.

When he entered the assembly rooms, he found that Angie was off dancing The Young Widow and Philip was sitting in the corner, chatting with a young beauty.
“Phil,” he said to the boy.
“Father,” Philip responded.
“Aren’t you going to introduce me to your fair companion?”
“Father, this is Miss Theodosia Burr.”
“My father has told me a lot about you, General Hamilton,” the girl said.
“Whatever he’s told you, it’s all true.”
Theodosia giggled.
“Philip, where is your mother?”
“I think she went out into the garden.”

Eliza gave Mr. Jefferson the latest news about Angelica as they walked through the garden. Angelica had taken London society by storm. Everyone who was anyone, from playwrights, to politicians, to princes, passed through her salon. Eliza herself was unsuited to such a glittering life and had never desired it but she enjoyed living vicariously through her sister’s letters.
Jefferson took Eliza’s hand and kissed it.
“Thank you for such a pleasant stroll, Mrs. Hamilton,” he said.
“Eliza!” another voice called.
“Alexander!” she responded in disbelief.
“I was able to leave Washington early, my love, and I rushed home so I could bring you to this ball, since you wished to go so badly, but apparently I arrived too late” he then turned to Jefferson, “Mr. Vice-President, thank you for entertaining my wife.”
Jefferson politely bowed
“Good evening General, Madam,” he replied.
“Say you have a headache or something,” Alexander whispered gruffly to Eliza, “We’re leaving.”
“No!”
“Please, Eliza, don’t make a scene.”
“You’re the one making a scene.”
“Eliza, we’re going home!”

“How could you do this?” he asked her in the carriage ride home, “Be seen out alone, publicly flirting with a man who is my sworn enemy.”
“Good lord, he was only asking after Angelica. This jealousy is rich coming from you.”
“I never meant to hurt you, Eliza. What I did was out of a moment of weakness. Lord knows I should have gone with you to Albany that summer and I will never forgive myself for what I did but you set out to deliberately wound me.”
“A moment of weakness! You continued to see that woman for a year.”
“That scoundrel Reynolds had me in a bind. Who knows what he would have done to us if I didn’t give him what wanted.”
“So you thought you might as well get your money’s worth.”
“That pettiness is beneath you, Eliza, you’re a better person than that.”
“Why should I have to be the better person? Why couldn’t you have been the better person when Maria Reynolds threw herself at you.”
“We’re all human, none of us is perfect.”
“I never thought you were perfect, Alexander, I just didn’t think you were a fool.”

When they arrived home, Eliza retired to her room and got ready for bed. Alexander went out for a third time a little while later to bring Philip and Angie home from the ball. When she knew he was gone, Eliza walked down the hall with a lit candle to his office. Using the light from the candle, she searched for a little porcelain box on his desktop which contained the key to a special drawer.
Inside was a pile of papers tied up with a ribbon. Eliza examined the papers by holding the candle to them. It was a collection of letters that she had written him during their courtship and engagement. If Eliza did not hate her husband as much as she did, she might have been tempted to feel touched that he had kept her letters.

A blazing fire waited for her when she returned to her room. She pulled up an arm chair and began to read over her old letters.
She had poured out her heart to him like a naive girl and never suspected that he would hurt her the way he did. If The Almighty was placed on one pedestal, she had placed Alexander Hamilton on one three inches taller, which gave him farther to fall. Alexander’s infidelity was not anything more than most men (even the best of husbands) were guilty of from time to time. But Alexander had never been most men.
The most painful fact was that she was stuck with him. Divorces were difficult to obtain and even if she could free herself from him, it would come at too great a cost. She would lose her standing in society and, most importantly, custody of her children.
Alexander tried to be more attentive to her of late but whenever he had extended the hand of reconciliation, she pushed it away.
Eliza then got up and went over to her desk and grabbed a pamphlet entitled “In Which the Charge of Speculation Against Alexander Hamilton, Late Secretary of the Treasury, is Fully Refuted.” 
“The charge against me is a connection with one James Reynolds for purposes of improper pecuniary speculation,” it read, “My real crime is an amorous connection with his wife, for a considerable time with his privity and connivance, if not originally brought on by a combination between the husband and wife with the design to extort money from me.”
It then proceeded to reveal every sordid detail about her husband’s affair with young Mrs. Reynolds.
“This confession is not made without a blush. I cannot be the apologist of any vice because the ardour of passion may have made it mine. I can never cease to condemn myself for the pang, which it may inflict in a bosom eminently entitled to all my gratitude, fidelity and love. But that bosom will approve, that even at so great an expence, I should effectually wipe away a more serious stain from a name, which it cherishes with no less elevation than tenderness. The public too will I trust excuse the confession. The necessity of it to my defence against a more heinous charge could alone have extorted from me so painful an indecorum.”
Eliza scoffed at this half hearted attempt to justify his treatment of her. She had been understanding when he was constantly busy and away from home for weeks at a time; she took it all as being part of marriage to a great man, the architect of a new country. For twenty years, she had tried her best to be a loving and supportive wife and he did all this to her. Not only had he betrayed her trust but also told the whole world about it, with only the slightest consideration as to how she might feel.
Perhaps Alexander’s greatest crime was taking advantage of a scared, vulnerable young woman who was too stupid to know any better. He had dismissed Maria Reynolds as a “treacherous little slut” who was not worth ruining their marriage over.
“She was worth it then!” Eliza had responded.
She found that she could only pity the poor girl, who had been just as much a victim in this whole affair as herself.
One by one, Eliza watched each of the letters burn in the fireplace and crumble into ash. She then added the pamphlet, which caught fire and crackled as it disintegrated.

