Bag Girl Reviews: Marie Antoinette, Princess of Versailles by Kathryn Lasky

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Due to my interest in history and childhood obsession with princesses, one of my favorite series of books growing up was The Royal Diaries. I scoured my elementary school and middle school libraries for every book in the series I could get my hands on and checked them out over and over again. The one that I checked out the most was Marie Antoinette: Princess of Versailles by Kathryn Lasky. My first reading of the book probably predates my first viewing of the Sofia Coppola film Marie Antoinette, but my subsequent Marie Antoinette obsession lead me cracking it open many more times. The book and I encountered each other again after many years last fall at Wicked Good Books in Salem and I just had to finally own a copy of it for myself.

As a fictionalized diary, it follows Archduchess Maria Antonia (later Marie Antoinette, Dauphine of France) as she prepares to marry Louis Auguste, heir to the French throne. The free-spirited and somewhat scatterbrained teenager chafes under the high expectations of her formidable mother, Empress Maria Theresa of Austria, and the rigid etiquette she is supposed to follow as future queen of France, and enjoys more simple pleasures such as sledding trips and moon-lit wadding in the palace fountains. Upon her arrival at the glittering but cut-throat court of Versailles, she finds that her future husband, Louis Auguste, is not the fairytale prince she had hope for but soon develops a deep fondness for the awkward young man. The young and inexperienced dauphine quickly sparks a rivalry with Madame du Barry, King Louis XV’s greedy and arrogant mistress and struggles to find her footing at court. 

Being a book intended for children, Marie Antoinette: Princess of Versailles glosses over the sexual failings which marred the first seven years of Marie Antoinette’s marriage to Louis Auguste (later Louis XVI). Due to Louis’s awkwardness and lack of knowledge about reproduction, the royal couple failed to consummate their marriage for a number of years. The sexual debauchery for which Versailles was notorious for and the obscene mockery which was heaped on Marie Antoinette for most of her sojourn in France, are also left unmentioned. 

I have to admit that I’ve grown beyond books like this, them being written for kids. The language and plot are simple, almost juvenile and has little to offer an adult reader aside from nostalgia. But I would recommend it to little girls who, like me, had a taste for history, pretty dresses, and royal pomp and splendor. 

 

Bag Girl Reviews: Warleggan by Winston Graham with some minor feminist ranting

*** WARNING: SPOILERS***

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Happy New Year my dear readers!  Today I begin one of my New Year’s resolutions, to review each book in the  massive pile I received for Christmas. Book number one on my list is Warleggan by Winston Graham, the fourth in the classic Poldark series. This was the book I took with me on my rather rocky visit to my grandparents in New Jersey last week ( I caught a stomach bug and spent New Year’s Eve in the bathroom, spewing from both ends.) It was also one of the books that was the source material for season 2 of the Masterpiece Theater series Poldark. 

The year is 1792 and trouble is brewing in Ross Poldark’s Cornwall. The French Revolution is raging across the Channel  and discontent is simmering under the surface at home due to mine foreclosures and land enclosures. Ross’s animosity towards his hated rival, the eponymous George Warleggan, reaches boiling point when George sets his sights on Ross’s recently widowed old flame, Elizabeth, which has heart breaking implications for Ross’s  long suffering wife Demelza. Meanwhile, Ross’s best friend Dr. Dwight Enys tries deal with both his demanding medical practice and his complicated relationship with the fickle heiress Caroline Penvenen.

Graham’s immortal romantic hero, the brooding Ross Poldark, does not appear in his best light in the book.  Warleggan points out what a problematic character Ross is. He makes stupid and reckless decisions which have terrible consequences for the people he is supposed to care about  and putting his own ego ahead of their needs. It is easy to say that the man has one of the most annoying examples of a hero complex in all of fiction. One of his most egregious acts (but not the most egregious, I will get to that later) is giving away a large sum of money to the widowed Elizabeth to keep her out of Warleggan’s clutches when his own wife and child are on the brink of poverty.

Elizabeth is perhaps the most obnoxious character in the entire series and is particularly insufferable in Warleggan.  She is an example of how not to write a female character: she is fickle and indecisive, and gratingly unwilling and unable to make decisions for herself  (there is a wince inducing passage about how she feels overwhelmed with the task of running her estate and needs man to do everything for her) which is the cause of much angst for both Ross and her late husband Francis. As Graham puts it “the last ten years had been a tragedy of a woman unable to make up her mind.”  Ross’s idealization of Elizabeth and of their past romance is the fly in the ointment of his marriage to the earthy, capable, and passionate Demelza. Elizabeth and Demelza are described as being like porcelain and earthenware, Elizabeth being porcelain, beautiful, fragile, and decorative, and Demelza being earthenware, sturdy, useful, and practical.

The most irritating theme in the series so far is the fact that Ross cannot just be happy with Demelza, who it seems that all of Cornwall wants to sleep with. He has been brooding over his disappointment over Elizabeth for the past three books. My interpretation is that the only real attraction that the vapid Elizabeth has is the might have been. She is the one that got away and that is a blow to Ross’s ego.

Interspersed  among the grand saga of Ross-Demelza-Elizabeth is the Jane Austen-esque courtship of Dwight Enys and Caroline Penvenen, two people who you know are going to end up together but for whom chance and misunderstanding keep delaying the inevitable. Along the way is a lot of witty repartee and playing hard to get. Dwight is a good and honorable character but I am not sure if I like Caroline because of her spoiled and capricious nature. Long story short, everything goes how you think it will.

Speaking of capricious, the climax of Warleggan is Ross’s forceful seduction of Elizabeth after he learns about her engagement to George Warleggan in a scene which raised a lot of red flag in the media when it was adapted for television this fall, but I’m not going to open up that can of worms. Understandably, Demelza is royally pissed off and retaliates by toying with Captain McNeil, a dashing scottish cavalry officer. But don’t worry, she wimps out before things can go all the way.

The idea that when a husband cheats, the wife is supposed to “be the better person” and forgive and not retaliate always sticks in my throat. Winston Graham could have Ross screw around in a moment of weakness and it is eventually let slide whereas Demelza doing the same thing would be going too far.  I’m not saying that women have not and do not screw around but men have traditionally been the adulterers because of a double standard that boys can sew their wild oats and girls can’t. There is an idea that men can cheat and get away with it or should forgiven because they “can’t help it” or some other nonsense like that. It does not do men too many favors to tell them that they are little more than animals who cannot control their baser urges. Although Demelza does eventually forgive her  philandering husband, the same might not be so for the reader.

So everything ends up alright in  end for Ross and the gang. Caroline and Dwight are set to marry thanks to Ross’s help, Ross and Demelza kiss and makeup with the help of some expensive and sparkly Christmas presents (I found it hilarious that Demelza was all set to walk out on him but changed her mind once he busted out the bling), George and Elizabeth marry and get what they deserve: he gets a weak-willed ninny for a wife and she gets a greedy, sniveling creep for a husband.

If there’s one thing to be said for the Poldark books is that Winston Graham certainly knows how to keep the reader turning the pages even if what happens is profoundly irritating from time to time. Warleggan is a crucial book in the series, which I would recommend, especially if you are a fan of television show.

Retribution: Chapters 25 and 26

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.”

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.

 

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.

“Asad,” 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 it’s 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 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. Hélène was on the cover. The glamorous photograph taken of her for the cover had been autographed in the chanteuse’s lacy handwriting and given a kiss, leaving a red lipstick mark. Along with the typical “love Hélène” was “I’ll be there tonight,” a reference to the singer’s most famous song.

He took the fake gun he had been working on out from under his mattress and aimed it at the window.

 

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 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 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 opened front door. Her profession had conditioned her to be weary 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.

He turned to see Jean and Philippe bring them over to him and then shook hands with them.

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

“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 daiquiri 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. It’s 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 spilt 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 blind folded.

“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 had 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 were 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 drank 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 go 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.

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.

Marianne looked afraid, but only of what would happen when the sun came up and all this was over.

 

“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.”

January 29th 1915

My dearest Jamie,

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

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

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

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

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

The photograph she had sent along with the letter was of her in a beautiful evening dress, bending over a bassinet where Baby Marianne was sleeping. It looked as though she might have just come home from a dinner party, ball, or from the theater and had come to say goodnight to her beloved child.

Mardi Gras found Adèle staying home with a cold and she asked Lucille to run her a bath. While the water was running, Adèle took a bundle of letters tied with ribbons out of a basket by the toilet which held magazines.

Charles kept a box hidden in his office and today he left the key to open it on his desk. Adèle, like Pandora, could not resist taking a peek inside. She snatched a bundle of letters, intending to read them and put them back before Charles returned home. The letters were hidden in the magazine basket while the bath was prepared. Baths always helped when she had a cold. When she got into the bath, she began reading her husband’s old letters.

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

With Love,

Mado”

At the bottom of a page was an imprint of an infant’s pudgy hand made with ink.

Adele further examined the photograph of her predecessor and thought she was very beautiful. She also got a sense of her personality: loving and dutiful. The picture she got of Madeleine was of the perfect wife; everything that she had imagined her to be.

Tucked up in bed with a hot water bottle and a cup of tea, she spent the day reading the letters of another woman’s love for her husband. But what confused her was that the letters were addressed to a “James Beaumont” who was referred to as “Jamie”, not to a Charles. There was more to this story than just a previous wife and a daughter.

Adèle knew that she should not have opened up the box. Like Pandora, she had opened up a world of sorrow. The dilemma was whether she should confront her husband about the secrets he was keeping from her and risk him being angry with her for snooping or continue living with a man who was not what he seemed.

Augustin had been given an address in Montmartre from Philippe, and was told that it was a place he could go for a while. The metro stopped several minutes away from the great hill overlooking Paris. He took the trolley up to Sacre Coeur and would work his way down from there.

It was still very early and the sky had the pearl grey color of first light. The only people out on the streets were milkmen making their deliveries and a few stragglers from the night before. Augustin navigated his way through the warren of narrow streets to find the address.

He came to a building at the end of a street which was next to a cafe which rounded off the block. It was tall and narrow and made of white stone overgrown with vines. The instructions he had been given were to ring the doorbell twice and knock three times. A window above him opened and a delicate white arm appeared and dropped a key tied with a red silk cord. Augustin picked it up and used it to open the door.

Inside, there was a hall decorated with old paisley curtains and oriental rugs in bright colors. The house was laid out on what appeared to be a long and wide staircase which lead up to the roof.  Music was playing on a phonograph off in the distance.

Augustin sat down on a worn and comfortable old sofa in a cozy little corner of the house. He still felt a bit sleepy, as if he had just woken up from a long sleep. The past six months had been a nightmare and the night before had been a dream. Now he was awake and had to face reality.

The thing he wanted more than anything was to talk to Maude. Her job as a hairdresser had given her a skill for lending a sympathetic ear to people’s problems, without the tendency some had to try to play devil’s advocate or reply with a flippant, “well what do you want me to do about.” But he knew that he should wait a little before could see her and Lèon because they would the first people they would question when they went looking for him.

“Well, good morning.”

Augustin turned his head to see Hélène standing next to him. He had not heard her approach him. Her light step and her flowing, filmy, negligee, which revealed more than it covered up, made it seem as though she had floated down the stairs. Her face was painted up with a white make up a few shades paler than her fair skin (one had to look twice to see that she was wearing makeup), with a circle of rouge on each cheek, and a bow shape on her lips. A crown of white flowers was placed among her tousled ringlets.

Hélène smiled at him as if he were about to take her picture. That was how she always behaved whenever Augustin had seen her, as if she were performing. Was she such a consummate performer that it was natural to her, or was she different when she was by herself or when she was alone with Faucherie?

“Ah, hello,” Faucherie said as he came down the stairs after his mistress, wearing a dressing gown of striped silk.

“Monsieur Faucherie, good morning,” Augustin said.

“How’s your charming Marianne?”

“Very well, we’re going to be married as soon as we can.”

“Congratulations, I think this calls for cigars.”

Faucherie opened up a box of cigars which was placed on the table text to the sofa. He took out two cigars as well as a book of matches, lit one of the cigars and handed it to Augustin, then lit his own.

“There’s nothing more romantic than a wedding, is there?” Hélène added.

The doorbell rang twice, followed by three knocks on the door and Faucherie went to go let whoever was there in. Hélène followed him to greet their guest.

The stranger gallantly kissed Hélène hand; his name was something foreign which Augustin did not catch and he had a decidedly foreign accent. He was a striking middle aged man with tanned Mediterranean features, large black eyes, a large rabbit-like nose, and his thinning, silver streaked dark hair slicked back and he was dressed in a sweater and a flamboyant cravat and carried a sketchbook and camera.  Augustin listened in on their conversation and learned that he was there to do some sketches of Hélène for a painting he was doing of her.

An armchair had been placed in the level above them which was draped with a large piece black satin. Hélène removed her negligee in full view of the three men, which gave each of them a frisson of pleasure and excitement.  She lounged back into the chair and bits of the piece of black satin were placed over, not covering very much. The stranger began to snap photographs of her and positioned her in different ways to see how they would look. He settled on having her leaning back in the chair with her right profile facing him and her hands placed on the delta between her legs.  Then a detailed sketch was done.

While the sketch was being done, Augustin and Faucherie went to the cafe next door because they were hungry. There they had breakfast, smoked, and chatted. When they returned, Helene had changed into a smart, black and white boucle suit and the stranger had packed up his things. He brought his sketch book over to show them; he had done several sketches of Hélène, some in which she looked elegant and seductive, and some in which she looked soft and girlish, almost doll-like. The one which was chosen for the final painting combined both of these evenly.

Augustin did not know much about art but he liked these sketches a lot and thought they would make a very nice painting.

“I didn’t catch your name, Monsieur.” he said to the stranger as he was leaving.

“Picasso.”  

The different levels of the house wound up to a deck on the top floor and a tiny flight of stairs crept past the chimney up to a deck on the very top of the building.  Augustin climbed up there because Faucherie told him that the view from there was lovely.  The rooftops below him spread out for miles with the Seine winding through the middle. Far in the distance were the industrial towns of Charenton and Bercy and beyond that… The world around him was vast. He could go anywhere, see anything, and do anything.

Augustin remembered that Marianne’s cousin was on honeymoon in Egypt. He fancied seeing Egypt and Marianne would like it there too. She was under no illusions about the choice she had made but he did not want her to regret it. A girl like her deserved to be protected and looked after like a princess and he wished to do just that. But he would have to think carefully to come up with a way to get out of the mess he was in. He needed to leave the country or at the very least lay low for a while. Running away to Egypt could be a good idea.

Madame Océane was wiping down the tobacconist counter when the policeman whom she had spoken with several months before came in. She would recognize that bull-dog’s face anywhere.

“Good afternoon, Madame,” Desmarais said, saluting to her,

“Good afternoon, Officer,” she responded.

Marianne came out of the kitchen, carrying a tray.

“Mademoiselle,” he said to her, “Can I have a word with you?”

“Certainly,” she answered.

She put her tray down on the counter; the cups and plates shook and clattered unsteadily.

“Your friend Augustin Lerou escaped from La Santé last night.”

“I’ve heard all about. There are plenty of newspapers lying around here and people read them and talk about the news. A waitress hears lots of things. People were talking about it this morning.”

“May I ask where you were last night Mademoiselle?”

“I went to a party, at the Hôtel Jonquil near the Place St. Sulpice. Isn’t that right, Anna?”

Anna was pouring coffee at a nearby table.

“I invited her to come with me,” she added.

“Did you visit Augustin Lerou yesterday afternoon, before his escape.”

“Yes, Monsieur.”

“How did the visit go?”

“He asked me what plans were for that evening, since it was Mardi Gras. I told him that I was going to a party that my cousin and her husband were throwing and he got jealous because he has this idea that my cousin’s husband is out to seduce me. You know how people like that are? No one fears being robbed more than a thief. I was so upset after this visit that I decided not to go out as planned but my friend Anna later convinced me to come with her to that party at the Hôtel Jonquil I told you about.”

“It’s true,” Anna joined in, “I thought it would do her good to get out.”

“ Then I came home around eleven and went right to bed because I had to get up early this morning.”  

“I’m sorry to have bothered you, ladies, but we have to check everything. We’ve already checked his old lodgings and spoken with his aunt and cousin but couldn’t find anything. Thank you, good afternoon.”

He touched his cap again and turned to leave.

“And you Mademoiselle, I suggest you find a better man, raise fat babies, and keep out of trouble.”

The girl’s story seemed pretty much in order, but one could never be too careful. If she was lying to him to protect her lover, he wanted to figure it out.

It was a shame that such a sweet blossom had gotten tangled up with the pernicious weed that was Augustin Lerou. But weeds usually strangled all that was good and useful; that was why they must be uprooted as soon as possible.

Marianne arrived home that evening and found Louise standing in the front hall, keeping an eye on Jacques, who was playing on the floor with some toys. He tried to stand up on his fat little legs but fell down. Jacques had just turned a year old and would be walking soon.

“Good evening,” Marianne said to Louise in passing.

“I hope you know what you’re doing,” she answered.

“Excuse me,” Marianne was puzzled by her answered.

“I saw him leave here this morning. I recognized him as one of those escaped convicts the police are looking for; their pictures were in the newspaper. Really, I’m surprised that you would even know someone like that, let alone hide him…in your bed.”

“You won’t tell anyone he was here, will you?”

“I could never do that, even to someone I hated.”

“Thank you, thank you, Louise.”

“I really hope you know what you’re doing.”

She picked up Jacques and carried him off.  The pitter patter of Johnny’s paws and scratching of his nails on the floor was heard as he came out of where he had been sitting with Papa Verte. Marianne bent down and scratched him bend the ears.

She was not ashamed of the night before. When Augustin had taken her into his arms and begged her to spend the night with him, she could not say no to him, even if she had wanted to, and at that moment she had wanted nothing more than to say yes to him. Then she had known he was safe and out of trouble. Augustin was friend, brother, son, and lover to her and she constantly worried about him every moment they were not together.

Papa Verte was sitting in his little room listening to an evening radio program, when there was a knock on the French doors leading outside. He got up to answer it.

“Excuse me, Monsieur,” a policeman said to him, “May I ask you a few questions?”

“Alright,” Papa Verte answered.

“Are you Monsieur Verte, the landlord of this building? I knocked on the front door asking for the landlord and the young woman with the baby told me to try this door instead.”

“Yes, I’m Verte.”

“Is one of your tenants a Mademoiselle Marianne d’Aubrey?”

“Yes, I watch her little dog when she’s at work and she sometimes looks after my grandson when my daughter-in-law goes out.”

“Did anyone strange visit last night, anyone suspicious.”

“Excuse me, officer, my memory isn’t what it once was…No, I don’t think I saw anyone. Most of my tenants were out all night so it was pretty quiet.”

“And Mademoiselle d’Aubrey, was she out all night.”

“I saw her come home; she came home fairly early and went right to her room. And she left for her job this morning the same as usual.”

“Did she walk home with anyone last night.”

“Yes, a girlfriend of her’s, a young lady she works with.”  

“Thank you for your cooperation, Monsieur Verte.”

Desmarais thought over Marianne’s alibi to see if there were any weak spots. Old Verte seemed a credible enough witness and Desmarais did not see any reason why he would lie. But he felt that if he kept on poking at the story long enough, he would find the weak spots he was looking for.

Marianne changed out of her uniform because Manon would be dropping by shortly. They had planned to go to an Ash Wednesday mass at St. Sulpice and then get something to eat afterwards. A milk bottle had been placed under the faucet of the sink, which leaked. Marianne collected the water to used to hydrate the potted red begonias which she kept on the windowsill above the sink as well as to fill up the kettle. She had forgotten to water the begonias that morning.  

Manon showed up at the front door wearing a winter coat and a hat with a black lace veil. Ever since her brother’s death, Manon’s almost mortal dread of having him mentioned seemed to have increased and she was paler and more introverted than usual. Still, there was the same Madonna-like smile.

There was so much Marianne wanted to tell her friend; so much that she knew she must keep secret.

“So what do you plan giving up for Lent?” Manon asked.

“Getting chocolate cake every Saturday,” Marianne answered, “I’m getting too plump, it doesn’t suit me.”

“Nonsense, you’re as dainty as a rose.”

“One that’s a bit overblown.”

They arrived at the church just as mass was about to begin and quietly look their seats in a pew. Marianne knelt down on the floor in prayer and began to think. She knew that God would forgive her for what she had done because it was done out of love and was not love the most honorable and holy thing there was. Or at least that’s what Marianne kept telling herself.

During the mass, a sign of the cross was drawn on their foreheads in palm ash. When they got up to get in line to receive the sign of the cross, Marianne noticed a familiar young man get out of his pew and into the line. He was accompanied by an old man. The two had similar sunburnt faces and fair hair, though the old man’s hair was greying, as well as muscular limbs. The young man turned and looked at them.

“I wonder who he is?”Manon whispered to Marianne.

When Marianne returned to her pew, she continued her train of thought. Her conscience was heavy and she felt that she must unburden it. She would go to confession after mass and tell the priest everything, or at least the part about her sinning with a young man, that part she was the least ashamed of and the part which the priest would not suggest that she also confess to the police.

The modern way to talk about the business of love seemed to be as often and as vulgarly as possible and it was enough to put a girl off the idea of it all together, that was until she had met Augustin. Now she felt like spring after a long winter: warm and alive and new.

Surely God had not created something so wonderful for it to be wrong.

When mass was over, the young man they had seen earlier approached them.

“Mademoiselle d’Aubrey,” he said, “You remember me, Gabriel Renault?”

“Oh yes, how wonderful to see you, Gabriel,” Marianne answered.

“My father and I have come into town to visit my sister Gillian and her husband for the week.”

“And how are you, Monsieur Renault?”

“Just fine, Mademoiselle,” the old man responded.

“Manon,” Marianne said to her friend, “This is Monsieur Renault and his son Gabriel. Monsieur Renault and his family were tenants of my grandparents back when they still owned the chateau. Gabriel, Monsieur Renault, this is my friend, Manon Dupont.”

“Pleased, Mademoiselle Dupont.”  

“Mademoiselle Dupont and I on our way to confession.”

But a celestial brightness- a more ethereal beauty- shone on her face and encircled her form, when after confession, homeward serenely she walked with God’s benediction upon her.” Gabriel murmured.

“Longfellow, Evangeline.”

“Good evening young ladies,” Monsieur Renault added.

The two Renaults walked towards the door and Gabriel turned around to get another look at them.

“He is very handsome,” Manon whispered to Marianne.

Faucherie had spent most of the day on the telephone. Augustin overheard him discussing a fresh crop of girls from the country for a brothel, last night’s takings at a gambling den (La Maharani, which he learned was the name of the place he had been brought to the night before), and who did not pay their monthly protection fee. He had learned that the robbery which had sent him to prison had been staged in order to punish the jewelry store owner, who had refused to pay what Faucherie had asked.

Hélène spent the afternoon running scales on the piano to practice for her next show.

“You sound beautiful,” Augustin told her.

“Thanks,” She answered, her voice had taken on a playful, mocking tone, “When you and Marianne set a date for your wedding, make sure you invite Faucherie and I. We would never miss an opportunity to see dear old Officer Demarais.”

“Why are you teasing me?”

“Because it’s fun.”

“Play nice you two,” Faucherie cut in.

He had been listening for several seconds while pretending to still be on the telephone.

“Do you really think that girl is going to marry you? If she was smart she would find someone better, someone who’s not a wanted criminal.”

Augustin had had enough of her teasing and left the room and went into the next one, where Faucherie was.

“Don’t mind her,” Faucherie said, “how bout a game of cards.”

He took a pack of cards and a box of tobacco and rolling paper from a drawer and shuffled the cards while Augustin rolled two cigarettes.

“You’re not any worse than any other man. You just haven’t been very lucky.  The only difference between a rich and a poor man is that a poor man has to pay for his sins in this world, while a rich man gets off free. And I don’t see why the next world would be any different.”

Augustin lit both cigarettes and handed one to Faucherie.

“I thought you were trying to make me feel better,” he answered.

“Things could be a lot worse for you, my boy. You’re out of that hell-hole, you’re going to marry a wonderful girl, and she’ll go anywhere with you.”

“You’re right.”

Augustin took a dag on his cigarette and then put it out in an ashtray. Outside, night was closing in. A somewhat faded and worn looking moon appeared from behind a ragged curtain of ink black clouds.

A bed was made for Augustin in a spare room and he retired early. As he fell asleep, he thought about Maude, Léon, and Marianne and how he must keep as far away from them, because he wanted to keep them out of anymore trouble. Maude and Léon could say with all honesty that they knew knowing about his escape and the police would find nothing to implicate them, and Marianne… she was a smart girl, a lot smarter than he was, and could find away to keep them off his track.

It was when things are looking bad that people tend to find someone else to blame their troubles on. The worse thing was that everything bad that had ever happened to Augustin had been entirely his own fault.

The sooner he was many miles away, the better.

He again wished that he had just been born that very day with no past to run from and only a future to look forward to. If he  had ever had the opportunity to be anything other than what he was, he had missed it at some point in his twenty-one years of existence.

Now all he could do was the only thing he knew how to, which was running away.

Retribution: Chapter 23 and 24

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.”

“I promise.

“Thank you, thank you. Do you know what this makes us now?”

“Plotters.”

“Friends, I hope.”

“Friends then.”

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.

“Thank you.”

“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.

“Goodbye, Marianne.”  

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.

“Why?”

“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.”

“Poor child.”

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.”

“Thank god.”

“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.”

“Perhaps.”

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.”

“Alright.”

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?”

She chuckled.

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

“Only you could be so spiteful. As if I could ever 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.”

“Yes and…”

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

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

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

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

That afternoon, Madeleine made good on her promise to visit her family. While she was gone, he 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.

“Goodbye.”

“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.

Sidewalks of New York: Chapter Five

On Christmas Eve, Ezra stood in an alley outside of the factory where he worked, smoking with Laurie and watching the people go by.

It was bitterly cold and the air was thick with the smoke from the factory’s chimneys. The dim December sunlight peaked through the thick clouds and gave a tantalizing taste of warm and dry among all the damp and cold.

People passed by in a sooty blur of grey and brown.

Their friend Matteo Abelli was chatting with a fellow named Morris who worked at a near by factory which was owned by the same man. When the conversation was over, Matteo walked back over to where Laurie and Ezra were standing.

“What did Morris have to say?” Laurie asked him.

“Bad news,” Matteo answered in his thick Sicilian accent, “He was let go this morning. They’re closing down the factory he works at and everyone was given the sack.”

“Why did it close down?” Ezra asked.

“They can’t afford to keep it running because all of the money is going to Ackerman’s mistress.”

“Aw that’s too bad,” Laurie said, “Makes you realize how lucky you are to have a job.”

“Do you think anything anything like that could happen here?” Ezra asked.

“I hope not.”

“I almost feel bad for Ackerman, that woman of his is ruining him.”

“Oh yes, poor Mr. Ackerman.”

Laurie’s sarcasm was biting.

A barrel organ across the street bellowed out Blue Danube. A girl wearing a long, camel colored coat and a silver fur hat and muff stopped to listen. The organ grinder’s monkey climbed on her shoulder and held out his little tin cup to the girl. She put some coins in it and asked the old organ grinder if she could try out the barrel organ.

“Certainly, why not,” the old man answered.

She began to turn the crank and Blue Danube bellowed out again. The dim sunlight danced among her dark ringlets and set deep red sparks alight.

Ezra went over to listen as well and she turned to look at him. He could see the heart shape of her face which he remembered being obscured by a black lace veil. Bristly black lashes fluttered at him and carmine lips curled into a smile.

“Hello, ” she said.

“Hello,” he answered.

“Would you like to try the barrel organ?”

“Yes, I would.”

He turned the crank to make Blue Danube bellow out. She giggled.

“It’s beautiful, isn’t it?”

Beautiful was not exactly how he would describe barrel organ music but he answered “yes”.

“I’ve heard your voice before. I’m not very good at recognizing faces but I’m good at recognizing voices.”

“Yes, I think I saw you around here a few weeks ago. You were wearing a black hat with a lace veil and you were passing by on your way to get the trolley.”

“I do own a hat like that and I did come here a few weeks ago by trolley. I remembered your voice because it was so beautiful.”

Ezra had never been told his voice was beautiful before. Her eyelids flickered and then closed.

“Why did you close your eyes?”

“The light hurts my eyes. It feels good to close them.”

He closed his eyes and it did feel good. They took turns turning the crank of the barrel organ.

Another girl came down the street wearing a sky blue velvet cloak trimmed in swansdown and a dark fur toque perched atop her rolls of dark hair.

“Natalie,” she called.

Ezra’s companion turned when she heard the name. The girl in the blue cloak rushed over.

“That’s where you are.”

“I’m sorry Lucy, but I had to come listen to this barrel organ.”

“Very well, we’re going home.”

“Goodbye,” Natalie said to Ezra.

Her face seemed to say, “I might not be able to recognize your face if we ever meet again but I’ll try to remember your voice.”

Ezra went back to where Laurie and Matteo were standing. Laurie told him that he was more likely to barf up the devil the next time he got drunk then get anywhere with the likes of her. He then asked Laurie why he had to be so crude all the time and Laurie just told him to stop being such an old maid.

Ezra liked Laurie a lot but hated how he teased him all the time.

The Ackermans had a small dinner party on Christmas Eve, just themselves, the St. Oswalds, Lord Allan, and Miss Barrow. Both Mrs. Ackerman and her daughter Lucy looked at each other when they saw Miss Barrow come through the door of the winter drawing room, as if they were both confused as to how she could have possibly gotten herself invited.

Miss Barrow sat down next to Natalie and chatted with her as if she were grown up, which Natalie quite liked.

Natalie was just a few years out of the nursery and though she was allowed to go to dinners and the theater, she was still expected to keep silent and observe and was still seen as too young to be of any interest to anyone. She was highly flattered that someone as worldly and interesting as Miss Barrow would take the trouble to talk with her.

