Tam Lin

TamLin2

Author’s Note: Tam Lin is an old English/Scottish folk ballad dating back to at least the 16th Century which tells the story of a young noblewoman named Janet (or Margaret depending on the version; I chose Janet) and her encounter with the eponymous magical figure.

The large window of Janet’s bower looked out over the forest of Carterhaugh. Her father had told her that this land was part of her dowry and would be her’s upon marriage. Old Nan, her nurse, often entertained the ladies and gentlemen of her parents household with tales of Tam Lin, who was said to inhabit Carterhaugh. It was said that Tam Lin had been a noble youth held captive through the centuries by the queen of the fairies. If a lass happened to wander alone through Carterhaugh, Tam Lin would claim a fee from them, either some valuable trinket or their maidenhead.

The rose vines which wove their way around the outside of Janet’s bower were having a poor season. Their blooms were small and shriveled looking.

Across the way in Carterhaugh, she could see massive rose bushes with blooms the size of cabbages, as red as blood. Even from a distance, their scent was as intoxicating as the strongest wine.

It was far too lovely a day to be stuck inside with silk threads and half-finished tapestries. Janet quit her family’s home and went away to Carterhaugh as fast as she could go. Her lonely bower of wood and stone was replaced with one of roses red.

The rose her eyes fix upon was a double one, the largest and loveliest on the tree. Janet plucked the rose and breathed in its perfume; never before had she found a sweeter smelling rose.

The quiet of Carterhaugh was disrupted by the thundering of horses at full gallop, the barking of hounds, and the blast of horns. It was her father and his gentlemen on their hunt.

A white buck fawn came running through the brambles and bracken. An arrow pierced its snowy flank. The poor creature ran until it’s strength failed and it dropped to the forest floor.

Janet slowly approached the fawn as not to frighten him. She gently stroked his back and let him sniff her hand. When the animal became calm, she carefully pulled the arrow out of the fawn’s flank. It had not penetrated deep enough for the wound to be fatal. She cleaned the wound with a flask of aqua vitae that she had brought with her, soothed it with a salve she carried in the small pouch which hung from her girdle, and bound it with a strip of cloth torn from her petticoat.

The fawn stretched his legs and arched his back. His spindly limbs became strong and lithe and his whole body transformed into that of a tall and well-built youth with skin the color of milk and hair like spun gold. He opened his grey eyes and blinked at a shocked Janet.

“Intruder! Thief!” he groaned in a weak voice after noticing the roses in Janet’s apron, “Why have you come here without my leave?”  

“Carterhaugh belongs to me, Sir,” Janet replied, “I need no one’s leave to come here. I come and goes as  I please.”

“Ha! I was master here long before you were born and I’ll be master here long after you are dead.”

“And who are you, Sir?”

“Who are you to think you can trespass where you will and take what doesn’t belong to you?”

“I’m  Jane Carter, daughter of Sir John Carter of Carter Hall.  My family owns these woods. I did not trespass anywhere or steal anything.”

“I have lived here longer than the oldest man alive can remember, longer than any of your people have.”

The youth struggled to sit up and Janet helped him upright, cradling him in her arms.

“Thank you, my lady,” he said.

“You are welcome, sir. I will bring you back to my father’s house. We will care for you until you are healed.”

“No, leave me here. I’m a creature of the forest and should stay here,” he took her hand in his, “Worry not, fair maid, it will take more than this trifling wound to lay me low.”

Janet gave him the flask of aqua vitae.

“This should help ease your pain.”

He took the flask and took a greedy swig.

“I’d forgotten how good wine tasted.”

“You haven’t had wine in a long while?”

“I haven’t tasted any mortal food or drink in ages.”

The feeling of a man in her arms was unfamiliar and intoxicating for Janet. The noblest prince could not have been more handsome and graceful of form than the youth she now cradled like a babe. Her face was flushed scarlet whenever he looked at her.

“Wouldn’t you like to rest at my father’s house while your wound heals? You must find it pleasanter to lay in a soft and warm bed.”

The youth smirked at her and his eyes twinkled with mischief.

“The floor of a forest suits me well enough,” he said, taking her hand and kissing it, “Has your old grandmother or nurse told you stories about Tam Lin and what happens when a maiden comes to Carterhaugh alone?”

“She must pay a toll… I don’t have any valuable trinkets on me at the moment.”

“Tis not the toll I was thinking off.”

He swept her into a long kiss. His breath was sweeter than peppermint and more intoxicating than the aqua vitae.

The youth laid Janet down among the roses red and claimed his toll.  His last kiss put Janet into a deep, pleasant sleep which made her wonder if their encounter had been but a wonderful dream.

Sir John and his lady wife hosted a feast at Carter Hall. In attendance were four-and-twenty young bachelors who were suitors for the hand of their daughter Janet; each richer and higher born than the last. Dame Carter spared no expense to impress these worthy gentlemen, hoping that one of them would soon be her son-in-law.

The feast started off with a salad which contained edible flowers, a roasted goose riding astride suckling pig, a peacock served dressed in its skin and feathers, a boar’s head, and a deer-shaped pastry which bled red wine when pricked with a knife, all washed down with claret and butterbeer.

The second course included chicken and egg fricassée, a pie made from warden pears, blancmange, and rice pudding.  Its crowning glory was a cockatrice, a mythical beast assembled from the head of a pig, the body of a sheep, the wings and backend of a goose, and the comb of a rooster, which was brought to the top table breathing fire. The guests were served from a spit-roasted joint of meat which contained the flesh of each animal.

At the end of the feast was a course called the banquet, where the guests were treated to expensive delicacies such as marchpane which depicted the Carter family coat of arms, flowers made from sugar paste, rich custard tarts, gilded gingerbread, colorful jellies and exotic fruits. Two giant pastry crusts were brought to the top table and Sir John cut into them. When he cut into the crusts, live frogs and blackbirds hopped and fly out to the amazement of his guests.

The feast was a triumph. Janet enjoyed listening to the musicians and watching the dancers, acrobats, and fire twirlers, but she felt tired and longed to retire to bed. The food smelt intoxicating and looked delectable but Janet could only manage a few slices of manchet bread between courses, a couple of the cheese curds and sugar wafers which were served at the end of the feast, and a glass of hippocras.

“Sweetheart,” her father whispered to her, “You’re looking pale and green. Are you ill?”

“No Father,” Janet replied, “I’m just fatigued. All this grandeur and excitement is too much for me.”

“Has one of the fine young lords, knights, and gentlemen here present this evening captured your heart?”

Janet flushed and lowered her eyes. Her father laughed, thinking he had figured her out.

These four and twenty suitors were all handsome, gallant, high-born and rich but Janet loved not one among them. The only man she would have for her husband was the youth she had encountered in Carterhaugh.

“Janet, my dear,” Dame Carter said, “You look tired. Perhaps you should retire for the evening.”

“Yes mother,” Janet replied.

She got up from the table and left the great hall with her maids in toe. Her mother had been correct: she did feel tired and the prospect of retiring to bed was far from unwelcome.

The dim light of dawn could be seen on the horizon when Janet looked out from her chamber window. She sat down on her bed and realized that her father had been right as well: she did feel ill and this sickness was always at its worst early in the morning.

“Mistress Jane,” Bessie, her maid, called when she saw Janet’s face turn green and pale. Bessie brought over a basin for Janet to retch into, while Madge, the other maid, went to fetch Janet’s mother.

Dame Carter rushed in, concern and alarm evident on her face.