Alexander woke up early the next morning, as was his habit, and went into his office. He had pasted a long and sleepless night thinking about how he had made an ass of himself playing Othello. Perhaps it was because, after everything, he feared that Eliza would seek solace with another man. If she did, it would be nothing more than he deserved.
He had long taken her for granted, believing that she would stand by him through anything and whatever he did, she would understand and forgive. Now she had, quite rightly, had enough
and he did not know he was to go on without her by his side.
It had taken losing her love to truly realize how much she meant to him.
Alexander had put his work ahead of her the entire time they had been married, now his work was all he had left. Sitting down at his writing desk, he noticed that the key to the special drawer was outside of the little porcelain box in which he kept it.
Maybe I forgot to put it away the last time I was in here, he thought.
To make sure nothing had been taken, he opened up the drawer to find that all the letters were missing.
I must have put them somewhere else. 
He went through each of the drawers and compartments, looking for the letters. Each of them were stuffed with papers but none of them were the tender epistles his wife had written to him during the first days of their love.
No, No, it can’t be!

Chateau Aubrey: Part 2, Chapter 2

il_340x270.1167866035_4pnb

Five months into the war and the original atmosphere of excitement still hung over Rouen. Newspapers were printing stories about how France was close to taking back Alsace and Lorraine, and how the Germans (the huns and bosch as they were called) were fleeing and victory was near. James believed that he would arrive at the front just in time for the last, and most glorious, stretch of the war. He and his brother in law, Georges, went to recruiting office which had been set up at the Mairie, where they were given uniforms and were told to report for basic training by a certain date.

For Catharine and Madeleine, the date of her husband’s departure came all too quickly. They left on a bright, frosty, morning in January from the Gare de Rouen. James kissed his wife on the lips and Baby Marianne on the forehead.

“Goodbye, my loves,” he said to them, “Don’t be sad, Madeleine. I’m going to shoot lots of bosch and they’ll give me medal.”

“More likely they’ll shoot you for insubordination,” Catharine but in.

“If I bumped you off, they’d give me the damn Legion of Honor.”

“Now, now, why so pettish, my dear?” Georges asked his wife, “Is is because I’m going away?”

“You didn’t have to join up as well.”

“And miss out on probably the most exciting thing that will happen in our lifetime.”

“I don’t see any excitement. All I see is that countless men will die and you all are acting like it’s a carnival.”

Georges kissed his wife and then boarded the train saying that he’ll write to her soon.

“Take this before you go,” Madeleine said to James as he was about to board the train. She gave him the engagement ring he gave her almost three years before with a hair ribbon of her’s tied to it. He kissed it and then stashed it in his pocket.

“Goodbye Mado,” he said to her, “Look after our little pearl for me.”

“I will. I love you.”

“I love you too.”

A band began to play La Marseillaise as the train pulled out of the station. Madeleine handed Marianne over to Nounou and then ran to find the window where she could see her husband and continued to run alongside the train as it pulled away. When she reached the end of the platform, she stopped and panted.

James’s enthusiasm look a hit as the train left Rouen. He had been excited about going off to war but then it hit him that he was getting go of everything which made his life worth living.

Mimi comforted Madeleine who was in tears and the Chevalier stroked her arm. Madame and Catharine stood stoically.

Catharine was proud of herself for remaining calm during this ordeal and thought about how much better she appeared in contrast to her maudlin sister who was making a nuisance of herself by desperately trying to get everyone’s sympathy. But she was incapable of feeling a fraction of what Madeleine felt for James.

A smartly kitted out officer asked Catharine when the next army train would be arriving. She told him that it would be arriving in a quarter of an hour.

“Captain Bernard Mathieu,” he introduced himself.

“Madame Thomas,” she responded.

He took her hand and kissed it before going on his way.

“Do you know that stunning raven beauty in red?” he asked a fellow officer.

“Madame Thomas?” he answered, “She was Catharine d’Aubrey before she was married. Her father’s the Chevalier d’Aubrey.”  

“What a looker.”  

“Do you know of a Bernard Mathieu?” Catharine asked her mother.

“Mathieu,” Madame pondered, “A very wealthy family. His father fought with your father back in ‘71.”

Mathieu and Catharine had taken a momentary interest in each other, he in her social position and she in his wealth.  

