Chateau Aubrey: Book 2, Chapter 1

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Chateau Aubrey-August, 1906

Chateau Aubrey was famous in its day for the dinner parties held there. As the beautiful and eligible eldest daughter, Catharine was their crowning glory. Suitors had been lining up to court her from the moment she had her coming out three years earlier. The Chevalier and his wife weighed her various prospects. A good match for her would smooth the way to equal or superior matches for her younger sisters.

Catharine herself was having none of it. Being gawked at by ridiculous, starched collared buffoons always turned her stomach, but she bore it with saint-like fortitude because it was expected of her.

Clémence, the head housemaid, came to help Catharine dress and prepare for the dinner party. Her two sisters sat on her bed and watched as Clémence arranged her glorious dark hair into a pompadour. Ten year old Mimi swung her legs around and kicked against the bed.

“I don’t see why Maman and Papa won’t let me come down to dinner tonight” nearly sixteen year old Mado whined.

“Well if you’re going to behave like a child,” Catharine retorted, “You’ll eat in the nursery like one.”

Mado pouted. What had gotten her into so much trouble was sitting in the garden on a particularly hot day, wearing only her chemise.

“Where every groundskeeper could see her,” their mother had said.

“I’m sorry you can’t eat dinner with our guests,” Mimi said to Mado, “We could play with my toy theater and act out Princess Belle-Étoile.”

“Oh, leave me alone you horrid little brat!”

“You were only trying to be kind, weren’t you my darling,” Catharine beckoned Mimi over for a kiss on the cheek, “Although God knows she doesn’t deserve it.”

“The two of you can rot in the family crypt for all I care.”

“You don’t mean that, Mademoiselle Madeleine,” Clémence but in.

“Who are you to tell me I don’t mean it.”

Clémence changed the subject and asked Catharine who was coming to dinner.

“I have to sit next to Louis Legrand,” Catharine answered.  

“He’s not bad looking…”

“And has six hundred thousand francs a year. If he hadn’t, no one would look twice at him.”

“That’s unkind,” Mado joined in, “I’m sure he’s very charming once you get to know him.”

“Well, If you behave yourself, you can sit with him next time. What ghastly children the two of you would have.”

“Is there anyone you hope to see, Mademoiselle Catharine?” Clémence asked.

“No, it will only be Maman and Papa’s dull friends.”

The first course consisted of fried sole in anchovy sauce, mutton curry, pigeons à la duchesse, and creamed spinach served with red wine. Catharine picked at her food, only taking an occasional mouthful.  

Louis Legrand tried to make small talk with her. He was a balding, middle-aged widower with nothing particularly interesting to say. She did her best to answer his questions politely but without encouraging any more.

The discussion at the table turned to the exoneration of Alfred Dreyfus and his reinstatement into the army.

“I always knew the man was innocent,” Papa insisted from one end of the table.

“That’s not what you said back in ‘94,” Maman rebutted from the other end, “I seem to recall you saying that he was nothing but a jew traitor who deserved to stew on Devil’s Island.”

“I’ve heard that they’re going to give him the Legion of Honor,” a lady sitting next to Papa added.

The centerpiece of the second course was a bailed calf’s head served on a platter garnished with parsley. The calf’s brains were served in a butter and herb sauce and its ears in tomato paste. Alongside this gruesome spectacle were partridges and truffles, chicken liver and brandy pâté on toast, cold game pie, braised red cabbage, and white wine. Catharine ate only a piece of toast and pâté and a few forkfuls of cabbage. Her low appetite for food had been satiated by the little she had eaten during the previous course. She took an almost ascetic-like view on indulgences such as gluttony. Temperance was a virtue that she greatly prided herself on.

Among the guests that evening for that evening were the young de Bohun brothers, two strapping redheads whose parents owned an estate near Chateau Aubrey, where their mother bred horses. The family was well-known in racing circles because they owned a number of prized winning thoroughbreds. Rémy de Bohun, the eldest sat across from Catharine, ogling her breasts. Emmanuel, his younger brother, sat a few seats away from him. He had recently taken a shine to Mado.

“I’m sorry your sister couldn’t come tonight,” he said to Catharine, “I was looking forward to seeing her.”

“See excused herself because she said she wasn’t feeling well,” Catharine responded, “But she told me that she just wanted to avoid some boor who wouldn’t stop  pestering her. She said that he kept going on and on about how well his horses did at Longchamps this year.”

The young man looked both disappointed and relieved; disappointed because apparently the girl was not interested in him, relieved because he had not made too much of an ass of himself in pursuing her.

She had done Mado a favor, really. Being forced to listen to Madame de Bohun talk about which mare should mate with which stallion for the rest of your life was something she would not submit anyone to.

Dessert was made up of Russian jelly, a “tipsy cake” made from Savoy cake and amaretti cookies soaked in wine brandy,  a frangipane torte, berries in cream, furmity with pears, red wine jelly, white wine jelly, and spice plum mousse with honey. Catharine did not have much of a sweet tooth and only took a piece of Savoy cake. Too many sugary things made her feel sick and was the worst thing possible for the figure.

Everyone adjourned to the drawing room when the dinner was over. Catharine was sent to go check in on Mado. She had been weeping on her bed for hours, still in the clothes she had worn that day.

Catharine sat down on the bed next to her. Mado’s eyes were puffy and red from prolonged crying.

“What do you want?” she asked.

“You know, you’ll lose your looks if you don’t stop crying and get some sleep,” Catharine told her.

Mado’s dinner tray lay between them, the food on it had not been touched, which was odd due to Mado’s healthy appetite.  

“And skipping meals won’t stop you from getting plump.”

“I should hang a crucifix above my doorway,” Mado responded, “That’ll protect me from witches.”

She buried her head in the pillows, and asked “did Emmanuel de Bohun asked about me?” in a muffled voice.

Catharine lied and said that he had not even mentioned her.

It was for her own good. In a way, Catharine envied her sister for not having to been put on display, bothered by dull old men like Louis Legrand, and stared at by boors like the de Bohun brothers.

She rung for the maid to help Mado get ready for bed, bring her uneaten dinner down to the kitchen, and bring her something else to eat.

During August 1914, Germany declared war on France and planned to invade through Belgium. France was taking the opportunity to try to reconquer Alsace and Lorraine, regions on the German border which they had lost back in ‘71. The newspapers were full of stories of the atrocities which the Germans were committing in Belgium. Germany was portrayed as a bloodthirsty monster who murdered and violated women and slaughtered children.

October brought the first allied victory and also Madeleine’s child, a tiny towheaded little girl who was too delicate to be brought to the cathedral in the winter cold of December and was baptized in the drawing room at Chateau Aubrey and given the name Rose Marianne Aurore Louise Beaumont.

James fell in love with the new arrival at first sight. Madeleine would joke that she now had a rival for his affection but she was every bit as infatuated with their baby. She had her mother’s eyes but had his smile.

“Catharine, isn’t our daughter beautiful?” James asked his sister in law at the baptism.

“I have to say, she is rather sweet,” Catharine answered.

“I wish I knew,” Madeleine added, “He never lets me hold her.”

“I hope he won’t spoil her too much,” Madame d’Aubrey said.

Mimi was holding her other niece, Catharine’s ten month old daughter Mathilde.

“Mathilde’s getting so big,” she said.

“God willing she’ll have a little brother soon,” Georges answered.

“How soon?” Madeleine asked.

“In July,” replied Catharine.

The looseness of her dress and the roundness of her belly suggested that she was pregnant again.

A young man named Henri Bellerose had been invited to the baptism. Mimi had met him during her season as a debutante and they had become especially close during the previous summer. Her family expected a proposal any day now because he would go off to the front soon. He wore his lieutenant’s uniform that afternoon and Mimi thought he looked even more handsome. She had confessed to Catharine that she felt that she might be in love with Henri and that she hoped he did propose to her.

“Congratulations on your new niece, Mimi,” he said to her.

“Thank you, Henri,” she responded.

“May I speak with you alone?”

“Certainly.”

They went and stood by a window. He took one of her hand while with the other arm, she cradled her baby niece Mathilde.

“I’ll be leaving for the front soon but I’ve been working up the courage to do something very different. I love you, Mimi and I did not want to leave without you knowing that.”

“Oh Henri, I love you too.”

“Then will you marry me when this war is over?”

“Of course.”

They shared their first kiss in front of that window in the drawing room while no one was watching them. It was even more exciting for Mimi because she had never been kissed before.

That night, Madeleine went to say goodnight to her daughter in the nursery. Madame d’Aubrey had the nursery redone for the next generation about a year before. The old wallpaper had been changed to a pale blue floral print, and white curtains had been put up. A new crib with a white canopy and bedding had been brought in for Mathilde, while Marianne, the newest arrival, was put in the cradle. Nounou was putting the two babies to bed when Madeleine came in. She took her daughter from Nounou, swaddled her to her breast and began to rock her.

“ Au clair de la lune,” she sang:

“Mon ami Pierrot,prête-moi ta plume pour écrire un mot. Ma chandelle est morte, Je n’ai plus de feu. Ouvre-moi ta porte pour l’amour de Dieu.  Au clair de la lune,Pierrot répondit : ” Je n’ai pas de plume, Je suis dans mon lit. Va chez la voisine ,Je crois qu’elle y est, car dans sa cuisine on bat le briquet.”