Lucy felt jealous of the attention Miss Barrow was getting from Natalie and was afraid that her cousin had found someone she liked better. Next to her father, Natalie was the person Lucy was closest to.

Miss Barrow had also captivated the attention of the gentlemen of the party, mostly because her gown showed off more shoulder and bosom than New York was used to seeing. Lord St. Oswald looked at her as though he was terrified but could not look away.

Mrs. Ackerman was seated close to the fire and was cooling herself with her lace fan. She was chatting with Lady St. Oswald.

“Hasn’t Aunt Ackerman done up this parlor for Christmas beautifully, Abby?” Miss Barrow interrupted “Doesn’t it remind you of Christmas at Arcadia House?”

“What’s Arcadia House?” Natalie asked.

“My father’s plantation,” Lady St. Oswald answered.

“It’s the beautiful place on God’s earth,” Miss Barrow told Natalie, “Just imagine this. You travel ten miles outside of New Orleans and come to a long drive way lined on either with large, gnarled, oak trees hung with Spanish moss. When you reach the end, there it is, sitting like a pure white pearl set among sweeping green lawns dotted with magnolia trees, willow trees, palmetto trees, and cedar trees. Up a small flight of imperial stairs with a wrought iron banister is a wrap around veranda broken into segments by white columns which hold up another veranda on the second floor. A beautiful lady dressed in peach colored gown and a white hat loaded with roses greets you and invites you to sit next to her in a wrought iron chair. She gives you a piece of cake spread with orange marmalade and tells you that the marmalade was made from oranges that grow in a near by orange grove. You can even smell the orange blossoms on the breeze. You are startled by the squawking of one of the white peacocks that are given the run of the place and the beautiful lady tells you not to be afraid.

When it is time for you to go to bed, you are brought up to a bedroom on the second floor. There is a set of French doors which lead out onto the second floor veranda. The evening is warm and heavy with the perfume of flowers. You hear birds singing in the distance and you see the occasional twinkling of a firefly and you fall asleep knowing you will never be happy anywhere else.”

“You’re a real poetess, Miss Barrow,” Lord St. Oswald responded, “you described it just as I remember it.”

“You’ve been there, My Lord?” Natalie asked.

“Yes, Miss Flood. Many years ago, when I was a boy.”

“The St. Oswalds are distant relatives of the Barrows,” Lady St. Oswald explained.

Wade the butler stepped in and announced that dinner was served. Lord St. Oswald offered Mrs. Ackerman his arm to go into dinner. Mr. Ackerman offered Lady St. Oswald his arm and Lord Allan offered his arm to Lucy.

Miss Barrow and Natalie found themselves without escorts.

“Will you take my arm, Miss Flood?” Miss Barrow asked Natalie, “Since there’s no more gentlemen.”

Natalie took her arm and allowed her to escort her into dinner.

The winter drawing room was the smallest and least formal drawing room in the house, housing the oldest and most worn furniture in the house which was bulky, ornately carved, and had gone out of fashion some twenty or thirty years prior. It’s entrance was hung with dark green velvet drapes and it’s windows were hung with yellow velvet curtains. The chairs and sofas were upholstered in green leather and strewn with needlepoint pillows. A wallpaper with a gaudy pattern of red flowers and green birds on gold trellis work covered the walls. Every surface which could be covered with a doily and dotted with knickknacks was covered with a doily and dotted with a knickknacks.

This was the room in which the Christmas tree was set up.

After dinner, everyone returned to the winter drawing room to exchange and open presents.

Mrs. Ackerman returned to the red plush chaise she had been sitting on and artfully arranged her creamy, ivory colored skirt.

Footmen brought in a punch bowl full of eggnog and several glasses.

While everyone else sipped eggnog, Natalie searched out everyone’s presents and gave them to them.

“And now, I have a special surprise for Lucy,” said Mr. Ackerman said.

A pretty young maid came in, holding a squirming and yipping, black and white spaniel puppy.

“Hello Sarah, ” Miss Barrow said to the maid.

“Oh, she’s so precious,” Lucy said when she saw the puppy, “Thank you, Father.”

Sarah handed the puppy to Lucy and the little dog began to sniff at Lucy’s gown.

“Merry Christmas, my dear,” Mr. Ackerman answered.

He came over and kissed his daughter’s forehead.

Lady St. Oswald was troubled the rest of the evening and had trouble falling asleep that night. When she finally fell asleep, a memory she had preferred to forget came back to her in a dream.

She was about nine years old; a small, plain, insignificant little girl with carroty red hair and freckles. Thankfully, her hair darkened as she grew up and her freckles had faded away from the constant use of buttermilk and lemon juice. She had gotten away from her mammy and went to feed a sugar lump to her white pony, Fairy.

She heard laughter coming from behind a stack of hay bales in the stables and recognized it as coming from Melanie. Melanie was the daughter of her father’s brother. Her father was dead and no one knew who her mother was. Abby, as Lady St. Oswald had been known then, had been a curious child who listened in on the conversations of adults and that was how she had learned all these things.

What Abby saw behind those hay bales shocked her. Melanie was laying on her back in the hay. Her skirt was pushed up and her bloomers were open and two boys who lived on near by sharecropper farms were taking turns looking down them. Abby had not understood what was going on but had known it was wrong. Melanie turned and noticed Abby and shot her a look which said “turn around, go away, do not say anything or I will strangle you.” Abby was too frightened and shocked to even move.

Mammy was calling for the two girls and came bustling into the stables. Melanie and the two boys were frozen in their tracks. Mammy grabbed the two boys by the hand and dragged them to where Mrs. Barrow was sitting. Melanie and Abby followed close behind.

Mrs. Barrow was furious when Mammy explained what had happened in the stables.

“Did they force you to let them?” she asked Melanie.

For a few moments, Melanie was silent as if trying to figure out what to do. Then she began to cry and say that the boys had forced her to let them look down her bloomers. Mrs. Barrow ordered Mammy to bring the boys over to the near by shed, where they were thrown against the wall. Mammy grabbed a switch and was about to beat them.

“Wait,” Mrs. Barrow interrupted, “bare.”

With their trousers pulled down, the two boys were beaten until they were both in tears. Abby looked over to Melanie, expecting her to be in shock from what had just happened to her and horrified by the sight of the beating but Melanie was laughing and smiling like she had not care in the world.

Lady St. Oswald awoke from her dream and was greatly agitated. She reached over and turned on the electric light on the bedside table.

“Abby?” Lord St. Oswald asked.

“I’m alright, Frank,” she answered, “Go back to sleep.”

His Lordship had been the best of husbands to her these two years they had been married and she was very found of him but she had never allowed herself to truly love him.

It was about six in the morning and the sky was just beginning to lighten. A few rooms over, the St. Oswald’s baby son was crying for his nurse. Lady St. Oswald got of bed and put on her negligée, then went into the nursery.

The nurse had just taken little Lord Francis out of his crib. She made a little bow and bid “good morning, My Lady.”

“I’ll feed him this morning,” Lady St. Oswald told her.

The nurse found this strange but not wishing to contradict her mistress, she handed the baby to his mother.

Her Ladyship cradled her son in her arms and kissed the coppery down on his head. She sat down in the rocking chair and placed Lord Francis in her lap so she could unbutton her nightdress so she could suckle him.

On Christmas Morning, Laurie and Jimmy took the trolley uptown to Central Park. The weather that day was cold but there was no wind and the sky was bright and clear and sunny.

They entered Central Park at Fifth Avenue and left the city through an elegant tree lined mall. The park widened to reveal an unspoiled urban paradise which seemed to go forever and had none of the sights and sounds of the bustling city.

The carriages of the wealthy rolled through the paths of Central Park. Their gentlemen occupants were buttoned up into overcoats  and their ladies were wrapped up in furs.

Laurie stopped to stand under a tree and pulled a tin box out of his waistcoat pocket. Inside the box were several cigarettes he had rolled as well as a book of matches. Laurie lit himself a cigarette and surveyed the people who passed by.

A small, chestnut colored spaniel puppy scampered through the snow and up to Jimmy, putting his wet paws on Jimmy’s knickers.

“Hey, get down, Mutt,” Jimmy shouted at the animal.

A little girl, presumably the dog’s mistress, approached Jimmy. She was a pretty little thing dressed in an expensive looking coat. Her apple cheeks and button nose were rosy from the cold and blond ringlets stuck out from a fur trimmed hat.

“Je suis desolée,” she said, “c’est mon chien.”

She spoke a language Jimmy did not recognize.

“Huh, excuse me,” he answered.

“Je m’apple Madeleine.”

She gestured to herself when she said “Madeleine”, so he guessed that was her name.

“I’m Jimmy”

“Joue avec moi.”

She tapped on his shoulder so he guessed that she wanted to play tag, so he chased her. Laurie looked on and laughed.

He continued making his inspection of his surroundings and noticed in the corner of his eye, the same strongly built, shabby looking middle aged man he had seen at the saloon and at the theater. The entire time he was watching him, this man appeared to be coming closer.

Upon closer viewing, Laurie recognized him and the shock was so great that the cigarette in his mouth almost fell out.

“Dad,” he said, “What the hell are you doing here?”

“Merry Christmas to you too, son,” the man answered.

Laurie’s father’s appearance gave him a glimpse of the future of his own looks when he was older and stouter, they both had short dark hair, strong noses, square jaws, and grey eyes with a devilish twinkle. The older Brady had the remains of good looks spoiled by years of bad living. Although Laurie did not consider his own looks anything to be vain about, he hoped that time would not be as unkind to him as it had been to his father.

Brady looked his son over and smiled.

“How old are you now, boy?”

“Twenty-one.”

“Last time I saw you, you were a scrawny little thing and now you’re grown into a man.  How many years has it been?”

“Seven. What’s bringing you back now?”

“Can’t a father see his son on Christmas.”

“A father, yes.”

“I admit I expected a warmer welcome from you.”

This was typical of him. He disappears without a trace, comes back out of the blue, and acts like nothing happened.

His father had been gone for the past seven years and he did not even care where he had been. He had not even cared if he ever saw him again.

Laurie had learned long ago that he was better off without him.

Brady tipped his hat to his son and continued on his way.

Laurie wondered what was going to happen this time. His father usually brought trouble in his wake.

Jimmy and the little girl he was playing with were now taking turns trying to get her puppy to fetch a stick. The animal appeared to be still untrained and ignored the stick.

Another girl, a moody adolescent of about eleven or twelve, appeared and pulled Jimmy’s little friend away by her arm.

“Tu n’es pas censée jouer avec des garçons comme lui,” the older girl said.

Confused, Jimmy returned to Laurie.

“What’s her problem?” he asked.

“I guess she didn’t want your little friend to play with someone beneath her station,” Laurie answered.

“Am I beneath her station?”

“Did see the fancy clothes she and the other girl were wearing?”

“I didn’t notice.”

“According to some people, rich little girls shouldn’t play with poor little boys.”

“She was talking funny, I couldn’t understand a word she was saying. Is that because she’s rich?”

“Yes, that’s why?”

Christmas night was clear and frosty and pleasant. The type of night when a warm room seems a bit stuffy and one must open a window or door a crack to let in some fresh air.

The Murray apartment was warm and toasty and Ashlyn went the window which was opened slightly to let some cool breathing air in, so she could see her reflection and adjust the large red satin bow in her hair.

Some friends of Will’s from the Metropolitan Police were coming over for Christmas dinner. The table was laid with the best table cloth and the set of china with the yellow rose pattern which Ashlyn had received as a wedding present. In the center was a glass dish of nuts net to the jolly red nutcracker Ashlyn had received that morning from Aunt Deirdre. Aunt Nora had given her a pair of embroidered handkerchiefs.

The goose and the plum pudding in the oven gave forth an aroma which tickled the nose and made the mouth water. Just when they were done cooking, Will’s friends: Patrick, Finch, and Knobs, arrived.

They were among the first people Ashlyn had met when she arrived in New York and they had been at her wedding. They were rather coarser than the type of people she had imagined William associating with, but she liked them nonetheless.

Finch, who was somewhat smitten with his friend’s pretty wife, presented her with a box of chocolate covered caramels in a tin with a scene of Ophelia drowning painted on the cover.

“Thank you, Mr. Finch,” she kissed the young man on the cheek and he blushed.

Will saw his wife through other men’s eyes for the first time that night.

Ashlyn had changed in the time she had in New York. She had started wearing her hair in a different way, started walking differently, and had become a beauty.  Maybe she had always been one, and he had not noticed it. Perhaps he was like someone who lived in town which had some famous monument and walked by it everyday forgetting how famous it was until someone else pointed it out to him.

The admiration Ashlyn attracted did not make Will jealous, in fact it flattered his vanity to know that he possessed such a woman and as long as they understood that she was his, he felt proud watching his friends flirt with his wife.

During dinner, Will had told everyone he had a surprise for after dinner. When they finished eating, they brought their chairs over near the stove where Will has standing.

“The Story of The Children of Lir,” he said.

His audience applauded.

“In the days of the high kings of Ireland, Bodb Derg was the ruler of  Tuatha Dé Danann. To make peace with his rival, Lir, he sent Aoibh, his fair daughter, to be become his wife. Lir and Aoibh loved each other instantly and she bore him four children: fair shouldered Fionnuala, god-like Aodh, and the twins, Fiachra and Conn. But Aoibh died tragically young and her lord and her children mourned her deeply.

Wishing to keep peace with Lir, Bodh Derg sent his other daughter, Aoife, to take Aoibh’s place,

Aoife was every bit as fair as Aoibh but was a black hearted sorceress who resented living in her sister’s shadow and was jealous of Lir’s love for his children and their love for him and she conceived in her black heart, plans to murder her innocent step-children. She took Lir’s children on journey to visit their grandfather, during which she ordered her servants to slay them. The servants refused, so Aoife tried to do the evil dead herself but not even she was wicked enough to kill such beautiful and innocent children. Instead, she used her dark arts to turn the children in swans, as fair and pure as their souls.”

At the word “swans”, Will pulled out a pair of swan’s wings he had got from a poultry shop and flapped them about.

“Will Murray!” Ashlyn shouted with mock disapproval.

“When Bobh Derg heard of what his daughter had done, he cursed her to be an air demon for all eternity, so people could see her for as black and evil as she really was.

The children spent three hundred years on Lough Derravaragh, a lake near their father’s castle. One, two, three hundred years. Then another three hundred years in the Straits of Moyle in the Channel. Four, five, six hundred years. And another three hundred years in the open sea around Inishglora Island. Seven, eight, nine hundred years.

During these nine hundred years, Saint Patrick converted the Irish to Christianity. The children of Lir heard the bell of  a  monastery church and it beckoned them to land.  A monk of the monastery found them and they begged him to bless them.”

Will made a sign of the cross over his audience.

“After the monk’s blessing, Aoife’s curse was broken and the children of Lir were made human again. But since they were now over nine hundred years old, they instantly died and lived happily in heaven with their mother and father.

Now this time four months ago, I was a lost swan but now I have died and gone to heaven, all because this fair monk found me” He knelt down in front of Ashlyn and placed a little package in her lap,

“So I’m the monk?” Ashlyn said.

“Have I mentioned today, how lucky I am to be in love with you?”

Ashlyn opened up the package to find a beautiful chatelaine to contain her sewing supplies

“Oh Will, It love it!”

She leaned upwards to kiss him.

“Ashlyn,” Aunt Nora said to her niece, “Why don’t you sing for us?”

“No,” she answered, “I don’t think so.”

“C’mon,” Will encouraged.

Knobs, Finch, and Patrick joined in with their encouragement.

Reluctantly, Ashlyn stood up , smoothed her skirt, and stood in front of everyone to sing The Black Velvet Band.

“Her eyes they shone like diamonds

I thought her the queen of the land

And her hair it hung over her shoulder

Tied up with a black velvet band”

Other friends dropped by throughout the evening to take a glass of wine or whiskey with them and all in all it was a very enjoyable Christmas.

During Christmas night, a soft blanket of snow fell over New York. Those who woke up early the next morning were treated to a vision of virgin snow, rosy early morning sky, and purplish clouds.

Laurie Brady and his foster brother Jimmy made their way eastwards from The Bowery to the Tenth Ward to visit their friends, The Fabers.

In the vestibule of the building on Hester Street where the Fabers lived, Laurie bumped into a young lady wearing a black coat and hat.

“Forgive me, I didn’t see you there,” Laurie said to her.

“It’s alright,” she answered. Her voice was high and sweet.

She was a pretty brunette with a warm complexion and large but delicate features. Large dark eyes and dark curls peaked out from under the brim of her hat and carmine lips smiled at him.

Laurie and Jimmy began to climb the stairs to get to the second floor and the young lady followed close behind them. On the second floor, she was still at their heels.

The Fabers lived in the fifth apartment on the second floor, and the young lady was standing right beside them as they were waiting for their knocks to be answered.

“Do you live here, Miss?” Jimmy asked her.

“No,” she answered, “But my family does.”

The door opened and Ezra appeared

“Hello Sarah,” he greeted her.

“Hello Ezra,” she responded.

“Laurie, this is my sister Sarah.”

Laurie was aware that Ezra had a sister but he had never met her. He knew that she worked as a maid for some rich family and lived in their house.

Sarah and Ezra’s little brother Ben, a small, wiry little boy with a broad face covered in  freckles, large brown eyes, and a little pug nose, stepped into the doorway and greeted Jimmy.

“I’ve brought my marbles,” Jimmy told him.

“We can swap,” Ben replied.

The two little boys rushed through the door into the apartment.

“Come in,” Ezra said to his friend and his sister, “Mama will be happy to see you.”

The Faber apartment was small and neat. In one corner of the room was a window with lace curtains. There was a sideboard with two blue candlesticks and some pieces of pottery and an old sofa near it. In the other corner was something of a kitchen and a dining table. Another part of the apartment was blocked off by by curtains.

A woman in a black dress and black lace headcovering sat on the sofa doing some embroidery. Sarah greeted her as “Mama” and said something to her in Yiddish. The woman then said something to Laurie in broken English with a thick Polish accent which Laurie could not make out.

“Nice to see you, Mrs. Faber,” Laurie said.

Mrs. Faber could not be more than twenty years older than her eldest child, Sarah and was an older version of her lovely daughter but her eyes were blue like Ezra’s. She looked at Laurie and then turned to her daughter and gave her a secret and knowing smile then said something to her.

Sarah got up and put a kettle full of water on the stove, so her mother must have told her to make coffee or tea.

“Not every day you see girl pretty as Sarah who’s domestic,” Mrs. Faber said in her broken English.

“Mama,” Sarah blushed.

Mrs. Faber then pointed to some pieces of pottery on the sideboard: a green ceramic vase painted with irises and a yellow ceramic bowl painted with white rabbits.

“She paint those.”

Sarah’s blush deepened.  Laurie sensed that her shyness was not due to an objection to having her talents and virtues praised but rather a fear that her mother had an ulterior motive. It was obviously Mrs. Faber’s habit to point out her daughter’s accomplishments when guests were over, especially if they were men.

Laurie noticed a feeling of emptiness in the Faber home, as if someone was missing. A chair left vacant, a photograph given pride of place on the sideboard. These had belonged to Mr. Faber, who had died nine months before.

Ezra brought Sarah back to the Ackerman home. Looking up at an upper window of the impressive Fifth Avenue mansion, he noticed the small form of a girl standing there. He recognized her pale little heart shaped faced and large dark eyes.

“Who’s room is that?” he asked his sister.

“Miss Natalie’s,” Sarah answered

“Who’s she?”

“Mr. Ackerman’s niece who lives with them.”

Ezra deposited his sister at the servants entrance, bid goodbye to her, and turned around to go back.  The girl who Sarah had called Miss Natalie was no longer there.

Sarah went up to the bedroom in the attic she shared with Hannah, who was maid to Lucy and Natalie.  It was small, simple, and bare with walls painted light brown, a small window with lace curtains, two metal framed beds covered with crazy quilts, a washing station, and a fireplace.

Hannah had just come back from going to the Nickelodeon with her sweetheart, who was one of the footmen.

“Hello Sarah,” Hannah said, “How was your visit home?”

“Fine,” Sarah answered, “Ezra brought a friend home. Mama was so embarrassing, she assumes every man who comes to visit is a suitor for me.”

“Was he handsome?”

“I guess so, I was so ashamed that I could hardly look at him.”

“I bet he was looking at you.”

“Why do you think that?”

“You’re not bad looking.”

As she changed back into her parlor maid’s uniform, Sarah thought about how she had entered the Ackerman household.

When she finished school at age sixteen, Sarah had decided that she should go out and work and found that the Ackermans were looking for maids. Her mother disapproved of the idea at first because she would have to live away from home. In her day, girls only left their parent’s house in a wedding dress or in a coffin. But Papa and Ezra, she always listened to them, talked her into letting Sarah work for the Ackermans.

Mrs. Faber loved her children equally but in different ways.  Ben was her darling, Ezra, her pride and joy, and Sarah was her constant source of worry.

Retribution: Chapters 21 and 22

At the Beginning of December, Manon was well enough to come back to work.

“I have to admit,” she told Marianne and Anna, “It was nice to be home but after a while, I got bored.”

The day was busy one and lunch break came as a blessed relief. The girls gossiped and giggled like they usually did but Marianne’s mind was far away.

She kept thinking about Monsieur Prideaux, the man who claimed to be her father, and wondered if she should believe him or not. What reason would he have for lying to her? How would being her father be of any advantage to him? He was rich and she had nothing.

From what she had seen of fathers she had formed the opinion that perhaps she was better off without one.

Marianne then recalled a scene which had occurred several years before. She had been fifteen years old at the time and home from school for the weekend.

She had snuck away from the supervision of her grande-mère to go walk barefoot in the gardens of Chateau Aubrey, saying that she was going to go cut some lilacs to put in the beautiful white alabaster vases. It had been the year before Grande-Mère d’Aubrey died and they had had to sell the chateau. It had rained early that morning and the damp grass felt heavenly.

Tante Catharine’s first husband George Thomas, who had just been released from prison, came to visit that day. He has been incarcerated for several years for embezzling money he had supposed to invest for an elderly widow. Mathilde came out into the garden to show off the dress her father had given to her.

“My father bought me this dress,” she had said to her.

“My father would have bought me a pretty dress,” Marianne responded.

“Hah, your father. He abandoned you and your mother.”

“At least he never took money from old ladies.”

She had thought that Mathilde was just being nasty and never paid much notice to what she had said until now. Now she was confused and did not know what to think.

The conversation then turned a girl named Suzanne who had had to leave the boarding house Manon lived in because she had gotten pregnant. Things could have ended up worse for Suzanne, she and her lover had been planning on getting married anyways.

The slight relief provided by lunch break quickly subsided and it was back to work.

When Marianne had first started her job, she had felt pride in having honest work but now the mind numbing tedium of it was starting to affect her. The minutes seemed like hours and each hour seemed like two hours. As time ticked on without seeming to get any closer to closing time, Marianne felt like screaming.

The work itself was not what bothered her, but rather the idea of day after day of it with no hope of change in sight.

The little bell attached to the front door of the café rung as the front door opened and Edmond Danton stepped in with his usual swagger which would appear ridiculous if he was not so good looking.

Marianne knew that he was there to see her, so she decided to be brave and face him.

“What can I get for you?” She said to him in the cheerful and polite way she would address any customer.

“The potato and leek soup and a glass of citron-pressé,” he answered.

“Alright, be right back with your drink.”

“Wait, I hear you’ve been going to visit some con in La Santé.”

“Yes, what’s it to you?”

“I think you’re too young to get involve with someone like that. How old are you, sixteen?”

“I turned nineteen back in October.”

“So this convict found the glass slipper…no, more like stole it.”

“Why did you come here to bother me, Edmond?”

“Augustin Lerou is just a common low-life thug and they should take him and guillotine him before he does anymore damage.”

“You don’t know what you’re talking about.”

“Augustin Lerou is a dead man walking and so will you be if you stick around with the likes of him.”

“Go home to Mathilde and those crooks you hang around with.

“You don’t mean that.”

“Look me in the eyes and tell me I don’t mean it.”

“You’re dirty and nobody decent will ever want you.”

She reached out and slapped him.

“And you can rot in hell for all I care, Edmond Danton.”

Manon rushed over to intercede.

“Monsieur,” she said, “You better leave if you know what’s good for you.”

“It’s she who doesn’t know what’s good for her,” Edmond tipped his hat to the two girls before walking out. “Nineteen years old and all grown up.”

“Marianne,” Manon said to her friend, “We can ask someone to leave if they get out of hand, but we can’t hit them”

“What would people say if they knew Marianne d’Aubrey took a swing at him,”  Marianne answered with a giggle.

Time continued ticking away slowly and when it was finally closing time, Marianne asked Madame Océane if she needed her to help close up and to her great relief, Madame Océane told her that she could go home.

In early December, the news in Paris was full of two things: an shanty town and gypsy camp on the outskirts of Paris being raided by the police and Bruno Faucherie escaping from Marseilles on the eve of his transportation, aided by two accomplices disguised as a priest and a nun.

“He got away, son of a bitch” was the phrase going around La Santé.

One evening at supper, Augustin sat down with a letter he had just received. When he opened the the envelope, the smell of perfume clung to the piece of paper it contained. He unfolded the letter and spotted the familiar blue bird stamped in the lower right hand corner.

“Dearest Augustin,” was written in the school girlish handwriting he had come to recognize, “no one understands what I feel for you. I almost clawed Edmond’s eyes out after what he said about you. He said that they should take you and guillotine you before you can do any more damage. I don’t know how he found out about us but I imagine a creep like him has his ways.
I never loved him and it’s not as if he loves me more than Mathilde. As far as I’m concerned, Edmond Danton is incapable of loving anyone. He just likes to be able to walk into a room and know he sleep with any woman in there. But he’ll never will with me. He’ll end up sleeping in his grave if he doesn’t leave me alone. Best Wishes, Marianne.”

“Damn right, he will,” Augustin thought to himself.

He was not quite sure how seriously he should take the threat Edmond posed. He had never met him and did not know what he was capable of.

What was noble in him wanted her to be happy and not tied down by his mistakes, but his masculine pride wanted her to remain faithful to him and was angered by the thought of her with another man.

It is said that our first response to something comes from what society has conditioned us to do and our second response comes from instinct. Augustin was at his core a creature of instinct who had the bad habit of doing whatever came first into his head which was all too often “I want that, I shall take it” and only when it was too late did he stop to think of about what he had done.

There was something in him of the wild boy who is lead out of the darkness of his savage condition and into the light of civilization by the patience and care of kind hearted people. Perhaps all that was good in him had had to be coaxed out of him and left alone to his own devices with nothing but his instinct, he would be worse than he was.

“Chérie,” he wrote on a piece of stationery paper Tante Maude had brought with her on her last visit, “Right now, I’m blessedly undisturbed but I’ve been on edge since the minute I’ve got here. I feel like I’m going through a fairground haunted house with a countless bed sheet covered ghost lingering in the shadows ready to jump out and say boo. I can’t tell if I’m more scared of the men here or of the fact that I’m no better than they are.

And the guards here, the ones they call law enforcement, are little better either. They’d bash your head against the wall if they didn’t like the way you looked at them. Any reason they can find to beat the hell out of you, they’ll take.

But don’t worry about me, Marianne, take care of yourself, I know you can. But if that Edmond so much as touches you without you wanting him to, he’ll never touch anyone again.”

Augustin imagined her reading this and thinking his threat was all bluster but his instinctive side had come out and perhaps he was dead serious.

In the days following the raid on the shanty town, the well-known burlesque dancer Ninon announced that she would be giving a performance at Le Monstre to benefit the homeless of the left bank. The whisper going around was that Faucherie would be in attendance, since he was known to sleep with Ninon from time to time.

After classes finished up one Monday afternoon, Jules Martin went to a café where he planned to meet his sister Adèle . Bing Crosby singing Brother, Can You Spare a Dime? played on the wireless.

Say, don’t you remember, they called me Al; it was Al all the time.
Say, don’t you remember, I’m your pal? Buddy, can you spare a dime?

A haggard looking young woman in a faded old overcoat carrying a sickly and fussing baby came walking down the street. She walked up to the patrons in the café begging for money to feed herself and her child.

“Go away, you filthy slut or I’ll have the manager call the police,” a lady patron shouted at her.

“That attitude towards the homeless is exactly why Ninon is staging that performance of hers,” Jules said to her.

“Ninon and her tits are just looking for another chance to show themselves off,” a man at the lady’s table said to Jules, “You don’t look like you’re starving, College Boy. What do you care about the homeless?”

Jules reached into his pocket and took out a handful of change and handed them to the young woman.

“Thank you, Monsieur?” She said.

Adèle, swathed in sable fur with a smart little hat placed off to one side, came inside the café to join her brother. Brother and sister warmly greeted one another.

“How’s Charles,” he asked her.

“Fine, fine,” Adèle answered.

Adèle, who shone when she was performing on stage, was terrible at hiding her feelings and keeping them in. Her pale face and trembling lip gave it away that something was troubling her.

“What is it, Adèle?”

“That oddest thing happened. Charles and I went to visit some old friends of his, a Madame Mathieu and her sister. I had never met them or ever heard of them and out of the blue, Charles told me that we were going to have tea with them one afternoon. There was this young girl there, a Mademoiselle d’Aubrey, and Charles was quite interested in her. At first I thought he was straying from me, but when I confronted him about this, he told me that she was his daughter. That he’d had a first wife who died long ago and this Mademoiselle d’Aubrey was their child. Of course I was shocked and I was upset that he’d never told me this and I don’t know what to make of it.”

“Charles should have told you.”

“He told me that he was captured during the war, I knew that already, and that his first wife believed that he was dead. She herself died before he was able to return. He was poor then and felt that his daughter would be better of with her aunts, the ladies we had tea with. These memories must be terribly painful for him and I’d understand if he wished to forget them. ”

“Still, you had a right to know that you were stepping into another woman’s shoes and that you would be a stepmother.”

“I wonder what she was like, this first wife of his. I imagine the daughter takes after her but come to think about it, the daughter is also a lot like Charles. She has his beautiful fair coloring and there’s something of him in the expression of her face. Poor man, his first wife must have been very beautiful and he must have loved her very much. I had no idea what an unhappy life he has lead.”

