Sarah Brady dropped by the Prideau home for cocktails during the afternoon before New Year’s Eve. Adèle was out, visiting a friend of hers who had just had a baby, but had Charles wish Sarah a Happy New Year for her.
Charles fixed the cocktails at the bar in the living room, a sidecar for him and a gin fizz for Sarah.
“Here’s to prohibition finally going away,” Charles toasted.
President Roosevelt had repealed the ban on alcohol earlier that month.
Sarah raised her glass and then took a dainty sip.
“I’m having dinner with a boy named Kit Trask later,” she told him, “I’ve never met him before, but his father is a friend of Ezra’s. He’s come to woo some girl and Ezra asked me to look after him.”
Ezra was Sarah’s younger brother who had gone west to New Mexico many years before. He often talked about the Trask family, who were old friends of his, in his letters and phone calls.
“I’m guessing his parents don’t approve of the young lady in question?”
“For all they know, she’s a perfectly nice girl but he’s set on marrying her. They’re both very young and they haven’t known each other very long.”
“In my experience, young people will do as they wish.”
He remembered when he had been this Trask boy’s age and set on marrying the girl he loved.
“How did Laurie propose to you, I can’t quite remember?”
“It was Valentine’s Day 1900. The weather was unusually mild and we went for a walk in Central Park. We passed the Belvedere Castle and he got down on his knee and said “Sarah Faber, I know you’re too good for me and I’ll never be what you deserve but I can’t help myself…will you marry me?” Isn’t it amazing that after thirty-four years I still remember what he said?”
“No, it’s not. Laurie was not a man of many words but he always knew the right thing to say.”
“How did you propose to Adèle?”
“She was dancing in Coppelia and I came backstage to see her. That’s when I proposed to her. ”
“And how did you propose to Madeleine?”
“She was showing me the sights in Rouen. We saw the cathedral, Joan of Arc’s tower, The Gros Horloge, and the Place du Vieux Marché. We were looking for the spot where Joan of Arc was burned at the stake and that’s when I asked her.”
Charles remembered how he had had to save his salary for over a year to buy a ring for her which was little better than costume jewelry, but she had not seemed to mind. Catharine had turned her nose up at it and said “what is this trinket?”
He remembered sitting her down on a park bench in the Place du Vieux Marché. The weather that day had been pleasant and mild and Rouen had a peaceful, almost pastoral feel. He took the box containing the ring he had bought and said “Mado, I don’t think my life will never be complete without you.”
She accepted him; he knew she would since they had been talking of marriage for a year.
This had been in October 1912. Their engagement was formally announced the following February and the wedding was planned for June 1913.
“Can I get you another drink?” Charles asked Sarah.
“No thank you,” she answered, “I must be going. I need to go get ready for dinner.”
Adèle arrived home as Sarah was leaving. The two women greeted each other and bid each other a happy new year.
“How’s Clémence doing?” Charles asked his wife.
“Very well,” Adèle answered, “And her baby is lovely.”
“Is it a boy or a girl?” Sarah joined in.
“A girl, they’ve named her Mélanie.”
When Sarah was gone, Adèle asked her husband what they had been talking about.
“I was telling her about our engagement.”
He put his arms around his wife’s waist and kissed her.
Marianne was hoping that she would have work as an excuse for not going to Tante Catharine’s New Year’s Eve party but New Year’s Eve fell on a Sunday, her day off. She could pass on another evening of being watched, judged, and snubbed. Perhaps she could have handled it if she felt more like herself but she had not felt like herself in such a long time that she forgot what it felt like.
Tante Mimi had a present for her when she came to visit her the afternoon before the party. Marianne was presented with a white box from the Galeries de LaFayette tied with a green silk cord. Inside was a silk and chiffon evening dress in the loveliest shade of blue imaginable.
“Go try it on,” Mimi said.
The dress fit her perfectly, clinging to her curves in the most becoming way; the skirt flowered down her legs dramatically and did not make her look short, as long dresses often did. It’s beautiful blue shade was wonderfully suited to her coloring.
“You look like a dream,” Mimi told her.
“I could be happy in this dress,” Marianne thought.
Tante Catharine had given her a pair of pearl earrings for Christmas and she had a pearl necklace her grande-mère had given for for her fifteenth birthday and an opal hair comb that had belonged to her mother. Inside the box from the Galeries de LaFayette was a white mask because Catharine’s party had a masquerade theme.
Agnès approached her cousin when they were alone in the front hall of her mother’s house.