“My poor child,” she sighed, “How long have you been feeling this way? Are you sickest in the morning?”

“Yes,” Janet replied, “I’ve been unwell for roughly four months and it’s at its worst in the mornings.”

“When was the last time you had your monthly bleeding?”

“Two, maybe three, months ago.”

“My daughter, I’m afraid you’re with child.”

“I feared that was so.”

“What blaggard is the father? Please tell me that a gentleman of wealth, breeding, and merit will give my grandchild his name. Who among your suitors must I name as my son-in-law?”

“None among my suitors would I ever honor with my maidenhead. The father of my child is grander than any of them. That is all I shall tell; the blame is all mine.”

Bessie and Madge began to help Janet undress and they saw that their mistress’s waistline had grown wider. Madge spoke of a patch of rue herb which grew in Carterhaugh that had helped her out when she found herself in trouble by Willie, the stable lab, last spring.  

The two maids helped Janet into her great bed. Janet quickly fell asleep and dreamed of Carterhaugh and the strange youth she had found there. She awoke at noon and sat by the large window of her bower to do needlework.

Over in Carterhaugh, the leaves were almost bare of their leaves. Their fiery autumn splendor had burnt out and all that remained were piles of the drab brown ashes. A few late-season roses had come into bloom and hung defiantly on their bushes. Janet put down her needlework and made her way to Carterhaugh as fast as her aching legs and back could carry her swollen body.

A tense silence had fallen over the forest, broken only by wind whistling through naked and dead branches. It was All Hallows Eve and that night, the veil between the seen and unseen worlds would be removed. Janet called upon the spirits of Carterhaugh to help her find her love or, if not, show her a way out of her predicament.  

Her wanderings lead her to the patch of rue herb that Madge had spoken of.

Is this a sign that my love has forsaken me, Janet asked herself, and that I should rid myself of my shame?

Janet bent down and plucked a handful of rue and put it into the bag which hung from her girdle.

“My lady,” a voice called to her, “Still you take what doesn’t belong to you. First, you take a rose from one of my trees and now poison to kill our poor little babe.” 

She turned around and looked upon her lover, Tam Lin, who was standing by her side.

“What gives you a right to any of this?” Janet answered, “The rose, the herb, or the babe.”

“I was born the grandson and heir of the Laird of Roxburgh, an ancestor of your family’s liege lord, and was snatched from my cradle as a suckling to be a fairy changeling. The one who raised was the fairy Queen of the Forest who was reigning over these lands centuries before your petty king gave them to your grandsires,” he encircled her with his arms, “My Lady, My Love, My Janet, please claim me as your own and I shall be your husband and the father of your child.”

Janet kissed him.

“I want to,” she told him, “But how can I? You belong to one world and I belong to another.”

“I know a way we can be together. Tis All Hallows Eve, and tonight I must ride in my mother’s train of knights. You will recognize me by my white steed. When you see me, pull me down from my mount and hold me in your arms, and do not be afraid.”

“When must you leave, my love?”

“At sunset.”

“Then we still have a few hours.”

Janet threw her arms around Tam Lin’s neck and pressed her lips to his. He laid her down among the fallen leaves. At sunset, he departed with a kiss on her forehead and Janet fell into a delicious sleep, where she dreamed of lovely, ethereal blue lights dancing like smoke in a starless night.When Janet awoke, she thought that she was still dreaming. It had grown dark and off in the distance, she saw the smoke-like blue lights. She arose from her bed of leaves and followed where the lights lead.

She saw that they were the lanterns of a train of knights, like figures from an old legend or romance. At its head was a lady seated upon a black roan mare. The lady was the tallest that Janet had ever seen, pale and gaunt and slim and bending like a willow tree. She had a strange, unearthly type of beauty, half that of a youthful maiden and half that of an ancient dame. Her robes were made of white moss and the skin of black adder snakes and she wore a crown and collar made of twigs. Riding next to the lady was a knight upon a white stallion.  

Janet remembered being told that she would recognize Tam Lin, her love, by his white steed. She had been instructed to pull him down from his mount, hold him in her arms, and not be afraid.

Janet approached the knight on the white horse, grabbed his arm and pulled him down. He let himself fall into her arms.

The Queen of the Forest, the lady who rode at the head of the train of knights, reined in her horse when she saw what her foster son had done. She raised a long, twisted staff wrapped in black snakeskin and topped with a large crystal.

“Do not be afraid,” Tam Lin whispered to her, “Whatever happens, keep holding me in your arms.”

Janet held onto him as he writhed in unbearable agony, his body contorting in unnatural ways. First, he changed into an albino wolf who shook its shaggy head and tried to free itself from her embrace but he was still the father of her child and she would not let him go. He then transformed into an arctic bear, so large and powerful that it took all of her strength to subdue him, but he was her husband and she would not let him overpower her. His final transformation was into a white lion who roared and clawed at her, but he was still her love and she was not afraid of him.

Tam Lin’s body relaxed and changed back into that of a handsome youth in the first bloom of manhood. He lay in Janet’s arms, naked and panting. She wrapped him in her warm velvet cloak and helped him to his feet.

Janet lead her new husband back towards home. Behind them, Carterhaugh grew smaller and further away.

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Retribution: Chapter 25- Alternate Version

Author’s Note: I have long had an idea in my mind of a scene between Marianne and Faucherie which I was considering putting into chapter 25 but had some miss giving about doing so. I loved the idea and thought that it fleshed out the character of Faucherie and how he operates but was concerned that it might disrupt the flow of the story and simply be “too much.” Also it might make Marianne look like one of those Mary Sue heroines who every guy chases (she has Edmond, Augustin, and later Gabriel) but sexual harassment and assault are themes in this part of the book: how Edmond treats Marianne is meant to parallel what might be going on with Augustin in prison. I also made the sex scene between Augustin and Marianne more explicit 

Here is 25 with the added scenes

*** will indicate the added scene

January into February 1934 had given the people who came into La Première Etoile plenty to talk about. There had been Stavinsky’s supposed suicide (or assassination as many were calling it). They were all repeating Le Canard Enchaîné’s quip about Stavinsky having a “long arm” if he could have shot himself from the distance that the bullet which killed him came from.

The government had fallen on January 23rd and Camille Chautemps had been replaced by Édouard Daladier much to the satisfaction of hardly anyone. Those on the right end of the political spectrum were still harping on the Stavinsky scandal as proof of liberal corruption while those on the left end believed that Daladier’s party was too cozy with the conservatives and fascists.

On February 6th, people were warned to be careful when they went out that night because there was talk of rioting. That evening found Marianne working the closing shift. She yawned through her last few hours of work and tried to stay awake. Though she was feeling better than she had back in December, her former vitality had not fully returned yet. She was afraid that she was becoming sluggish and lazy and was putting on weight. She was dreadfully afraid of gaining extra weight which might be less noticeable on taller women.

Since getting out of the hospital, her will to live had returned somewhat. Maybe she finally understood what her aunts had been telling her the whole time, to be strong and hold on till the end. Something Mother Superior had always told the girls at school came back to her, “a life spent avoiding heartache is a life unlived.”

It was probably somewhere between nine and nine thirty. She had an hour left of work, a half hour if she was being optimistic. The last few customers were coming in and out. A party of four came in, three men and a girl. Then three men were all well dressed in dark suits, overcoats, and homburgs. The girl was perhaps the most beautiful she had ever seen off of a movie screen. She had a striking combination of almost black hair and almost white skin, deep red lips, brilliant blue eyes, a dazzling smile, and a way of carrying herself as if she was perfectly aware of her beauty but was not conceited about it. Her clothing seemed to have its cue from its wearer’s coloring; she wore a black dress and hat, red shoes, a white coat, and a blue necklace. The whole look was worthy of a Vogue fashion plate. This little group were the only people left in the café. They chatted secretively amongst themselves.