Madeleine placed her baby daughter inside her cradle then leaned in to kiss her forehead.

“Goodnight, sweetheart.”

“And how are my girls this evening?” James asked as he came into the nursery.

“We’re both well.”

“I have something I’d like to talk to you about.”

“What is it, my love?”

“I’m joining up. I saw that dashing Lieutenant Bellerose today and how proud Mimi was of him and it made me decide that I want want to go and fight.”

She threw her arms around his neck.

“Oh Jamie, I’m so proud of you. But I don’t think I could bare worrying about while you are away.”

“I’ll be back before you know it. They say it can’t last much longer. After that victory at the Marne, it’ll be all downhill from there. I’ll be back to watch our little Marianne grow up and chase the boys away from her.”

“I don’t think that’ll be for some time now. I imagine you’ll be back in plenty time for that.”

“I promise that nothing will happen to me.” He bent over to look at his little daughter sleeping in her cradle, “I won’t leave you for long, my little pearl.”  

New York City- Winter, 1899

The Streets of New York were piled up with lays of ice, mud, and God knew what else known as corporation  pudding and blanketed with a dense fog of smoke and a donkey, fishy smell. When the weather was sleety, they appeared to be rivers of bobbing black umbrellas churning their way through pushcarts piled high with pots, pans, brooms, and buckets. Others with potatoes, turkeys, hams, and fish. Women dressed in all black with shawls over their heads poked at the things for sale in the carts. Silent men stood next to small fires, rubbing their hands together to keep warm. Gangs of ragged looking boys pushed their way through the crowds, running, shouting, and laughing. Some of the buildings which flanked the streets were gloomy looking and so decrepit they appeared as though they would fall down at any moment.

The saloons, vaudeville theaters, and dance halls provided some much needed color and glamour. One of these dance halls had been rented out for the night by the owners of the factory where Laurie and Jimmy worked to throw a dance for their workers. 

Jimmy sat on the floor in one of the corners of the hall, shooting marbles with a boy named Ben, a friend of his from the factory. Every once in awhile, he would look to see what Laurie was doing. Mostly he stood by the bar, drinking.

A tall, slender, graceful girl walked in with their friend and Ben’s brother, Ezra. She had dark chestnut colored hair, a warm complexion, and large, timid, fawn-like eyes brown eyes with long lashes. Her manner was more ladylike and refined than your average factory girl, who could drink and swear as much as any man when given the chance.

“Hey,” Jimmy whispered to Ben, “Who’s that with Ezra?”

“That’s Sarah, my sister,” Ben responded.

Laurie walked over, with the excuse of saying hello to Ezra, who then introduced him to his pretty sister. Sarah, blushing, accepting his offer of a dance. The band struck up “Maple Leaf Rag.”

“Ezra talks a lot about you,” Laurie began, “He says that you’re a maid.”

“Yes, to the Ackerman family,” Sarah responded.

“Then I guess we have the same boss.”

“It would appear so.”

“I bet those eyes get you plenty of admirers.”

“Being a maid doesn’t give you too much time for that.”

“It’s amazing they let you come here tonight.”

“It’s my night off and I said I was coming her with my brother.” 

Ezra was coming down with a cold and Laurie convinced him to go home early, saying that he would bring Sarah home after the dance.

“What time is it?” Sarah asked as they were leaving.

“Almost midnight, I guess,” Laurie answered.

“I have to be home by midnight or I’ll get locked out.”

“It’s alright, I’ll get you home in time. How far away do you live?”

“I live at 567 Fifth Avenue.”

Honky tonk music and the shouts of drunks poured out of a saloon. A tall, bearded gentleman dressed in an expensive frock coat and top hat stepped through the doorway and began walking uptown. Looking around, he noticed Sarah and called to her.

“Mr. Ackerman,” Sarah shyly responded.

“What are you doing here, and out so late?”

“It’s my night off, sir, and I went to a dance with my brother. He wasn’t feeling well and went home early and Mr. Brady said he would walk me back. I guess I lost track of time.”

“You know you have to be back by midnight.”

“I know, I’m sorry.”

“Well I guess I can let it slide this time. Come with me, my child, and I’ll explain everything to Mrs. Abler.”

“Yes sir.”

Laurie stopped them as they began to walk off.

“I’m sorry for keeping her out late,” he told Mr. Ackerman, “Goodnight, Sarah.”

“Goodnight Mr. Brady.”

As Sarah walked off with Mr. Ackerman, Laurie took a penny out of his pocket.

“Heads: she’ll look back,” he thought, “Tails: she won’t.”

He flipped the coin and it landed on heads.

“Come, my dear,” Mr. Ackerman said to Sarah as he ushered her forward after she stopped to take one final look at Laurie.

Retribution: Chapter 31

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Gabriel checked over the time table at St. Lazare station; his train would not be boarding for another two hours. He could go and call upon his sister in the meantime, but the walk was too far. The time it would take to get there and back would not allow for much of a visit and he had imposed on Gillian’s hospitality too much of late.

All Gabriel could do to pass the time was have breakfast, including a strong coffee, in the stations cafe and read the morning paper. He had woken up at first light, snuck out to the Contaille train depot before his father was awake, and hopped on the earliest train to Paris. It was not unusual for him and his father to take spontaneous trips into Paris to visit Gillian but Gabriel had taken to going by himself, with the purpose of seeing Marianne. When the train arrived in St. Lazare that morning, he purchased a newspaper and sat down in the cafe. He flipped through his paper while waiting for his coffee and toast and came to the missing persons ads. At the top of the page was a photograph of a smiling blonde.

“If anyone has information as to her whereabouts, please contact Catharine Mathieu at… or Charles Prideaux at…” he read.

He had been right to be worried about her. When they had parted on Easter Monday, he left with the feeling that he should be concerned, which was now proven right. Should he go and offer his condolences to her aunts? Ask if he could be of any use in helping to find her? No, he had no right to.

Gabriel checked his watch. It was 8:30; his train back to Contaille would board at quarter past ten.

It took a couple of hours to get from Paris to Contaille-sur-Seine. The Contaille train depot was little more than a platform with an enclosure and a loading dock. Ferme Pommier, the Renault family home, was on the other side of town. Contaille was a small village but it was a substantial walk from the depot to Ferme Pommier. Gabriel walked along the main road, hoping to bum a ride off a passing car. He knew almost everyone in the area and it was unlikely that he would have to rely on a stranger.

Monsieur Baudin, the butcher, pulled his truck over when he noticed Gabriel and gave him a ride home.

“Tell your old man I said hello,” Baudin told him.

Gabriel found his father in the barn, looking over a heavily pregnant cow. Fleur ran up to him, barking loudly.

“Where have you been all morning?” his father asked.

“In Paris,” Gabriel responded.

“This is the second time this month that you’ve taken off without a warning.”

“I know, father.”

“I’ve had to do all the morning’s chores by myself today.”

“I’m sorry; I know how busy we are this time of year.”

“Well, how ya gonna keep’em down on the farm after they’ve seen Paree?”

It had been just the two of them for the past few years. Gabriel’s mother had died back in 1919 of the Spanish influenza. His brother, Yves, had joined the army three years ago and was stationed in Morocco. Around the same time, Gillian left to find work in Paris and ended up marrying a rich parisian. Gillian had always been too pretty and vivacious to end up stuck in Contaille with some dumb old rustic.

“And another thing, you love struck swain, don’t think I haven’t figured out why you’ve been sneaking off. It’s to see Madame Catharine’s niece.”

“Don’t tease me, Father.”

“Not that I blame you, my boy. She’s a pretty little thing, just like your mother was when I courted her.”

“Well, she’s not interested in me.”

“What? Does the little minx think she’s too good for you?”

His paternal pride, which told him that his son was good enough for any girl, was offended.

“No, she just loves someone else that’s all. Go inside and rest, father, I’ll take over from here.”

Gabriel went into the pasture to check on the cows, with Fleur in tow. The day was mild and clear with a gentle breeze that smelt of fresh grass. Fat white clouds dotted the blue of the sky and fat white cows dotted the green of the fields, their milk heavy udders sagging against the ground. He sat down under a shady oak tree, the best vantage point from which to oversee the herds, took off his jacket and took his harmonica out of the breast pocket, then began to play My Melancholy Baby.

The cows always liked it when he played his harmonica. My Melancholy Baby was the particular favorite of a heifer named Campanule, who Gabriel had raised since she was a newborn calf. Campanule docilely offered her creamy flanks for him to pat. She was expecting her twelfth calf and would be taken in from the fields in a few weeks.

“And how are you, old girl?” he asked gentling stroking her swelling belly.

Campanule began to nibble at a thick patch of clover. The countryside was lush and verdant after a week or so of rain; the air was fresh and sweet smelling. It would be a shame to be inside on a day like this, but Gabriel almost wished that he was sitting in Madame Catharine’s drawing room, Marianne sitting across from him. Usually, he hated being confined indoors; in the warmer months he would sometimes sleep outside in the fields. Now even the vast open countryside of Normandy felt stifling. His impulsive jaunts to Paris had been as much to do with restlessness as with amorous intentions towards Marianne; the two feelings were intertwined. His father had been right; how would you keep them down on the farm after they have seen Paree?

