Retribution: Chapter 17

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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. The room was divided along the middle according to the pictures pinned to the walls. Images of Mussolini and Hitler and fasces on one side, Lenin, Trotsky, and the hammer and sickle on the other. Mathilde and Edmond, like most people of their type, flirted with the idea of fascism and were impressed by its bravado. Agnès fancied herself a communist in retaliation.

“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, the charms on the bracelet she always wore shaking.

“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 third generation money,” Mathilde appeared to be parodying her mother “and you have to be at least fourth 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.

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 from Charlotte and Alexandre.

“Thank you, bring them into my dressing room.”

The opening music began to play and Adèle went out on stage.

From their box, Charles and Sarah and Charlotte and Alexandre 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 Brady’s young bride in the gleam of her eyes and the pink in her cheeks.

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-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. They then walked into the living room.

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.”

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.”

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 a strap 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.

Augustin paced back and forth in his cell. He did not know what day it was or whether it 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.

“Well, 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 someone better who could take care of her and give her a decent 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 promising for him, especially without her.

“Get a good night’s sleep, Lerou,” the guard ordered him,”you’re going to La Santé tomorrow.”

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