New York City-Summer 1899

The spring and summer of 1899 were a time of mounting tensions between workers and owners at the Ackerman factories. Workers were troubled by layings off and rumors of wage cuts due to money troubles. A few of the hotheads among the machinists attributed these money troubles to the demands of old man Ackerman’s mistress.

“Why should our money go to some greedy tart,” they all grumbled, “When our wives and children barely have enough.”

One of these hotheads was Laurie. He arranged for the Gaiety Hall theater to host a rally to which Ackerman himself who invited to; Mr. Ackerman politely declined.  

“Who is profiting from your labors?” He asked during his speech, “Is it you?”

“No!” the crowd responded.

“Is it your wives and children?”

“No!”

Sarah, who he had been courting for the past several months, greeted him with a kiss as he descended the stage, a spectacle which made the audience cheer. Rosa approached him also, on the arm of her husband, Will Murray, a handsome young man, a year or two older than Laurie, with a fair, fashionable mustache.

The two men shook hands.

“Fine speech you made there,” Murray said.

“Thank You,” Laurie responded.

“And who is your lady friend?” Rosa asked.

“This is Miss Sarah Faber.”

“Pleased to meet you.”

Rosa then gave them her good news: She and Will were expecting a baby. Sarah sweetly gave her congratulations and Laurie again shook Will’s hand.

Chateau Aubrey: Book 2, Chapter 1

bc85ea6321d212acb53fb38029d2f12a

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?”

“Certainly.”

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?”

“Of course.”

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.

“Goodnight, sweetheart.”

“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.”

“Yes sir.”

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.

Retribution: Chapter 31

01b48e2c987db503fc95df4d5909e522

Gabriel checked over the time table at St. Lazare station; his train would not be boarding for another two hours. He could go and call upon his sister in the meantime, but the walk was too far. The time it would take to get there and back would not allow for much of a visit and he had imposed on Gillian’s hospitality too much of late.

All Gabriel could do to pass the time was have breakfast, including a strong coffee, in the stations cafe and read the morning paper. He had woken up at first light, snuck out to the Contaille train depot before his father was awake, and hopped on the earliest train to Paris. It was not unusual for him and his father to take spontaneous trips into Paris to visit Gillian but Gabriel had taken to going by himself, with the purpose of seeing Marianne. When the train arrived in St. Lazare that morning, he purchased a newspaper and sat down in the cafe. He flipped through his paper while waiting for his coffee and toast and came to the missing persons ads. At the top of the page was a photograph of a smiling blonde.

“If anyone has information as to her whereabouts, please contact Catharine Mathieu at… or Charles Prideaux at…” he read.

He had been right to be worried about her. When they had parted on Easter Monday, he left with the feeling that he should be concerned, which was now proven right. Should he go and offer his condolences to her aunts? Ask if he could be of any use in helping to find her? No, he had no right to.

Gabriel checked his watch. It was 8:30; his train back to Contaille would board at quarter past ten.

It took a couple of hours to get from Paris to Contaille-sur-Seine. The Contaille train depot was little more than a platform with an enclosure and a loading dock. Ferme Pommier, the Renault family home, was on the other side of town. Contaille was a small village but it was a substantial walk from the depot to Ferme Pommier. Gabriel walked along the main road, hoping to bum a ride off a passing car. He knew almost everyone in the area and it was unlikely that he would have to rely on a stranger.

Monsieur Baudin, the butcher, pulled his truck over when he noticed Gabriel and gave him a ride home.

“Tell your old man I said hello,” Baudin told him.

Gabriel found his father in the barn, looking over a heavily pregnant cow. Fleur ran up to him, barking loudly.

“Where have you been all morning?” his father asked.

“In Paris,” Gabriel responded.

“This is the second time this month that you’ve taken off without a warning.”

“I know, father.”

“I’ve had to do all the morning’s chores by myself today.”

“I’m sorry; I know how busy we are this time of year.”

“Well, how ya gonna keep’em down on the farm after they’ve seen Paree?”

It had been just the two of them for the past few years. Gabriel’s mother had died back in 1919 of the Spanish influenza. His brother, Yves, had joined the army three years ago and was stationed in Morocco. Around the same time, Gillian left to find work in Paris and ended up marrying a rich parisian. Gillian had always been too pretty and vivacious to end up stuck in Contaille with some dumb old rustic.

“And another thing, you love struck swain, don’t think I haven’t figured out why you’ve been sneaking off. It’s to see Madame Catharine’s niece.”

“Don’t tease me, Father.”

“Not that I blame you, my boy. She’s a pretty little thing, just like your mother was when I courted her.”

“Well, she’s not interested in me.”

“What? Does the little minx think she’s too good for you?”

His paternal pride, which told him that his son was good enough for any girl, was offended.

“No, she just loves someone else that’s all. Go inside and rest, father, I’ll take over from here.”

Gabriel went into the pasture to check on the cows, with Fleur in tow. The day was mild and clear with a gentle breeze that smelt of fresh grass. Fat white clouds dotted the blue of the sky and fat white cows dotted the green of the fields, their milk heavy udders sagging against the ground. He sat down under a shady oak tree, the best vantage point from which to oversee the herds, took off his jacket and took his harmonica out of the breast pocket, then began to play My Melancholy Baby.

