Retribution: Chapter Thirty-Three

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Marianne sat in front of the mirror in Hélène’s bedroom while Hélène arranged her hair. The morning before, she had washed it using egg yolks and then sat outside in the sun to let it dry. Lemon juice had been drizzled into her hair before she let it dry outside to bring out its golden highlights. Today, she had spent several hours in wave clamps and curlers. Hélène twisted each curl, stiff and sticky from permanent wave lotion, and pinned to Marianne’s head. The rest of her golden hair rippled in exaggerated waves.

Marianne placed her mother’s opal hair comb in the back of her hairdo. Around her neck, she put her pearl necklace, paired with the earrings Catharine had given her for Christmas. She stood up and smoothed the skirt of her wedding dress. Its white chiffon had the faintest blush of pink, which suited her rosy complexion perfectly. With it, she wore a cloche hat adorned with white ribbons.

Augustin opened the door and peeked in on them.

“You know it’s bad luck for a groom to see his bride in her dress before the wedding,” Hélène shouted at him.

“Such a beautiful bride is worth the risk,” Augustin responded, “but I won’t tempt fate much longer.”

He closed the door and left them alone. Marianne put on her lace gloves and took a final look at herself in the mirror.

“It’s also bad luck for a bride to look at herself fully dressed in a mirror,” Hélène continued.

“Surely you don’t believe in such superstitions?” Marianne answered.

“Perhaps they’re only self-fulling, but it never hurts to be careful.”

Augustin had agreed to meet up with Marianne for six o’clock at Sacre Coeur, the white onion-domed basilica at the top of the hill of Montmartre. Marianne had gone a little bit earlier to take confession; she wanted to be in a state of grace when she got married.

A young priest met them in one of Sacre Coeur’s chapels which had a white marble altarpiece topped by a statue of the Virgin Mary holding the baby Jesus. They knelt down at the altar while the priest said a blessing over them.

“Grant, we pray, almighty God” the priest began, “That these your servants, Augustin and Marianne, now to be joined by the Sacrament of Matrimony, may grow in the faith they profess and enrich your church with faithful offspring. Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, forever and ever.”

“Amen,” Augustin and Marianne replied.

They joined their right hands together and repeated the vows that the priest read aloud.

“I, Augustin Omar,” Augustin restated, “take thee, Marianne Louise…”

“I, Marianne Louise,” Marianne echoed, “take thee, Augustin Omar…”

“Ego conjugo vos in matrimonium, in nomine Patris et Filii et Spiritus Sancti. Amen.”

“With this ring, I thee wed,” Augustin put a simple golden band on Marianne’s soft, plump finger.

“With this ring, I thee wed,” Marianne put a similar ring on Augustin’s long, calloused finger.

The priest made a sign of the cross over them while they leaned in for a kiss.

“…Esto eis, Domine, turris fortitudinis…” the priest finished up the rite. Be unto them a tower of strength.

The clerk at the Mairie had agreed to meet them at ten o’clock, after closing time. To pass the time until then, they met Faucherie and Hélène on the outdoor patio of Le Consulat, a narrow rectangular restaurant on an island in the center of the cobblestone Rue Norvins. The table where Faucherie and Hélène sat was up against the red painted wall and underneath the red awning.

Augustin took Marianne’s hand and kissed it before they sat down at their table.

“We’ll stop by the Mairie and make things official,” he began, “Then we’ll check into a nice hotel, get a bottle of champagne, and I’ll bring you upstairs and… convince you to pay for the champagne.”

“Hey,” Faucherie joined in, “Let the poor girl get some sleep tonight.”

Hélène sat next to him with Johnny, who was wearing a smart little bowtie for the occasion, in her lap. After Augustin and Marianne, Hélène was the person Johnny was fondest of. She, like many other cynics before her, said that she liked dogs better than people.

As Marianne finished up her meal of soupe à l’oignon and bœuf bourguignon and a dessert of poire Belle Hélène, she saw a group of well-dressed young men about town come down from the upstairs dining room. The tallest and best looking of the group was instantly recognizable to her. She excused herself, saying that she needed to take Johnny outside, and followed them into the alley which ran alongside the restaurant.

“What are you doing here?” she demanded when she caught up with the tall, handsome young man.

“This is a favorite place of mine,” Edmond responded, “The crème du barry is fantastic. I believe congratulations are in order since it’s your wedding day.”

“How do you know?”

“Your lover isn’t as discrete as he should be. Mathilde and I were at Le Monstre last week and he, obvious after too much to drink, was bragging that he was going to marry you on Sunday.”

“Go home, Edmond. Mathilde is probably wondering where you are.”

“Mathilde is probably swilling gin cocktails and throwing away my money on a roulette table. Let’s hope you make Lerou a better wife.”

He looked her over in a hungry, predatory way.

“How sweet you look in that pretty white dress, though a whore’s red would be more appropriate.”

Marianne raised her hand to strike him but he grabbed her wrist to stop her.

“Let go of me,” she shrieked.

“I’m taking you back to your aunts. You won’t disgrace our family further by marrying that rat.”

She struggled but he twisted her arm, making her scream. Johnny barked as if calling for help.

“I guess all your daddy’s money couldn’t buy you some manners,” Augustin approached with his pistol aimed at Edmond, “Is that how you treat a lady?”

“Ha! I don’t see a lady,” Edmond laughed, “All I see is a filthy slut.”

“Let go of her, Danton. Marianne is mine and she’s coming with me.”

“She’s a stupid, worthless thing who’ll come with whoever will have her.”

“Is that so?” Marianne taunted, “Or am I stupid and worthless because I wouldn’t have you?”

Edmond let go of her and shoved her away. Marianne landed on the ground, flopping back like a rag doll. Johnny began barking again, hysterically alerting passers-by to what was going on.

“Shut that damn dog up,” Augustin shouted.

Marianne rushed to scoop up the dog into her arms and soothe him.

Augustin again raised and aimed his pistol at Edmond, “I’ve been wanting to do this for months.”

“Pull the trigger and to Hell with the consequences, that’s all that your type know how to do.”

Laughing, Augustin dropped his pistol, “Why waste a bullet on the likes of you?”

He smiled and pushed Edmond out of his way. Edmond landed against the wall, his right hand cushioning the blow. His right hand clenched into a fist which he pounded against the bricks.

“Not so hard now, are we?” Augustin taunted, “Pushing around little girls is more your speed?”

Edmond stood up and took a few steps forward. Twisting his body, he launched a punch that made Augustin stagger. Augustin kicked the pistol on the ground over towards Marianne, who bent down to pick it up.

The pistol felt heavy in her hands which trembled as she held it. She took a breath, and tried to compose herself, then looked Edmond in the eyes and raised her pistol so that it was level with both of their line of vision.

“Nice try, Cinderella,” Edmond laughed, “If Ali Baba here doesn’t scare me, you certainly don’t. Now be a good girl, put that thing down, and come with me. Your loving aunts have been anxious about you.”

“I don’t want to have to use this,” Marianne shouted, “Now be on your way.”

“Why don’t I tell the flics that you and your little friend have been hiding out here in Montmartre? The two of you could spend your honeymoon in two separate jail cells.”

Her finger curled around the trigger of the gun. She took a deep breath and pulled it.

The next thing that Marianne was aware of was Augustin grabbing her arm and dashing off, pulling her along with him. They disappeared down into the nearest metro station and hopped onto the next train which jerked and rattled them far away. Marianne stared blankly in front of her the entire time and did not say a word. When they got off, Augustin led her back up to the street and to his aunt’s flat on the Rue Saint-Denis. Maude was surprised to see them. Augustin explained the situation to her as she lead them into the living room.

“Poor thing,” Maude replied, referring to Marianne, “On what was supposed to be her wedding day.”

Marianne had not said a word the entire time. She held Johnny close to her chest and the little dog licked her face to try to comfort her. Augustin discussed with Maude how he was going to leave Paris the next morning.

“A tramp named Gui Berger, an acquaintance of mine told me about hobo camp behind the Gare St. Lazare,” Augustin told her, “I plan to sneak out of town through there.”

“You’ll have to get up early in the morning,” Maude replied, “Get some sleep.”

Augustin was to sleep in his old bed in the room he had shared with Léon. Maude made a bed for Marianne on the sofa in the living room. After Maude have gone to sleep, Augustin crept out to check on Marianne. She had undressed but was pretty much the same as he had left her: quietly holding Johnny close to her chest. Augustin sat down next to her.

“Do you think he’s dead?” she asked him when she finally spoke.

“Unfortunately no,” he responded, “Don’t look at me like that. Edmond Danton is a stupid, arrogant bastard and he got exactly what he was asking for.”

“I understand, but I never wanted his blood on my hands.”

He put his arm around her and she snuggled closer to him.

“Listen, Marianne, I think you should go back to your aunts.”

“Edmond will tattle about me shooting him to everyone. My aunts will make me turn myself in and I could end up in prison.”

“They’ll go easy on you. Edmond was harassing you and you can say it was self-defense. The fact that you ran away with me won’t matter either. They’ll think you’re a silly little girl who didn’t know what she was doing and shouldn’t be punished too hard. That sweet face of yours would be plea enough.”

“I want to leave with you, Augustin. We’re not married by law but we are in the sight of God. I’m your wife and I’m going to stay by your side.”

He smiled and kissed her on the forehead.

“Suit yourself. Good night”

“Please stay.”

They were both exhausted after the day’s events and fell asleep, their arms entwined around one another like a honeysuckle vine around a hazel tree.

Maude woke them up the next morning up before the sun had risen. Augustin put on some of his old clothes: a corduroy shirt, a pair of denim overalls, and a pair of heavy work boots. Marianne was given a similar outfit which had belonged to Léon. She plaited her hair into a braid, so it was easier to tuck under her baker boy cap.

With her hair worn underneath a hat and the baggy clothes which managed to hide her very feminine figure, she could pass for a boy under casual inspection.

“Goodbye Maude,” Augustin said to his aunt, “I’ll call and write.”

Maude kissed him on the cheek and said, “God bless you, my boy.”

The pale light of early morning shown through the greenhouse like walls and ceiling of Saint Lazare and cast long shadows. Its platforms stretched further and further into these shadows and seemed to go on forever. At the platform’s end was the railyard, where an elaborate system of tracks lead in countless different directions. Beyond the railyard, a gravelly hill sloped down to the banks of the Seine and a cleared out area among a grove of trees and bushes which grew alongside the river.

A few tumbledown shelters made of boards, scrap metal, and whatever else could be found were placed up against the trees along with a number of sagging tents. Bits of clothing were laid out to dry on the bushes. In the center of the cap was a fire pit where a large pot filled with stew and a smaller pot filled with coffee simmered above a pile of glowing embers, filling the air with the smells of stew, coffee, and woodsmoke. Most of the tramps were stretched out on the ground underneath their ramshackle dwellings, sleeping with their hats covering their faces. Some of them had the laces of their old, beat up, and mismatched shoes tied around their wrists. One man was shaving in front of a cracked mirror which hung from a tree while another sat by the fire, playing a soft, haunting tune on a harmonica.

“Say, brother,” Augustin said to the man with the harmonica, “When’s the next train coming?”

The man stopped playing and put down his instrument.

“In about an hour,” he replied, “There’s some stew left in the pot if you and your friend want some.”

“Thanks.”

Augustin and Marianne sat down by the fire and, hungry since they had not yet had breakfast, helped themselves to the leftover stew, a muddle of different ingredients that was nonetheless delicious. The man looked over Marianne, who at first glance appeared to be a baby-faced youth of about twelve or thirteen.

“A little young to be out on the rails,” he said, “Aren’t you, son?”