“There’s a young man to see you, Madame,” Annette told her mistress, who was sitting in her morning room.

At first Catharine expected it to be either of her sons-in-law but if it had been, Annette would have said “Monsieur Edmond” or “Monsieur Christophe”.

“He says his name is Monsieur Lerou,” Annette continued.

“Then show him in” Catharine instructed her maid.

A wiry, swarthy faced boy stepped through the door, politely holding his hat in his hand.

“Madame, my name is…” he began.

“Young man, I know quite well who you are.” she silenced him.

Catharine had been curious about her niece’s lover; mostly she wanted to know what someone who could cause so much trouble was like. What she saw in front of her was only a boy, a handsome, in a rough sort of way, boy with sparkling emerald eyes, and a dashing, crooked grin. Behind all the sparkle and dash was something sad and pitiful, whether real or perceived. Just the sort of thing that could seduce a naive and well-meaning girl like Marianne; she would not be the first to mistake a devil for a fallen angel. Even Catharine herself  was tempted to feel sorry for him. She could imagine him as someone’s son. Some woman had gone through the pains of Hell to bring him into this world, held him in her arms, nursed him at her breast, and hoped for the best for him. Even now, after everything he had done, she probably loved him nonetheless.

“Marianne is with me,” he told her, “She is safe.”

“I would hardly call being in the company of known criminals, safe.”  

“Fair enough.”

“So, where are you keeping her?”

“I can’t tell you, unless you want your niece sent back to you in pieces.”

Catharine wanted to slap him but this snot nosed little punk was not going to make her lose her temper. What was he to her? Nothing more than some naughty hall-boy who had been caught in a broom closet with a scullery maid, only this particular scullery maid happened to be a daughter of the house, She longed for the days when she could have had him flogged to death for less than what he had done.

“I could call the police on you right now.”

“She would never forgive you for that.”

It took all of her willpower to restrain from wringing his neck.

“I didn’t come here to argue with you; I’m sorry for what I’ve done but I love Marianne and I’ll try my best to do right by her. She can come to visit you whenever she likes.”

“You listen to me, boy. Try as you may, you will never be good enough for Marianne.”

“I knew that the moment a met her.”

“You take good care of her, boy. Promise me this.”

“I promise.”

“Get down on your knees and swear it!”

The boy knelt down in front of her.

“I, Augustin Lerou, do solemnly swear to serve and protect My Lady’s niece.”

He took her hand and kissed the gold ring set with two rubies which she had inherited from her mother. She could not tell if this gesture was in earnest or to mock her hauteur.

“Thank you for coming to see me, to say that she is safe.”

He looked up at her and smiled. Catharine felt a brief flash of tenderness towards him; that grin made her want to stroke his head and tell him to go run and play. But this feeling quickly vanished and she called for Annette to show him out.

Augustin took the metro back to Montmartre and ran a few errands before returning home. He found Marianne in the kitchen, teasing Johnny with a piece of leftover chicken. The little dog eagerly leaped, trying to get at the treat but she would raise her arm a little higher whenever he got close. Then, like a benevolent goddess of plenty, she dropped the piece of chicken and Johnny snatched it up.

Augustin knelt down and scratched Johnny behind the ears.

“What are those?” Marianne asked, referring to the packages he had left on the table.

“Open them up and see,” he responded.

The first package was a hat box with a picture on its cover of an amorous eighteenth century couple in a garden. Inside was a straw hat with a wide, floppy brim.

“You told me once that you sunburn easily,” he explained, “We wouldn’t want that lovely skin fried up like bacon, now do we?”

Marianne had seen a similar hat in a fashion magazine, worn by Carole Lombard while lounging on the beach. She put it on and struck a pose and giggled.

The next package was a box from a bakery; inside was a cake frosted with royal icing and sprinkled with grated citrus zest.

“It’s lemon cake, you said it was your favorite. I thought I’d pick up something special for dessert tonight.”

“Oh, it’s far too pretty to eat.”

“Fine, then we’ll just sit and stare at it.”

“Don’t be ridiculous,” she picked up a small package of her own, “I picked this up today as well.”

Wrapped up inside brown paper was a book with a picture of a man tied to the mast of a ship on its cover.

The Odyssey. What is this?”

“Remember when I mentioned Wily Odysseus, Circe, and Calypso, and you didn’t understand it?”

“Perhaps?”

“Well, they’re from this book.”

Augustin took hand to kiss to its palm, but noticed the scars on her wrists, red lines crisscrossing her apple blossom skin. He ended up kissing the back of her hand so he did not have to look at those ugly reminders of even uglier things.

“Can you read it to me?” he said as he hung up his hat and jacket and walked into the living room.

His shoes were kicked off and he plopped down on the sofa. Marianne joined him and put his head in her lap.

Sing to me of the man, Muse,” she began to read, the man of twists and turns, driven time and again off course, once he had plundered the hallowed heights of Troy.”

Hélène had asked the men not to smoke in the house because the smell made her sick in her condition, so Augustin and Faucherie took their cigarettes on the rooftop deck.

“In my experience, the best way to deal with women is to let them have their own way,” Faucherie explained after they had made the hike up to the very summit of the house.

Both of them lit cigarettes and began to talk about what they had done that day. Faucherie had taken a drive to Charenton and Bercy to collect the protection fees from some dance halls.

“I went to visit Marianne’s aunt today,” Augustin told him, “To let her know that Marianne is alright. And she treated me like I was a rat and I wanted to tell her ‘I guess that’s better than being a useless old cow’ but of course I didn’t”

As Marianne set the table, Hélène went to tell the men that dinner was ready. Over the meal, the conversation was about Augustin and Marianne’s plans for the future. Augustin told them that he hoped to emigrate to Egypt or Algeria once he had enough money.

“I’m sure we’ll be able to find work there,” Marianne began, “I’m not afraid to work; I’m not one of those girls who needs closets full of furs and chests full of diamonds to be happy: not like my cousin Mathilde. You should’ve seen her at Easter, showing off the ropes of pearls her husband gave her.”

“I’m sure you would like to have those ropes of pearls around your pretty neck,” Faucherie rebutted.

“Of course, but I don’t need them to be happy.”

“Most girls would disagree with you.”

“And I’m sure not all the pearls in the world would be enough for them.”

“From the mouths of babes,” Faucherie laughed.

Marianne then brought over the cake on a pretty, white china plate, along with several smaller matching plates, and began cutting slices for everyone at the table.

“There’s a good girl,”  Faucherie said when she handed him a slice of cake.

The phrase There’s a good girl sounded like something she would say to Johnny when she got him to sit and stay. Faucherie petted and played with her just like she did Johnny.

Flush faced and cheerful after a few glasses of wine, Augustin went to bed and enjoyed a few hours of pleasant sleep. The night was unusually dark and quiet: the sun could stay in the sky until well into the night this time of year and the day’s bustle was much the same.

Between two and four in the morning, Augustin woke up. Usually, he would toss and turn and try to fall asleep again but the fog of sleep had cleared from his head. He sat up in bed and stared into the shadows of the room. He felt something stir in the bed next to him and a hand touch his shoulder; perversely gentle and loving, a sick parody of a lover’s caress. With his other hand, Augustin grabbed the strange arm with a rough, tight grip. Instead of lean and stealy, the bone structure was delicate and fragile, like the wing of the bird, and the flesh was soft, almost plump. The arm’s owner whimpered like an injured dog.  

“Please, let go,” Marianne moaned.

He released her arm. She looked naked and vulnerable in her thin, rayon night dress. Such a sight would usually make him want to lay her back down on the pillows and enjoy her again but this time, he felt monstrous for hurting her.

“I’m sorry,” he responded.

One of Sarah Brady’s favorite areas of Paris to visit was Montmartre. She enjoyed poking around in the art galleries and antique shops to see what treasures she could find. The highlight of an excursion she took towards the end of April was finding a pair of Sèvre porcelain figurines depicting Cinderella trying on the glass slipper. She was not the only person who was admiring them at the time. While Sarah had been haggling with the dealer over how much the figurines cost, a girl  wearing a large straw hat stopped to look at them and picked up the tag attached to the Prince’s hand holding the glass slipper to read it.

Sèvres/Vincennes, circa 1750-60, after Boucher…” she read aloud, “My grande-mère had a pair of figurines like these in her mourning room. She always used to say that my fourth great grandmother received them as a wedding present from Madame de Pompadour.”

“ de Pompadour was a great patron of Sèvre,” Sarah responded, “and also of Boucher, whose work the piece was inspired by.”

“I think Boucher also did a portrait of my fourth great grandmother. Her name was Selene d’Aubrey, Baronne du Contaille and she was said to be a great beauty. The painting was sold off many years ago but I remember that she was dressed in yellow with a posy of spring flowers in her hair and a songbird perched on her finger.”

“I think I remember that painting. It came through an auction at Sotheby’s last year.”

“My final price is 12,000 francs, Madame,” the dealer but in.

“Oh my, that’s more than I planned to spend,” Sarah responded.

She bid the dealer and the girl in the large straw hat good afternoon and left the shop, still coveting the figurines.