The cows always liked it when he played his harmonica. My Melancholy Baby was the particular favorite of a heifer named Campanule, who Gabriel had raised since she was a newborn calf. Campanule docilely offered her creamy flanks for him to pat. She was expecting her twelfth calf and would be taken in from the fields in a few weeks.

“And how are you, old girl?” he asked gentling stroking her swelling belly.

Campanule began to nibble at a thick patch of clover. The countryside was lush and verdant after a week or so of rain; the air was fresh and sweet smelling. It would be a shame to be inside on a day like this, but Gabriel almost wished that he was sitting in Madame Catharine’s drawing room, Marianne sitting across from him. Usually, he hated being confined indoors; in the warmer months he would sometimes sleep outside in the fields. Now even the vast open countryside of Normandy felt stifling. His impulsive jaunts to Paris had been as much to do with restlessness as with amorous intentions towards Marianne; the two feelings were intertwined. His father had been right; how would you keep them down on the farm after they have seen Paree?

“There’s a young man to see you, Madame,” Annette told her mistress, who was sitting in her morning room.

At first Catharine expected it to be either of her sons-in-law but if it had been, Annette would have said “Monsieur Edmond” or “Monsieur Christophe”.

“He says his name is Monsieur Lerou,” Annette continued.

“Then show him in” Catharine instructed her maid.

A wiry, swarthy faced boy stepped through the door, politely holding his hat in his hand.

“Madame, my name is…” he began.

“Young man, I know quite well who you are.” she silenced him.

Catharine had been curious about her niece’s lover; mostly she wanted to know what someone who could cause so much trouble was like. What she saw in front of her was only a boy, a handsome, in a rough sort of way, boy with sparkling emerald eyes, and a dashing, crooked grin. Behind all the sparkle and dash was something sad and pitiful, whether real or perceived. Just the sort of thing that could seduce a naive and well-meaning girl like Marianne; she would not be the first to mistake a devil for a fallen angel. Even Catharine herself  was tempted to feel sorry for him. She could imagine him as someone’s son. Some woman had gone through the pains of Hell to bring him into this world, held him in her arms, nursed him at her breast, and hoped for the best for him. Even now, after everything he had done, she probably loved him nonetheless.

“Marianne is with me,” he told her, “She is safe.”

“I would hardly call being in the company of known criminals, safe.”  

“Fair enough.”

“So, where are you keeping her?”

“I can’t tell you, unless you want your niece sent back to you in pieces.”

Catharine wanted to slap him but this snot nosed little punk was not going to make her lose her temper. What was he to her? Nothing more than some naughty hall-boy who had been caught in a broom closet with a scullery maid, only this particular scullery maid happened to be a daughter of the house, She longed for the days when she could have had him flogged to death for less than what he had done.

“I could call the police on you right now.”

“She would never forgive you for that.”

It took all of her willpower to restrain from wringing his neck.

“I didn’t come here to argue with you; I’m sorry for what I’ve done but I love Marianne and I’ll try my best to do right by her. She can come to visit you whenever she likes.”

“You listen to me, boy. Try as you may, you will never be good enough for Marianne.”

“I knew that the moment a met her.”

“You take good care of her, boy. Promise me this.”

“I promise.”

“Get down on your knees and swear it!”

The boy knelt down in front of her.

“I, Augustin Lerou, do solemnly swear to serve and protect My Lady’s niece.”

He took her hand and kissed the gold ring set with two rubies which she had inherited from her mother. She could not tell if this gesture was in earnest or to mock her hauteur.

“Thank you for coming to see me, to say that she is safe.”

He looked up at her and smiled. Catharine felt a brief flash of tenderness towards him; that grin made her want to stroke his head and tell him to go run and play. But this feeling quickly vanished and she called for Annette to show him out.

Augustin took the metro back to Montmartre and ran a few errands before returning home. He found Marianne in the kitchen, teasing Johnny with a piece of leftover chicken. The little dog eagerly leaped, trying to get at the treat but she would raise her arm a little higher whenever he got close. Then, like a benevolent goddess of plenty, she dropped the piece of chicken and Johnny snatched it up.

Augustin knelt down and scratched Johnny behind the ears.

“What are those?” Marianne asked, referring to the packages he had left on the table.

“Open them up and see,” he responded.

The first package was a hat box with a picture on its cover of an amorous eighteenth century couple in a garden. Inside was a straw hat with a wide, floppy brim.

“You told me once that you sunburn easily,” he explained, “We wouldn’t want that lovely skin fried up like bacon, now do we?”

Marianne had seen a similar hat in a fashion magazine, worn by Carole Lombard while lounging on the beach. She put it on and struck a pose and giggled.

The next package was a box from a bakery; inside was a cake frosted with royal icing and sprinkled with grated citrus zest.

“It’s lemon cake, you said it was your favorite. I thought I’d pick up something special for dessert tonight.”

