On a Friday evening in May, Charles Prideaux and his brother in law Jules Martin went to the Palais Garnier to see the Paris Opera Ballet perform Sleeping Beauty. When the two men arrived in their box,Tchaikovsky’s introduction to the prologue was beginning to play.
The people in the nearby boxes turned to see a handsome, distinguished looking middle aged man of about forty-four , along with a somewhat gangly youth of about twenty who looked uncomfortable in his evening clothes take their seats. Charles always went to the ballet on Fridays and it was his custom to arrive just in time. He was known for his love of the ballet; most of his mistresses had been dancers and now had found his wife among the corps de ballet.
The stage had been coated in shiny black paint and a luminous fog was piped in to cover the floor. Long white banners hung from the rafters.
The elegant king and queen were celebrating the baptism of their daughter with their court of exquisitely dressed Baroque courtiers. The good fairies came and blessed the princess one by one but an evil fairy curses the infant to one day die by pricking her finger on a spinning wheel.
Charles waited patiently for the entrance of Princess Aurora in the birthday scene, when she comes out to dance with her suitors. The crowd of excited courtiers parted for the entrance of the sprightly princess and her maidens in waiting.
Dancing the role of Princess Aurora was a promising young dancer named Adèle Martin, who had gained notice as a soloist in recent productions of Swan Lake and Giselle. Madame Martin was uncommonly beautiful and uncommonly talented; her movements tender, lyrical, and graceful, perfect for Aurora. She was dressed in a light pink tutu decorated with silver appliqués, and within her wig was a tiara of silver filigree.
The king and queen warmly greeted their daughter and presented her to four suitors for her hand. Aurora then danced a complicated adagio with all four of them who each presented her with a white rose.
During the birthday party, Aurora was presented with a blue spinning wheel as a present. Despite the warnings of her parents, she is overcome with curiosity and moves closer to examine it and pricks her finger. A crowd of concerned courtiers rushed over and gasped as Aurora, frightened by the sight of the red gush of blood, fell into the arms of her father. The king tries to help revive his daughter, who begins to rise unsteadily and frantically clutch her bleeding finger. Aurora grows woozy and then faint then eventually falls to the floor at the feet of her distraught parents. The evil fairy, Carbosse, returns to gloat but the good fairy chases her away and tries to give comfort to the grieving court.
A bower of silver briars, white roses, and iridescent gauze appeared for Aurora to be gently placed in. The curtains fell on a peacefully sleeping Aurora and thunderous applause Madame Martin returned to her dressing room to find a bouquet of pink rosebuds.
Around the same time that Charles Prideaux and Jules Martin arrived at the ballet that evening, two young men were walking in the Jardin du Luxembourg.
It was a warm evening for May and gave a taste of the balmy weather to come. They two young men noticed an expanse of white tent bordered with garlands of flowers erected on one of the lawns. The music of a jazz band filled the balmy, humid evening.
“Looks like a wedding party come down from Saint Sulpice” said the younger of the two young men.
The older of the two began to walk closer towards the expanse of white tent.
“Augustin what are you doing?”
“Lèon, I’m going to go pay my respects to the bride and groom”
It was a thing that Augustin, the older of the two young men, liked to do, peeking in on the wedding parties he sometimes saw in the park and winking and whistling at pretty bridesmaids. Sometimes sneaking a glass or two of champagne. But this time a strong curiosity was drawing him forward.
What Augustin saw looked like it must have cost the bride’s father a huge pile. On the ceiling of the tent was a large net of fairy lights. Large round tables with white tablecloths, white china, and arrangements of white flowers and white candles filled up most of the tent with what was left over being taken up by a dance floor and bandstand. Standing in the outskirts of the tent, he looked around at the guests and tried to figure out who was who.
At one table sat a repulsive piglike man with greedy eyes next to a woman with severe cheekbones, full lips, and large breasts and hips in tight, low cut dress intended for a woman at least ten years younger than she was. The makeup she was wearing made her look like a call girl past her prime. Standing between them was a haggard looking dragon of a woman dressed in red and mauve and across from them sat a demure looking woman dressed in yellow.
People were coming to give congratulations and best wishes to the families of the bride and groom.
The bride was a willowy, sprightly, brunette girl of about nineteen or twenty. Most of the men there found her attractive, she was cut in upon by four men each wearing a white rose buttonholes during one dance, but Augustin found her more like a caricature of a beautiful girl with her heavy, sultry eyes and pouty lips. It was hard to tell which of the four men with the white buttonholes was the groom. One of the clique of bridesmaids, a cute girl with large eyes and dark curls, stood away from the group and was leaning against the bandstand, talking with a young man who was seated at a nearby table.
Sitting among everything but detached from and ignored by it all was a fair haired girl dressed in blue. She took it all in with her eyes and then took a sip from a glass. The eye was drawn to her because her fair hair and simple dress were such a contrast to the rest of the bridal party.