The Oak Tree

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The bells of a small country church rung solemnly to mourn the death of a wealthy duke. His duchess, though she threw him a lavish funeral and made a very public show of mourning, relished the opportunities what her widowhood afforded. Her husband had left her a vast and lucrative estate; in her opinion, rich widows were the most fortunate of women. She was still young and beautiful, with the possibility of another advantageous marriage, or at least a lover or two.

The Duchess, managing a few false tears, and a number of other black clad mourners carrying lit tapers processed towards the church, with a choir singing a requiem following them from behind. Their voices were accompanied at the church door by the crying coming from a wiggling bundle of rough cloth.

“Wait a moment,” the Duchess ordered, stopping the procession. She picked up the bundle and examined it. Inside was a maid child, only a month or two old, probably the offspring of peasants who could not afford to take care of her, “Poor little thing.”

This infant was baptized soon afterward, and given the christian name Elena; the Duchess stood as godmother at the baptism. Little Elena was given to the Duchess’s shepherd, called Pastore, to raise.  Pastore already had taken in another foundling, a strapping little lad of three named Marco, who he loved as much as if he were his own son, and gladly welcomed the infant.

Elena and Marco grew up herding the sheep under Pastore’s care, leading them into the fields after the harvest, into the hills during the spring, then back into the village for the summer shearing. The winters they spent in Pastore’s modest hunt and warmed by peat fires and the faithful sheep dog, Bess. In the spring, they camped out in the hills, sleeping on mats woven from rushes and eating nettles, hawthorne, dandelions, primroses, heartsease, linden leaves, violets, three cornered leeks, bittercress, cleavers, ground ivy and wild garlic. Fifteen years passed by in this way. Marco grew into a fine youth; Elena blossomed into a pretty maiden. Although they had been raised as brother and sister, Elena adored Marco as a lover.  He still thought of her as a child. In May, when they brought the sheep back into the village, Marco hoped to court the beautiful young daughter of a well off yeoman.

Before the flocks were returned, they were brought to a pound outside the village to have their fleece washed before it was sheared. After this task, Marco rested under a giant old oak tree, knobbly, rough, and twisted, perched upon a hill overlooking the pond, and dreamed of his lady love. It was very hot that day, and Elena stripped off all of her clothes and to cool herself in the water. She noticed Marco, asleep under the oak tree. Like a cat, she crept up to him and snuggled up by his side, She kissed him and enticed him into taking her maidenhead. Before he became sensible of what had happened, she had fled from him.

The summer months were spent in the village. Marco joined the men in shearing the sheep while Elena carded, spun, milked, and made cheese with the women. The women of the village began to notice changes in Elena and started to gossip: Marco was presumed responsible for her condition. The youth was shocked when he figured out what had happened and how he was to become a father.

He  searched out Elena and found her under the massive oak tree outside of the village, lying in the grass, staring up through the leaves and branches at the sky. Her long, dark hair, which framed her face like a nun’s veil when worn loose, was spread around her. The expression on her face was blank, her dark eyes darting and distracted.

The oak tree, ancient and gnarled, stood upon a hill which sloped down to the small pond. She turned her eyes to the pond and looked upon it with distant fondness.

“I’ve been looking for thee,” he said to her.

She turned and looked at him with the same distant fondness.

“People have been talking. I’m worried about thee”

“Don’t worry,” she finally said, “It was my mistake and I will deal with it as best I can.”

“The mistake wasn’t thine alone, thou shouldn’t have to deal with it alone.”

“I don’t want to be an obligation. I don’t want thee to grow to hate me.”

If I do feel obligated, it is only because I care about thee.”

“But dost thou love me?”

She rested one of her tiny hands on her stomach, which had already become soft and rounded. How young and vulnerable she looked; a child expecting a child.

“I want to protect and provide for the both of thee. If that is love, then yes.”

Her response to this declaration was other of her serene, madonna-like smiles. Where there had been distracted worry in her eyes before, there was now a feeling of relief.

“Wilst thou help me up?”  

He took her into his arms and helped her to her feet. His arms remained around her as they walked back into town.

In the late summer, the older sheep past their prime were slaughtered for mutton. Roast mutton, a rare treat which Marco and Elena only enjoyed once a year, was the crowning glory of their wedding feast, served alongside eel stew and a salad made from land cress and fat hen. The bells in the village church rang in celebration of the young couple. The Duchess, her godmother, kissed Elena as she entered the church.

In the autumn, after the harvest, the newly weds herded the sheep back into the fields. Early the next spring, their baby girl  was born and named Quercia, oak tree.

Chateau Aubrey: Part 1: Chapter 7

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The spring of 1914 gave way to a rather eventful summer. In June, Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria-Hungary and his wife were shot in Sarajevo, Bosnia by a Serbian causing Austria to declare war on Serbia and Germany and Russia to rush to the aid of their respective allies. There was talk of war in Rouen because France was an ally of Russia. But Catharine did not pay much attention to this. The summer for her passed as it usually did, with garden parties and dances, and picnics.

On August 3rd, she went to have tea with her mother. Tea was set up on a terrace in the garden under a giant chestnut tree. A pristine white tablecloth was placed on a table laden with delicious looking coconut rocks, fruit cake, madeira cake, toast and butter, and potato scones.

“Catharine, would you please pass the butter?” Madame d’Aubrey asked her daughter.

Catharine passed the butter to the mother. A young footman named Andre brought in the evening paper and brought it over to Madame.

“Monsieur has just returned from town,” he told her, “He’s out walking in the garden.”

“Thank you, Andre.”

Madame took the paper and looked at the front page. Catharine jumped up from the table when she heard her mother gasp.

“Maman, Maman, what is it?”She shouted.

The church bells in Rouen were all ringing and Mimi could hear them when she went into the garden to look for her father. She found him in a field of sunflowers on the outskirts of their property.

“Papa,” she called.

She ran over to him and stood by his side while he absent mindedly stroked her hair.

“Why are the bells ringing?” she asked.

When it was not a holiday, the church bells only rang when something terrible happened.

“We’re at war with Germany,” he told her.

He kissed her on the forehead and looked off into the distance.

Chateau Aubrey: Part 1: Chapter 6

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Mimi saw her sisters a good amount of times since they had been married, but it seemed to her that Catharine was always busy and Madeleine wanted nothing to do with them. It was lonely for her to be the only daughter left at home. Nine months after Madeleine’s wedding, Mimi went into Rouen to visit her sister.

It was a mild morning in March, and bright, cool, sunlight shone in through a large window in James and Madeleine’s flat and made the white walls look radiant. Madeleine was seated at the table and watched the street below.

“Nice to see you,” she said when Mimi came through the door.

“You look very well,” Mimi answered.

“You haven’t seen Jamie, have you? He’s been gone since last night.”

“No I haven’t. Why, is something the matter?”

“We had an argument last night, over something stupid really. He’s been upset because he doesn’t want to go the baptism of Catharine’s new daughter. I said that I didn’t really want to go myself but we had a family duty to go. Somehow it escalated from there; he accused me of flirting with other men at parties.  I said he was crazy and he hit me.”

“Good Lord! Did you hit him back?”

“Of course. I said that if he was going to behave like that, I was going to give it right back to him.”

“Good, it sounded like he deserved it.”

“Mostly I felt sorry for him because he didn’t have any better way to say what he wanted to. I can tell he’s afraid that I think I degraded myself by marrying him and is frustrated that he can’t give me something as good as what he took me from.”

“What a man, hitting his wife because he’s afraid and frustrated. If he’s going to behave that way towards you, perhaps you’re better off without him.”

The previous month, Catharine had given birth to a daughter. She and Georges were disappointed because they had been hoping for a boy. Catharine did not show much interest in her new born, saying “I guess she’s doing very well, the nurse is taking good care of her,” whenever she was asked about her daughter. When she had recovered from the birth, she went to call upon her sister Madeleine, simply out of curiosity, only to run into her brother in law outside stumbling his way home looking tired and disheveled like he had been out all night. She asked the chauffeur to stop the car and pick him up.

“I know what’s going on,” she told him.

“What is it?” He answered back in a rather surly way.

“You’ve been married for nine months and you’re sick of it.”

“What makes you think that?”

She chuckled.

“Madeleine will be wondering where you are. No doubt seeing you in the state you’re in will upset her and she’ll say things that’ll make you angry. And in the state you’re in, that shouldn’t be too hard. Madeleine can be dreadfully infuriating sometimes.”

“Only you could be so spiteful. As if I could ever hurt a sweet little thing like Madeleine. We had an argument last night, she was right, I lost my temper and I don’t know what came over me. I feel terrible about it.”

The first year of James’s marriage to Madeleine  had not been easy for him. Not that he did not love her or that she was hard to get on with but because her family was watching him and expecting him to fail. They all whispered that she should not have married him and that she had lowered himself by doing so.

James especially hated all of the prancing peacocks with flowery and overly love names who showed up at Chateau Aubrey, trussed up in their starchy tuxedos and lavishing hand kisses and sappy compliments gleamed from the latest novel on unsuspecting women. It seemed perfectly acceptable in France for a man to be gallant towards another’s wife; certainly no American would ever behave this way. In New York, men were stabbed for less.  Madeleine, bless her heart, was pretty enough to attract admiration but not self confident enough to be impervious to flattery. She gave him no reason to suspect that she felt any dissatisfaction with him but he often projected his frustrations onto her and caused him to sometimes behave shamefully towards her.