“Oh, it’s far too pretty to eat.”

“Fine, then we’ll just sit and stare at it.”

“Don’t be ridiculous,” she picked up a small package of her own, “I picked this up today as well.”

Wrapped up inside brown paper was a book with a picture of a man tied to the mast of a ship on its cover.

The Odyssey. What is this?”

“Remember when I mentioned Wily Odysseus, Circe, and Calypso, and you didn’t understand it?”

“Perhaps?”

“Well, they’re from this book.”

Augustin took hand to kiss to its palm, but noticed the scars on her wrists, red lines crisscrossing her apple blossom skin. He ended up kissing the back of her hand so he did not have to look at those ugly reminders of even uglier things.

“Can you read it to me?” he said as he hung up his hat and jacket and walked into the living room.

His shoes were kicked off and he plopped down on the sofa. Marianne joined him and put his head in her lap.

Sing to me of the man, Muse,” she began to read, the man of twists and turns, driven time and again off course, once he had plundered the hallowed heights of Troy.”

Hélène had asked the men not to smoke in the house because the smell made her sick in her condition, so Augustin and Faucherie took their cigarettes on the rooftop deck.

“In my experience, the best way to deal with women is to let them have their own way,” Faucherie explained after they had made the hike up to the very summit of the house.

Both of them lit cigarettes and began to talk about what they had done that day. Faucherie had taken a drive to Charenton and Bercy to collect the protection fees from some dance halls.

“I went to visit Marianne’s aunt today,” Augustin told him, “To let her know that Marianne is alright. And she treated me like I was a rat and I wanted to tell her ‘I guess that’s better than being a useless old cow’ but of course I didn’t”

As Marianne set the table, Hélène went to tell the men that dinner was ready. Over the meal, the conversation was about Augustin and Marianne’s plans for the future. Augustin told them that he hoped to emigrate to Egypt or Algeria once he had enough money.

“I’m sure we’ll be able to find work there,” Marianne began, “I’m not afraid to work; I’m not one of those girls who needs closets full of furs and chests full of diamonds to be happy: not like my cousin Mathilde. You should’ve seen her at Easter, showing off the ropes of pearls her husband gave her.”

“I’m sure you would like to have those ropes of pearls around your pretty neck,” Faucherie rebutted.

“Of course, but I don’t need them to be happy.”

“Most girls would disagree with you.”

“And I’m sure not all the pearls in the world would be enough for them.”

“From the mouths of babes,” Faucherie laughed.

Marianne then brought over the cake on a pretty, white china plate, along with several smaller matching plates, and began cutting slices for everyone at the table.

“There’s a good girl,”  Faucherie said when she handed him a slice of cake.

The phrase There’s a good girl sounded like something she would say to Johnny when she got him to sit and stay. Faucherie petted and played with her just like she did Johnny.

Flush faced and cheerful after a few glasses of wine, Augustin went to bed and enjoyed a few hours of pleasant sleep. The night was unusually dark and quiet: the sun could stay in the sky until well into the night this time of year and the day’s bustle was much the same.

Between two and four in the morning, Augustin woke up. Usually, he would toss and turn and try to fall asleep again but the fog of sleep had cleared from his head. He sat up in bed and stared into the shadows of the room. He felt something stir in the bed next to him and a hand touch his shoulder; perversely gentle and loving, a sick parody of a lover’s caress. With his other hand, Augustin grabbed the strange arm with a rough, tight grip. Instead of lean and stealy, the bone structure was delicate and fragile, like the wing of the bird, and the flesh was soft, almost plump. The arm’s owner whimpered like an injured dog.  

“Please, let go,” Marianne moaned.

He released her arm. She looked naked and vulnerable in her thin, rayon night dress. Such a sight would usually make him want to lay her back down on the pillows and enjoy her again but this time, he felt monstrous for hurting her.

“I’m sorry,” he responded.

One of Sarah Brady’s favorite areas of Paris to visit was Montmartre. She enjoyed poking around in the art galleries and antique shops to see what treasures she could find. The highlight of an excursion she took towards the end of April was finding a pair of Sèvre porcelain figurines depicting Cinderella trying on the glass slipper. She was not the only person who was admiring them at the time. While Sarah had been haggling with the dealer over how much the figurines cost, a girl  wearing a large straw hat stopped to look at them and picked up the tag attached to the Prince’s hand holding the glass slipper to read it.

Sèvres/Vincennes, circa 1750-60, after Boucher…” she read aloud, “My grande-mère had a pair of figurines like these in her mourning room. She always used to say that my fourth great grandmother received them as a wedding present from Madame de Pompadour.”

“ de Pompadour was a great patron of Sèvre,” Sarah responded, “and also of Boucher, whose work the piece was inspired by.”

“I think Boucher also did a portrait of my fourth great grandmother. Her name was Selene d’Aubrey, Baronne du Contaille and she was said to be a great beauty. The painting was sold off many years ago but I remember that she was dressed in yellow with a posy of spring flowers in her hair and a songbird perched on her finger.”