How like Adèle, Jules thought, if Charles murdered her in cold blood simply because he was bored, her ghost would be the first person to defend him.

A small boy standing on a street corner toted a large pile of newspapers and shouted the headline about the hunt to recapture Bruno Faucherie.

“Dreadful,” Adèle said, “The world is running mad.”

“pretty much,” Jules responded.

Faucherie did attend Ninon’s performance at Le Monstre, with Hélène at his side. Hélène sat at his table with a gloomy look on her face as if she resented being there. She was not naive, she knew that her beloved Faucherie had other women but Ninon was the only one who could stand as a rival to her.

Hélène’s beauty was more shadow than sunshine, and she never looked more charming than when she was in a dark mood. To her delight, she was pressed to give a performance as part of the evening’s entertainment to which she quickly agreed. There was no way in hell that she was going to let her rival hog the spotlight.

Hélène went backstage and changed into a red ruffled dress and wove roses into her hairdo. She came onstage to dance a flamenco and sing a spicy love song in Spanish and was every inch the proud and tempestuous Spanish beauty. Some jokers commented that she looked like she was throwing a tantrum.

There was a drumroll and Ninon came on stage dressed in a slinky evening gown and a fur trimmed cape. Ninon was an exquisitely lovely redhead; tall but delicate with very fair skin. She was to dancing what Hélène was to singing and she danced as if lost in the music and was not quite aware of what she was doing. When she performed her striptease, it felt as intimate as if you were watching her undress for her lover.  Every graceful movement of her limbs and every sensual sway and thrust of her hips held the attention of the audience from beginning to end.

As the song progressed, she threw off her cape and her gloves. Then she peeled down the top part of her dress to reveal a corset, which she then removed to reveal a bra. The dance ended with her unhooking her bra and letting fall to the ground. She stood center stage in a proud, almost haughty pose to show off her perfect little breasts to advantage for the benefit of the audience as they roared their approval.

Hélène’s mood blackened further as Faucherie went to bring Ninon a bouquet of flowers in her dressing room. Faucherie appeared pleased to be the rope in a game of tug of war between two of the most desirable women in Paris.

Faucherie was the type of man women find irresistible and other men wish to be like. People read about his crimes in the paper and were horrified but if they encountered him personally, they would have nothing but praise for him. This was the effect his charm had on people. He settled into the role of man of the hour with ease and without arrogance, as if it was all perfectly natural. Faucherie winked at pretty women who passed him by and cracked jokes with friends and acquaintances who came to talk with him but there was something serious on his mind. He talked with some of his associates about his next “errand” which was to go to “the doctor to get the aspirin.”

The week which Marianne had received the strange letter from Augustin where he had made his threat against Edmond, she had gone to church and saw the first purple candle of Advent burning in the giant wreath on the alter. Two more sundays passed by and two more advent candles were lit but no other letters came.

Marianne had a hard time falling asleep during those weeks. The headaches she had been suffering from continued and her nights were troubled by frightening dreams: processions of eerily realistic icons carried by men wearing crowns of lit candles dripping wax and women wearing blank, expressionless masks.

Days passed by in blurs and she felt tired, weak, and disoriented.

Manon and Anna noticed the change in their friend. Marianne looked pale and done in and irritable. The bright, rosy girl she had been a couple months ago had faded and dimmed and they were concerned.

“Are you feeling alright?” Anna asked her.

“I just haven’t been sleeping very well,” Marianne answered.

“And those headaches?” Manon added “ You’ve practically swallowed an entire bottle of aspirin tablets today.”

Marianne promised them she would go see a doctor. She did not believe herself to be seriously ill but it was best to be careful.

Tante Mimi took her to see a doctor who had consulting rooms on a narrow little street off of St. Germain in an old stone building. A placard with the doctor’s name, Fabien, was placed where an aristocratic coat of arms had been chiseled off during the revolution.

Marianne explained her symptoms to Doctor Fabien, the headaches and what they were like and the hard time she had falling asleep. He listened to her heart, looked in her ears and down her throat, and took her blood pressure.

“hmm,” Dr. Fabien said, “I see some blockage in your ears and some post nasal drip in your throat. The blockage might very well be contributing to your headaches. I’ll prescribe a nasal spray and something to help you sleep and I advise you not to drink anything like coffee or strong tea after three o’clock.”

Marianne was very fond of strong tea, especially after a long day at work.

“Before you go, I’ll have some of your blood to check for signs of infection.”

“How long before we know the results?” Tante Mimi asked.

“You should hear something either tomorrow or the day after.”

“Thank you, Doctor.”

They went into a little room to take a blood sample after their consultation with Dr. Fabien. A nurse sat Marianne down in a chair and tied a piece of rubber tightly around her arm to cut off circulation, which was more painful than the actual venipuncture needle.

The next place Marianne and Tante Mimi went was the nearest pharmacy to pick up the proscriptions Doctor Fabien had called in.

Even though Marianne did not think that anything serious was wrong with her, she was anxious for the results because anything could happen. Ever since her mother’s death, illness scared Marianne, who feared nothing more than an untimely death.

She received a phone call from Tante Mimi the next day, saying that Dr. Fabien told her that she had a simple sinus infection and that she should rinse her sinuses twice a day with a saline solution.

“Your mother used to get these all the time,” Mimi told her, “That’s what she used to do.”

At the moment, Marianne wanted nothing more than a cup of strong tea but since she wasn’t allowed to have one, she settled for a glass of wine.

She sat down at her mirror and was surprised to see how fresh faced and young she was. She was not one of those silly and vain girls who could be cheered up by the sight of her own beauty but she had half expected to see a haggard old women whose best days were behind her. That was what she felt like.

Charles took the train from Neuilly and got off at St. Sulpice and began to walk towards the Jardin du Luxembourg. The sky was slate grey and the air was cold, wet, and heavy.

Sure enough it began to rain.

He came to the cafe Mimi had told him about, La Première Étoile, and asked for a girl named Marianne. The manager, a stout old lady, told him that Marianne had just gone home early because she was sick.

Charles continued on his way.

A young girl came out of a near by baker’s shop, carrying a basket containing loaves of bread with a little black dog at her heals. She stopped to open up her umbrella while juggling her basket.

“Let me help you, Mademoiselle,” he said to her, talking her basket so she would have both hands free to open her umbrella.

“Thank you, Monsieur,” she said, “oh, it’s you.”

Her voice sounded like she had a cold.

“Nice to see you, Marianne,”

Charles handed back the basket back to her.

“Nice to see as well, Monsieur.”

“You sound like you’re not feeling well. Shouldn’t you be at home?”

“I’m on my way there.”

“May I walk with you?”

“Certainly.”

Charles walked with his daughter towards the Rue Cassette. The poor child sneezed continuously and he felt that the sooner she got home and into bed, the better.

A drunk old portress who looked like an unmade bed in a dressing down stood in the doorway of Marianne’s building.

“Did any letters come for me today?” Marianne asked the portress.

“No, none today, Mademoiselle d’Aubrey,” the portress answered.

“Are you expecting a letter?” Charles asked his daughter.

“yes.”

“Who from?”

“A boy.”

“And where is he?”

“La Santé  Prison.”

“And how did he get there?”

“He was sentenced to fifteen years for robbery.”

Charles was a bit taken back.

“Are you in love with him?”

Marianne seemed reluctant to share her secrets but Charles looked honestly into her eyes. She had every right not to trust him; where had he been all of her life?  He had never been there when she had needed him before, why would he be there for her now?

“Marianne,” he said to her, “I have something for you, something pretty. Consider it an early Christmas present.”

“What is it?”

He took a small package wrapped up in white paper and tied with a silver ribbon out of his pocket and handed it to Marianne. She unwrapped it and opened the box. Inside was an Art Deco style star shaped brooch.

“It is pretty.”

“I want you to know that I loved your mother and you a lot… I love you a lot… and I did what I thought was best for you. The tragedy is that I’ve found you again at the point in your life when normally I would be letting you go. I understand this, but if you need my help, I will be there for you.”

The girl was now able to look into his eyes and he was able to get a good look at her face, It was soft and youthful and her mouth was full and babyish but but her eyes looked tired and weary and there was something cynical in the curl of lips and the crease of her brows. She seemed both young and old for her age; both innocent and world-weary. Charles found her face hauntingly beautiful.

Marianne looked at him with childish eyes like she trusted him. She took the brooch out of the box and pinned it to her coat.

“Thank you,” she said.

She told him about her summer romance with a boy named Augustin which ended with his incarceration at the beginning of autumn and how she had been writing to him since them and had been had been able to see him only a few times.

“I love him, and I don’t care what you or my aunts think.”

Charles leaned in and kissed her forehead.

“Get to bed, Marianne.”

After leaving her father and going upstairs, Marianne followed his advice. It was early enough in the day for her to have a cup of tea, so she put a kettle on the stove and buttered herself a couple of slices of the bread she had just bought. She curled up under the covers of her bed, placing the plate of bread and butter and the cup of tea on the nightstand, and wanted nothing more than to hide under the blanket and be alone.

On the train back to Neuilly, Charles was taken back to the summer of 1911.

Mado had invited him to garden party at Chateau Aubrey. He was introduced to her parents and when they asked what he did, he told them truthfully that he had just found work as a clerk in a shop and a freeglance photographer for a local newspaper. Her father was polite but her mother did not seem impressed with him.

“I wonder what that young man wants with Madeleine?” Emmaline d’Aubrey asked her husband.

“He’s in love with her,” Claude had answered, as if it was obvious.

“In love with Madeleine, don’t be ridiculous.”

“Is it so hard to believe?”

“No, if Madeleine was the kind of girl that men fall in love. Don’t think I’m being cruel but you have to admit that she has less advantages than her sisters. I’m worried that boy is after something, plain but rich girls are always vulnerable to people like that.”

He then learned where Catharine had got her bright and warm personality from.

Catharine was of course the center of attention and acted like it did not matter a bit to her, but she would have been in a terrible mood if she was not the center of attention. She taunted her rejected suitors by asking them what they thought of her fiance, George Thomas, to which they responded “He not clever enough for you.” He had never thought of Catharine as particularly clever, so George Thomas must have been a real idiot. Mimi had not yet come out into society and was seen as too young to be of interest to anyone.

He had to admit, He had found the party dull and the company even duller. Mado seemed bored as well mostly because everyone snubbed her.

“Come, let’s go take a walk,” she had said to him, “I’ll show you around the garden.”

That day he realized how unhappy she was. He had seen how her sister treated her and now he had heard how her mother felt about her and seen how she was ignored by everyone around her.

Around the Chateau were planted giant rhododendron and azalea bushes. It was past the time when rhododendrons and azaleas are in bloom.  Mado told him that the ones closest to the house were a bright red color when they were in bloom and the ones which formed an arch overhead were pink and white and when you walk through the garden after a rainfall and pick some of the blooms and crush them in your hand, it releases the most enchanting scent. There was a terrace shaded by a large chestnut tree and a magnolia tree which she told him could be seen from the dining room.

“I have something special to show you.”

She lead him down a dirt path into a field dotted with poppies. At the far end of the field were the ruins of a Norman castle.

“Wow,” he had said.

Mado darted down the field, beckoning him to follow her.

She was out of breath when they got to the ruins of the old castle and sat down, panting, in the window of an old tower. He remembered that she had worn a white dress and was kicking her feet and showing off a pair of blue and white striped shoes.

“I used to play here as a child.”

“Imagine having this as your childhood playhouse?”

She climbed through the window and he climbed in after her. Inside the tower was a staircase and at the top was a small, ceiling less  chamber with a large window similar to the one at the bottom.

“Look at the view,” he had said looking out of the window, “The sky is so big that the land looks small.”

“My father says that he thinks you’re in love with me, is that true?”

“I imagine that I’d be a lot worse off than I am if I was.”

Neither of them quite understood what had been meant by this cryptic response.

“That’s good, I wouldn’t want  anyone to suffer for love of me.”

They both sat down on the windowsill. He cozied up to her and leaned in to kiss her.

“You aren’t afraid that I’m too high above you? I don’t care much about things like that but they might think that way, though goodness knows they don’t have that high opinion of me.”

“Darling, I wouldn’t care if you were the queen of the Upper Nile.”

Footsteps were heard on the stairwell and in came Berloiz, the groundskeeper, with the heavy tread of his boots. He grabbed him by the shoulder.

“What are you doing here?” Berloiz’s gruff voice shouted at him, “You know trespassers get prosecuted.”

He then noticed Mado.

“Trying to impress your pretty little friend here, well it’s going to take more than this to get her to spread her legs.”

Mado stepped forward.

“It’s alright, Monsieur Berloiz,” she told the groundskeeper, “He’s a friend of mine.”

The man tipped his cap when he recognized her.

“My apologies, Mademoiselle Madeleine.”

“It’s alright.”

Shame-faced, Berloiz stepped out and left them alone.

Before anyone could notice they had left, they returned to the party, which lightened up after the sun went down and some of the guests left, making it less formal and more intimate. There was a game of hide and seek and then fireworks and sparklers on the front lawn. Mado really shone on nights like this, when things were lighthearted and fun but not hedonistic and reckless.

“Meet me back at the castle at midnight,” she had whispered to him.

He went to join her at the castle, bringing with him a candle to light his way. Another candle had been placed in the upper window of the tower where they had gone earlier that day.

Mado was waiting for him in the upper window. She had covered the floor with a picnic blanket and was sitting upon it. He put his candle in the window next to hers and then sat by her side.

Because the tower was missing it’s roof, a star spangled blanket of darkest blue sky covered them.

Being a downtown city boy for most of his life, he had never looked up at the stars before. The bright lights of New York, London, and Paris had made it difficult to see them.

Mado shyly leaned in and kissed him. He kissed her back more forwardly.

“I’m trembling,” he had said.

“I am too,” she responded.

“As much as I want to, I can wait. You don’t have to do this.”

“I want to do this.”

At that point in his life, he had not needed much persuasion.

She settled into his arms; he began undoing the buttons and laces of her clothing-women had worn much more complicated clothing then than they did now-smooth, naked skin shimmering with candlelight.

He guided her hands to unbutton his shirt and helped her to lay back on the blanket.

He had been with girls before but this was the only time it had been truly memorable, probably because it had meant more than those other times.

When they parted, he had felt that they must marry and he imagined that she felt the same way. Why wouldn’t she, she had just expressed her love for him more eloquently than she ever could with words.

Catharine’s wedding was set for Sunday the eighth of October. The church was booked, the archbishop was engaged to perform the ceremony, and the invitations, all three hundred of them, sent out in the mail. He decided to speak to Mado of marriage the next time they met and if she said yes, he would speak to her parents on the day of the wedding.

The train arrived in Neuilly and Adèle was there with the Ford to pick him up. Charles told her about his trip in Paris and about how Marianne was during the drive home. He was glad that she knew about Marianne and accepted it.

Adèle had taken a kindly interest in her step daughter. She knew she could never be a mother to Marianne but she hoped that they could be friends.

Charles loved Adèle and was happy with her. There was nothing wrong with this. Plenty of widowers remarried and it did not mean that they loved their late wives less but rather that life moved on as it must. But he loved Adèle with a different kind of love than he loved Mado.

He had been a younger man when he had been with Mado, much more wild and restless. Now he was middle aged, set in his ways, and contented. As a young man, he had been like someone starving. Now he was like someone who had eaten a big meal: he had taken enough to satisfy himself and was happy to sit and digest it all.

The problem with this analogy was that once one had eaten their fill of life and digested it, they were not able to fill their belly again.

The reason why Augustin had not written was because he had not written was that he had fallen seriously  ill with something that was going around the cell block.

Delirious, his thoughts had been haunted by things he had seen while in prison, the execution by guillotine and something he had seen the night he had fallen ill.

That night he had been woken up by a guard’s whistle. An inmate had killed himself by slitting his wrists. He lay dead in his cot with a pool of his blood on the floor. Two other guards were called in to carry the body out while other prisoners rushed in to help themselves to the poor bastard’s stuff.

Death was something he thought a lot about. If it was simply falling asleep and never waking up and slipping away from all the troubles of the world, he would welcome it. But if there was a God to fear and a Hell to shun, he would be terrified.

When he was feeling better, he asked the nurse in the prison infirmary for a pen and some paper. He wrote letters to his loved ones apologizing for not writing and explaining that he had been ill and was now feeling better. He also wished them a merry Christmas since he figured it was almost the twenty-fifth.

“Chérie,” he began his second letter, “I’m sorry I haven’t written these past weeks. I was sick with something that’s been going around, but I’m much better now.

It must be almost Christmas. Where were you last Christmas and who were you with? It’s hard to believe how different things were only a year ago.

Merry Christmas, Augustin.”

Edmond and Mathilde were staying with Catherine as they usually did when they had come into Paris for business. The other Dantons were coming from Auteuil on Christmas Day.

Christmas Eve morning, Catharine had her two daughters with her for breakfast. Agnès was excited because her beau, Kit Trask, would be arriving from Cherbourg that day to spend Christmas with them. She kept his last letter with her the whole time along with a photograph of his family home in Santa Fe.

“Santa Fe,” she said, “Isn’t that the loveliest name for a place you’ve ever heard.”

Agnè spoke of Kit as her fiancé which caused Catharine to say ” Agnès, you are not engaged. When you can be engaged, I will tell you.”

Judging by his letters, Kit Trask seemed like a very nice young man and very much in love with Agnès but Catharine was going to wait until she had met him in person to decide if he was good enough for her daughter.

It then occurred to Catharine how much she had just sounded like her mother.

But it was not her daughter’s romance she was thinking about.

The return of James Beaumont, or rather Charles Prideaux, after all these years had brought back many memories.

The summer they had been twenty-five and twenty respectively, Catharine had seen her sister ride her bicycle in Rouen many times, presumably for Rendezvouses with her lover, Jamie Beaumont.

Madeleine’s twenty-first birthday fell in September and her father had given her a white roadster. Catharine remembered coming into the library to speak with her parents and her mother complaining about what a silly and extravagant gift it had been. She was confused and annoyed to find that they were talking about Madeleine when there were so many more important things to talk about, such as the preparations for her wedding.

The library at Chateau Aubrey was a comfortable and surprisingly informal room. There had been a scrolled ceiling, ceiling high cases of books which were never read and had a musty smell, dark paneling, and heavy hangings which muffled the sounds of the outside world.

“I gave Catharine two thoroughbred horses for her last birthday,” Papa had said in response to Maman’s complaints, “And I’m paying for her wedding next month. I also gave Mimi two pointers for her last birthday and her coming out is next Spring. Madeleine must do something. Catharine rides, Mimi shoots, maybe motoring will be her thing.”

Maman had been as uninterested in hearing about Madeleine as Catharine had been and was relieved when her favorite child had come through the door.

“Catharine, there you are my dear,” she had said, “Has Madame Celestine called about the next fitting for your dress?”

Catharine’s wedding day had been the eighth of October. It had been unusually warm for October, so all of the mullioned windows in the drawing rooms and great hall had been left open. The grey and austere stone great hall had been decorated with white roses and orange blossoms. Garlands were wrapped around the banister of the exquisite staircase which lead up to the minstrel’s gallery. All of the family portraits and had been carefully dusted. The large doors which lead into the library were blocked by a buffet table for refreshments.

The wedding had been an important event in Rouen. The Chevalier d’Aubrey’s beautiful eldest daughter was marrying the handsome George Thomas and everyone loves a fairy tale.

After the ceremony at St. Ouen, the guests returned to the chateau for the reception. Catharine and her new husband had stood with their parents in the great hall receiving congratulations from the guests.

Jamie Beaumont had somehow been invited. He and Madeleine stood in the minstrel’s gallery directly above them.

“You don’t want to marry me,” Catharine had overheard her sister say in English, “I’m a handful.”

“I’ve got two hands don’t I,” Jamie had responded, “And two arms as well.”

He put his arms around her waist.

“It’s not that I don’t want to marry you, it’s just that my parents will never approve.”

“Oh hang them, we can run away together and go anywhere. But that isn’t what you want, isn’t it?”

“You must understand how it is for me. For years I’ve lived in the shadow of my sisters. Now Catharine’s had this great big wedding and Mimi will probably have one as well. You must think I’m silly and petty and jealous but I’ve spent my entire life promising myself that I’d have everything they’d have and no one would think I wasn’t as good as them.”

“So I’m not good enough for you?”

“You remember what Catharine said to me on the night of her engagement party that made me cry? She said that I would never have an engagement party and I wouldn’t have a wedding either. I can’t let her win. She wins everything and she can’t win this time.”

“I thought you loved me.”

“I do, and if you loved me, you’d understand.”

“I do, and if that’s what you want, the least I can do is speak to your parents. I promise you’ll have your fairy tale.”

Catharine had thought it was terribly rude of him to propose to her sister during her wedding.

Jamie took Madeleine’s hand and they ran downstairs where Maman and Papa were standing and chatting with guests. Papa politely turned around to speak with them while Maman looked annoyed.

“Monsieur, Madame,” Jamie had said to them in French, “I’d like to speak to you about something important.”

“Yes, Monsieur Beaumont,” Papa had answered, “Please tell us.”

“Well, Madeleine and I love each other and we wish to be married.”

“Madeleine, is this true?”

“Yes Papa,” Madeleine had joined in, “We’ve come to ask for your blessing.”

“And when did you decide this?” Maman had ask.

“Back in July.”

“Madeleine, you are an inexperienced child,” Papa had said, “I’m certain Monsieur Beaumont is a worthy young man, but he’s the first you’ve ever known.”

“I don’t see why you’d want to throw your life away like this,” Catharine had interrupted.

“You’d be the first to say I have no life.”

“He has no money and no family to speak of. Where would you live? How would you live?”

“I’d go to Tombouctou if it meant I could get away from you, Catharine.”

“Catharine and your father are right,” Maman had said, “You can’t always rely on your first infatuation to be the right person to marry and if you act impulsively, you will regret it.”

“I know you all mean well but I’m of age now and I’m old enough to make my own choices.”

“Not when you make the wrong choices.”

“You all are mean and hateful and want me to be unhappy.”

Madeleine sulked off to her room and Catharine thought “Good. If she’s going to be that way, I don’t want her here spoiling everyone else’s fun.”

She did not understand what they could have possibly said to upset Madeleine so much. But Madeleine usually got upset for the silliest of reasons.

“Still want to marry her after that, Monsieur Beaumont?” Catharine had said to Jamie.

“It’s amazing you people survived the revolution,” he had said, taking his hat and leaving.

Papa, who had always been a good and rational man, in the end came up with the decide that Jamie and Madeleine must wait a year. If they still felt the same way about each other in a year’s time, they could marry.

There was an unspoken condition that during the year’s time, Jamie must prove himself worthy to marry Madeleine, like Jacob toiling in the fields to win the hand of Rachel. How the tables had turned, now they were the ones making  their daughter’s suitors prove their worth.

Kit Trask would be arriving in Paris around five o’clock that evening. Everyone was curious to meet the young man who had brought about such a change in Agnès, who was usually so sulky and bad tempered but was now giddy and lovestruck.

Luckily for Marianne, she was able to leave work early. She stopped by her flat and changed out of her uniform and into the white blouse and black skirt and cardigan she had worn on Toussaint.

It was a little after five o’clock when she arrived at Catharine’s. Annette the maid opened the door for her.

“They’re all in the drawing room, Mademoiselle d’Aubrey,” she told her.

Her two aunts were in the drawing room and so were Agnès and Edmond and Mathilde who had come from Auteuil. There was also another young man of about nineteen or twenty, of about average height with lean and strong muscles. His suntanned skin was almost the same shade as his light brown hair.

He was a good looking young man but his somewhat large nose and ears kept him from being what would be considered handsome.

Agnès got up and greeted Marianne then introduced the young man as Monsieur Christopher Trask from Santa Fe New Mexico.  Everyone spoke to Kit in English and he spoke back in passable French.

“How are you feeling, better?” Mimi asked Marianne when she sat down next to her.

“Yes,” Marianne answered, “My headaches have all but gone away and I’ve been sleeping better.”

She also had another reason to feel better, the day before she had received a letter from Augustin and she hoped she could see him soon. But it was hard for her to get visits at La Santé because she was not family nor was she his wife.

A log of sweet smelling cherry wood burned in the hearth. Marianne still felt the winter cold and warmed herself with a glass of hot, spiced wine.

Agnès came over and sat next to Marianne so she could show her a photograph of a graceful Spanish style hacienda surrounded by picturesque rocky hills and brush land.

“This is Kit’s family home in Santa Fe,” she said, “It’s where we’re going to live when we get married.”

“It’s breath taking,” Marianne answered.

“I can’t believe I’m going to live somewhere so beautiful with a man I love and be half a world away from Maman and Mathilde.”

“I hope you don’t want to marry Kit just to get away from your mother and Mathilde,” Mimi said.

“No, it’s more of an added bonus. Kit, why don’t you tell everyone that story you told me about your aunt.”

“Alright,” Kit answered,”If everyone wants to hear it, or no?”

“It’s a ghost story.”

“Then let’s hear it,” Edmond added, “We love ghost stories, don’t we poupée?”

“I would love to hear it,” Mathilde answered.

Kit had a very pleasant voice which had a slight drawl and a singsong intonation.

“My grandfather, Jonathan Trask went west to New Mexico after it became a territory in 1850 and was one of the first settlers of of the town of Mesa Funesto. He was one of its first citizens to strike it rich in coal mining and he built a grand mansion high above Mesa Funesto.

Jonathan Trask had a daughter named Alice, who was the most beautiful girl in Mesa Funesto and men came from miles around to see her. They would stand outside the Trask mansion late into the night in hopes of catching a glimpse of Alice’s candle lit form in the window.

The year she turned twenty-one, Alice Trask fell in love with a young miner and became engaged to him. These young lovers planned to leave New Mexico after they were married and go to San Francisco much to the disapproval of Alice’s parents. But the young miner jilted Alice on their wedding day and no one ever saw him again. The rumor was that Jonathan, who couldn’t bare the thought of anyone taking his beloved daughter so far away, had the young miner killed.

The broken hearted Alice locked herself away in her room for weeks, refusing to so much as change out of her wedding dress. She finally allowed the door to be opened when she fell seriously and was dying, of a broken heart they said.

After Alice’s death, Jonathan Trask and his family left Mesa Funesto and returned to Santa Fe, leaving their once great mansion to fall into ruin. But letters from old friends told them how the townsfolk of Mesa Funesto claimed that when they walked past the old Trask mansion late at night, they saw a lit candle move from window to window and the silhouette of Alice Trask appear from time to time.”

“What a wonderful story,” Marianne said.

“We don’t have to go to mass until midnight,” Edmond added, “I can’t think of a better to waste a long winter’s evening than to tell ghost stories. Trask, since you just told one, we’ll say you already went.”

“I have one,” Agnès piped in.

Agnès told the old folk tale The Golden Rose about a queen who sends her son and daughter into the forest to find a golden rose which she had lost, promising that whichever of them finds it will inherit their father’s kingdom. The little princess finds it and her jealous older brother murders her. A shepherd finds one of the little princess’s bones years later and fashions it into a flute. The voice of the princess manifests itself through the music of the flute and denounces the prince as a murderer.

Edmond and Mathilde, as vicious people often do, had turned the telling of ghost stories into a contest. They complained that Agnès’s story was not gruesome or frightening enough.

Mathilde went next; she told a story about the Demoiselles Blanches, ethereal beings who haunt forests and lead travelers astray, embellished with enough gory details to suit Mathilde’s jaded tastes.

Edmond told a ghost story frequently told to visitors to Notre Dame about a young woman who was said to have jumped from the parapets and landed on a spiked railing below and was severed in two. It is said that her ghost can be seen flitting between the gargoyles.

This was said to be the most gruesome so far.

After the four other young people had told their ghost stories, Marianne found that it was her turn.

“There once was a lowly maiden,” she began, “though a poor orphan, she was of surpassing beauty with a complexion like the petals of a rose and hair like summer sunshine. As is often the case, she was in love. In love with a young bandit who roamed the forest surrounding the village she lived in. She would meet with him under an almond tree that grew in her garden when the other women in her family went to mass.

The maiden’s kinsfolk sent her away to another part of the kingdom when this love affair was discovered. The bandit was apprehended, tried for some supposed crime, and hung with his lady even knowing about it.

The lonely maiden sat at the window one evening and saw a traveler approach the place where she had been sent. Her heart leapt when she noticed that it was her lover. The bandit told her that he had been sent to fetch her and bring her home, so she left with him on the back of his horse with her arms around his neck and her cheek on his shoulder.

The lovers bid goodbye upon arriving home and she ran inside, leaving her scarf on the saddle. Her kinsfolk became suspicious when she told them about what had happened, so the body of the hung bandit was exhumed. They found his body in the coffin, along with the maiden’s scarf. ”

Marianne had been very proud of her story; she had spent most of the evening thinking it up. But it was overshadowed by the more visceral stories told earlier by Edmond and Mathilde.

At ten, they all sat down to a dinner of turkey stuffed with chestnuts, roast goose, salads, candied fruits, and a bûche de noël. At quarter to twelve, they left to go to midnight mass at St. Sulpice.

Charles had started going to mass at St. Sulpice on Sunday afternoons, knowing that Marianne would there with her aunt Mimi. He decided to go to the Christmas Eve midnight mass, figuring that his daughter would be there as well.

Adèle usually spent Christmas Eve with Charlotte and her family. She was surprised when Charles suggested they go to midnight mass at St. Sulpice but Charles explained that it would be easier for Charlotte and Alexandre to meet them there. Jules would be tagging along as well and it would also be easier for him. They would all go to Charlotte and Alexandre’s after mass.

Sitting in his pew, Charles saw Marianne come in with the other women of her family and noticed the brooch he had given her pinned to her coat. She saw him and gave him a smile.

“Who is that girl?” Charlotte asked Adèle.

“My stepdaughter.” Adèle answered.