“I’m a girl,” Marianne replied. She took off her hat to let loose her braid.

The man chuckled and scratched Johnny, who had come over to sniff him.

“Where’s the next train heading?” Augustin asked.

“It’s the Paris/Le Havre line,” the man replied.

“The coast,” Marianne added, “Augustin, we could get on a boat and sail across the Channel to England.”

“Fancy living in England?” Augustin responded.

“Not particularly. I’ve heard the weather and the food are terrible.”

Over the hill leading up to the railyard, came a gangly, raggedy figure. Augustin called over to him.

“Hey,” he said, “There’s still some stew left if you want it?”

As the figure came closer, Augustin recognized him.

“Gui, where you heading?”

“Don’t know,” Gui replied, “I just hop aboard and see where it takes me.”

He swept Marianne a little bow and greeted her with a “Mademoiselle” before sitting down by the fire and pouring the last of the stew into a beat up tin cup he had with him.

“Augustin and I are taking the Paris/Le Havre line,” Marianne told him, “We’re going to the coast.”

“I hear Le Havre is nice this time of year. They’re sure to have plenty work at the docks.”

Dawn spread its rosy glow over Paris, who yawned and stretched like a languid beauty. An ethereal fog covered the Seine and the air was humid, heavy, and still. It was hard to believe on such a quiet morning that the events of the night before could have happened.

Augustin, Marianne, and Gui enjoyed their stew and chatted about their plans until it was time to meet the train to Le Havre. The hiss of the train’s whistle marked the hour and the train began to chug away, building up speed as the three of them ran after it. Gui grabbed onto the metal ladder attached to the boxcar and skillfully pulled himself onboard. He opened the sliding door and helped Augustin jump inside. Marianne continued to run alongside them, carrying Johnny under her arm but had a difficult time catching up because the boots she was wearing were too large for her.

“Take my hand,” Gui called to her.

She reached up and caught his hand. He pulled her up and threw her inside; she fell hard against the wooden floor. Johnny scampered away from her and went to whimper in the corner.

“Sorry Mademoiselle,” he helped her up.

She looked out of the boxcar door. The wind blew her hair; stray strands brushed against her face, making her itchy all over, like a flea-bitten dog. Smoke made her eyes blurry. With every turn of the wheels, Paris got smaller and further away.

“Get back,” Augustin told her.

He pulled the sliding door shut and closed the latch.

“There’s still a few hours until we reach the coast,” Augustin continued, “Get some more sleep if you can.”

He sat down and leaned against the wall of the boxcar and pulled his hat over his eyes. She placed herself next to him and put her head on his shoulder, dozing off curled up against him like a she-wolf with her mate. Johnny curled up on her lap.

As her old life became more and more distance, Marianne dreamt of the places and people she had known back in Paris. Tante Catharine’s stuffy and uncomfortable second empire style drawing room which was always unbearably hot. Her aunts and cousins gathered for afternoon tea or evening cocktails. The poky corners, chalkboard walls, and rattan chairs of La Première Étoile; stealing a moment or two to gossip with Manon and Anna between serving tables. Her own prim and cozy little flat; Louise Verte dropping by for a chat. She wondered if they were all looking for her or had they given up on her completely.

“Excuse me, Madame,” Annette said as she tapped on Catharine’s shoulder to try to wake her up. Catharine rolled over but Annette continued to tap on her shoulder.

“I’m sorry to wake you up so early,” Annette continued, “But there’s been a call from Mademoiselle Mathilde. She says it’s urgent.”

Catharine sat up and rubbed her eyes. It must be urgent if her daughter was awake before noon.

“I’ll be right there,” she told Annette.

She dragged herself out of bed and into the front hall and picked up the telephone receiver which was hanging off of its stand.

“Dearest,” she said, “What’s the matter?”

“It’s Edmond,” Mathilde shrieked, “He’s in the hospital. He was shot last night and has been unconscious for hours.”

“How on earth did he get shot?”

“They don’t know yet. The shooter was gone before they found him. We won’t know anything until Edmond wakes up if he ever wakes up.”

Catharine could not tell if Mathilde was about to cry or if it was just her high-pitched and whiney voice.

“I’ll be there as soon as I can.”

She quickly got dressed and called a cab to take her over to Auteuil. Agnès, still in her pajama, greeted her at the door.

“Where’s your sister?” Catharine asked her.

“Upstairs in her room,” Agnès replied.

“How is she?”

“Hysterical.”

They found Mathilde draped over her triangle shaped bed; pale blue pajamas, willowy porcelain colored limbs, and a dark french bob laying across a silver satin coverlet. Her sobs were muffled by white velvet throw pillows.

“Maman’s here,” Agnès called to her.

“Dearest,” Catharine said, “How are you feeling?”

“My husband is going to die,” Mathilde whined, “My life is over.”

Agnès brought over a tempting looking place of fruit and pastries over from the rectangular daybed where a maid had left it.

“Eat something,” she said, “You need to keep up your strength.”

Mathilde sat up and sulked petulantly.

“I couldn’t possibly eat a thing,” she said, before noticing that the plate was laden with apricots and choux pastries, her favorites, “Well, maybe just a little bit.”

She began to greedily nibble on a choux and said that she had absolutely no appetite.

A polite knock was heard at the door. Agnès went to answer it.

“There’s been a call from the hospital,” the maid who crept in said, “Monsieur Edmond has regained consciousness.”

Catharine made the sign of the cross and Agnès sighed “thank God.”

“He says that he wants you to come to the hospital,” the maid told them.

Edmond had been brought to the Hôtel Dieu on the Ile de Cité. A nursing sister showed Catharine and her daughters to the room where he was convalescing. When they came in, they Edmond sitting up in the bed, a piece of cotton wadding placed on his left eye and held in place with gauze bandaging wrapped around his head. He was speaking with a policeman, who had come in right before Catharine, Mathilde, and Agnès.

Mathilde rushed in and went to Edmond’s bedside.

“My poor ducky,” she gushed before peppering his face with kisses.

“Easy there, Poupée,” Edmond responded.

“What in the world has happened to you?”

“Excuse me, Monsieur Danton,” the policeman said, “I’m Inspector Marcel of the Dix-Huitième Arrondissement, may I ask you a few questions?”

“Certainly,” Edmond replied, “Whatever it takes to put that dangerous animal and his tart behind bars.”

“Do you mind describing what happened to you?”

“No, not at all. I came to Montmartre last night with some friends of mine, Philippe Esterhàzy, Hugh de Courtenay, and Newland van Schuyler, and we had dinner at Le Consulat, where I spotted a girl I know. Her name is Marianne d’Aubrey and she is my wife’s cousin. She had been missing for weeks and my aunts-in-law were beside themselves trying to look for her, so I decided that the decent thing to do would be to try to convince her to return to her family. But the type she was with, an unsavory character named Augustin Lerou (you might remember that he escape from La Santé back in February) pulled a gun on me. Marianne urged him on to shoot and that’s all I remember.”

“That Lerou character is a slippery one. They’ve been trying to catch him for months but have had no luck.”

“Good Lord,” Catharine said, “You chickens are worse than useless. What on earth do we pay you for.”

“We believe that Lerou was being harbored by Bruno Faucherie himself,” Inspector Martel continued, “Faucherie is one of the best-guarded men in France. It would be easier to try to make off with the Mona Lisa. Now how does the girl play into all of this?”

“How do you think?” Edmond responded, “She’s Lerou’s floozy. That’s why she disappeared; she ran off with him.”

“Excuse me, Inspector,” Catharine cut in again, “Mademoiselle d’Aubrey is my niece. I’ll do whatever I can to help you find her.”

“Thank you, Madame,” Inspector Martel responded, “I’m sure your help will be invaluable.”

As Inspector Martel walked out, another man walked in. He was in his early thirties, of medium height, and stout build and wore a somewhat shabby looking suit and hat.

“I’m sorry to bother you,” he said, “I’m Aidan Murray from La Vie Française.”

Edmond told the journalist everything he had told Inspector Martel. Murray greedily jotted down every detail.

“What do you want to bet that your son-in-law got shot because he was fighting it out with Lerou over your niece,” Murray said to Catharine as they walked down the stairs going down to the main floor of the hospital.

“You sound like a pulp novelist rather than a newspaperman, Monsieur Murray,” Catharine replied.

“Pulp novels, newspapers, I don’t see much difference. But I do see a good story when it’s in front of me. Dangerous love affairs, the criminal underworld, high society, jealousy, violence: it has all the right ingredients. Readers will eat it up.”

“You’re a vulture, do you know that?”

“Nothing personal, Madame, we all have to earn our bread somehow. Maybe after this story breaks, I’ll be able to buy my wife those Cartier earrings she’s been wanting.”

Catharine did not like the idea of her family’s dirty laundry being aired in front of the whole country one bit but perhaps it might be necessary for finding Marianne, wherever she was.

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Chateau Aubrey: Book 2, Chapter 7

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The increasingly short and cold days of autumn at Ferme Pommier were busy with preparation for winter. Most of the apples picked in September and October were put into the cider presses; their juice left to ferment and turn into cider inside massive barrels. Fat hams and slabs of bacon hung in the smokehouse. The floors and walls of the farmhouse, barns, and storage buildings were rigorously cleaned with rags and soapy water, tile by tile, stone by stone, brick by brick, and the whitewash freshened up. Madame Renault complained to her husband that the kitchen range was smoking because the chimney was blocked up. The blockage was cleared up using a holly bush which was pulled through the chimney using a rope.

“Be careful up there, Pascale,” his wife called to him from down below.

Pierrette, so called because of her black and white spots, the nanny goat who provided milk for the little Renaults, was put to work clearing the strawberry patch of weeds. The strawberry plants were then uprooted and potted and put into the greenhouse to be protected from the coming cold winds, frost, and snow. Pierrot, Pierrette’s mate, had the task of trimming the hedgerows which bordered the fields. Chanticleer and his harem of hens were put to roost in the hen house.  A prized bull with the impressive name of Le Roi David le Deuxième was brought from a nearby farm and put in the field with the cows in hopes that in a few months there would be calves.

One brisk day in late October, Madeleine helped Madame Renault brush the pigs with vegetable oil. The pigsty was next to privies and the stink bothered Madeleine to the point where she had to put a clothespin on her nose.

“It isn’t exactly Coty perfume, isn’t it,” Madame Renault said, teasing, “The first frost should be here soon, the best time to pick sloes. What you do is you prick the sloes with a knitting needle and you put them in a gallon jug filled with gin and sugar. Should keep for years, that is if you don’t drink it all at once.”

The first frost came a week or so later in early November. The day promised to be rainy and miserable and the women spent the afternoon indoors turning the sloes they had picked in the morning into sloe gin. Madame Renault had some bottles from the year before and the dreary November day passed quickly with village gossip and news of the men off at the front. Madeleine was a bit tipsy when she returned home to Chateau Aubrey that evening. She had drunk comparatively little but the gin had gone quicker to her head than it would have if she was used to drinking the stuff.

“I must tell you, my sweet Mado, about a conversation I had with our brother-in-law Georges the other day. We were given a leave of several days last week to spend in the bars and cafes of the village near where we are entrenched; this is where Georges and I ran into each other and talked about how we had been spending our leave. I told him that I had gone to see A Fool There Was, that movie starring Theda Bara, at the local cinema, and mostly loafed about the cafes.”

Of course, he would go to see such filth, Catharine thought as she read the letter which she had noticed on her sister’s desk during one of the conferences that the d’Aubrey sisters had in Madeleine’s room which had taken place that morning. Madeleine usually read her letters from her husband out loud but, for some reason, had felt the need to hide this particular one. Her curiosity peaked, Catharine continued reading.