Aware that she was being looked at, the fair haired girl became bold and gave Augustin a flashing eyed glance that made him timid.
A handsome young man in his early twenties with something devilish and untrustworthy in his eyes came over from where he was leaning against the bandstand and asked her to dance which made her beam with delight. This caused the bride to shoot her a nasty look. The fair-haired girl relished in the bride’s displeasure.
Augustin stood and watched the fair-haired girl dance with the handsome young man with concern, sensing that if he took his eyes off of her, something bad would happen.
The callgirl past her prime summoned all of the unmarried young men onto the dance floor for the tossing of the garter. The bride gleefully put her foot on top of a chair and lifted up her skirt, giving a glimpse of a blue garter dotted with rhinestones. Her new husband, who turned out to be the handsome young man who was dancing with the fair haired girl, slid the garter down her leg and tossed it into the crowd.
He threw the garter beyond where the young men waiting to catch it stood and it fell into Augustin’s hands.
“Who the hell is he?” asked the bride with her nose wrinkled in disdain.
The eyes of the wedding party turned towards Augustin, including those of the fair haired girl who was running her red fingernails through her hair and looked embarrassed for him .
The groom came over and confronted Augustin.
“You best be going now.” the groom said in a low voice.
Sensing there might be trouble, Lèon came to join his cousin.
“C’mon Lèon” Augustin said to him. ” Thanks for the champagne. ”
The fair haired girl lifted the hem of her skirt and ran back to her table.
“Marianne, don’t scamper,” the dragon said to her.
“I wasn’t, Tante Catharine,” she answered.
After the finale of Sleeping Beauty, a black Ford parked itself outside of the stage door. A young woman in a purple and blue dress appeared who looked little different than the glamorous socialites who had just left the opera. Instead of the auburn wig she had worn as Aurora, Adèle Martin wore her natural short blond hair which was worn in a boyish bob held back with a rhinestone barrette.
The door on the driver’s side of the Ford opened and Charles Prideaux stepped out.
“Thank you again for the flowers,” Adèle said, “It’s so sweet how you never forget to send them.”
Charles bent down and kissed her on the mouth. He went over and opened the door on the other side of car for her before going back around getting back into the driver’s seat.
Adèle sat down in the passenger seat. A pair of hands came and covered her eyes.
“Guess who?” a voice said.
“Julot” Adèle answered.
She leaned to look in the back seat where her younger brother sat with an impish grin on his face.
“Surprised to see me?” Jules asked.
“Very, I had no idea you were coming.”
“I decided to surprise you.” Charles added.
Adèle had not seen her brother in weeks. She had been busy with her ballet and he had been busy with his art training at the Sorbonne.
“Charlotte and Alexandre couldn’t make the ballet but they’re going to meet us at the restaurant.”
It was amazing that her sister and brother in law were coming at all. Between their careers and raising their two children, it was astounding that they could find the time to do anything.
Charles drove down the Boulevard des Capucines to the restaurant where Charlotte and her husband Alexandre were waiting for them. Charlotte was a pretty young woman of not quite thirty; petite and slender with a mass of dark chestnut hair. She had a round, moon-like face and a little upturned nose similar to those of Adèle and small, heavily lidded eyes and full lips similar to those of Jules. She was an accomplished pianist and taught music, occasionally performing in a concert. Alexandre was a rather ordinary looking man but was so good natured and likeable that it did not matter. He played the trumpet in the jazz band of one of Paris’s most popular night spots. They had met when they were both in the conservatory studying music and after a rather long romance had gotten married.
Charlotte ran over and hugged Adèle and Jules affectionately. Though five years separated Charlotte from Adèle and Adèle from Jules, the three had always been close.
Over diner, Charles and Alexandre discussed politics which made Adèle roll her eyes. She had hoped this would not happen. Once you got Charles talking about politics it was Daladier this and Chautemps that, and nothing but petty squabbling which bored Adèle to tears. She was glad that Jules had not gotten wind of the conversation or they would have never heard the end of it. Jules and Charles were both socialists and did not much care for the current radical government. Luckily, Charlotte was teasing Jules about some pretty barmaid he had been seen flirting with. She would know about such things because she lived closer to Jules than Adèle did and saw him more often. Adèle knew that it would be snobbish to say so but she thought that Jules could do better than some little barmaid. With all of these women attending universities these days, she was surprised that Jules had not met some nice girl in one of his classes.
A little after midnight, the party broke up and returned to their respective homes. Jules left with Charlotte and Alexandre because where he lived was on their way home. Adèle and Charles returned to their home in the suburb of Neuilly.
Augustin had a hard time falling asleep that night. He usually did not sleep well as a rule but that night his head was filled with what had happened at the wedding. Of all the things he had seen, the one that was the most vivid in his memory was the fair-haired girl;her sunny hair and warm white skin and her red painted fingernails running through her hair. Looking at her was like looking at someone one had been waiting for a long time when they finally showed up.