“Good evening, Mademoiselle,” she said when Marianne passed her by.

“Merry Christmas, Madame,” the girl responded.

The town house on the Rue Mouffetard where Charlotte and Alexandre lived was made up of two floors. The first floor had a main room with white doors that lead out onto a small wrought iron balcony, a kitchen and a dining room. The second floor had the bedrooms. It was hard to get through the main room without bumping into something because the tapestry upholstered furniture was too large for it.  A scroll top with a goose neck lamp and a telephone pass place up against the far wall.

Aimée and Desirée, Charlotte and Alexandre’s little daughters, were giddy with the excitement children usually have when they are allowed to stay up past their bedtime. Two sets of decorated wooden clogs were put out for Père Noël to place little presents inside and some cake and cookies was put out incase the Virgin Mary and the Baby Jesus should pass by. The cake and cookies were left over from earlier that day when they had celebrated Adèle’s name day which happened to be Christmas Eve.

“Christmas never seems quite right without little ones,” Charles said.

The little girls bid goodnight to everyone and Adèle and Charlotte went to put them to bed. The nursery door stood at the top of the stairs on the right side of the hallway. Aimée and Desirée were told to pick up their toys and put them back in the burgundy colored traveling trunk which served as a toy chest, then they were put into their pajamas, smothered in kisses and tucked into their little green bed. Adèle read them Bluebeard from a book of fairy tales which was kept on the nightstand.

When the children had fallen asleep, the adults adjourned to the kitchen to enjoy the rest of the cake and cookies left over from Adèle’s name day celebration. They sat around a green cast iron table and chairs which appeared more appropriate for outdoors than in.

Charlotte was immensely proud of the new electric cookstove and refrigerator  in white and baby blue that Alexandre had given to her for an early Christmas present which she had used to bake the cake and cookies. But she had neglected to finish straightening up the kitchen.

“Charles,” she asked her brother-in-law, who was standing next to her at the sink as she was washing some cake pans and baking trays, “Did you notice that young woman Adèle was talking to at church?”

“Yes,” he answered.

“I asked her who she was and she said that she was her stepdaughter.”

Jules overheard the conversation and came over.

“Charlotte,” he said, “we should put out the presents.”

“Oh yes.”

The usually lighthearted boy had an usually serious expression on his face. He looked at Charles as if he knew exactly what was going on and was saving him from an embarrassing scene. Charlotte was not usually flighty enough to be that easily distracted but perhaps she did not want to know the truth. She went and brought out  the cocktails which had been cooling in her new refrigerator.

Augustin was brought into the visiting room in the afternoon of Christmas Day where he was greeted by Maude and Léon.

“Merry Christmas,” he said to them, giving them a smile.

Maude embraced him . He was reminded of how small and frail she was. She seemed like an old woman. Léon then approached him and they greeted each other in the rowdy, familiar way they used to.

“How have you been, Léon?” Augustin asked his cousin, “You’re looking good.”

“Well you look like hell,” Léon responded.

They hugged each other.

“Merry Christmas, Augustin,” another voice joined in.

Marianne stepped forward and put her arms around his neck.

“Nice to see you, Chérie.”

He kissed her on the cheek.

His mood felt cheerier than it had been for the past few days. Maude’s gentle voice, Léon’s naive smile, and the scent of the perfume which lingered on Marianne’s neck awakened all the desires within him and reminded him of what he had to live for. As long as these three people were waiting for him and missing him, he had a reason to keep on fighting.

“It was Maman’s idea to come today,” Léon said.

“Thank you, Tante Maude.”

Augustin was thankful that the shiner Camille had given him as a welcome back from the infirmary had healed enough as to not be noticeable in the dim lighting.  The last thing he wanted was to ruin this visit by making them even more worried about him.

Marianne was touched by the way he fussed over Maude by complimenting her and joking with her and making her laugh. He knew that this was the him they all loved.

“You really love her, don’t you?” she said to him, referring to Maude.

“I can’t imagine any son loving his mother more than I love her,” he told her, “She’s been my mother for most of my life.”

“What was she like, your real mother…your birth mother? Do you remember anything about her?”

“I’m surprised at how much I do remember considering I was barely five when she died. She was very beautiful. Her face reminded me of the moon. She had skin perhaps a shade darker than mine and her hair curled the way mine does. I remember sitting on her lap when I little and pulling her curls and they would spring back. My father was very much in love with her and they would have married if they could ”

“What was he like?”

“He was very tall, wore a blue and red soldier’s uniform, and he had a very loud laugh which always seemed to make other people laugh when he did. I remember wanting to be just like him and sometimes he would let me wear his shako when he came to visit us on leave. He lived in the army barracks while we lived in the casbah.”

“What was your home like?”

“The casbah rises out of the Mediterranean and has white square buildings stacked up on top of each other. The streets are like staircases and were usually noisy and full people. Different people kinds of people from all over the world, Europeans, Orientals, and Negroes. The men usually spent their time in the streets while the women were usually in the courtyards of the buildings or on the roofs. My Grande-Mère kept a garden on her roof. What I remember about her was that she smelt like herbs and wet earth and her hair was always pulled back by a turban. She looked like my mother but older.”

Augustin had not thought about these things in a long time and was glad she had asked him about them, lest he forget about those important parts of his childhood.

When the visit was coming to an end, he asked Marianne what she was doing that evening.

“My Tante Maude is having the Danton’s for Christmas dinner,” she told him, “and god knows why I have to go to another dinner with the same lice I already know.”

“Is he going to be there?”

She looked confused.

“You know who I’m talking about?”

“He is but you don’t have to worry about him. I can handle myself.”

“I’m jealous that he’ll get to look at you tonight and I won’t.”

Marianne had just enough time when she returned home from La Santé  to change for dinner without having to rush before she had to go to her aunt’s.

The lobby of her building was busy with people because the Vertes were having an open house. Most of the neighborhood would be dropping by that evening. Some of them had brought food to add to the spread Louise had put. The entire building had given what they had to spare and there was enough for a feast.

Louise was bustling around seeing to the needs of her guests; Dominic was talking with some of his work buddies; Papa Verte sat in his usual rocking chair, bouncing Baby Jacques on his knee.

Marianne said hello them and the other people there who she knew but had to refuse their invitation to join the party.

The entire house smelt of turkey and gravy and fresh baked bread. Marianne could even smell it up in her room.

She pulled out the white dress with the red print that Augustin had given her, overturning her earlier decision never to wear it again. It was the only thing she had which was decent enough to wear to dinner that evening that they had not already seen her in. She would be damned if she gave them any reason to look down on her

Retribution: Chapters 19 and 20

O Soave Fanciulla

It was a rainy afternoon and Charles saw nothing better than to take a nap.
The air in the bedroom was warm, dry, and heavy. Adèle was taking a bath in the bathroom off of the bedroom and chattering on the telephone with Charlotte. Rain was drip-dropping on the roof and wind was whistling through the trees.
Everything was peaceful.
Charles was transported to a time and place long gone. It was a chateau in Normandy where he had gone to attend a party with a friend of his. One of the many places he had ended up for some reason or another during his restless and nomadic youth.
The year was 1911 and it was a balmy evening in June. The sky was clear and full of a stars and light breeze playfully whipped at the skirts of the girls strolling in the garden. He was standing in the ballroom; it was lit up with candles and the large, glass French doors were opened out onto the terrace and lawns.
A petite girl came down the big staircase in the main part of the chateau, the gold beading on the neckline of her green dress and the clusters of blond curls on either side of her head shaking as she moved.
She could not have been more than twenty-one, two years younger than he had been at the time. She looked around the room to see who was there; she noticed him and gave him a little smile, though she did not know him.
The next time he saw her that evening, she was sitting on a stone bench on the terrace and looked like she had been crying. He sat down by her side and offered her a handkerchief from his pocket.
“Merci,” she said, taking it and drying her eyes.
“Une fille comme vous ne devrait pas avoir une raison de pleura,” he told her.
She giggled a little, his French was still a rough around the edges.
“Je m’appelle Jimmy”
“Moi, je m’appelle Mado”
“Voulez-vous danser avec moi?”
“Oui”
He took her by the hand and lead her back into the ballroom. The band struck up the song O Soave Fanciulla from the opera La Bohéme.
Mado had a sweet, round face with a receding chin. She did nothing but smile the entire time they danced which made her look radiantly lovely. For some reason, she took to calling him Jamie instead Jimmy, but it was better than what’s-your-name.
“I know this song,” she told him, “It’s from La Bohéme. I once heard Madame Melba sing it in London. The poet Roldalfo and the seamstress Mìmì are singing of their new found love.”
She then began to cough and become winded. He brought her back out onto the terrace and sat her down onto a bench.
“Are you alright?”
“Yes, thank you. It’s just this silly cough of mine, sometimes I get a little tickle in the back of my throat.”
A fading dark haired beauty dressed in a black gown sewn with sparkling beads came out and asked for Mado, who addressed her as “maman.”
When she was gone, he went to find his friend and ask who she was. He was told that she was a daughter of the house and it was her older sister’s engagement party. The older sister pointed out to him was a tall brunette with cold alabaster features, as unlike Mado as possible.
She came to find him in the garden later in the evening near a series of broken statues put there to look like a ruin.
“I had to go publicly congratulate my sister and her fiancé,” she told him.”My mother was upset with me because I had not yet done so. Can you believe it, especially after the things my sister said to me tonight?”
“What did she say to you?”
“That there would never be a party like this for me, and no wedding either and that I might as well take the veil. It isn’t enough for her to be happy; I must be miserable in comparison.”
“Is that why you were crying?”
“Yes, I guess I have very thin skin.”
The moment had been too perfect. It had rained earlier that day, so the perfume of rain soaked roses hung in the air.  Nightingales were singing in the trees and in the distance, the band was playing a waltz. If they had been in a movie, the time could not have been more right for a kiss.
He leaned in shyly to touch his lips to hers. She blushed pink and turned away.
“What’s the matter,”he asked?
“Nothing,” she responded, “Just think, yesterday I was seriously thinking of becoming a nun.”
“It would be a shame to hide all that prettiness under a veil.”
“Kiss me again.”
He put his arms around her waist and kissed her again. She stood on the tips of her toes, threw her arms around his neck, and kissed him back.
As if on cue, her mother appeared on the terrace and called for her.
“I have to go.”
“Must you?”
“I must,” but he was reluctant to let her go, “please, I must.”
He let her go and she began to run back up the lawn to the terrace.
“Wait,” he called to her.
She turned back to look at him.
“What does Mado stand for?”
“Madeleine.”
Charles saw La Bohéme years later and finally understood the significance of O Soave Fanciulla. Like Mìmì, Mado had been a sweet and doomed innocent.
When Charles woke up, it was several hours later.  It had been one of those short, heavy sleeps which somehow make you feel even more tired than you had felt before.
Adèle was seated at her dressing table, wearing a white slip and peignoir. She was curling her hair and arranging it using Eugène’s Permanent Wave and bobby pins.
“You’re awake,” she said.  
“Yes, I am,” he answered in a groggy voice.
“I was going to ring Lucille to bring me some coffee, would you like some coffee?”
“Yes please.”
Adèle rung the maid and asked her to bring up two cups of coffee. Lucille departed with a “yes Madame.”
“I don’t know what came over me,” Charles continued, “I suddenly felt very tired and needed to take a nap, next thing I knew I had been asleep for hours. Guess that’s what comes from getting old.”
“Don’t be ridiculous Charles, you’re Dorian Gray and Peter Pan combined.”
“More like Rip Van Winkle.”
Adèle laughed her charmingly absurd laugh i went to protect her  hair do by covering it with a hairnet.
Yes Charles was no longer young but Adèle could not imagine any boy of twenty being handsomer.
Her hand fell on her barren womb; oh how she had wanted to give him children.  

Fame

“Look in the paper, Lerou,” a guard said to Augustin the next morning, “You’re famous.”
Augustin picked up the newspaper the guard had thrown through the bars of his cell. There was an article about his trial.
He wished he could deny everything in the article and say that it was all lies but the truth was that he had done everything they said he had and was everything they said he was.
Later in the day, he received a letter from Marianne which affected him more.
“Dearest Augustin,” it began “I wish I could be there and tell you all I have to say in person. When I think of you in that terrible place for the next fifteen years, it breaks my heart.
Please tell me that you weren’t with that Hélène like people are saying you were. If you have, I understand why. Because I wasn’t making you as happy as you deserve to be and because she is so much more beautiful than I am.
If everything was how it should be and I could be with you right now, I would make you as happy as any woman has ever made a man.
I feel very stupid for not figuring out that it was you who sent me that dress. I don’t think I’ll ever wear it again because I’m afraid that someone might see me in it and say ‘that’s the dress he stole’. Warmest regards, Marianne.”
After work a few days later, Marianne went to visit Manon, who was still sick, having developed bronchitis as an aftereffect of the measles, stopping on the way to buy her a bag of peppermint drops.
Marianne liked the smell of peppermint drops because it reminded her of her mother. Her mother had worn a perfume which smells like vanilla, almond, peppermint, and ginger. She had smelt sweet, like the inside of a candy shop.
Manon was sitting up in bed when Marianne came through the door and was working on embroidering a design of a ribbon decorated basket overflowing with flowers.
“How are you feeling today?” Marianne asked her.
“Better, ” Manon answered, her voice was hoarse, “I think I’ll be able to go back to work in a few weeks.”
The blotchy red rashes on her skin had cleared up but she still needed time for her cough to go away.
“I brought you some peppermint drops to help with your cough.”
“Thanks, you’re the best.”
“I know.”
Marianne went over to the cupboard and got a bottle of cough syrup and then fetched a spoon from the drawer.  She poured a spoonful of syrup and Manon swallowed it down with an expression which told that it tasted awful.
“I read about Augustin in the paper. How are you taking it?”
“Alright, I guess. You know what that silly Anna told me today? She says that she doesn’t think they’ll make him do his full sentence because he didn’t kill anyone. Personally, I don’t think they give a damn either way.”
“How is he? Have you heard from him since his trial?”
“Yes, I got a letter from him this morning.”
She pulled the letter out of the bodice of her dress and unfolded it.
“Chérie, “she read aloud, “Why are you worrying about Hélène? I can tell you with a clear conscience that that’s the only part of the indictment against me that is untrue. And don’t say she is more beautiful than you. All those things I said about you deserving a prince are because you are the finest girl in Paris and in a perfect world I wouldn’t have to look at any other girl but you.
I would rather be dragged through the mud because of Hélène than see you dragged through it because of me. That’s why I think it’s smart of you not to wear that dress again.”
” ‘Finest girl in Paris’,” Manon butted in, “He certainly is in love with you.”

The sound of singing accompanying the guitar came from the courtyard outside.

“Will you go to the window to see who’s out there?”

Marianne got up and went to the window and saw a handsome young man playing the guitar. Four girls were hanging out of their windows and giggling.

The young man removed his cap to them.

“What an enchanting voice,” one of the girls said.

“You are charming,” another added.
“Come up and join us. We’ll give you a reward”
a third burst in.

” Yes, please come up,” added the second.

“He can’t. Mère Comminge doesn’t allow men inside, Suzanne,” the first girl retorted.

“You’re no fun, Seraphine.”

Manon lived in a boarding house for young, single women with strictly enforced rules such as an curfew of midnight and no men allowed past the lobby. And looking at Madame Comminges, the matron who was a battle-ax if there ever was one, one knew that the virtue of every girl in her care was safe.

The young man singing in the courtyard was singing a popular song that had been going around about a young girl who was pining for her lover who was in jail awaiting execution. When she is expected to forget him and find a new lover, she says “It’s not that easy.”

The words of the song reminded her of what her mother used to tell her when she asked why Tante Mimi never married anyone else after the death of her fiancé.

She could hear her mother’s voice in those words. If she lived a hundred years more, she could never forget her mother’s voice. It had not been high and shrill like Mathilde’s, or low, soft, and husky like her own, but somewhere in between and musical with a slight patrician drawl.

Mostly the words of the song reminded her of her own situation, pining away for a man who was not around.

She quickly closed the window and went back inside. The other girls listening to the street performer assumed that she had been offended by some of the racy lines in the song.

Birthday Celebrations

On Sunday October twenty- second, Catharine called upon Mimi. It was early in the morning and Mimi had just come out of the bath and was drying her hair when Catharine arrived.

“Good morning, Catharine,” Mimi greeted her, a bit taken by surprised.

“When’s the child going to drop by?” Catharine answered.

“Sometime later today.”

Catharine rolled her eyes a bit. She hated when people were unspecific about plans.

“It’s hard to believe she’s nineteen. I can remember the day she was born as if it were yesterday.”

“I can remember it too. You forget, Mimi, that I was there too.”

October twenty-second was Marianne’s birthday.

Mimi quickly dressed and Catharine joined her to go run some errands. They only needed a light coat because it was remarkably warm for this late in October.

There was to be a lunch of potato and leek soup, Marianne’s favorite dish, and a lemon cake, her favorite dessert. They even purchased a bouquet of lilies of the valley, her favorite flower, and a bag of peanut butter cups, her favorite candy.

When they arrived back at Mimi’s apartment, Catharine sat down at the table in the kitchen while Mimi started on the lunch. Catharine took the two bottles out of the bag from the wine shop.

“We’re having champagne with lunch?”

“It’s not everyday a girl turns nineteen.”

“It’s amazing how much of a child she still is. In our day, nineteen was almost an old woman.”

Catharine was trying to imitate their mother,

While the stock pot was heating up, Mimi washed the potatoes and leeks in the sink then brought them over to the table to be chopped up.

The two women were startled by the ringing of the doorbell.

“Is that her?”

“She’s early.”

They got up from the table and went to the door to let their niece in. But instead, there was a policeman, who removed his cap.

“Excuse me,” he began, “which of you ladies is Madame Miriam d’Aubrey?”

“I am,” Mimi answered.

“Is your niece Mademoiselle Marianne d’Aubrey?”

“Yes, I hope she’s not in any trouble?”

” Dear God,” Catharine burst in, “What has the stupid girl done?”

“She’s not in any trouble,” the policeman told them, “But she’s been seen with someone who is.”

“Who?”

“A young man named Augustin Lerou who has recently been sent to La Santé for robbery. I happened to know that she went to visit him several weeks ago.”

“How do you know this?”

“I often go to the café where she works. I was there one day and overheard her talking with another girl about how she was going to Montparnasse that evening to visit him. Then I talked with Madame Océane, her employer, who told me that she has been seeing him all summer.

For years I’ve had my eye on this boy and I know he’s not the type of person a nice young lady like your niece should be around. I came because I was concerned for her.”

Catharine’s brow creased into an angry frown and Mimi’s face went pale.

“Thank you for your concern Officer…”

“Desmarais, Madame.”

He put his cap back on and tipped it to them before leaving.

“I bid you good day, ladies.”

Catharine and Mimi went back into the kitchen. Mimi put the chopped up potatoes and leeks into a stock pot of simmering vegetable stock while Catharine paced back and forth, almost frothing at the mouth and seeming like an animal whose young had been threatened.

“Who does that Desmarais think he is,” she roared,”Following around Marianne like she was some Pigale whore.”

“Catharine,” Mimi said in a way which reminded Catharine of their father, who had been a steady, placid figure with a way of cooling people’s tempers with a single word.

” If that Lerou character is as dangerous as he said, why didn’t they lock him up sooner. I would like to know how he got anywhere near Marianne, unless he collected the garbage from that café she works at”

“The strange thing is, I think I’ve met this young man before.”

“Where?”

“Back in May, at St. Sulpice.”

“At a church, really?”

“Marianne and I were attending mass and he approached us, asking to take Marianne out. I didn’t see the harm in it, I assumed she knew him and wouldn’t get involved with anyone dangerous. Looking back, I feel so stupid.”

“Well, you should.”

“Why, because I trusted my niece’s judgement?”

“Yes!”

The doorbell rang again and there was a knock at the door.

“That’ll be her,” Mimi said, “I’ll go talk to her.”

She went to the front door and let her niece in.

“Something smells wonderful,” the girl said when she came in.

“Marianne, someone told me you went up to Montparnasse to go to La Santé a few weeks ago.”

“They must have gotten me mixed up with Manon, her brother’s a prisoner there.”

“No, they’re sure it was you.”

“Then it must have been someone who looks like me.”

“Why are you lying to me? What is so terrible that my niece has to lie to me.”

“Who told you, I went to Montparnasse?”

“A policeman came here earlier and told me that he was at your café a few weeks ago and overheard you saying that you were going there.”

“Last time I checked, that’s not illegal.”

“He told me that you went to see some convict named Augustin Lerou. What was that about?”

“You want to know?”

“Yes, I do.”

“I’m in love, Tante Mimi.”

“So you’re in love, in love with who? Some criminal you met a few months ago. The best thing that could have happened is that they locked him up, and if you had any sense you’d know that.”

“You don’t know him.”

“Look me in the eyes, Marianne d’Aubrey, and tell me that you won’t waste another second thinking about that boy. I see no reason why you couldn’t get a good man and you deserve much better than Augustin Lerou.”

“I need to sit down.”

“What’s the matter.”

“I have a headache. I’ve been getting them a lot lately.”

“How bad are they?”

“I haven’t had them this bad since I was a little girl. Since after my mother died.”

“You go lay down till lunch is ready and I’ll make you some tea. We won’t let all of this spoil your birthday.”

Marianne went down the hall to Mimi’s bedroom and Mimi went back into the kitchen to finish making lunch.

“So what did she have to say for herself?,” Catharine asked.

“She went to go lay down, she has a headache.”

“Oh really, you’re too indulgent with her sometimes, Miriam.”

“I can’t be too hard on her, that’ll only push her farther in the wrong direction.”

“Oh, how far in the wrong direction has she gone, I’d like to know?”

Mimi put a kettle on the stove to make Marianne some tea.

“Would you bring this into her when it’s done?”

“Alright.”

When the kettle whistled, Mimi fixed a cup of ginger tea with honey and milk. Catharine went to bring it into her niece.

Marianne was lying on Mimi’s bed with her face buried in the pastel floral print pillows. Her little dog Johnny curled up at her side. The light blue curtains were closed to keep the sun out.

Catharine could hear the girl’s muffled sobbing.

“I’ve brought you some tea,” she said to her.

“Thank you,” Marianne answered in a quivering and stifled voice.

Catharine left the cup of tea on the nightstand and left the room. A part of her wanted to sit down and comfort the girl and tell her that the sun would come up tomorrow and everything would not be as dark as it was now. She remembered what it had been like to be young, when one’s future seemed so uncertain that it seemed like nothing would ever work out for you, and every misfortune looked like the end of the world.

But comforting people had never been something Catharine had ever been good at and she was afraid of upsetting the girl further.

When her aunt was gone, Marianne sat up and picked up the cup of tea. On the light blue chair by the window was Mimi’s bible. Marianne had always liked to looked at the pictures inside. Her favorite was the one of Mary Magdalene weeping at the feet of Jesus Christ. Mary Magdalene’s beautiful blond hair and wise, wistful eyes reminded her of her mother. In fact, her mother’s full name was Marie Madeleine Elisabeth Anne, Marie Madeleine being the French version of Mary Magdalene. As she sipped her tea, she sat in the light blue chair flipping through the pages of Mimi’s bible and admiring the pictures. When she got to the picture of Mary Magdalene at the feet of Jesus, she thought about her mother and what she had been doing on that day nineteen years earlier.

From the kitchen came the smell of her favorite potato and leek soup, as well as moules à la marinière, another favorite of hers. She was getting rather hungry.

A little while later, Mimi came in to tell her that lunch was ready. Mimi still looked upset with her and all Marianne could say to her was that her headache was better.

Tante Catharine was seated at the table in the kitchen.

“Nice to see you, Tante Catharine,” Marianne said to her.

“Happy birthday, my dear,” Catharine answered, “come give your poor old aunt a kiss.”

Marianne went over and kissed her cold, alabaster cheek.

“Oh look, lilies of the valley.”

She went to admire the vase full of her favorite flowers placed on the table and tried to appear cheerful.

“Lunch is ready,” Mimi added, “Please sit down, Marianne.”

She took her place at the head of the table and her two aunts sat down on either side of her. In front of each of them were two bowls: one full of potato and leek soup with a dollop of crème fraîche on top and garnished with chopped parsley; the other full of mussels soaking in a broth. In the center of the table was a plate of toasted slices of baguette.

Mimi said grace and then opened up the bottle of champagne.

“How are you feeling, Marianne?” Catharine asked “I was told that you had a bad headache.”

“I’m better, Tante Catharine,” Marianne answered, “I’m such a silly thing and I don’t get enough fresh air and exercise.”

“Do you have any plans for this evening?” Mimi asked her.

“I’m going to go with Anna to see the new Jean Harlow and Clark Gable movie.”

This birthday lunch was a rather awkward affair. Both of her aunts were trying their hardest not to mention the elephant in the room, Marianne’s relationship with Augustin. They both had plenty of questions for her, which they avoided as to not ruin the lunch.

When the soup and mussels were finished, Mimi brought over the lemon cake which was frosted with whipped cream and stuck with light blue candles. Marianne blew out the candles and Catharine cut it and put the slices on little white plates.

Catharine then presented Marianne with her birthday present, a bottle of the honey and lily scented Coty perfume she liked and a bar of her favorite patchouli soap.

“Thank you, Tante Catharine.”

“You’re welcome, my dear.”

The lunch finished up and Mimi walked with Marianne to the door.

“I thought of something I’d like to do,” she told her aunt.

“What is it?”

“In a couple weeks, it’ll be Toussaint. I’d like to go to Rouen and visit my mother’s grave.”

“Certainly,” Mimi kissed her niece’s forehead,”God protect you, Marianne.”

This was her aunt’s usual blessing but instead of “God protect you from doing wrong,” it meant “God protect you from what you’ve done wrong.”

After Catharine and Mimi finished up clearing the table and washing the dishes, they took tea in the living room. Mimi was muttering under her breath in frustration.

“Oh, don’t beat yourself up, Miriam,” Catharine said, “What’s happened has happened and now we must move on.”

“You think so?” Mimi responded.

“The boy’s in prison. Marianne will eventually realize that she needs someone on the right side of a jail cell.”

“You don’t think she’s…?”

“You can say it. Do I think she’s had sex with him?”

“Do you?”

“I don’t think we need to worry there. I was looking at her and she’s still pure as the driven snow.”

“Thank God.”

Marianne came home to find a new letter from Augustin.

“You see, Johnny,” she said to her little dog, “This is the best birthday present I could have hoped for.”

“Chèrie,” the letter read, “Today they brought us all into the prison yard to watch an execution. There’s a guillotine at the far corner of the prison yard where the Rue de la santé meets the boulevard Arago.

They executed a boy today, who was convicted for killing his stepfather. I never met him but I’ve heard that the stepfather used to beat the boy’s mother and sisters, and for all I know, the bastard had it coming. The mother and sisters were there and wept through the whole thing.

I’ve seen people die before but it was nothing like this. The times I’ve seen people die, they were in their beds and it wasn’t as much of a shock because the life drained from them gradually. But this time, they dropped the blade and suddenly there was a gushing red stump where a head should be.

The boy was the same age as me. It’s so strange to think of someone your own age dying.

Best Wishes, Augustin.”

Marianne pulled the box out from under her bed and took out a pencil and a piece of creamy white note paper with a little blue bird stamped in the corner and an envelope. She put Augustin’s new letter with his earlier ones which were tied in a bundle with a pink ribbon.

“Dearest Augustin,” she began writing, “Today is my birthday, I’m now nineteen years old. Your Tante Maude visited me yesterday and brought me some cheese tart she had just made because I once told her that I was fond of cheese tart. You are lucky to have such a considerate family.

I went to have lunch with my aunts today and when I arrived there, I got quite a shock. My Tante Mimi told me that a policeman came to see her earlier to tell her that I went to visit you. Now she knows everything. She was upset with me when she found out I’ve been seeing you but I’m relieved that she now knows. I hated hiding things from her.

She said that you being locked up in jail was the best thing that could have happened. She loves me and wants what’s best for me but I don’t think she quite understands how unhappy I am. If she did, I don’t think she would say such things.

You once told me that I deserved a prince but I’ve seen princes before and I’d rather have a thief who loves me any day. Best wishes, Marianne”

There were still several hours to go until she was supposed to meet Anna. She went to her floor’s bathroom to see if there were any empty showers. They were all empty, so she went back to her room to get her toiletries. On the way back, she found one of the mousetraps that Madame Poisson had put out because it was the time of year when mice start to come inside. Three little mice were trapped inside and their pitiful squeaking touched Marianne’s heart.

“Don’t worry,” she said to them, “I’ll let you go. It’s my birthday and I’ve got the right to grant clemency today.”

She picked up the mousetrap to bring it downstairs. Lounging on the floor in the lobby, was Allumette, Madame Poisson’s cat, who was belching up the fur of some unfortunate friends of Marianne’s mice.

“Don’t worry, I’ll let you out in the alley where Allumette can’t get you.”

She slipped out the front door to went into the alley between her building and the one next to it. Bending down, she put the mousetrap on the ground and open it up so the mice could scurry out.

“Don’t come back, or Allumette will gobble you up.”

Now that the mice were free, she could go back upstairs and take her shower.

Marianne and Anna were approached at the movies by a waif like young girl wearing a pale yellow dress and a white jacket. Short, wavy locks of burgundy colored hair stuck out from her white cloche hat.

“Hello,” she said to them.

“Hello,” Marianne answered.

“You don’t know me but I know you. My name is Eulalie.”

“Marianne.”

“Pleased to finally meet you.”

“Likewise. How do you know me?”

“I’m Augustin’s little sister.”

“Funny, he never told me he had a sister.”

“Well, I’m not exactly his sister. He lived in the same building as me and has always been like a brother to me.”

After chatting for a few minutes, Marianne found out that Eulalie was going to see the same movie that she and Anna were going to see and so she invited her to sit with them. From the way the younger girl talked about Augustin, Marianne judged that Eulalie had a bit of a crush on him but she was so much younger than him and it was mostly a brother-sister like relationship. If she wanted to be anything to him, it was his little sister.