“Georges then told me about how he and his officer friends had visited a particular house in the village, one with a red porch light by the door, where they called upon a red-haired beauty who received them dressed in a backless black frock, black leather boots which laced up above her knees, black satin gloves, and a black velvet ribbon tied around her swanlike throat.  There they enjoyed a delicious dinner, with lots of wine, and all the other forms of hospitality which the lady provided.

Do not think for a moment, my darling, that I participate in or condone such behavior but you must understand that these women are only poor substitutes for the wives and sweethearts the men who visit them really want to be with.  But in the case of poor Georges, I doubt he has much to look forward to when he comes home.”

Catharine’s heart pounded in her chest and she felt flushed and hot. If Georges and James had been there in person, she would have struck them both. She could not tell which of them she was angrier at, her husband for betraying her or her brother-in-law for mocking her about it.

Madeleine’s response was still on the blotter, to be sealed and delivered later. Catharine picked up the other letter to see what her sister had said.

“My dear Jamie,” it began,“I was shocked to hear about Georges’s behavior but I was more shocked about how you gloated about it. If a husband strays, then it must be because the wife isn’t doing her job and the shame is all one her? Absurd! I can only imagine how broken hearted Catharine would be if she heard about what her husband has done, and saying she deserved it is beneath you.  All I have left to say is that I am disappointed in the both of you and that Georges should go see a medic and get himself tested for venereal disease.”

She stuck up for me, Catharine thought to herself. Her first instinct was to be defensive; she did not need anyone to defend her, especially Madeleine. But a part of her was touched that her sister would support her when she had expected Madeleine join James in mocking her.

“Catharine, are you still in there?” Mimi called from the hallway.

“Yes, I am,” Catharine answered.

The swish-swish sound of Mimi’s skirts was heard as she came through the door.

“Mathilde and Agnès just woke up from their naps. Nounou was wondering if you would like to go see them?”

“Of course, I’ll tell her to bring the children down to the drawing room at tea time.”  

After Mimi left, Catharine quickly put the letters back where she had found them and straightened up everything on the desk to make it look like she had never been there, then she went down to the drawing room for tea. The Chevalier, Madame, and Mimi were all gathered there. Madeleine was still off working at Ferme Pommier and would not be back until after dark. Her work at the Renault farm prompted her family to refer to her as “Farmer Mado” with affectionate contempt.

Mathilde and Marianne sat on a blanket on the floor playing with their cloth dolls. Agnès was placed in Catharine’s lap. The Chevalier read the newspaper and discussed the current situation of the war with his eldest daughter, who grumbled in frustration. A family joke was that if Catharine could have been general, the war would have been over in two weeks.

Catharine dawdled little Agnès on her lap. She had hoped that spending time with her children would help improve her mood, but all she could see when she looked at her two beautiful daughters was their unfaithful father.  

With not much farm work to be done during the month of December, women from Contaille sought temporary employment at the Chateau. Their help was sorely needed to get things ready for Christmas. During the weeks leading up to the twenty-fifth, the fine wooden paneling in some of the rooms was cleaned with warm beer and polished with a mixture of black treacle, gin, and linseed oil. A mixture of whipped egg whites and sugar was used to clean leather upholstery.  The rooms had to be aired out afterwards to get rid of the sickly sweet- alcoholic odors left behind.

Madeleine had promised to ride out to Ferme Pommier on Christmas Eve to take a look at the calves. On her way out to the stable, she ran into Mimi, who appeared to be waiting for her.

“May I borrow your car, please?” Mimi asked.

“What for?” Madeleine answered.

“I’m going into Rouen to visit the hospital. I promised to help hand out coffee and pastries to the men and today they’re distributing the care packages.”

“Can’t you catch a ride with Catharine and Maman?”

“They’re going to the village to oversee the decorating of the church. Please Mado, can I please borrow your car?”

“Alright, make sure you bring it back in one piece.”

Mimi skipped off to put on her coat and hat. Madeleine continued on her way to the stable, where her horse, Desdemona, was saddled up and waiting for her.  

December was the time when last year’s calves are weaned from their mothers. It was a simple looking task involving leading the calves into another pen with a bucket of oats but would try even the most hard-hearted.

Madeleine rode up to where Monsieur Renault was standing by the pasture. He helped her dismount and called for one of the farm hands to bring Desdemona to the stable.

“What will happen to the poor dears,” she asked him, referring to the calves.

“When they’re grown, the females will be used for breeding while the males will be slaughtered for their meat and hides,” Monsieur Renault answered.

“I don’t think I could ever look at a filet mignon the same way again.”

“The heifers are expecting again and will have their calves in the spring, we’ll need lots of help then.”

“I’m glad to hear it; I’m honored to help out here”  

“And we’re honored to have you.”

He took her hand and kissed it. Madeleine flushed pink.

“What’s Madame Renault cooking for dinner? It smells wonderful. Is that ham?”

“I think so.”

After looking over the calves and their pregnant mothers, he invited her inside to have a tumbler of Calvados with him and his wife. Madame Renault was in the kitchen, putting an apple tart into the oven. Pots of potatoes, carrots, and turnips were boiling on the stove. Madeleine wished her a Merry Christmas and she politely but coolly returned the greeting.

After taking a tumbler of Calvados with the Renaults, Madeleine rode back home. She found her mother and Catharine in the drawing room, where they were talking with Madame Baudin, the cook, about the menu for Christmas Dinner. It was to be a very uneventful Christmas; they would attend midnight mass that evening and only a few close friends would be over for dinner on Christmas Day. There was not even a tree in the great hall since the custom was seen as too German.

Nounou had made sure the children had napped before they went to church and were dressed in their best frocks with ribbons tied into their hair. Madeleine changed out of her riding habit and put on the suit she chose to wear to mass.

“Can you lace my corset tighter?” she asked her maid.

“I’m sorry, Madame,” the girl answered, “This is as tight I can get it.”

“After the new year, I will wear myself out every day with exercising and will eat as little as Catharine.”

Her constitution had always been delicate which included a tendency towards lethargy and laziness. Combined with a healthy appetite, it had always made her mother worried that she would get plump. She was encouraged to be more like Catharine, who was rail thin even after two pregnancies, vigorous and athletic, and only ate a few mouth fulls of each course at dinner.

“This time next year, I will be skinny as a twelve-year-old,” she thought.

Emmeline d’Aubrey, who had an impeccable sense of timing, entered the local church with her family as the organ played the opening bars of Adeste Fideles. Pascal Renault lead the singing with his strong, clear baritone voice.

“Venite Adoremus!

Venite Adoremus!

Venite Adoremus, dominum!”

The church in Contaille-sur-Seine had been built in the thirteenth century. The interior had been repaired with some florid baroque touches several centuries later which classed with the solid, square, stone exterior.

For Christmas, the interior had been adorned with greenery and decorations made from silk flowers, pine cones, lace, and festively colored ribbons. It glowed with the light of countless white tapers.

Marianne fell asleep in her mother’s lap, clutching her rag doll, about halfway through the mass. Madeleine kissed her forehead and whispered “Merry Christmas, Princess.”

 

Chateau Aubrey: Book 2, Chapter 6

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James had adjusted quickly to the hardships of life in the trenches, sleeping in the mud, sharing his food with the rats, but he never could have imaged being used to watching men die. Every day, at least hundreds of soldiers, young men who were little more than schoolboys and middle-aged fathers of families, were killed, either in battle, from their injuries, or from disease. His friend Blanc had been shot dead during a surprise attack by the Bosche in the beginning of October. Mercifully, he had gone quickly without much suffering.

When a person had to face the fact that he could die at any moment, it made him look back on his life and question what he had done with it. If he were to die right now, what would have been the point of it all?

Since he was old enough to understand such things, James had known that his mother was a scarlet woman; Melanie Barrow had been colored scarlet since her birth. James’s grandmother had been a New Orleans prostitute named Cécile Boisseaux and his grandfather, James Barrow, had been the wayward son of an old Louisiana family. Barrow spiraled into depravity and debt and committed suicide. His daughter with Cécile, Melanie, was taken away from her mother and brought to live with the family of his older brother, where she grew up wild and quickly.

In 1888, when Melanie was not yet fifteen, the Barrows were visited by some distant relatives from England, Hugh Beaumont, Earl of St. Oswald with his wife, and eldest son, Francis, a handsome boy of seventeen. As it sometimes happens with young people of around the same age when they are thrown together, there was an instant attraction between Melanie and Francis. Around the same time, a Mr. Joseph Ackerman and his wife, who was Melanie’s aunt, visited for Mardi Gras. When Ackerman saw his lovely young niece, he lusted after her in secret for years, which would destroy him years later.

James himself was the result of the Mardi Gras visit from the Ackermans and Beaumonts, the result of Melanie sneaking out of her room and going to the garçonnière to be with Francis.  Melanie’s pregnancy had been a disgrace to her family and her baby was taken away from her. Uncle Ackerman took baby James with him and left him at a foundling hospital run by the Sisters of Charity. There a poor woman named Louise Roy became his nurse and foster mother. From the time he was old enough, James had worked in factories and was taken under the wing of Laurie Brady, Louise’s stepson. Laurie had been basically his older brother.

When James had been ten or eleven, that was when he finally got to meet his mother. She came to New York to find him. On her agenda had been revenge on her uncle. She took advantage of desire he had had for her since she was fourteen and seduced him, resulting in a scandal which nearly ruined him. An epidemic of influenza broke out in New York during the winter of 1900, and Melanie had come to her son’s side when he fell ill. The last of the few memories James had of her was of her nursing him through his sickness, her beautiful face looking down at him with eyes filled with love. After he had recovered, James had learned that she had succumbed to influenza herself and died.

If Melanie Barrow had been a scarlet woman, she paid for her sins by exchanging her life for his.

James had told Madeleine about his childhood on the streets of New York City. He told her that he had been an abandoned foundling who did not know who his parents were and was brought up by kindly strangers. He never had the heart to tell her the truth about his parents.

His life had gone through its share of rough spots but he had to admit that he was blessed to have made this far and not died young in the disease-ridden slums of New York or killed in the trenches. Maybe there was no reason other than chance to explain why he was still alive when countless people had died in this war but he would try his damnedest to see it through until the end.

Chapter Aubrey: Book 2, Chapter 5

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One of the larger farms on the estate of Chateau Aubrey was called Ferme Pommier after its apple orchards from which came the cider the chateau was famous for. Ferme Pommier was within a short distance from Contaille-sur-Seine, a small village on the outskirts of Rouen. The tenant farmer who ran this farm was a man called Pascale Renault who lived there with his wife and three children. Renault’s family had lived in the area for as long as anyone could remember, at least a century, and were very well respected, specifically by the d’Aubreys, their landlords.   

With most of the able-bodied men in Contaille and the surrounding area off fighting in the war, farms like Ferme Pommier needed hands to help with the harvest and the day to day work needed to keeps the farms running. Madeleine caught up in the surge of patriotism caused by the war, answered this call for volunteers to help keep France fed. Her family found this idea strange but thought that her desire to be useful and occupied was noble. On the day that Madeleine was supposed to begin work at Ferme Pommier, she awoke earlier, put on an old blouse, skirt, and hat, and went down the hill to the farm, running and skipping like a girl.

The farmhouse of Ferme Pommier was a greyish stone building with a shingled roof, rust-colored shutters, and white painted wooden window and door frames which looked pristine and cheerful against the somewhat weather-beaten and gloomy stone. A gravel driveway lead to the house from the main road going towards Contaille-sur-Seine but the way which Madeleine took went through a small garden of flowers, herbs, and vegetables and through a small entrance way into a gravel-paved courtyard in front of the farmhouse.