“See I was right. Listen, if she’s getting on your nerves, why don’t you leave her. There’s no use terrorizing the poor thing. Maybe she’s just as eager to get rid of you.”

“I’ve always thought a couple of good slugs was exactly what you needed.”

The car brought them to where he and Madeleine were living.

“Look at the stray dog I picked up off the side of the road,” she had said to her sister when returned her husband to her.

What made this even more humiliating was the spiteful glee Catharine took in the situation, and he was in just as bad a state when he arrived home as when he had left. His goodbye to Catharine was “you nasty hag” (at twenty-eight Catharine was beginning to be sensitive to the fact that she was not as young as she used to be.)

Madeleine hovered around him when he came in.

“Go on, say it,” he told her, “I’ve been out all night, I just insulted your sister…”

“Do you think I care if anyone insults Catharine?” She answered, “I’m just glad your back.”  

She brought him some coffee and some omelette and then sat down beside him, saying that she had something to tell him.

“Mimi dropped by this morning,” she began, “and I told her that I’d would visit this afternoon.”

“Yes and…”

“Well,  I have an important announcement to make and I felt that I should tell you first because it concerns you more than anyone else. I’ve had my suspicions for some weeks now but I went to a doctor a couple days ago and he confirmed it. We’re going to have a baby.”

“Oh Mado,” he reached over and took her into his arms, “I’m not squeezing you too hard am I?”

“No, you’re fine. You don’t have to go to Catharine’s daughter’s baptism if you don’t want to.”

“I’ll go, I go,” he said stroking the back of her head.

That afternoon, Madeleine made good on her promise to visit her family. While she was gone, he went for a walk to make sense of the news that he was to be a father. He imagined a hazel eyed, freckle faced little boy who would grow up to look like him but hopefully without any of his faults. Or perhaps a lovely little girl with ribbons in her hair who would become just like her mother. A boy would need to be set a good example and a girl would need to be petted and protected.

“When will the baby be born?” he asked her when she returned home.

“In the autumn,” she responded.

 

New York City- February, 1899

The crown jewel of the Bowery circa 1899 was a vaudeville theater called Gaiety Hall. Its star was Ada Amsel, known as the German Blackbird, who was celebrate for having the sweetest voice and the most racy songs in all of New York. Ada was an old family friend of Laurie’s, having had a brief and regretted dalliance with his father years ago. She had been the one who discovered Laurie’s talents for drawing and painting and sometimes gave him work designing backdrops for her theater. Jimmy often came along with him. He loved the world of the backstage; it was colorful, glamorous and exciting: everything the factory was not. The showgirls doted on him, often getting Toby, the candyman, to give him freebees. He could often make a little bit of money running errands for the stagehands. Ada always let him and Laurie watch her shows for free. This was one of the biggest treats in Jimmy’s life; he would always walk out singing one of the songs in his piping little boy voice.

On cold sunday afternoon in February, Jimmy loitered around backstage watching Laurie paint a backdrop of a jungle. The backstage door opened, and a red headed girl carrying a sewing basket walked in.

“Excuse me,” she said to Jimmy, her voice was musical and lilting, “I’m looking for Miss Cora, I was told to speak to her about a job.”

“I’ll go look for her,” Jimmy answered.

“Why thank you, young man,” she winked at him.

Jimmy dashed off to find Miss Cora, the costume lady. While she waited, the redhead walked over to admire the backdrop that Laurie was working on.

Laurie, in turn, admired her. She was small and dainty, with the tiny, nipped waist and exaggerated s-shaped curves which were highly desirable at the time. Her red-gold hair was arranged in the delicate puffs of a fashionable pompadour. By the standards of Lower Manhattan, she was well dressed in a blue frock that complimented the color of her large eyes.  A delicate little head was perched up an elegant neck; a full, rosy, and impudent mouth smiled back at him.

“It almost looks real,” she said to him, referring to his jungle backdrop.

“Is that supposed to a compliment?” Laurie answered.

“Perhaps.”

“Can I help you with anything, Miss…?”

“Rosa, Rosa Murray.”

“Lawrence Brady and the pleasure’s all mine”

“You little friend went to find the costume woman for me. I’m here look for work as a seamstress.”

“Well I wish you luck.”

“Thanks”

“I can tell by your voice, you’re Irish. Where in Ireland is your family from?”

“Strabane, in County Tyrone.”

“My oldman came from Belfast.”

“Is that so?”

“When I die and go to heaven, the first thing I want to hear when I pass through the pearly gates is you saying “is that so” in your lovely brogue.”

Rosa blushed and giggled coquettishly.

Over the next few days, Laurie asked around about Rosa Murray. It turned out that she had married a man named Will Murray, her childhood sweetheart, the previous November.

Chateau Aubrey: Part 1: Chapter 5

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James saved for a year to buy an engagement ring.  In early October, 1912, he had enough to buy one, but later felt slightly ashamed of it, because it was little better than costume jewelry.  On an unusually summer-like day that month, Madeleine offered to show him the sights in Rouen. They had a pleasant time, she laughed and smiled and twirled her parasol around.

“No, the Gros Horloge is a little bit to the east,” she said, “and the Tour de Jeanne d’Arc is up a few blocks. Have you seen the cathedral yet?”

“No, not yet,” he responded.

“We can go there next.”

“You look tired, we should sit down for a minute.”

She did not look tired, but he wanted to talk to her about something. They sat down on a nearby bench in the Place du Vieux Marché.

“It’s rather hot, isn’t it? Why don’t we sit here for a little while and catch our breath.”

“Alright.”

He reached into his pocket and felt for something, then put his arm around her.

“Mado, do you realize that it’s been a year since we’ve met?”

“Yes I was thinking about that. Catharine and Georges’s first anniversary was a few days ago.”

“It’s been both the longest and shortest year of my life. It went by quickly because I had you and it went by slowly because I did not have you. I now know that my life will never be complete without you.”

He took the ring box out of his pocket and opened it to reveal the ring inside. It was very pretty but did not look very expensive, but she did not seem to mind.

“Jamie, of course I will. I want nothing more than to be your wife and to have your children. But you know this already. I’ve been saying more or less the same thing all year.”

He put the ring on her finger.

“I’m the luckiest man in the world.”

“Promise me you’ll never forget that.”

He kissed her and said  “come, let’s see the cathedral.”

Their engagement was formally announced the following February with a dinner party. The rococo dining room at Chateau Aubrey was is the oldest part of the house, which was a couple degrees colder than the rest of the building. The ladies in their diaphanous and sleeveless dresses shivered a bit.

Madeleine was asked to show her ring which was worn over her glove for the purpose.

“It’s a cheap trinket,” was all Catharine could say.

At the dinner table, Madeleine was seated next to Georges and James was seated next to Mimi. Footmen brought out soup terrines and ice buckets filled with wine bottles. They poured everyone a glass of champagne and ladled them out a bowl of either melon glacée or mock turtle soup along with a little tower of smoke salmon and crab mousse in aspic served on a plate with braised carrots.

“Beaumont,” Georges said to James, “I saw a lovely color photograph of yours in Le Rouennais. It was the one of your dear Mado standing by a window holding a striped ribbon.”

“Oh yes,” James answered, “oh yes, that one came out pretty well didn’t it.”

“That was a new ribbon I bought purchased early that day,” Madeleine joined in, “The colors all stand for something: green for hope, purple for dignity, and white for purity. They’re the colors the suffragettes over in England wear.”

“Mado’s fascinated with them,” Mimi added, “She follows all the news about that Mrs. Pankhurst and her daughters.”

“I don’t understand how any of that could interest her,” Georges said, “You’re much too lovely, Mado.”

James’s nostrils flared slightly at this flirtatious address to his fiancée

“What do you mean?” Madeleine asked.

“That sort of thing is only for ugly women who’ll never get married.”

“Well, politics is filled with ugly men who shouldn’t be married and no one seems to have a problem with that.”

“Well said!” Mimi added.

“When’s the wedding to be?” Madeleine was asked as the second course was being served.

“June 16th at St. Ouen,” she answered.

“Will the Archbishop perform the ceremony?”

“No, it’s going to be fairly simple.”

The second course consisted of cod au gratin, boiled mutton with caper sauce, quail pudding, and french fried potatoes, washed down with a palate cleanser of  punch à la romaine.

“We’re all very happy very happen for you, Madeleine, aren’t we, Emmeline?” The Chevalier asked his wife.

“I’m very proud of you, my dear.” Madame d’Aubrey said to her daughter.

A large basket filled with an arrangement of fruit served as the centerpiece of table. Stuck among the fruit were little pieces of Turkish delight. The guests were encouraged to help themselves to the basket’s contents along with the apple Charlottes and little glasses of ginger liqueur which were brought out for the dessert course.

The Chevalier raised a glass to propose a toast.

“To James and Madeleine,” he said.

“To James and Madeleine,” they all responded.

Madeleine sat at her dressing table on her wedding day while a maid arranged her hair. A dressing gown had been placed over her wedding dress. Her mother was seated on the bed with her large, fashionable hat placed on her lap.

“You look very well, my love,” Madame d’Aubrey told her daughter.

“Thank you, Maman,” Madeleine answered.

The maid placed the lace veil on Madeleine’s head and then held it in place with a tiara woven from delicate golden leaves which had first belonged to a Françoise d’Aubrey, whose claim to fame was having once danced the polka with Napoleon III, and had been worn by every d’Aubrey bride since.