The minutes ticked by like an eternity. Marianne was exhausted, she simply wished that these people would leave so she could go home. She went over to bring them a basket of bread and stifled a yawn.

“Past your bedtime, honey?” one of the men asked.

Marianne haughtily ignored his comment and continued with pouring them glasses of water.

“What time does this joint close?” another asked.

“Ten.”

“You’re a sweet kid, do know that? How about you join us for a drink?”

‘No thanks, I’m still on that job,” Marianne yawned again.

The dark beauty and the man seated closest to her appeared to be playfully arguing. 
“You are not so cute,” he said. 
“That Augustin Lerou is,” she said. 
Marianne blanched at the sound of that name. 
“Can’t you see the young lady is exhausted?” He said to Madame Océane, “Why don’t you let her off? We’re good friends of her’s and we’ll see she gets home alright.”

“Marianne, I’ll let you off early,” Madame Océane answered “They’re the only ones left. If you want to join them, you can. Just get home before it gets late.”

“Would Mademoiselle care to join us?”

Marianne did not want to join them and saw no reason why she should except maybe curiosity.

But a desire to know why they wanted her company overcame her better judgement.

The man who had asked her over was tall, well built, and good looking. His tannish skin and light hair were a nice contrast to his beautiful lady friend’s snow white skin and ebony hair. He smiled as if he knew how good looking men with mercilessly charming smiles affected her. There was something about him which made one want to trust him. His large brown doe eyes gave the appearance of complete innocence. But he looked at her as if he knew all about her and exactly where she was vulnerable. Marianne had to admit, she found him both fascinating and frightening.

“Have you had your supper yet?” He asked.

“No,” she responded.

“Then how’bout I treat you to dinner.”

“I’d rather pay for it myself, Monsieur.”

Marianne took a seat between her host and his lady friend. The lady friend turned and said “I’m Hélène.”

Oh yes, Hélène, the famous singer. Which meant that her host was Bruno Faucherie.

“How are you this evening?” Faucherie asked Marianne.

“Alright,” she answered.

“What are you going to have for dinner?”

“I’m not sure. I’m not terribly hungry.”

“I hear the chicken cassoulet here is excellent,” Hélène added.

“Then I’ll have that.”

Manon brought over a dish of cassoulet with five plates. Everyone at the table helped themselves. Faucherie poured Marianne a glass of wine which she did not touch.

“May I know who I have the pleasure of dining with tonight?” She asked him, since he had not yet properly introduced himself.

“I’m Bruno Faucherie,” he answered, “And you are Marianne d’Aubrey.”

“How do you know me?”

“I make it my business to know people, especially when they are as pretty as you.”

The smell of the cassoulet was intoxicating and it made her realize that she was hungrier than she thought. She dipped some bread into the sauce and picked at the bits of chicken and sausage and carrot and celery while avoiding the beans which she did not like.

One of the men who had come in with Faucherie had gone outside. He came back in, whispered something to the other man and they both left.

“Where did they go?” Marianne asked.

“To take care of something,” Faucherie answered simply.

And that was that.

Marianne believed that she heard the sound of a struggle in alley outside but knew that it was best not to say anything.

When the two men returned, they gave their apologies to the ladies and sat back down to enjoy some more cassoulet.

Marianne found herself having a good time much to her surprise. They talked about an Egyptian themed party that Faucherie and Hélène were going to during Carnival which Marianne found interesting because she was fascinated by anything to do with Egypt. Hélène was persuaded to give an impromptu performance of I’ll be there Tonight, the song which had made her famous. She was singing about a hypothetical lover, a dashing and no good cad who she knows cannot be trusted but despite warnings from her friends, she agrees to meet with him that night.

“Monsieur Faucherie,” Marianne told her host, “I’ve had really had a wonderful time but I’m curious. Why did you ask me to dine with you tonight?”

“We have a mutual friend, don’t we Mademoiselle?” Faucherie asked, “A certain green eyed boy.”

She had to bite her lip from retorting “who the two of you got locked up in jail” and instead she answered “yes, that’s true.”

“You and Augustin Lerou were lovers , is that true?”

The depth of Marianne’s feelings for Augustin sometimes blinded her to the fact that her relationship with him had been too innocent to say that they had been lovers. But Faucherie took her blush as an affirmative. He assumed that it had been her first serious affair and she was rather shy about it.

“Then you must harbor a grudge against me for taking young Monsieur Lerou away from you.”

“Augustin made his choice freely; he knew the consequences.”

“Well, My Child, we’re going to get him out.”

“You’re joking with me, certainly.”

“No Dear,” Hélène added “That’s why we invited you over.”

They began speaking in low, hush-hush tones about a plan to spring Augustin and Anton-le-Basque out of La Santé which they referred to as “going to the doctor to get aspirin.”

“Plan to go and visit Augustin exactly a week from today,” Faucherie instructed her, “but before then, stop by The Green Goblin tomorrow night.”

Marianne walked home with Faucherie’s orders playing over and over again in her head.

As he was getting ready for bed, Charles was startled by Adèle who came into the bedroom looking pale and agitated.

“It’s Jules,” she told him, “Charlotte just called to tell me that they just brought him to the hospital after he showed up on their doorstep all beaten up. He said that a mob of blue shirts attacked him on his way home from meeting some friends of his.”

“I’ve heard rumors that there was going to be rioting tonight.”

“Poor Jules.”

Adèle seemed horrified that anyone could possibly want to hurt her baby brother. Jules himself seemed to find it inconceivable after a lifetime of hardly ever receiving so much as a harsh word from anyone.

The newspapers the next day talked about how right-wing mobs had stormed through Paris the night before and converged on the Place de la Concorde, beating up known liberals which explained what had happened to Jules.

 

***Marianne changed out of her waitress uniform when she returned home from work. She put on a pink floral print chiffon dress and rearranged her hair into something fancier than the simple bun she usually wore it in. A little bit of powder, rouge, and mascara were added.

Her heart pounded against her ribcage like a prisoner trying to get out of their cell and she kept asking should I do this?

On a shelf in the kitchen was a box which contained several knives, these were the closest things she had to a weapon. If she was going to meet up with a man like Bruno Faucherie, it would be a good idea to stash one of these knives in her garter. The heft of the knife hilt felt reassuring against her thigh.

Even if Faucherie himself meant her no harm, danger always followed him like thunder follows lightning. And a man like that never did anything for anyone without a price. Someone would have to pay and better it was her. She knew all too well what he might ask for in exchange for his help. The thought of it frightened her.

Marianne grasped the hilt of the knife through the chiffon fabric of her skirt to make sure it was there.

Leaving her apartment, she ran into her neighbor, Louise who was coming out of the bathroom at the end of the hall,  cradling Jacques, who was squirming to get free.

“And where are you off to?” Louise asked Marianne.

“I’m going to get dinner with a friend of mine,” Marianne replied, “Then we’re going to see a movie.”

“You’re all dressed up. Does that friend happen to be a man?”

“Yes.”

“Well, be careful.”

Faucherie had told her to meet him at The Green Goblin, a cafe on a back street off of the Place St. Michel. The only word Marianne had to describe it was seedy. It reminded her of bar and cabaret scenes painted by Toulouse-Lautrec and Van Gogh: bright and garish colors and lighting which made everyone look pale, sick, and hung-over, whether or not they actually were.