Eulalie took off her hat when they sat down in the theater.

“What do think of my haircut?” she asked.

Short waves of hair framed her pretty, fox-like face in a way which rather suited her.

“Very nice,” Anna answered.

“My old man used to make me wear it in an ugly plait all the time, or he would whop me. But they locked him up last summer and so I cut all my hair off.”

Rouen

Toussaint fell on Thursday November second. That morning, Mimi received a call from Catharine, asking her to put flowers on the grave of their parents since she was going up to Rouen.

“Marianne told me that she wished to go visit her mother’s grave,” Mimi told her, “I told her I would take her. It wasn’t an unreasonable request and I felt that it would be nice for her after the hard time she’s been having.”

“You mean since that boy went to prison.”

“I feel like the whole thing is my fault. I am responsible for her and I let this happen.”

“Why is it you do that?”

“What?”

“Act like she’s more your niece than she is mine.”

“So you’re saying that you are just as responsible?”

“No, of course not. I wasn’t the one that let her go out with him.”

Marianne had been up since dawn and had had a hard time falling asleep the night before because of the headaches she had been getting. She felt a strong throbbing in the crown and back of her head and popping in her ears and had to sleep sitting up with a hot compress on her face. It was still fairly dark when she got out of bed and put a kettle of water on the stove for tea and a steam bath.  She sat with her head bent over a bowl of steaming water and covered by a towel to keep in the steam.

When it was time for her to go to Tante Mimi’s, she made sure to put her aspirin bottle in her handbag.

She met her aunt outside of her building and they walked to the Sévres Babylone metro station.

All of Paris was in black that day in honor of Toussaint. The flower girls at the Gare St. Lazare were peddling bouquets of chrysanthemums for people to put on the graves of their loved ones. St. Lazare was packed with other mourners traveling to visit relatives both dead and alive.

The train ride to Rouen was quiet and awkward. Marianne and Mimi sat across from each other, and neither of them said a word to each other for most of the trip.

“I know you’re still upset with me,” Marianne finally said.

“I haven’t slept with him, I want you to know,” she then added. This was the only thing she could think of which might calm down her aunt.

“I’m not upset with you, Marianne,” Mimi answered, “I just didn’t expect that you would ever get involved with someone like that.”

“Me neither. Six months ago, I couldn’t have imagined any of this.”

“Mostly I’m worried about you being unhappy. He’s going to be locked up for a long time and it must be hard on you. If I’m upset with anyone, it’s him. ”

“I don’t want to excuse what he did, I know it was wrong. But there is good in him.”

Mimi took the girl’s hand.

“Oh Marianne, please promise me you’ll always see the good in people.”

They took a taxi from the Gare de Rouen to St. Ouen, where they attended a Toussaint prayer service for the souls of the dead. Before the service began, Mimi lit three votive candles; one for her mother, one for her father, and one for her sister.

The narrow, austere, gothic nave of the cathedral was filled with a cloud of incense and Latin prayers. Marianne took the opal rosary beads which had belonged to her mother out of her handbag and handled them as if they were the relics of a saint.

She remembered her mother as something of a saint because of the hard and unhappy life she had lead and the grace and dignity with which she bore it all. Her mother had always embodied the virtues she admired and wished to emulate: kindness, gentleness, wisdom, and strength of character.

When the prayer service ended, they went out into the cemetery. Mimi purchased three bouquets of rosy pink and white chrysanthemums from a flower girl and they made their way to the d’Aubrey plot.

The first grave they visited belonged to Marianne’s grandparents. It consisted of a granite base carved with “d’Aubrey” and two white marble crosses. One was carved “Claude Victor, 1855-1920,” the other was carved “Emmaline Antoinette, 1860-1930.”

Marianne did not remember much about her grandfather. She had been only six when he had died.  Her grandmother had been too reserved and distant for Marianne to have ever been close to her. She had felt that her grandmother had not liked her very much but after she died, Mimi kept saying how fond her grandmother had been of her.

Her mother’s grave was under a large willow tree. The gravestone had a weeping angel draped over it and had “Madeleine Elisabeth, 1890-1926” carved into it. Marianne knelt on the ground and placed a bouquet at the feet of the weeping angel.

“I miss you, Maman,” she said.

A gentle breeze rustled the branches of the willow tree and a comforting feeling came over Marianne.

Mimi had brought some charcoal and paper and the two of them went and did rubbings of the ancient tombstones of long dead d’Aubries with grand sounding names. Some of them were so old that Marianne imagined that there was nothing much left of them in the ground. She found it rather poignant that bodies slowly return to the earth after the souls have returned to heaven.

An old man entered the cemetery, along with a young man who had a handsome border collie with a thick and glossy black and white coat at his side. The old man and the young man had similar sunburnt faces, and Marianne guessed that they were father and son. Their sun burnt faces and muscular limbs gave them the appearance of people who had spent a lifetime working outdoors.

Mimi appeared to know them and went over to speak with them. She returned with them in toe.

“Marianne,” she called to her niece, “This is Monsieur Renault. Monsieur Renault, you remember my niece Marianne.”

“Yes,” the old man answered, “But she was a very little girl last time I saw her.”

“Monsieur Renault has a farm near Chateau Aubrey,” Mimi explained, “Your mother helped out there for a while during the war.”

“I don’t think you would remember my son, Gabriel,” Monsieur Renault referred to the young man who had come with him.

“Your mother would bring you with her sometimes,” Gabriel said, “And you would play crusades with my brother Yves, my sister Gillian, and me.”

“Oh yes,” Marianne responded, “I remember that you were horrid and would always knock me over.”

“But you never cried or told on me.”

“No, that wouldn’t have been very sporting of me.”

While Mimi and Monsieur Renault caught up, Gabriel and Marianne were left alone with each other, so they walked among the tombstones and made small talk. She asked him about his family’s farm, a subject which was very important to him and which he enjoyed talking about. He was unsure if she was really interested in their apple orchards or how many head of dairy cattle they had and was dreadfully afraid of boring her. She was politely listening to him without showing either interest or boredom. He saw her as a sophisticated Parisienne, something which was rather intimidating to a simple farm boy like him.

Marianne found this somewhat laughable; she was not sophisticated. Certainly if he were to come face to face with Mathilde or Agnès, he would be absolutely terrified.

She bent down to pat Gabriel’s dog.

“She’s beautiful,” she said, “what’s her name?”

“Her name is Julie, Mademoiselle,” Gabriel answered.

“Marianne, please”

“Mademoiselle Marianne.”

“Good Julie,” she scratched the dog behind her ears.

“You should see her round up our sheep,”

“From what you’ve been telling me, your family’s farm sounds wonderful. I’d like to see it sometime.”

“I would like that very much.”

Gabriel did not know if she really meant that it was just being kind. He assumed she was more complicated than she was and that she spoke a language of innuendo and hidden meanings where you never said what you actually thought for the sake of politeness but other people were expected to understand what you really meant.

Marianne felt that she would like Gabriel if he was less in awe of her. It was her name that was the problem.

The d’Aubreys had been a great family in this part of France and the Renaults had been retainers on the Chateau Aubrey estate for generations. To Gabriel, she was Mademoiselle d’Aubrey, the granddaughter of the master and chatelaine of Chateau Aubrey rather than simply Marianne, the waitress.

Tante Mimi called to her and told her that they were leaving. Marianne told Gabriel that it was nice meeting him and then went to join Mimi,

There was still a little while before their train back to Paris, so they found a café near the Gare de Rouen that was open despite the holiday.

Over tea and gingerbread, they discussed the day they had had.

“What did you think of Gabriel Renault?” Mimi asked her niece, “Did you think he was handsome?”

“I guess, in the Norman way. A strapping, blond farm boy.”

“In what way is Augustin Lerou handsome?”

“Augustin’s hair is dark and it curls. And he’s as slender as a snake. Look at you Tante Mimi, what would Grande-mère d’Aubrey say if she knew you were hoping I would hit it off with the son of one of her old retainers.”

“I don’t know, child.”

“I don’t think she would have cared much. She never really about my mother or me.”

“How could you say that?”

“Wasn’t that how it was? Tante Catharine was her favorite and you were Grand-Père d’Aubrey’s favorite. Everyone loved you and everyone was afraid of Catharine and my poor mother was lucky if anyone said a direct word to her.”

“Did she really tell you that?”

If Madeleine had had any faults, nailing herself to the cross was one of them.

“Your mother’s life wasn’t as bad as all that. She wasn’t alone and unloved and neither, I might say, are you. I know how you are, Marianne d’Aubrey, when things don’t go the way you wanted them to, it’s all woe-is-me and my life is hopeless. That’s just the way your mother was.”

“Why does everyone think I’m my mother?”

“Oh my dear, you can’t be anything but what you are. What you are comes from her; she is as much a part of you as anything. You are loved, child, always remember that.”

An old gypsy woman wearing a woven shawl of many colors like Joseph’s coat in the bible story came up to the tables in front of the café offering to read tea leaves.

“My name’s Madame Drina,” she said to Mimi, “Would you like to have your tea leaves read?”

“No thank you,” Mimi answered

“I would, ” Marianne piped in, “oh don’t look at me like that,Tante Mimi. What could be the harm in it.”

Madame Drina went over to Marianne’s side of the table, the earrings and bracelets jingling as she moved.

“The beautiful young lady certain must wish to know if there’s a husband in her future,” she said.

“I’d like to know anything,” Marianne answered, “As long as it’s good.”

“Then give me your cup, my child.”

She handed her cup to the old gypsy.

“There are bits of tea leaf stuck to the rim of the cup, and a large clump of tea leaves right in the center with two drops of tea near it. The bits of tea leaf on the rim make the shape of a house, a flame, an exclamation point, and a forked line. Soon you will have to make a choice between the life you know and following your desires. The choices you make and the choices others make which involve you will cause you both great happiness and great sorrow. So my advice to you, Mademoiselle, is to beware impulsive decisions, both your own and those of the people around you.”

“Thank you, Madame.”

Marianne took some coins out of her handbag and gave them to the gypsy.

“Bless you.”

The gypsy woman made the sign of the cross over them.

Camille

Augustin retreated into his cell at the end of the day with a newspaper he had managed to get ahold of.  Nights were simultaneously the best and worst time of the day. They were somewhat more quiet and he could be alone with her thoughts but the quietness and solitude came with a feeling of uneasiness, which is why he kept a sort of dagger he fashioned under his pillow.

Time there felt like being in a room where the walls were slowly closing in on him bit by bit so that at first you think you’re just seeing things and you don’t realize that you’re going to be crushed until it’s too late.

Most of the problems he had could be summed up in one word: Camille.

Augustin recalled all the things his superstitious grandmother had told him about the evil eye. It was as if Camille had cursed him with his menacing look to be constantly watched by the evil eye. He knew he was right to be afraid of Camille since he had seen what he was capable of, things he did not want to think about.

In the paper, he read that Faucherie had been sentenced to immediate transportation. They were bringing him down to Marseille at the end of the week and he would go to Cayenne on the next convict ship.

Faucherie’s trial sounded like it had been such a show that Augustin imagined that there had been an orchestra and chorus girls.

He was glad that he himself was not going to be transported to Cayenne. He could not imagine anything worse than being sent to the other side of the world and never seeing Tante Maude, Léon, and Marianne again. Camille and his evil eye did not seem so bad in comparison.

But the worst thing was thinking about how much he had hurt those he loved. One of the most awful parts of being in prison was that he had plenty of time and opportunity to think of what he had done to them. Most of the time, he was one push away from banging on the bars of his cell and screaming like a mad man.

A Carnival in Rouen

Charles remembered seeing Mado again some weeks after her sister’s engagement party at a carnival in Rouen. There was a strong man who was taking arm wrestling challenges and girls selling bouquets of flowers and men selling bags of popcorn and balloons on strings.

He found her riding the carousel in the center of the carnival.

The carousel had a sign on it which read “l’Arc de Noé” and two of every kind of animal you could think of went up and down and around. Mado was seated upon a white tiger like some kind of Indian princess.

“Bonsoir Mademoiselle,” he said to her as he hopped up onto the platform of the carousel.

Mado blushed and seemed embarrassed and ashamed that she had let him kiss her the first time they had met.

“Bonsoir,” she answered, “Charmée de vous voir.”

Though she was embarrassed by her previous breach of propriety, she was glad to see him. They chatted about unimportant little things that had happened to them recently for the rest of the fifteen minutes of her ride. He leaned against the tiger and put his arm around her waist. She blushed but did not seem to mind.

The icy, alabaster faced brunette he remembered seeing at the engagement party approached the carousel looking at them with pinch faced disapproval.

“There you are,” she said to Mado.

“Catharine,” Mado said, ” This is Jamie. He was at your engagement party.”

“Bonsoir,” He had answered. He extended his hand but she turned up her nose at it.

“So, you were letting a man you just met fool with you on the carousel. They should have thrown you off.”

“What is your problem?” He had said this in English because anger  had caused him to revert back to his native language.

She ignored him and turned to Mado.

“If you think I’m not going to tell Maman about this…”

“Yes, go run to Maman like you always do,” Mado responded.

“I guess being fast is the only way a girl like you is ever going to get a man.”

“Who do think you are,” He had but in, “Speaking to someone like that, especially your own sister.”

“I will speak to my own sister however I feel like speaking, Monsieur.”

“Oh, get over yourself, you frigid bitch.”

He had never understood the attraction a constipated cow like Catharine had for some men. He for one would of rather gone to bed with an iceberg; the effect would have been just the same and it would have been a lot less foolish.

When she was gone, he told Mado that he was going to get a couple Coca Colas from a near by vendor and she was to meet him at bench he pointed out in a distant corner of the town square.

With two cokes in hand, he found Mado waiting for him exactly where he had told her to.

“It was nice meeting your sister,” he told her.

“That’s how Catharine is,” she answered, “Whenever anyone’s happy, she has to go and spoil it. No ones allowed to enjoy themselves but her. How silly of me, I agreed to meet you like this and I never asked you what your full name was.”

“James Beaumont at your service, Mademoiselle.”

“Beaumont, are you perhaps related to the Earl of St. Oswald?”

“Not that I’m aware of.”

“May I ask how you came to be at my sister’s party?”

“You know the Marquis of Hartshire, the Duke of Ryme Intraseca’s eldest son?”

“He was at Catharine’s party. Are you a friend of Lord Hartshire?”

“Bless your heart no. But I am friends with his valet. You see I used to work for His Lordship’s father, the Duke, as a footman in his London house. Then I left London for Paris. Lord Hartshire’s valet wrote to me saying that he would be accompanying his master to Rouen and that I should come up and visit him.  We both thought it would be a real laugh if I dressed up in one of his master’s tuxedos and went to your sister’s party.”

“So that’s why you were there, as part of a practical joke.”

“It was a lot more fun than I thought it would be. Now about you, tell me about yourself.”

“There’s not much to say. I have two parents who are like everyone else’s parents, I guess. You met my older sister and I have a younger one as well.”

“Hopefully you get along better with her.”

“Oh no, I absolutely despise her. Mimi’s a nice enough person, but she’s terribly spoiled by everyone and has everything in life too easy.”

“There’s a café near here, how would you like to get some supper and then go dancing?”

“My parents are sending the car to get us around midnight.”

“I can have you back by then.”

“Then yes.”

He took her to the café he described and was torn between wanting to impress her and hoping her tastes were not too extravagant. Then he brought her to a place where there was a ragtime band and he showed her how to do newfangled dances such as the turkey trot and the bunny hug. Mado appeared to be having a greater time than she had ever had.

At quarter to twelve midnight, he brought her back to the carnival.

“Thank you, I had a wonderful time,” Mado told him.  

“Ride the Ferris wheel with me before you go,” he asked.

“Oh no, I’m terribly afraid of heights.”

“Close your eyes and I’ll hold your hand.”

There were still a few minutes left until midnight, just enough time to ride the Ferris wheel. She kept her eyes closed the entire time and he never let go of her hand.

He picked her up into his arms after they got off the ride and kissed her.

“Madeleine,” a voice called to the girl

They were confronted with the calm, dignified form of Claude d’Aubrey, Mado’s father.

“We’ve been looking all over for you,” a delicately beautiful dark haired girl added.

“Goodnight,” Mado said to him as she followed her father and sisters to the car.

“Goodnight,” he answered.

The dark haired girl took Mado’s arm and asked between giggles “Did you like it when he picked you up and kissed you?”

“What do you think?”

“Then tell me all about it.”

He imagined that the poor girl got hell from her parents and older sister when she got home.

Tea at Eleven

Charles recalled this memory as he was driving to St. Germaine with Adèle and Sarah . He told them that they were going to have tea with an old friend of his, a Madame Mathieu. Adèle mumbled something about him having a lot of lady friends she did not know about.

He knocked on the door and came face to face with Catharine Mathieu, who had changed little since he had last seen her. Time had not spoiled her beauty but rather like the ice used to keep produce fresh during shipping, preserved it and made it even more glacial.

“Right on time,” she said to him.

“Hello Catharine,” he said to her.

“Nice to see you as well.” Her reserved gave it away that she did not quite mean this.

“This is my wife, Adèle, and my friend, Madame Brady.”

“Mesdames.”

Catharine’s sister Mimi joined her in the doorway.

“You remember my sister, Miriam.”

“Yes, it’s good to see you again.”

“Come in, come in,” Mimi added.

The two sisters lead their guests into the parlor where three young girls were seated on a sofa. The tallest one was a glamour-puss with a made up face and pin curled hair. The one who appeared to be the youngest had a demure and awkward appearance and Charles guessed that she was not long out of convent school. He could not really see the third girl.

“This is my elder daughter, Madame Danton,” Catharine introduced one of the girls, “And my younger daughter, Mademoiselle Thomas.”

“Madame, Mademoiselle,” Charles said to Catharine’s two daughters.

Then Catharine gestured to the girl sitting on the far end of the sofa.

“And this my niece, Mademoiselle d’Aubrey.”

Mademoiselle d’Aubrey was as rosy and golden as her aunts and cousins were dark and pale. She wore a black dress and her blond hair was arranged like a halo; she out shone Catharine’s daughters like the bright sun out shines the pallid moon.

“Mademoiselle.”

“Monsieur,” the girl responded.

The seating in Catharine’s parlor was arranged in a semicircle made up of two sofas with an armchair at either end.

Poor Adèle, who was seated in one of the armchairs, did not quite fit in with either of the two groups which formed on the two sofas. She was closer in age to the young girls who were seated on one but closer in position to the older women who were seated on the other. Sarah had settled herself with Catharine and Mimi and chatted with them about things which the shared state of matronhood gave them in common.

A smartly uniformed maid came in from the kitchen bringing in several trays of refreshments such as pastel colored macaroons, Madeleines drizzled with lemon glaze and sprinkled with powdered sugar, open faced cucumber and watercress sandwiches, and a caprese salad. Catharine brought in a clear glass teapot with a large flower bud inside and a kettle of steaming water. Putting the teapot where all of the guests could see, she poured the hot water inside, making the flower bud blossom open.

Charles, who was seated in the armchair closest to the door, took a sandwich and a little salad. Though he had never been one to be ashamed of being the only man in a room full women, the overwhelming femininity of his surroundings made him a little uncomfortable.

Adèle was chatting with Mademoiselle d’Aubrey who was seated closest to her. Charles observed the girl who was holding a Madeleine in her hand in a rather nonchalant way and took an occasional nibble. She was a rather curious young woman who appeared to be more of a lady than her cousins and yet carried it off with a tomboyish unfussiness. Like all truly fascinating women, she refused to conform to a type.

“Is that her?” Charles whispered to Mimi, who was seated next to her.

“Yes,” Mimi answered.

“My little girl.”

“Pretty isn’t she?”

“She’s beautiful.”

“She’s very unhappy right now.”

“If she’s unhappy, I don’t want to know.”

Charles figured that love was the cause of her unhappiness because what else could so preoccupy a young girl’s mind.

It was strange to look at this child, who was his own flesh and blood, and see her as a stranger.  A lifetime of experiences he knew nothing about went into making the young woman he saw before him.

Twenty seasons of regret came back to him all at once.

“Marianne, would you bring me the last macaroon,” Catharine said to her niece.

Marianne got up and brought the tray over to her aunt and Catharine took the last macaroon.

“Are those your hands? The palms look so raw and red, I thought they belonged to a housemaid.”

Marianne then began to pick up as many dishes as she could carry.

“What are you doing?” Mimi asked.

“I’m going to clear the dishes. That’s what housemaids do.”

She brought her stack of dishes towards the kitchen.

“Poor kid,” Charles said.

He picked up the rest of the dishes and followed Marianne.

She was standing by the sink and the water was running. When she heard him come in, she turned and looked at him.

“Oh, it’s you Monsieur,” she said.

“I brought the rest of the dishes in.”

“Thank you.”

As she began to wash the dishes, she hummed a tune which Charles recognized.

“East Side, West Side, all around the town” Charles sang in his fine baritone, “The tots sang “ring around rosie”, “London Bridge is falling down”. Boys and girls together, me and Mamie O’Rourke. We tripped the light fantastic on the sidewalks of New York. Sidewalks of New York, I admit it’s not the first thing I would think of a French girl singing.”

“My father used to sing it to me when I was very little.”

“Are you close to your father?”

“He died in the war.”

“Did your mother tell you a lot about him?”

“She told me a lot of fairy tales about how he died fighting for France and how handsome he was. She said that he was the handsomest man she ever saw and made him sound like some sort of film star.”

“I imagine he was.”

“Don’t patronize me, Monsieur.”

“You’re a strange kid, you know that?”

“Since you asked me if I had a father, I’ll ask you if you have a daughter.”

“I do.”

“and what’s she like?”

“I think you know her pretty well.”

“Do I?”

He took her tiny hands in his large ones.

“Listen Marianne, if you were to meet your father today, if he was standing in front of you like I am now, what would you say to him?”

“I don’t know. Are you trying to tell me that…No, no, that’s impossible.”

“Darling…I don’t know how to tell you the truth without shocking you.”

“Go away…leave me alone, you’re scaring me”

“Darling!”

“Don’t call me darling!”

The girl quickly left the kitchen and returned to the parlor, distress evident on her face. Catharine, Mimi, and Sarah appeared to know exactly what had happened, Adèle looked confused, and Catharine’s daughters were indifferent.

Charles told Catharine that it was time for him, his wife, and Madame Brady, to go.

Sarah was dropped off at her lodgings and Charles and Adèle drove back to Neuilly. During the drive home, Adèle was biting her lip as if she was trying to keep something in which was bubbling at the surface. When they were safely home, she let loose with “You should be ashamed, Charles Prideaux. She’s young enough to be your daughter.”

Charles simply answered with “She is my daughter.”

“Don’t be ridiculous.”

“I’m telling the truth.”

“Really?”

“Let’s sit down, it’s a long story.”

He asked Benoît to bring them some coffee and he and Adèle adjourned to the living room.

“Alright, we’re sitting down,” Adèle blew a cloud of smoke from a cigarette she had just lit, “Let’s hear it.”

“Those two women we had tea with today, Catharine Mathieu and Miriam d’Aubrey, had a sister named Madeleine, who was my first wife. She died many years ago, many years before I met you, leaving a daughter, my daughter.

She died of the consumption she had suffered from for years. I had only seen Marianne, our daughter, a handful of times because of the war, and she probably wouldn’t have recognized me if she’d seen me. You remember that I was a prisoner of the Germans during the war.”

“Yes.”

“When I was finally able to come back, Madeleine was dead and everyone believed I had been dead. Her sisters were taking care of Marianne and I figured that she would be better off with them and better off believing the fairy tales her mother told her about me. I had nothing, what could I have done for a little girl.”

“She must be what…seventeen…eighteen?”

“Nineteen years old. A young woman now and I hardly know her.”

“Why didn’t you tell me all this?”

“I didn’t think it mattered. I never thought she’d come back into my life as easily as someone would be invited over for afternoon tea.”

Whodunit

Catharine settled in for the evening with a cup of hot chocolate and the latest Poirot whodunit by Agatha Christie: Lord Edgware Dies.

The situation of the murder’s victim Lord Edgware reminded her the slightest bit of Charles. They were both wealthy men with a thing for art, a grown daughter and a beautiful young wife not much older than her. But she doubted that Adèle had the motive or the brains to kill anyone.

And the grown daughter? Catharine imagined that the day’s events had given her quite the shock.

It had been Catharine’s idea to invite Charles over so he could reveal himself to his daughter. Mimi had objected to this idea, suggesting that they should find a gentler way of telling their niece the truth about her father but Marianne was too old for such coddling. The truth was shocking sometimes and you could not always sugar coat it. Catharine had never been one to needlessly sugar coat things.

Seeing Charles again made her remember the first evening she had met him at the carnival in Rouen.

The three bedrooms which she and her sisters had lived in at Chateau Aubrey were connected by a series of doors. Catharine’s room had a door which opened into Madeleine’s room. Madeleine’s room had a door which opened up into Mimi’s room. Being the room in the middle and able to be accessed the two other rooms, Madeleine’s room served as a meeting place for the three sisters. After returning home from the carnival and getting ready for bed, Catharine had noticed that her sisters were in Madeleine’s room.

Mimi was sitting on Madeleine’s bed while Madeleine herself was standing in front of the large French window which was open and a soft breeze was blowing the diaphanous lace curtains.

“So what was his name?” Mimi asked Madeleine.

“James Beaumont,” Madeleine answered, “He’s a distant relative of the Earl of St. Oswald and is traveling in the suite of The Marquis of Hartford.”

“He’s so very handsome.”

How sweet Mimi was. She wanted so much to share in other people’s happiness. Sometimes she resemble nothing so much as a lovely black spaniel who yipped and jumped up on people and wanted nothing more than to give and receive affection. Madeleine usually pushed Mimi away whenever she tried to be close with her but that night they were giggling together in a way which they usually did not.

“Shouldn’t you two be in bed?” Catharine had cut in.

“Mado was just telling me about her new beau.” Mimi told her.

“Well I think you two better call it night. I’m sure the maids in the attic can hear you.”

“His name is James Beaumont and he’s a relative of the Earl of St. Oswald and he’s traveling with the Marquis of Hartford.”

“Sure he is. If was a gentleman, he wouldn’t have behaved the way he did. And if Mado was a lady, she wouldn’t have behaved the way she did.”

“You’re such a hypocrite, Catherine.” Madeleine said

“At least I don’t have to try so hard to get a man.”

The three sisters then bid each other goodnight and went to their respective beds.

Even then, Catharine had known that James Beaumont was not what Madeleine wanted him to be.

Retribution: Chapters 17 and 18

The Newlyweds 

Marianne had been told to go to Tante Catharine’s instead when she made her Sunday visits that week. Tante Catharine was having a dinner party to welcome back Edmond and Mathilde, who had decided to return home from their honeymoon because they found Atlantic City terribly boring this late in the season. The word was that Agnès had spent the entire sail back sulking in the cabin and was not speaking to her sister. 

Catharine welcomed her daughters and son-in-law into her living room. She gave both of the girls a cold kiss on the cheek. 

“Hello Maman,” Mathilde said. 

“Hello Maman,” Agnès also said. 

“Did you enjoy yourselves?” Catharine asked them. 

“Yes, but remind me never to go to Atlantic City out of season again.” 

At the mention of Atlantic City, Agnès’s face drooped into a bad tempered pout. 

“Edmond, nice to see you again” 

“Likewise Madame,” Edmond responded. He took Catharine’s hand and kissed it. 

Feeling overlooked, Marianne stepped forward. 

“Hello Tante Catharine” she politely said. 

“I hope you are doing well, Marianne” 

Catharine gave the girl a kiss on the cheek which felt like a frostbite. 

“Very well.” 

Mathilde and Agnès chimed in with their apathetic greetings. 

“Hello Cinderella” Edmond added. 

He was giving her a look which Hades must have given Persephone before he dragged her down to the underworld. 

Marianne had believed that she had moved beyond being bothered by Edmond Danton, but now that he was back, he still had the power to disturb her peace of mind. 

As evening fell, the three girls retired to Mathilde and Agnès’s old bedroom to change for dinner. 

“Which one should I wear?” Mathilde said, referring to the two dresses she had brought with her. “Should I wear this little blue tease or should I give them a night they’ll really remember and wear the red?” 

The red was a slinky bias cut which looked like a night dress. 

Agnès, who was arranging her curls in front of the dressing table’s large round mirror, was completely ignoring her. 

“No contest then, the red.” 

For a finishing touch on her hair, Agnès added a light pink rose which matched the dress she was going to wear. 

“Aren’t you getting all dolled up. Too bad Kit Trask won’t be here.” 

Agnès was used to Mathilde trying to get an arise out of her and had learned to ignore her teasing. So she continued with her sullen silence. 

“Who’s Kit Trask?” Marianne asked. 

“A boy we met in New York. He became so smitten with Agnès that he followed us to Chicago and then to Atlantic City, and even proposed to her there. I said “Mr. Trask, my sister is too young to make such a decision and my mother would not approve” and Edmond and I decided to take an earlier boat home. Poor Trask’s father then called him back to Nebraska, or wherever he was from.” 

“New Mexico,” Agnès corrected. 

“She speaks.” 

“You never could stand to see me happy.” 

“It just wouldn’t have done, sister.” 

“His family has plenty of money.”

“But they’re only first generation money,” Mathilde appeared to be parodying her mother “and you have to be at least third generation money to be good enough for a d’Aubrey.” 

“Damn it, I’m not even a d’Aubrey. My name is Thomas and I’m sure any money is good enough for a Thomas.” 

Mathilde lay the red dress across the white chenille bedspread. The blue dress was treated with far less respect; it lay on the floor, tossed aside like old rags. Marianne picked it up, smoothed the fabric, and hung it up on the closet door. 

“You may borrow it if you like,” Mathilde said.”Since you don’t have anything decent to wear.” 

Marianne had brought the dress she wore to the wedding but now she felt ashamed of it. 

“Blue will suit you better, Marianne,” Agnès kindly added. “I have a pair of silver shoes and a silver headband that’ll match.” 

