Retribution: Chapter 21

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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. Mathilde had been showing off a new dress.

“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 could 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 nearby 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.  

Charles  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.

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