Pascale Renault, a burly, sunburnt looking man in his forties with a head of closely cropped blond bristles, and his family stood waiting to greet her. His wife, Anaïs, was a young woman of about thirty and pretty in the round, rosy, apple-like way country girls sometimes are. She came from a local family; a farmer’s daughter before she became a farmer’s wife.

“Madame Beaumont, welcome to Ferme Pommier,” Monsieur Renault said, “This is my wife, Anaïs.”

Anaïs Renault curtsied to Madeleine, who curtsied back and said “pleased to meet you, Madame Renault.”

“And this is Gabriel, our oldest,” Monsieur Renault continued.

Gabriel was a strapping lad of about five or six, very much like his father. Holding onto Madame Renault’s hand was another little boy of about four or five who was introduced as Yves. The youngest Renault child was a baby girl with rosy cheeks and curly hair whose name was Gillian Gillian seemed to be at the point of discovering her ability to walk and was not content to be confined to her mother’s arms.

“How pretty she is,” Madeleine said, admiring the baby, “How old is she?”

“She just turned a year old,” Madame Renault answered.

“Then she is about the same age as my Marianne, she’ll be a year old in October.”

Monsieur Renault then showed Madeleine around the farm. The farmhouse was surrounded by similar grey stone buildings which were picturesquely overgrown with rosebushes and wildflowers. These buildings were the barns and storage houses. Beyond this were the orchards, fields dotted with giant hayricks, and pastures where herds of cattle and sheep grazed. Each field and pasture was edged by a ditch and a row of wildflowers. Madeleine was also introduced to the animals in the barnyard. She first met the two Ardenne stallions, named St. François and St. Isidore, who pulled the plows and other such farm equipment, and Garçon, the little pony who pulled the cart which took the Renaults to and from town. There were also three goats, two female and one male, who provided milk for the family, and a prized sow named Duchesse. A flock of chickens, led by a rooster named Chanticleer, and a flock of geese inhabited the coop and ducks lived on the pond in the middle of the farm.

The workers in the fields were women from the nearby village who taking jobs left vacant by their menfolk and lads who were strong enough to do the work of men but were too young for the army. Madeleine assumed that these boys would not be there for long because they would would join up as soon as they were old enough or could find a recruiting sergeant who would turn a blind eye to their age. Some of boys were looking over a ram who had been brought in for breeding. They whistled as Madeleine as she came into the farmyard.

“Come feel the horns on St. Drogo here, Mademoiselle,” one them said, gripping the ram’s horns suggestively.  

Madeleine blushed, smiled, and walked on.

The two big tasks to be done in September were to build the hay ricks and fertilize the fields. Madeleine was assigned to help bail the hay on top of the ricks. The work in the hot sun made her tired and out of breath but she tried her hardest to keep up with the hardier country people. Nearby, a cart full of quicklime was pulled into the fields by one of the Ardennes. Monsieur Renault and a couple of the lads, with goggles and scarves on their faces to keep their eyes, noses, and mouths safe from the poisonous quicklime smoke, raked it out from the back of the cart.

Around noon, Madame Renault arrived with two large jugs of cider. The hands formed a line and each took a swig when it was their turn; the cool, fizzy, and sweet cider felt like a blessing.

“You look rather wilted, Madame Beaumont,” Madame Renault said when it was Madeleine’s turn. Madeleine sensed Anaïs Renault’s coolness to her and assumed that she had not like the idea of the Chevalier d’Aubrey’s daughter coming to work on her farm. To her, Madeleine must have seemed a kind of Marie Antoinette who saw her home as a kind of Petit Trianon.

Later on, in September, the apples ripened in the orchard’s trees. Picking them was a much easier job than bailing hay, it was even rather pleasant. Madeleine stood upon a small wooden ladder, search through the leaves of the tree to find a ripe apple, then twisted it by the stem until it came off and put it in her basket. When each basket was filled, it was put on a cart. Some of them were brought to the train station to be shipped to Paris, others would be brought to the chateau. There would be Tarte aux Pommes for dessert.

The trees were shady and by mid-September, the summer heat had passed. It was rather chilly in the morning and in the evening. The women who worked on the farm that had small children brought them with them into the fields. At the edge of the fields was a row of babies in large baskets. During breaks, the women would nurse their babies and let them crawl about in the grass.

This made Madeleine miss her own little Marianne. When she returned that evening, she went straight to the nursery, where she found her sisters. Catharine was leaning over one of the cradles and peering at Baby Agnès through the gauzy, white curtain. Mimi was bouncing Mathilde on his knee. Nounou was changing Marianne’s diaper. James’s gramophone had been brought into the nursery and it was playing Sidewalks of New York.

“I’m sorry for taking Monsieur James’s gramophone,” Nounou told Madeleine, “But the song helps Mademoiselle Marianne fall asleep.”

“It’s alright,” Madeleine answered.

She picked her daughter up off of the changing table and swaddled her to her breast.

“I missed you Little One.”

Marianne, much like little Gillian Renault, was at the crawling, standing up stage of babyhood and was eager to move about on her own. She squirmed and kicked in her mother’s arms until Madeleine had to put her down on her cot.

The grandfather clock in the nursery ticked closer and closer to seven when it was time for them to go and dress for dinner.

“You received a letter, today from James,” Catharine told Madeleine was they were walking to their rooms, “I put it on your desk.”

“Thank you,” Madeleine answered, surprised by this rare kind gesture from her sister.

“Why don’t you read it to us before we change for dinner?” Mimi suggested.

“Certainly.”

The letter was waiting on the desk in Madeleine’s room, she opened it while her sister sat down on the bed.

“My dearest Mado,” James’s letter began, “Days here are long and monotonous and each one seems to bleed into the next to the point where you almost cannot tell Friday from Saturday. Sundays stick out because there are church services; I go to the church service each week just like you told me to. Sometimes when there’s a lull in things, when there’s no rain or shelling, I find myself sitting in the mud of the trench, looking at a broken old clock to see what the time of day is. I also think about how I’m going to explain how to tell time to Marianne when she’s a little older: the short, stubby one marks the hour and the long slender one marks the minutes. It takes an hour for the long, slender one to complete a circle around the clock and it takes the short, stubby one half a day to do the same.  As I write this, it’s noon and the two hands on the old clock are together. I also think about other things I could teach her, like how to catch fireflies, skip stones across a lake, and how to point out different constellations. Someone else has to teach her adding, subtracting, dividing, and multiplying because I’ve never had a good dead for mathematics.”

“I just hope that he doesn’t teach her unladylike habits like spitting,” Catharine interrupted.

James was very proud of his spitting abilities and once spat from the bedroom window, claiming her could hit a statue in the rose garden, to shock Madeleine and make her laugh.

“This war cannot last forever,” Madeleine continued, “We’re both young and have many years to look forward to. What keeps me going are plans and hopes for the future and the thought of returning to you and our little girl.

So keep your chin up, my dear little Mado, be good and don’t miss me too much.

Your devoted husband,

Private J. C. Beaumont.”

For the first time in their lives, Catharine felt a little jealous of her sister. Madeleine was no longer “Poor Madeleine,” or “the one who made that unfortunate marriage,” but rather “Madame Beaumont, wife of a decorated war hero.” Catharine comforted herself with the fact that her Georges was out of harm’s way with his comfortable position at headquarters.

Mimi went into her room to fetch some pictures Henri had sent her in his last letter. Henri was a good watercolorist and had done some rather grim looking landscapes of trenches and barbed wire and studies of shivering, tired looking soldiers. Catharine and Madeleine could not imagine their sister’s fiancé being in such a place. No, not a pale, thin, romantic looking boy like Henri. He wrote Mimi scarred and intense letters describing the rain, the mud, the gunfire and shelling, and losing friends and comrades. In these letters, Henri kept promising that they would be married as soon as he could get leave to go home and Mimi prayed every night that Henri would return to her. But not a day passed that they did not hear about some boy from the village or some society beau they had danced with, dying in battle.

It seemed as though this war would go on until it had claimed everyone they knew.

New York City- June 1900

Laurie knew that Sarah’s family liked him but were having a hard time getting used to the idea of her marrying a non-jew. To make things easier for them, he agreed to wed Sarah in a Jewish ceremony and raise whatever children they had as Jewish.

Sarah smiled at him from behind her lace veil as they were led up to the traditional canopy by Louise and Sarah’s mother. Underneath the canopy, Sarah walked around Laurie seven times. He placed a golden band on her right index finger before the rabbi recited seven blessings. They each drank from a glass of wine.

To mark the end of the ceremony, Laurie crushed a glass under his foot prompting the guests to shout “Mazeltov!”  

Sarah sat up in bed and turn to look over at Laurie, who was already sleeping, snoring peacefully by her side. She ran her hand across his bare back. His shoulders were broad and hard with muscle.  Desire, affection, and gratitude swept over her. She had believed that she would never find a good husband, after what had happened to her in the Ackerman Home. Besides being notorious for taking his wife’s own niece as a mistress, Joseph Ackerman was known to take liberties with the maids in his household. Her mother had good reason to be reluctant to let her leave home and go into service, as she would find out the hard way.

Every couple of weeks or so, Ackerman would come into her room and force her down onto the bed. She could not speak up about what was being done to her because it would only be her word against Ackerman’s. Confiding in her family was also impossible since it would only break her mother’s heart to know that she had been defiled and left unfit for marriage.

When Laurie came into her life and asked her to marry him she worried that he would break off their engagement if he knew what had happened. But he deserved to know the truth.

“That bastard,” Laurie had grumbled after she had told him.

She told him that she suspected she might be with Ackerman’s child since she had been late for her last two periods. Laurie took her hand and held it between his own.

“Sarah,” he said, “This changes nothing. If that’s the case, then I’ll say the kid is mine.”

Soon after the wedding, Sarah’s suspicions were proved correct. But due to how far along she was in her pregnancy, a couple of months or so, the child was most likely Laurie’s. Their son Eddie was born in April of 1901.

The Hamiltons, Part 2: Like My Father But Bolder

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Philip Hamilton had not seen his mother smile in months. First, there had been the scandal of Father’s affair and then the tragedy of Aunt Peggy’s sudden death.
Mamma had grown thin and pale. Her lovely face looked haggard; its dark eyes had lost their brilliance and the fine cheek bones had become more pronounced.
She decided to take Johnny, Willy, and Little Eliza upstate for a month to visit Grandfather in Albany. When she returned, the warm, kind, at sometimes mischievous, sparkle had returned to her eyes, her cheeks had a girlish, pretty blush, and she was smiling, the brilliant, reassuring smile Philip remembered. The smile that could make even the worst of his childhood nightmares go away.

Philip had hoped that things would improve between his father and mother but her treatment of him continued to alternate between bitter hostility and cold indifference. Before the trip to Albany, Father had done everything he could to win Mother back but since she had returned, he seemed to be avoiding her and treated her with icy resentment. An example of this had occurred earlier that morning. Mother had been in the parlor with Aunt Angelica, who had returned from London after Aunt Peggy’s death. Father walked in and Aunt Angelica asked him if he was going with them to the Fourth of July picnic that afternoon.
“I’m sure the two of you could amuse themselves without me, ” Father responded with barely concealed bitterness.
“They were happy once,” Philip thought, “Why can’t they be happy again. Why can’t things just go back to the way  they were before.”