He came in a few minutes after she did and walked up to the maitre d’hôtel.

“Excuse me,” he said, “Has a pretty little blonde, scarcely eighteen, come in here?”

“I think so,” the maitre d’hôtel responded.

Faucherie looked around the room, noticed her, and smiled before coming over to her.

“My nineteenth birthday was back in October,” she informed him.

“Did you put in an order for aspirin today?” he asked her.

“Yes, you can pick it up from the doctor tomorrow.”

“Excellent, come upstairs and we’ll see if we can work out some sort of arrangement.”

Marianne discreetly reached for the hilt of her knife. She doubted that she would have the courage to actually use it but it made her feel the slightest bit safer.

The floor above the Green Goblin had rooms available to rent for the night. Faucherie led Marianne up a poky flight of stairs and down an uncomfortably narrow hallway whose dim lighting and double rows of identical doors made it seem as though it stretched on forever. He stopped several doors down the hall on the left side. Marianne’s instincts told her to run but Faucherie took her by the hand and ushered her into the room. Inside was just large enough for a double bed with a white chenille bedspread and a dresser draped with a cheap lace runner. A small window looked out onto the street, a view which was blocked by heavy crimson curtains.

Marianne hung up her hat and coat and slid off her shoes which were damp from the rain. She sat down on the bed and thought about Augustin languishing in La Santé Prison, his olive skin looking sickly and pale, dark circles under his green eyes, and a scar across his cheek that he would not explain to her.

A small tendril of Marianne’s blond hair had come loose from her hairdo and rested against her cheek. Faucherie twisted this tendril of hair around his finger so that it resembled a golden ring.

“Pretty little bird,” he said, before kissing her cheek.

From what Marianne had seen and had been told, she knew that La Santé Prison was a hell hole. A place like that either broke a man or made him worse. Either outcome was far from what Marianne wished for.

Faucherie sat down on the bed next to Marianne and went over his plan to free Augustin and her role in the scheme: she would pay Augustin a visit on the day of the escape and smuggle in a message and harbor him for the night once he was free. While, she was inside the prison, she would pretend to have a lover’s quarrel with Augustin to throw suspicion off of her. Marianne listened attentively and nodded.

“It’ll be carnivale night,” she responded, “There’ll be police everywhere.”

“Don’t worry my child, the new commissioner of police is an old friend of mine. No one’s touching a hair on your Augustin’s pretty head.”

She was unsure if his words made her feel any better. He placed his hand on her thigh and his fingers toyed with the hem of her skirt.

Once Augustin was free, Faucherie would collect his due and Augustin would spend the rest of his life discharging the debt. By being there that night, Marianne was buying the freedom of the man she loved or, at least that was what she told herself. She trusted Faucherie’s peck on the cheek as much as the kiss of Judas.

Faucherie’s fingers found the knife stashed under her skirt.

“Now what’s this, little bird?” he asked her in a mocking tone, “I thought we were friends.”

“I brought it in case of danger,” she gulped.

He laughed and slid the knife out of her garter then murmured “smart girl” before placing it on the bedside table. His fingers then danced across the skin of her thigh; being ticklish, this made her giggle a little.

Faucherie put his hands on her waist and pressed his face to hers in what passed for a kiss, thrusting his tongue into her mouth: Marianne was barely able to keep from gagging. She squirmed in his arms and tried to pull herself away from him.

“What’s the matter, pet?“I don’t bite unless that’s what you like. ” Faucherie said, before playfully nibbling at her earlobe.

He began to undo the row of buttons which ran down the back of her dress and kissed her neck. She wanted to scream to see if someone one would come to her rescue, but she was afraid of what he might do to her. From the grip he had on her upper arms, she imagined that he could probably strangle her. Instead, he lay her down on the bed and whispered something filthy into her ear.

She could not do this. It was too great a sacrifice.

Faucherie began to laugh.

“Please, make yourself decent,” he said between chuckles.

Marianne sat up and began to redo the buttons of her dress, feeling naked and ridiculous more than anything.

“Poor thing, disappointed aren’t you?”

“No….”

She had to admit that the relief she felt was mixed with the disappointment one feels when the worst case scenario they built up in there head does not come to pass.

“You’re a pretty thing, Augustin’s lucky to have you, but I don’t stoop to taking advantage of little girls who don’t know what they’re doing anyway.”

“Then why did you ask me up here?”

“To see if you would, silly little bird, and you did.”

Marianne walked back downstairs with her face flushed crimson and feeling like a damned fool. She was thankful that no one she knew was there in the cafe that night. What must they all be thinking about her? Nothing she wanted to hear, most likely.

Faucherie kissed her hand as they walked out of the cafe.

“Good night, little bird,” he said, “Fly home to your nest.”

“Good night, Monsieur Faucherie,” she replied.

“Remember what I told you?”

“Go and visit Augustin on the 13th, pretend to have a quarrel with him and then harbor him for the night.”

“Good little bird.” ***

Those days of February 1934 had a sleepy yet tense feel to them, almost like the oppressive heat and humidity before a summer thunderstorm.

Maude took the day off on Tuesday the 13th of February to tidy up her flat.

Dusting the mantle, she found a little lion carved from wood. It made her smile to see it.

Years ago when Augustin had come over from Algiers as a little boy with a mop of dark curls, he had been clutching this toy the entire time.

“Does your lion have a name?” She had asked him.

“Asaad,” he had answered.

There was a knock on the door and Léon went to open it.

“Maman,” he said, “Marianne’s here to see you.”

The girl stepped through the door.

“I’m on my way to visit Augustin,” she said, “Do you have anything you want me to bring to him.”

“I have the clean clothes he asked for,” Maude answered.

She gave Marianne a basket full of clothes which she had ironed and folded that morning.

“Thank you.”

“You are welcome, My Dear. I don’t know what he’d do without you. You’re the only ray of sunshine in his life.”

“That’s not true.”

“Well, tell him we said hello.”

Maude kissed her cheek and they bid each other goodbye. She went back to dusting the knickknacks on the mantle; dusting off memories of happier days.

Perhaps if she looked back far enough she could figure out what events had sent her life in the direction it was going no matter how unremarkable it had seemed at the time.

Anticipation made it hard for Augustin to sit still that day. He was afraid that Faucherie’s escape plan would fail or worse, never happen. And if he did get out, what then? What would be outside there waiting for him? More running and hiding. But he would rather run and hide and be free than be trapped.

Augustin felt as though he must follow his star wherever it lead.

Marianne had written to him saying that she would visit him that day. He spent the morning in his cell waiting for her. Whenever the guards were not looking he would take out a fake pistol he was fashioning from wood from the carpentry shop he had stashed away. He blackened it with shoe polish from an old tin he had found in the warden’s garbage.

A guard and a matron came down the hall towards his cell, so he quickly put his project away under his mattress. The guard and matron were escorting Marianne, whose hair was worn loose and her nose and cheeks were rosy from the cold.

“Give me the basket, please,” the guard asked her.

Marianne handed the basket she was holding to the guard. He went through its contents and seemed to find things in order. She started to walk towards Augustin’s cell.

“Wait,” the guard said, “The matron has to search you.”

The matron went through Marianne’s pockets and patted her down.

“You have five minutes, Mademoiselle,” she said.

The guard unlocked the cell door to give Augustin the basket Marianne had brought him. On top of the neatly folded clothes in the basket was the latest issue of a popular music magazine.

