A Lament for Eurydice: Part 1

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Another April arrived with all of its sweetness. The land budded and blossomed with potential as Proserpina returned to the loving arms of her mother. Spring’s bounty was used to adorn the village of Somnolentus Oppidum for the festival of  Cerealia.

Lord Gaius Marcus Valerius arrived back from Rome on the day that the celebrations were to begin. All of the inhabitants of his vast estate gathered to greet the master upon his return.

“How are things in Rome, my lord?” asked his wife, Lady Cornelia.

“Noisy and corrupt as usual, my lady,” his lordship answered.

Then approached his two stepdaughters, Augusta and Lavinia, and Lord Gaius  kissed them affectionately. They were tall, womanly, and beautiful girls with their mother’s dark eyes and hair and carved ivory features.

“Young Octavian, is he as handsome as everyone says?” Augusta inquired.

“He is everything a man of twenty-six could hope to be.”

“And his new wife, they say she is the most beautiful woman in Rome,” Lavinia joined in.

“She is nothing compared to thee, Lavinia, my dear.”

“Father!” a sweet voice like that of a lark called out from the garden.

It was his own dear child, Eurydice, returning with henna blossoms for her hair. Eurydice and her stepsisters were close in age but she was the youngest. Small and delicate, she appeared as though she would blow away in the wind like the posies in her hand. Her golden brown hair shown a ruddy gold in the sun and her sea colored eyes danced with delight upon seeing her father.

“Oh, how I missed thee.”

Lord Gaius  bestowed his fatherly blessing upon her with a kiss.

“Well, my beauties, I see thou all art ready to go to the festival.”

The three girls were dressed, nymph-like, in diaphanous robes with bare feet and adorned with flowers. They danced together like the three graces in anticipation of excitement and pleasure, bracelets and earrings jingling as they moved.

Somnolentus Oppidum’s Cerealia festival coincided with the arrival of a group of traveling performers lead by a character called Oeagrus the Thracian. What caught the village’s attention was a boy among the Thracian’s band who was devastatingly handsome. Swarthy and freckled with a wild head of deep brown curls, merry dark eyes, and a wide, roguish grin full of dazzling white teeth, he was the type of youth who made parents wish to hide away their daughters. Even more striking was how well he sang and played the lyre.

The music that this young man made seemed to cause nature itself to stop and listen. The wind quieted down, the birds ceased their chattering, the trees and flowers appeared to bend in his direction as if hanging on his every note.

It went around that he was Orpheus, the adopted son of Oeagrus. Rumor had it that he was the bastard offspring of Apollo himself and had gods and goddesses for his relatives. His mother had been called Calliope for her beautiful voice. Her enchanting singing was said to have caused Apollo to be consumed with passion for her. But this love turned out to be her downfall; she died bringing forth their child into the world. Bacchus, who gossip named as the boy’s uncle, gave Little Orpheus to his faithful servant, Oeagrus, to raise, since his wife was barren. Orpheus grew up favored by the gods: Apollo, his possible father, gave him the gift of song; Venus gave him beauty and success with the girls; Bacchus, his patron, looked after him.

Eros was often found at such village festivals because they were ideal places for him to work his mischief. He appeared in Somnolentus Oppidum as a common farm boy and blended into the crowd which had gathered to watch a troupe of musicians and dancing girls. Recognizable were the voice and lyre of his cousin, Orpheus, who was a great favorite with both him and his mother, Venus because he sang their praises so beautifully.

Eros took his bow and aimed an arrow at the young bard’s heart. Perhaps a youth such as him would like to spend the night frolicking in the bed of some village maid. But his concentration was broken by a trumpet fanfare announcing the arrival of  Lord Gaius Marcus Valerius and his family. The man himself, paunchy and pompous in his toga, rose from his sedan chair and took the place of honor to watch the festivities. His wife, graceful, elegant, and serene with a diadem studded with pearls and rubies adorning her hair, appeared from behind the blue curtains of her sedan and went to join Lord Gaius. Then appeared three maidens, who looked awfully tempting in their thin silk stolas. The oldest wore the blue, green, and purple shades of a peacock and the middle one wore  the gold and bronze hues of money. Pearls dangled from their earlobes and their arms were covered in golden bracelets; their eyes lined in black with the lids shaded purple.  The youngest was dressed in virginal white, her waist girded with a belt of lustful red and henna blossoms were arranged into her hair. Her eyelids and fingernails were painted blue; gold chains with tiny bells adorned her delicate ankles. The tiny bells jiggled as she scampered off with her sisters to join the dancing.

Orpheus sang praises to Bacchus and the joys of wine and revelry. The crowd was entranced and moved with reckless abandon. Eros again raised his bow in the direction of the bard and fired one of his lovely and deadly arrows into his heart.

The first thing that Orpheus noticed was the maiden with the bells on her ankles prancing and twirling her veil around, intoxicated by the music. Eros’s poison made his heart burn with longing for the girl which was further inflamed by watching her dance. The theme of the bard’s song changed to love and desire; the hearts of the crowd were uplifted by the knowledge that there were so much beauty and pleasure in the world.

Eurydice was happier than she had ever been in the entirety of  her young life. All of her fears and cares flew away as she lost herself in the rhythm. Suddenly, she felt a hand on her shoulder which made her nearly jump out of her skin. Fortunately, it was only her stepsister, Lavinia.

“I’m sorry to scare thee, Eurydice, my love,” Lavinia said, “Especially when thou wert enjoying thyself so much.”

“I thought thou wert someone else,” Eurydice answered.

“A handsome boy?”

“A frightening man.”

“Why frightening, dear sister?”

“Because he has been following me like a shadow which reappears whenever I think I have lost him.”

“It is because thou art beautiful, my love. A face like thine cannot expect but to drive men mad.”

“He goes about in what looks a shroud and wears a mask of a dead man’s face; he looks like death itself.”

“Tis only a reveler looking to make merry. Many go about sporting disguises during these happy days.”

“I went to pray at the temple of Diana nearly two weeks ago, he has tormented me since then. Every time I go into the village, he has appeared to frighten me.”

“I thought thou wert nearly a woman, but I see thou art a child still.”

Shamed by her own cowardice, Eurydice hung her head. Lavinia took her hands and they rejoined the dancing.

Orpheus took a break from playing. He noticed his fair dancer talking with another maiden, presumably her sister. A small peasant boy was near them playing the timbrel.

“My good man,” he said to the child, “Dost thou know that maiden over there, the one with the henna blossoms in her hair.”

“Aye,” the little peasant answered, “Tis Eurydice of the Valerii, daughter of Gaius Marcus Valerius, who owns that big villa near here.”

“Many thanks, take this for thy pains”

He tossed a coin into the timbrel; the boy thanked him and danced off.

So her name was Eurydice. Should he approach her? If so, what should he say? He, a lowly bard, could not just walk up to the daughter of a great lord and speak words of love. Such words got stuck in his throat unless he sang them. His music could say more than plain speech ever would.

The young bard did not suspect that the little peasant boy with the timbrel was, in fact, his cousin, Eros, who was laughing at his plight. A poor, wandering player in love with a high born lady, it was all too much. One of Eros’s favorite jokes was making someone fall for a person they could never have. Even if Fair Eurydice did return his love, her family would never approve. The case of poor Orpheus was hopeless.

A group of women clad in white robes carrying torches walked through the streets of the village when it grew dark, symbolizing Proserpina’s reunion with her mother, Ceres. But the behavior of the crowds belonged more to Bacchus. Music and riotous dancing filled the night. Much wine was drunk.

Although it was late, Eurydice was not one bit tired. She felt as though she could dance forever and never feel fatigued. Many of the other revelers had donned costumes and masks. Among the crowd appeared a slender, agile, cat-like form shrouded in a dark cloak. He wore a pale gaunt face which looked like a skull.

All of the color drained from Eurydice’s face and she let out a chilling scream. Her stepsisters rushed over to comfort her.

“Sweet sister, what troubles thee so?” Augusta asked.

“Dost thou see him?” Eurydice responded.

“See who?”

“The one in the death mask.”

Augusta and Lavinia searched around to see what she was speaking of. They did not see anything. Poor Eurydice grew more hysterical.

“There’s the man I spoke to you of. Lavinia, thou shouldst remember.”

“Poor child,” Lady Cornelia added, “All this Bacchanalia has caused her to run mad.”

Eurydice was sent home in a sedan chair and told to go straight to bed. The slave assigned to be Eurydice’s maid was a girl her own age named Flora, who had been born in Lord Gaius’s household. She had been a playmate to Eurydice when they were children and a confident now that they were older.  Flora helped Eurydice undress and drew her a bath scented with rose petals and cinnamon oil. While she bathed, Flora read Cicero aloud to her.

The night’s festivities ended with a pack of foxes with lit forces tied to their tails being released into the fields to purify them and scare away vermin. It had been a rewarding evening for Eros, who had managed to seduce a baker’s daughter. Imagine the look on her betrothed’s face when he realizes that someone already took a bit out of his little pastry. Then there had been a shepherd boy; Eros flattered himself that he had been a step up from the shepherd’s flock of sheep.

With nothing more to do, Eros decided to follow his cousin, Orpheus. Love drew the young bard to the villa of Gaius Marcus Valerius and showed him to the lit window which belonged to Eurydice. He began to play, singing of love in his sweetest notes.

His song soothed Eurydice’s troubled mind and drew her to her window. She had never heard such beautiful music before and desired to know where it came from.

“Thou playest marvelously,” she said to the young man below her, “But if anyone seest thou, my stepmother is sure to have thee killed. What a shame it would be to kill the source of such lovely sounds.”

“Come down, sweetest Eurydice,” he implored, “and we’ll disappear into the night where no one can see us.”

“Such a thing is impossible. Thou art too forward.”

“Then I will come up and claim the fee for my song.”

He began to climb up a vine-covered trellis to her window. Eros aimed one of this arrows at the maiden’s heart, and laughed, suspecting that she would not be a maiden for much longer. He hit the mark and she felt an unbearable pang.

Orpheus took one of Eurydice’s tiny, delicate hands and kissed it. She felt flushed and dizzy. He leaned in and gave her another kiss on the mouth before descending with one of his roguish grins.

The sweet days of April and May passed in a dreamy blur for Orpheus. He wandered the meadows when the sun was in the sky, strumming his lyre and singing to himself. Wildflowers, ruby red poppies, bright blue cornflowers, and golden buttercups, bobbed in the wind as if waving a greeting to him.  

At night, he would return to the window of Eurydice and sing the songs he spent the day composing. The feelings of love which he inspired in her were so unfamiliar and overpowering that she felt they would be the death of her. He smiled, knowing that her heart was more and more his every time they met. Then he would climb up the trellis and claim a kiss as a reward for his song.

When the sun rose on the horizon, Orpheus would walk through a forest outside of her father’s estate and rest under one of the trees for a few hours; lovers need very little sleep. The yews, the limes, the maples, the willows, and the elms all would bend their branches as if bowing to him as he entered. A gentle breeze would seem to whisper “there he is, the dreamer; there he is, the lover.”

The center of the courtyard of the Valerii villa was taken up by a bathing pool which was tiled in blue mosaics. At its far end was a fountain which spilled over into a fish pond. Surrounding the pool were fruit trees which grew figs, peaches, apricots, and pomegranates.

Eurydice lay by the bathing pool while one of the maids rubbed fragrant almond oil into her skin. The  sweet voice of a greek slave girl read aloud from The Odyssey accompanied by the strumming of a lyre. Other maids combed cinnamon oil through Augusta’s hair, plucked at Lavinia’s armpits, and hung up silk sheets to be aired which provided privacy for the bathers.  Lady Cornelia reclined under a blue canopy. The flock of peacocks, which followed her around as if she were Juno herself, were gathered around her, eating seeds from her hand; one rested its head in her lap.

There was much for Lady Cornelia and her daughters to speak about. Both Augusta and Lavinia were to be married that summer to wealthy and handsome young patricians. Love and marriage were things which Eurydice had not yet thought about until now. What she felt for Orpheus was so strong that she believed she would run off with him without the solemnization of marriage if he wished her to. As her father’s only child, she would inherit everything when he died and when most men saw her, they saw his fortune. A peasant maiden could marry for love but a wealthy heiress had other considerations, though finding love was not impossible; Augusta and Lavinia both loved the men they were betrothed to. Orpheus only wanted her and did not care who her father was or how rich he was.

Eurydice would swear that she heard something rustling in among the fruit trees in the orchard. It may of have been just her febrile imagination but she saw a death’s head poke out at her.

“Eurydice, Eurydice, what ails thee, child?” Lady Cornelia shouted in concern when she saw her step-daughter faint.

“Tis him, my lady: the death’s head!” Eurydice cried.

“Nonsense, thou hast spent too much time in the sun. Tis all.”

She called for a maid to bring the girl some refreshments. The maid returned with a glass of sweet and chilled wine. After taking this sustenance, Eurydice was brought back inside to rest.

Lord Gaius was immensely proud of a giant, black, brute of a stallion which was a new addition to his stables. To celebrate the acquisition of the animal, His Lordship threw a dinner party for some of his friends. The party lasted until late into the night. Rollicking drunk, Lord Gaius, and his friends went out to the stables to see the horse. A stable lad was ordered to bring out the horse.

Orpheus snuck into the grounds of the Valerii villa that night for another of trysts with Eurydice. To his surprise, he discovered that the villa was bustling with activity. A group of noblemen, including Lord Gaius, lead by slaves carrying torches came towards the stables to look at a fine black stallion, restrained by a pair of stable lads. Something in the bushes must have startled the horse for he broke free from his handlers and charged towards the group of noblemen. He reared and looked as though he would trample Lord Gaius.  

Orpheus stepped in and began to strum his lyre and sing a hymn in praise of tempestuous Poseidon, who created the first horse in a vain attempt to woo his sister Demeter. The black stallion became calm and gentle and let the young man stroke his flanks.

“My son,” Lord Gaius said, “I owe thee my life. Whatever thou ask for in return, I shall grant.”

“My lord,” Orpheus replied, “I ask far too great a price for such a small service but it is the only thing I want. I humbly ask for the hand of thy daughter, Eurydice.”

Lord Gaius was shocked by the audacity of this request but he had given his word. He called for Eurydice and told her that if she loved this brave and bold young man, he would think over letting him marry her.

“I love him,” Eurydice swore, “and I will be no one else’s wife but his.”

Lady Cornelia and her daughters disapproved of the match. Eurydice deserved better, they argued, than to traipse about the empire, begging for coins and sharing a pauper’s couch. But Lord Gaius dismissed their arguments, saying that this was a matter for the gods. He would go to the temple of Apollo in Rome and seek guidance from the family patron.