Angie was searching for her cat, Bramble, in the garden. She also brought a basket filled with bread crumbs to feed the birds.
“Bramble,” she called, sprinkling the bread crumbs so that the sparrows and wrens would swoop down and peck at them. The high pitched chirping of the sparrows and the jumbled squeals of the wrens blended to together in one song.
“Angie!” Philip shouted to her as he walked out onto the porch.
“Is it time for us to go to the picnic?” she responded.
“Not yet, in a few minutes.”
Philip, who usually did not care much about his appearance, was wearing a stylish pair of buff colored breeches and dark gray jacket and waistcoat. His cravat was starched and impeccably tied.
“Now where are you going dressed like that?” Angie teased, “Will Theodosia Burr be at the picnic today?”
“Will Mr. Van Ness be there as well?”
After returning from London, Aunt Angelica had thrown herself with gusto into the business of finding Angie a husband. Cornelius Van Ness was the latest candidate.
A flock of birds landed to feast upon a pile of breadcrumbs and chattered to one another.
“I wonder if they are arguing and arguing and not getting anything done like Papa says Congress does.”
Such a statement was typical of Angie, who had always possessed an overactive imagination and usually came up with their games of make believe.
They heard Bramble meowing under a dogwood bush. Her tail curled into the shape of a question mark as she plotted a pounce on one of the birds.
“Don’t even think about it, Little Girl!” Angie picked Bramble up and cradled her like a baby. The cat struggled to free herself while Angie stared off into the distance, stroking her fur. The months had been hard on her as well. Jamie and Alex were away at school and did not have to see how tense things were between Mother and Father, who put on a good face whenever they were home; Johnny, Willy, and Little Eliza were too young to notice what was going on. It was up to Philip and Angie to shield their younger siblings.

Alexander should have known this was coming when his wife returned from her visit upstate, looking happier and more alive than she had in a long time. He had foolishly hoped that things would get better between the two of them until he discovered a line in a scandal rag which read
“If the gossip from Albany be true, it seems that General Ham., that notorious Paris, has been forced to play the role of Menelaus. Perhaps the fair Mrs. Ham. has got one over her august husband.” 
He had not thought much of this at first. His enemies, Jefferson, Madison, Monroe, often hired hacks to fling muck at him to see what would stick. But since there was usually no smoke without a fire, he had confronted Eliza about it. She stood there, stoically, in front of him and answered the charge in the affirmative. Like the boom of a cannon, her words had made his ears ring from the shock.
“What is his name?” he had demanded of her.
“Joseph Ackerman,” she responded.
“Do you love him?” 
“Did you love Maria Reynolds?” 
“She’s a duplicitous whore; completely unworthy of love!” 
He had expected her to swoon, weep, and beg for his forgiveness the way Maria had when he discovered her betrayal but Eliza stood upon her dignity.
“I will spare you the details,” was all she had to say before picking up the hem of her skirt and flouncing out of the room.
He was tempted to ask how she could have done this to him but he knew all too well. She wanted to pay him back for all the hurt and humiliation she had suffered because of him. He had feared she would do as much.
Joseph Ackerman was someone he was vaguely acquainted with. He came from an illustrious family that had been a fixture of New York society since its first Dutch settlers. Very wealthy from land and business. Ackerman himself was a widower with a young family; respectable to the point of being somewhat dull. Not someone who had a reputation for being a roué.
Alexander considered challenging the man to duel but quickly scrapped the idea. It would make him look like a hypocrite since he had often spoken about the idiocy of dueling. No, he would wound Ackerman with a weapon he had much more skill with.
Joseph Ackerman is among the vilest of rakes and cads,” he began to write, “and receives the utmost pleasure from debauching ladies of previously impeccable virtue. He is not to be trusted around any respectable woman, whether she be wife or maiden.” 
“Alexander!”
He looked up from his writing to see his sister-in-law Angelica standing in the doorway of his office with an expression which would have put Medusa to shame.
Angelica was slightly taller than her sister Eliza and more delicate of frame and feature. She had a long, pale, soulful face which had an exquisite beauty but which could turn suddenly to the horror of fury when she was angry.  The wraithlike effect was heightened by Angelica’s pale gray half mourning dress.
“Angelica, ” he responded to her, “aren’t you supposed to be leaving for the picnic?”
“What are you writing?”
“After I publish this in the New York Post, that scoundrel Ackerman won’t dare show his face in New York ever again. He’s lucky I’m not going to put a bullet in his temple.”
“And you think that will make Eliza come running back to you?”
“A husband has the right to defend his wife’s honor.”
“Even if that wife despises you?”
Touché, Alexander thought.
“You brought this all on your self, you know?”
“All too well, Angelica, all too well.”
“Eliza doesn’t love you anymore. She doesn’t even respect you. The only reason she hasn’t left you for Ackerman is because of the children.”
Alexander knew this all too well. She had exiled him from her bed and invited someone else in. Meanwhile, the world was laughing at him and saying he had it coming.
“What does Church say about your affairs?”
“He turns a blind eye if I turn a blind eye to his.”
Not many people would be inclined to pity Angelica Church: still as beautiful as ever; married to a wealthy and prominent man; adored by the cream of American and European society. But behind that dazzling façade, life had not been as charmed as it might seem.
“Aunt Angelica, the carriage is about to leave,” Angie called from the hallway.
“I’ll be right, there,” Angelica answered.
Angie stepped in and walked over to her father’s desk.
“Papa, have you changed your mind about coming with us to the picnic.”
“Sorry, Sweetheart,” Alexander responded, “I have so much work to get done.”

Angelica refused to believe the gossip which said her sister had an affair, at first, because such behavior was completely out of Eliza’s character. But Eliza confided in her soon after she returned from Albany, weeping and saying she was sinful and wicked and wished she was dead.
Eliza had never been the type to actively seek out attention. She always seemed unaware of the considerable charms which nature had endowed her with and preferred to stand off to the side. Angelica feared that she would be wasted on some dullard with only wealth or family name to recommended him. When Eliza became engaged to Alexander, Angelica had been thrilled. Alexander was handsome, brilliant, and captivating, just the sort of man she had always wanted for her sister. They had a lot in common, and Angelica took to him right away.
“Damn him,” She thought as the carriage pulled away, “I always thought no man would ever be good enough for Eliza. Now I know it’s true. Damn him! And damn that simpering, illiterate trollop and her pimp husband.”

The Fourth of July picnic was held at the Bowling Green in lower Manhattan. They arrived early enough to claim a shady spot under a large tree.
The day was oppressively warm, heavy, and humid. A thin, cottony layer of clouds covered the sky but did nothing to block the burning July sunlight.
Eliza held a little eyelet lace parasol over her head and fluttered a large painted silk French fan to keep herself cool. Willy sat on her lap and occasionally she would put down her fan and compulsively run her fingers through the little boy’s downy brown hair.
She closed her eyes and thought about Joseph Ackerman. Joseph was good looking but unflashy; not a man that a woman would instantly notice. A somewhat drab robin compared to the scarlet cardinal that was her husband. While Alexander tended to treat most women with gallantry, and a trifle flirtatiousness, no other woman seemed to matter to Joseph when Eliza was around. He had somewhat shaggy brown hair and large brown, dog-like, eyes and looked the part of a faithful hound.
She wished she could say that she no longer loved Alexander; that it was Joseph she now loved. But it was not true. Her affair with him had been merely a balm to soothe her wounded heart. Joseph had made her feel like young belle being courted again, that was it. He was a good man and he loved her and she wished she could give him her heart, which was occupied by her husband.
She hated Alexander, so much that she felt as though she might boil over whenever she thought about him. But hatred and love were two sides of the same coin. Alexander had obviously never loved her, even though he had claimed to many times. If he ever had, he would never have betrayed and humiliated her the way he had. She could not reconcile his professions of devotion with his infidelity. He had known its consequences and how it would hurt her and yet he did it anyway because he was selfish and uncaring not complex or fallible. She felt not a pang of sympathy for him now that he was ruined and laughing stock.
Human frailty be damned.
Angelica was dawdling Little Eliza on her knee.
“What a shame you will never know your Aunty Peggy,” she said to the little girl, “She had a trim little figure and the whitest skin with the rosiest cheeks, big blue eyes and glossy dark curls, and was always dressed in the height of fashion. She looked like a Pandora doll. Did I ever tell you all about how she faced down a tomahawk wielding Indian.”
“A million times, Aunt Angelica,” Philip added. He and Angie rolled their eyes in unison. Even though they were two years apart, they were sometimes more like twins.
“And now is the millionth and first,” Angelica continued to speak to Little Eliza, “When your Mamma was pregnant with your big brother Philip, a group of nasty Tories and fearsome Indians came to try to take your Grandpapa prisoner. We all hid upstairs but soon realized that we left your Aunt Catherine, who was just a tiny baby at the time, downstairs. Your Aunt Peggy rushed back downstairs but was threatened by an Indian, who demanded to know where your Grandpapa was. To which she replied, “gone to alarm the town.” Oh, how those nasty Tories fled, but not before Aunt Peggy’s Indian foe threw his tomahawk at her head. It missed her but nicked the banister, which is still there to this day.”
Angie lifted her glass of lemonade and said: “To Aunt Peggy.”
“To Aunt Peggy,” everyone else responded.

Later on in the afternoon, Cornelius Van Ness paid his respects to Angie. The young man was obviously infatuated with her; he would not be courting a girl whose family was mired in controversy and scandal if he was not. But she was a scion of the Schuyler clan, which was no small thing to be and the daughter of a disgraced but still influential man, and a beauty, with her aunt and namesake’s long, fetching features and her father’s violet blue eyes and rosy, delicate Scottish complexion. Her hair color was a perfect blend of the Schuyler chestnut and the Hamilton Auburn.

After Van Ness’s visit, Philip and Angie went for a stroll, during which she confided to him that she was not sure if she wanted to marry Van Ness but if he were to make her an offer, she would say yes if only to get out of the cold and tense atmosphere she found at home, with Mother and Father constantly sniping at each other.

“Philip, Angelica,” a deep, haughty voice called over to them.

They turned around to see Aaron Burr with his daughter Theodosia and her new husband, Joseph Alston.

“Hello Philip,” Theodosia said
Philip turned away from her and did not respond.
“Are your parents here?” Mr. Burr continued.
“My mother is,” Angie responded, “She’s here with my aunt, Mrs. Church.”
Angie directed Mr. Burr to where their party was sitting.
“Mr. Burr,” Eliza said, “Its been too long.”
Mr. Burr swept a courtly bow.
“Likewise Mrs. Hamilton,” he responded, “Your husband is not with you?”
“Work detains him home today, but my sister, Mrs. Church, has come to keep me out of trouble.”
He swept another bow and greeted Angelica with a “your servant, madam.”  Angelica curtsied.
“You remember my daughter, Theodosia?” he continued.
“Oh yes, how are you, my dear.”
“Newly married, Mrs. Hamilton,”
Theodosia responded.
She gently clasped Mr. Alston’s arm.
“This is Mr. Joseph Alston of South Carolina.”
“Congratulations, you’re a lucky man, Mr. Alston.”
“I consider myself greatly so, Madam.”
Alston gazed down adoringly at his bride. He was a tall, slim young man. Good looking but somewhat foppish.
Mr. Burr bid them good-day and his party moved on.