Marianne did not hate her cousins but she did not love them either. They were kind to her when it suited them but most of the time they ignored her. Though only eight months her senior, Mathilde saw her cousin as a child who was too small and insignificant for her notice and Agnés usually followed her sister’s lead. Marianne was wary of their kindness because it was so fleeting and had learned not to get too comfortable around them no matter how nice they seemed. 

Mathilde and Agnès were both seated on the long bench in front of the dressing table. Unlike her sister’s neat pin curls and minimal makeup meant to bring a pretty blush to her pallid complexion and accentuate her eyes, Mathilde wore her hair loose in wild waves and her makeup bold and dramatic . 

Marianne put on the blue dress and went to look in the full length mirror which hung on the closet door.  

“Agnès was right,” Mathilde said,”the blue dress does suit you; you’re both so…sweet.” 

She had gotten up from the dressing table and went over to her bed and fallen back against the ruffled white pillows. 

“I’ll help you fix your hair,” Agnès offered. 

“I’ll help too,” Mathilde joined in. 

Marianne did not know which was to be feared more: Their snubs or Their kindness. 

Mathilde lead Marianne over to the dressing table and practically threw her onto the bench. Agnès brushed and parted her hair. Their three faces hung in front of the mirror in a diagonal line like three carnival masks. Being this close to them, Marianne could see that  their cheeks were a bit slack looking and their mouths naturally turned downwards in overindulged looking pouts. Theirs were haughty, aristocratic faces which never look quite right without chin and nose upturned. 

“You have nice eyebrows,” Mathilde said  then took a pair of tweezers and began to pluck at Marianne’s eyebrows. 

Agnès began to curl her hair after the curling iron had reheated, then twisted each curl and pinned it to her head. 

With the tweezers ripping at her eyebrows and the bobby pins poking at her scalp, Marianne felt like she was being tortured. A part of her wanted to scream out “stop, I’ll tell you everything.” But the torture produced pleasing results. 

Agnès looked pretty and Mathilde looked seductive but Marianne looked beautiful. 

Mathilde took a look at the beautiful Fabergé mantle clock on her dresser and saw that it was time for them to go down to greet the guests. 

Noticing she still had not put on her stockings, Marianne fell behind her cousins. She rolled on her good stockings, the white ones, and attached them to hooks at the hem of her underwear. Then she tied a red velvet ribbon around her thigh by way of a garter. 

The door had been left wide by her cousins and as far as Marianne was concerned, no one was in the hall. But then the door slammed shut and for a split second, she swore there was a shadow outside. 


la Fille Mal Gardeé

That evening was also the opening of La Fille Mal Gardeé at the Palais Garnier and the butterflies in  Adèle’s stomach were dancing a ballet of their own. 

Before the opening, she stood in the wings waiting for her entrance. 

“For you, Madame Martin.” The hushed voice of a girl sent over from a nearby florist said to her. 

She had brought over the usual bouquet of pink rosebuds from Charles along with a single red rose in a box. 

“Who is the rose from?” Adèle asked the flower girl. 

“Don’t know, they didn’t sign the card.” She answered. 

“Bring them into my dressing room.” 

The opening music began to play and Adèle went out on stage. 

From their box, Charles and Sarah watched the ballet begin. Adèle, as the pretty peasant girl Lise, go about her chores and daydream about her lover. She becomes so distracted from her chores that she dances around, twirling a pink ribbon. 

Lise’s lover Colas arrives and they fall into a passionate embrace, which is broken up by Lise’s angry mother. Colas escapes with the pink ribbon as a love token. 

“Adèle’s dancing divinely tonight,” Sarah whispered. 

Sarah was wearing a new white evening dress and there was still something of Laurie Finny’s young bride in the gleam of her eyes and the pink in her cheeks. 

All of the eyes in the boxes turned to look as a woman dressed in black walked into box five. 

“That’s La Thenardier,” the whisper was. 


Edmond’s Jacket 

Marianne made her proud entrance down the main staircase and was met by Tante Mimi. 

“You look stunning,” she said to her niece. 

“I can’t imagine where that dress came from,” Tante Catharine added. 

“Mathilde lent it to me,” Marianne answered. 

“I hope you are grateful.”

“I am.” 

Tante Catharine looked at her with something like a smile to see her wear a beautiful dress. 

“Who’s going to be here tonight?,” Agnès asked her sister as they came into the front room. 

“Edmond’s parents, of course,” Mathilde told her, “and that dreadful sister of his.” 

Marianne thought this was a pretty nasty thing for her to say about a girl who was supposedly one of her best friends. 

Edmond followed them in. He looked Marianne over and said:”looks like Cinderella’s fairy godmother came through tonight.” 

“There you are, Mon Chéri,” Mathilde greeted him. 

She threw her arms around his neck and he kissed her. They then walked into the living room. 

Mathilde liked to show off like this in front of people. She never missed an opportunity to rub it in that she was Madame Edmond Danton. 

Catharine called the two remaining girls forward and informed them, like a general preparing her troops for battle, that there would be many dashing young men from good families there that night and if they were smart, they would take notice. 

When the guests arrived, the party broke into two camps: the mature, frosty, and stodgy camp headed by Catharine who gathered in the drawing room, and the young, shallow, and vicious camp headed by Edmond and Mathilde who had gone over to the less formal living room . 

Marianne’s presence cramped Mathilde’s style as much as if she had been a small child she was obliged to watch her language around. 

Everything Marianne did, such as refusing an offered cigarette and choosing a glass of wine over something stronger, annoyed her. The rest of the party had little interest in Marianne and she had even less interest in them. 

It would have been even more fun to snub her if she was trying to ingratiate herself into their group but instead, she just sat in a chair by the window and watched the street outside. Sometimes Mathilde would pout at her like a spoiled child when someone is not going along with their whims. Her look seemed to say “you’re no fun.” 

Marianne was sorry that she was not being very “fun” but her heart felt much too heavy.   To her mind, she had just been invited so they could ignore her.  But her thoughts were elsewhere. 

“You see that dress my cousin is wearing?” Mathilde said to Solange, Edmond’s oldest sister,”it’s mine. The poor thing doesn’t have anything decent to wear, so I leant her that dress so she wouldn’t embarrass herself.” 

“You’re a saint,” Solange added in a cloying tone. 

“Did you see my mother this evening? She really shouldn’t wear grey, it makes her look like the warden at a women’s prison.” 

“I think your mother is very elegant.” Marianne butt in. 

“Forgive her,” Mathilde whispered to Solange,”She’s seen so little of the world.” 

Marianne brushed off the insult; Mathilde did not matter. 

Sitting by the window made Marianne shiver a little. Chilly evening air was coming in through the window, which everyone else insisted on keeping open, though the season of balmy summer nights was over. She had no interest in the catty gossip of the other girls and wished that she was back at home, sitting by a fire, wrapped up in a blanket with a cup of tea and Johnny curled up at her feet. 

“Brrrr, it’s a bloody ice box in here,” Edmond said,”somebody close the goddamn window.”  

When no one else stepped up, Edmond did the honors himself. 

“Poor Cinderella, you must be freezing,” he said to her. He took off his jacket and offered it to her. 

“Thank you,” she said, putting it around her shoulders. 

Edmond then turned to smile at Mathilde, who was coming over to him. Everyone was expecting and hoping for her to be annoyed at her husband’s display of gallantry towards another woman but she did not seem bothered by it. 

“Always the gentleman,” Mathilde said. 

She threw her arms around his neck and kissed him. 

Everyone there found it satisfying to see the usually bossy Mathilde suddenly become a loving and submissive wife. It was a sign of Edmond’s power over her that she remained unaffected by his flirting with other women and was still affectionate. Perhaps Mathilde was too self absorbed to see what was really going on. 

Marianne breathed a sigh of relief when she was left alone again. It was strangely comforting to have Edmond’s jacket wrapped around her.  The jacket still had his body warmth and the scent of a woodsy, musky, spicy cologne on it. But Edmond was not the man she was thinking of. 

“You’re cheery tonight.” Mathilde said. 

Marianne thought she was talking to her but actually Mathilde was talking to Agnès who was sitting at a tea table writing a letter. 

“I thought only idiots were happy all the time,” was Agnès’s flippant reply. 

“What are you writing?” 

“Nothing.” 

Mathilde snatched the letter and began to read it. 

“You’re writing to that boy from New York.” 

She laughed loudly and shouted that she would show this to their mother. 

“Give that back, Mathilde, or I swear…” 

Agnès chased after her sister and everyone watched with pity less eyes and laughed to encourage Mathilde. 

Tante Catharine, who had been chatting in the hall with Carole Danton, rushed in to see what the commotion was about. 

“Mathilde, Agnès” she said in a firm tone which made the two girls stop in their tracks. 

“Maman,” Agnès whined,”Mathilde took a letter I was writing and won’t give it back.” 

“She’s keeping secrets from you, Maman,” Mathilde explained, “She’s writing to her lover.” 

“Give me the letter, Mathilde,” Catharine intercut. 

Mathilde obeyed and Catharine began to read over the letter. 

“Who is Kit?” 

“Agnès’s cowboy.” 

“Where did you meet him?” 

“In New York,” Agnès answered meekly. 

“In this letter it says that you’ve agreed to marry him.” 

“We decided not to tell anyone until he could come to Paris to make his intentions known to you in person. I love him, Maman!” 

Catharine returned the letter to Agnès.

“You may continue writing to this young man. Never sneak behind my back again,” she told her daughter in a stern voice before leaving the room. 

Agnès took this as a sign that her mother was on her side and continued with writing her letter. 

“Are you going to let Agnès marry Kit?” Mathilde asked her mother. 

“Not yet.” 



Pas du Ruban 

Charles and Sarah watched Adèle and her partner perform a dance called the pas du ruban, where they spun in and out of a long pink ribbon and embraced. 

“I like this ballet,” Sarah said to Charles,”It’s much more cheery than the last one.” 

La Fille Mal Gardée was a rollicking comedy which was a nice break from the melodramas the Paris Opera Ballet had performed before. 

The curtain fell upon the end of the first act when Lise has to hide Colas from her mother and the boorish suitor she is forcing on her. 

“I’m very thirsty,” Sarah continued,”I’m going to get a drink.” 

She opened up her purse to get some money. 

“What are those?” Charles asked, pointing to a wad of photographs sticking out of Sarah’s purse. 

“Pictures of my children.”

“My I look at them?”

“Certainly. I’m going to the bar now.” 

Charles began to look through the photographs and came to one he recognized. One of a baby dressed in a baptism gown dated 1914. 

“Sarah, where did you get this,” he asked her when she returned. 

“You sent it to me years ago.” 

The lady in box five began to whisper with a gentleman who had come in during the first act. Those near them were curious and watched and wondered what they were talking about. The whispering and curiosity continued throughout the second act. 


What Being Friendly Means 

When no one was looking, Marianne snuck away to the library to be alone with her thoughts. She did not think that anyone would even notice she was gone. 

It did her good to get away from those people. There was something cold and empty in their eyes and they seemed to care about nothing but their own amusement, which was usually at someone else’s expense as poor Agnès had found out. 

Marianne sat down on a worn and comfortable old love seat and kicked off her borrowed shoes which were too big for her. Agnès did have big feet. 

Now that she was alone, she could continue her train of thought in peace. 

She had read about Augustin’s arrest in the paper. He had committed a crime, he deserved to be in jail, and the only problem she had with it was that she missed him. It was foolish to keep thinking of him but what else could she do? 

Why did he have to be so stupid, and more importantly, why did she have be so stupid also? She felt like she had been even stupider than he had. She had been stupid enough to trust him in the first place. 

Her train of thought was broken by the sound of footsteps coming into the library and then by Edmond’s mercilessly charming smile. 

“I didn’t mean to disturb you,” he said “we’ve run out of cigars and I was told that your aunt kept some in here.” 

He was lying; he knew that Catharine kept the cigars in a humidor near the liquor cabinet . 

Edmond began to walk around the library looking for anything which might contain cigars. Marianne sat completely still, like someone who was trying to avoid being attacked by a serpent. 

“Don’t be afraid,” he said with a laugh as he slithered over and sat down by her side. 

Marianne suddenly realized how small and close the loveseat was and how useless it was to try to move farther away. 

“I don’t want to be afraid,” she told him. 

“You don’t have to be.” 

“They’ll be expecting you with the cigars.” 

“Let them wait, I want to talk to you.” 

“About what?” 

“About everything that’s happened and how I’m sorry for whatever I did to make you scared of me.” 

“I feel like I’ve grown up a little over the summer and now I think it’s silly to be scared.”

“So, can you forgive me?” 

“Yes.” 

He took her hand and kissed it. 

“I hope we can be friendly, Edmond” 

He touched her chin with his hand. 

“You don’t need to be afraid anymore.” 

Edmond leaned in and kissed her, pushing her onto her back with one hand up her skirt . She abruptly sat up. 

“Edmond, what are you trying to do?” 

“What do you think?” 

“I thought you just wanted to be friendly.”

“What did you think being friendly meant?” 

He pulled her close by her shoulders, pushing down one of the straps of her dress, and kissed her neck, again pushing her onto her back with a hand  up her skirt. 

“Stop, you’re hurting me!” 

Edmond then stopped his advances. He smiled at her as if they both shared some naughty secret and left the room laughing which frightened Marianne even more than if he had been angry. 

She got up and smoothed her skirt which had been pushed up, exposing the skin between her knickers and her stockings. 

“I can’t go back to the living room,” she thought, “not if he’s there. He and Mathilde are probably laughing about me already. I’ll tell Tante Mimi that I have headache and then go home before I’m humiliated further.” 

At the news of the headache, Mimi advised Marianne to have some ginger tea and go straight to bed. 

“You wouldn’t get those headaches of yours if you got more fresh air,” said Catharine, who was always in excellent health and never could understand how anyone could be otherwise. 

Both of them did not even suspect what had really happened. At least Marianne was not lying about the headache; she always got headaches when she was stressed. She could not tell them the truth because it would be just her word against Edmond’s and he could always deny everything. Worse, he could tell everyone that she was the type of girl who could be seduced by her cousin’s husband which would break her aunts’ hearts. 

On her way out, she caught her reflection in a mirror and a made-up and unfamiliar face looked back at her. 

When she got home, she sat down at her dressing table and wiped off her makeup. She looked into her mirror and saw that one half of her face was done up with makeup and looked like one of Mathilde and Agnès’s friends, shallow and vicious. The other half was bare and looked pale and tired.

Yawning, she finished washing her face and took the pins out of her hair. 

From the hallway came the pitiful fussing of a sick baby. Louise Verte was standing out there, rocking and trying to soothe Baby Jacques, who was sick with a fever and a rash. 

“Poor darling,” Marianne said when she looked down at Jacques’s blotched face. 

“I’m waiting for Dominic to come back with the doctor,” Louise told her, “oh, what a beautiful dress.” 

“Thank you.” 

“Where did you go all dressed up like that?” 

“To a party at my aunt’s.” 

“Oh, how was it?”

“It was a very nice party.” 

“Was that all? I bet there were lots of handsome beaux?” Jacques began to cry and Louise tried to soothe him “I know, I know. Papa will be back soon.” 

“Dozens.” 

“Was that young man from last spring there?”

“Yes and he was as charming as ever.” 

“You must of had a wonderful time.” 

“It was all very…overwhelming.” 

“What, dresses and handsome beaux? What I wouldn’t give to be overwhelmed by them.” 

Dominic came up the stairs, accompanied by an old doctor with a kindly wizened face who was carrying a black bag. 

“This must be our little patient,” the doctor said when he looked down at the feverish infant. 

The Vertes bid goodnight to Marianne and then went back into their flat with the doctor. Marianne then took Mimi’s advice and had a cup of tea then went to bed. 

In The Commissariat 

Augustin paced back and forth in his cell. He did know what day it was or whether it day was day or night because it was very dark in the cell block of the Fifth Arrondissement Commissariat. 

A clock and a calendar hung on the wall at the other end of the room but Augustin could not see them because his eyesight was not very good at a distance. He did not even know how long he had been in his cell. The days in there all seemed to blur into one. 

If only he could figure out the date or time or whether it was day or night. 

Augustin lay back down on his cot and stared up at the ceiling with a blank expression. He had not thought about much lately. Sometimes he thought about Tante Maude and Lèon and how they were doing. He did allow himself to think about Marianne. It was painful to think about his family but it was unbearable to think about her, so it was better not to. 

All there was for him to do was stare at the ceiling and hope that his trial would come soon. 

“There’s a young lady to see you, Lerou,” a guard said to him in a sneering tone. 

Behind him stood Marianne. The guard walked away with the same sneer on his face, leaving them alone. 

“You’ve got five minutes, Mademoiselle.” 

“Marianne, how are you Chérie?” Augustin said to her. 

He reached through the bars of his cell to take her into his arms but not to kiss her. He buried his face in her hair and undid some of the buttons on the back of her dress so he could breath in the clean, sweet, and wholesome scent of her skin and hair.

In this embrace, he felt her heart beat and the rising and falling of her breathing. It was amazing how much vitality there was in that little form.  

Then he let go of her and looked upon her fresh young face. The summer sun had brought out the gold in her hair and the freckles on the bridge of her nose. 

“”I can’t stop worrying about you,” she answered. 

“I’ll be alright, don’t you worry. Enough about me, what have you been up to?” 

She could tell that he wanted her to chatter pleasantly to him to take his mind off of everything and so that’s what she did. 

“We’ll, last Saturday my aunt had party. My cousin Mathilde let me borrow this beautiful dress she brought back from New York and it was all very lovely. A lot of my cousins’ friends were there and..” 

“And you were showing yourself off for all those rich boys.”  There was a surly bitterness in his voice. 

“That’s unfair.” 

“You’re better off with one of them anyway. Listen Mademoiselle Marianne d’Aubrey, how would you like to be able to walk into a restaurant at the Ritz Hotel wearing a nice dress, that you didn’t have to borrow from Cousin Mathilde, and have everyone wait on you. You would like that wouldn’t you? Well,  you deserve much more than that, you’ve got a right to it. ” 

Marianne appeared confused by his words. 

“You could get yourself a rich man, you know that?”

Her expression seemed to say “you’re not making any sense, please stop it.” 

“I have something for you,” she said, reaching into her apron pocket. 

“What is it, Chérie?” 

She put a delicate chain into his hand. It was threaded through a silver ring set with a winking red stone. 

Augustin undid the clasp of the chain and put it around her neck then kissed her on the forehead. 

“You keep it. You don’t want anything to happen to it.” 

“Time’s up,” the guard butted in. 

Marianne’s eyes looked hurt and angry as she said goodbye to Augustin. She felt that he was not serious about her and had only ever been toying with her. 

Augustin had not meant to hurt her and was sorry that he had but it was all for her own good. He had meant everything he’d said about how she deserved better. She deserved a good man who could take care of her and give her a good life. 

When she was gone, he continued pacing back and forth in his cell like a caged animal and thought about what lay in store for him. Things did not look good for him, especially without her. 

“Get a good night’s sleep, Lerou,” the guard ordered him,”you’re going to La Santé tomorrow.” 

The Girl On The Right
The chill of autumn came unexpectedly at the beginning of October after the unseasonably summery weather they had received that September.  It was only then that people noticed the leaves changing color. 

Paris seemed to have dozed off in the September heat and woken up to find herself several weeks later. 

On a rainy October afternoon, Charles sat down in his living room with a tumbler of cognac and the newspaper. Not much in the news interested him. People were still talking about the arrest of Bruno Faucherie and there was talk of transportation to Cayenne. Charles had taken an interest in this story since he had been there when Faucherie had been arrested. 

When he does with the newspaper, he picked up the copy of Les Miserables he was reading. He was at the part where Jean Valjean finds out about his daughter Cosette’s love for Marius. Something about this touched him in a bittersweet way. 

The clicking of heels could be heard on the the tiles in the foyer. 

“Welcome home Madame,” Lucille the maid said to Adèle, who was taking off her hat and raincoat. 

“Thank you Lucille” 

“Can I get anything for you?”

“A cup of hot chocolate would be lovely.” 

Lucille left to go to the kitchen and Adèle went into the living room. She came over and sat next to Charles. 

“How was rehearsal?” he asked her. 

“Exhausting,” she answered, “I dropped by Charlotte’s on the way back. The measles are going around and both of her girls have it. Good thing Charlotte and I both had it when we were little. Alexandre is staying with a friend until the danger has passed.” 

The photograph Charles was using as a bookmark caught Adéle’s attention. It was of three well dressed young women standing on a perfectly manicured lawn. In the background was a modest sixteenth century chateau of white stone with round turrets with grey cone shaped roofs. In the corner was written the date 1911. 

“I recognize that chateau, it’s not far from where my parents live. It’s called Chateau Aubrey. Did you know those women?” 

“No, this is an old print from a fashion magazine that I found. You know how they sell old prints in those vendor’s stalls by the river?” 

“I like the girl on the right the best. The one in the center looks too haughty and the one on the left looks too insipid.” 

The three young women in the picture were all dressed in white frocks and sun hats. The girl on the right stood out because of her lighter hair; the other two were dark haired. She did not have the perfect features that the other two had but her wise, wistful eyes and kind, gentle smile were lovely and made her face radiate with prettiness. 
Catharine and Madeleine
Catharine was also spending a quiet evening at home, sipping hot chocolate and flipping through an album of old photographs. 

The first photograph was of her as a seventeen year old debutante dated 1903. Then next was an equestrian photo of her taken in 1911, when she was twenty-five. She would marry George Thomas later that year and her wedding picture came after the equestrian one. 

Catharine thought about something she had overheard two women who were old friends of her’s say at the party she had thrown the month before when they had thought she was out of earshot. 

“Do you know who the blond girl in the blue dress is?” one of them asked the other, “that’s Catharine’s niece. Her mother was Catharine’s sister, the one that died some years ago. Poor thing, she was always overshadowed by her sisters.”

“Well, I don’t think many women could have competed with Catharine in her prime.” The other woman added. 

“I never understood what men saw in her. She was always such a cold, awful woman.” 

Catharine had just shrugged her shoulders and ignored it. She had always known that there were few people who actually liked her. 

Speaking of Madeleine, there was a picture of her at age nineteen dated 1909. It was almost uncanny how much Marianne looked like her at that age. Sometimes she felt that Madeleine’s ghost was haunting her through her daughter. 

Catharine compared the pictures of herself as a young woman to a photograph of Mathilde which hung on the wall.  Mathilde took after her but there was not the uncanny resemblance between Marianne and her mother. Looking at Mathilde was like looking at an image of one’s self done by a caricaturist. All of the faults Catharine had as a young woman were exaggerated in Mathilde. She had been stubborn and bossy and used to getting her own way. Many hapless suitors had earnestly devoted themselves to her in her youth and she had treated them all horribly and ended up marrying the worst of the lot. But Catharine had never been as nihilistic and focused on cheap thrills as Mathilde was.  

The only good thing about her had always been her beauty and now that she was an old hag, she had little to offer the world. The years had humbled her somewhat and had made her wiser. 

Next to Madeleine was a picture of Mimi at age sixteen dressed in a blue evening dress. Mimi had arguably been the prettiest of the three of them and had been the petted baby of the family. She had been their good natured father’s favorite while Catharine had been the favorite of their formidable mother. Not much had been left for poor Madeleine who had never quite fit in and it had been so easy to bully her. 

On the next page was a photograph of the three sisters at a party celebrating Catharine’s engagement to George Thomas. That night, Catharine had viciously mocked Madeleine to the point where she burst into tears. But that had also been the night when a dashing young man named James Beaumont had come into her life. 

Madeleine’s face looked back at Catharine from a distance of twenty two years as if to say “I’m having the last laugh.” 
La Santé
“A letter for you Lerou,” a guard had said to Augustin. 

Now he was sitting in a corner of his cell reading said letter. He did not recognize the handwriting on it but he recognized it’s scent. The paper had been sprayed with a perfume which smelt like lilies and honey; light and sweet and subtle. 

“Who’s the letter from, Augustin? Your maman?” a prisoner in a cell near his, a thin, pale young man with a gaunt face, called to him, “Little old Augustin misses his maman.” 

Augustin ignored him. He would never admit it but he was afraid of the other prisoners, anyone with any sense would be, but  he sure as hell would never let them know. 

“Dearest Augustin,” his letter read, “I’m sorry I haven’t been able visit you yet. Between shifts at the café and taking care of Manon, I haven’t had much time for anything.  Manon has the measles that are going around and since I had it when I was a child, I offered to take care of her. Also, I’m trying to limit my contact with people for fear I might spread the disease. 

A few weeks ago, I went to visit your Tante Maude and Léon. Both of them are very worried about you miss you dreadfully. Léon is being brave and is a great comfort to your aunt; you would be very proud of him. He and your aunt are sweet people and I’m fond of them already. That was the twenty-ninth of September, Saint Michael’s Day, and on my way home I made a wish at the St Michel fountain. 

I never wanted to miss you but now I feel like I would visit you every day if I could. I don’t know what to do, I can’t bare being apart, and I can’t imagine what it’s like for you there.

The papers say that your friend Faucherie may get transported to Cayenne. I’m glad you weren’t bad enough be sent there; I think I would die if you were that far away. Warmest Regards, Marianne.” 

Augustin folded up the letter and stashed it in his shirt. 

That evening at dinner, the gaunt faced young man again teased him about his letter.  When Augustin told him to mind his own goddamn business, some of his cronies held him while he pulled up Augustin’s shirt to get at the letter, which he read aloud. Augustin spat in his face and was given a black eye. 

At night, Augustin tried to stay awake as long as he could like a child who was afraid of having nightmares, but he was very tired.  He had been able to get a hold of some paper and a pen and decided to write back to Marianne. 

“Chérie,” he wrote, “It’s frightening and lonely here and when I read your sweet letter, it made me feel less afraid and alone. I can’t bare having all these insane types around me all the time and I can’t think straight. I’ll write more tomorrow after I’ve gotten some sleep.” 
Manon
Marianne went to visit Manon after work somedays days later, bringing a pot of bouillabaisse which Madame Océane had made and a bottle of rosé. She found Manon sitting up in bed sewing when she arrived. Manon was over the worst of her illness but her luminous white skin but was still covered in blotchy red rashes. 

“There you are, girl,” Manon said when she saw Marianne coming through the door. Her soft voice was hoarse and she coughed.  

“Madame Océane made you some bouillabaisse,” Marianne told her. 

“Tell her thank you.”

Marianne put the pot on the stove to reheated the fish stew and opened up the bottle of wine. 

“How is Anna?”

“Jean is hanging around again and she’s still blind.” 

“Jésu, if he doesn’t say something to that girl, I will.” 

A tray containing two bowls of bouillabaisse and two glasses of rosé was brought over to the bed and was placed on top of the quilt. Over supper, the two girls laughed about stupid things Mathilde and Agnés had said and done. Marianne told the story of Mathilde and some of her friends going to get their hair bobbed. 

“Back at school, Mathilde would not shut up about it. She kept saying,” Marianne switched to a perfect imitation of Mathilde’s whiny soprano voice “I think it looks very modern. I’m glad women no longer have to suffer the drudgery of being slaves to their hair.” 

Manon burst out laughing. 

“It was ridiculous. Mathilde is about as iconoclastic as Notre Dame. “It’s you,” I told her, “I thought a bald monkey had gotten into your clothes.” “You’re a child, what do you know?” She said. I whispered under my breath “Mademoiselle Capuchine” and she called me a witch. Tante Mimi was angry with me for what I’d said, but she’s never said an unkind world about anyone her entire life.” 

When they finished with supper, Marianne gathered the bowls and glasses and went over to the sink to wash them. 

She went out to the water pump in the courtyard to fill a bucket of water for washing. While it was filling up, she took Augustin’s letter out from the bodice of her dress and read it over yet again; she had read it countless times since it had arrived. 

The bucket began to overflow and Marianne quickly had to turn it off. 

“What’s that you got there?” Manon asked her when she came back with the bucket of water, referring to her letter. 

“A letter from Augustin.” 

The two girls shared a smile and a giggle. Manon and Anna were the only two people who knew about Augustin and Marianne was grateful to be able to talk to them. 

Sitting back down on the bed, Marianne read the letter and Manon’s usually placid face became serious. 

“It’s a terrible place, that prison,” she said “I wouldn’t want to spend one night there let alone who knows how many years. People die in there all the time. They get sick or get beaten to death or the go mad and do the dirty work themselves. Not that I worry much for my brother Camille, as far I’m concerned the place is too good for him.” 

Johnny, who had been sleeping on the bed the entire time, curled up at his mistress’s side as if sensing her distress. 

“I better go wash those dishes.” 

Manon felt bad for worrying her friend but it had been necessary to warn her. 

“Thanks for all you’ve done for me.” 

“You’re my best friend, it’s the least I could do.” 

Closing In 
Officer Desmarais came into Café La Premiere Étoile the next afternoon. He sat down at his usual table and ordered a cup of coffee. 

“I’m going to Montparnasse after work,” a pretty blond waitress said to the girl who was waiting Desmarais’s table. 

“What’s in Montparnasse?” The other girl answered. 

“La Santé Prison.” 

“You’re going to visit Augustin?”

“I need to see him and know he’s alright.” 

“I’m sure he is. Isn’t his trial soon?”

“Yes, it’s in a week.” 

“That’s quick.” 

“Apparently, the powers that be want the criminals from the jewelry store robbery dealt with as soon as possible.” 

“That’s good, you won’t be waiting much longer to find out what’s going to happen to him.” 

“I guess.” 

Desmarais got up from from his table and went over to the tobacconist counter. 

“Who is that girl?” He asked Madame Océane. 

“Which one?” She answered. 

“The fair one.” 

“Is she in any trouble?”

“No, I’m just curious.”

“Her name is Marianne d’Aubrey. Pretty isn’t she?” 

“Yes.” 

“An orphan, poor thing. But she’s got two rich aunts that live in St. Germaine. Good girl from a good family. Better than some of the little hussies I’ve had work for me.” 