“Marianne,” she whispered, “Can I tell you something?”
“Certainly,” Marianne answered.
“I must tell someone and you’re the only person I know whom I can trust. Promise me you won’t tell anyone.”
“How can I if I don’t know what I’m not supposed to tell.”
“Well, Kit and I are getting married tonight. He’s made arrangements with the justice of the peace and we’re going to sneak away from the party at midnight. By the time anyone notices we’re gone, it’ll be too late to stop us.”
“Congratulations Agnès, I hope you and Kit will be happy.”
“Promise me that you won’t tell anyone.”
“Thank you, thank you. Do you know what this makes us now?”
“Friends, I hope.”
Marianne felt uncomfortable with keeping things from her aunts. It was hard to approach Catharine and greet her like she normally did, knowing that she was complacent in her daughter’s elopement.
After eating a brief meal, they all retired to change for the party. Agnès was blissful and excited; Mathilde could not figure out why. She mocked her sister by asking “what are you so happy about?” Agnès was in too good a mood to mind Mathilde’s sarcasm.
Marianne was happy for her cousin. She had come to like Kit and believe that he would make Agnès happy. But she could not look at her cousin’s happiness without thinking about her own unhappiness.
When she entered the living room, she had a feeling that something was wrong. Boys were looking at her, and not because her dress suited her uncommonly well and she had arranged her hair to perfection. These were the same boys who did not usually take much notice of her because she did not have the flashy good looks they responded to. They smirked at her and then seemed to turn away to say something to one another. She could tell that they were mocking her behind her back but did not why.
She tried to ignore it and sat and acted like she was bored to death, which was the only way to get through the evening. Making a scene or showing any emotion whatsoever would only bring her more ridicule.
It was usually not difficult to be pretend to be bored. No one ever talked about anything particularly interesting, but Kit Trask made a change from the usual petty gossip and crude humor. Everyone found Kit interesting because he was foreign and new. He was telling everyone about the droughts and dust storms which were hitting the Midwestern part of North America and above caravans of people traveling west from the eastern part New Mexico, Texas, and Oklahoma to California.
“Why do Americans hate negroes so much?” someone asked Kit.
Kit looked confused and flushed with embarrassment, as if he himself had been accused of hating negroes.
“What makes you think that?” he answered.
The Scottsboro Boys trials were brought up.
“We’re not like that at all over here.”
“But what about the Algerians?”
“Algerians are born thieves.”
Whether this had been the person’s intention or not, Marianne felt this remark as a dig at herself. She was in a frame of mind to believe that everyone was laughing at her behind her back.
Mimi came in, helping Annette bring in some hors-d’oeuvres. She carried a platter of miniatures crêpes and little bowls of caviar and cream cheese while Annette carried a platter of oysters on ice.
Mathilde, who sang very well and had a lovely soprano singing voice, was invited to sing for everyone. Agnès came to accompany her on the piano. Her charm bracelet jingled as she played.
“Minuit, chrétiens, c’est l’heure solennelle,” Mathilde sang, “Où l’Homme-Dieu descendit jusqu’à nous, pour effacer la tache originelle, et de son Père arrêter le courroux. Le monde entier tressaille d’espérance, à cette nuit qui lui donne un Sauveur. Peuple, à genoux, attends ta délivrance Noël! Noël! Voici le Rédempteur! Noël! Noël! Voici le Rédempteur!”
Agnès hated the fact that Mathilde hardly ever practiced and yet was known as the singer of the family.
“Marianne, why don’t you come up and sing?” Edmond asked when the applause for Mathilde died down.
“Oh yes,” Mimi joined in, “I haven’t heard you sing in so long.”
“No thank you,” Marianne answered, “I haven’t sung since the convent choir.”
“But I remember you sang very well,” said Agnès.
They all assumed that she sang like angel but was just being modest.
After some encouragement, Marianne reluctantly stood up to sing, blushing with embarrassment.
“Les anges dans nos campagnes ont entonné l’hymne des cieux,” she sang “Et l’écho de nos montagnes redit ce chant mélodieux. Gloria in excelsis Déo! Gloria in excelsis Déo.”
Standing at the front of the room, she was on display for everyone. Edmond’s eyes were focused on her in a way which could only be called possessive. It was a look which Alexander the Great, Julius Caesar, and Genghis Khan must have had; the look of a conqueror eyeing his conquest.