The temple oracle burned bay laurel leaves to summon the god and Lord Gaius poured half the contents of a goblet of fine wine onto the ground and drank the rest. His lordship beseeched the god for guidance in choosing a husband for his beloved child.

Apollo had seen that his son loved this mortal’s daughter and sought her for his wife. He took the form of a particular elderly nobleman, an old friend of Lord Gaius, and asked what was troubling him.

“I wish to know if I should consent to have my daughter marry a young man who has asked for her hand,” Lord Gaius responded.

“Who is this young man?” Apollo asked.

“Orpheus the bard. He is poor and yet blessed beyond most men in his voice and lyre, which he has used to win the love of my daughter.

“He is certainly blessed, not least of all in his parentage. His father is Apollo himself and his mother Calliope was said to exceed most women in her beauty and skill with music. Any maiden would highly fortunate if she were to become his wife.”

Lord Gaius was won over by the prospect of having a demigod as a son-in-law and semi-divine grandchildren. He sent for young Orpheus and gave his consent for the youth to marry Eurydice.

The Valerii had a summer full of weddings. Lady Cornelia scarcely finished planning one bridal feast when she had to start preparing for another. Lord Gaius’s head steward frequently went into the nearby market to order supplies for the kitchen. The head steward was a notoriously discerning individual and would only accept the best for his master.

On the night before her wedding, Eurydice offered up playthings and maiden’s robes at the shrine to her household gods. Among the trinkets of her childhood was a lunula, a crescent-shaped amulet worn as a protective talisman by young girls prior to marriage. In the morning, she was dressed in a white gown with a belt tied around her waist in a special knot called the “knot of Hercules” and an orange veil held in place with a crown of flowers.

Orpheus waited for Eurydice at the Valerii family shrine where they clasped hands and repeated the vows of consents.

He said: “Quando tu Gaia, ego Gaius,”  Where you are Gaia, I am Gaius.

She replied: “Quando tu Gaius, ego Gaia,”  Where you are Gaius, I am Gaia.

He untied her belt, which symbolized her being freed of her family ties. They made an offering of a special type of bread called Panis Farreus to Jupiter and then ate it.

 

When night fell,  oil lamps were lit and placed all around the villa. Guests were lead in through the atrium, past brightly colored murals and mosaics depicting scenes of the countryside, past marble busts of dead family members, including Lady Lucretia, Lord Gaius’s first wife, and past the pool which collected the water that fell in through the skylight, to the dining room.

Slaves washed the feet of the guests as they came in and gave them crowns of roses anointed with perfume to enhance their scent. Bondmaids fanned them with peacock feathers or carried pitchers, basins, and towels for them to wash their hands. The couches were softened with feather cushions and covered in rich fabrics. A table covered in delicious things was brought out at the beginning of each course and removed to be laden again for the next course. Bread dipped in wine was brought out for the first course along with fried pig’s nipples, roasted mice in honey and poppy seeds, fried stuffed cow’s wombs, green and black olives, pomegranate seeds, milk-fed snails stuffed with mincemeat, and goose liver fattened with figs.

Lord Gaius  proposed a number of toasts to the health, happiness, and good fortune of his dear daughter and her new husband and brought out the finest wines he could afford.

The next course was made up of a soft cheese, calf’s brain custard with garum, quail eggs, roast capon, honey glazed rabbit sprinkled with rose petals, fish in a pepper sauce, and pork meatballs.

A Trojan hog was the climax of the feast: a pig roasted in garum sauce and served whole on the table with suckling piglets made of pastry nestled up to it. When the pig was cut open, sausages fell out.

A statue of the god Priapus stood as the centerpiece of the final course and held a basket of peaches and figs. The fourth and last course included small cakes that shoot out saffron custard when you touch them, honey fingers, and savillum, a honey-sweetened cheesecake.

Dancing girls dressed in flowing silk appeared at the end of the feast and shimmied and swayed to the music of drums, tambourines, and cymbals, sprinkling rose petals on the guests.

Orpheus, with his bride reclining next to him on the top couch, sang hymns to Hymen, the God who blesses and curses all marriages. His singing summoned the god to the feast.

Hymen arrived to find the torch he had carried with him had cooled to smoking embers. He tried to blow and fan  it back into a flame but it was all in vain.

The young couple was oblivious to this ill omen. When the night grew so late that it may be called early, a joyful Eurydice was lead to the bridal chamber by her new husband. She carried a special torch which she blew out and tossed among the guests. Clinging to her stepmother and stepsisters, she made a humorously melodramatic show of pretending to be scared and hesitant to enter her bridal chamber. Orpheus ripped her from their arms with mock force and carried her over the threshold.

Eurydice had never passed such a blissful night. A deep and sweet sleep fell upon her, which lasted until first light. In her half-awake delirium, she saw death’s heads in every dark corner of her chamber.

Orpheus stirred in the bed next to her. He kissed her and bid her good morning. The rosy dawn chased away all of Eurydice’s dark thoughts. Her maids crept in, bringing with them a breakfast of bread dipped in wine, and porridge.

“My Lord, My Lady,” they chirped.

The newlyweds quickly dressed and took their morning meal into the garden. Orpheus composed a song, thanking Venus for the happiness he now enjoyed.

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Retribution: Chapter Thirty-Four

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Marianne shook her hair free of its braid and unbuttoned her corduroy shirt. She shed her boy’s clothing and let her sweat-damp skin cool off. In stories she had read, when a girl adopted a masculine disguise, she would rave about how liberating it was to be free of cumbersome corsets and petticoats and the constraints of lady-like behavior. The clothes she had borrowed from Léon, the corduroy shirt and a pair of denim overalls, were too big and baggy for her and felt unbearably hot and scratchy on a day like this; what she would not give to be able to wear one of her light cotton summer dresses.

What a relief it was to be free of her of them; to sit in the gritty, beige colored sand and feel the breezing coming off of the water against her bare skin and through her gossamer-like rayon underthings.

The sky over the Channel was a clear azure blue without a single cloud, the way it would be in a watercolor postcard. Off in the distance were the chalky, greyish white cliffs which Normandy was famous for. Their pale color stood out against the rolling green hills which capped them. Marianne and Augustin and had found this beach outside of Le Havre as they were exploring the town. Throughout her life, Marianne would always remember this place as one where she had been perfectly happy. There she had died and gone to heaven.

Augustin lay by her side in the sand. She could not tell if he was asleep. Smiling at him, she stood up and walked towards the water. It was cold but felt refreshing on such a hot day. She walked into the Channel until she was waist deep and then dove into breaking wave. Her head felt clear again after hours of being in a dream-like haze from heat and fatigue. When her head popped up above the water, she saw that Augustin was sitting up with, looking absently at the sky and petting Johnny, who was next to him. Marianne swam to the shore and returned to his side.

“What were you thinking about?” she asked him.

“A place I was many years ago,” he replied, “When I was little. The memories I have of it are so hazy that I’m not even sure its a real place. A crescent-shaped beach like this one, except the water was turquoise blue instead of grey-blue.”

“Maybe we’ll go there someday and see if its real.”

After the sun had dried Marianne off from her swim, they returned to an abandoned chateau on the outskirts of  Le Havre which had been taken over as a hobo jungle. It had the white stone walls and bluish grey slate roofs typically of French architecture. The walls were overgrown with moss, ivy, and mold and the windows were mostly smashed. Inside, the front hall had a black and white marble floor and a grand staircase with a delicate wrought iron banister. Its former grandeur was hidden under years of dust and grime.

The other hobos were in the back courtyard, sitting in the shade of the three massive oaks that grew there. In the center was a fire pit dug in the ground and marked off by a circle of stones. It was filled with the ash and charcoal from previous fires. Pots and pans for cooking were scattered around it.

The chateau was an ideal place for a hobo jungle. Close to the railroad tracks and the city proper but far away enough to be out of reach of the authorities. There was the house itself which provided shelter from the weather and the nearby Seine for washing and fishing. The woods surrounding the chateau were filled with rabbits, pigeons, and edible mushrooms and people in the area would give you food and other necessities in exchange for work. A symbol was carved in the wood of the front gate: a square with its roof missing. Gui had told them that this meant that the location was a good place to camp.

A girl named Alice lit a fire under a pot of stew. She had a bag filled with tomatoes, onions, and wild mushrooms and began to cut them up with a pocket knife and through into the stewpot.

“Where did you get those?” Marianne asked her

“There’s an old woman who lives nearby,” Alice replied, stroking Johnny’s velvety black ears “In exchange for help in the garden, she’ll give you a share of the produce. You can come with me tomorrow if you like?”

“Certainly, which house does she live in?”

“The one what has the cat carved into the fence.”

A cat carved onto a fence meant that kind people lived the house behind it.

“I have a present for you,” Augustin whispered to Marianne as he sat down beside her.

“Oh,” Marianne responded, “What is it?”

He produced a small switchblade knife from his pack. It was a silvery color with a bone handle and Marianne could almost describe it as beautiful.

“It’s little and pretty, just like you, but it can be dangerous,” Augustin stood up and gestured for Marianne to do the same, “But first you have to know how to use it. Keep it somewhere on you where can easily get at it. The time you waste reaching for it can be the difference between life and death.”

He flicked open the knife and stood in front of Marianne as if he were about to fight her with it.

“Keep your knife arm close to your body. It will keep your attacker at bay and make it easier for you get at them and make sure the knife is pointed directly at your target.. Now try to take the knife away from me.”

Marianne reached to take it away from him but he jerked his knife hand away from her before she could get at it. She tried again but he did the same thing again. His hand moved rapidly in every direction, forming a protective shield.

“Keep moving. If your hand stays still, they can easily rip from the knife from your hand. It also makes it harder for them to get close to you.”

He held his other arm in front of his face.

“Use your other arm to protect your face. We don’t want that sweet puss to get cut up, do we? If possible, use it to grab your attacker’s other arm.”

The knife’s blade was placed on the left side of Marianne’s neck, underneath the chin.

“This should be enough to get them to back off. One good swipe of the hand from here would finish them right off.”

He flicked the blade closed and handed the knife back to her.

“Remember, using this isn’t whats important, it’s making people know you can and you will. Your average thug is usually a coward, especially the ones who would harass a woman, and will usually back off if you show them you can take them on.”

“I hope I never have to slit anyone’s throat,” Marianne said.

“I hope you never have to do it either but it never hurts to be prepared. Now you try.”

He handed the knife over to her and instructed her to hide it either in her waistband or in her boot. The waist of her overalls was too loose, so she decided that her boot would be the better place to keep the knife.

“I’m coming at you. See if you can fight me off.”

Marianne reached into her boot and pulled the knife out. While she was bent down, Augustin grabbed her by the waist.

“You’re too slow.”

She fumbled with the knife to try to flick it open but he snatched it out of her hand before she could do so.

“Now you are disarmed. Better keep practicing, Chérie.”

The Young Martyr by Paul Delaroche was one of Catharine’s favorite works of art in the Louvre. It depicted a sweet-faced, fair-haired maiden dressed in white robe floating in a lake or river with her wrists tied while two enshadowed and distraught figures (presumably the poor child’s parents) looked on from the banks. Catharine figured that the dead girl was meant to be an early Christian who had been put to death for her beliefs. She pitied her for having been foolish enough to throw her life away but pitied her parents more because her death must have broken their hearts. God would have wanted her to marry a good man, have children, and live a long and fulfilling life. He gives us life and the last thing he wants is for us to squander it away.

“My dear Chatte,” a weak, raspy voice called to her from behind.

She turned around to see a tall, well-dressed man carrying a newspaper under his arm. His once handsome face was florid and puffy and his once trim, elegant waist had doubled. He greeted Catharine with a leering smile.

“Georges,” she replied, “I never noticed how fat you’ve gotten.”

“You’re no longer a fresh young flower yourself, my dear Chatte.”

“And I’ve seen more of you this year than I care to.”

He grinned at her like a schoolboy with a secret. His teeth had been stained yellow and reeked of tobacco.

“What the devil are you smirking about, you fat fool?”

“So you did not read today’s paper?”

He handed her the newspaper he had carried under his arm and walked away laughing. The ugly, mean-spirited leer on his face reminded Catharine of a statue depicting a satyr she had seen the Louvre’s gallery of Greco-Roman statues. Georges had the intelligence and morals of a satyr; nothing on his mind except for his appetites and satisfying them. He was a weak fool who could not keep this hands off of any pretty bit of skirt who crooked their wicked little finger at him. This is why she had divorced him in the first place.

The two times she had to put up with him this year, at the weddings of their daughters, were more than she was able to bear and running into him like this was enough to almost make her lose her temper. She tried her best to remain calm and composed but inwardly she was cursing her ex-husband to the deepest pits of hell.

Catharine looked at the newspaper Georges had given her. On the front page was a photograph of Augustin Lerou above the headline “Augustin Lerou flees Paris following backstreet confrontation” and an article describing how the “young protege of the notorious Bruno Faucherie” is implicated in a violent assault on Edmond Danton, a “high society man about town.”

Lower down on the page was a photograph of Marianne.

“The cause of the fight between Lerou and Danton is believed to be blonde beauty, Marianne d’Aubrey,” the article read, “Mademoiselle d’Aubrey (19) has been missing for several months and is likely to have joined Lerou in leaving town.”

The article gave the implication that Augustin Lerou and Edmond Danton had clashed because they were rivals for the lovely Marianne’s affections. Preferring Augustin, Marianne had run away from her friends and family to join her lover and then left Paris with him. Police were looking for the couple since he was already a wanted fugitive following an escape from La Santé prison.

“Readers are advised to be on the lookout for a tall, swarthy young man with dark hair and green eyes,” the article continued, “and a petite, blonde haired young woman with greyish eyes. Lerou was last seen wearing a grey flannel suit and a red silk shirt; d’Aubrey was last seen wearing a pale pink chiffon dress and a cloche hat decorated with white ribbons.”

Catharine imagined that Georges had a good laugh when he read this. Like most small minds, he never forgot even the most minor of slights and brooded over them, always waiting for even the smallest victory over those who he believed had wronged him. Being blackmailed by a former mistress had been humiliating enough without the high and mighty d’Aubries closing ranks against him. This had been a rare instance of solidarity between Catharine had her sister Madeleine, who had been the one to inform Catharine of the blackmail scandal. Now Madeleine’s precious little daughter was being dragged through the press as the floozie of a wanted fugitive. Revenge certainly was sweet, was it not?