“I heard her talking about someone named Augustin. Could he be Augustin Lerou, one of Faucherie’s gang who was taken in for that jewelry store robbery?”

“I think so, I’ve heard her giggling about him with the other girls. He’s made quite an impression on her.” 

“Is that so? Well, thanks for the information, Madame.” 

The impression Desmarais got was that Marianne d’Aubrey was a nice girl who had gotten mixed up with someone she should not have. Her loving aunts deserved to know that she’d been seduced by a dangerous criminal, so they could protect her. 

Off of St. Michel was a narrow street lined on either side with dreary brick buildings with walls covered in many years worth of soot and grime and dirty and darkened windows. The pavement was full of potholes which filled up with rainwater to form black and muddy puddles which stank of garbage and always were there, even in the driest of weather. At it’s far end was an ugly, crumbling, three story building with a facade of decaying shutters of a rain faded black and grime clouded windows hung with rags. 

Rooms there were cheap and some of them could be rented by night or by the hour, which made them very popular with girls like Marie and Cerise, who rented a corner of the garret. Most of the other attic rooms were used by an old gypsy woman who made a living telling fortunes and conducting seances. 

Marie pushed back the frilly white curtains, the only clean thing in the room, to look out of the dirty garret window. It was almost evening and she would be back out on the streets again soon. 

Over on the bed, Cerise was laying on her side with a yellowing pillow over her head, still groggy and irritable and wearing the dirty eyelet slip and torn silk stockings from the night before. Once in a while she would moan in discomfort. 

“What are you doing?,” Cerise asked Marie. 

“Looking out the window,” Marie answered. 

“Why?”

“I don’t know.”

Marie came and sat down on the stained mattress of the day bed across from Cerise’s bed. 

“You better get up, we should get ready for work.” 

Cerise gave an irritated moan. 

“Suit yourself.”

Marie pulled a small bag full of makeup and a mirror out from under the daybed. The reflection which looked back at her while she was doing her make up was of a faded, buck toothed, creature and not the seductive girl she tried to imagine. She had never been pretty but night after night of boozing and quickies in alleyways had really taken their toll on her appearance. 

Neither she nor Cerise could remember a time when they had not lived like this. Both of them had sprung up in the Paris slums like weeds through sidewalk cracks and had been letting their knickers down since age twelve. It had never occurred to either of them that life could be any other way. 

It had rained for most of the day but the rain had stopped by evening. The rain soaked city let out a damp and stinking smell. Marie decided to ply her trade at the St. Michel metro station, where she was picked up by a man who paid her to suck his cock on board a metro car. He stood, holding onto one of the handrails, while she opened his trousers and began pleasuring him. 

He came about two or three minutes later when they reached St. Sulpice. 

Marie got off at St. Sulpice and loitered by a stairwell waiting for her next pick up. A devastatingly handsome young man with fiery eyes and smooth blond hair sticking out from his hat approached her. 

“Good evening, Monsieur,” she said to him. 

“Excuse me, Mademoiselle,” he said to her, his voice was a gravelly tenor, “Do you see that girl over there?”

He was referring to a blond haired girl in a yellow dress and greenish-brown cape whom Marie did not recognize. She had thought she knew all the girls who picked up in this part of Paris. 

“Bet she’d cost you more than a few sous. Frankly I think it’s past her bedtime.” 

The young man reached into the breast pocket of his shirt and took out some money. 

“Here’s money for the metro. I want you to follow her and find out where she’s going. When you’re done, come find me at the café across the street,” He pinched her cheek, “And if you’re a good girl, there’s more where that came from.”

Marie took the money. She did not see the harm in it, all she had to do was follow some hussy around and see where she was going.  The money he had given her was about as much as she made in a night and there was more to come. 

Frankly, she did not see why he was interested in the blonde. She looked like a little goodie-goodie and could not possibly be going anywhere that  interesting. 

The girl got on the next train which she took to Montparnasse. Marie followed her to-of all places-La Santé Prison. She stopped and thought about who she knew that was in there and came up with Anton-le-Basque. 

“You have five minutes, Mademoiselle,” the guard said to her as she was brought into the cell block. 

“Nice to see you, Marie,” Anton greeted her, “to what do I owe this pleasure?”

“I thought you might be lonely.” She answered. 

“You’re a sweetheart, you know that?”

They had not seen each other in few weeks and they spent a few minutes catching up. 

The blonde was standing in front of a nearby cell talking to a wiry boy with curling dark hair. His large green eyes lit up to see her. 

“I’m glad you came today, Chérie,” he said. 

“I needed to know how you were doing,” the blonde to him, “You look so pale.”

“I just haven’t gotten much sun lately. This place ain’t exactly San Tropez.” 

“If this place is San Tropez, they can keep it.” 

She stood up on her toes and leaned in through the bars to kiss him. He snaked his arms through the bars and around her waist. 

“So that’s what it looks like, love?” Marie said wistfully. 

“Wouldn’t know, never tried it,” Anton responded. 

“Do you know that type?”

“Yes, his name is Augustin Lerou.” 

“Time’s up, Mademoiselle,” the guard but in. 

“Be careful tonight, Marie.”

“Don’t need to. I’m keeping my knickers on tonight, thank you very much.”

Marie too the metro back to St. Sulpice found the handsome young man at the cafe across the street. 

“So,” he prompted. 

“She got off at Montparnasse and went to La Santé.”

“Who did she go to see?”

“Some con they’ve got locked there.” 

“Did you catch his name?”

“Yes, it was Augustin, Augustin Lerou.” 

The young man took some more money out of his pocket and gave it to her. 

“Good girl.”

n After the tart had left, Edmond ordered himself another glass of crémant d’Alsace brut and lit another cigarette. The more he thought about it, the more the name Augustin Lerou seemed familiar to him. He must have heard it somewhere, in the papers, in relation to some jewelry store robbery everyone was talking about a month before. 

So little Cinderella was fooling around with a convicted jewel thief. 

Augustin was able to get a shower and a shave in that night which did him some good. As he was shaving in front of the mirror in the shower room, he saw the reflection gaunt faced young man, whose name he found out was Camille, pass by him, sneering. 

At first he had thought that Camille was just your average thug and that he could handle him but the more he saw of him and heard about him, the more he began to think that he was much worse than he had thought. It was said that he had set fire to his house when he was a kid and the fire had killed his entire family, aside from his little sister, whom the firemen were able to rescue. More disturbingly, it was said that he did unspeakable things to unfortunate fellow inmates he caught alone in the showers, just to show that he could. 

The black eye Camille had given him was healing but was still fairly noticeable. He wondered if the dim light in the cell-block could have hidden it, because Marianne had not said anything about it. The last thing he wanted was to upset her and get her worried. 

Back in his cell, Augustin took out his pen and paper to write his letters. One was for Tante Maude and Léon, assuring them that he was alright and taking good care of himself. The other was for Marianne. 

“Chérie,” he wrote, “Remember that first time you came to see me, and I told you that you deserve to be able to walk into the Ritz wearing a nice dress and that you would be better off with one of those rich boys at your aunt’s house? Well, I meant every word of it. See you today, kissing you and holding you in my arms, made me remember how much I want you for myself, but I’m willing to let you go for your own good. I’m going to be here for who knows how long and it would do to have you waste your life as well.

Someday, I hope to read in the paper that you married a prince in Notre Dame, wearing a dress with a train as long as the Champs Élysées. But remember this: if you do meet a prince and he loves you with all his heart for the rest of his life, he still could never love you any more than I do.” 
Aiden Murray

On a brisk morning about a week later, a young American sat at his kitchen table, not thinking about anything in particular and drinking cup after cup of coffee and smoking cigarette after cigarette. When it was time to go to work, he bid goodbye to his wife and ten year old son and left his apartment on the Rue de la Montagne-Sainte-Geneviève. 

At thirty-three, Aiden Murray was a stout but good looking man of Irish ancestry, being the first generation of his family born on American soil, with large blue eyes and hair that was a light reddish brown in the winter and a deep ruddy gold in the summer. 

He had come over to France with the first wave of doughboys back in 1917.  He had been barely seventeen at the time but could have passed for older.  When the war ended, having fallen in love with a French girl and not seeing any reason to come home, he decided to stay in France, where he did pretty well for himself as a freelance journalist.

That day one of the newspapers that regularly employed him, was sending him to cover a trial. The story seemed straightforward to him: some young punk was going to be found guilty of a crime which he committed and was going to serve a jail sentence which he deserved. 

The case was brought before the Court of Appeal at the Palais de Justice. A dark haired lad of twenty was brought out. He looked pale, thin, and sleep deprived. There was the faintest trace of a bruise over one of his eyes. But he stood there looking brave and stoic during the entire trial. 

“Look how young he is,” the crowd whispered about him. “He’s got a face like a baby.” “You can still smell his mother’s milk.” 

The trial moved swiftly and efficiently and Murray took notes throughout. The defendant’s name was Augustin Lerou and he was twenty years old. He was born in Algiers. His parents had not been married, his mother being some Algerian slut his father had quickly abandoned. His Algerian  nature had lead him into a life of crime at an early age and he had a history of pick pocketing and petty theft, the culmination of which being the theft of several items of clothing from a clothing store near the Pont Neuf called Bien Habillé which included a grey wool men’s suit, a silk men’s shirt, a red paisley tie, a grey hat, and a women’s chiffon dress. 

Seeing the young man’s “talents” could be useful to him, Bruno Faucherie had sent his mistress, Hélène, to get him to enlist in his gang using her dark arts of…umm…persuasion. Being seduced by Hélène, Lerou agreed to be apart of the robbery of the jewelry store, L’Oie D’Or on the Boulevard St. Germain  which resulted in the shooting and severe injury of it’s owner, M. Bijoutier. Several days later, Lerou and fellow gang member Anton-le-Basque were arrested at Le Monstre, a rowdy and disreputable dive off of the Latin Quarter. 

Murray guessed that the popular mood was against Augustin Lerou and the defense did not stand a ghost of a chance. In a blink of an eye, the jury returned a verdict of “guilty” and the judge read the sentence. 

“Augustin Lerou,” the judge read, “You have been found guilty on one count of robbery and one count of accessory to robbery. You are sentenced to serve ten years for the first count and another five for the second count. That’s a total of fifteen years.” 

With the pounding of the judge’s gavel, fifteen years in the life of someone barely out of their teens were thrown away.  

A woman sitting among the spectators got up out of her seat and ran towards Augustin as he was being taken away and had to held back. She was a small, matronly lady with glasses and her mousy brown hair in a prim bun but it was as much as the guards could do to hold her back. 

“My boy, ” she wept hysterically. 

“I’m sorry Tante Maude,” Augustin said. 

A petite blond girl stepped forward to try to comfort the boy’s aunt. She turned to Augustin and said “I love you.” 

“I love you too, Chérie,” he responded calmly. 

“I think this sends out a strong message,” said the chief prosecutor whom Murray had asked to give a statement “that in difficult times like these, no criminal behavior of any kind will be tolerated. Augustin Lerou will be in La Santé prison for the next fifteen years.” 

Retribution: Chapters 15 and 16 

An Evening at The Movies 


One evening in the beginning of August, Augustin took a walk in the Jardin du Luxembourg. The weather was very hot and he went over to a basin to drizzle cupped handfuls of water on his head. 

To further escape the heat, Augustin went to a near by movie theater because it was air conditioned. Standing in the lobby, he noticed three girls, Marianne, Manon, and Anna, come in and buy tickets for 42nd Street and the popcorn and cokes. 

Marianne was wearing the dress he had given her and looked as sweet and pure as a girl could look in a stolen dress. Manon and Anna were admiring the dress and asking where she got it. 

“It was a gift” she said

“From who?” Manon asked

“I don’t know  but I have my suspicions. I think this dress is an early name day present” 

Marianne noticed Augustin there and gave him a smile which radiated the features of her face and made him feel as though there was no one else in the world she had wanted to see more. A gentler creature never seemed happier to be alive. 

She did not suspect that he had been the one who had sent her the dress but instead believed that it was a gift from some unknown benefactor. What if she did know he had stolen it for her? She certainty would not look at him the way she did then. 

Manon and Anna also noticed Augustin was there and began to tease Marianne as they walked into their movie. 

Sneaking in with a crowd of people going in to see King Kong, Augustin bumped into an acquaintance of his. 

“Anton” he whispered

“Lerou” Anton-le-Basque whispered back. 

“What have you been up to?”

“Not much”

“It’s too bad about Friquet. I heard about him from his daughter.” 

“Yes, it’s too bad.” 

Augustin smiled a little bit to himself because Friquet had it coming. 

“Did you hear about that clothing shop on Saint Germain that was robbed. Someone threw a rock at the window and climbed in through and took a suit and a dress.” 

“No I didn’t.”

Obviously he was lying and Anton’s catlike smile showed that he knew it. Little was secret in the circles they ran in. 

“Do you think I’m simple or something? A suit is stolen from a shop and voila my old friend Augustin is wearing a new suit. And a little blonde I saw in the lobby was wearing a dress like one that was stolen from said shop. Is she a girlfriend of yours?” 

Augustin was hesitant to answer. He did not want someone like Anton le Basque knowing about her. 

“You certainly have good taste and not just in clothes I mean” 

The two young men took their seats in the theater and the newsreel began to run. More crime, more dust storms, more breadlines, more political squabbles. It seemed like the world was getting worse and people were getting stupider or crazier or some combination of both. One did not have to be cynic to feel some lack of hope for the future. A Bettie Boop cartoon then lightened the mood before the picture started. 

“Listen” Anton whispered under the opening strains of the movie’s score “have you heard of a type called Faucherie?” 

“No” Augustin answered 

“He’s a lucky bastard. It’s said that he’s the lover of Mademoiselle Helene” 

“Yeah, what about him?” 

“He’s said he’s getting a gang together to do a job” 

“What’s the job?” 

“A jewelry shop near Place Saint Sulpice” 

“What are you telling me this for?” 

“I thought you might want in” 

“That’s a little beyond my level” 

“Don’t act so innocent. Listen, everybody’s going to get a cut and you can even take something for that little blonde of yours.” 

It was this reference to Marianne that tempted him. An image of him putting a string of diamonds around her neck came to his mind. 

But it was also this image of Marianne that told him “don’t do it”. 

He had been told that there were two types of dangerous women: the kind that made good men want to be bad and the kind that made bad men want to be good. Marianne was dangerous because she was the latter. He could almost hear her voicing saying to him “swear, swear on whatever it is you hold sacred that you won’t do it.” 

But another voice, a soft, secret voice, said “Do this one job. One and that’ll be it”. He could not tell if that other voice was Anton-le-Basque whispering into his ear or the proverbial devil on his shoulder or the proveriable “devil you know”. 

The siren song of salvation was as frightening as it was attractive. It’s calm, level headed tone spoke of putting the nonsense of the past behind him and being good. He wanted to be good if not for his own sake than for Marianne’s sake but being good was the “devil you don’t know”. 

When the movie ended, he and Anton le Basque walked out together. 

“So what’s it going to be?” Anton asked him “In or out”. 

“I swear” Augustin thought to himself “I swear on whatever it is I hold sacred. One job and that’s it” 

Normandy 


Several days prior, Charles Priedieux’s Ford pulled into a small Norman town around lunchtime. 

The Norman town was an hour and a half drive away from Paris through the countryside along the Seine. It was almost too picturesque to be real. Buildings of ivy covered stone and stucco with shingle roofs and shutters along with rose bushes and hollyhocks lined narrow winding streets which all converged on the center of town where a thirteenth century church stood. Charles’s Ford followed these streets towards the edge of town to one of it’s largest houses. 

This house was a charming pink stucco with large windows and green shutters. It was encroached upon by a large flower garden, more like a riot of blooms in every shape, size, and color which the multitude of arbors did little to stop the advance of. 

The Ford pulled into the garage and everyone inside it stepped out. A pleasant looking couple in late middle age were waiting for them by the front door. 

Jules was the first to greet them. 

“Hello Maman” he said to the woman as he embraced her “hello Papa” he shook the man’s hand. 

Mère Martin was kissed on the cheek by her daughters Charlotte and Adèle and embraced by her sons in law Charles and Alexandre. Charlotte and Adèle embraced Père Martin, who Charles and Alexandre then shook hands with. 

“You’re just in time” Mère Martin said “lunch is almost ready.” 

Père Martin picked up Charlotte’s little daughters, kissed them on their pretty heads, and carried them inside. 

The inside of the Martin house was charming. The rooms were cozy but airy and done up in bright, cheerful, pastel colors and old furniture. Spread throughout the rooms were Père Martin’s collection of Japanese prints and Mère Martin’s collection of Chinese porcelain. 

Lunch was set up in the dining room which was done up in shades of yellow and consisted of mackerel in a mustard sauce served with mashed potatoes. To drink, they were given cider from a nearby orchard. The label said “Chateau Aubrey”. 

“Chateau Aubrey, is that the white sixteenth century mansion with the turrets not too far from here” Charles asked Adèle

“That’s the one” Adèle answered 

“There’s some rich American woman trying to buy the place from the Academy of Architecture” Pere Martin added “It belonged to a very old family that used to live around here. When the last owner died, his family couldn’t afford the upkeep of such a place, so they left it to the Academy to meet the fate of other such buildings, to be bought by a rich foreigner.” 

“It’s a shame.” Mère Martin joined in.

After the mackerel, there was an apple tart and coffee for dessert. When the coffee was finished and the cups were still warm, a shot of calvados was added. 

Charlotte offered to help Mère Martin with the dishes. Jules took Aimée and Desirée out into the garden to play tag and Alexandre and Père Martin retired to the living room for cigars. Adèle took Charles to see the lily pond that was nearby. 

The lily pond was at the end of a lazy, willow tree shaded stream. It’s best vantage point was the wooden bridge at one end which earlier in the season had been laden with wisteria. Beyond the trees, one could see fields with large bales of hay, pastures with cows grazing in them, and roads lined with hedgerows and wild flowers. 

“Isn’t this lovely?” Adèle asked him “it was my favorite place to play when I was little” 

“Lovely” Charles answered. 

Charles had seen something of the carefree world his wife had grown up in and how much it contrasted with his own childhood on the streets of New York.

“We should get back to the house. We still have over a hour until we get to Deauville and we have to check into the hotel by 4:00” 

They walked back to the house and joined the rest of their party and said goodbye to Mère and Père Martin. 

“It’s so hot” Charlotte said. She took a white hand fan out of her handbag and began to fan herself “I can’t wait to take a dip in the pool” 

The Wedding Dress


The weeks of August passed as usual for Marianne. Days which consisted of getting up early and coming home late, and trying to smile though she her mind and body were tired. As usual, she went with Tante Mimi to church one Sunday. On there way to Saint Sulpice, they passed a shop window with a mannequin wearing a wedding dress. Marianne stopped in her tracks to admire it. 

It was made of cream colored silk and lace and ruffles and had long trumpet sleeves and a long train. The mannequin wore a delicate lace veil held in place with ivory pins shaped like roses. The entire outfit looked like something a fairy tale princess would wear.

“Beautiful” Tante Mimi said when she looked at it. 

They continued on there way to Saint Sulpice. They were a bit early; the previous mass had not yet come out. So they waited out in Place Saint Sulpice. Marianne went to stand by the fountain while her aunt went to talk with an acquaintance of hers. She sat down on the rim of the fountain’s basin. 

A group of churchgoers had set up stations in Place Saint Sulpice from where they handed out soup and sandwiches to throngs of poor people who were descending upon them: grim faced men, haggard women, and scrawny children. Demand quickly overran supply and these poor people scrambled to get what they could before it disappeared. The weather was warm and humid and the main issue was thirst rather than hunger but some enterprising individuals among the ranks of the poor solved this problem by selling glasses of water and citron presse on street corners to thirsty passers by who were eager spend their sous. One man had a cart from which he sold vanilla ice cream. 

Among this crowd around Saint Sulpice was Augustin who had been in the area and having noticed a familiar black dress and white hat with a purple ribbon followed it. 

“I can’t stay long” Marianne said to him when they found each other.”I’m going into mass soon and Tante Mimi is expecting me.”

He grabbed her around the waist and kissed her. 

“what are you doing?” 

“Giving you something to be penitent about” he says “my beautiful, pious lady” 

Marianne blushed and smiled and pushed him away when she saw Tante Mimi coming. 

Inside the church, she took her seat next to her aunt in one of the chapels. While they were waiting for mass to begin, Marianne asked Mimi why Tante Catharine had originally wanted her to be a nun. 

“I think she was just trying to protect you” Mimi said “Your Tante Catharine means well and only wants what’s best for you” 

Marianne believed that because of Matilde’s transgressions, her aunts expected her to be doubly pure. A nun in family made up for a slut. 

The opening music began to play and Mimi and Marianne stood up to sing the words “Jubilate Deo! Cantate Domino!”. Marianne understood that they words meant something like “sing to God! sing praises to the Lord!”. She knew a few words and phrases in latin which she had picked up during her convent days. What she liked about mass was the beautiful music that was played. She also liked to listen for pretty verses from the bible. The readings that day were about helping the poor such as Luke 3:11 ” And he would answer and say to them, “The man who has two tunics is to share with him who has none; and he who has food is to do likewise.” Then there was a sermon about how though times were hard, you must not turn away from Christ because in times like these Christ makes his presence known. This elicited eye rolls from the family who was elbows deep in debt, the man whose business went bust, and the mother who could barely afford to feed her children since her husband left the family. 

After communion, they kneeled in front of their seats in prayer. Marianne enjoyed this part of mass because it was peaceful and quiet and she could be alone with her thoughts. 

Augustin had left Saint Sulpice and went back the way he had come and passed by the shop where the mannequin wearing the beautiful wedding dress stood in the window. Kissing Marianne had made him feel bold and reckless. 

How silly she acted around her Tante Mimi. Tante Mimi looked younger and more beautiful than the somewhat fuddy-duddy maiden aunt Marianne had described. He liked her and hoped she would like him if she knew him. 

Augustin had come to this part of town to meet with Anton-le-Basque who he found waiting for him in a near by alley and giving him his characteristic cat like smile. By him stood the voluptuous figure of a beautiful girl with rippling dark hair which contrasted dramatically with her white skin and deep blue eyes. 

“I’m Hélène” she said smiling a frank smile “I’m a what you call it… an emissary for Monsieur Faucherie” 

Augustin had been stopped in his tracks; Hélène was even more blindingly beautiful up close. She had bold features enhanced and exaggerated by makeup, an aquiline nose and a soft, sensual mouth. There was something cynical and haughty but nonetheless enchanting in her expression. And her speaking voice rivaled even her singing voice for it’s siren quality. The innocent golden haired prettiness of Marianne was seen and admired but Helene’s dark beauty was seen and never forgotten. 

But then it struck him as odd that this Faucherie character had sent his mistress in his stead. Anton did not question it, Faucherie knew what he was doing. 

“Hélène, this is my friend Augustin Lerou” Anton told the beautiful emissary. 

“Pleased to meet you, Monsieur Lerou” Hélène said 

“The pleasure is all mine, Mademoiselle” Augustin answered. 

“I like that suit of yours. I remember seeing a tie like that in shop once.” Hélène gave Anton-le-Basque a knowing look which told that he had already briefed her about the affair of the clothing shop. “All it needs is a nice tie clip” 

Hélène briefed the two young men on Faucherie’s plans for the hiest. Augustin could not take his eyes off of her. She had utterly charmed him and he would do whatever she, or Faucherie, told him to do.


Mon Ami Me Delaisse 


The last few days of August blurred into the first few days of September. On these days, the sun rose behind a cloud of reddish mist to greet dusty and oppressively hot days. Heat waves could be seen at street level and the dusty wind did little cool things down. 

During these days, Marianne made her way to the nearest laundry holding her basket of clothes. The laundry was a flat roofed building with a large tank at it’s side which was always surrounded by milky clouds of steam and puddles. It’s second story was enclosed by shutters, some of which were open to let out the steam. 

In the entrance room, Marianne purchased a bottle of bleach, a bag of soda crystals, and a wash brush before going into the main room, a large damp room with large windows fogged up with steam and hung with linen drapes. Sunlight came through the windows and made the steam look opalescent. It smelt of steam, bleach, and sweat and rang with the sounds of women washing and gossiping. 

Marianne went to one of the tubs which stood in two rows along the center and turned on the hot water tap and put in the soap and bleach before her load of clothes. Some of the other washerwomen began to sing. 

“Mon ami me délaisse, 

Ô gai, vive la rose, 

Mon ami me délaisse, 

Ô gai, vive la rose, 

Je ne sais pas pourquoi, 

Vive la rose et le lilas, 

Je ne sais pas pourquoi, 

Vive la rose et le lilas. ” 

After her clothes had soaked, Marianne rubbed them one by one against the washboard then hung them on the metal racks over the tubs. She began to sing along with the other women. 

“Il va-t-en voir une autre, 

Ô gai, vive la rose, 

Il va-t-en voir une autre, 

Ô gai, vive la rose, 

Qui est plus riche que moi, 

Vive la rose et le lilas,

Qui est plus riche que moi, 

Vive la rose et le lilas.” 

Marianne’s dress became soaked. The puddles on the flagstone floor went right through her shoes and stockings and the steam put beads of moisture in her hair and the work made sweat run down her forehead. 

“On dit qu’elle est plus belle, 

Ô gai, vive la rose,

On dit qu’elle est plus belle, 

Ô gai, vive la rose,

Je n’en disconviens pas,

Vive la rose et le lilas,

Je n’en disconviens pas 

Vive la rose et le lilas” 

The sky outside had been inky black with thick clouds. A clap of thunder was heard, then there was a flash of lightening, and then a grey sheet of rain which made the gutters overflow and the puddles bubble. Over the sound of the rain, the washerwomen still continued to sing. 

“On dit qu’elle est malade, 

Ô gai, vive la rose,

On dit qu’elle est malade, 

Ô gai, vive la rose,

Peut-être elle en mourra,

Vive la rose et le lilas, 

Peut-être elle en mourra,

Vive la rose et le lilas.” 

Out of the rain came Augustin looking pale and grim. Through the steam, he saw Marianne at her washtub. Her sleeveless dress and the work she was doing showed off her fine white arms to advantage. She was singing. 

“Et si elle meurt dimanche, 

Ô gai, vive la rose,

Et si elle meurt dimanche, 

Ô gai, vive la rose,

Lundi on l’enterrera,

Vive la rose et le lilas, 

Lundi on l’enterrera,

Vive la rose et le lilas. ” 

One of the washerwomen noticed him and said “what are you running from?” and then continued singing with the other women. 

“Mardi il reviendra m’ voir, 

Ô gai, vive la rose,

Mardi il reviendra m’ voir, 

Ô gai, vive la rose,

Mais je n’en voudrai pas,

Vive la rose et le lilas, 

Mais je n’en voudrai pas,

Vive la rose et le lilas.”

He went over to where Marianne was washing her clothes. She noticed him and looked happy to see him. 

“How did you find me here?” She asked

“I went to your building and Papa Verte told me you would be here” he answered “I have something I need to tell you” 

“What is it?” 

He was hesitant to tell her because she did not suspect at all what he was about to tell her. 

“C’mon. Spit it out” He whispered into her ear the entire story of his involvement in the jewelry store heist and how he had just narrowly escaped the flics. 

“No!” Marianne cried “oh my god”. “I’m sorry” he responded “Is that all you can say? “I’m sorry” “I knew you wouldn’t understand. You don’t understand because you’ve not been free. You live the life you do because you chose it, not because you’ve never had any other choice.” 

“I thought you were a man, not some thug” 

He raised a hand and slapped her across the cheek. 

“Don’t you ever talk to me like that again, Chérie” 

She slapped him back with more ferocity. 

“Don’t you touch me like that again” 

He felt bad for everything he had done. He had never wanted to hurt her like this. 

“Is there I anything I can do to get you to forgive me.” 

“Turn yourself in” 

“No, what the hell are you talking about?” 

“Turn yourself in. Listen, you only played a small part in that robbery and you would only get what…a year in jail. That’s not so bad. And when you get out, all of this will be behind you. You’ll finally be free.” 

“Don’t you understand, I’ll never be free.” 

Marianne did not know what to say after that. 

He felt that his actions were pushing him away just as she had begun to trust him enough to come closer. Augustin had never hated himself as much as he did at that moment. The only thing he could do was walk out. 

“My advice to you, kid, is to stay far away from that boy?” One of the washerwomen said to Marianne. 

“Trust me, you’re better off without him” another said. 

Marianne knew that their advice was sensible but was easier given then followed. 

Champagne and the Stars. 


Charles Prideaux and his family were spending the final day of their trip to Deauville at the beach. They had filled up picnic basket with sandwiches, pastries, fruit, and bottles of wine and put them into Charles’s Ford along with beach chairs and umbrellas. 

The weather was unbearably hot with no clouds or shade and the beach seemed the only sensible place to be. 

They found a spot on the beach and set up their chairs and umbrellas. An exhausted Charlotte fell into her beach chair. Alexandre popped open a bottle of wine and poured her a glass, the poured a glass for everyone else. 

“Thank you very much” a parched Adèle said to her brother in law. 

“There’s a party tonight” Charlotte began “at the Hotel de Torhilde beginning around nine o’clock. I’ve heard a lot of people are going. It’s supposed to be the last big party of the season” 

“Were we invited?” Jules asked

“Julot, you know how these parties are. Nobody’s ever invited, they just show up” 

Later Jules took Aimée and Desirée to build sandcastles at the shoreline while Adèle, Alexandre, and Charlotte went to walk along a sandbar that being exposed by the receding tide. 

Charles stayed behind to read the newspaper. Nothing much in the news interested him, except for a story about a robbery at a jewelry store. The escroc and king of Parisian nightlife, Bruno Faucherie, and an accomplice identified as Anton-le-Basque were responsible. There was said to have been a third member of the gang, an unknown young man who had worked as a lookout. Fifteen hundred francs had been stolen and a clerk had been severely injured by a shotgun fired by Le-Basque.

Charles’s attention was taken away from the newspaper by the sight of a fresh faced young blonde running past him pursued by her lover. The lover caught her in his arms and she laughed with delight. 