“That’s the one Edmond’s been talking about,” his sister Solange whispered to a friend of hers. Solange was either bad at whispering or wanted to be heard.
“Oh and what has your degenerate brother been saying about me?” Marianne asked, stepping forward to confront Solange.
Edmond got up and put his arms around her waist to hold her back.
“Let go of me!” she shouted.
“Don’t mind her,” Mathilde said to Solange, “She’s obviously lost her mind.”
“He’s been saying that you’re a filthy slut who’s been fooling around in the gutter with some Algerian rat.”
“Don’t act you’re any better, Solange,” Agnès but in.
“Who asked you?”
Marianne backhanded Solange across the cheek.
“That’s what I think of you and your sick minded brother.”
Mathilde returned the backhand given to her friend; the pointed diamond in her wedding ring scraping against Marianne’s cheek and drawing blood.
Mimi took the weeping Marianne into a bathroom. She soaked a towel in hot water and ethanol and cleaned the cut on her niece’s cheek.
“There, it’s stopped bleeding,” she said, “Put a little makeup on it and no one will notice.”
“Are you sure?”
Marianne put a little makeup and powder on the cut and it was no longer visible.
“Now put a little rouge in your cheeks.”
She forced a smile and put little dabs on the apples of her cheeks.
“You look beautiful.”
“I don’t feel beautiful. I don’t feel anything but dead.”
“Marianne, I know this all must seem terrible to you. But you’re so very young and tomorrow everything will look better.”
“I hope so. It can’t look much worse.”
Agnès was waiting outside the bathroom door with a cocktail, a fizzy red concoction garnished with an orange peel. Marianne took a sip, it tasted of gin and vermouth.
“Kit and I are leaving,” Agnès went over to the coat closet,”I hope Maman doesn’t mind me borrowing her best fur coat.”
She pulled out a mound of sleek sable fur from the closet and put it on. Her mother was taller than her and had broader shoulders, so Agnès was swimming in fur.
“The taxi’s here,” Kit told her as he was putting on his overcoat.
They kissed and they went out the door.
Luckily, Catharine was too busy scolding Mathilde and Solange to notice them leave.
“But Maman,” Mathilde whined, “she hit Solange first.”
“It doesn’t matter,” shouted Catharine at her most intimidating, “You two were bullying her and that kind of behavior was unacceptable.”
“I’m almost twenty and a married woman, you can’t treat me a child anymore.”
“I will when you stop acting like one.”
“It was the behavior of your tarty little niece that started it all in the first place,” Solange’s mother Carole retorted.
“Even with all that expensive perfume your husband buys you, you still smell like whatever Belleville slum he pulled you out of. Maybe someone there cares about your opinion.”
Everyone gathered in the drawing room where an elaborate rococo grandfather clock stood. The seconds ticked away until the new year, 1934, began.
At the stroke of midnight, glasses of champagne were poured, masks were removed, and boys took the opportunity to kiss girls they fancied. The amusement provided by Marianne’s outburst had faded and it was if it had never happened. That was how careless they all were; they cared so little about people that they could humiliate them and easily forget about it. But Marianne could not hate them, she could only pity them. She could only pity their carelessness.
Catharine noticed that Agnès and Kit had disappeared and began to ask where they were. No one had seen them for at least ten minutes.
“Have you seen them?” Edmond asked Marianne.
“No,” she lied.
She was furious with him for spreading filthy rumors about her but that only seemed to amuse him more. Getting her upset was exactly what he had wanted. It pleased him to torment her because he could.
All of the torment he had given her had nothing to do with love, or even lust, but was something different all together. She was merely a plaything to him.
“Please keep him away from me!” Augustin whimpered like a wounded animal.
He was curled up in a corner of his cell while two guards stood over him. His face was badly bruised and there was a cut on his right cheek. One of his eyes was near swollen shut.
“Camille Dupont?” one of the guards asked, “He seems friendly enough.”
The other guard chuckled.
“You know what he’s been doing to me.”
“He likes you, you should be flattered.”
They walked away laughing. The sound of their laughter echoed menacingly through the corridor.
Augustin tried to sit up, which was difficult because he was in so much pain. He tried to stand up but could not so to his full height.
All he could think about was the pain and the sound of the guard’s laugher.
The guards shouted something back at him about how they were coming back to get him later because Camille wanted to see him again.
Augustin staggered over to his bed and took the dagger he had fashioned out from under his pillow and dared the world to give him a reason not to use it on himself. The blade was sharp; it would be a quick way to go. His chest rose and fell as he breathed. He held the dagger to his own throat.