At three o’clock, the speeches began. The first speaker was a young lawyer named George Eacker, who praised Thomas Jefferson for preserving the ideals of the Constitution and protecting the fledgling nation from the monarchical tyranny that Hamilton wished to inflict upon it. Hamilton, the Mephistopheles leading a young and impressionable country away from its original purity.
And his corrupt nature extended into his personal life as well. He had betrayed his wife with a certain Mrs. Reynolds, the basest of harlots, and bragged about it to the public under the guise of clearing his name of embezzlement charges. Not that Mrs. Hamilton was deserving of pity. She was the sister of the notorious adulteress, Mrs. Church, and some of Mrs. Church’s habits must have rubbed off on her. Recently, she had seduced a widower grieving his late wife. Yes, both Hamiltons were duplicitous and untrustworthy; a pair worthy of comparison to Shakespeare’s Macbeths.
Eliza noticed the same look of percolating anger on Philip’s face that she had seen countless times on Alexander whenever his enemies thwarted him or tried to blacken his name.
“That loud mouthed fool,” Philip fumed to Angie, “Jefferson does nothing but sit around at Monticello and daydream. If this country runs with any semblance of efficiency, it is because of Father. And to say such things about mother…how could any man who calls himself a gentleman stoop so low.”
Angie put her hand on Philip’s shoulder.
“Just ignore it, Philip,” she said.
“I can’t Angie. Eacker will pay for this slander.”

“…Now his fluttering wings outspread, three times he bless’d the bridal bed…” Alexander read aloud a poem that his friend James McHenry had written to celebrate the wedding. He turned to Eliza, who was sitting next to him on the bed putting on her stockings, “It was more than three times from what I remember.” 
Eliza blushed.
Alexander picked up his new wife’s leg and placed it on the bed. He slowly inched up her stocking, kissing her calf and thigh as he did so. Eliza tied a pink garter where the top of her stocking met the hem of her shift. 
“Read me more of the poem,” she said. 
McHenry’s verses portrayed them as a classical hero and his fair nymph cavorting about their bridal bower in flowery language. 
Alexander reluctantly got out of bed and began to put on his uniform. Today he had to leave to rejoin the army at New Windsor. The few weeks he had been able to spend with his bride had gone by much too quickly. 
“If I die soon after my return,” he told her, “I will have died a very happy man.” 
“You’ll do no such thing, Alexander Hamilton,” Eliza responded, “I have no intention of becoming a widow so soon.” 
“Surely my Betsey wouldn’t deny me the honor of a glorious death?” 
“Yes, I do. I can live with an ordinary husband but I can’t live with a dead one.” 
“Very well, Betsey wills it so.” 
Eliza got up and put on her corset, which Alexander helped her lace. She produced a wooden busk carved with lovers knots that he had made for her during their engagement. 
The words “près de ton coeur” (next to your heart) were inscribed on it. 
“More like: entre tes seins,” Angelica had quipped. 
Alexander slid the busk into a sleeve in front of her corset, entre ses seins. Eliza reached up to help him tie his cravat, then kissed his cheek and then his neck. 
“Again Betsey?” he asked, “If you keep this up, I won’t have the will to leave.” 
“That’s the point,” she cooed. 
She threw her arms around his neck and pulled him back down onto the bed. 
“You’re going to wear me out, my girl.”

He gave a final kiss before mounting his horse to ride back to the front. Eliza picked up her skirts and ran after him, wanting to have him in her sight as long as she could. She stopped, panting, at the fence which marked the boundaries of her family’s estate. 
Alexander turned his horse around to face her. 
“I love you, Betsey,” he called before galloping off on his way. 
“God speed, husband!” she responded, “Make those damn red coats tremble.”

The first thing people saw when they came into the parlor was a portrait of Eliza by James Sharples looking down at them with an amiable expression, warmly welcoming guests to her home when the woman herself could not be there. Sharples had tactfully left out the age lines and gray hairs that time and the sorrows and joys it brought had marked her with but the face that he painted with its spirited dark eyes and strong, graceful cheekbones was little different from the face that had captivated Alexander all those years ago.  It was the face of a remarkably handsome woman who, though she lacked Angelica’s dazzling charm and Peggy’s doll-like grace, had something the prettiest and most charming woman could envy.
Compared to her, Maria Reynolds was a cheap glass bauble next to a priceless pearl.
In light of recent events, the portrait had taken on a different character. Alexander had begun to see his wife’s painted smile as sly and coquettish; the smile of the woman who had betrayed him.
Eliza’s main crime was disrupting the division that men liked to keep between the “good” women they claimed to love and respect and took for granted and “bad” women they enjoyed and exploited.
Perhaps Eliza was worse than Maria, who had thrown herself at him out of desperation and then at the instigation of her dastardly husband. Eliza had taken up with Ackerman simply out of spite and to soothe her wounded pride.
He himself was in no position to judge these two women. It had been vanity and arrogance that had made him take Maria as a paramour. Vanity to think that a lovely and seductive young thing like her could love him. Arrogance to think that he could have his cake and eat it too, to have his wife for conjugal comforts, and his mistress for illicit bliss.
Sitting back down at his desk, Alexander jokingly considered writing a blackmail letter to Ackerman, saying that he must pay up if he wished to continue enjoying Eliza’s favors. That was what cuckolded husbands did was it not?
He began making corrections to a letter than Angie had written to Virginie du Motier. There were plenty of mistakes in Angie’s French. The poor girl had never gotten the hang of the language.
Then he penned a warm letter of greeting to Mademoiselle du Motier’s parents, the Marquis and Marquise de Lafayette.
“Father?”
Alexander looked up from his writing to see Philip standing over him.
“Yes, Phil, what is troubling you?”
The poor boy had been looking mopey and distracted for the past week and Alexander thought he knew exactly what the problem was.
“Was Miss Theodosia Burr, or should I say Mrs. Joseph Alston, at the Fourth of July picnic?”
“Yes.”
“I’m sorry, I knew you were sweet on her.”
“Father…”
“Perhaps it’s all for the best. You’re much too young to settle down. Sew your wild oats a little while longer, the right girl will show up. I was turned down twice before I met your mother.”
“Father, that’s not what I came to speak to you about.”
“Then what is it?”
“I’ve gotten involved with an affair of honor.”
“With who?”
“George Eacker. He publicly blackened your name and insulted Mother’s honor. He called you greedy and corrupt and said that Mother was an adulteress. I was not about to let him get away with these insults, so I challenged him to a duel.”
“Oh Phil, I don’t think you understand what you’ve gotten yourself into. Duels are not a game. You could kill this Eacker or end up dead yourself.”
“I understand this perfectly well, but if I do not go through with it, I will be branded a coward.”
The boy is right, Alexander thought.
He had faced down angry mobs and British canons when he was Philip’s age. Philip was a Hamilton to his very core, surely he could handle one hothead with a pistol.
Knowing that Philip would go through with this madness with or without his permission, Alexander arranged for his son to borrow his Uncle Church’s dueling pistols and take a ferry boat across the Hudson River to New Jersey.

Eliza knew something was suspicious when she saw Philip leave the house well before dawn. Her son usually did not get out of bed until noon if he could help it.
Then she had received a message from Angelica.
“Come quickly,” it read, “It’s Phil.” 
She dashed off to Angelica’s house and found her son spread out on the bed, the pure whiteness of his shirt marred by a massive blood stain. Alexander had arrived before her and so had Dr. Hosack, an acquaintance of theirs.
“What is going on?” she demanded of her husband.
“He was shot,” Alexander explained, “The bullet struck his hip and went through his body and lodged in his left arm. The wound has since become infected. Dr. Hosack has done everything he could but there’s little that can be done.”
“How on earth did he get shot?”
“He was in a duel, with a George Eacker.”
“George Eacker, the young man who made that speech?”
“Eacker slandered our family. Phil felt he had to defend its honor.”
“He is your son after all.”
Eliza knelt by her son’s bedside and took his hand. She watched the rise and fall of his chest as he struggled to breathe.
“I didn’t shoot him, Mother,” Philip said, “I meant to throw away my shot but Eacker fired before I could finish counting to ten.”
“My sweet boy,” Eliza bent over and kissed his forehead.
“I was brave, Father. My seconds can attest that I behaved with manly dignity.”
Alexander stroked the hair off of Philip’s feverish brow and murmured “dear Phil.”
The rise and fall of the boy’s chest became less pronounced and slowly ceased altogether. Dr. Hosack checked his pulse and announced that their son was no more.
What had once been Philip lay peacefully in the bed as if in a pleasant sleep. It struck them how young he had been. His face still had a babyish softness and could only grow the faintest of peach fuzz.
Eliza broke down weeping. Alexander put a hand on her shoulder.
“Don’t touch me,” she hissed, “Why didn’t you die instead of Phil?”
She continued sobbing and mumbled that God had punished them for their sins. Alexander looked at his son’s lifeless body and his grief racked wife and thought that he could have prevented all of this. His selfish and reckless decisions had triggered a series of events which had lead to the death of his beloved eldest child. If he had just given Maria Reynolds the money she needed and sent her on her way, he would never have gotten entangled with her crook of a husband and humiliated himself by publicly airing the whole sordid business. Eliza would never have strayed from him and there would be no gossip to feed scandalmongers like George Eacker. Philip’s fatal duel would never have happened.
I’ve failed, he thought, As a husband, as a father, and as a man.” 
Eliza was right, it should have been him, who was dead, not innocent, good hearted Phil who had never wronged anyone but apparently God was cruel enough to make a child pay for the sins of his father.

During the carriage ride home, both Alexander and Eliza wounded how they were going to break the news of Philip’s death to the rest of their children, who all adored him as their big brother.
Angie was in the parlor and at her piano. She was playing Yankee Doodle, which she and Philip used to make Alexander sing for them when they were little. Tyson was dozing on the hearth rug but shot right up when he saw his master.
Alexander scratched him behind the ears. Angie noticed their morose expressions and knew instantly that the worst had happened. She got up from her piano and rushed to hug her mother.
“I knew something was wrong; I knew it,” she sobbed, “When I woke up this morning, I had a feeling that something terrible would happen and then I heard that Phil went to that duel…”

Eliza went upstairs to the nursery to tell Johnny, Willy, and Little Eliza that their brother, Phil, was with God. Alexander sat down at his desk to write to the headmaster of Jamie and Alex’s school to ask him to grant the two boys a leave because of a family tragedy. Then they would have to plan the funeral, which both of them doubted that they had the strength to get through.

Dolley brought up the day’s mail to Alexander’s office, unknowingly leaving in a letter to Eliza from Ackerman. Alexander opened up the envelope and took out the piece of paper to read it. 

“My dearest Betsey,” it began. Alexander was horrified that this base rascal had the audacity to call his wife Betsey, “…Your husband does not love you as much as I do. He never could have loved you if he could betray and humiliate the way he did. You deserve so much better than that selfish philanderer. Tell him you never loved him and come away with me. I will help you keep your dear children. Hamilton does not deserve to be their father.” 

Alexander could only laugh since the law would be on his side, as Eliza’s husband and the father of their children, in this matter. Ackerman would not have a leg to stand on in court. 

He threw the letter into the fire. Today he had lost his son to that loud-mouthed hot head Eacker, he would not let some seducing snake like Ackerman make off with his wife. 

Chateau Aubrey: Book 2, Book 4

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Catharine sat in the garden with her sisters on a fine May morning. A blanket was spread out on the grass on which were placed the babies, Mathilde, who was fifteen months old, and Marianne, who was seven months old. Mathilde was playing with a rag doll while Marianne was sucking and chewing on a celluloid duck rattle. Nounou was keeping a watchful eye on them. Catharine always felt more at ease around her child when Nounou was present because Nounou would know what to do if the precious little thing acted up.

Little Mathilde was a plump, rosy, pretty little thing with silky dark hair beginning to form into curls. She seemed destined to be a beauty like her mother. Baby Marianne was tiny and frail looking with a wizened, elven face which was half like an infant’s and half like an old person’s, and a layer of silvery down covering her delicate little head. Catharine could not imagine her growing up to be very pretty but then again no one could really tell with babies.