“I think I remember that painting. It came through an auction at Sotheby’s last year.”

“My final price is 12,000 francs, Madame,” the dealer but in.

“Oh my, that’s more than I planned to spend,” Sarah responded.

She bid the dealer and the girl in the large straw hat good afternoon and left the shop, still coveting the figurines.

The Oak Tree

4a0054e4aaa2ef81a0a697156ccb40f4

The bells of a small country church rung solemnly to mourn the death of a wealthy duke. His duchess, though she threw him a lavish funeral and made a very public show of mourning, relished the opportunities what her widowhood afforded. Her husband had left her a vast and lucrative estate; in her opinion, rich widows were the most fortunate of women. She was still young and beautiful, with the possibility of another advantageous marriage, or at least a lover or two.

The Duchess, managing a few false tears, and a number of other black clad mourners carrying lit tapers processed towards the church, with a choir singing a requiem following them from behind. Their voices were accompanied at the church door by the crying coming from a wiggling bundle of rough cloth.

“Wait a moment,” the Duchess ordered, stopping the procession. She picked up the bundle and examined it. Inside was a maid child, only a month or two old, probably the offspring of peasants who could not afford to take care of her, “Poor little thing.”

This infant was baptized soon afterward, and given the christian name Elena; the Duchess stood as godmother at the baptism. Little Elena was given to the Duchess’s shepherd, called Pastore, to raise.  Pastore already had taken in another foundling, a strapping little lad of three named Marco, who he loved as much as if he were his own son, and gladly welcomed the infant.

Elena and Marco grew up herding the sheep under Pastore’s care, leading them into the fields after the harvest, into the hills during the spring, then back into the village for the summer shearing. The winters they spent in Pastore’s modest hunt and warmed by peat fires and the faithful sheep dog, Bess. In the spring, they camped out in the hills, sleeping on mats woven from rushes and eating nettles, hawthorne, dandelions, primroses, heartsease, linden leaves, violets, three cornered leeks, bittercress, cleavers, ground ivy and wild garlic. Fifteen years passed by in this way. Marco grew into a fine youth; Elena blossomed into a pretty maiden. Although they had been raised as brother and sister, Elena adored Marco as a lover.  He still thought of her as a child. In May, when they brought the sheep back into the village, Marco hoped to court the beautiful young daughter of a well off yeoman.

Before the flocks were returned, they were brought to a pound outside the village to have their fleece washed before it was sheared. After this task, Marco rested under a giant old oak tree, knobbly, rough, and twisted, perched upon a hill overlooking the pond, and dreamed of his lady love. It was very hot that day, and Elena stripped off all of her clothes and to cool herself in the water. She noticed Marco, asleep under the oak tree. Like a cat, she crept up to him and snuggled up by his side, She kissed him and enticed him into taking her maidenhead. Before he became sensible of what had happened, she had fled from him.

The summer months were spent in the village. Marco joined the men in shearing the sheep while Elena carded, spun, milked, and made cheese with the women. The women of the village began to notice changes in Elena and started to gossip: Marco was presumed responsible for her condition. The youth was shocked when he figured out what had happened and how he was to become a father.

He  searched out Elena and found her under the massive oak tree outside of the village, lying in the grass, staring up through the leaves and branches at the sky. Her long, dark hair, which framed her face like a nun’s veil when worn loose, was spread around her. The expression on her face was blank, her dark eyes darting and distracted.

The oak tree, ancient and gnarled, stood upon a hill which sloped down to the small pond. She turned her eyes to the pond and looked upon it with distant fondness.

“I’ve been looking for thee,” he said to her.

She turned and looked at him with the same distant fondness.

“People have been talking. I’m worried about thee”

“Don’t worry,” she finally said, “It was my mistake and I will deal with it as best I can.”

“The mistake wasn’t thine alone, thou shouldn’t have to deal with it alone.”

“I don’t want to be an obligation. I don’t want thee to grow to hate me.”

If I do feel obligated, it is only because I care about thee.”

“But dost thou love me?”

She rested one of her tiny hands on her stomach, which had already become soft and rounded. How young and vulnerable she looked; a child expecting a child.

“I want to protect and provide for the both of thee. If that is love, then yes.”

Her response to this declaration was other of her serene, madonna-like smiles. Where there had been distracted worry in her eyes before, there was now a feeling of relief.

“Wilst thou help me up?”  

He took her into his arms and helped her to her feet. His arms remained around her as they walked back into town.

In the late summer, the older sheep past their prime were slaughtered for mutton. Roast mutton, a rare treat which Marco and Elena only enjoyed once a year, was the crowning glory of their wedding feast, served alongside eel stew and a salad made from land cress and fat hen. The bells in the village church rang in celebration of the young couple. The Duchess, her godmother, kissed Elena as she entered the church.

In the autumn, after the harvest, the newly weds herded the sheep back into the fields. Early the next spring, their baby girl  was born and named Quercia, oak tree.