“I’ve come to wish you luck today,” Catharine said as she came into her sister’s room.

“Thank you, Catharine,” Madeleine answered.

“I know we haven’t always been the best of friends but I hope you’ll be happy.”

“I know I will be.”

“I can’t tell who’s happier today, you or Mimi. She thinks the world of Jamie. I hope he will live up what’s expected of him.”

“I know he will.”  

Catharine kissed Madeleine’s cheek and Madame helped remove the dressing gown.

“Come, it’s time to leave,” Madame said.

The cathedral of St. Ouen was decorated with white lilies for the wedding of the Chevalier d’Aubrey’s second daughter and her penniless Prince Charming. Rich golden sunlight shone through the large cathedral windows and the organ began to play the Mendelssohn wedding march as the young bride came down the aisle on the arm of her father.

James stood at the altar and was nervous and uncertain, not because he had cold feet about marrying Madeleine but because he was surrounded by a sea of people who were judging him.

“Who is he exactly?” He imagined them asking.

“No one, exactly. No money and no family to speak of.”

“She could have done much better.”

When Madeleine got to the altar, they solemnly knelt down on white satin cushions as the priest made the sign of the cross. James wondered if anyone there understood any of the latin mumbo jumbo of the mass. He did not feel as though any of it was necessary since Madeleine had been his wife since they had signed the marriage certificate in the Rouen Mairie earlier that day but he agreed to all of it to please his pious Mado.

Mimi did a reading from the bible in French:

Wives, submit to your husbands as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Savior. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything. Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word,and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless.In this same way, husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. After all, no one ever hated his own body, but he feeds and cares for it, just as Christ does the church–for we are members of his body. For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.” This is a profound mystery–but I am talking about Christ and the church. However, each one of you also must love his wife as he loves himself, and the wife must respect her husband.”

The only other parts of the mass which were in French rather than Latin were the sermon and the vows.

“Do you, James Charles, take Madeleine Elisabeth to be your lawfully wedded wife?” the priest asked, “To have and to hold from this day forward, for better, for worse, in sickness and in health, as long as you both shall live?

“I do,” James answered.

“Do you, Madeleine Elisabeth take James Charles to be your lawfully wedded husband? To love, honor, and obey from this day forward, for better, for worse,in sickness and in health, as long as you both shall live?”

‘I do,” Madeleine answered.

“I know pronounce you, man and wife.”

James and Madeleine kissed.

The best bedroom at Chateau Aubrey was made up from the wedding night. This best bedroom was one of the largest and most beautiful rooms in the chateau. It contained an elaborately carved mantle piece, a scrolled ceiling, and some very valuable Gobelins tapestries. There was also an exquisite rococo bed with gold brocade hangings and a gold satin coverlet.

Madeleine came and sat down next to her new husband and leaned in to kiss him.

“Now I have you all to myself,” he said.

“I love you, James Beaumont,”she responded.

She untied the laces of her negligee and then lay back against the pillows. He bent over and kissed her.

The Black Fur Coat

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A whole jungle was spread out before Jimmy; the air was fragrant with the smells of tropical fruits and flowers; he could hear birds singing and monkeys chattering in the trees; a soft breeze ruffled his hair. Every shade of green was represented in the leaves and shadows. A warm yellow light shone through the jungle’s canopy and onto a velvety carpet of grass leading down an emerald colored pond. The bright clearing was calm and comforting while the dark, teal shadows were mysterious and enticing.

If you kept looking long enough you almost forgot that it was only a painting.

Jimmy lay on the faded teal colored couch in his foster brother Laurie’s studio. The old industrial loft was cold and sparse with only a few pieces of worn furniture. Canvases of various sizes were propped up against the walls. Large windows without curtains let in cold, pale winter light. His foster mother, Luisa, often let him let him spend the weekend here; Laurie was her step-son.

Laurie stood gazing intently at some backdrops for a stage production of Tarzan; the cigarette in mouth bobbing up and down . He often grumbled that his talent was wasted on such work, but it brought in money.

Laurie was in his twenties, about five foot eight, burley, and good-looking in a square, boxy sort of way. His dark hair was worn very short, and a pencil was tucked behind his right ear. The jeans and t-shirt he wore were splattered with paint and smelt of turpentine, cigarette ash, and coffee. He turned to look at Jimmy and laughed. Jimmy was wearing a ratty old red bandanna tied around tied around his nose and mouth; he always had that bandanna with him, usually worn around his head or neck.

“What, are you going to go hold up a store?” he asked; his voice sounded nasally due to a cold.

“Maybe,” Jimmy replied.

Laurie pulled a tissue out of a cardboard Kleenex box, “Then you can pay for dinner tonight.”

Though Jimmy felt bone tired, his heart pounded against the cushions of the couch like a jackhammer. It had been like this since the previous weekend. He felt nervous and jittery all the time; was either completely exhausted or unable to stay in one place. Luisa told him to cut down on sugary things and take deep breaths whenever his heart fluttered; neither did much good.

Nights were even worse. He had such bad heartburn that he could not sleep; it felt like something was eating at his chest.  The only thing that helped was to get up and pace about room till the heartburn subsided. If he was lucky, he would be able to get a few hours of rest.

As he lay on the couch in Laurie’s studio, Jimmy’s skinny chest rose and fell as he took deep breaths to calm himself down. He watched Laurie paint a red, blue, and yellow parrot into one of his jungle backdrops. Laurie rendered it so life-like that one could almost hear it squawking. Jimmy’s eyes grew damp and heavy and hard to keep open.

“I love you very much, Jimmy,” a pleasant, comforting and maternal voice whispered to him, accompanied by the soothing rustling of the jungle.

A pair of gentle, delicate hands twisted his blond curls around their fingers. He imagine that the owner of those hands had similar blond curls, and pale, rosy skin and large blue eyes like he did.

“Goodnight Mom,” he whispered.

Laurie gave Jimmy some money after he woke up from his nap and sent him across the street to get dinner at Abatti’s deli. The sun had gone down and the dark streets were lit up by fluorescent and neon. It was  bitterly cold and a smoky cloud of breath hung around Jimmy as he crossed the street.

Jimmy walked through the  door of Abatti’s deli and greeted the gangly teenaged boy behind the counter. Jake, his name was, and his older sister, Sarah, was Laurie’s girlfriend. His and Laurie’s usual order was placed: two meatball subs, one with cheese, one without; an order of mozzarella sticks; two cans of Coca-Cola, and a large bag of potato chips.

A woman came in after Jimmy, wrapping an expensive looking black fur coat, chosen more for style than practicality, around her waifish frame in a vain attempt to keep out the cold. Jimmy wondered what someone like her was doing there; she looked like she should have dinner reservations at some swanky uptown restaurant and thousand dollar theater tickets.

“Are you in line, sweety?” she inquired of Jimmy, her voice was high and girlish with a peppy twang.

“No, go ahead,” he responded.

“I like your bandanna.”

“Thanks.”

She ordered a vegetable calzone and a large black coffee. Her order was ready before Jimmy’s and she bid him goodnight before leaving the deli. He held the door open for her.

“What a doll you are,” she cooed before pinching his cheek.

Jimmy flinched in revulsion.

After he returned to Laurie’s studio with their dinner, they sat down on the couch to eat and watch a movie. Jimmy nodded off again towards the end. Laurie turned the television off when it was over and pulled a blanket up over Jimmy’s narrow, little boy’s shoulders.

Jimmy was woken up by what felt like something eating his chest. He walked over to the bathroom, took some pepto bismol, and then poured himself a glass a milk in the kitchen. Pacing back and forth was the only thing that really helped this burning sensation.

“Maybe it was something I ate,” he thought.

He felt dead tired but could not lay down for more than a minute before the pain became so unbearable that he had to get back up again. Countless times he crossed in front of Laurie’s jungle set pieces and tried to wish himself far away but his mind was too tired and cloudy for that.

Suddenly, his dinner made its way back up his throat and he rushed back to the bathroom and threw up until his stomach was empty. When it was empty, he continued to heave but in vain.

Laurie got out of bed and found Jimmy sitting on the bathroom floor, moaning and groaning in pain.

“God damn it, Jim, are you okay?” he shouted.

“No,” Jimmy answered in a weak voice, “I thought it was something I ate but now I think it’s worse than than. My chest hurts so much and I can’t sleep. I can’t even sit still.”

What happened next was a blur Jimmy. He remembered an ambulance arriving and bringing him to the hospital. During the drive, he was strapped to a gurney which was torture because he had an uncontrollable urge to kick his legs and flail his arms. He was then wheeled into the emergency room. The bright, sterile, environment of the hospital seemed unreal this late at night.

Jimmy was lead from the gurney to a hospital bed by a matronly middle aged nurse with dyed red hair. The tag on her scrubs said that her name was Julianne. Julianne helped him out of his pajamas and into a hospital gown; the curtains, with their colorful geometric pattern, gave him some privacy. Above him was a beeping, flashing monitor and a small television screen which could be pulled down in front of him.

Nurse Julianne tucked him into bed and gave him morphine to keep him calm and comfortable. A young doctor who looked little older than Laurie then came in, holding a pencil and clipboard.