“Thanks, Chérie,” he said to his girl.

He reached his hand through the cell bars to put it on her waist.

“You’re welcome,” she put her hand through the bars to touch his cheek.

“It’s Mardi Gras, do you have any plans for tonight?”

“Mathilde and her husband are throwing a party at their home in Auteuil.”

“You seem to be spending a lot of time with them lately.”

“They’re my cousins, Augustin. I can’t just avoid them.”

“Well, you don’t seem to be trying to avoid them.”

“What do want from me?”

“I don’t think you even want to avoid them, especially not Edmond. You like having some big shot after you, don’t you? You’re bored with waiting for the poor soul behind bars and you’ll dance for the first person who’ll name a tune.”

“You’re calling me dishonest, that’s rich. What have I ever done to make you think I was unfaithful to you? What have I ever done but stand by you when anyone else would have given up.”

“Yes, play the martyr why don’t you. Act like you float high above everyone else and you’re as white as snow when really you’re as low and dirty as anyone else.”

“Time’s up,” the guard said.

The guard lead Marianne away. When she got to the end of the hallway, Augustin heard her begin to cry.

He had always known that life beat the softness out of people. Whatever softness was left in him was being beaten out at that very moment. Or maybe his innocence died along with Camille DuPont.

Augustin sat down on his bed and picked up the music magazine Marianne had brought him. Hidden underneath the magazine’s cover was another note from Faucherie, saying that he would come to get him later that night.

“P.S. destroy this after reading,” the note finished up.

Augustin tore up the piece of paper and swallowed it quickly.

Tuesday the thirteenth of February was Mardi Gras, the final night of carnival. The weather was mild for February which was good news for the festively dressed throngs of revelers which filled that Place St. Michel. The sun was going down and great bursts of pink light signaled the end of the day. Fading sunlight cast long shadows on the pavement and made the faces of the people passing by look greenish. They moved along in a sea of shadows moving in two bustling currents. These people were rushing home to throw off their workaday clothes and put on their best to go out partying, knowing that the forty days of Lent would begin tomorrow.

Marie loitered outside Le Paradis at the beginning of her workday as she was waiting for Cerise to return from a kiosk where she was buying cigarettes and candy. Le Paradis was on one of the shabby looking, narrow little cobblestone streets off of St. Michel. It was lined with old and faded looking building, some worse off than others with walls plastered with old signs and peeling posters and dirty windows with sun-bleached shutters. Some of them had a sign saying “Hotel” which meant that Marie and Cerise’s clients could rent a room there for a quick rendezvous.

A man of Marie’s acquaintance named Philippe came out of the bar, already somewhat tipsy.

“Why if it isn’t Marie?” he said, grabbed her by the waist, “Why not you and me later?”

“Hey, leave the lady alone,” another man shouted at him.

“Lady?” Marie asked, “what, are you talking about me? I’d worry about your wife, I just saw her go off with another man.”

Philippe paid Marie and they went off together laughing. Their encounter was a cheap, quick, and rough, trousers and knickers dropped, skirt pulled up, fuck up against a wall.

Marie used the money to buy herself a drink inside Le Paradis. Clare, the barmaid, greeted her.

“Happy Mardi Gras, Marie,” she said, “What’ll it be?”

“Anisette, please,” Marie answered.

Clare poured Marie a shot of anisette.

“Thanks.”

From her spot behind the bar, Clare saw two policemen pass by the opened front door. Her profession had conditioned her to be wary of the police least they raid the place. She stifled a frightened shriek. Marie turned around to what she was so frightened by.

But to their mutual relief, the policemen just walked past Le Paradis without even noticing it.

The mild weather of that day changed as it grew dark. A frosty mist fell as the sky changed to a dark lilac color and the streetlights came on and made the streets shimmer with a rosy glow. They shown against the buildings and illuminated the glass panes of the shop windows and made their contents sparkle. Smaller, high up windows half hidden by signs were aglow with light coming from lamps hidden behind their curtains.

Augustin had been chosen for work detail that day, clearing snow and picking up garbage. When it grew dark, he and the other convicts marched away, shackled together in a line.

“Almost ready,” Anton-le-Basque whispered to Augustin, who nodded his affirmative.

Augustin had not seen much of Anton during the months of their incarceration because they had mostly been kept apart. But in this rare moment of laxity, they had been put on the same chain gang.

As they were about to get into the truck to go back to the prison, another car pulled up and two police officers stepped up. They approached the guard who was in charge of the work detail.

From where he was, Augustin saw that they were gesturing to him and Anton.

“We would like to see those two,” one of them said to the guard.

“Let me see your credentials?” the guard, who was suspicious of these supposed officers, answered.

“Here they are,” the other officer said, taking out a gun.

Before the guard could say anything, the so-called officer fired bullets into his chest. Red blooms of blood blossomed on his chest.

“Damn you,” the guard mumbled as he fell to the ground.

The officer took the keys from the guard’s pocket and unlocked Anton and Augustin’s shackles. Another guard rushed over and grabbed Augustin by the arms. Augustin fought to get one arm free to reach into his shirt to get the fake gun he had fashioned. When he got ahold of it, he stuck it into the guard’s ribs.

“Don’t do it, Lerou,” the guard warned him.

He broke away from him and whipped him with the butt of his gun, before running as fast as he could.

Anton helped him into the waiting car which took off at full speed. The two guards removed their caps and smiled and laughed. Augustin recognized them as Philippe and Jean, two members of the Faucherie gang.

“Faucherie sends his regards, boys,” Philippe said to them.

When they had outrun the police, they ditched the car and their clothes and changed into suits and masks to blend in with the crowds of Mardi Gras revelers.

Anton and Augustin followed Jean and Philippe back through the streets of Montparnasse. It was the last few moments of twilight and stars began to twinkle on one by one like stage lights in a giant theater.

Where they ended up was a white stucco building with doors and windows edged in gold paint. The shapes of the doors and windows reminded Augustin of Algiers.

Inside was an outlandish opium trip of a room which was some sort of nightclub. It was done up like the tent of some eastern sheik or maharajah with silk curtains and cushions in shades of gold, deep brown, and red, Persian rugs, and palm plants. Dispersed throughout were gaming tables and heavily cushioned couches.

The air was thick with incense and tobacco smoke and the light came from chandeliers which looked like giant inverted wedding cakes made of crystals. A negro jazz band played and occasionally someone would shout about the outcome of a card game.

Cigarettes girls and cocktail waitresses wearing glitzy black dresses and headbands served the guests. Apparently, tonight’s theme was Ancient Egypt because the ladies present that evening were wearing Egyptian inspired clothing.

Cleopatra reclined on a sofa supported by silk pillows, sipping a cocktail which Augustin would later learn had been created especially for that evening and was called Nile Water. Mark Antony, wearing a gold silk shirt and a red satin tie with his deep brown suit, stood by her, stroking her hair and chatting with the people at the table next to them.

“How does it feel to be back among the living?” He asked them as they approached.

“Wonderful Monsieur Faucherie,” Augustin answered. He was in awe of everything and could hardly believe it was real.

“Well the evening is young and it’s just going to get more wonderful from here.”

“Will you be performing tonight, Mademoiselle Hélène?” Jean asked Cleopatra

“No, unfortunately,” Hélène responded, taking a sip of her deep blue cocktail, “But if you’re good, I’ll let you buy me a drink later.”

“Do you play Vingt-et-Un, young man?” A gentleman at a nearby gaming table asked Augustin.