“Go ahead,” he told himself, “What do you have to live for?”
At first, he had told himself that he deserved to be here. That he was not any better than the likes of Camille. But now he was wondering what he had done to deserve all of this pain and humiliation.
Then he lowered the dagger. He was not the one who deserved to die.
Even with the dangerous life he had lead, he had never considered killing anyone. But he had never had a reason to.
The guards did come back for him and they were still laughing. Nothing amused them more than having prisoners fight each other. Augustin had prepared by stashing the dagger under his shirt. Camille bared his large teeth at him when he was brought into the shower block and turned on the shower, which made a loud noise that could muffle any other sound. He came over to Augustin, held him against the wall, and whispered something into his ear. Augustin squirmed to try to get free and tried to push Camille away from him.
He struggled with Camille but was able to knock him to the ground. His left foot went on Camille’s face, covering his mouth, and his other foot went on his left arm. With his free hand, he took the danger out from under his shirt. Bending down, he slit his victim’s wrists open, making bright red gashes on his arms. Camille writhed under his feet but as the blood poured out of him, he lost the energy to resist.
Augustin dropped the dagger under one of Camille’s hand. He was left handed, so it landed under Camille’s right hand.
He got out of the shower and and went over to a sink to wash his hands and face. The guards came to bring him back to his cell. They appeared to know what had happened but did not say anything and just lead him out of the shower block.
One of the guards repeated an old saying to the other, “It’s a dangerous animal that fights back.”
The first weeks of January 1934 were taken up by a political scandal which was in all newspapers. A certain Alexandre Stavinski had been found dead from a gunshot wound in a chalet in Chamonix. Stavinski’s death had been declared a suicide but some were saying that he had been murdered. It was believed that he had connections in high places and this apparent murder was taken as another example of corruption in the Radical Government.
Manon had gone into mourning for her brother who was also believed to have committed suicide. Marianne brought her some of the croquembouche from Agnès and Kit’s wedding reception on the way home and told her about how angry Tante Catharine was with them when they were caught but how nice the church blessing and reception had been.
Agnès had asked her to be one of her bridesmaids which she had not really wanted to do. She had not wanted to go to the wedding because she wanted to do little besides hide in her room but she had gone to support Agnès. Tante Mimi had told that if she did not go, Agnès would never forgive her.
When she got home, she stood in front of her mirror and looked at herself in her cream satin bridesmaid dress. “Doesn’t my niece look lovely?” Tante Catharine had said to a friend of her’s. “If she’s so lovely,” the friend had said. “Why hasn’t she found anyone.”
She changed out of the bridesmaid dress and into her pajamas and curled up in her bed and cried. Cried in a way she had not cried in years.
All her life she had been told the same thing, that when things did not go her way, she acted like everything was hopeless and her life was over. But for the first time, things actually were hopeless.
Augustin was in prison and would most likely rot there. She would never love anyone like she loved him. But maybe what was worse was the way people had looked at her on New Year’s Eve, like she was a joke at best and tainted and dirty at worst.
“You’re dirty and nobody decent’ll ever want you,” she remember Edmond saying.
When her tears were spent, she sat up and patted Johnny who was curled up on the foot of her bed.
“Good boy,” she whispered.
She then got out of bed, running her fingers through her hair to loosen the tight, artificial waves. Her hair was sticky and crunchy with dried permanent wave product.
A kettle for tea was put on the stove and she fixed herself a glass of camomile tea with honey and lemon and one of her sleeping pills to dissolve in it. While the water was heating up, she took a knife from a box and sharpened it with a pumice stone.
With her cup of tea and the sharpened knife, she returned to bed. She let the tea and the sleeping pill make her a little drowsy before she made the first slit on her wrist. Johnny noticed her grimaces of pain and began whimpering. A dog whimpering has to be one of the most heartbreaking sounds in the world.
“It’s alright boy,” she told him.
She made several more slits on each of her wrists and then fell back onto her pillows. Blood dripped from her delicate wrists and stained the white sheets.
Johnny continued to whimper at the sight of his mistress in distress.
Marianne grew light headed and felt as though the room was spinning. Her vision was blurry and she hardly had the strength to move. She turned and looked at the crucifix on her nightstand and mumbled through a prayer.
“Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.”
She lifted her face towards heaven and lay still and waited for everything to go dark.