Catharine continued walking through the museum and came to a long gallery displaying statues. She stopped to admire the Dying Slave and the Rebellious Slave, the only two Michelangelo statues on display outside of Italy, as a guide announced. At the far end of the gallery was Antonio Canova’s famous Psyche Awakened by Cupid’s Kiss, another of Catharine’s favorite pieces in the museum. An exquisitely handsome, winged youth cradled his beloved in his arms after giving her true love’s kiss. Theirs was a romantic tale about an exceptionally beautiful maiden who offends the goddess Aphrodite but wins the love and desire of her son, Cupid.

“Madame Catharine,” a young man standing nearby called to her.

She turned to see Gabriel Renault also admiring Psyche Awakened by Cupid’s Kiss. Gabriel gave Catharine a polite bow of his head. Catharine smiled; Pascal Renault had raised his son well.

“What brings you to Paris today?” she asked him.

“I’ve been feeling restless at home and needed to get away,” he replied.

Catharine understood. Contaille was a pleasant enough place to live but did not offer much excitement for a young man. Young people of Gabriel’s generation seemed to suffer from a general malaise. They had come of age in the wake of the trauma caused by the Great War and saw little besides hardship and upheaval. When they looked around them, they saw thousands of people out of work and struggling to support themselves and their families and those in power too busy quibbling over petty differences in ideology to do anything about it. That fat clown, Mussolini, was still causing trouble in Italy and some buffoon with a Charlie Chaplin mustache had come to power in Germany. The world seemed to be hurtling towards yet another disaster.

“When the things seem hopeless, the best thing to do is to go to an art museum,” Catharine told Gabriel, “They remind you that mankind is capable of doing great things which will last throughout the centuries.”

Gabriel’s eyes drank in every detail of the statue: the serene, adoring smiles on the faces of Psyche and Cupid, the way her arms were thrown around his neck, and how one of his hands cradled her head while the other caressed her left breast.

“How’s Marianne?” he asked, “Have you heard anything from her?”

Catharine handed him the newspaper she had read. It was a cruel thing to do, shattering this young man’s illusions, but he deserved to know the truth. Gabriel looked over the newspaper. She expected him to be shocked, or angry, and upset, but he simply looked concerned. He made the sign of the cross and murmured something to himself, possibly a prayer or blessing. If Catharine had been in this situation, she would have cursed Marianne for her foolishness and cursed Augustin for stealing her away but Gabriel appeared to be a more forgiving soul than she was.

She put her hand on his shoulder, thinking that she could at least buy the disappointed swain lunch.

Gabriel had to refuse Catharine’s lunch invitation because he had already promised his sister Gillian that he would meet her for lunch at the nearby Café des Beaux-Arts. He made his way across the river via the Pont des Arts bridge, its railings laden with locks inscribed with the names of countless lovers.

Gillian had found a table outside of the cafe. She stood up when she saw him; he came over and kissed her on the cheek. Though she was five years his junior, Gillian always fussed over him. Today, she said that he was looking pale and thin. Gabriel responded that the opposite could be said about her. Gillian was a pretty, rosy-cheeked girl with reddish brown hair and large blue eyes who was inclined to be slightly plump. She had been putting on weight, which was unsurprising in her condition. Her little rosebud mouth was full and petulant which made her look childish instead of like a woman who was expecting her first child.

When they sat down, Gillian placed a newspaper on the table.

“Did you see this?” she asked.

“Yes,” he growled in reply, not wanting to go through this again.

“I told you that mooning about after that d’Aubrey girl wouldn’t end well. She turned up her nose like she is too good for you, now look who she takes up with. Pampered princesses like Marianne d’Aubrey never know how good they have it.”

They had this conversation many times before and Gabriel did not feel like having it yet another time.

“How was your doctor’s appointment today?” he inquired for the sake of changing the subject.

Gillian patted her stomach and stated proudly that all was going as well as could be expected and she was in good form.

“When is my nephew due?”

“In December.”  

“Congratulations.”

As they ate their lunches, Gabriel managed to avoid bringing up the subject of Marianne d’Aubrey. They talked about their father’s health, how they were going to pay the mortgage on the farm, and Yve’s letters from Morocco. Gabriel was not feeling very chatty; he picked at his meal and gave a two or three-word answer to Gillian’s questions and comments.

Gillian looked at her brother’s dejected expression with a smug, “I told you so” smile.

“Cheer up, Gabriel,” she said to him, “That girl’s not worth it.”

At the beginning of July, the Dantons hosted a party celebrating their daughter Solange’s engagement to Germain Muffat, heir to the Muffat mustard fortune. The match was all over the society columns, which predicted that their upcoming nuptials in November would be the wedding of the year.  

Edmond had been released from the hospital the week before and the bandage over his eye had attracted considerable attention. He told anyone who would listen about how he had been wounded while heroically trying to stop his poor cousin Marianne from running off with a dangerous criminal and was shot because that floozie had urged to her lover to do so.

Young Muffat had used his connections to engage Mademoiselle Hélène to sing at the party. When she walked into the drawing room, Edmond approached her, took her hand, and kissed it.

“Mademoiselle,” he said to her, “I’ve had the pleasure of hearing you sing a number of times at Le Monstre. You were superb.”

“I thank you, Monsieur…” Hélène replied.

“Edmond Danton. May I get you some champagne?”

“Certainly.”

Edmond grabbed two glasses of champagne from a nearby tray held by an impeccably turned out footman and lead Hélène over to where Mathilde was standing, by a massive bouquet of yellow irises.

“Poupée,” he called over to her, “Come meet the guest of honor. Mademoiselle Hélène, this is my wife, Mathilde.”

“It’s a pleasure,” Mathilde responded.

“Likewise,” Hélène retorted.

Across the room, Agnès stood staring at Hélène. She had heard that Hélène was the most beautiful woman in Paris and the woman she saw in front of her did not fall short of this description. Hélène was one of those women who made the whole room gasp when she walked in.

Kit playfully elbowed her in the stomach.

“Stop gawking,” he said, “Go over and talk to her.”

“I wasn’t gawking,” Agnès snapped, “And you can’t just walk up to a famous person.”

Kit did exactly that. He grabbed Agnès by the arm and dragged her over to where Edmond, Hélène, and Mathilde were standing.

“Mademoiselle,” he said to her, “This young lady has been dying to talk to you.”

Agnès flushed red and glared at her husband.

“I’m Agnès Trask,” she told Hélène, “You’ve just met my sister and brother-in-law.”

“It’s a pleasure,” Mathilde responded.

“And this is my husband, Kit.”

So, you’re married. Why you’re just a child.”

“I’m old enough to know my own mind.”

Hélène smiled and nodded her head to acknowledge that the younger girl had spirit.

“What’s with the eyepatch your brother-in-law is wearing? Did he think this was a costume party?”

“He says he was shot by someone called Augustin, who’s my cousin’s lover.”

“Augustin… Augustin Lerou?”

“I think that’s his name.”

“Is your cousin Marianne d’Aubrey?”

“Yes, do you know them?”

“We’ve met.”

“I’ve read in the papers that they left town together. Do you know where they might have gone?”

“They could be in the Land of Oz or Never Neverland for all I know and if I did know, I wouldn’t say anything. Augustin is reckless but he’s not stupid, I’m sure they’re far away and he’s keeping your cousin safe.”

“I hope you’re right.”

Agnès walked over to a footman with a tray of champagne flutes. Walking over, she passed Edmond who gave her a nod.

Marianne admired the bone handle of her knife. With the sharp end of a file, she had carved three fleurs-de-lys flowers into it. When she was a child, she one of her toys had been a wooden sword with similar carvings that she used to pretend she was Jeanne la Pucelle. She would swing her sword and battle English knights and fearsome dragons. Monsters and enemies were easily defeated in those days, quickly sent back into the closet or under the bed where they had come from. Hopefully, the triple fleur-de-lys symbol would bring her the same level of confidence.

Augustin brought her over a tumbler of Calvados from the bar at the cafe in Le Havre where they were sitting.  Marianne took a sip; it felt like acid going down her throat.

“Would you like some soda in that?” Augustin asked after seeing the grimace on her face.

“No, I’m fine,” Marianne replied.

She took another sip of calvados and made another grimace.

“You don’t have to drink it if you don’t want to. I can get you something else.”

“I’m fine, let’s not waste our money.”

During the weeks they had been in Le Havre, Augustin had found on-and-off-again work unloading ships that came into the docks. Marianne herself had found work at a fried fish stand on the Quai de Southampton, where the ferries coming and going across the Channel to England left from. She spent the hot and hazy days of late June rolling greasy chunks of shellfish such as oysters, clams, and mussels in flour and cornstarch and frying them in boiling oil before drizzling them in vinegar sauce and wrapping them up in old newspaper. The fish stand had a nice view of the Channel. On a clear day, she could see the faintest outline of the English coast, possibly the city of Portsmouth. Marianne whiled away the hours staring across the water and dreaming about hopping on a ferry to England and leaving all of her problems behind in France.

The radio in the cafe was tuned into the Muffat Mustard Hour and tonight they were having music live from the ballroom at the Ritz. The band played loud and infectious jazz music. Marianne had finished her calvados in several large gulps and it had gone right to her head, making her giddy. She got up and danced, swaying and shuffling to the music and swinging her arms around.

Two young men at a nearby table noticed her. They were local toughs of the type that Augustin often came across around the docks: coarse, mean, and not terribly bright. One was thin and lanky while the other was stout and beefy. Augustin figured they had roughly the intelligence that God would give a pile of gull shit but they were not blind. They knew what a girl looked like, despite the way she might be dressed.

But Marianne only had eyes for Augustin. He shot her two admirers a smirk and a look which said “you’re broke, ugly, and stupid. what girl in her right mind would look at you?” which they took offense to.

The two dock workers came over where Augustin was sitting and pounded their meaty fists on the table to get his attention.

“Hey,” the skinny one  said to the beefy one, “Last time I checked, this place didn’t serve gypsies.”

With Augustin’s swarthy complexion and dark, wildly curly hair (which he had had not cut in several weeks),  they thought he might have come to town with one of the caravans that traveled around the coast.

“They don’t seem to have a problem letting ass-holes in,” Augustin sneered.

The beefy dock worker lunged at Augustin’s neck but was stopped in his tracks when Augustin pulled out his pistol and firing a bullet into the wall behind them which sent the two scurrying like rats. After leaving the money for the drinks on the bar counter, he grabbed a giggling Marianne by arm and ran out into the street, followed by a yipping Johnny.

“I hope they brought a change of pants,” she laughed.

The best places to hide were the warehouse by the docks. They ducked into an alley behind one of the warehouses after checking to see if anyone was following them. Marianne scooped Johnny into her arms to soothe him.  When he saw that the coast was clear, Augustin picked Marianne up and placed her on top a stack of wooden crates.

“I shouldn’t have brought you with me,” he said in between playful kisses on her lips and neck, “You stick out too much.”

Marianne kissed him back and threw her arms around his neck. He began to unbutton her shirt until he was interrupted by Johnny’s barking.

“Ahh merde,” he groaned.

“What’s the matter?” she replied.

“Laurel and Hardy are back.”

The two dock workers came down the alley looking like a pair of rabid dogs. Augustin got up to face them.

“ Returned for more, haven’t you?” he taunted.

They circled around Augustin, vulture-like, while he dared them to come at him. The beefy one knocked him down with a blow to the stomach. Augustin quickly got back up and took out skinny one with a punch in the face. Beefy avenged his friend by shoving Augustin back to the ground. As he got back on this his feet, Augustin managed to trip Beefy, who, along with skinny, lunged at him.

Marianne pulled her knife out of her boot and flicked it open. She jumped in front of Beefy and Skinny before they could get to Augustin, her knife drawn on them.

“Very funny sweetheart,” Skinny sneered.

Beefy tried to take the knife from Marianne but she kept moving her hands in rapid motions the way Augustin had instructed her. She kept her arms close to her body and used one of them to protect her face and block Beefy’s blows. The swift movement tired him out until she had a clear shot at his neck. With a quick thrust, she cut a gash down his throat. He yelled in pain, clutching his wound, and ran off with Skinny in toe.

Augustin smiled at her when they were alone again.

“I’ve taught you well,” he chuckled.

In one of the towers of the abandoned chateau sat what was left of a great lady’s boudoir. The furniture was covered in dust cloths and the french windows were boarded up. Every flat surface in the room was covered in dust and the air smelled moldy. To let in a fresh breeze, Augustin found a crowbar and removed the boards over the windows so he could open them.

One of the pieces of furniture that had been left behind was a sofa wide enough for two people to lay together.

Marianne began to wake a first light. The dry dusty air had given her a stuffed up nose and scratchy throat. One of Augustin’s arms was wrapped around her waist. She gave a nudge and he responded with a sleepy groan.

“Augustin,” she whispered.

“Yes,” he yawned.

“Can you let me go please?”

“No.”

“Please, I have to go into the woods.”

Augustin wrapped his other arm around her.

“No you don’t”

Marianne sighed and rested her head on his shoulder.

“We did well back there, did we not?”

“Yeah, we did.”

“I’m surprised you didn’t lose your temper at those two goons right there at the cafe, after how they spoke to you.”

“I’m used to it Chère, loudmouth bullies don’t scare me anymore,” he stroked her cheek, “I guess I was stupid for putting you in danger, but, now I see, you can take care of yourself.”

“Yes, I can.”

Marianne yawned and snuggled up closer to him.

Chateau Aubrey: Book 2, Chapter 12

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Madeleine tied the ribbons of blue and gold mask behind her head. It matched the outfit she was to wear to her family’s New Year’s Eve costume party: a sleeveless frock, the color of the sky, with a gauzy skirt, flecked with gold, over a flowing pair of azure harem pants. A gold sash was tied around her waist.

Her family had not thrown a New Year’s Eve costume party since the war began and this year, it was to be a comparatively modest affair. Before the war, her parents had spared no expense for this annual event and her mother would chose a theme such as mythological gods (Madeleine has gone as Hebe, goddess of youth, cupbearer to the gods, and consort of Hercules, in a diaphanous white dress, a crown of pink rosettes, and an eagle feather fan), historical figures (she had gone as Louise de La Vallière, mistress of King Louis XIV, in a grey-blue seventeenth century style frock and a white veil with her hair worn in long ringlets), or fairytale characters (she had gone as Princess Aurora from  Sleeping Beauty in a medieval style gown printed with red, gold, and blue flowers and leaves with gold trim and under-sleeves and her hair worn in two long braids intertwined with gold ribbons). This year there was no theme, just come in evening dress and wearing a mask, and the guest list was limited to a handful of close family friends who lived in the area. It was more appropriate this way. Madeleine did not feel like dressing up as Hebe without her Hercules, as Louise de La Vallière without her Louis XIV, or as Princess Aurora without her Prince Charming. If she felt like dressing up as anyone, it was  Penelope, the loyal wife of the Greek hero Odysseus, who waited patiently for her beloved husband to come home.

