A few days later, Eulalie approached Augustin again in the courtyard.
“Shouldn’t you be in school?” He asked her.
“I skipped today.” she answered nonchalantly.
“You shouldn’t do that.”
“Why? You didn’t finish school.”
“Don’t be like me, that’s why.”
“Actually, one of the girls has strep throat and Mademoiselle Rougeon, who’s something of a hypochondriac, sent us all home.”
“More importantly, I’ve found out more about that girl with the winking ring. I’ve found out that she does live near the grocery stand and she works as a waitress at a place nearby. The building she lives in is covered in flowers.”
“Thank you, Eulalie”
“Papa sure was acting weird last night. He had friends over and kept saying the word “Verte”; said it about four times like it was code for something.”
“Well, I doubt your papa has the brains to speak in code.”
On a Sunday morning, Marianne sat in front of her dressing table, imitating the expressions she had seen film stars make. She put some perfume behind her ears and in her hair and some lipstick on her lips, then began to powder her face, shoulders, and cleavage.
Two days ago had been the “next Friday” that Edmond was supposed to return on and it had passed without her hearing anything from him.
In the end, she had never gotten back to him on the subject of going to that party with him. No matter how much a part of her had wanted to go with him, the part of her that had known it was wrong had won. But she deeply regretted it.
On her right hand, she noticed the empty space where her ring had been. She had naively trusted the Algerian boy the way she had naively trusted Edmond when he called her Cinderella and seemed to promise that he would make her a princess. She had overcome her gullibility enough to avoid this first trap but she knew that there might be others set for her.
Maybe her gullibility was her fatal flaw?
Johnny, who was curled up on the bed, began to bark.
“What is it boy?”
Reflected in her mirror was the figure of someone on the street seen through the bay window. He was standing right underneath said window. Marianne quickly went to see who he was.
He was tall and strongly built with short, dark, hair and a square face which was good looking in a rough sort of way. She recognized him as the Algerian boy. Marianne closed the curtains but then lifted one of them slightly to get a better look at him before going to finish getting dressed. She put on her black dress and her white hat with the purplish ribbon.
On her way out the door of her building, the young man appeared again and politely removed his cap while Johnny barked at him in a friendly way.
“You look prettier with your hair down.” he said.
She had pinned up her hair since she had appeared at the window.
“What are you doing there?” She asked him.
“I was hoping that the fair damsel would come down from her tower.”
“And why’s that?”
“Because, I have something she might be missing.”
He took her hand and and put something in it. She opened up her palm to see her ring.
“Shouldn’t we shake hands now that we’re even.”
Johnny lifted his paw.
“Ha, the dog just lifted his paw.”
“He’s trained to do that whenever someone says ‘shake hands’ “
Augustin bent down and shook the dog’s paw.
“Nice to meet you Monsieur Dog.”
“Marianne, who’s that you’re talking to?” Papa Verte asked. The French doors, which lead into his room, were open and he could hear everything.
“Just a friend, Papa Verte” Marianne answered.
“Who’s that?” Augustin asked.
“Papa Verte, a neighbor of mine. He’s a bit of a busybody but he’s really a dear old man.”
“I like him already,” Augustin fixed his charming, crooked smile on her “I have some money for a couple cokes. Would you care to join me?”
“I visit my aunt on Sundays, she’ll be expecting me.”
“I’m sure she wouldn’t mind if you were a little late.”
“She’s strict with me and would ask a lot of questions, please.”
“If she did, I think she would understand.”
He bent down to scratch Johnny behind the ears.
“I’m sorry but I can’t…Here Johnny!”
The dog ran to follow his mistress as she walked away.
Marianne made the nine-minute trip to Boulevard St. Germain where her aunt lived in an off-white building with a grey roof and grey shutters.
Inside, she came into a hall done up in green carpeting and wallpaper with a white pattern and went up a flight of stairs to the first floor.
She knocked on a door with a plaque with the number 28 and it opened.
A dark haired woman a few years shy of forty, dressed in a stylish turquoise frock, stood in the doorway.
“Hello Marianne.” she said.
“Nice to see you, Tante Mimi” Marianne answered.
Mimi ushered her in. Inside was a pale, greyish living room with dark, wood furniture centered around a fireplace, a wireless and lamps with rosy shades. The pale, greyish walls were hung with old photographs and samplers. Mimi and Marianne sat down by the wireless.
“How was your week?” Mimi asked her niece.
“The same as usual.”
“Did Edmond bother you again?”
“No, he didn’t.”
“I’m proud of you. Not many girls your age would have behaved as wisely as you had. I know you have no reason to love Mathilde and I doubt she would have behaved as wisely if the shoe had been on the other foot, but at least you can say that you are a better person than she is.”
“It was shameful how he toyed with you when he was really after Matilde. That Danton boy was wrong to take advantage of you. I knew that he could not be trusted around you girls and god knows why I didn’t say anything to Catharine.”
“Tante Mimi, I know I made the right decision, but I still feel like such a fool.”
“Mon cher enfant, you are not yet nineteen years old. You are a child.”
“I’m going to be nineteen in October. I should be able to take care of myself.”
Mimi stroked Johnny’s back, then got up and went towards the kitchen.
“I’ll make some tea.”
In the evening, they went to Mass at St. Sulpice, Marianne lit a candle and said a prayer for her mother.
On their way out, a young man, the Algerian boy, approached them with his hat in his hands. Johnny barked excitedly.
“Shhh boy” Marianne said as she picked him up “we’re in church”
“Good evening Madame” the young man said to Mimi “My name is Augustin Lerou and I’ve come to ask your permission to take your niece out.”
“Do you know him?” Mimi asked Marianne.