“Yes,” he answered.

Hélène got up and went to the gaming table. She slid a silver filigree ring off her finger and put it among the poker chips on the gaming table.

“To the victor, the spoils,” she said.

Augustin took one of the type of cocktail Hélène was drinking. It tasted of almond, bitter orange, pomegranate, figs, and whiskey. One of the Vingt-et-Un players at the table lit his cigarette.

He drew his two cards from the pile: a five of hearts and a five of spades.

“What’ll it be?” One of the men asked him.

“Draw,” he answered. He took another card: an ace of diamonds, “twenty-one.”

The frosty mist that had fallen around dusk had cleared around eleven and the rest of the night was fairly mild for mid-February.

Cerise was sitting out on the enclosed patio of a bar called l’Irlandais. Its doors were left open due to the mild weather. The darkened streets outside were bathed in pale moonlight and the flickering lights from the streetlamps. L’Irlandais and it’s enclosed patio were lit with Tiffany style stained glass lamps.

Four men came down a staircase slick with spit and spilled beer at the end of a dark and muddy alley. When they came into the light, Cerise saw that they were young, handsome, and well dressed. Three of them were leading one of them who was blindfolded.

“Almost there,” one of them said to the blindfolded boy.

One of these young men broke away from the group and walked over to Cerise. She recognized him as Philippe.

“What are you charging for tonight?” He asked her.

“What does it matter?” she responded, “You never have any money to pay.”

Philippe took a wad of francs he had won at the gaming tables out of his pockets.

“Five francs and five francs for the room.”

He gave her the ten francs and she led him up to one of the rooms to rent above the bar.

Just as the party was getting going, Faucherie told Augustin that he had a surprise for him. Anton, Jean, and Philippe blindfolded him and lead him away. The walk took some ten minutes.

“Here we are,” Anton told him.

The blindfold was removed. Augustin found himself on a small street, in front of a building covered in dead vines with a round tower. A set of french doors leading into a small room were left open and an old man sat in a rocking chair, smoking a pipe.

“Good evening,” the old man said to the young men.

“Likewise Monsieur,” Philippe answered.

The old man took another puff on his pipe and continued rocking in his chair.

Augustin’s companions clapped him on the back and then dispersed. He went inside the building.

It was rather quiet inside. Everyone there had either gone to bed or were out. It seemed that the only person there was the old man in the rocking chair.

Augustin climbed the stairs and found the door into the tower at the end of a hallway. The door opened and he was ushered in.

Marianne took him into her arms when he passed through the door and held him close as if he might disappear as quickly as he had reappeared. Her hair had been worn loose, the way he liked it. She had undressed and thrown on a bed jacket.

“How are you?” She asked him, stroking his cheek.

“Glad to be out,” he answered, “Glad to be here.”

This was the first time he had seen where she lived. It was a cozy little hole under the tower’s cone-shaped roof. Everything was neat, practical, and pretty; a small fire was burning in the hearth. The dress he had given her all those months back was lying on the floor as if she had taken it off and forgot about it. A book, a thriller involving a murder of the type which was popular in those days, was lying spine up on the bed.

As she tidied up, Marianne told him of how she had come by the book.

“Anna lent it to me,” she said, “she’s been telling me about it for weeks and promised to lend it to me when she was finished with it. We were at a party earlier and that’s where she gave it to me. Strangely when she lent it to me, I found a St. Anna prayer card I gave her on her name day back in July among its pages. We tried to get Manon to come to this party with us but she thought it would be unseemly since she’s in mourning for her brother.”

They began to talk about the parties they each had been two that evening: what these parties had been like, who had been there, and what had been served. The party Marianne had been to had been at the building where a friend of Anna’s. It had taken place on a staircase which wound through the entire building. They sat there on the staircase drinking gin punch and eating gougères with onion dip and baked Brie, stuffed mushrooms, and lemon curd cake while a radio had been tuned to a station which played jazz music. Benny Goodman to be exact.

He told her about how he had spent the evening with Antony and Cleopatra and they had drunk water from the Nile. This made Marianne giggle.

Johnny was curled up next to Augustin on the window seat and let out an occasional little snuffle or snore. Augustin reached over and patted the little dog on the head.

Marianne came over and sat down on the window seat. She placed Augustin’s head on the gentle swell of her bosom, which rose and fell as she breathed. The beating of her heart was strange and fluttery.

He wanted to think of himself as having been born that evening; having no past, only a future. With everything to look toward to and nothing to hold him back or drag him down.

He sat up and took her into his arms. She yawned.

“Are you tired?”

“I have to get up early for work tomorrow.”

“Then come to bed.”

Augustin was holding her close and leaned in to kiss her.

“I’m not sure.”

“Why?”

“Because I always thought that the going to bed part would come after the marrying part.”

“Would you feel more respectable if I gave you this?”

He reached into his pocket and took out the ring he had won on that hand of cards.

“Augustin…”

“Marianne d’Aubrey, will you marry me?”

“Of course.”

She put the ring on her finger and then kissed him.

“I promise that I’ll do whatever I can to make you happy. But things won’t be easy for us, that’s the only thing I’m certain of.”

“I never wanted things to be easy.”

He kissed her and picked her up into his arms and brought her over to the bed. She lay back against the pillows and he began undoing the tie of her bed jacket, the hooks of her brassiere, and the buttons of her knickers, kissing her face and neck. Then he guided her hands to undo the buttons of his shirt and take it off. He slid down his suspenders and she put her arms around his neck.

Marianne looked afraid, but only of what would happen when the sun came up and all this was over. ***Her cheeks were flushed hot pink but she looked him directly in the eyes and kissed him. Augustin was blushing himself but was not sure why and pressed his lips to her bare stomach. She ran her fingers through his hair, pushing it off of his forehead, and he took her hand and began playfully nibbling her fingers. Her arms again encircled his neck and pulled him on top of her so she could leave a trail of kisses which ran down his chest. He embraced her tightly and her legs wound their way around his hips.

Golden hair enshrouded him as he held her close, kissing her face, neck, and shoulders. She suddenly cried out with a strange mixture of pleasure and pain. He stroked her cheek, wiping away the tears from her eyes, feeling terrible that he had hurt her.

“Shhh, it’s alright,” she whispered, her fingers twined in his hair. ***

Augustin felt that this night had been given to them as a gift: one night where they could be perfectly happy. Despite everything, they might be happy together, but any further happiness they might have would need to be fought for.

“How are you feeling, Marianne? Are you alright?”

“I’m just wonderful.”

She sat up and covered herself up with a sheet. There was a faint smile on her lips and a faint blush on her cheeks.

They began waking up as the sun was beginning to peak over a layer of feathery lavender clouds.

Augustin yawned and stretched as he sat up.

“I have to go.”

“Must you go so soon?”

“Everyone’ll be up soon and I don’t want anyone to see me leave.”

“Oh, let them.”

“Even if I was to get caught, I wouldn’t want to get caught here, visiting my whore.”

“That’s what I am. I’m not ashamed of it.”

He got out of bed and began putting on his clothes. She got up as well and wrapped herself up in a sheet.

“I’ll be back to see you as soon as I can. When all this is over, we’ll be married. You’ll be Madame Augustin Lerou and they’ll tip their hats to you when you walk by.”

He finished putting on his clothes and gave her a kiss.

“Goodbye,” she said.

“See you real soon, chérie.”

Please let me know what you think of the added scenes in the comments and tell me if I should keep this new material in the final version of “Retribution.” 