She prayed that the new year would find her James returned home safely to her.

When guests entered the drawing room at Chateau Aubrey, they encountered footmen carrying trays of oysters on ice, pieces of toast spread with pâté de foie gras, glasses of champagne, and tumblers of cognac and calvados.

Catharine reminisced with those among them who had been attending the New Year’s Eve costume parties for years about better days. She recalled the outfit she had worn when she was Athena the year when the theme had been mythological gods (a gold painted helmet with white plumes and a matching breastplate and wristguards, a gauzy white tunic, and a shield and spear). The year they had all dressed up as historical figures, she had gone as Cleopatra in a gown of pleated silver silk, a golden sash tied around her waist, a leopard skin worn around her shoulders, an Egyptian style cobra crown, gold bracelets on her arms, and pearl necklaces and earrings around her neck and hanging from her ears. She had gone as the fairy queen the year that the theme had been fairytale tale characters and worn a beautiful pair of gossamer wings, a green velvet robe, and garlands of silk leaves and flowers. Like the rest of her family, Catharine had always loved to dress up. While her sisters masqueraded as romantic heroines, she preferred to be powerful queens and other symbols of female strength and wisdom. Putting on a splendid costume and pretending to be someone else was a good way to start a new year.

They all toasted the old year and whatever lay in store in the new. Catharine was as glad as anyone to see the back of 1916. It, and her philandering husband, Georges, could go hang. She had always known that most men lacked the intelligence and moral strength to remain faithful to their wives and it was easy to remain cynical and detached when it was happening to another woman, but when it was you yourself being humiliated, it was hard to be so blasé. The humiliation was the worst part of it. It was best to hide from the world how one truly felt; if people knew you had been wounded, they would twist the knife in even deeper.

A footman walked into the drawing room bringing a telegram on a silver tray. He brought it over to Madeleine, who was sitting with Mimi and drinking champagne.

“Telegram for you Madame,” the footman said.

Madeleine took the telegram and read it. Tears welled up in her eyes and she threw the piece of paper on the ground then ran out of the room. The Baronne and Mimi went after her to see what was the matter.

Catharine bent down to pick it up off the floor and saw for herself what it said. The words “missing: presumed dead” stuck out at her.

They found Madeleine in the nursery, sitting in an armchair with her sleeping daughter in her lap and staring into the fireplace. Her eyes were heavy and wet.

“I don’t believe it,” she said as they walked in, “They make mistakes all the time. He’ll show up somewhere.”

Mimi knelt by her sister’s side and rested her head on her shoulder. The Baronne stood behind Madeleine and stroked her hair.

“If it wasn’t for dear little Marianne, I wouldn’t know what to do with the rest of my life. To think, she will never know her father.”

“Go to bed, my love,” the Baronne instructed her daughter, “You’ll need your rest. We’ll sort everything out in the morning.”

Madeleine’s maid helped her undress for bed then fixed her a sleeping draught and a cup of camomile tea. The draught and the tea had the desired effect but when Madeleine woke up, she was troubled by grief and a headache from drinking too much champagne. She had been told that things always looked better in the morning but the fact that it was morning made everything seem worse. It was a reminder that her life would have to go on without her beloved James. Never again would she go to bed with him or wake up beside him. She was not yet twenty-seven and had hoped for a long, full life with her husband and to have more children: brothers and sisters for her dear little Marianne. But now all of that was out of the question.

Catharine remembered being read a story as a child about Pandora, a young woman who is tricked into opening a box and releasing evil and suffering into the world. The last to leave the box was hope, a weak, crawling figure. Over the years, Catharine wondered how hope could be considered an evil when it usually had such a positive connotation.

Her reaction to the death of her brother-in-law, James, was anger; anger that a man’s fate was reduced to the words “missing: presumed dead”; anger that the Bureau de Guerre could not be bothered to look after the sons, husbands, and fathers who were fighting and dying for their country or give their families the consolation of having a body to burry and knowing the fate of their loved one; anger at the world for allowing such a destructive war to take place.

Madeleine was surprisingly serene during the whole ordeal. She half-heartedly went through the motions of planning a memorial service for James as if it was not really happening. She seemed to expect to get a telephone call, letter, or telegram saying that a mistake had been made and that her James was alive.

Perhaps this was why hope was considered an evil. It was merely an illusion which kept you from accepting the world the way it was and made you expect impossible miracles.

The church in Contaille had a wall devoted to plaques commemorating the local men who had fallen in battle. Madeleine hung up the most recent which read “James Beaumont 1888-1916”.  Her hands trembled and Mimi had to help steady her.

He wasn’t even thirty, she thought, wiping a tear from her eye.

Dies Irae played on the organ as the mourners took their seats in the pews. They watched as the young widow came down the aisle towards the d’Aubrey Family pew, holding her daughter in her arms and they pitied this woman who had lost the man she loved and this child who would never know her father.

Madeleine sat still and straight in the pew, her face was pale and expressionless. She occasionally lifted a handkerchief to dab her eyes or ran her fingers through Marianne’s hair. When the service finished, Madeleine walked over to a rack for votive offerings and lit a candle in front of a photograph of James, looking handsome and dashing in his uniform. She knelt down and made the sign of the cross.

“Dear God,” she prayed, “Please make it not be true. Please send him back to me.”

Chateau Aubrey: Book 2, Chapter 11

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Catharine sat down at her desk and glance over at the pile of mail she had asked her maid to place there earlier that morning and had completely forgotten about. Most of it was invitations for things like dinner parties and pleas for money from various charities. She would say yes to the invitation for dinner on the fifteenth but not the one for the twentieth and agree to donate a large sum of money to a charity set up for the widows and orphans left by the war. Catharine could imagine everyone seeing the amount she was donating and thinking how generous she was.

At the bottom of the pile was a letter from Catharine’s husband, Georges. Catharine tore open the envelope and looked the letter over.

“My dear Chatte,” it began.

Catharine rolled her eyes; she always hated the nickname Chatte.

The letter started with ramblings about how Catharine had not been answering his previous letters and pleas to know what he could have done to upset her. Catharine scoffed; as if he did not know.

Georges was a fool and she did not have much patience for fools, as the lot of men were. They ran the world and behaved like spoiled children, expecting all of their whims to be indulged.

At this point, Catharine wondered why she had even bothered to get married in the first place. Had the fact that it was expected of her made the whole thing worth it? Georges was handsome and from a prominent family. Plenty of other girls had been after him, so catching him had been a triumph.

Catharine tried to take her mind off of him by reading the newspaper but found it impossible. The war was dragging on and thousand had been killed. And what was that damn fool, Georges, doing? Sitting comfortably at headquarters, drinking, gambling, and whoring while better men were dying in the trenches.

 

Madeleine took Marianne out into the fields surrounding Chateau Aubrey to pick late summer wildflowers. Marianne filled her pudgy little hands with poppies and black-eyed Susans and Madeleine helped her arrange the flowers in her hair.

“There,” Madeleine said, “A crown for my princess. Come, let’s show your Tante Mimi.”

Madeleine picked up her daughter and brought her home. They found Mimi arranging some long stem roses in a vase in the drawing room. When she saw them come, she rushed over to Marianne and picked the toddler up.

“Oh, how pretty you look,” Mimi said, kissing her niece all over her face.

The Baronne swept into the room and looked over Mimi’s handwork.

“What lovely roses,” she said, “Are these from the gardens?”

“Yes,” Mimi responded, “From the bushes by the back terrace.”

“This late in the season, amazing.”

The Baronne turned her eyes over towards her granddaughter. Her mouth curled into a smile which looked unnatural on her cold and severely beautiful face.

“How sweet,” she said, “She looks like an elf child.”

“Let me fetch my camera,” Mimi joined in, “I’ll take her picture and send can send a copy to James.”

“Great idea,” Madeleine responded.

 

To a poilu in the trenches, there was not a more heavenly sound in the world than the two worlds: mail call. James’s ears pricked up and he hoped to hear his name called. They had already gone through the As and were part way through the Bs.

“Beauchamps,” the orderly shouted, “Beaulieu, Beaumont.”

James ran up and grabbed the envelope with his name on it. It contained a letter from Madeleine which told about Marianne’s second birthday party as well as a photograph of Marianne with a crown of flowers placed in her hair.

So she was two years old now? Could it have been that long? The minutes old baby he had held in his arms was long gone. James had blubbered like a fool when he first saw her because he had never seen anything so beautiful.

The German guns boomed off in the distance. Their roar had frightened James when he had first come to the trenches but time had minimized them to an annoyance.

James wanted to climb up the wall of the trench and shout “damn it, will you sons of bitches keep it down!”

But it was when the guns were quiet that you had to worry. That was when you knew something worse was about to happen.

The other men were singing as if defying the enemy artillery.

“Pour le repos le plaisir du militaire,” they sang, “il est là-bas deux pas de la forêt, un maison aux murs tous couverts de lière. Aux Tourlourous c’est le nom du cabaret. La servante est jeune et jolie, lègère comme un papillon. Comme son vin son oeil petille. Nous l’appelons la Madelon.”

“La Madelon pour nous n’est pas sevère,” James joined in, “Quand on lui prend la taille ou le menton. Elle rit c’est tout l’mal qu’elle sait faire. Madelon, Madelon, Madelon”

“Get down!” the soldier on guard duty shouted.

The entire range of the symphony known as the German artillery was on full display from thunderous booms and rumbles, to wave-like crashes, to whizzing whines. A whistle was blown, the signal for the men to line up at their ladders in preparation to go over the top. Some of them made the sign of the cross, others took swings of wine, and others kissed lucky charms. James did all three: he took a long sip from a bottle of cheap and sour burgundy, pressed Madeleine’s ring and Marianne’s photograph to his lips, and crossed himself before heading to his ladder. He usually thought that the Lord had more important things to worry about than James Beaumont and did not bother him with his problems but today he would need all the help he could get.

Another whistle blew, the signal to charge, followed by the exclamation “pour La France.” James took a deep breath and went forward into a muddy brown wasteland marked by lines of barbed wire, black and grey clouds of smoke and dirt raining down on him. He ducked down to avoid being hit by an onslaught of artillery fire: bright flashes of orange among the smoky obscurity. Getting up, he lost his footing and landed into a knee-deep puddle of murky water.

“Halt!” a deep, hostile voice shouted, “Beweg dich nicht!”

James looked up to see a German soldier holding a gun at him.

Chateau Aubrey: Book 2, Chapter 10

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High spring meant the beginning of milking season. The milking parlor had to be kept immaculately clean. It had to be thoroughly wept, scrubbed, and whitewashed before they could even think of bringing in the cows and the milkmaids had to wash their hands rigorously and wear a scarf to cover their hair before going into the milking parlor.  Anaïs told Madeleine that she could practice milking on Rosette, the calmest and most patient of their heifers. Madeleine received a quick briefing on how to milk before Anaïs went to milk Violante, who was a completely different story from Rosette.

With uncertain hands, Madeleine reached down and tugged on Rosette’s udders. The cow was startled and kicked over Madeleine’s bucket.

“Calm her down and get her to feel comfortable,” Anaïs called over to her, “Try stroking her flanks and singing.”

Madeleine returned her bucket to its upright position and began to stroke Rosette’s cream-colored hide with one hand and reached for her udders with the other.

Vache, vache à l’oreille rouge,” she sang, “Ta rouge oreille je la tiens. Vache, vache à l’oreille, je bois ton lait, le matin.”

Pearlescent jets of milk squirted into Madeleine’s bucket. Aside from cream and butter, the milk would go into making the camembert and neufchâtel cheeses for which the area was famous.

The strawberries would come into ripeness by the end of the month. The patch had to be weeded and ducks let in to eat the slugs and snails which threatened to the destroy the budding plants. A border of lyme and caustic soda was drawn around the strawberry patch to keep away any more pests.

The potato crop was also in danger from weeds and pests. A small plow was used to uproot the weeds; the goal was to get rid of all of them without destroying any potato plants. A dilution of water and copper sulfate was sprayed on the plants with a crop sprayer.

Some extra money was to be made by picking wildflowers, arranging them in attractive bouquets to be sold in Paris. Madeleine picked a small nosegay to dry and send to James in her next letter: bluebells (constancy, gratitude, and everlasting love), lilies of the valley (humility, chastity, sweetness, and purity), and violets (faithfulness). She hoped that this floral message would soothe her husband’s worries.

Luscious, red, jewel-like strawberries began to appear in late May and were far too tempting resist eating a few while you were filling a basket to be sent down to Paris. Almost as many strawberries went into the bellies of those that picked them as were sold in Parisian markets. Some of the strawberries were served along with Anaïs’s homemade ice cream. A tub filled with crackling salt dusted ice was placed in a shady corner of her kitchen. An ice cream maker filled with a custard mixture was put into the tub and Anaïs turned the crank until the liquid custard turned to solid ice cream.

Gabriel and Yves hovered around her, anxious to be able to eat this rare treat. Anaïs had to keep shooing them away, saying that the ice cream wasn’t finished yet. While she was turning the crank on ice cream maker, tubs of boiled milk and rennet were left to sit on the table. Every few minutes, she would take a break from churning and stir the milk. Curds began to form after a few hours, which were then put into cheese presses to set until the next morning.

The Renaults enjoyed fresh milk, cheese, and strawberries all throughout the months of May and June.  

The balmy weather meant that the sheep were at risk from having their precious fleece infested with fleas. A mixture of tobacco leaves and sulfur soaked in water was poured using a watering can over each sheep, as it struggled, wiggled, and kicked to try to get free. The Renault flocks were lead into fields overlooking the lower Seine to keep them cool until the end of June when they were to be sheared.

June’s waning days soared well into the nineties. Anaïs and the other women who worked on her farm hitched up her skirts and waded into a nearby pond to wash the sheep. The water was ice cold but it was a refreshing way to spend such a scorching day. Madeleine unlaced her boots and rolled down her stockings and put a hesitant toe into the pond and shivered. The other women shouted their encouragement and Madeleine hiked up her skirts and ran right in.

After their bath, the sheep would have to dry out in the sun for about a week before they were sheared. Most of their wool would be requisitioned to make blankets and uniforms for the army. Some of it would be boiled to make lanolin.

The June air smelt of freshly mowed grass, which was gathered up into large piles. To make silage which would feed the animals over the winter, these piles of grass were covered with straw mats and then a thick layer of soil to seal it all in.