“Are you Jimmy Beaumont?” he asked.

“Yes” Jimmy yawned.

“What brings you here tonight?”

“Chest pains, at first I thought they were heartburn. For about a week, I’ve felt like my heart has been racing and at night I’ve been having such bad chest pains that I could hardly sleep.”

After listening to Jimmy’s symptoms, the young doctor listened to his heart and the ordered an echocardiogram and a blood test. Jimmy did not remember most of this; the morphine slowly sent into into a deep sleep. He felt the pressure where the ultrasound technician rubbed a transducer across his chest,  a painful tightness on his arm where the phlebotomist tied a piece of rubber and the slight prick where she applied the needle.  

One of the curtains was pulled back and he could see who was in the bed next to him. It was a young woman whose white evening dress was stained red with blood from stab wounds in her stomach. She let out a haunting moan which echoed throughout the emergency moan.

Jimmy may have been doped up and half asleep but he would swear that he had seen her before.

When he woke up the next morning, he found that he been moved from the emergency room to a ward in the hospital proper. A large window gave him a view of a clear, frosty, winter morning over the city skyline.

Luisa and Sarah had taken over for Laurie, who had gone home to rest. Luisa hovered over him, asking how he was feeling. His heart still pounded and he still felt weak but there was a definite improvement.

Sarah got up from her chair and walked over to him; her spiky brunette ponytail swaying like a deer’s tail as she moved. She smiled her serene smile, as warm, sweet and comforting as a cup of peppermint tea with honey in it, and brushed the asymmetrical bangs off of her forehead.

“Hey kiddo,” she began, “I have a present for you.”

She took a Barnes and Noble bag out of a denim tote covered in pins with band names on them and handed it to Jimmy. Inside the bag was a book entitled The Adventures of Beau Colt, a novel set in a dystopian future, similar to the wild west.

“Thanks,” his voice came out nasally due to the fact that his nose was blocked up with an oxygen tube, “Will you read it to me?”

“Sure.”

She pulled her chair closer to the bed and began to read but was interrupted by the entrance of a fresh faced nurse straight out of nursing school dressed in baby blue scrubs. The nurse bid them good morning in an indistinct accent and began to look over Jimmy’s vitals.

“Doctor Freed will see you later this morning,” she informed them when she was finished.

 

Doctor Freed arrived about an hour later, walking in during a particularly exciting part in The Adventures of Beau Colt. He was elderly and balding, frail and wrinkled, with grey hairs growing out of his ears and nostrils but spoke in a self composed and business-like manner which made the most serious diagnosis sound like a minor, easily dealt with, inconvenience. Jimmy was told that that he had something called endocarditis, an infection in the lining in his heart.

“We’ll put you on a six week round of antibiotics,” Doctor Freed finished up, “And keep you here for observation for the next few days. You’re lucky you came in when do you did; we might have needed to operate and repair the infected valve.”

This was a relief to Jimmy, who did not much care for the idea of having major surgery.

Not long after Doctor Freed’s visit, a team of technicians showed up to put something called a PICC line in Jimmy’s arm, through which the antibiotics would be infused. For the second time in less than twenty-four hours, Jimmy was doped up on morphine. He was too distracted by his amorphous neon colored hallucinations to notice the PICC line going into his arm.

The morphine caused him to nod off into a heavy sleep but brief sleep of a couple hours. Laurie had arrived with coffee from the hospital’s Starbucks for Sarah and Luisa  by the time he woke up.

“Hey Jim,” Laurie asked, “How you feeling?”

“Much better,” he answered in a groggy voice.

Sarah’s timid, fawn-like brown eyes never failed to light up whenever Laurie came into the room. She accepted a coffee and a kiss for him. Laurie then went over to Luisa and gave her a hug. The contrast between him and his stepmother could not have been greater. He was as strong and sturdy as a tree trunk. She was wan, thin, and frail looking, and appeared as though she would blow away as easily as a feather.

“So what did the doctor say?” Laurie asked as he sat down in the seat next to Sarah.

“He has an infection,” Luisa explained, “But he should be fine.”

“Does he need surgery?”

“No, thank God.”

“Sarah got me a new book,” Jimmy joined in.

“And what book is that?”

The Adventures of Beau Colt”

“I was just going to offer to continue to read it,” Sarah explained, “Would you like to take over, Laurie?”

“Sure.”

He took the book from her and began to read at the beginning of the next chapter. Jimmy was fascinated by the book’s cover, which had a sepia tinted photograph of Monument Valley with a herd of full color mustangs running through it.

Laurie’s voice sent him back into his morphine fog, where this time he was transported atop a monumental rock formation. Below him, a vast sea of wild horses galloped past. Above, an endless cornflower colored sky dotted with a few wispy clouds. The air tasted dry and dusty; beads of sweat rolled down his forehead.

“Jimmy… Jimmy…” a high, girlish voice with a peppy twang called on the wind.

“Mom?” Jimmy answered.

“Where are you, my love?”

“I’m up here”

He was awoken by the tempting smell of fried chicken and potatoes. Sarah, Laurie, and Luisa were eating fast food dinners; one for him was placed on the bedside table. The television was tuned into the evening news . Jimmy never understood why people watched the news; It was always so depressing. He used the remote on the side of the hospital bed to adjust his position to upright and began to eat his dinner.

On tv they were talking about how a woman was robbed and stabbed the night before and died from her wounds as well as exposure (her coat, a black fur coat to be specific, had been stolen) in the earlier hours of the morning.

“I think there was a girl with stab wounds next to Jimmy in the emergency room last night,” Laurie told Sarah and Luisa.

The victim’s picture appeared on the screen: young, attractive, and glamorous; blond hair worn in a wavy bob with wispy bangs; lips painted a deep burgundy, eyes done up with smoky shadow and cat-like liner. Jimmy recognized her at once as the woman from Abatti’s deli. Listening in a little bit more, he was able to catch her name: Melanie Barrow.

“I swear I’ve seen her face before,” Sarah commented, “Maybe in a magazine or something; possibly the society pages.”  

“The name Melanie Barrow sounds familiar” Luisa added, “I must have come across it at some point, along time ago.”

Laurie had brought Jimmy’s laptop and set it so they could finish the movie he had fallen asleep during. When it was finished, they bid goodnight to Jimmy and said they would come and see him again sometime the next day.

Rosina, the nurse, came and checked his vitals, gave him his medicine, and put him to bed. There was a lump in the mattress right where his neck should be and it was difficult for him to get comfortable. The lights and beeping of the monitors also bothered him. Both kept him tossing and turning for hours.

“Jimmy…” the girlish, peppy voice beckoned from another room.

He opened the door in front of him, which led into the main room of Laurie’s loft. It was almost completely dark; the only light came from the television.

“I’m over here,” she called again.

He walked over to the couch and found her laying there, the television illuminating her waif-like frame. Her wavy blond bob and dramatic makeup were just the way he remembered them. She was sleeping, one hand clutching her stomach. A red spot stained the white evening dress she was wearing as it expanded.

He noticed that he was holding a fur coat, which he used to cover her like a blanket.

“Goodnight Mom,” he whispered.

The Red Scarf

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“Come upstairs and we’ll see if we can make some arrangement,” he said; Alice had been afraid that he would say something like this but his wolfish smile made the proposition even more terrifying.

A narrow staircase lead up to a hallway of several rented rooms above the cafe. Mr. R.’s subterranean voice beckoned her to the doorway of the room at the hallway’s end.

“What about Elijah?” she asked him at the threshold.

“What about him?” he responded, “ He doesn’t even need to know about this.”

Mr. R. gently put the red scarf he was wearing around Alice’s neck, winked, and beckoned for her to come in.

Say No, Alice thought. Run!.

The room had little in it beside a bed, a nightstand with a lamp, and a dressing table: all that was needed, no more, no less. Wrapped up the red scarf, Alice was powerless as Mr. R lead her over to the bed and snuck his hands under her skirt. She flushed as red as the scarf, threw it off, and stood up again.

Now’s your chance, get out!

“What’s the matter, kid? Not chickening out now, are you?”

He caught her up again in the red scarf and drew her close. His thumb was pressed against her chin to keep her from turning her head away before he kissed her.

“Pretty little Alice,” his other hand undid the buttons on her dress with great skill and let it fall to the floor.

Mr. R. had the dark, brooding good looks of a fallen angel and could easily seduce prettier girls than her. Alice knew that this was just business for him as well, business mixed with pleasure. He never did a favor for anyone without a favor in return.

After kissing and undressing her, he sat down on the bed and took off his shirt.

“Come here, kid. I don’t bite.”

Alice tried to imagine Elijah in his place. The experience in itself was not so bad; she might have enjoyed it if she didn’t hate herself. All she could think about was Elijah and how he would hate her for this. Would it make a difference that she had only betrayed him to save him.

Mr. R got out of bed and began to redress. Alice picked up the red scarf off of the floor and handed to him.

“Keep it,” he wrapped the scarf around her shoulders.

Retribution: Chapter 30

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The first few days of April gave a balmy taste of the summer to come. Marianne opened her bay window to let in some of the cooler evening air. She sat down in the window seat and stroked Johnny’s back. The little dog was sleeping and snored and grunted. A box was placed on Marianne’s lap, upon which she began to write a note.

