Retribution: Chapter Twenty-Four

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Charles attended mass one Sunday afternoon in the middle of January. During that mass, a boy and girl were to be married.

He noticed Catharine and Mimi sitting in a pew towards the front of the church.

“Good afternoon,” he said to them.

They turned around and greeted him with “good afternoon.”

“My daughter is getting married,” Catharine told him, “you remember Agnès, my youngest.”

“Who’s the lucky young man?”

“A boy named Christopher Trask.”

The groom was standing at the alter. He was a pleasant looking young man who seemed happy to be getting married.

Agnès and her bridesmaids came down the aisle, Marianne was one of them. She turned around and said to them about how she and her soon to be husband were taking a cruise down the Nile for their honeymoon.

“How beautiful,” one of the bridesmaids said.

“How romantic,” another said.

“I hope Kit doesn’t find out how easily you get seasick,” Mathilde added.

“She has a point.”

“But still I hear Egypt’s really nice.”

During the wedding ceremony, Charles thought about his own weddings. He had married Adèle at the city hall of her hometown on a pleasant day in late April coming upon four years ago and then they went to mass at the local church. The reception was at her parent’s house and they went to Nice for the honeymoon.

His wedding to Madeleine was a somewhat grander affair. They were married at Rouen City Hall and blessed at St. Ouen cathedral and the reception was held at Chateau Aubrey. Madeleine had worn an ancestral crown of golden leaves which had first belonged to a Françoise d’Aubrey whose claim to fame was having once danced the polka with Napoleon III and had been worn by every d’Aubrey bride since.   But this wedding had been a trying experience for him, not because he had had cold feet about marrying Madeleine but rather because the ordeal had taken place in front of a sea of (in his mind) hostile faces.

Another thing which occupied this mind was how sad Marianne looked. She was trying to smile and be happy for her cousin but her eyes looked weary and her smile looked false.

“Doesn’t my niece look lovely?” Catharine whispered to a lady in a pew near her’s.

“If she’s so lovely,” the lady answered, “why hasn’t she found someone.”

Charles knew that his daughter was in love but unhappy in her love. She must be thinking that it should be her getting married. He did not know the details of her romance but he overheard women make snide comments about the girl, something to the effect of “someone should make an honest woman out of her,” and things about “preserving her honor.”

Marianne was aware that people were talking about her and seemed on the verge of tears.

That night, Lucille woke her master and mistress up in the middle of the night to say that there was an urgent telephone call for Monsieur.

“Alright, alright,” Charles said in a groggy voice.

Adèle sat up in bed, curious about what was going on. Her husband came back after taking the phone call looking agitated. He went into the closet to get some clothes.

“What’s the matter?” Adèle asked him.

“I have to go into town,” he answered.

“Why?”

“Marianne’s had an accident. Her aunt just called to say that she’s in the hospital.”

“Dear god! Is she alright?”

“She’s was in great danger but now she’s stable.”

“Poor child.”

Charles finished dressing and then kissed Adèle goodbye before leaving.

Marianne woke up in a hospital bed after passing out from blood loss. The wounds on her wrists had been cleaned and bandaged and she was hooked up to an IV which infused new blood into her. Someone had taken off her blood stained pajamas and put her into a hospital gown. Mimi was sitting by the bed and a nursing sister was hovering over her.

“She’s awake,” the nun said to Mimi.

“Marianne,” Mimi said to her niece.

“Tante Mimi,” she answered in a weak voice.

“How are you?”

“Sister, can I have a glass of water?”

“Certainly, my child.”

The nun helped her sit up and then brought her a glass of water.

“How did I get here?” Marianne asked her aunt.

“Your neighbor, Madame Verte, found you unconscious in your room after having slit your wrists and called the hospital.”

“She should have minded her own business.”

“Well, luckily for you, she didn’t.”

Marianne took a sip of water. It was very late at night or perhaps very early in the morning and everything felt not quite real as they often do when you are in a hospital at that hour. The eerie stillness and the dim institutional lighting added to this feeling.

“Why did you do this to yourself? Why did you want to throw your life away like this?”

“You saw the way people were looking at me and heard what they were saying. “There’s poor Marianne, her younger cousin’s getting married before her,” and “That’s the one who sullied her virtue with some criminal.” They looked at me like I was a disgrace.”