July was berry season. The bushes of Ferme Pommier were laden with raspberries, currants, and blueberries. Marianne and the little Renaults were put to work helping to pick these berries. More ended up in their bellies than in their baskets and they wound up with stomach aches.

Pascal set to work repairing the rungs of a number of tall, clumsy looking ladders used for cherry picking, which was the major task for July.

Quand nous chanterons le temps des cerises,” sang the women as they were precariously perched on the rungs of these ladders, picking the sweet, juicy fruit, so tempting that it was hard to resist eating a few, “et gai rossignol et merle moqueur seront tous en fête, les belles auront la folie en tête, et les amoureux du soleil au cœur. Quand nous chanterons le temps de cerises sifflera bien mieux le merle moqueur.”

The cherries were put into large baskets lined with cloth, which were loaded into a cart and pulled into town by Garçon, the pony. Some of them were brought into Anaïs’s kitchen, where she cut out the pits and stems and boiled them with sugar on the stove and then jarred.

It was a tradition at Chateau Aubrey to host a special party for the children of the local tenant farmers after the cherry harvest. A long table was placed out on the front lawn, where the children were served cherry clafoutis and tea. Abbé Anselm, the village priest who had baptized them all and married most of their parents and ran the local school, said a blessing. Mathilde, Marianne, and Agnès were allowed to join the other children in enjoying clafoutis and playing games such as jumping rope and rolling the hoop.

Marianne toddled over to join Gabriel and Yves and some other boys in shooting marbles. Without asking, she pushed around some of the marbles, messing up a good shot that Gabriel had set up.

“Gosse!” Gabriel shouted, pushing Marianne over. Tears began to swell up in Marianne’s eyes and Nounou swept in to pick Marianne up and brush the dirt off of her dress. Gabriel rolled his eyes, he had little patience for pampered little girls with their nounoues and starched white pinafores.

The cherry feast was followed by several days of rain, which caused a blight in the potato crop. The tops of the potato plants were scythed off and then burnt to keep the blight from spreading and the crop would have to be harvested as soon as possible. Abbé Anselm gave his pupils the week off to help bring in the potato crop. The work was not difficult or unpleasant and the children enjoyed getting out of school and earning some pocket money. As July turned into August, they were also the blackberries to be picked.

August’s first days were grey and drizzly. Pascal began to worry because a week of warmth and dryness was needed for the oats to come into full ripeness. But as the weeks passed, the rooster-shaped weathervane on top of the barn pointed towards the northeast and the barometer in the kitchen began to rise, meaning that the weather was changing for the better. Another cause for concern was the fact that the army had requisitioned his two Ardenne workhorses to pull ambulances and pieces of artillery. Posters had been hung up all around Contaille advertising an agricultural affair with demonstrations of the latest farming equipment. Anaïs began work on some of her famous jam as well as a couple of berry tarts.

The fair took place in the middle of August. Displays of tractors and other machines were set up in the town square along with booths for games and refreshments such as cider, lemonade, cakes, and pastries, as well as the tarts, jam, and the bottle of currant wine that Anaïs had brought. Pascal was interested in buying a tractor since he would need one to bring in his oat crop. Another machine he had seen demonstrated was called a reaper-binder, which would also be useful during the harvest.

As the most prominent family in the area, the d’Aubries were obliged to put in an appearance. Marianne particularly enjoyed seeing the animals. She picked fistfuls of grass and tried to feed them to the cows, sheep, and goats.

A band was there to play music and Pascal danced the cake walk, first with his wife, then with Madeleine, then picked his daughter Gillian and swung her around to the music. Gypsies from the coast had come to sell dried seaweed to be used as fertilizer. Anaïs approached them to buy some bushels for her strawberry patch but Pascal stopped her.

“Don’t go near that sea scum, Mon Ange,” he told her, “I’ll do it.

The Baronne and Catharine oversaw a scrap metal drive. They had allowed the scullery maids at Chateau Aubrey to collect the dented pots to be donated to the war effort. Mimi and some other young women helped to gather up rags and lint for bandages. Their baskets filled up with old pots and pans and worn out bed linen which could be used for a better purpose.

The tractor and reaper-binder that Pascal purchased at the fair were christened a few weeks later when the oats were ready to be harvested. Sheaves were gathered and left to dry for several days before being threshed by a machine powered by the tractor and stored in the lofts of the barn.  

This successful harvested was celebrated by the Renault family and their tenants with mugs of cider.

Chateau Aubrey: Book 2, Chapter 9

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In March, when the weather began to warm up, Madeleine began doing calisthenics to strengthen and tone up her upper body and taking long walks to build up her stamina.  This was always her favorite time of year; drab and unprepossessing but full of potential and hidden beauties to be found by those willing to look.  

It was a tradition of Madeleine’s to pick the first crocus she found and press it in a book.

“Look at this,” she said to her toddling daughter, Marianne, who sometimes joined her on her walks. She presented the little girl with a delicate, pale, purple, bell-shaped bloom with bright yellow stamen. Marianne gazed at it with wonder.

The damp grass and mud squeaked underfoot as they walked back. It was warm and mild in the sun but the March winds blew strong and bitterly cold. As the month wore on, more crocuses popped up among the filthy remains of snow drifts and were then joined by primroses, wood anemones, and wild violets, poking their heads through bracken and last autumn’s leaves. But the stars of March were the vast patches of swaying yellow daffodils.

Mado went into the fields with the other women to pick the daffodils to be sent to florists down in Paris. Countless baskets overflowing with flowers were brought over to a shed where Anaïs carefully arranged bundles of daffodils according to height, wrapped these bundles in cheerful green paper and packed them into boxes. These boxes in turn were loaded onto the pony cart and brought to the station then sent off to Paris on the next train.

March are also marked the beginning of the lambing and laying season which would last until May. A ewe named Primevère was the first to go into labor. Madeleine offered to stay the night with Primevère and stroked her fleece as she gave birth and Pascale helped pull the lamb out. The lamb, a female, tried to stand up on her unsteady legs seconds after birth. Primevère sniffed and licked her affectionately. When the lamb steadied herself, she suckled from her mother.

“I thought of the perfect name for her,” Madeleine said to Pascale, “ St. Agnès.”

In April, the cows were put out to pasture. Pascale lead the herd on foot while Madeleine made up the rear on horseback. A cow named Blanche Laiteuse was heavily pregnant and expected to give birth soon. She was kept behind in the barn and Anaïs went to check on her every morning to see if the calf had come and rub lanolin on her teats to keep away flies.  

The Renaults decided to sell a fine black bull calf to a nearby farm which offered a good price for it. With the money they got for the bull calf,  they purchased paraffin which was rationed and expensive due to the war, to heat up the water tank that warmed the egg incubator.

March and April were occupied with plowing fields, planting potatoes, and ushering young animals into the world. Easter came towards the end of April. The Baronne d’Aubrey, along with Catharine and Mimi, passed her time dying eggs to hand out to the village children at the Easter mass.

“How pretty they are,” Madeleine cooed when they were showed to her. Each dyed red or yellow egg had little holes at the top and bottom through which the yolks were blown out and patterns of dots, stripes, rabbits, daffodils, and crosses drawn in wax.

The four d’Aubrey women stood at the church door on Easter morning handing these eggs out. Pascal stopped and tapped Madeleine on the shoulder as he and Anaïs walked in.

“Come over with Little Marianne after mass,” he told her, “I have something to show you.”

He brought them to the barn when the dropped by Ferme Pommier and proudly showed them to the egg incubator. All of the drawers were opened up to reveal fuzzy, yellow, chirping chicks. Madeleine picked one up and showed it to Marianne, who reached over to stroke the little creature.

“C’est un petit poussin” the toddler babled.

“That’s right, Princess,” Madeleine replied.

“Come inside for tea,” Pascal joined in, “Anaïs has made some of her famous almond cake.”

Anaïs received her at the farm house with her customary polite aloofness and served tea and cake. They discussed plans for the upcoming summer: May and June were the beginning of milking and shearing season and the potatoes had to be harvested in July while Marianne and Gillian played on the floor with their cloth dolls. Pascal cooed over what a pretty child Marianne was and how she promised to become just as lovely as her mother.

If anyone were to ask her, Anaïs would say that her husband enjoyed having young Madame Beaumont around too much. A more self aware woman than Madeleine might have noticed Pascal’s attentiveness to her and his wife’s hostility. It took a letter from her husband to make her see this.

The men of James’s unit had been given a leave of several days for Easter. They stationed near a place called Verdun, a few hours away from the Belgian border. After attending mass on Easter Sunday, James found that he had a letter from his wife. The letter had plenty of news from home especially the goings on at Ferme Pommier. Madeleine raved about Farmer Renault’s kindness towards her which made him feel a bit uneasy. Maybe it was just his inclination towards jealousy but he got the impression that Renault was a bit smitten with her. Renault was a married, middle aged, peasant and it was unlikely that Madeleine would think of him in that way, but that probably was not much comfort to his wife.

The letter came with a photograph of Marianne with a large bow tied in her hair and holding a bouquet of flowers. James kept the letter and photograph in his pocket the entire week.

“My Dear Mado,” he wrote back to his wife, “I hope you had a pleasant Easter, visiting Farmer Renault and his family. Renault has been very kind to you, hasn’t he? I wish I could have been there myself instead of sitting in the trench listening to the chaplain drone on. But have you thought about how Madame Renault feels about your visits to her home and the time you’ve been spending with her husband?”

On Easter Monday, James went into a nearby village. He purchased a newspaper and sat down in a cafe to have a glass of wine and a pastry. The day’s headline was about an uprising of Irish Republicans in Dublin. After reading the newspaper, he took the photograph of Marianne out of his pocket to look at it.

A girl, young, petite, blonde, and pretty, approached his table. She looked over his shoulder at the photograph.

“What a cute little thing,” she said, “Who is she?”

“My daughter,” James responded.

“Is her mother just as cute?”

“Yes, every bit.”

She then began to rub his shoulders.

“You can pretend I’m her, soldier.”

He had to admit that tempted for a moment. She was cute, and a lot like his Mado, but taking her up on her offer would make him feel like a hypocrite. He had viewed Georges’s infidelity from the high ground of smug, moral superiority and often mocked Lamarque, who was plowing his way through the filles du joies of Northern France but constantly fretted about the possibility of his wife cuckolding him.

“No thank you, love,” he told her.

She huffed off, offended by this slight.

Chateau Aubrey: Book 2, Chapter 8

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The winter of 1916 was exceptionally cold and the plowing scheduled for January had to be delayed until February. These winter days were short and dark without much time to get through all things that needed to be done. Anaïs Renault woke up at the crack of dawn as she usually did. Shivering in the darkness, she washed up and dressed as quickly as she could. Her first chore was to put coal into the kitchen range which heated the house and boiled water for washing and cooking. Pascal woke up soon after his wife. She had brought him a pitcher of hot water for washing up and he went to the dressing table to shave and brush his teeth. The first thing to be done in the morning was to feed and check on the animals. Anaïs brought along a bucket of kitchen scraps to feed the pigs. Hay was running low in the barn, so Pascal had to cut into the ricks; the hay on outside of the ricks was damps and moldy but on the inside it was dry and fresh. While he did this, she fetched buckets of water from the nearby stream to fill up the troughs. After the animals were fed, their stalls and stys were mucked out. The cows and sheep were pregnant and Pascal checked them over to see if they were healthy; their hooves were clipped and cleaned. One of the geese had been badly injured by a fox and it was decided that the poor thing would have to be put down. “Looks like we’re having goose for supper tonight,” Pascal said to his wife. Around eight o’clock, Anaïs returned to the house and woke up the children. Gabriel and Yves were dressed and sent out to fetch buckets of water and to gather eggs for breakfast and sticks for kindling. Gillian sat on the floor of the kitchen playing with a rattle, while her mother washed the dishes with wet sand and a rag. Madeleine arrived at Ferme Pommier around half past nine. The Renault boys were playing outlaws in the yard using large sticks for horses and small ones for guns. “Bang, bang, you’re dead!” Gabriel shouted at his little brother, who pretended to fall down shot. Inside, Anaïs was washing her hands, face, and neck. Madeleine flushed with embarrassment to see her without her bodice on. “Good morning, Madame Beaumont,” she said nonchalantly. She put her bodice back on and went to the mirror to comb and arrange her hair. Two plaited hair pieces were pinned into her hairdo. For the next couple hours, the two women passed the time by scrubbing the floors and then hanging the rugs on the clothes to beat the dust and soot out of them. At noon, they walked into town to run errands. The first was to the boulangérie to buy some loaves of bread, then to the épicerie where Anaïs bought a can of golden syrup and a jar of marmalade. The shop owner wrapped her purchases in blue paper and put them in a basket for his son to deliver to Ferme Pommier. Lastly, they brought Pascal’s boots to the cordonnier to be repaired. They returned at little after one o’clock and joined Pascal, the children, and the other farm hands for lunch. After lunch, the farrier came to check the horses to see if their hooves are healthy. St. François needed to be reshoed. To prevent losing more geese to the fox, a gander was brought in to protect them. Gabriel and Yves started tormenting it by chasing it around while throwing rocks. The gander honked at them aggressively. “Stop that!” Pascal shouted at his sons, “Go get some more firewood before I tan your backsides.” When the sun went down at six o’clock, Pascal and Madeleine put the animals to bed in the barns and fed them a second time while Anaïs cooked dinner; the kitchen smelt temptingly of roast goose and bread pudding. Bedding down the animals being the last chore of the day, Madeleine returned to the house to say goodnight before going home. The main tasks to be done in the month of February were to plow the fields after the worst of the winter frost had thawed and plant them with oats. A traveling salesman visited Ferme Pommier with a new petrol powered tractor which he demonstrated in the one of the fields. Pascal did not much care for all of the noise that the machine made and thought the furrows it plowed looked sloppy. It also cost more money than he could afford at the moment, so he had to say no thank you. His Ardennes might need more care and maintenance, but they were much more pleasant to work with.

Tam Lin

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Author’s Note: Tam Lin is an old English/Scottish folk ballad dating back to at least the 16th Century which tells the story of a young noblewoman named Janet (or Margaret depending on the version; I chose Janet) and her encounter with the eponymous magical figure.

The large window of Janet’s bower looked out over the forest of Carterhaugh. Her father had told her that this land was part of her dowry and would be her’s upon marriage. Old Nan, her nurse, often entertained the ladies and gentlemen of her parents household with tales of Tam Lin, who was said to inhabit Carterhaugh. It was said that Tam Lin had been a noble youth held captive through the centuries by the queen of the fairies. If a lass happened to wander alone through Carterhaugh, Tam Lin would claim a fee from them, either some valuable trinket or their maidenhead.