Charles attended mass one Sunday afternoon in the middle of January. During that mass, a boy and girl were to be married.
He noticed Catharine and Mimi sitting in a pew towards the front of the church.
“Good afternoon,” he said to them.
They turned around and greeted him with “good afternoon.”
“My daughter is getting married,” Catharine told him, “you remember Agnès, my youngest.”
“Who’s the lucky young man?”
“A boy named Christopher Trask.”
The groom was standing at the alter. He was a pleasant looking young man who seemed happy to be getting married.
Agnès and her bridesmaids came down the aisle, Marianne was one of them. She turned around and said to them about how she and her soon to be husband were taking a cruise down the Nile for their honeymoon.
“How beautiful,” one of the bridesmaids said.
“How romantic,” another said.
“I hope Kit doesn’t find out how easily you get seasick,” Mathilde added.
“She has a point.”
“But still I hear Egypt’s really nice.”
During the wedding ceremony, Charles thought about his own weddings. He had married Adèle at the city hall of her hometown on a pleasant day in late April coming upon four years ago and then they went to mass at the local church. The reception was at her parent’s house and they went to Nice for the honeymoon.
His wedding to Madeleine was a somewhat grander affair. They were married at Rouen City Hall and blessed at St. Ouen cathedral and the reception was held at Chateau Aubrey. Madeleine had worn an ancestral crown of golden leaves which had first belonged to a Françoise d’Aubrey whose claim to fame was having once danced the polka with Napoleon III and had been worn by every d’Aubrey bride since. But this wedding had been a trying experience for him, not because he had had cold feet about marrying Madeleine but rather because the ordeal had taken place in front of a sea of (in his mind) hostile faces.
Another thing which occupied this mind was how sad Marianne looked. She was trying to smile and be happy for her cousin but her eyes looked weary and her smile looked false.
“Doesn’t my niece look lovely?” Catharine whispered to a lady in a pew near her’s.
“If she’s so lovely,” the lady answered, “why hasn’t she found someone.”
Charles knew that his daughter was in love but unhappy in her love. She must be thinking that it should be her getting married. He did not know the details of her romance but he overheard women make snide comments about the girl, something to the effect of “someone should make an honest woman out of her,” and things about “preserving her honor.”
Marianne was aware that people were talking about her and seemed on the verge of tears.
That night, Lucille woke her master and mistress up in the middle of the night to say that there was an urgent telephone call for Monsieur.
“Alright, alright,” Charles said in a groggy voice.
Adèle sat up in bed, curious about what was going on. Her husband came back after taking the phone call looking agitated. He went into the closet to get some clothes.
“What’s the matter?” Adèle asked him.
“I have to go into town,” he answered.
“Marianne’s had an accident. Her aunt just called to say that she’s in the hospital.”
“Dear god! Is she alright?”
“She’s was in great danger but now she’s stable.”
Charles finished dressing and then kissed Adèle goodbye before leaving.
Marianne woke up in a hospital bed after passing out from blood loss. The wounds on her wrists had been cleaned and bandaged and she was hooked up to an IV which infused new blood into her. Someone had taken off her blood stained pajamas and put her into a hospital gown. Mimi was sitting by the bed and a nursing sister was hovering over her.
“She’s awake,” the nun said to Mimi.
“Marianne,” Mimi said to her niece.
“Tante Mimi,” she answered in a weak voice.
“How are you?”
“Sister, can I have a glass of water?”
“Certainly, my child.”
The nun helped her sit up and then brought her a glass of water.
“How did I get here?” Marianne asked her aunt.
“Your neighbor, Madame Verte, found you unconscious in your room after having slit your wrists and called the hospital.”
“She should have minded her own business.”
“Well, luckily for you, she didn’t.”
Marianne took a sip of water. It was very late at night or perhaps very early in the morning and everything felt not quite real as they often do when you are in a hospital at that hour. The eerie stillness and the dim institutional lighting added to this feeling.
“Why did you do this to yourself? Why did you want to throw your life away like this?”
“You saw the way people were looking at me and heard what they were saying. “There’s poor Marianne, her younger cousin’s getting married before her,” and “That’s the one who sullied her virtue with some criminal.” They looked at him like I was a disgrace.”
“You know that’s not true.”
“Do you think that makes it hurt any less?”
“I don’t know what to say. What do you need to hear?”
Catharine was in the waiting room awaiting Charles. She tried to concentrate on the crocheting she had brought with her but was unable to sit still and got up and paced back and forth.