“You know that’s not true.”

“Do you think that makes it hurt any less?”

“I don’t know what to say. What do you need to hear?”

Catharine was in the waiting room awaiting Charles. She tried to concentrate on the crocheting she had brought with her but  was unable to sit still and got up and paced back and forth.

Charles came upon her unexpectedly.

“I see you left the chorus girl at home,” she said to him.

“How is she?” He answered, referring to Marianne not Adèle, “What happened to her?”

“She got into her head to slit her wrists open. But her neighbors rescued her in time and called the ambulance. She’ll be alright.”

“Thank god.”

“Why would she do such a thing? She’s so very young and has her whole life ahead of her. Why would she want to die?”

“She doesn’t, she probably just thinks that if she cried out loud enough, someone would come to help her.”

“What does she expect us to do: wave our magic wands and get that boyfriend of hers out of jail and gather up all the gossip about her and shove it back where it came from.”

“Perhaps.”

The day had been trying for Catharine. Seeing Agnès marry and leave her made her realize that both her children were grown and that they were strangers to her. And now there was this. But she had more self respect than to cry in front of Charles.

“Let’s go in and see her.”

“Thank you for calling me.”

Marianne was laying in a hospital bed with a white sheet tucked under her chin and her long hair spread out on the pillow.

“Monsieur Prideaux is here to see you,” Mimi told her.

She sat up in bed.

“Hello Monsieur,” she said.

“How are you, Marianne?” he answered.

She held up her bandaged wrists and crossed her arms in an X over her chest.

“I look like something they dug up in the valley of the kings.”

“You shouldn’t stay long, Monsieur,” said the demure young nun who was looking after Marianne, “She must get some sleep.”

“Alright.”

Charles sat down beside the bed and Marianne lay back against the pillow and closed her eyes.

“You weren’t disappointed that I was born a girl, were you?” she asked him.

“No, not really,” he answered, “What makes you asked that?”

“Most fathers seem to be disappointed when they have girls.”

He stroked her hair as she fell asleep.

Catharine and Charles went home when Marianne was asleep but Mimi insisted on staying by her niece’s side. She ended up dozing off in her chair. As the fell asleep, she thought of how Marianne had been born on a Thursday and about the old saying : Thursday’s Child has far to go.  But Marianne would hardly be the first person to have far to go when they were nineteen.  Mimi wanted her to know what she had learned over the years, that we all must find some reason to keep going.

When Catharine arrived home, she went into the kitchen and fixed herself a cup of tea. It would have been cruel to wake up  Annette at this ungodly hour.

She plopped herself down in a chair at kitchen table and let out a loud sigh. Seeing her brother in law always made her feel like this. The clock struck one in the morning.

“Only one,” she thought, “I would have thought it was almost morning already.”

Catharine took a sip of her tea and closed her eyes. When she opened them, it was almost two.

That was the strange nature of time. When you’re watching the clock, you think you have forever but the minute you take your eyes off of it, time passes without you even knowing it. And children start off as tiny, lovable, and helpless creatures and before you know it, they are willful and independent with minds of their own.

 

Charles returned home to find Adèle waiting for him in the living room.

“I couldn’t sleep,” she told him.

“Well, she’s going to be fine,” he told her, kissing her on the forehead.

“What happened to her?”

“The poor thing’s been very unhappy,” he began. He told her what had happened and she took his hand in her’s.

Adèle could tell how much Charles’s daughter meant to him and therefor she meant a lot to her as well. The feelings of paternity which he had been unable to express all these years had been released all at once and had completely overcome him. It hurt him to see that the happy little baby he had left behind had grown into an unhappy young woman who was miserable enough to wish to take her own life.

A cold snap hit at beginning of February bringing with it a week of cloudy and frosty weather and intermittent showers of snow. During one of these snow showers, Marie ducked into the St. Sulpice metro station in order to ply her trade. She serviced a gentleman in the station bathroom and came out to find herself face to face with the devastatingly handsome young man she had encountered back in the fall; she would have recognized him anywhere. To her embarrassment, her blouse was undone, her skirt tucked up into her knickers, and her makeup had smudged, giving her circles around her eyes which would have put Theda Bara to shame.

Her handsome friend smiled to see her.