Gone Upstate

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Alexander had warned Eliza not to make the journey upstate in her condition. Perhaps after having given birth to six children Eliza was overconfident but this particular pregnancy had been difficult. He was always protective of her during times like this since childbirth was to women what war was to men.

“At least wait until after the child is born,” he had insisted.

She brushed him off and sneered “since when do you care?”

He arranged for her to have a comfortable seat on the ferry which sailed up the Hudson to Albany. When she was about to board, he asked her to keep touch with him to let him know that she and the child were well. He looked into her beautiful dark eyes to see if there was anything left of the love she had once had for him; all he could see was contempt.

“I wish this was anyone else’s child but your’s” she said, stroking her belly.

She turned her back on him and walked up the gangplank on the arm of their fifteen-year-old son Philip, who was to accompany his mother to Albany.

Alexander took every harsh world and spiteful action of her’s as just punishment for what he had done to her and their marriage.

“Look after your mother,” He called up to Philip.

Alexander’s office was a small, cozy room in the back of the house with a large window which looked over the garden. The walls were painted green and carpeted in a brownish-beige print matting. Space was taken up by a cherry wood writing desk, a massive bookcase, and a small table by the window, all of the same type of wood as the desk. Maps of military campaigns, matted and framed, were hung on the wall and the desk was piled high with papers.

Alexander walked over to the small table by the window and poured himself a glass of port wine from a decanter which rested on top of it. Taking a sip, he asked himself why Eliza had taken the trip upstate when she was so ill and so close to her lying in. He told himself that the fresh air of the country and being with her family would do her good, but he knew that her reason for going was to get away from him. The words she had said to him before her departure, “Why should you care?” and “I wish this was anyone else’s child but your’s” kept repeating themselves in his mind.

Sitting back down at his desk, he began to go through the massive piles of papers. Philip had written to him to let him know that he and his mother had made it safely to Albany as he had promised and kept him updated on how Eliza was doing.

On the writing desk was a small porcelain box which contained the key to a secret drawer which contained a parcel of letters tied up with a pale blue ribbon. Alexander untied the ribbons and unfolded then read each of the letters. They had been written by Eliza during their courtship and engagement and the early months of their marriage.

Eliza had loved him as much as woman could love a man. She had tried her best to be everything he needed, a lover, companion, and helpmate, and how had he repaid her devotion? By bringing another woman into their bed.

Alexander took another sip of claret and continued to read the letters. Eliza had loved him once, could she love him again?

The news from Philip over the next few weeks was not good. The child was due to be born any day and Eliza was becoming increasingly ill and weak. Alexander was on edge waiting for each letter, hoping that his wife’s condition would improve and the child would be born safely.

“General Hamilton,” Dolley the maid said as she poked her head through the door, “A letter has come for you.”

“Leave it on the desk,” Alexander responded over the book he was reading.

“It’s from Mrs. Van Rensselaer and it looks important.”

Peggy Van Rensselaer was Eliza’s younger sister. The letter had been written on black bordered stationery and sealed with black wax.

“My dear brother,” Peggy wrote, “With deepest regret, I write to inform you that my poor sister, your wife, has quit this world for a better one, after being brought to bed of fine, healthy boy whom she has named William…”

Alexander read it over and over again hoping he had read it wrong. His Eliza was dead and he would never be able see her again and tell her how much she meant to him. She had died hating him as the last thing she had said to him “I wish this was anyone else’s child but your’s” had proved.

The Hamiltons: Epilogue, Best of Wives and Best of Women 

The letter had been placed on Eliza’s dresser while she was asleep. She noticed it when she sat down to brush her hair.

Cracking open the seal, she recognized Alexander’s hand writing.

This letter, my very dear Eliza,” it read, “will not be delivered to you, unless I shall first have terminated my earthly career, to begin, as I humbly hope from redeeming grace and divine grace, a happy immortality.” 

A political quarrel with Vice President Burr had turned ugly over the past few months and reached its inevitable conclusion, inevitable because men could not seem to solve their differences without shooting at each other.

If it had been possible for me to have avoided the interview, my love for you and my precious children would have been alone a decisive moment. But it was not possible, without sacrifices which would have rendered me unworthy of your esteem. I need not tell you of the pangs I feel, from the idea of quitting you and exposing you to the anguish which I know you would feel. Nor could I dwell on the topic lest it unman me.” 

Eliza read these words countless times. Not for the first time, Alexander was doing something he knew would hurt her and clothed it in the excuse that it would not be helped and half-hearted attempts at an apology.  But the phrase “But it was not possible, without sacrifices which would have rendered me unworthy of your esteem” stuck with her. To back out of an affair of honor was to bring great shame upon not only yourself but also your family. Was part of his reason for doing this to prove to her that he was a man of honor?
The consolations of religion, my beloved, can alone support you; and these you have a right to enjoy. Fly to the bosom of your God and be comforted. With my last idea; I shall cherish the sweet hope of meeting you in a better world. 
Adieu, Best of Wives and Best of Women.”
This letter summed up their marriage: flowery, and perhaps sincere, professions of love and a callous disregard for her; martyr like devotion and self-serving hubris. There had always been two men, the noble hero she loved and the weak, flawed man she hated, living in one body.
Which one was the real Alexander, she could spend the rest of her life trying to figure out and never succeed.
Eliza folded up the letter and continued about her day as normally as she could. But all she could do was wait for news of Alexander and live the terrible day that Philip died all over again.
Why had she not woken up in time to see him leave for his fateful meeting with Mr. Burr and tell him what he wanted to hear, that neither Maria Reynolds nor Joseph Ackerman had changed a thing about she felt for him.

 

The bullet had lodged between Alexander’s ribs and he knew that the wound would be fatal. He was rowed back across the river from Weehawken to Manhattan and brought to his sister-in-law Angelica’s home. Angelica sent for Eliza and the children.
The pain in his side where the bullet had lodged was worse than anything Alexander had ever known, even the kidney ailment he had suffered from for many years. He welcomed death if only so he suffering could be over.
Eliza and her fine, handsome brood walked into the bedroom where Alexander had been laid up. He kissed each of the children and told them that he loved them.
Ann stroked the hair off of his forehead and whispered “darling Papa.”
“My poor, sweet girl,” he thought.
Ann had been a shadow of herself since Philip’s death. She spent most of her days playing the piano, lost in a faraway world which no one could drag her away from.
Eliza knelt by his bedside and took his hand, holding it to her cheek. He could feel her warm tears run through his fingers.
Alexander smiled to see her cry.
“Remember my Eliza,” he said, “you are a Christian.”
Kneeling there by his side, weeping with twenty-four years of love and anguish in her eyes, she had never looked more beautiful to him.
Soon you will be free of me, my love,” he thought.
The hours passed by in an endless blur of unbearable agony, more mental than physical. Looking back on his life, he saw that he had achieved more than could be imagined: rose from a penniless bastard orphan in the Caribbean to someone who had helped destroy the old order and been the architect of a new order. But whatever he had accomplished would forever be tainted by his greatest failures. History would remember him as a great man but not a good man.
Eliza may have forgiven him but forgiving himself was something he found impossible. He did not deserve forgiveness. She should not be there weeping by his deathbed.
“Soon you will be free of me, my love” 

 

He was gone and Eliza did not know how she should feel about it: grief for a beloved husband or relief that a hated enemy had disappeared? She had wished this would happen many times in the past and said as much to his face.
Thoughts once turned into words were no longer under one’s control.
Their life together had contained some of the happiest moments of her life as well as the most miserable. Happiness, misery, love, and hate were all muddled up together and she could not sort them out.
She had loved a part of Alexander and they had been happy with him at some points. It would be best to keep and cherish the best of their marriage and bury the worst along with Alexander’s earthly body. The noble hero would live on and the weak flawed man would rot.