The rose vines which wove their way around the outside of Janet’s bower were having a poor season. Their blooms were small and shriveled looking.

Across the way in Carterhaugh, she could see massive rose bushes with blooms the size of cabbages, as red as blood. Even from a distance, their scent was as intoxicating as the strongest wine.

It was far too lovely a day to be stuck inside with silk threads and half-finished tapestries. Janet quit her family’s home and went away to Carterhaugh as fast as she could go. Her lonely bower of wood and stone was replaced with one of roses red.

The rose her eyes fix upon was a double one, the largest and loveliest on the tree. Janet plucked the rose and breathed in its perfume; never before had she found a sweeter smelling rose.

The quiet of Carterhaugh was disrupted by the thundering of horses at full gallop, the barking of hounds, and the blast of horns. It was her father and his gentlemen on their hunt.

A white buck fawn came running through the brambles and bracken. An arrow pierced its snowy flank. The poor creature ran until it’s strength failed and it dropped to the forest floor.

Janet slowly approached the fawn as not to frighten him. She gently stroked his back and let him sniff her hand. When the animal became calm, she carefully pulled the arrow out of the fawn’s flank. It had not penetrated deep enough for the wound to be fatal. She cleaned the wound with a flask of aqua vitae that she had brought with her, soothed it with a salve she carried in the small pouch which hung from her girdle, and bound it with a strip of cloth torn from her petticoat.

The fawn stretched his legs and arched his back. His spindly limbs became strong and lithe and his whole body transformed into that of a tall and well-built youth with skin the color of milk and hair like spun gold. He opened his grey eyes and blinked at a shocked Janet.

“Intruder! Thief!” he groaned in a weak voice after noticing the roses in Janet’s apron, “Why have you come here without my leave?”  

“Carterhaugh belongs to me, Sir,” Janet replied, “I need no one’s leave to come here. I come and goes as  I please.”

“Ha! I was master here long before you were born and I’ll be master here long after you are dead.”

“And who are you, Sir?”

“Who are you to think you can trespass where you will and take what doesn’t belong to you?”

“I’m  Jane Carter, daughter of Sir John Carter of Carter Hall.  My family owns these woods. I did not trespass anywhere or steal anything.”

“I have lived here longer than the oldest man alive can remember, longer than any of your people have.”

The youth struggled to sit up and Janet helped him upright, cradling him in her arms.

“Thank you, my lady,” he said.

“You are welcome, sir. I will bring you back to my father’s house. We will care for you until you are healed.”

“No, leave me here. I’m a creature of the forest and should stay here,” he took her hand in his, “Worry not, fair maid, it will take more than this trifling wound to lay me low.”

Janet gave him the flask of aqua vitae.

“This should help ease your pain.”

He took the flask and took a greedy swig.

“I’d forgotten how good wine tasted.”

“You haven’t had wine in a long while?”

“I haven’t tasted any mortal food or drink in ages.”

The feeling of a man in her arms was unfamiliar and intoxicating for Janet. The noblest prince could not have been more handsome and graceful of form than the youth she now cradled like a babe. Her face was flushed scarlet whenever he looked at her.

“Wouldn’t you like to rest at my father’s house while your wound heals? You must find it pleasanter to lay in a soft and warm bed.”

The youth smirked at her and his eyes twinkled with mischief.

“The floor of a forest suits me well enough,” he said, taking her hand and kissing it, “Has your old grandmother or nurse told you stories about Tam Lin and what happens when a maiden comes to Carterhaugh alone?”

“She must pay a toll… I don’t have any valuable trinkets on me at the moment.”

“Tis not the toll I was thinking off.”

He swept her into a long kiss. His breath was sweeter than peppermint and more intoxicating than the aqua vitae.

The youth laid Janet down among the roses red and claimed his toll.  His last kiss put Janet into a deep, pleasant sleep which made her wonder if their encounter had been but a wonderful dream.

Sir John and his lady wife hosted a feast at Carter Hall. In attendance were four-and-twenty young bachelors who were suitors for the hand of their daughter Janet; each richer and higher born than the last. Dame Carter spared no expense to impress these worthy gentlemen, hoping that one of them would soon be her son-in-law.

The feast started off with a salad which contained edible flowers, a roasted goose riding astride suckling pig, a peacock served dressed in its skin and feathers, a boar’s head, and a deer-shaped pastry which bled red wine when pricked with a knife, all washed down with claret and butterbeer.

The second course included chicken and egg fricassée, a pie made from warden pears, blancmange, and rice pudding.  Its crowning glory was a cockatrice, a mythical beast assembled from the head of a pig, the body of a sheep, the wings and backend of a goose, and the comb of a rooster, which was brought to the top table breathing fire. The guests were served from a spit-roasted joint of meat which contained the flesh of each animal.

At the end of the feast was a course called the banquet, where the guests were treated to expensive delicacies such as marchpane which depicted the Carter family coat of arms, flowers made from sugar paste, rich custard tarts, gilded gingerbread, colorful jellies and exotic fruits. Two giant pastry crusts were brought to the top table and Sir John cut into them. When he cut into the crusts, live frogs and blackbirds hopped and fly out to the amazement of his guests.

The feast was a triumph. Janet enjoyed listening to the musicians and watching the dancers, acrobats, and fire twirlers, but she felt tired and longed to retire to bed. The food smelt intoxicating and looked delectable but Janet could only manage a few slices of manchet bread between courses, a couple of the cheese curds and sugar wafers which were served at the end of the feast, and a glass of hippocras.

“Sweetheart,” her father whispered to her, “You’re looking pale and green. Are you ill?”

“No Father,” Janet replied, “I’m just fatigued. All this grandeur and excitement is too much for me.”

“Has one of the fine young lords, knights, and gentlemen here present this evening captured your heart?”

Janet flushed and lowered her eyes. Her father laughed, thinking he had figured her out.

These four and twenty suitors were all handsome, gallant, high-born and rich but Janet loved not one among them. The only man she would have for her husband was the youth she had encountered in Carterhaugh.

“Janet, my dear,” Dame Carter said, “You look tired. Perhaps you should retire for the evening.”

“Yes mother,” Janet replied.

She got up from the table and left the great hall with her maids in toe. Her mother had been correct: she did feel tired and the prospect of retiring to bed was far from unwelcome.

The dim light of dawn could be seen on the horizon when Janet looked out from her chamber window. She sat down on her bed and realized that her father had been right as well: she did feel ill and this sickness was always at its worst early in the morning.

“Mistress Jane,” Bessie, her maid, called when she saw Janet’s face turn green and pale. Bessie brought over a basin for Janet to retch into, while Madge, the other maid, went to fetch Janet’s mother.

Dame Carter rushed in, concern and alarm evident on her face.

“My poor child,” she sighed, “How long have you been feeling this way? Are you sickest in the morning?”

“Yes,” Janet replied, “I’ve been unwell for roughly four months and it’s at its worst in the mornings.”

“When was the last time you had your monthly bleeding?”

“Two, maybe three, months ago.”

“My daughter, I’m afraid you’re with child.”

“I feared that was so.”

“What blaggard is the father? Please tell me that a gentleman of wealth, breeding, and merit will give my grandchild his name. Who among your suitors must I name as my son-in-law?”

“None among my suitors would I ever honor with my maidenhead. The father of my child is grander than any of them. That is all I shall tell; the blame is all mine.”

Bessie and Madge began to help Janet undress and they saw that their mistress’s waistline had grown wider. Madge spoke of a patch of rue herb which grew in Carterhaugh that had helped her out when she found herself in trouble by Willie, the stable lab, last spring.  

The two maids helped Janet into her great bed. Janet quickly fell asleep and dreamed of Carterhaugh and the strange youth she had found there. She awoke at noon and sat by the large window of her bower to do needlework.

Over in Carterhaugh, the leaves were almost bare of their leaves. Their fiery autumn splendor had burnt out and all that remained were piles of the drab brown ashes. A few late-season roses had come into bloom and hung defiantly on their bushes. Janet put down her needlework and made her way to Carterhaugh as fast as her aching legs and back could carry her swollen body.

A tense silence had fallen over the forest, broken only by wind whistling through naked and dead branches. It was All Hallows Eve and that night, the veil between the seen and unseen worlds would be removed. Janet called upon the spirits of Carterhaugh to help her find her love or, if not, show her a way out of her predicament.  

Her wanderings lead her to the patch of rue herb that Madge had spoken of.

Is this a sign that my love has forsaken me, Janet asked herself, and that I should rid myself of my shame?

Janet bent down and plucked a handful of rue and put it into the bag which hung from her girdle.

“My lady,” a voice called to her, “Still you take what doesn’t belong to you. First, you take a rose from one of my trees and now poison to kill our poor little babe.” 

She turned around and looked upon her lover, Tam Lin, who was standing by her side.

“What gives you a right to any of this?” Janet answered, “The rose, the herb, or the babe.”

“I was born the grandson and heir of the Laird of Roxburgh, an ancestor of your family’s liege lord, and was snatched from my cradle as a suckling to be a fairy changeling. The one who raised was the fairy Queen of the Forest who was reigning over these lands centuries before your petty king gave them to your grandsires,” he encircled her with his arms, “My Lady, My Love, My Janet, please claim me as your own and I shall be your husband and the father of your child.”

Janet kissed him.

“I want to,” she told him, “But how can I? You belong to one world and I belong to another.”

“I know a way we can be together. Tis All Hallows Eve, and tonight I must ride in my mother’s train of knights. You will recognize me by my white steed. When you see me, pull me down from my mount and hold me in your arms, and do not be afraid.”

“When must you leave, my love?”

“At sunset.”

“Then we still have a few hours.”

Janet threw her arms around Tam Lin’s neck and pressed her lips to his. He laid her down among the fallen leaves. At sunset, he departed with a kiss on her forehead and Janet fell into a delicious sleep, where she dreamed of lovely, ethereal blue lights dancing like smoke in a starless night.When Janet awoke, she thought that she was still dreaming. It had grown dark and off in the distance, she saw the smoke-like blue lights. She arose from her bed of leaves and followed where the lights lead.

She saw that they were the lanterns of a train of knights, like figures from an old legend or romance. At its head was a lady seated upon a black roan mare. The lady was the tallest that Janet had ever seen, pale and gaunt and slim and bending like a willow tree. She had a strange, unearthly type of beauty, half that of a youthful maiden and half that of an ancient dame. Her robes were made of white moss and the skin of black adder snakes and she wore a crown and collar made of twigs. Riding next to the lady was a knight upon a white stallion.  

Janet remembered being told that she would recognize Tam Lin, her love, by his white steed. She had been instructed to pull him down from his mount, hold him in her arms, and not be afraid.

Janet approached the knight on the white horse, grabbed his arm and pulled him down. He let himself fall into her arms.

The Queen of the Forest, the lady who rode at the head of the train of knights, reined in her horse when she saw what her foster son had done. She raised a long, twisted staff wrapped in black snakeskin and topped with a large crystal.

“Do not be afraid,” Tam Lin whispered to her, “Whatever happens, keep holding me in your arms.”

Janet held onto him as he writhed in unbearable agony, his body contorting in unnatural ways. First, he changed into an albino wolf who shook its shaggy head and tried to free itself from her embrace but he was still the father of her child and she would not let him go. He then transformed into an arctic bear, so large and powerful that it took all of her strength to subdue him, but he was her husband and she would not let him overpower her. His final transformation was into a white lion who roared and clawed at her, but he was still her love and she was not afraid of him.

Tam Lin’s body relaxed and changed back into that of a handsome youth in the first bloom of manhood. He lay in Janet’s arms, naked and panting. She wrapped him in her warm velvet cloak and helped him to his feet.

Janet lead her new husband back towards home. Behind them, Carterhaugh grew smaller and further away.

Retribution: Chapter 25- Alternate Version

Author’s Note: I have long had an idea in my mind of a scene between Marianne and Faucherie which I was considering putting into chapter 25 but had some miss giving about doing so. I loved the idea and thought that it fleshed out the character of Faucherie and how he operates but was concerned that it might disrupt the flow of the story and simply be “too much.” Also it might make Marianne look like one of those Mary Sue heroines who every guy chases (she has Edmond, Augustin, and later Gabriel) but sexual harassment and assault are themes in this part of the book: how Edmond treats Marianne is meant to parallel what might be going on with Augustin in prison. I also made the sex scene between Augustin and Marianne more explicit 

Here is 25 with the added scenes

*** will indicate the added scene

January into February 1934 had given the people who came into La Première Etoile plenty to talk about. There had been Stavinsky’s supposed suicide (or assassination as many were calling it). They were all repeating Le Canard Enchaîné’s quip about Stavinsky having a “long arm” if he could have shot himself from the distance that the bullet which killed him came from.

The government had fallen on January 23rd and Camille Chautemps had been replaced by Édouard Daladier much to the satisfaction of hardly anyone. Those on the right end of the political spectrum were still harping on the Stavinsky scandal as proof of liberal corruption while those on the left end believed that Daladier’s party was too cozy with the conservatives and fascists.

On February 6th, people were warned to be careful when they went out that night because there was talk of rioting. That evening found Marianne working the closing shift. She yawned through her last few hours of work and tried to stay awake. Though she was feeling better than she had back in December, her former vitality had not fully returned yet. She was afraid that she was becoming sluggish and lazy and was putting on weight. She was dreadfully afraid of gaining extra weight which might be less noticeable on taller women.

Since getting out of the hospital, her will to live had returned somewhat. Maybe she finally understood what her aunts had been telling her the whole time, to be strong and hold on till the end. Something Mother Superior had always told the girls at school came back to her, “a life spent avoiding heartache is a life unlived.”

It was probably somewhere between nine and nine thirty. She had an hour left of work, a half hour if she was being optimistic. The last few customers were coming in and out. A party of four came in, three men and a girl. Then three men were all well dressed in dark suits, overcoats, and homburgs. The girl was perhaps the most beautiful she had ever seen off of a movie screen. She had a striking combination of almost black hair and almost white skin, deep red lips, brilliant blue eyes, a dazzling smile, and a way of carrying herself as if she was perfectly aware of her beauty but was not conceited about it. Her clothing seemed to have its cue from its wearer’s coloring; she wore a black dress and hat, red shoes, a white coat, and a blue necklace. The whole look was worthy of a Vogue fashion plate. This little group were the only people left in the café. They chatted secretively amongst themselves.