Charles came upon her unexpectedly.
“I see you left the chorus girl at home,” she said to him.
“How is she?” He answered, referring to Marianne not Adèle, “What happened to her?”
“She got into her head to slit her wrists open. But her neighbors rescued her in time and called the ambulance. She’ll be alright.”
“Why would she do such a thing? She’s so very young and has her whole life ahead of her. Why would she want to die?”
“She doesn’t, she probably just thinks that if she cried out loud enough, someone would come to help her.”
“What does she expect us to do: wave our magic wands and get that boyfriend of hers out of jail and gather up all the gossip about her and shove it back where it came from.”
The day had been trying for Catharine. Seeing Agnès marry and leave her made her realize that both her children were grown and that they were strangers to her. And now there was this. But she had more self respect than to cry in front of Charles.
“Let’s go in and see her.”
“Thank you for calling me.”
Marianne was laying in a hospital bed with a white sheet tucked under her chin and her long hair spread out on the pillow.
“Monsieur Prideau is here to see you,” Mimi told her.
She sat up in bed.
“Hello Monsieur,” she said.
“How are you, Marianne?” he answered.
She held up her bandaged wrists and crossed her arms in an X over her chest.
“I look like something they dug up in the valley of the kings.”
“You shouldn’t stay long, Monsieur,” said the demure young nun who was looking after Marianne, “She must get some sleep.”
Charles sat down beside the bed and Marianne lay back against the pillow and closed her eyes.
“You weren’t disappointed that I was born a girl, were you?” she asked him.
“No, not really,” he answered, “What makes you asked that?”
“Most fathers seem to be disappointed when they have girls.”
He stroked her hair as she fell asleep.
Catharine and Charles went home when Marianne was asleep but Mimi insisted on staying by her niece’s side. She ended up dozing off in her chair. She dreamt about something which had happened twenty years before. On a mild morning in March 1914, she had called upon her sister Madeleine. She had seen Madeleine a good amount of times since she had been married, Madeleine had not gone out of her way to see her or anyone else in their family, almost as if she had wanted nothing more to do with them.
Mimi arrived at where her sister and her husband were living to find Madeleine sitting by a window and watching the street below.
“Nice to see you,” she had said when she saw her.
“You look very well,” Mimi had answered.
“You haven’t seen Jamie, have you? He’s been gone since last night.”
“No I haven’t. Why, is something the matter?”
“We had an argument last night, over something stupid really. He’s been upset because he doesn’t want to go the baptism of Catharine’s new daughter. I said that I didn’t really want to go myself but we had a family duty to go. Somehow it escalated from there and he hit me.”
“Good Lord! Did you hit him back?”
“Of course. I said that if he was going to behave like that, I was going to give it right back to him.”
“Good, it sounded like he deserved it.”
“Mostly I felt sorry for him because he didn’t have any better way to say what he wanted to. I can tell he’s afraid that I think I degraded myself by marrying him and is frustrated that he can’t give me something as good as what he took me from.”
“What a man, hitting his wife because he’s afraid and frustrated. If he’s going to behave that way towards you, perhaps you’re better off without him.”
That had been the day Madeleine had told her that she was expecting a child, a child who was to be born in the autumn. Her little girl came on Thursday the twenty-second of October 1914 with the dark cloud of war hanging over. She had been baptized in the drawing room of Chateau Aubrey because she had been too delicate to go out in the winter cold.
In accordance with the old saying: Thursday’s Child has far to go, things had not been easy for this little girl. But she would hardly be the first person to have far to go when they were nineteen. Mimi wanted her to know what she had learned over the years, that we all must find some reason to keep going.
When Catharine arrived home, she went into the kitchen and fixed herself a cup of tea. It would have been cruel to wake up Annette at this ungodly hour.
She plopped herself down in a chair at kitchen table and let out a loud sigh. Seeing her brother in law always made her feel this. The clock struck one in the morning.
“Only one,” she thought, “I would have thought it was almost morning already.”
Catharine took a sip of her tea and closed her eyes and was taken back twenty years.
Madeleine and Jamie (or Charles as he was calling himself now) had been married for nine months and she had just recovered from giving birth to Mathilde. She went to call upon her sister, simply out of curiosity, only to run into her brother in law outside stumbling his way home looking tired and disheveled like he had out all night. She had asked the chauffeur to stop the car and pick him up.
“I know what’s going on,” she told him.
“What is it?” He answered back in a rather surly way.