Charles smiled; the sight of young people enjoying themselves always brought a smile to his face. 

In the evening after Aimée and Desirée were put to bed, the adults got ready to go to the party at the Hotel de Torhilde. The day had been hot but the morning had been chilly with the first winds of autumn and the evening promised to be chilly as well. There was something of the approach of winter in the amber evening light. 

Charles’s Ford brought them to the Hotel de Torhilde. A huge tent had been set up in the gardens and the trees and shrubbery were wrapped in lights. The Ford was parked on the gravel drive and it’s occupants stepped out into the crisp, starry evening and went to mingle with the crowd. 

All eyes were on Charles and Adèle as they walked in; they had the appearance of people one should pay attention to. 

“Isn’t that Charles Prideaux?” a young heiress whispered to her escort. 

“That wife of his certainly is attractive” an English duke said to a business associate “but what about him? He doesn’t seem French, doesn’t he” 

“I’ve heard he’s really English or German or something” the business associate answered “and he’s a third cousin to King George V” 

“And second cousin to the devil” 

Charles was well aware that people were gossiping about him. As the consummate man of mystery he was used to it. 

In the center of the gardens was a dance floor and a bandstand where a swing band was playing. Alexandre lead Charlotte out to dance the foxtrot. 

“Would you like dance?” Charles asked his wife. 

“Let me have a drink first” Adele answered. 

Waiters in white jackets and black bow ties made the rounds carrying silver trays of flutes of champagne and glasses of gin cocktails as well as assorted hors d’oeuvres. Charles grabbed a gin cocktail for Adèle and himself. 

“That Adèle Martin certainly is a looker” a well known politician said to a notorious escroc. 

“I’ve heard she’s not the only wife he’s ever had” the girl on the escroc’s arm said. 

“Oh really?” 

“I heard he was once married to some girl from Rouen but she died before he met Adèle, so it’s all alright” 

The band began to play Duke Ellington’s Mood Indigo. Charles had Adèle finished their drinks and went onto the floor to dance. 

As midnight approached, it grew chilly and the guests went into the ballroom inside for hors d’oeuvres. The ballroom made a large round extension of the main building and a ring of French doors lead inside. The walls and floors were a rosy color and the crystal chandeliers gave off a pale but warm light. The crowd, already in various states of intoxication, gathered inside and clustered into groups. The band set up and began to play again. Gold and silver dancing shoes and beaded chiffon evening dresses shuffled across the shimmering floor and swayed and shimmied to the music. 

Charles had lost interest in the party. He had been to and enjoyed his fair share of parties like these but now there was something pathetic about them, like a lame attempt at being cheerful when times are bleak and trying to deny that anything was wrong. At times like these, people who can want to play their music and laugh louder and try to drown out the world 

At the far end of the ballroom was a painting of a Viking maiden dressed in white with a golden helmet and breastplate. A leather headband crossed her brow and long fair braids fell down her back. Charles went to over to read a brass plaque by the side of the painting. The painting depicted Torhilde, a legendary Viking warrior princess who was known for her beauty and ferocity in battle, for she was famous for fighting in battle along side her father, brothers, and lover. Many Norman families claimed descent from her. 

Piercing shrieks came from the swan like white throat of a beautiful young woman as delicate and languid as a flower loaded with marabou and blue diamonds whom the whisper going around said was the well known dancer Ninon. She had been startled by the arrival of several officers from the local police. 

The crowd parted like the Red Sea to reveal a handsome and well dressed man; vigorous and in the prime of life. Bruno Faucherie, for that’s who it was, gave them a charming and cocky smile and lifted his champagne glass to them. 

As he was being cuffed, Faucherie still maintained his cocky demeanor. This was nothing to him, he could bide his time. Even if he did go to prison, someone would be there to bust him about before long. 

Confrontation 


Augustin woke early one Tuesday morning a week into September. The dim light coming in through the skylight was enough to disturb his sleep. 

But he was not quite awake. He was in a half awake, half dreaming state where his eyes were open and he was conscious but was seeing things that he knew were not real. 

He saw the faces of Tante Maude and Léon looking weary and worried. Tante Maude sighed, heartbroken that the boy she had done all she could for had turned out the way he had. Léon tried to hide his disappointment in the cousin he had looked up to as an older brother. 

Then he saw the face of Marianne; her hair loose, her cheeks flushed, and a look of patient waiting on her face. Her expression seemed to say “I’ll wait for you, I’ll wait forever”. 

If only she would forget him, if only he could forget her. 

He had hurt those who loved him but they had always deserved better. 

Augustin put on his good suit when the sun went down and went for a walk. A shabbily dressed urchin with an adorably ugly face covered in dirt and freckles stood at the street corner peddling the evening edition of Le Figaro. The headline talked about new developments in the jewelry store robbery case. Bruno Faucherie had been apprehended at party in Deauville but Anton-le-Basque was still on the loose. The police were also still looking for the unidentified third accomplice. A description of him had been given by witnesses to the crime and he was said to be a young man in his early twenties; tall, dark haired, and handsome with a very pale complexion. 

Augustin’s heart raced and skipped beats but he tried to appear unaffected by the news and continued on his way. 

He wound up at Le Monstre and a sign announced that Mademoiselle Hélène would be singing that evening. After finding a table and ordering a drink, he noticed a girl walk in and sit down at a near by table. It was a pretty brazen thing for her to do; nice girls did not walk into places like Le Monstre by themselves. 

He recognized her right away. 

Marianne’s eyes were fixed on him but she was trying not to make it look obvious. She had come there looking for him but seemed unwilling to make the first move. 

He did not know if he should go over to her and hear what she had to say. Did he want to hear it? He suspected that she had come to tell him that her aunts had forbidden her from seeing him again, or worse still, that she had come to the decision not to see him on her own. 

She was sitting just a few tables away from him but appeared far away and unattainable. 

“Good evening, Mademoiselle” Augustin said to her when he finally decided to go to her. 

“Good evening,” she answered. 

“May I sit with you?” 

“I guess.”

He was sitting by her side; his knee was touching her’s and her cheeks were flushed with the same excitement that had been there that night in the Jardin du Luxembourg when their knees had first touched. 

Despite everything, he still wanted her. 

They were after him and his instinct was to run, run far away. And if he was going to run, he wanted to carry her off with him, that is if she wanted to go. 

But why would she? 

If he were to go to her aunts and tell them that he was taking their niece away with him, they would probably call the flics on the spot and he would end up behind bars anyway. 

“Are you thirsty?” 

“A little.” 

“Bring us a couple cokes” he said to a waiter. 

“I’m glad you’re alright,” she said to him, reaching over to softly touch his hand. 

“I’m glad you’re here” he stroked her soft cheek with his finger. 

Then she moved her hand and her knee back towards herself. 

The lights went down and the master of ceremonies introduced Mademoiselle Hélène, who appeared on stage dressed in a black evening dress. She sang a warning to girls not to give away their love too cheaply; that mister right is always the man with the most money. 

Augustin noticed a figure come in looking apprehensive. When the figure came into the light, he was revealed to be Anton-le-Basque. 

Getting up, Augustin said to Marianne “You’ll be fine here, Marianne d’Aubrey?” 

She nodded Yes and he went over to talk with Anton-le-Basque. 

“Good evening,” he said. 

Anton turned around and looked a bit startled. 

“Good evening,” he answered. 

“You look a little on the edge.” 

“There’s flics outside.” 

“Flics?” 

“I don’t know but somehow they figured out I was on my way here.” 

“There’s a back door. You can sneak out that way”

“No. I want you to get out of here, quickly” 

“Me, why? No one knows I was involved, so I’ll be alright.” 

Before Anton could argue, policemen burst through the front entrance, startling everyone. 

“Stay right here,” Augustin said to Marianne. “I’ll be back once the coast is clear.” 

He and Anton quickly made for the back door but found that it was blocked by policemen, as were all the other exits. 

“Go out this way” Anton whispered; he kicked open a side door which had previously blended into the wall. “Go, go ahead.” 

“Me?” Augustin answered. 

“Like you said, they don’t know you were involved. They’ve cornered me, I’m done. You can still get away.” 

Augustin began to bolt out the side door but one of the policemen spotted him. 

“Where are you going?” He said “get him.” 

They chased him up a dark, narrow, and winding staircase and out into an alley. 

“There he is!” another policeman shouted. 

They cornered him up against a wall and put handcuffs on him. 

Back inside, Marianne was still sitting at the table, feeling confused. 

“I never expected to see you here” a familiar gravelly tenor voice said to her. 

“Edmond?” She responded. 

Edmond Danton was handsomer than anyone Marianne had ever seen before; she thought he looked like an archangel. He was exceptionally tall, six foot at least, and to Marianne, who had always been rather short, he seemed towering. His physique was slender and graceful but spoke of great strength. A beautiful, if somewhat androgynous, face was surrounded by a halo of fair hair and fiery eyes looked down at her. 

“Who the hell you been seeing who’d bring you to a place like this? What would your aunts say?” 

“What are you going to do, tell them? And I came by myself, I’m allowed to do that.” 

“I wasn’t going to tell them, that is if you let me walk you home.” 

“Alright.” 

Marianne asked someone what had happened to the boy the police were chasing. 

“Don’t know, Mademoiselle,” they said.

“Why should he interest you?” Edmond asked. 

“I just wanted to know what the fuss was about.” 

Walking home, he told the highlights of his trip. About Nice, Monte Carlo, New York, Chicago, and Atlantic City. 

“How did Mathilde like it?” was all she could say.

Retribution: Chapters 13 and 14

Late Morning Brunch


On Bastille Day, Adèle rose late. When she awoke, she noticed that Charles had already gotten up. The white curtains on the large window had been pushed back and there was a tray of coffee and pastries on the pouffe in front of the large round mirror. 

The clock on the bedside table read that it was almost eleven which was when Charlotte and her family were coming over for brunch. While Adèle was waking up, she helped herself to the coffee and pastries. 

Quickly, she dressed in a pink print frock and ran a brush through her hair and then went down stairs. 

Charles was waiting for her in the livingroom. 

“Good morning” he said to her. 

“Good morning” she answered 

“I think I hear Alexandre’s car pulling into the driveway” 

A few minutes later, Charlotte and Alexandre arrived at the door with their three year old daughters Aimée and Desirée who were little versions of their mother. 

“Tante Adèle” they cried as they ran inside and over to their aunt to hugged. 

Adèle hugged them both and kissed them on the forehead. 

Charles noticed the wistful look in his wife’s eyes when she looked at her nieces. Adèle had always wanted children but had a deformity of the uterus which made it likely that she never would. 

Servants brought out trays of pastries, sausages, and omelette aux fines herbes as well as pitchers of citron presse, mimosa, and Bloody Mary. 

During the three years they had been married, they had Adèle’s family over for brunch every Bastille Day. Adèle wondered why none of Charles’s relatives, he must have some somewhere, were never invited over on holidays. 

What Happened On The Pont Des Arts

Earlier that morning, Marianne had woken up to find that her period had begun. She rushed to the water closet to put a Kotex sanitary napkin in her underwear. 

She remembered the first time she had gotten her period vividly. It had not been long after she had arrived at the convent and an older girl, Pauline, had helped her out. Pauline had been a rarity among the older girls who had been more likely to try to tease or scare her. 

After the arrival of her first period, she had certain questions to ask. The two most obvious people to ask had been the two nuns, Soeur Baptistine and Soeur Blanche, who looked after the dormitory. Soeur Baptistine had been a tall, slim, waxy complexioned creature with bulging blue eyes, a pinched nose, and an appearance of the utmost sanctity and had seemed more likely to know how to fly than to know the answers to her questions. Soeur Blanche, who though she had seemed the more earthy of the two , would likely have told her that such questions were sinful, and made her say three Ave Marias, four Pater Nosters, and go to confession

In the end it had been Tante Mimi, the only person she could really ask, who had answered her questions. 

After taking care of her issue, Marianne went and put on her new dress and admired herself in front of her mirror. This new dress was a far cry from the ugly and ill fitting uniforms of the convent days. She brushed out her hair and arranged it, adding a red ribbon for a finishing touch. After prettying herself up for Bastille Day, she took Johnny for a long walk to the Pont des Arts. 

The sun had risen on Bastille Day to the accompaniment of firecrackers and the strains of La Marseillaise. The weather was perfect, warm but breezy, and sunny but with plenty of shade. 

When she passed by one of the vendors stalls along the river, a young man in a grey suit tipped his hat to her. 

“Good morning, Mademoiselle” he said, removing the hat. 

With his hat removed, she could see the face of Augustin smiling at her. 

“Good morning” she answered 

He came over to her and kissed her. 

“Happy Bastille Day” 

A street singer began to sing La Marseillaise “Allons enfants de la Patrie, le jour de gloire est arrivé !” 

The young couple crossed over the Pont des Arts with Johnny following closely behind his mistress. Halfway across the bridge, Augustin stopped and reached into his pocket. 

“I have something” he said 

What he took out of his pocket was a padlock and a key. 

“Take a look” 

He gave the padlock to Marianne and she examined it. Painted on it were the names Augustin and Marianne. 

Augustin put the key in the padlock to open it, then fastened it to the side of the bridge, closing it again with the key. The key was then tossed into the river. 

Marianne blushed. 

They continued their way across the bridge and walked to the Louvre. Inside, they found their way to the Grand Gallery where they passed a few pleasant hours running up and down the length of the gallery or sitting on a bench admiring the art. Neither of them knew much about art but they both had an instinctive appreciation for beauty. 

Augustin admired La Belle Jardinière, a painting by Raphael of a beautiful golden haired Madonna dressed in red and blue and gold sitting with two chubby, nude little boys. Turning his head to look back at Marianne, he noticed that she was wearing her hair in a way similar to that of that the Madonna: pulled back by a thin red ribbon and plaited. Noticing that he was looking at her, she gave him one of her radiant smiles. She was not joyful, she was joy itself. Her smile said “it should always be like this”. 

The Two Presents of Charles 


The evening as he and his family were sitting down for dinner, Charles stepped aside for a moment saying that he had a surprise for Adèle. 

“I wonder what it is” Charlotte whispered to Adèle, who was anxiously awaiting her husband’s return. 

Charles went up to his office where two large canvases were placed up against the wall. One was a medieval painting of a maiden asleep in a garden overgrown with ivy and white roses. Her endless golden hair was out all over her cushioned stone bed and she was lying partially on her side with one arm dangling over the side of the bed. 

This painting was meant to be a present for Adèle to celebrate her triumph as Princess Aurora in Sleeping Beauty. 

The other painting Charles had bought simply because he fancied it. It was Renaissance piece, done by an Italian master influenced by Raphael. The subject was a young woman holding a small unicorn in her arms. She was dressed in a light green gown with a coif decorated with beading and gold braiding pulling back her wavy golden hair. Around her neck was a necklace with a pendant shaped like a seahorse. 

For some reason this young woman’s face fascinated him. It was fresh and youthful and though not what one would call classically beautiful, it was definitely a face one would want to look at. The artist had captured a radiance in her fair skin and the grey-hazel eyes that looked boldly at the viewer which made her beautiful. On one of her hands was a silver ring set with a red stone. The artist had caught a wink of light coming from the ring. 

Charles had even given her a name: Lady Lucrèce because her wavy golden hair and deceptively angelic expression reminded him of portraits he had seen of Lucrezia Borgia. He had decided to keep this painting for himself and hang it in his office next to his reproduction of Raphael’s La Belle Jardinière. 

After grabbing the painting of the sleeping maiden, he went back out onto the terrace to present it to Adèle. 

“oh Charles, I love it” Adèle exclaimed. 

“I’m glad. It cost me an arm and a leg” Charles responded. 

“Where should we hanging it?”

“I was thinking the bedroom, right above the bed”. 

He gave her a kiss on the lips and she put her arms around his neck. 

Charlotte lifted her glass for a toast

“To Charles and Adèle. To La France and to Marianne” 

“Marianne?” Charles asked. 

“Yes. Marianne, liberté” 

A Carnival In The Jardin Du Luxembourg


In the late afternoon, a carnival began in the Jardin du Luxembourg. Augustin and Marianne found themselves there after the Louvre. 

Another young couple passed them as they came in. 

“Jules, Clare” Augustin called to them. 

“Happy Bastille Day” Jules answered. 

Jules and Clare walked up to them. 

“Marianne” Augustin said “this is Jules Martin” 

“And this is Mademoiselle Clare Allard” Jules said, introducing his lady friend. 

“Pleased to meet you” Clare added 

“Likewise” Marianne answered 

After introductions, they walked into the carnival together. They made their way to where a café had been set up and sat down at a table. 

In due time, a waiter came and asked them what they would like. 

“Whiskey” Augustin answered 

“I’ll have whiskey too” Marianne added

“Put some soda in hers”

Augustin could not imagined that she had ever drank anything stronger than communion wine in her life. 

He talked politics with Jules over drinks. Jules’s talents with drawing and his interest in politics had earned him the post of cartoonist for a student run socialist newspaper. Like most socialists, Jules was suspicious of the current radical government, believing that that they sided too much with the conservatives and fascists. Especially so since the fascist governments in Germany and Italy came to power. These were tense times and anyone who knows anything about French history will know that tense times in France mean one thing: up go the barricades. 

“Let the damn fascists build barricades” was all Augustin could say, somewhat dismissively. 

To him the government was an irrelevance, too busy arguing amongst itself to be of any use. 

Marianne had been listening in on the men’s conversation. Her Tante Catharine, who along with Tante Mimi had been an active member of the The French Union for Women’s Suffrage for years, would have said that the government would not be in the mess it was in if women could vote. It seemed strange that a modern country like France had not yet granted women the right to vote when women in other modern countries had been able to vote for a decade. 

“What do you do?” Clare asked Marianne. 

“I waitress at La Premiere Étoile, near the Jardin du Luxembourg” Marianne answered “and you?” 

“I serve drinks at Le Paradis, near Place St. Michel” 

The conservation was interrupted by an announcer coming onto the stage that had been set up near by. 

“Mademoiselle Hélène” the announcer said. 

The people watching cheered as Hélène, dressed in black, took her place on stage. 

Since Hélène’s debut at Le Monstre she had made quite the sensation in Paris. Everyone who was anyone had been to hear her sing; girls were copying the soft finger waves she wore her hair in; men were drinking to her in the cafés and bars. 

Hélène began singing a song from Gold Diggers of 1933, the one Marianne had stuck in her head for days afterwards. 

“We’re in the money, we’re in the money; We’ve got a lot of what it takes to get along! We’re in the money, that sky is sunny. Old Man Depression you are through, you done us wrong.We never see a headline about breadlines today. And when we see the landlord we can look that guy right in the eye. We’re in the money, come on, my honey,Let’s lend it, spend it, send it rolling along!”

The consensus was that Hélène sang it even better than Ginger Rogers had. 

Augustin looked over at Marianne and saw something evil in her eyes when she watched Hélène. It was jealousy. Jealousy of Hélène’s effortless grace while she still had something of the gawky schoolgirl about her. Jealousy of the fact that Hélène had the admiration of all of Paris while she only had the fondness of only a handful of people. At that moment, she would have blindly given up everything she was and everything she had for everything Hélène was and everything Hélène had. 

When she was done with her song, Hélène gave the audience the playful smile and wink which had become her trademark. 

Two girls, one tall and slim with dishwater blond hair and the other one short with sticky red hair, dashed in front of the café and disappeared into the trees. They appeared out of the trees whenever men passed by. The men either pushed them aside or disappeared back into the trees with them. Augustin recognized them as the two girls from The Green Goblin, Marie and Cerise. 

“Merde!” Cerise whispered. She pulled Marie back into the trees. 

A policeman was patrolling the area. He passed by the café, past the table where the four lovers were seated. Augustin turned his face away as to not meet his eye. 

An Evening Upon The Seine 


After checking out the carnival, Augustin, Jules, Clare and Marianne walked down to the river and sat along the stone banks of the Seine. Jules showed everyone how the pictures they had taken at the paper moon came out. There were four pictures: the first one was of Marianne and Clare sitting on a smiling crescent moon against the backdrop of a starry sky; the second was of Augustin and Marianne sitting on the same crescent moon with Augustin kissing Marianne’s hand; the third was Jules upon the crescent moon swigging from his flask; the fourth was of all four of them seated upon the moon. 

Marianne sat slightly away from everyone else with her nose in a used book she a bought at a vendor’s stall along the river and stroking Johnny. Augustin slid over to sit by her. 

“What are reading?” He asked

“A poem” she answered then began to read it “The water caressed the shore so gently! That joyous sweet girl, fearful and wild, among the green rushes she came to me, her hair in her eyes, and through it a smile. It’s Victor Hugo”

“It’s nice” 

He rested his head on her shoulder and she played with the red ring on her finger. 

A large boat sailed a long past them with the name La Licorne written on it’s side. Those on board waved to those sitting on the shone and those sitting on the shore waved back. Another boat called L’Hippocampe passed by. 

By the time it grew dark, which was well after nine of the clock, a band had begun to play in another part of the bank and there were the sounds of people dancing, laughing, and enjoying themselves. 

“Sounds like there’s a party going on over there” Jules said. 

He took Clare by the hand and went to investigate. Augustin and Marianne followed behind them. 

The music was coming from a wider crescent shaped stretch of bank which stuck out slightly in river. A set of stone steps lead down to it from the street. People were sitting on the steps and and a long the edge of the river sipping from bottles of beer or wine or stronger stuff while others were dancing in the center where a band was playing. 

They effortlessly joined the crowd; a party of pleasure is always welcome to new members. 

A new song struck up. 

“Let’s dance” Jules said to Clare. 

“No, it’s too fast for me” Clare answered. 

“Come on, please” 

“Dance with Marianne, she looks like she wants to dance” 

“You don’t mind do you?” he asked Augustin

Augustin shook his head no and Jules lead Marianne out onto the dance floor. They danced the Lindy Hop. During the dance, a man punched another man for dancing with his girl and a fight broke out. 

“Good” Jules whispered into Marianne’s ear “it’s not a good party unless there’s a fight” 

When the dance was over, Marianne went to join Augustin and Johnny in a spot they had found under a grove of trees while Jules danced a slower dance with Clare. 

“How was dancing with Jules?” Augustin asked when she joined him. 

“I’m exhausted” she answered. 

She sat down beside him under one of the trees and he kissed her while wrapping her blue pashmina shawl around her and pulling her into his arms. They lay down in the grass and he pulled her even closer. He felt her tense up in his arms. 

“You still don’t trust me do you?” 

“No”

“No, you do trust me,or no, you don’t trust me?” 

“No, I don’t trust you” 

She shyly kissed him back and settled into his arms. She let out a sigh that said “I think I’m in heaven”. Marianne was happy, Augustin was satisfied

A singer came out and sang along with the band. 

“I went out last Tuesday, met a girl named Susie.” The singer sang “I told her I was the swellest man around. We started to spend my money, then she started to call me honey. We took in every cabaret in town. We’re in the jailhouse now, we’re in the jailhouse now. I told the judge right to his face, we didn’t like to see this place. We’re in the jailhouse now” 

“What do you think of Marianne?” Augustin overheard Jules asking Clare. 

“I think Augustin’s a little fast for her” was Clare’s answer. 

“Some girls like men who are a little fast for them. That’s why you like me isn’t it?” 

“Yes, that’s the reason” 

She grabbed him by the chin and kissed him. 

Around midnight the party began to break up. The band finished with the inevitable rendition of La Marseillaise. 

“Aux armes, citoyens, formez vos bataillons!” the crowd sang aloud “Marchons, marchons ! Qu’un sang impur abreuve nos sillons ! Abreuve nos sillons!” 

After La Marseillaise, the band began to pack up and the crowd made it’s way up the stone steps. A cool, refreshing breeze blew over them from the river. It blew at Marianne’s skirt, hair, and shawl and make her look like a type of tropical bird with a white and red tail, blue wings, and a gold crest about to take flight. 

One has not lived until one has seen Paris. One has not seen Paris until one has seen Paris by night. Therefore one has not lived until one has seen Paris by night. 

The street lights gave everything a warm and rosy glow. The shops were closed but most of the cafés were still open. 

Though that party had broken up, there was a sense that the evening’s amusements were not yet over. Everyone appeared to be simply moving on to the next thing. 

Augustin said goodnight to Jules and Clare and then walked on to the Rue Cassette with Marianne where they bid goodnight in front of her building.

Catharine’s Visit

On Afternoon in late July, Catharine made her way to the building where her sister Mimi lived.

She was dressed in black because that day she had made her monthly visit to the grave of her second husband, Bernard Mathieu, at Père Lachaise. It was a hike across town that she made more out of duty than any sentimentality. Bernard had died three years prior in the arms of his fat Dutch mistress not that Catharine had  given a damn about that because he had left all of his money to her and her daughters. He had never been a faithful husband. Only two weeks after their wedding she had found out that he was sleeping with his busty Belgian secretary, full figured women from the Low Countries had been his personal kink, but Catharine had married him simply because he was rich and could provide her her and her girls. Catharine was not the most affectionate of mothers but she always made sure Mathilde and Agnès lived comfortably which to her was as good a proof of motherly love as any.  She considered Bernard Mathieu the better of her two husbands.

Her first husband, George Thomas, had been a different story. He had been the least detestable of all the suitors that had courted her in her youth; handsome and charming with an air of danger. She did not know why she had married him, lust, she suspected, or maybe a need for some excitement in her life but she soon regretted it.

One thing she had learned in her life was that Prince Charming was not always Mr. Right.

Mimi greeted Catharine at the door of her flat.

“Catharine” she said “come in. I’ll put a pot of coffee on the stove”

Catharine reached into her handbag and took out a postcard.

“I received a postcard from Agnès” she said “she and Mathilde and Edmond are in New York and are staying at The Plaza.  They’ve done some shopping, gone through Central Park, went to see that really tall building everyone’s talking about…the Empire State Building, and they went to see a show on Broadway called Jezebel which Edmond and Mathilde were disappointed by because they thought it was going to be a hoochie coochie show. At the end of the month, they’re going to go to Chicago because Edmond has business there. That doesn’t sound good. And then they are going to go to Atlantic City. They should be back in September.”

“Oh, I can’t wait to hear all about the trip when they get back” Mimi added.

“I trust you’ve seen something of Marianne? How is she doing?”

“I think she’s in love. Whenever she comes by here, she seems so distracted”

Catharine did not want to say it but Marianne, like her mother had, usually seemed distracted.

“Good. With any luck she’ll be the next of the girls to get married. As the second oldest she should be next in line. Agnès has her admirers but nobody serious. She’ll probably end up an old maid if she continues to sulk around in Mathilde’s shadow. I don’t why she keeps letting Mathilde outshine her, she’s every bit as pretty as her.”

Mimi had noticed that her niece Mathilde had that force of personality that makes others cower in presence, which she had inherited from her mother.

 

La Premiere Etoile

In the evening Augustin ran into Jules and pulled him into a café which happened to be called Café La Premiere Étoile for a bite to eat.

“What are you doing here?” Jules asked “I thought this part of town was too polite for you”

A certain blond haired waitress came over to their table and gave Augustin a flirtatious smile.

“Now I see”

“What can I get you?” Marianne asked them “something to eat or just drinks?”

“We’ll have something to eat” Augustin answered “and maybe something sweet for dessert”

Marianne laughed.

“I’ll have the Crôque Madame and a whiskey and soda, please” Jules said

“Same here”

“Be right back”

As Marianne was walking away she stopped to whisper “I get off in an hour and a half. Meet me out back” into Augustin’s ear.

“I’m going to Normandy next week” Jules began “with my sisters and brothers in law. We’re going to Deauville and stop and see my parents along the way. My brother in law Charles is actually taking time off from work”

“That’s surprising. You’re always telling me how busy he always is.”

“Well, have you ever seen my sister Adèle in a bathing suit?”

Augustin chuckled.

“Here’s your whiskies with soda, Messieurs” Marianne said as she brought them their drinks.

“Thank you, Mademoiselle”  Augustin answered.

 

In The Alleyway

About an hour and a half later, Marianne was waiting in the kitchen of the café. She held the door open and was searching the alleyway out back. Manon came in to hang up her apron.

“Well I’m off” she said “what about you?”

“I’m going to sweep the floor and lock up before I go” Marianne answered

“I thought it was Anna’s turn?”

“She has a headache, so I told her I would do it”

“That was kind of you”

A figure moving in the alley caught Marianne’s eye. Augustin appeared in the doorway. Manon giggled.

“Anna has a headache” she said, imitating Marianne’s voice “I’ll sweep the floor and lock up”

“I’ll be out in a minute” Marianne said to Augustin “I just need to finish up”

“Hopefully she won’t keep you waiting too long” Manon added as she stepped out of the room.

From the doorway, Augustin watched Marianne as swept the floor. Her face looked pale and tired. Strands of her hair had fallen loose from where they had been pinned up. She turned and gave him one of her smiles, one of the kind that could make a man believe that she smiled that way only for him.

When she had locked up, she joined him in the alleyway, ran up to him and kissed him.

It was coming upon ten of the clock and it was just beginning to get dark.

Looking into Marianne’s eyes, he could read what she was thinking: should I invite him in? She was perfectly comfortable whenever she went out with him but he always sensed an uneasiness in her when he brought her home because she wrestling with this question.

If she were to invite him in, he knew he would not be able to resist but it would be a happiness he did not feel he deserved. What he felt for her was the only good thing that had been in her heart for a long time and he was afraid that this good feeling might have a dishonest motive.

Looking into her eyes, he believed that Edmond who ever he was had never been anything to her. He was glad of that. He would have prefered that she had seen dozens of men rather than just him.

Marianne wanted to let him in. She was beginning to believe that he respected her and could be trusted. But letting him in would be against everything she had been told was right.

They were both enjoying going out with each other but they were unsure of where it was all going. At their time of life, they had long outgrown childhood but had not yet grown into adulthood. Young though they were, they were not so young that they could be unconcerned about a future that was frighteningly close and frighteningly uncertain.