 

Eliza Schuyler Hamilton outlived her husband by fifty years. She took up causes such as speaking out against slavery, raising funds to build the Washington Monument, and helping to found The New York Orphan Asylum Society which still exists today, and ended her life feted as a relic of the Revolutionary War Era.
The cause dearest to her heart was preserving her husband’s legacy.


The Hamiltons Part 3: Forgiveness, Can you imagine?

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Alexander Hamilton paced back and forth in front of his wife’s bedroom door and wished that it would all just be over already. His mother-in-law had told him that Eliza was a healthy young woman and that all was going well. If anyone was an expert on pregnancy and childbirth, it was Catherine Schuyler. The doctor and the midwife had said pretty much the same thing but none of this sage wisdom had done anything to make Alexander worry any less. 
How could he possibly believe that all was well when Eliza was screaming and groaning from what sounded like the torments of Hell? 
Alexander continued pacing and tried not to think about any of the countless numbers of things that could go wrong. 
He and Eliza had decided on the name Philip for a boy and Angelica for a girl. Alexander had to admit that he was hoping for a boy and had expressed so in a letter he had written to Eliza back in October:
“…You shall engage shortly to present me with a boy. You will ask me if a girl will not answer the purpose. By no means. I fear, with all the mother’s charms, she may inherit the caprices of her father…” 
The bedroom door opened after what seemed like an eternity and the midwife stepped out. 
“Congratulations Colonel Hamilton,” she said, “You have a son.” 
“How is Mrs. Hamilton?” Alexander responded. 
“Come and see for yourself.”  
Eliza was sitting up in bed, looking exhausted but otherwise well. She held a blanket wrapped bundle in her arms. Alexander came over and pulled back the blanket slightly to see what was inside: a red, pinched, little face. 
“May I present your son, Philip Hamilton,” Eliza said, “Have you ever seen anything so beautiful?” 
“We did well, didn’t we?” Alexander responded. 
“I did most of the hard work.”
He bent over and kissed her and then lovingly stroked the ruddy down on Philip’s tiny, delicate head. 
“Welcome to the world, Mr. Philip Hamilton.”

The first thing Eliza did when she returned from Philip’s funeral was write a letter to Joseph to break things off with him. This was partially to spare her family yet more pain and disgrace and partially to punish herself. As much as she might heap the blame for Philip’s death on Alexander, she could not help but feel that the guilt was partially hers. She had hardly behaved better than Alexander had. They were both adulterers who had let their child pay for their misdeeds.
Eliza could think of nothing more tragic than the sight of poor Phil laying in his coffin, so young, so handsome, and so full of life and potential wasted. He would never get to live up to the ambitions that he father had for him, or marry the love of his life, or have a family of his own.
All day, she had been trying to hold herself together. Throughout everything that had happened to her, she had managed not to break down. She had kept her composure as people mocked her for her straying husband, then called her every name in the book because of her affair with Joseph. But Philip’s death had been close to too much for her.
Now the funeral was over and she could be alone. She plopped down on her bed and began to weep like a young girl who had been jilted by her beau.
Her grief and self-pity was interrupted by a knock at the door.
“Come in,” she said, thinking it was her maid or one of the children.
“Eliza, can I speak to you,” Alexander stepped in, invading her private sanctuary.
“Go away!” she sobbed, “Leave me alone.”
He looked around the room and noticed that she had an unsealed letter on her desk.
“Were you writing to Ackerman?”
“So what if I was?”
“If that bastard doesn’t leave you alone, I’ll take him to court for criminal conversation.”
If you must know, I’m ending my relationship with him. But this changes nothing. After the mourning period for Philip is over, Angelica and I are traveling to Europe. She has plenty of acquaintances in London and I’m sure the Lafayettes will receive us in Paris. We’re going to take Angie with us. The change of scene will do her good and maybe we could marry her off to Lafayette’s son.”
And what am I supposed to do here?”
“Take another Maria Reynolds into your bed for all I care.”
“Eliza, I can’t live like this anymore! I just lost Phil and I don’t think I could bear losing you as well.”
“You should have thought about that at the beginning of this whole sorry mess. Go away, I can’t stand looking at you!”
He did not listen to her but rather went over to the bed and sat by her side. She began to cry again and he took her into his arms and softly kissed her hair.
“My sweet Betsey,” he murmured.
She melted into his arms and yielded to him as eager as she had as a young bride.

Alexander woke up the next morning to the familiar sight of Eliza sleeping next to him. Maybe he would never get over Philip’s death, he did not see how anyone could get over such a thing, but if it brought him and Eliza back together, there would be a silver lining to this tragedy.
Eliza woke and stirred and yawned and stretched.
“Good morning, love,” Alexander said.
Startled, Eliza covered her naked body with the bedsheet to try to prevent unfavorable comparisons to the slim-waisted, perky breasted young Mrs. Reynolds.
“Please, go away,” she said.
What’s the matter?” he replied.
“Nothing, go away, please!”
“I won’t go away until you tell me why you took me back and are now pushing me away again.”
“I thought I needed what happened last night. I was grieving for Philip and it felt good to have someone’s arms around me. It was a moment of weakness. You should know all about those.”
“I’ve never gone to bed with someone I was angry at.”
” I don’t have the energy to be angry at you anymore. I believe that you truly are sorry and I guess I forgive you but…”
“But what?”
“I don’t love you anymore, perhaps I never did. I was infatuated with the man I thought you were but you failed to live up to expectations. Maybe I slept with you last night because I wanted to regain what I once felt for you but I couldn’t.”
Alexander solemnly began to put his clothes back on. Eliza, whose heart had become stony where he was concerned, felt some pity for him.

Over the next couple of months, they focused on moving their household uptown to their new home in Harlem. This was the house that Alexander had dreamed of building ever since he married Eliza and started a family with her. He named it The Grange, after his family’s ancestral estate in Scotland.
Alexander also found that things between him and Eliza were improving; she could at least bear his presence. One the day they were supposed to move, he asked her if she would like to take one last turn with him in the garden.
It was a gorgeously crisp fall morning both warm and golden and shadowy and chilly. The trees were changing into their fiery autumnal hues. Alexander and Eliza shuffled their way through piles of brown, dead leaves as they walked through the garden, arm in arm. He chatted about inconsequential domestic details and she gave a polite nod every once in a while.
She had grown thin and frail and looked wan and tired. He led her around the garden as if she were an invalid trying to regain their strength. This was all that was left of the vigorous woman who loved long walks and hated idleness that he had married.
Eliza turned to look at her husband. His hair had gone grey and he now needed spectacles. The ginger-haired young firebrand she had fallen in love with was growing old.
They were both not as young as they used to be.
I’m with child again,” she said when she finally spoke.
“Eliza, that’s wonderful,” Alexander responded, “Perhaps this is this new start we need.”
“I don’t want a new start, I want things to go back to the way they were before.”
“I know, my love, but that’s impossible. All we can do is pick up the pieces and move on.”
“Let’s go inside, it’s almost time for us to leave. Our new house awaits.”

The last born child of Alexander Hamilton and Eliza Schuyler was their sixth son. They named him Philip after his late brother and called him “Little Phil.”

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.

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.