The minutes ticked by like an eternity. Marianne was exhausted, she simply wished that these people would leave so she could go home. She went over to bring them a basket of bread and stifled a yawn.

“Past your bedtime, honey?” one of the men asked.

Marianne haughtily ignored his comment and continued with pouring them glasses of water.

“What time does this joint close?” another asked.

“Ten.”

“You’re a sweet kid, do know that? How about you join us for a drink?”

‘No thanks, I’m still on that job,” Marianne yawned again.

The dark beauty and the man seated closest to her appeared to be playfully arguing. 
“You are not so cute,” he said. 
“That Augustin Lerou is,” she said. 
Marianne blanched at the sound of that name. 
“Can’t you see the young lady is exhausted?” He said to Madame Océane, “Why don’t you let her off? We’re good friends of her’s and we’ll see she gets home alright.”

“Marianne, I’ll let you off early,” Madame Océane answered “They’re the only ones left. If you want to join them, you can. Just get home before it gets late.”

“Would Mademoiselle care to join us?”

Marianne did not want to join them and saw no reason why she should except maybe curiosity.

But a desire to know why they wanted her company overcame her better judgement.

The man who had asked her over was tall, well built, and good looking. His tannish skin and light hair were a nice contrast to his beautiful lady friend’s snow white skin and ebony hair. He smiled as if he knew how good looking men with mercilessly charming smiles affected her. There was something about him which made one want to trust him. His large brown doe eyes gave the appearance of complete innocence. But he looked at her as if he knew all about her and exactly where she was vulnerable. Marianne had to admit, she found him both fascinating and frightening.

“Have you had your supper yet?” He asked.

“No,” she responded.

“Then how’bout I treat you to dinner.”

“I’d rather pay for it myself, Monsieur.”

Marianne took a seat between her host and his lady friend. The lady friend turned and said “I’m Hélène.”

Oh yes, Hélène, the famous singer. Which meant that her host was Bruno Faucherie.

“How are you this evening?” Faucherie asked Marianne.

“Alright,” she answered.

“What are you going to have for dinner?”

“I’m not sure. I’m not terribly hungry.”

“I hear the chicken cassoulet here is excellent,” Hélène added.

“Then I’ll have that.”

Manon brought over a dish of cassoulet with five plates. Everyone at the table helped themselves. Faucherie poured Marianne a glass of wine which she did not touch.

“May I know who I have the pleasure of dining with tonight?” She asked him, since he had not yet properly introduced himself.

“I’m Bruno Faucherie,” he answered, “And you are Marianne d’Aubrey.”

“How do you know me?”

“I make it my business to know people, especially when they are as pretty as you.”

The smell of the cassoulet was intoxicating and it made her realize that she was hungrier than she thought. She dipped some bread into the sauce and picked at the bits of chicken and sausage and carrot and celery while avoiding the beans which she did not like.

One of the men who had come in with Faucherie had gone outside. He came back in, whispered something to the other man and they both left.

“Where did they go?” Marianne asked.

“To take care of something,” Faucherie answered simply.

And that was that.

Marianne believed that she heard the sound of a struggle in alley outside but knew that it was best not to say anything.

When the two men returned, they gave their apologies to the ladies and sat back down to enjoy some more cassoulet.

Marianne found herself having a good time much to her surprise. They talked about an Egyptian themed party that Faucherie and Hélène were going to during Carnival which Marianne found interesting because she was fascinated by anything to do with Egypt. Hélène was persuaded to give an impromptu performance of I’ll be there Tonight, the song which had made her famous. She was singing about a hypothetical lover, a dashing and no good cad who she knows cannot be trusted but despite warnings from her friends, she agrees to meet with him that night.

“Monsieur Faucherie,” Marianne told her host, “I’ve had really had a wonderful time but I’m curious. Why did you ask me to dine with you tonight?”

“We have a mutual friend, don’t we Mademoiselle?” Faucherie asked, “A certain green eyed boy.”

She had to bite her lip from retorting “who the two of you got locked up in jail” and instead she answered “yes, that’s true.”

“You and Augustin Lerou were lovers , is that true?”

The depth of Marianne’s feelings for Augustin sometimes blinded her to the fact that her relationship with him had been too innocent to say that they had been lovers. But Faucherie took her blush as an affirmative. He assumed that it had been her first serious affair and she was rather shy about it.

“Then you must harbor a grudge against me for taking young Monsieur Lerou away from you.”

“Augustin made his choice freely; he knew the consequences.”

“Well, My Child, we’re going to get him out.”

“You’re joking with me, certainly.”

“No Dear,” Hélène added “That’s why we invited you over.”

They began speaking in low, hush-hush tones about a plan to spring Augustin and Anton-le-Basque out of La Santé which they referred to as “going to the doctor to get aspirin.”

“Plan to go and visit Augustin exactly a week from today,” Faucherie instructed her, “but before then, stop by The Green Goblin tomorrow night.”

Marianne walked home with Faucherie’s orders playing over and over again in her head.

As he was getting ready for bed, Charles was startled by Adèle who came into the bedroom looking pale and agitated.

“It’s Jules,” she told him, “Charlotte just called to tell me that they just brought him to the hospital after he showed up on their doorstep all beaten up. He said that a mob of blue shirts attacked him on his way home from meeting some friends of his.”

“I’ve heard rumors that there was going to be rioting tonight.”

“Poor Jules.”

Adèle seemed horrified that anyone could possibly want to hurt her baby brother. Jules himself seemed to find it inconceivable after a lifetime of hardly ever receiving so much as a harsh word from anyone.

The newspapers the next day talked about how right-wing mobs had stormed through Paris the night before and converged on the Place de la Concorde, beating up known liberals which explained what had happened to Jules.

 

***Marianne changed out of her waitress uniform when she returned home from work. She put on a pink floral print chiffon dress and rearranged her hair into something fancier than the simple bun she usually wore it in. A little bit of powder, rouge, and mascara were added.

Her heart pounded against her ribcage like a prisoner trying to get out of their cell and she kept asking should I do this?

On a shelf in the kitchen was a box which contained several knives, these were the closest things she had to a weapon. If she was going to meet up with a man like Bruno Faucherie, it would be a good idea to stash one of these knives in her garter. The heft of the knife hilt felt reassuring against her thigh.

Even if Faucherie himself meant her no harm, danger always followed him like thunder follows lightning. And a man like that never did anything for anyone without a price. Someone would have to pay and better it was her. She knew all too well what he might ask for in exchange for his help. The thought of it frightened her.

Marianne grasped the hilt of the knife through the chiffon fabric of her skirt to make sure it was there.

Leaving her apartment, she ran into her neighbor, Louise who was coming out of the bathroom at the end of the hall,  cradling Jacques, who was squirming to get free.

“And where are you off to?” Louise asked Marianne.

“I’m going to get dinner with a friend of mine,” Marianne replied, “Then we’re going to see a movie.”

“You’re all dressed up. Does that friend happen to be a man?”

“Yes.”

“Well, be careful.”

Faucherie had told her to meet him at The Green Goblin, a cafe on a back street off of the Place St. Michel. The only word Marianne had to describe it was seedy. It reminded her of bar and cabaret scenes painted by Toulouse-Lautrec and Van Gogh: bright and garish colors and lighting which made everyone look pale, sick, and hung-over, whether or not they actually were.

He came in a few minutes after she did and walked up to the maitre d’hôtel.

“Excuse me,” he said, “Has a pretty little blonde, scarcely eighteen, come in here?”

“I think so,” the maitre d’hôtel responded.

Faucherie looked around the room, noticed her, and smiled before coming over to her.

“My nineteenth birthday was back in October,” she informed him.

“Did you put in an order for aspirin today?” he asked her.

“Yes, you can pick it up from the doctor tomorrow.”

“Excellent, come upstairs and we’ll see if we can work out some sort of arrangement.”

Marianne discreetly reached for the hilt of her knife. She doubted that she would have the courage to actually use it but it made her feel the slightest bit safer.

The floor above the Green Goblin had rooms available to rent for the night. Faucherie led Marianne up a poky flight of stairs and down an uncomfortably narrow hallway whose dim lighting and double rows of identical doors made it seem as though it stretched on forever. He stopped several doors down the hall on the left side. Marianne’s instincts told her to run but Faucherie took her by the hand and ushered her into the room. Inside was just large enough for a double bed with a white chenille bedspread and a dresser draped with a cheap lace runner. A small window looked out onto the street, a view which was blocked by heavy crimson curtains.

Marianne hung up her hat and coat and slid off her shoes which were damp from the rain. She sat down on the bed and thought about Augustin languishing in La Santé Prison, his olive skin looking sickly and pale, dark circles under his green eyes, and a scar across his cheek that he would not explain to her.

A small tendril of Marianne’s blond hair had come loose from her hairdo and rested against her cheek. Faucherie twisted this tendril of hair around his finger so that it resembled a golden ring.

“Pretty little bird,” he said, before kissing her cheek.

From what Marianne had seen and had been told, she knew that La Santé Prison was a hell hole. A place like that either broke a man or made him worse. Either outcome was far from what Marianne wished for.

Faucherie sat down on the bed next to Marianne and went over his plan to free Augustin and her role in the scheme: she would pay Augustin a visit on the day of the escape and smuggle in a message and harbor him for the night once he was free. While, she was inside the prison, she would pretend to have a lover’s quarrel with Augustin to throw suspicion off of her. Marianne listened attentively and nodded.

“It’ll be carnivale night,” she responded, “There’ll be police everywhere.”

“Don’t worry my child, the new commissioner of police is an old friend of mine. No one’s touching a hair on your Augustin’s pretty head.”

She was unsure if his words made her feel any better. He placed his hand on her thigh and his fingers toyed with the hem of her skirt.

Once Augustin was free, Faucherie would collect his due and Augustin would spend the rest of his life discharging the debt. By being there that night, Marianne was buying the freedom of the man she loved or, at least that was what she told herself. She trusted Faucherie’s peck on the cheek as much as the kiss of Judas.

Faucherie’s fingers found the knife stashed under her skirt.

“Now what’s this, little bird?” he asked her in a mocking tone, “I thought we were friends.”

“I brought it in case of danger,” she gulped.

He laughed and slid the knife out of her garter then murmured “smart girl” before placing it on the bedside table. His fingers then danced across the skin of her thigh; being ticklish, this made her giggle a little.

Faucherie put his hands on her waist and pressed his face to hers in what passed for a kiss, thrusting his tongue into her mouth: Marianne was barely able to keep from gagging. She squirmed in his arms and tried to pull herself away from him.

“What’s the matter, pet?“I don’t bite unless that’s what you like. ” Faucherie said, before playfully nibbling at her earlobe.

He began to undo the row of buttons which ran down the back of her dress and kissed her neck. She wanted to scream to see if someone one would come to her rescue, but she was afraid of what he might do to her. From the grip he had on her upper arms, she imagined that he could probably strangle her. Instead, he lay her down on the bed and whispered something filthy into her ear.

She could not do this. It was too great a sacrifice.

Faucherie began to laugh.

“Please, make yourself decent,” he said between chuckles.

Marianne sat up and began to redo the buttons of her dress, feeling naked and ridiculous more than anything.

“Poor thing, disappointed aren’t you?”

“No….”

She had to admit that the relief she felt was mixed with the disappointment one feels when the worst case scenario they built up in there head does not come to pass.

“You’re a pretty thing, Augustin’s lucky to have you, but I don’t stoop to taking advantage of little girls who don’t know what they’re doing anyway.”

“Then why did you ask me up here?”

“To see if you would, silly little bird, and you did.”

Marianne walked back downstairs with her face flushed crimson and feeling like a damned fool. She was thankful that no one she knew was there in the cafe that night. What must they all be thinking about her? Nothing she wanted to hear, most likely.

Faucherie kissed her hand as they walked out of the cafe.

“Good night, little bird,” he said, “Fly home to your nest.”

“Good night, Monsieur Faucherie,” she replied.

“Remember what I told you?”

“Go and visit Augustin on the 13th, pretend to have a quarrel with him and then harbor him for the night.”

“Good little bird.” ***

Those days of February 1934 had a sleepy yet tense feel to them, almost like the oppressive heat and humidity before a summer thunderstorm.

Maude took the day off on Tuesday the 13th of February to tidy up her flat.

Dusting the mantle, she found a little lion carved from wood. It made her smile to see it.

Years ago when Augustin had come over from Algiers as a little boy with a mop of dark curls, he had been clutching this toy the entire time.

“Does your lion have a name?” She had asked him.

“Asaad,” he had answered.

There was a knock on the door and Léon went to open it.

“Maman,” he said, “Marianne’s here to see you.”

The girl stepped through the door.

“I’m on my way to visit Augustin,” she said, “Do you have anything you want me to bring to him.”

“I have the clean clothes he asked for,” Maude answered.

She gave Marianne a basket full of clothes which she had ironed and folded that morning.

“Thank you.”

“You are welcome, My Dear. I don’t know what he’d do without you. You’re the only ray of sunshine in his life.”

“That’s not true.”

“Well, tell him we said hello.”

Maude kissed her cheek and they bid each other goodbye. She went back to dusting the knickknacks on the mantle; dusting off memories of happier days.

Perhaps if she looked back far enough she could figure out what events had sent her life in the direction it was going no matter how unremarkable it had seemed at the time.

Anticipation made it hard for Augustin to sit still that day. He was afraid that Faucherie’s escape plan would fail or worse, never happen. And if he did get out, what then? What would be outside there waiting for him? More running and hiding. But he would rather run and hide and be free than be trapped.

Augustin felt as though he must follow his star wherever it lead.

Marianne had written to him saying that she would visit him that day. He spent the morning in his cell waiting for her. Whenever the guards were not looking he would take out a fake pistol he was fashioning from wood from the carpentry shop he had stashed away. He blackened it with shoe polish from an old tin he had found in the warden’s garbage.

A guard and a matron came down the hall towards his cell, so he quickly put his project away under his mattress. The guard and matron were escorting Marianne, whose hair was worn loose and her nose and cheeks were rosy from the cold.

“Give me the basket, please,” the guard asked her.

Marianne handed the basket she was holding to the guard. He went through its contents and seemed to find things in order. She started to walk towards Augustin’s cell.

“Wait,” the guard said, “The matron has to search you.”

The matron went through Marianne’s pockets and patted her down.

“You have five minutes, Mademoiselle,” she said.

The guard unlocked the cell door to give Augustin the basket Marianne had brought him. On top of the neatly folded clothes in the basket was the latest issue of a popular music magazine.

“Thanks, Chérie,” he said to his girl.

He reached his hand through the cell bars to put it on her waist.