Mimi was chattering to Catharine about how she hoped for a letter from Henri that day and how she waited for the postman’s knock every day with a mixture of anticipation and dread. Catharine gave an occasional curt response which attempted to be polite. She was of the school that believed that such displays of emotion and sentimentality were ill bred.

Madeleine was working on sewing a smock and bonnet for Marianne using some primrose colored fabric from an old gown of her’s. She raised an eyebrow in a way which read as “Catharine doesn’t  worry about anything other than herself.”

This was untrue. Catharine was worried about Georges and did not want her children to grow up fatherless. She was also worried about Henri. Like their parents, she was thrilled about Mimi’s engagement to Henri and wanted her favorite sister to be happy. As much as she had never gotten on with James, she did not wish him dead and she did not want to see Madeleine left a widow with a young baby, despite all the bad blood between them.  It was her habit to let such feelings simmer until they boiled over, which usually involved lashing out at whoever was convenient. The day before she had yelled at her maid for misplacing her favorite hat to the point where the poor thing burst into tears. Catharine gave her the afternoon off to make amends.

Nounou came over with a handkerchief to wipe some drool off of Marianne’s chin before it soiled her pretty linen frock.

“Bring her over to me,” Madeleine asked.

She took her daughter’s small, warm, wiggling body into her arms and kissed her all over. Marianne let out a deep belly laugh.

The young footman, André, approached them to say that Madame wished to see them.

Madame was waiting for her daughters in the morning room; a roundish room in the front of the house. The far wall had large windows whose views were blocked by the massive bushes of red rhododendrons. Madame was fond of these flowers and liked to keep vases of them in the morning room. Their luscious red color gave the rather pale shades the room had been decorated in, a rosy tint. The writing table had been placed closest to the windows and was covered in stationery items with the initials “E d’A” stamped on them. At one end was a fireplace, and at the other end of was a large china cabinet containing the family’s best objet d’art.  A sofa and a pair of chairs were placed in the center of the room, facing the writing desk.  

Madame stood up at her desk when her daughters came in.

“Letters from the front,” she said.

She handed Madeleine an envelope.

“It’s from the Bureau de Guerre,” she responded.

She opened up the letter with a feeling of dread.

“Dear Madame,” she read, “It is our pleasure to inform you that your husband, Private James Beaumont, is under consideration for the Médaille de Guerre for brave and exemplary conduct during a skirmish with the enemy. Private Beaumont risked his own life to save that of his commanding officer by pushing him out of the way of an explosive. He was significantly injured and is currently in hospital but is expected to make a full recovery. Enclosed is a letter from your husband.”

Madeleine unfolded another piece of paper which had been placed inside the envelope.    

“He wants me to come and see him and if I do not think it’s too dangerous, to bring Marianne with me.”

“The injury must have been to his head if he would even suggest bringing a seven-month-old baby into a war zone,” Catharine butted in.

“There is also one for you, Mimi,” Madame added.

Mimi took the envelope from her mother and then ran off to read her letter in private.

“When are you leaving to visit James?” Madame then asked Madeleine.

“As soon as possible, I’m going to start packing right away,” Madeleine answered.

“Are you going to bring Marianne with you?”

“Of course.”

“Don’t you think that would be dangerous?”

“I don’t think so, the hospital is miles away from the front.”

“What you will, take her with you.”  

After her interview with her mother, Madeleine went to the nursery, where Mathilde and Marianne were being put to bed for their afternoon nap. She told Nounou to have Marianne ready to travel the next morning.

New York City- March 1900

A whole jungle was spread out before Jimmy. Every shade of green was represented in the leaves and shadows. A warm yellow light shone through the jungle’s carpet of grass leading down to an emerald colored pond; the bright clearing was calm and comforting while the dark, teal colored shadows were mysterious and enticing.

If you kept looking long enough, you almost forgot it was just a painting. Jimmy could almost the fragrances of tropical flowers and fruits, hear birds singing and monkeys chattering, and feel a soft breeze ruffle his hair.

“It’s amazing, Laurie,” he said.

“Thanks, kid,” Laurie responded; his voice sounded nasally due to a cold. He was painting a blue and yellow parrot into one of the trees.

Jimmy wondered if he too was coming down with a cold. He felt light headed and dizzy while the rest of his body was sluggish and weak. The stage lights made him feel toasty and his cheeks felt flushed. His vision had become blurry and the whole theater began to spin.

“Are you feeling alright?” Laurie asked him.

“I’m seeing two of you,” Jimmy responded.

Jimmy drifted off into a feverish delirium which carried him into the jungle that Laurie had depicted in his painting.  A pair of gentle, delicate hands twisted his blond curls around their fingers.

“Go to sleep, Jimmy,” a pleasant, comforting, and maternal voice whispered to him, accompanied by the soothing rustling of the jungle, “Be a good boy and go to sleep.”

When Jimmy regained consciousness, he found that he was in some sort of hospital. He was laying in a cot; next to him was able with a pitcher of water. White sheets were hung up to separate him from each of the other beds. Sarah was sitting in a chair by his bedside. She poured a glass of water and handed it to him.

“Drink this,” she said.

Jimmy sat up, took the glass, and gulped down its contents eagerly.

“Thanks,” he said in a weak voice.

Sarah helped him lay back down against the pillows. She put one of her hands on his forehead; it felt pleasantly cool.

“You’re still feverish.”

She poured more water into a bowl and then soaked a small towel, which she put across Jimmy’s forehead.

“Where am I? What’s happened.”

“You came down with the influenza. There’s been a major outbreak in this part of town and this is a hospital they’ve set up to house its victims. You’re very lucky; you’ve come through the worst of it.”

A petite, stylishly dressed young woman came up from behind Sarah. Jimmy instantly recognized her as the lady he had seen on the street that night when he had gone to fetch Abatti’s dinner.

“Hello Jimmy,” the lady said.

“Who are you?” Jimmy responded.

“It’s a long story,” she put her hand on Sarah’s shoulder, “Would you mind leaving us alone for a moment, Missy.”

Sarah disappeared behind one of the hung sheets.

“My name is Melanie… Melanie Barrow,” the lady continued, “and I am your mother.”

She sat down beside Jimmy on the bed and stroked his cheek.

“You are a beautiful creature, very much like your father. I was very young when I loved him, only a couple of years older than you are now. How old are you by the way?”

“I’ll be twelve in November,” Jimmy responded.

“I was only fourteen when I got pregnant with you. Your father was seventeen and so far he has been the most handsome man I have ever seen and the love of my life but unfortunately, we could not marry. After you were born, my uncle, who lives here in New York, took you away from me and put into an orphanage. Until a few years ago, I believed you were dead. When I discovered the contrary, I came here and tracked you down through the Children’s Aid Society. ”

“Ma’am…”

“Shhh… please rest.”

Jimmy closed his eyes. She stroked his hair off of his forehead and took over Sarah’s job of nursing his brow. Sarah had brought with her the latest Beau Colt novel and read it aloud. The book opened with its dashing cowboy hero wrangling a herd of stampeding mustangs.

His mother’s loving caresses and Sarah’s soothing voice sent him back into the sleepy fog, through which he was transported a top a monumental rock formation. Below him, a vast sea of wild horses galloped past him. Above, an endless cornflower blue sky dotted with a few wispy clouds. The air tasted dry and dusty, beads of sweat rolled down his forehead.

“Jimmy… Jimmy…” a high, girlish voice with a peppy twang called on the wind.

“Ma?” Jimmy answered.

“Where are you, my love?”

“I’m up here”

He was awoken by the tempting smell of chicken broth, a bowl of which was placed on the bedside table next to a fresh glass of water.  It was very late at night. Laurie had arrived and was chatting with Sarah. When Sarah had noticed that he was awake, she came over and helped him sit up and put the tray with the bowl of chicken broth in front of him.

“Where did that lady go?” he asked her.

“She left,” Sarah answered, “But she said she’ll come again to visit in a few days.”

When the warm weather of April finally arrived, the influenza epidemic abated. Jimmy made a full recovery but not all of the epidemic’s victims had been so lucky.

On a heavy, humid day with burning rays of sunlight peeking through thick clouds, Jimmy opened a newspaper he had found lying on the ground and came to the obituaries. At the top was the name “Melanie Barrow,” with the cause of death: Influenza.

The hospital where James had been sent to was in a chateau about twenty miles away from the Flanders border. The family who had lived there had fled and the building had been commandeered by the Red Cross. James had been brought there by ambulance from a field hospital, where they removed the piece of shrapnel which had gotten lodged in his leg and the wound had been bandaged.  

Because he had been under morphia, he did not remember anything of the journey. The first thing he recalled was a sweet faced young woman in a Red Cross uniform leaning over his cot in a ward which had been set up in one of the large rooms in the chateau; this ward was quiet, calm, and sterile, miles away from the blood, gore, and screams of agony he remember from the field hospital. The days he spent there passed by in a long, dull, blur, and the nights were endless and uncomfortable.

James was beginning to nod off on a bright airy early summer afternoon. The windows in the ward were open and let in a refreshing breeze. The nurse came over and brought him a glass of water.

“Your wife is here to see you, Monsieur,” she said.

Madeleine was brought over to him, cradling Marianne in her arms. When she got close to the bed, he sat up and leaned in to kiss her.

“Watch out for Marianne,” Madeleine said.

James leaned over and kissed his daughter on the top of her head.

“How was she on the train?” he asked.

“She fussed a bit, but she was better than I expected.”

“May I hold her?”

Madeleine handed Marianne over to her husband, who was reaching out to receive her.

“Watch your knee.”

“You remember your daddy, don’t you, my little pearl.” He began to sing to the baby “East side, west side, all around the town. The tots sang ring around rosy, London Bridge is falling down. Boys and Girls together, me and Mamie O’Rourke. We tripped the light fantastic, on the sidewalks of New York.”

Marianne, who had become drowsy after the journey, fell asleep on her father’s shoulder.  

“It’s time for her nap. I should have brought her to the hotel nursery before I came here, and bring her here later.”

“I’ll look after her,” the nurse joined in, “I can take her into the other room and she can nap there. “

“Thank you,” Madeleine answered, “and could you tell the orderly that I’ve brought with me some bottles of cider from my family’s estate. I thought we could offer some glasses of it to the men.”

“Thank you, Madame. I’ll speak to the orderly.”

Madeleine took Marianne from James and handed her to the nurse. A few minutes later, the crate containing the bottles of cider was brought out, under the supervision of a female Red Cross officer.

“Please, let me help,” Madeleine said to the officer.

When she was done handing out glasses of cider to the men, she returned to her husband’s bedside.

“How are things at home?” James asked her.

“My mother and sisters and I have been going to meet the hospital trains,” she answered, “We hand out coffee and cigarettes to the wounded. It isn’t much, but I quite enjoy doing it. And at least I can tell our children and grandchildren that I did something during this war. Catharine’s baby is due sometime next month. She’s been constantly in the nursery, making sure it’s prepared for a third occupant.”

“I thought that Catharine was only ever around babies when she wanted to feed on their sweet, plump flesh.”

“She’s not as awful as that, and she adores Marianne.”

“Maybe she’s softening in her old age. Speaking of Marianne, how has our little pearl been.”

“Oh, she’s a joy. The only thing that could make me happier is if when this war is over, and you have come home, we had another child.”

“I’m certain that could be arranged easily.”

James sat up and leaned in to kiss his wife.

“Marianne will have woken up from her nap, I’ll bring her in to see you.”  

James stayed in the hospital for about another month and returned to his unit at the front. Everything was exactly the same. The same dampness, the same smell, the same noise. He had been spoiled all those weeks he had been in the hospital, having a soft, warm, dry bed instead of a rough army cot in the mud, decent food instead of lukewarm coffee, stale bread, and badly cooked soup and meat, and quiet instead of the noise of constant shelling.  It all came back as a shock when he returned but one quickly got used to it.