Chateau Aubrey: Part 1: Chapter 7

da639fac3914df8135cef446b083ef7b

The spring of 1914 gave way to a rather eventful summer. In June, Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria-Hungary and his wife were shot in Sarajevo, Bosnia by a Serbian causing Austria to declare war on Serbia and Germany and Russia to rush to the aid of their respective allies. There was talk of war in Rouen because France was an ally of Russia. But Catharine did not pay much attention to this. The summer for her passed as it usually did, with garden parties and dances, and picnics.

On August 3rd, she went to have tea with her mother. Tea was set up on a terrace in the garden under a giant chestnut tree. A pristine white tablecloth was placed on a table laden with delicious looking coconut rocks, fruit cake, madeira cake, toast and butter, and potato scones.

“Catharine, would you please pass the butter?” Madame d’Aubrey asked her daughter.

Catharine passed the butter to the mother. A young footman named Andre brought in the evening paper and brought it over to Madame.

“Monsieur has just returned from town,” he told her, “He’s out walking in the garden.”

“Thank you, Andre.”

Madame took the paper and looked at the front page. Catharine jumped up from the table when she heard her mother gasp.

“Maman, Maman, what is it?”She shouted.

The church bells in Rouen were all ringing and Mimi could hear them when she went into the garden to look for her father. She found him in a field of sunflowers on the outskirts of their property.

“Papa,” she called.

She ran over to him and stood by his side while he absent mindedly stroked her hair.

“Why are the bells ringing?” she asked.

When it was not a holiday, the church bells only rang when something terrible happened.

“We’re at war with Germany,” he told her.

He kissed her on the forehead and looked off into the distance.

Chateau Aubrey: Part 1: Chapter 6

dd027ec98962a60197b0bfa8556cd9a0

Mimi saw her sisters a good amount of times since they had been married, but it seemed to her that Catharine was always busy and Madeleine wanted nothing to do with them. It was lonely for her to be the only daughter left at home. Nine months after Madeleine’s wedding, Mimi went into Rouen to visit her sister.

It was a mild morning in March, and bright, cool, sunlight shone in through a large window in James and Madeleine’s flat and made the white walls look radiant. Madeleine was seated at the table and watched the street below.

“Nice to see you,” she said when Mimi came through the door.

“You look very well,” Mimi answered.

“You haven’t seen Jamie, have you? He’s been gone since last night.”

“No I haven’t. Why, is something the matter?”

“We had an argument last night, over something stupid really. He’s been upset because he doesn’t want to go the baptism of Catharine’s new daughter. I said that I didn’t really want to go myself but we had a family duty to go. Somehow it escalated from there; he accused me of flirting with other men at parties.  I said he was crazy and he hit me.”

“Good Lord! Did you hit him back?”

“Of course. I said that if he was going to behave like that, I was going to give it right back to him.”

“Good, it sounded like he deserved it.”

“Mostly I felt sorry for him because he didn’t have any better way to say what he wanted to. I can tell he’s afraid that I think I degraded myself by marrying him and is frustrated that he can’t give me something as good as what he took me from.”

“What a man, hitting his wife because he’s afraid and frustrated. If he’s going to behave that way towards you, perhaps you’re better off without him.”

The previous month, Catharine had given birth to a daughter. She and Georges were disappointed because they had been hoping for a boy. Catharine did not show much interest in her new born, saying “I guess she’s doing very well, the nurse is taking good care of her,” whenever she was asked about her daughter. When she had recovered from the birth, she went to call upon her sister Madeleine, simply out of curiosity, only to run into her brother in law outside stumbling his way home looking tired and disheveled like he had been out all night. She asked the chauffeur to stop the car and pick him up.

“I know what’s going on,” she told him.

“What is it?” He answered back in a rather surly way.

“You’ve been married for nine months and you’re sick of it.”

“What makes you think that?”

She chuckled.

“Madeleine will be wondering where you are. No doubt seeing you in the state you’re in will upset her and she’ll say things that’ll make you angry. And in the state you’re in, that shouldn’t be too hard. Madeleine can be dreadfully infuriating sometimes.”

“Only you could be so spiteful. As if I could ever hurt a sweet little thing like Madeleine. We had an argument last night, she was right, I lost my temper and I don’t know what came over me. I feel terrible about it.”

The first year of James’s marriage to Madeleine  had not been easy for him. Not that he did not love her or that she was hard to get on with but because her family was watching him and expecting him to fail. They all whispered that she should not have married him and that she had lowered himself by doing so.

James especially hated all of the prancing peacocks with flowery and overly love names who showed up at Chateau Aubrey, trussed up in their starchy tuxedos and lavishing hand kisses and sappy compliments gleamed from the latest novel on unsuspecting women. It seemed perfectly acceptable in France for a man to be gallant towards another’s wife; certainly no American would ever behave this way. In New York, men were stabbed for less.  Madeleine, bless her heart, was pretty enough to attract admiration but not self confident enough to be impervious to flattery. She gave him no reason to suspect that she felt any dissatisfaction with him but he often projected his frustrations onto her and caused him to sometimes behave shamefully towards her.

