Retribution: Chapter 16

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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 than followed.

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 it’s owner  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 and 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 alongside 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.

   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.  He had hurt those who loved him but they had always deserved better.

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.

     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.

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 nearby 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.

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