“You’ve been married for nine months and you’re sick of it.”
“What makes you think that?”
“Madeleine will be wondering where you are. No doubt seeing you in the state you’re in will upset her and she’ll say things that’ll make you angry. And in the state you’re in, that shouldn’t be too hard. Madeleine can be dreadfully infuriating sometimes.”
“Only you could be so spiteful. As if I could ever get angry at a sweet thing like Mado. We had an argument last night, she was right, I lost my temper and I don’t know what came over me. I feel terrible about it.”
“See I was right. Listen, if she’s getting on your nerves, why don’t you leave her. There’s no use terrorizing the poor thing. Maybe she’s just as eager to get rid of you.”
“I’ve always thought a couple of good slugs was exactly what you needed.”
The car brought them to where he and Madeleine were living.
“Look at the stray dog I picked up off the side of the road,” she had said to her sister when returned her husband to her.
During that visit, Madeleine had told them that she was pregnant and the baby would come in the fall. By the time the tiny towheaded baby was baptized, she was two months pregnant with Agnès.
When Catharine opened her eyes, it was almost two.
That was the strange nature of time. When you’re watching the clock, you think you have forever but the minute you take your eyes off of it, time passes without you even knowing it. And children start off as tiny, lovable, and helpless creatures and before you know it, they are willful and independent with minds of their own.
Charles returned home to find Adèle waiting for him in the living room.
“I couldn’t sleep,” she told him.
“Well, she’s going to be fine,” he told her, kissing her on the forehead.
“What happened to her?”
“The poor thing’s been very unhappy,” he began. He told her what had happened and she took his hand in her’s.
Adèle could tell how much Charles’s daughter meant to him and therefor she meant a lot to her as well. The feelings of paternity which he had been unable to express all these years had been released all at once and had completely overcome him. It hurt him to see that the happy little baby he had left behind had grown into an unhappy young woman who was miserable enough to wish to take her own life.
As Charles fell asleep, a memory came back to him. A memory of the day he found out he was going to be a father.
The first years of his marriage to Madeleine had not been easy for him. Not that he had not loved her or that she had been hard to get on with but because her family was watching him and expecting him to fail. They all whispered that she should not have married him and that she had lowered himself by marrying him. She had given him no reason to suspect that she felt the same way but he had often projected his frustrations onto her and caused him to sometimes behave shamefully towards her. They had had a terrible argument one night nine months into their marriage and had walked out and did not come back until the morning when his sister in law Catharine had found him and brought him home. What made this even more humiliating was the spiteful glee Catharine had taken in the situation, and he was in just as bad good when he arrived home as when he had left. His goodbye to Catharine had been “you nasty hag” (at twenty-eight Catharine had been beginning to be sensitive to the fact that she was not as young as she used to be.)
Madeleine hovered around him when he came in.
“Go on, say it,” he told her, “I’ve been out all night, I just insulted your sister…”
“Do you think I care if anyone insults Catharine?” She answered, “I’m just glad your back.”
She brought him some coffee and some omelette and then sat down beside him, saying that she had something to tell him.
“Mimi dropped by this morning,” she began, “and I told her that I’d would visit this afternoon.”
“Well, I have an important announcement to make and I felt that I should tell you first because it concerns you more than anyone else. I’ve had my suspicions for some weeks now but I went to a doctor a couple days ago and he confirmed it. We’re going to have a baby.”
“Oh Mado,” he reached over and took her into his arms, “I’m not squeezing you too hard am I?”
“No, you’re fine. You don’t have to go to Catharine’s daughter’s baptism if you don’t want to.”
“I’ll go, I go,” he said stroking the back of her head.
That afternoon, Madeleine made good on her promise to visit her family. While she was gone, he had gone for a walk to make sense of the news that he was to be a father. He imagined a hazel eyed, freckle faced little boy who would grow up to look like him but hopefully without any of his faults. Or perhaps a lovely little girl with ribbons in her hair who would become just like her mother. A boy would need to be set a good example and a girl would need to be petted and protected. Their daughter was born in October and baptized in December. He had felt that he needed to do something to prove himself and the war that had begun that August gave him his opportunity.
A cold snap hit at beginning of February bringing with it a week of cloudy and frosty weather and intermittent showers of snow. During one of these snow showers, Marie ducked into the St. Sulpice metro station in order to ply her trade. She serviced a gentleman in the station bathroom and came out to find herself face to face with the devastatingly handsome young man she had encountered back in the fall; she would have recognized him anywhere. To her embarrassment, her blouse was undone, her skirt tucked up into her knickers, and her makeup had smudged, giving her circles around her eyes which would have put Theda Bara to shame.