“Looks like you’ve been enjoying yourself,” he said, smirking.

Though modesty was never something Marie much worried about, she blushed and did up her blouse and straightened her skirt.

Like the previous time they met, his attention was taken by a blond haired girl who came over from a ticket kiosk. It was the same blonde he had asked her to follow the last time. Paris was indeed a small place.

“Nice to see you again, poupée,” he said tipping his hat to Marie.

The blonde got on the next train and he walked up the stairs to the street and went and sat in a cafe across the street.

Life at La Santé had changed for Augustin.

He was now seen as someone to be, if not feared, then approached with caution. Even the guards understood what he could do if riled. They knew what had happened to Camille but kept it to themselves. Camille was not sorely missed and his death had been written off as yet another prison suicide.

Augustin felt no remorse for what he had done. He would do it again if he had to.

“There’s a young lady to see you,” a guard came and told him, “She says she’s your cousin.”

Hélène came into the cell block. Augustin was surprised to see her and wondered how she could have gotten in. But then a girl who looked liked Hélène could tell people she was the rightful queen of France and people would believe her.

She was wearing a tight red sweater which showed off her considerable frontal assets to full advantage.

“Hello handsome, she said.

“What are you doing here?” He asked her.

“Is that any way to greet your cousin?”

He recalled what had happened the last time he had gotten involved with her and  saw nothing good coming out of this encounter. She was a girl who meant nothing but trouble.

Hélène reached into her pocket and took out a piece of paper.

“Read this,” she whispered, handing the piece of paper over to him, “By the way, your little friend is right behind me.”

Augustin had forgotten about Marianne’s existence for a few moments. No man could possibly think about any other woman when Hélène was around.

Hélène went out and Marianne came in. He stashed the piece of paper in his back pocket.

Marianne reached through the bars of the cell and stroked his cheek. He turned his head to look at her, revealing his other cheek, the one which had a wound healing into a scar. Her gloves did not go much beyond her wrist and the looseness of the sleeve of her coat left her wrist visible. The wrist was bandaged up.

“What happened to your wrist?” he asked her.

“Nothing,” she blushed, “I was careless with a kitchen knife.”

“I don’t think you could cut yourself like that by accident.”

“And about this scar on your cheek. Do you think I’ll believe that you cut yourself shaving?”

She stroked his marred cheek.

“I was stupid, I thought that I nothing to live for and no reason to keep living. But a good friend, my neighbor Louise, stepped in before it was too late. I’ve thought a lot about it and even if I have little to hope for I shouldn’t give into despair.”

Augustin kissed her wrist.

“We have plenty to hope for, I promise. When I first got here, I thought I was beaten. I wanted to give up but now I know that isn’t what I really want. We’re tough and we’ll get through all this.”

She leaned in through the bars and kissed him.

“I hope you’re right.”

“Time’s up, Mademoiselle,” the guard told her.

“Goodbye.”

“See you real soon, Chérie.”

He took the piece of paper Hélène had given her from his pocket when Marianne was gone.

“Dear M. Lerou, ” it read “My friend Hélène has been so kind as to deliver this message to you in my place. I apologize for the outcome of our previous association with one another and I am determined set things right by you.

Keep February 13th in your mind, it will be the day of your deliverance.

You friend, Bruno Faucherie. Ps. Destroy this immediately.

Augustin thought of ways to dispose of this letter but the best way he could think of was to eat it. He tore it up into little pieces and put them in his mouth, letting the paper soak in saliva to make it easier to swallow. It went down hard and left a lump in his throat.

His heart raced at the thought of being free but he thought it was too good to be true. Still he dared to hope that Faucherie would make good on his promise and help him escape and he could make good on his promise to Marianne that they would get through all this.

Marie saw the blonde return to St. Sulpice later that afternoon. The blonde went up the steps to the street, where she was stopped by the handsome young man in front of a cafe.

“Gone to see Ali Baba?” he asked.

“Leave me alone.” she answered, “Haven’t you done enough damage?”

“Haven’t you realized that you’re wasted on Augustin Lerou. A dainty little thing like you needs someone who can take care of her, do you think he can take care of you?”

“You’re unimaginable. You bother me for months and spread lies about me and yet you go and act like you have my best interest.”

She continued on her way.

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