“Sort of” she answered.
“I promise I’ll take good care of her”
“What do you say, Marianne?”
Mimi gave her niece an encouraging smile. Marianne let Augustin take her hand and lead her away.
Mimi went back to h er prayers. As usual, she prayed to God to look after Marianne and help guide her.
He brought her to Le Monstre to hear Hélène sing.
After they had found a table, he brought back two cokes.
“I knew I’d get you those cokes somehow.” Augustin said with a smile.
“Why did you ask me here tonight?” Marianne questioned.
“I like your company..”
“But you hardly know me and I hardly know you”
“My name is Augustin Lerou. I’ll be twenty-one next February and god knows if I’ll live to be twenty-two. I was born in Algiers. My father was a soldier and my mother was a local girl who died of a fever, I almost died of it myself and sometimes, I think it would have been better if I had. My father then brought me to France and left me with my aunt here in Paris. My favorite color is red and my lucky number is two. I like machines, movies, music, good food, and you. That’s all there is to know.”
At the table next to theirs sat a couple who presumably had just been married because the girl was wearing a wedding dress and veil. They were laughing and drinking champagne with a group of friends and well wishers. The girl came over towards Marianne and noticed Johnny sitting in her lap.
“Oh, what a cute dog.” she said.
“Thank you,” Marianne answered.
“I can’t tell who’s cuter, that dog or his mistress.” the man said “Come Lucie, let’s dance.”
With a wink at Marianne, he lead his bride off to the dance floor.
“Do you know who that was?” Augustin asked.
“That was Le Beau Charlot Harcourt.”
“You know him?”
“Just by sight and reputation. He’s one of the biggest escrocs in Paris. You can always tell if someone’s an escroc. Look at his fine clothes and the fancy girl on his arm. Nobody straight and hardly anybody crooked lives that good these days.”
The band began to play a fox trot.
“Care to dance?”
“Yes, I would like to.”
He took her hand and led her out onto the dance floor.
“And what about you?” He asked her part way through the song “Tell me about yourself.”
“Well, there’s not much to say. The story of my life isn’t very long or interesting.I was born in Rouen, that’s where my mother’s family is from. I don’t know anything about my father’s family, because I never knew anything about my father. He went missing during the war and was presumed dead and my mother didn’t like to talk about him. I have two cousins who are barely aware of my existence, an aunt who’s face only registers two emotions, boredom and contempt, and there’s the aunt you met back at Saint Sulpice. For four years, I lived in Cannes and nothing much happened to me there. My mother died of tuberculosis when I was twelve and my aunts sent me to school with my cousins at this convent near Rouen and nothing much happened to me there. Then I came here.”
“And nothing much has happened to you here.”
“Is it obvious?”
“There’s a look in your eyes that says “I’m miserable, why won’t something happen to me.”
He drew her closer and leaned in to try to kiss her. She blushed and moved her face away.
“You think I’m the girl that’s gonna make your dreams come true tonight, don’t you?”
“No. But I know I’m the man that’s gonna make yours come true.”
“What do you know about my dreams?”
“I can tell that you’re fed up with being someone’s serving wench. Besides, a girl like you deserves better.”
“Did you figure all that out from reading my palm?”
“No, from reading your eyes.”
“What about you? What are your dreams?”
“To travel the world, see everything and make a whole lot of money then come back to Paris and spend the rest of my days living like a king.”
“Sounds pretty grand.”
“Well, small dreams are for small people.”
The song ended and they returned to their table. The tables were small, tall and draped in long, white cloths. There were no chairs, so if you wished to sit you had to sit on the carpeted floor. Instead of sitting opposite each other, this time they sat next to each other.
Sitting there next to Marianne, Augustin could not think of anyone who would not consider himself lucky to be in his place. He did not know if he should put his arm around her or not. The moment seemed so perfect and he did not want to spoil it. Augustin was beginning to feel things that he would have laughed at just a few weeks ago, things which now scared him. It was a strange thing to want everything, and hope for something but expect nothing.
Next to him, Marianne was nervous. She looked at the ring which had been returned to her winking on her finger. It’s return had been a gesture intended to regain her trust but instead it made her confused. Could she trust the young man who had taken it then given it back? Someone who had broken her trust before could easily do so again. He looked into her eyes in a way which made her feel exposed and was able to understand her in a way that seemed unnatural while she was no closer to understanding him than she had been when she first met him.
“I never asked you,” Augustin said “who gave you that ring?”
“It belonged to my mother,” she answered “it was given to me after she died”
He felt another pang of guilt for having taken it from her.
“I’m sorry I took it from you. I really am.” he said in a weak attempt at apologizing.
She did not say anything in response and tried not to meet his eyes.
A squat man in a flashy suit and a hat with a large green feather came in with a large cigar in his mouth and flanked by a bodyguard on each side. The man Augustin had pointed out earlier looked up and noticed the newcomer. Their eyes met with a flash of animosity.
“Who is that who just came in?” Marianne asked Augustin
“Le Prince Fontaine” he told her “and I think there’s going to be trouble. Fontaine and Harcourt , the man who passed us earlier, aren’t exactly the best of friends and there’s always trouble when they wind up in the same place. There’ll be a big dance and the flics show up and everyone’ll get hauled off to la taule.”
He extended his hand to lead her away.
“I think we better go now. Your aunt wouldn’t like it if I got you arrested.”
She took his hand and they left Le Monstre.
When they reached Marianne’s building, they stood under the streetlight out in front of it and bid each other goodnight. Augustin took Marianne’s hand and looked at her for a few moments, not sure what else to do. Again, everything felt perfect and he did not want to spoil it.
He gave her palm a soft kiss and then disappeared into the darkness.