Her handsome friend smiled to see her.
“Looks like you’ve been enjoying yourself,” he said, smirking.
Though modesty was never something Marie much worried about, she blushed and did up her blouse and straightened her skirt.
Like the previous time they met, his attention was taken by a blond haired girl who came over from a ticket kiosk. It was the same blonde he had asked her to follow the last time. Paris was indeed a small place.
“Nice to see you again, poupée,” he said tipping his hat to Marie.
The blonde got on the next train and he walked up the stairs to the street and went and sat in a cafe across the street.
Life at La Santé had changed for Augustin.
He was now seen as someone to be, if not feared, then approached with caution. Even the guards understood what he could do if riled. They knew what had happened to Camille but kept it to themselves. Camille was not sorely missed and his death had been written off as yet another prison suicide.
Augustin felt no remorse for what he had done. He would do it again if he had to.
“There’s a young lady to see you,” a guard came and told him, “She says she’s your cousin.”
Hélène came into the cell block. Augustin was surprised to see her and wondered how she could have gotten in. But then a girl who looked liked Hélène could tell people she was the rightful queen of France and people would believe her.
She was wearing a tight red sweater which showed off her considerable frontal assets to full advantage.
“Hello handsome, she said.
“What are you doing here?” He asked her.
“Is that any way to greet your cousin?”
He recalled what had happened the last time he had gotten involved with her saw nothing good coming out of this encounter. She was a girl who meant nothing but trouble.
Hélène reached into her pocket and took out a piece of paper.
“Read this,” she whispered, handing the piece of paper over to him, “By the way, your little friend is right behind me.”
Augustin had forgotten about Marianne’s existence for a few moments. No man could possibly think about any other woman when Hélène was around.
Hélène went out and Marianne came in. He stashed the piece of paper in his back pocket.
Marianne reached through the bars of the cell and stroked his cheek. He turned his head to look at her, revealing his other cheek, the one which had a wound healing into a scar. Her gloves did not go much beyond her wrist and the looseness of the sleeve of her coat left her wrist visible. The wrist was bandaged up.
“What happened to your wrist?” he asked her.
“Nothing,” she blushed, “I was careless with a kitchen knife.”
“I don’t think you could cut yourself like that by accident.”
“And about this scar on your cheek. Do you think I’ll believe that you cut yourself shaving?”
She stroked his marred cheek.
“I was stupid, I thought that I nothing to live for and no reason to keep living. But a good friend, my neighbor Louise, stepped in before it was too late. I’ve thought a lot about it and even if I have little to hope for I shouldn’t give into despair.”
Augustin kissed her wrist.
“We have plenty to hope for, I promise. When I first got here, I thought I was beaten. I wanted to give up but now I know that isn’t what I really want. We’re tough and we’ll get through all this.”
She leaned in through the bars and kissed him.
“I hope you’re right.”
“Time’s up, Mademoiselle,” the guard told her.
“See you real soon, Chérie.”
He took the piece of paper Hélène had given her from his pocket when Marianne was gone.
“Dear M. Lerou, ” it read “My friend Hélène has been so kind as to deliver this message to you in my place. I apologize for the outcome of our previous association with one another and I am determined set things right by you.
Keep February 13th in your mind, it will be the day of your deliverance.
You friend, Bruno Faucherie. Ps. Destroy this immediately.
Augustin thought of ways to dispose of this letter but the best way he could think of was to eat it. He tore it up into little pieces and put them in his mouth, letting the paper soak in saliva to make it easier to swallow. It went down hard and left a lump in his throat.
His heart raced at the thought of being free but he thought it was too good to be true. Still he dared to hope that Faucherie would make good on his promise and help him escape and he could make good on his promise to Marianne that they would get through all this.
Marie saw the blonde return to St. Sulpice later that afternoon. The blonde went up the steps to the street, where she was stopped by the handsome young man in front of a cafe.
“Gone to see Ali Baba?” he asked.
“Leave me alone.” she answered, “Haven’t you done enough damage?”
“Haven’t you realized that you’re wasted on Augustin Lerou. A dainty little thing like you needs someone who can take care her, do you think he can take care of you?”
“You’re unimaginable. You bother me for months and spread lies about me and yet you go and act like you have my best interest.”
She continued on her way.