“You’re welcome,” she put her hand through the bars to touch his cheek.

“It’s Mardi Gras, do you have any plans for tonight?”

“Mathilde and her husband are throwing a party at their home in Auteuil.”

“You seem to be spending a lot of time with them lately.”

“They’re my cousins, Augustin. I can’t just avoid them.”

“Well, you don’t seem to be trying to avoid them.”

“What do want from me?”

“I don’t think you even want to avoid them, especially not Edmond. You like having some big shot after you, don’t you? You’re bored with waiting for the poor soul behind bars and you’ll dance for the first person who’ll name a tune.”

“You’re calling me dishonest, that’s rich. What have I ever done to make you think I was unfaithful to you? What have I ever done but stand by you when anyone else would have given up.”

“Yes, play the martyr why don’t you. Act like you float high above everyone else and you’re as white as snow when really you’re as low and dirty as anyone else.”

“Time’s up,” the guard said.

The guard lead Marianne away. When she got to the end of the hallway, Augustin heard her begin to cry.

He had always known that life beat the softness out of people. Whatever softness was left in him was being beaten out at that very moment. Or maybe his innocence died along with Camille DuPont.

Augustin sat down on his bed and picked up the music magazine Marianne had brought him. Hidden underneath the magazine’s cover was another note from Faucherie, saying that he would come to get him later that night.

“P.S. destroy this after reading,” the note finished up.

Augustin tore up the piece of paper and swallowed it quickly.

Tuesday the thirteenth of February was Mardi Gras, the final night of carnival. The weather was mild for February which was good news for the festively dressed throngs of revelers which filled that Place St. Michel. The sun was going down and great bursts of pink light signaled the end of the day. Fading sunlight cast long shadows on the pavement and made the faces of the people passing by look greenish. They moved along in a sea of shadows moving in two bustling currents. These people were rushing home to throw off their workaday clothes and put on their best to go out partying, knowing that the forty days of Lent would begin tomorrow.

Marie loitered outside Le Paradis at the beginning of her workday as she was waiting for Cerise to return from a kiosk where she was buying cigarettes and candy. Le Paradis was on one of the shabby looking, narrow little cobblestone streets off of St. Michel. It was lined with old and faded looking building, some worse off than others with walls plastered with old signs and peeling posters and dirty windows with sun-bleached shutters. Some of them had a sign saying “Hotel” which meant that Marie and Cerise’s clients could rent a room there for a quick rendezvous.

A man of Marie’s acquaintance named Philippe came out of the bar, already somewhat tipsy.

“Why if it isn’t Marie?” he said, grabbed her by the waist, “Why not you and me later?”

“Hey, leave the lady alone,” another man shouted at him.

“Lady?” Marie asked, “what, are you talking about me? I’d worry about your wife, I just saw her go off with another man.”

Philippe paid Marie and they went off together laughing. Their encounter was a cheap, quick, and rough, trousers and knickers dropped, skirt pulled up, fuck up against a wall.

Marie used the money to buy herself a drink inside Le Paradis. Clare, the barmaid, greeted her.

“Happy Mardi Gras, Marie,” she said, “What’ll it be?”

“Anisette, please,” Marie answered.

Clare poured Marie a shot of anisette.

“Thanks.”

From her spot behind the bar, Clare saw two policemen pass by the opened front door. Her profession had conditioned her to be wary of the police least they raid the place. She stifled a frightened shriek. Marie turned around to what she was so frightened by.

But to their mutual relief, the policemen just walked past Le Paradis without even noticing it.

The mild weather of that day changed as it grew dark. A frosty mist fell as the sky changed to a dark lilac color and the streetlights came on and made the streets shimmer with a rosy glow. They shown against the buildings and illuminated the glass panes of the shop windows and made their contents sparkle. Smaller, high up windows half hidden by signs were aglow with light coming from lamps hidden behind their curtains.

Augustin had been chosen for work detail that day, clearing snow and picking up garbage. When it grew dark, he and the other convicts marched away, shackled together in a line.

“Almost ready,” Anton-le-Basque whispered to Augustin, who nodded his affirmative.

Augustin had not seen much of Anton during the months of their incarceration because they had mostly been kept apart. But in this rare moment of laxity, they had been put on the same chain gang.

As they were about to get into the truck to go back to the prison, another car pulled up and two police officers stepped up. They approached the guard who was in charge of the work detail.

From where he was, Augustin saw that they were gesturing to him and Anton.

“We would like to see those two,” one of them said to the guard.

“Let me see your credentials?” the guard, who was suspicious of these supposed officers, answered.

“Here they are,” the other officer said, taking out a gun.

Before the guard could say anything, the so-called officer fired bullets into his chest. Red blooms of blood blossomed on his chest.

“Damn you,” the guard mumbled as he fell to the ground.

The officer took the keys from the guard’s pocket and unlocked Anton and Augustin’s shackles. Another guard rushed over and grabbed Augustin by the arms. Augustin fought to get one arm free to reach into his shirt to get the fake gun he had fashioned. When he got ahold of it, he stuck it into the guard’s ribs.

“Don’t do it, Lerou,” the guard warned him.

He broke away from him and whipped him with the butt of his gun, before running as fast as he could.

Anton helped him into the waiting car which took off at full speed. The two guards removed their caps and smiled and laughed. Augustin recognized them as Philippe and Jean, two members of the Faucherie gang.

“Faucherie sends his regards, boys,” Philippe said to them.

When they had outrun the police, they ditched the car and their clothes and changed into suits and masks to blend in with the crowds of Mardi Gras revelers.

Anton and Augustin followed Jean and Philippe back through the streets of Montparnasse. It was the last few moments of twilight and stars began to twinkle on one by one like stage lights in a giant theater.

Where they ended up was a white stucco building with doors and windows edged in gold paint. The shapes of the doors and windows reminded Augustin of Algiers.

Inside was an outlandish opium trip of a room which was some sort of nightclub. It was done up like the tent of some eastern sheik or maharajah with silk curtains and cushions in shades of gold, deep brown, and red, Persian rugs, and palm plants. Dispersed throughout were gaming tables and heavily cushioned couches.

The air was thick with incense and tobacco smoke and the light came from chandeliers which looked like giant inverted wedding cakes made of crystals. A negro jazz band played and occasionally someone would shout about the outcome of a card game.

Cigarettes girls and cocktail waitresses wearing glitzy black dresses and headbands served the guests. Apparently, tonight’s theme was Ancient Egypt because the ladies present that evening were wearing Egyptian inspired clothing.

Cleopatra reclined on a sofa supported by silk pillows, sipping a cocktail which Augustin would later learn had been created especially for that evening and was called Nile Water. Mark Antony, wearing a gold silk shirt and a red satin tie with his deep brown suit, stood by her, stroking her hair and chatting with the people at the table next to them.

“How does it feel to be back among the living?” He asked them as they approached.

“Wonderful Monsieur Faucherie,” Augustin answered. He was in awe of everything and could hardly believe it was real.

“Well the evening is young and it’s just going to get more wonderful from here.”

“Will you be performing tonight, Mademoiselle Hélène?” Jean asked Cleopatra

“No, unfortunately,” Hélène responded, taking a sip of her deep blue cocktail, “But if you’re good, I’ll let you buy me a drink later.”

“Do you play Vingt-et-Un, young man?” A gentleman at a nearby gaming table asked Augustin.

“Yes,” he answered.

Hélène got up and went to the gaming table. She slid a silver filigree ring off her finger and put it among the poker chips on the gaming table.

“To the victor, the spoils,” she said.

Augustin took one of the type of cocktail Hélène was drinking. It tasted of almond, bitter orange, pomegranate, figs, and whiskey. One of the Vingt-et-Un players at the table lit his cigarette.

He drew his two cards from the pile: a five of hearts and a five of spades.

“What’ll it be?” One of the men asked him.

“Draw,” he answered. He took another card: an ace of diamonds, “twenty-one.”

The frosty mist that had fallen around dusk had cleared around eleven and the rest of the night was fairly mild for mid-February.

Cerise was sitting out on the enclosed patio of a bar called l’Irlandais. Its doors were left open due to the mild weather. The darkened streets outside were bathed in pale moonlight and the flickering lights from the streetlamps. L’Irlandais and it’s enclosed patio were lit with Tiffany style stained glass lamps.

Four men came down a staircase slick with spit and spilled beer at the end of a dark and muddy alley. When they came into the light, Cerise saw that they were young, handsome, and well dressed. Three of them were leading one of them who was blindfolded.

“Almost there,” one of them said to the blindfolded boy.

One of these young men broke away from the group and walked over to Cerise. She recognized him as Philippe.

“What are you charging for tonight?” He asked her.

“What does it matter?” she responded, “You never have any money to pay.”

Philippe took a wad of francs he had won at the gaming tables out of his pockets.

“Five francs and five francs for the room.”

He gave her the ten francs and she led him up to one of the rooms to rent above the bar.

Just as the party was getting going, Faucherie told Augustin that he had a surprise for him. Anton, Jean, and Philippe blindfolded him and lead him away. The walk took some ten minutes.

“Here we are,” Anton told him.

The blindfold was removed. Augustin found himself on a small street, in front of a building covered in dead vines with a round tower. A set of french doors leading into a small room were left open and an old man sat in a rocking chair, smoking a pipe.

“Good evening,” the old man said to the young men.

“Likewise Monsieur,” Philippe answered.

The old man took another puff on his pipe and continued rocking in his chair.

Augustin’s companions clapped him on the back and then dispersed. He went inside the building.

It was rather quiet inside. Everyone there had either gone to bed or were out. It seemed that the only person there was the old man in the rocking chair.

Augustin climbed the stairs and found the door into the tower at the end of a hallway. The door opened and he was ushered in.

Marianne took him into her arms when he passed through the door and held him close as if he might disappear as quickly as he had reappeared. Her hair had been worn loose, the way he liked it. She had undressed and thrown on a bed jacket.

“How are you?” She asked him, stroking his cheek.

“Glad to be out,” he answered, “Glad to be here.”

This was the first time he had seen where she lived. It was a cozy little hole under the tower’s cone-shaped roof. Everything was neat, practical, and pretty; a small fire was burning in the hearth. The dress he had given her all those months back was lying on the floor as if she had taken it off and forgot about it. A book, a thriller involving a murder of the type which was popular in those days, was lying spine up on the bed.

As she tidied up, Marianne told him of how she had come by the book.

“Anna lent it to me,” she said, “she’s been telling me about it for weeks and promised to lend it to me when she was finished with it. We were at a party earlier and that’s where she gave it to me. Strangely when she lent it to me, I found a St. Anna prayer card I gave her on her name day back in July among its pages. We tried to get Manon to come to this party with us but she thought it would be unseemly since she’s in mourning for her brother.”

They began to talk about the parties they each had been two that evening: what these parties had been like, who had been there, and what had been served. The party Marianne had been to had been at the building where a friend of Anna’s. It had taken place on a staircase which wound through the entire building. They sat there on the staircase drinking gin punch and eating gougères with onion dip and baked Brie, stuffed mushrooms, and lemon curd cake while a radio had been tuned to a station which played jazz music. Benny Goodman to be exact.

He told her about how he had spent the evening with Antony and Cleopatra and they had drunk water from the Nile. This made Marianne giggle.

Johnny was curled up next to Augustin on the window seat and let out an occasional little snuffle or snore. Augustin reached over and patted the little dog on the head.

Marianne came over and sat down on the window seat. She placed Augustin’s head on the gentle swell of her bosom, which rose and fell as she breathed. The beating of her heart was strange and fluttery.

He wanted to think of himself as having been born that evening; having no past, only a future. With everything to look toward to and nothing to hold him back or drag him down.

He sat up and took her into his arms. She yawned.

“Are you tired?”

“I have to get up early for work tomorrow.”

“Then come to bed.”

Augustin was holding her close and leaned in to kiss her.

“I’m not sure.”

“Why?”

“Because I always thought that the going to bed part would come after the marrying part.”

“Would you feel more respectable if I gave you this?”

He reached into his pocket and took out the ring he had won on that hand of cards.

“Augustin…”

“Marianne d’Aubrey, will you marry me?”

“Of course.”

She put the ring on her finger and then kissed him.

“I promise that I’ll do whatever I can to make you happy. But things won’t be easy for us, that’s the only thing I’m certain of.”

“I never wanted things to be easy.”

He kissed her and picked her up into his arms and brought her over to the bed. She lay back against the pillows and he began undoing the tie of her bed jacket, the hooks of her brassiere, and the buttons of her knickers, kissing her face and neck. Then he guided her hands to undo the buttons of his shirt and take it off. He slid down his suspenders and she put her arms around his neck.

Marianne looked afraid, but only of what would happen when the sun came up and all this was over. ***Her cheeks were flushed hot pink but she looked him directly in the eyes and kissed him. Augustin was blushing himself but was not sure why and pressed his lips to her bare stomach. She ran her fingers through his hair, pushing it off of his forehead, and he took her hand and began playfully nibbling her fingers. Her arms again encircled his neck and pulled him on top of her so she could leave a trail of kisses which ran down his chest. He embraced her tightly and her legs wound their way around his hips.

Golden hair enshrouded him as he held her close, kissing her face, neck, and shoulders. She suddenly cried out with a strange mixture of pleasure and pain. He stroked her cheek, wiping away the tears from her eyes, feeling terrible that he had hurt her.

“Shhh, it’s alright,” she whispered, her fingers twined in his hair. ***

Augustin felt that this night had been given to them as a gift: one night where they could be perfectly happy. Despite everything, they might be happy together, but any further happiness they might have would need to be fought for.

“How are you feeling, Marianne? Are you alright?”

“I’m just wonderful.”

She sat up and covered herself up with a sheet. There was a faint smile on her lips and a faint blush on her cheeks.

They began waking up as the sun was beginning to peak over a layer of feathery lavender clouds.

Augustin yawned and stretched as he sat up.

“I have to go.”

“Must you go so soon?”

“Everyone’ll be up soon and I don’t want anyone to see me leave.”

“Oh, let them.”

“Even if I was to get caught, I wouldn’t want to get caught here, visiting my whore.”

“That’s what I am. I’m not ashamed of it.”

He got out of bed and began putting on his clothes. She got up as well and wrapped herself up in a sheet.

“I’ll be back to see you as soon as I can. When all this is over, we’ll be married. You’ll be Madame Augustin Lerou and they’ll tip their hats to you when you walk by.”

He finished putting on his clothes and gave her a kiss.

“Goodbye,” she said.

“See you real soon, chérie.”

Please let me know what you think of the added scenes in the comments and tell me if I should keep this new material in the final version of “Retribution.”