“See I was right. Listen, if she’s getting on your nerves, why don’t you leave her. There’s no use terrorizing the poor thing. Maybe she’s just as eager to get rid of you.”

“I’ve always thought a couple of good slugs was exactly what you needed.”

The car brought them to where he and Madeleine were living.

“Look at the stray dog I picked up off the side of the road,” she had said to her sister when returned her husband to her.

What made this even more humiliating was the spiteful glee Catharine took in the situation, and he was in just as bad a state when he arrived home as when he had left. His goodbye to Catharine was “you nasty hag” (at twenty-eight Catharine was beginning to be sensitive to the fact that she was not as young as she used to be.)

Madeleine hovered around him when he came in.

“Go on, say it,” he told her, “I’ve been out all night, I just insulted your sister…”

“Do you think I care if anyone insults Catharine?” She answered, “I’m just glad your back.”  

She brought him some coffee and some omelette and then sat down beside him, saying that she had something to tell him.

“Mimi dropped by this morning,” she began, “and I told her that I’d would visit this afternoon.”

“Yes and…”

“Well,  I have an important announcement to make and I felt that I should tell you first because it concerns you more than anyone else. I’ve had my suspicions for some weeks now but I went to a doctor a couple days ago and he confirmed it. We’re going to have a baby.”

“Oh Mado,” he reached over and took her into his arms, “I’m not squeezing you too hard am I?”

“No, you’re fine. You don’t have to go to Catharine’s daughter’s baptism if you don’t want to.”

“I’ll go, I go,” he said stroking the back of her head.

That afternoon, Madeleine made good on her promise to visit her family. While she was gone, he went for a walk to make sense of the news that he was to be a father. He imagined a hazel eyed, freckle faced little boy who would grow up to look like him but hopefully without any of his faults. Or perhaps a lovely little girl with ribbons in her hair who would become just like her mother. A boy would need to be set a good example and a girl would need to be petted and protected.

“When will the baby be born?” he asked her when she returned home.

“In the autumn,” she responded.

 

New York City- February, 1899

The crown jewel of the Bowery circa 1899 was a vaudeville theater called Gaiety Hall. Its star was Ada Amsel, known as the German Blackbird, who was celebrate for having the sweetest voice and the most racy songs in all of New York. Ada was an old family friend of Laurie’s, having had a brief and regretted dalliance with his father years ago. She had been the one who discovered Laurie’s talents for drawing and painting and sometimes gave him work designing backdrops for her theater. Jimmy often came along with him. He loved the world of the backstage; it was colorful, glamorous and exciting: everything the factory was not. The showgirls doted on him, often getting Toby, the candyman, to give him freebees. He could often make a little bit of money running errands for the stagehands. Ada always let him and Laurie watch her shows for free. This was one of the biggest treats in Jimmy’s life; he would always walk out singing one of the songs in his piping little boy voice.

On cold sunday afternoon in February, Jimmy loitered around backstage watching Laurie paint a backdrop of a jungle. The backstage door opened, and a red headed girl carrying a sewing basket walked in.

“Excuse me,” she said to Jimmy, her voice was musical and lilting, “I’m looking for Miss Cora, I was told to speak to her about a job.”

“I’ll go look for her,” Jimmy answered.

“Why thank you, young man,” she winked at him.

Jimmy dashed off to find Miss Cora, the costume lady. While she waited, the redhead walked over to admire the backdrop that Laurie was working on.

Laurie, in turn, admired her. She was small and dainty, with the tiny, nipped waist and exaggerated s-shaped curves which were highly desirable at the time. Her red-gold hair was arranged in the delicate puffs of a fashionable pompadour. By the standards of Lower Manhattan, she was well dressed in a blue frock that complimented the color of her large eyes.  A delicate little head was perched up an elegant neck; a full, rosy, and impudent mouth smiled back at him.

“It almost looks real,” she said to him, referring to his jungle backdrop.

“Is that supposed to a compliment?” Laurie answered.

“Perhaps.”

“Can I help you with anything, Miss…?”

“Rosa, Rosa Murray.”

“Lawrence Brady and the pleasure’s all mine”

“You little friend went to find the costume woman for me. I’m here look for work as a seamstress.”

“Well I wish you luck.”

“Thanks”

“I can tell by your voice, you’re Irish. Where in Ireland is your family from?”

“Strabane, in County Tyrone.”

“My oldman came from Belfast.”

“Is that so?”

“When I die and go to heaven, the first thing I want to hear when I pass through the pearly gates is you saying “is that so” in your lovely brogue.”

Rosa blushed and giggled coquettishly.

Over the next few days, Laurie asked around about Rosa Murray. It turned out that she had married a man named Will Murray, her childhood sweetheart, the previous November.

Chateau Aubrey: Part 1: Chapter 5

ce20914803003ccf42c7d7fa5c9dbb4c

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.”

“Alright.”

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 Chevalier asked his wife.

“I’m very proud of you, my dear.” Madame 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 Chevalier 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,” Madame 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 Madame 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 Chevalier 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.