A few weeks after his return, in mid-July, he received another letter from his wife.

“My dearest Jamie,” the letter began, “It is almost dawn but there’s been too much excitement to get any sleep. We have a new niece. Claire Agnès Claudette Suzanne Thomas, called simply Agnès,  was born at midnight on July 18th, 1915. The birth was fairly easy and uncomplicated. Catharine gives birth remarkably easy for a slender hipped woman. She was as fit and hardy as can be the whole nine months and was up and about as normal right until she went into labor. “Catharine, are you sure you’re feeling well enough?” Maman had asked as we were going into town to visit the hospital trains. “Don’t worry about me,” Catharine had answered, “I’ve never felt better.” Maman is of the old fashioned school who believes that a heavily pregnant woman should stay home and rest and that it’s improper for her to leave the house. As you remember, I stayed in bed a month before Marianne was born but it was not by choice.

We go into Rouen to meet the hospital trains about once or twice a week. Our job is basically to hand out cups of coffee and cigarettes to the wounded and smile.  Mimi is the darling of everyone there. We all call her Florence Nightingale. It’s hard to watch all those poor men all bandaged up and screaming and out of their minds with pain. Many of them are just young boys crying for their mothers.  One had his jaw practically blown off and only held together with bandages. I offered him a cigarette. He mumbled something which sounded like “yes.” She put the cigarette in his mouth and lit it. He stammered out “thanks for the fag, mademoiselle?”  I’m glad I can do whatever I can to give them comfort.

Maman threw a dinner party last night for the officers who were well enough to attend. They all looked forward to meeting the famously beautiful d’Aubrey sisters. “The two oldest are married and the youngest is engaged,” they were warned. “Never stopped me before,” one of them joked. Catharine was in her element with lots of handsome and dashing men to admire her. She shone that evening, though nine months pregnant and ready to give birth any day.  Mimi was at her prettiest and was greatly admired. I made my best effort but no one paid me much attention. I haven’t quite regained my former bloom after Marianne’s birth and haven’t lost much of the weight I put on during my pregnancy.”

James highly doubted that not one of those gallant officers had noticed his pretty and charming wife and assumed that this statement had been a mixture of Madeleine’s lack of self-confidence and her knowledge that the idea of other men looking at her when he could not, made him furious.

“Catharine’s water broke around ten o’clock last night. She began to scream in pain and there was a large wet spot on the front of her frock. We rushed her to her room and her maid began to undress her. Papa called the doctor. The labor lasted about two hours. There was nothing much for us to do in the meantime except wait and try to keep ourselves occupied.  Sleep was out of the question.  At midnight, the doctor announced that Catharine had given birth to a girl and that both mother and child her doing well. Baby Agnès is so sweet and adorable.  All of the excitement of last night makes me miss you all the more.

With Love, Madeleine.

James read this letter over several times before going to sleep that night. He dreamt of his wife and daughter and the day we would return to them.

Chateau Aubrey: Book 2, Chapter Three

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A couple weeks later, Madeleine put on her new evening dress and brought Baby Marianne with her to a photographer’s studio to have their picture taken. The photographer placed Marianne in a bassinet and had Madeleine bend over to look adoringly down at her child. When the photograph was developed and sent to Chateau Aubrey, Madeleine sat down to write a letter to her husband to accompany it.

January 29th 1915

My dearest Jamie,

Papa and Mimi are well and send their love. Maman and Catharine are well, Maman and Catharine. Little Marianne is unable to write, considering she is only three months old.

It seems an eternity since you left for basic training and I can hardly believe that it has hardly been been two weeks. But I’ve been trying to keep myself occupied.  

I’ve joined a group of ladies who are knitting socks and rolling bandages to send to the front and we’ve started taking up a collection for Madame Gautier, one of our tenants, whose husband was killed in Flanders and left her a widow with two children. I think of you all the time and I hope you’re thinking of me.

Yesterday, as I was walking down the stairs to go to dinner, I remember that you had first asked me to marry you right there in there in the minstrel’s gallery almost four years ago.

Soon after you left, Marianne and I went to have the photograph I’m sending along with this letter.

The sorrow I feel at your absence is only helped by the thought that you will one day return to me the same way you left me, with the sun shining, people cheering, and a band play La Marseillaise. But this time you will be wearing a medal just like you promised.

With Love,

Mado”

Madeleine reached into a drawer in their desk to get an ink pad. Marianne was placed on her lap and she took her arm, put her hand in on the ink pad, and made a print of her pudgy palm at the bottom of the letter.

 

April 30th 1915

Darling Mado,

I arrived at the front a few days ago, but I’ve lost track of time.  We’re entrenched somewhere on the border and if you were to ask me what it’s like here, I can describe it in three words: wet, loud, and stinking.  It started raining the day after I arrived here and I don’t think we’ve had a moment of sun since. The bosch shell us constantly but the real enemy is the noise, the damp, and the smell. Sometimes it’s quiet, but all you can do is sit  and wait for the next shelling.

One thing I miss about Chateau Aubrey is the food; all I’ve had to eat is soup, bread, and coffee. The soup’s lukewarm, the bread’s fit only for the rats, and the coffee, dishwater is the only polite thing I can compare it to. The only things that makes life here bearable are the wine ration and the possibility of getting a letter from you.

I’m only twenty-six, but I feel like an old man compared to some of the baby faced youths here. Most of them were school boys just a few months ago, and you can still smell their mother’s milk on their breath. When I think of their parents back home, I thank God that we have a daughter who will never have to fight in a war. Nights here don’t offer much sleep and I find myself wide awake and afraid. Afraid that the next day will be the last I’ll ever see. Afraid that I won’t get to watch our little Marianne grow up or die an old man in your arms. But then the sun comes up and things don’t look as bleak.

So keep your chin up and write to me soon,

James  

It was late at night and James was on look out when he was writing this letter. He was writing by a gaslight he had gotten ahold of, and on top of an overturned crate.

It had stopped raining for the moment but the damp still hung in the air, along with the smells of petrol and and all kinds of waste, most disturbingly, the stink of rotting corpses. Bright red rockets were set off on the enemy side and a phonograph was playing ragtime music over sounds of the occasional explosion and the buzzing of flies . It seemed quieter and more pleasant than usual; almost like the Fourth of July. They had been working on digging the trench all day and he felt like a man had shoveling out his own grave.

James put down his pencil and folded up the piece of paper and put it into an envelope. The ragtime music playing in the distance was so very soothing and it was hard not to be lulled by it.  His eyes felt heavy and he felt as though his head kept nodding; he let out a loud yawn.

Another soldier, a man named Blanc, came and offered him a cigarette and a swig of wine; he accepted the cigarette. Blanc sat down next to him and they engaged in good natured small talk. James was generally liked by the other men in his company and the the informality and camaraderie of military life suited him.

His conversation with Blanc then turned to “and how did a Yank like you wind up in the French army?”

“My wife’s French,” James answered, “I got dual citizenship before we were married because I planned on staying here. There’s nothing better than French women, is there?”

Blanc smiled and clapped him on the back and then went on his way.

James covered his mouth with his hand and yawned. He had not slept in almost sixty hours. Overhead, bright red and white rockets burst. Both he and Blanc felt a bit on edge, waiting for the next attack.

James nodded off a bit then was startled by a nearby explosion but fell asleep nonetheless.

The next thing he remembered was Lamarque, the sub-lieutenant, yelling at him in the foulest language possible for falling asleep on duty. But what was worse was the spittle that sprayed at him through Lamarque’s soup strainer like moustache. James stood there, straight and tall, prepared to take his punishment. He hid the shame he felt for his stupid mistake behind a soldier’s stoical expression.

Lamarque continued ranting about how a court martial could sentence him to serve ten years but delivered the lieutenant’s verdict: that he would be sent alone into no man’s land to reconnoiter the enemy position. If he lasted two hours, he would be acquitted.

“Of course, Sous-Lieutenant,” James answered with all due respect.

For all he cared, they could have put him up against a German firing squad. The result would be the same. He wandered between the lines with his gun in hand for what seemed like a lifetime, keeping low as to not be seen. Around him was a ghostly landscape which did not look like France, or any other country, but rather like Hell, Hell on Earth. Bodies of what had once been French and German soldiers were tangled up in the barbed wire and the smell of their rotting flesh mixed with the chloritic scent of gas and the exhaust of explosives was so nauseating that it was difficult to breath.

James ducked under a line of barbed wire to get a better look at the enemy lines.

He heard a deafening series of explosions as well as an officer giving the order in French to advance. Smoke and exhaust blew into his face and dirt rained down on him. He turned around to see men from his company moving forward in close ranks into the hail of machine gun bullets and shrapnel. The officer gave the order to get down and keep advancing and James did likewise. He took out Madeleine’s ring, which he kept in a breast pocket, and kissed it, then crawled forward through the dirt.

An explosive whizzed near Lamarque and was about to detonate. James pushes Lamarque’s bulky frame out of the way with superhuman burst of strength and energy brought on by adrenaline. A wave of dirt, smoke, and shrapnel broke over him as he ducked down again.

The pain James felt in his leg was so intense that he could not bear to move it. He lay there among the fallout moaning in agony.

New York City-March, 1900

A somber church bell rung in the Lower West Side of Manhattan on a grey morning in March. The morning was wet and chilly; one could sense Old Man Winter’s unwillingness to give up his ascendency to his blooming daughter, Spring. A congregation wrapped in black overcoats and shawls filed into the church.

Everyone on Canal Street knew Rosa Murray, the beautiful young wife of a handsome and successful husband. Men cast glances at her voluptuous s-bend body and artfully arranged puffs of red-gold hair; women envied her perfect marriage. Most of the people who showed up at the church that morning had been there nearly two years before and witnessed Rosa’s marriage to Will Murray, and just a few weeks before to celebrate the baptism of their son, Aiden.

During the damp final weeks of the winter of 1900, Lower Manhattan was struck by an influenza outbreak. Rosa had been weak and vulnerable after just becoming a mother. In her feverous delirium, she called out, “Where’s my baby?” Tiny Aiden had been given into the care of neighbor woman while his mother was sick. Will stayed by his wife’s side the entire time.

“Where’s my baby?” she moaned.

“He’s safe,” Will told her, “You’ll see him when you’re better.”

Will Murray sat in the front pew of the church holding his infant son in his arms and trying not to break down into unmanly tears.  The black clad mourners, one by one, took a last look at Rosa’s white lace shrouded body with a single lily place on top of her breast and bid their goodbyes. “How could such a thing happen to a girl not yet twenty-one years old?” they all thought, “A young woman who had so much to live for.” They then looked at Will with sympathy and pity; at twenty-five, he was much too young to be a widower.

Laurie, who Will knew as a painter who did the sets at the theater where Rosa had worked as a seamstress, came over with his new fiancee, Sarah, to give their condolences.

“I thought you might want to see this,” Laurie told the grieving husband.

He look a piece of paper out of his pocket, which contained a drawing of Rosa, he had done soon after she had given birth, sleeping and holding the newborn Aiden in her arms.

Will managed a little smile.

Laurie’s fortunes improved over the next few years. He was commissioned to paint a mural in the private chapel on the Alneleigh Estate in Dorsetshire. The mural, which came to be known as The Life of the Virgin, featured the Virgin Mary as a red haired beauty holding her baby son in her arms, and ascending to heaven, wrapped in a white veil and holding a single lily.

Retribution: Chapter 32

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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

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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!