An old Louis Vuitton suitcase which she had inherited from Tante Catharine was laid open on the bed. Inside it, she had placed a nightgown and a few changes of underwear. Madame Océane had received her final notice earlier that week. She told Anna and Manon that she wished for a change and took a job as a shop girl in a boutique in Montmartre which sold makeup and perfume.

“Mark my words, she’s going to run off with some lover,” Madame Océane had said to them when they thought she was not listening.

“My dear aunts,” Marianne began to write, “I hope you will understand my reasons for doing this…”

Marianne and her aunts had parted badly on Easter Monday. Mimi would not even look her in the eyes when she bid her goodbye, let alone kiss her cheek as usual. She went inside as if she could not get away from her fast enough. Catharine probably learned of Marianne’s transgressions soon afterwards. A flirtation with an unsuitable man was an excusable blunder for a girl to make, but an affair with one was not.  

“… my actions have brought you nothing but shame for which I will never be able to sufficiently apologize for. The two of you have done so much for me and what have I given you…”

They had looked after her since her mother died, treated her like a their own daughter and she repaid them by lying, going behind their backs, by throwing away everything they had given her. Now she would break their hearts one more time before they were rid of her.

“…so I bid you goodbye. Please do not be too angry with me,” she signed the letter, sealed it, and left it on her nightstand.

When Marianne returned from getting her dinner at the bistrot across the street, she found Louise weeping in front of Papa Verte.

“I told Dominic not to go to Marseilles,” she said, “I told him that there must be work for him here in Paris and he didn’t have to leave.”

Papa Verte put a comforting hand on her shoulder.

“He did this because he wants to support you and Jacques,” he tried to explain, “He won’t be able to feel like a man unless he can earn a living.”

“And abandoning his wife and child to do so?”

“He did not abandon you…”

Marianne had overheard an argument between Dominic and Louise which shook the entire house to its very foundations. Somehow, Louise had found out about Dominic being laid off from his job. He explained that he kept all this from her out of shame and had hoped to find new work before she found out. She tried to comfort him with the fact that they still had the rent from the tenants and could get by until something opened up for him. His response was that something had opened up: a shipping company in Marseilles was hiring dock workers. Dominic insisted that he would write often, send them most of his wages, and visit whenever he could, but Louise did not want him to go; she had heard too many stories about men leaving their families to go look for work and never coming back.

Marianne placed the money she owed the Vertes for the month’s rent next to the note for her aunts. It was the least she could do for them.

Then she went over to her closet to try to figure out what else to pack. She placed a few dresses into her suitcase, not aware of anything more she could need. Into her handbag, she put a metro time table and a piece of paper containing the address Augustin had given her.

Tired, she plopped down on her bed. It was small and narrow with high head and foot boards, almost like a baby’s crib, and fit one comfortably, two if they lay close to one another. In a way, it had been her wedding bed. She rested there for a few hours until it grew dark and her neighbors had fallen asleep. Yawning, she threw on an old tweed rain coat, picked up her suitcase in one hand, held Johnny in her other arm, and stole away into the night.

It was surprisingly quiet at the Saint-Michel metro station. Except for a man, mournfully playing a saxophone, Marianne stood alone on the track to meet the train to Montmartre. The train was supposed to arrive at midnight; Marianne paced back and forth, shivering impatiently. For such a warm night, it was rather chilly underground.

The train’s whistle blew and echoed throughout the metro underground. It’s headlights interrupted the darkness. With a woosh, it pulled up to the track and stopped.  

“Come on, Johnny,” Marianne said as she picked up the little dog along with her suitcase. She boarded the train and took a seat by the door. Her suitcase was placed at her feet and Johnny curled up in her lap. She and man playing the saxophone were the only one inside the car.

The train chugged off into the labyrinth of dark tunnels which made up the Paris metro system; the lighting inside the car blinding in contrast to the blackness that surrounded it.

The Vertes, Madame Océane, Manon, and Anna would all miss her when they noticed she was gone. She could go to Hell for all her aunts probably cared. What was waiting for at the end of the line, was it Heaven or Hell?

She got off at Château Rouge and began to walk through the Goutte d’Or district towards the hill of Montmartre. The streets were busy with people out enjoying themselves, going to and from cafes and dance halls, and making the most of the clear, mild evening. Some wound their way up the great hill; the trolley going up to Sacre-Coeur was closed for the night.

Marianne yawned, her legs were worn out from walking. She found a clump of bushes near the trolley stop and lay down behind it, her head resting on her suitcase and Johnny curled up at her feet.  To keep her handbag safe, she unbuttoned the front of her dress and hid it in there.

“Good night, Johnny,” she said to her pet while stroking his back.

“Are you alright, mam’zelle?” Marianne’s eyes flickered open and she saw a shabbily dressed young man standing over her.  He had shaggy dark hair and small brown eyes in a pleasant, angular face which was strangely indistinct; the type of face that always reminds you of someone else.

“Yes, quite alright,” she responded, groggily.

The young man offered her his hands to help her up, which she accepted.

“Were you there all night?”

“Yes, I was,” she picked up Johnny and her suitcase and then reached inside her dress to get at her hand bag. She pulled out the piece of paper that Augustin had given her, “Do you know this address?”

He looked at the paper she had handed him with confusion.

“I’m sorry Mam’zelle, but I can’t read.”

“It says, 127 Rue Lepic.”

“I know where that is, I can show you where it is.”

The trolley going up to Sacre Coeur had begun running for the day. They each handed the operator a centime coin when they boarded and took their seats towards the back.

The young man looked at her suitcase.

“Are you running to something or from something?” he asked

“Excuse me?” Marianne responded.

“Usually when people run away, they run to something or from something.”

“What makes you think I’m running away?”

“The suitcase, that lost lamb look in your eyes. So, are you running to or from something?”

“Perhaps a little of both.”

When the trolley reached the summit of Montmartre, the young man lead her to the Rue Lepic.

“127 Rue Lepic is near a cafe called La Petite Abeille. Should be a few doors down the street from there.”

Marianne took a 20 centime coin out of her purse and handed it to him.

“Thank you very much, Monsieur…?”

“Gui, Gui Berger.”

“Marianne d’Aubrey.”

He took the coin and left her with a tip of his cap.

127 Rue Lepic is near a cafe called La Petite Abeille, Marianne recalled as she continued down the street, Should be a few doors down the street  from there. The pit in her stomach got deeper and deeper  the closer she came to the address. She would have to throw herself on the mercy of people who frightened her, people who no right thinking person would ever trust.

Well if Mathilde and Agnès could go off and have adventures, why couldn’t she have an adventure of her own?

Le Petite Abeille was a small pink building with green shutters. A bright yellow sign hung above the door with the name painted in white, along with a bee. The cafe was at the end of a row of cream colored townhouses; 127 Rue Lepic was exactly three doors down from there. Marianne knocked on the front door, a boxy, surly looking man with a look on his face that could curdle dairy, opened it.

“What do you want?” the man snapped at her.

“I’m here to see Monsieur Faucherie,” Marianne responded.

“What? Did he promise to marry you or something like that?  Well I hate to tell you, ma chèrie, you would hardly be the first to do so.”

“It’s nothing like that, I need his help that’s all.”

“Alright, but I have to warn you that Monsieur Faucherie doesn’t give away his help for free.”

“I quite understand, Monsieur, will you please go get him for me.”

“By all means, come inside, Mademoiselle.”

God made him, let him pass for a man,” Marianne thought.

The interior of the townhouse was laid out on different levels like a giant staircase. She took a seat on comfortable looking sofa and waited for Faucherie to come to her. It felt heavenly to rest her body against something soft after sleeping the night on the ground.

“Ah, Mademoiselle Marianne,” Faucherie’s voice called from the other room, shaking her out of a slight dose.

He strode in, still dressed in his striped silk dressing gown.

“Good morning, Monsieur Faucherie,” she responded.

“I’d forgotten what a pretty little thing you are,” he took her hand and kissed it, “Augustin will be delighted to see you.”

“Where is Augustin?”

“He went out for a walk, but he should be back soon.”

“Well it’s you that I’ve come to see.”

“Is that so? Let’s hear it, then.”

She explained her situation, playing the damsel in distress card for all it was worth and relying on his sense of gallantry. Faucherie smiled and she knew that it had worked.

Johnny barked a greeting to Augustin and Hélène as they walked through the door. Augustin noticed Marianne and was surprised but pleased to see her. He bent down to scratch Johnny behind the ears.

“Hey, tough guy,” he said to the little dog, “Have you been looking after your mistress?”

“See Augustin,” Faucherie exclaimed, “Your little bride has returned to you.”

“So, can I stay here, Monsieur Faucherie?” Marianne but in.

“You’ll have to earn your keep, I expect my little birds to sing for their supper,” Marianne flushed, afraid to know what exactly singing for her supper entailed, “You seem smart enough to know when to keep your mouth shut. If not, then that pretty face won’t remain so for long.”

He ran his finger across her cheek. Augustin stepped forward and put a protective hand on her shoulder.

“Can I get you something, Marianne?” Hélène asked.

“Do you have any tea?”

“I have just the thing.”

Hélène went off into the kitchen. She returned a few minutes later carrying four cups of steaming tea on a tray.

“Here, this will help anything you’ve got,” she said as she handed out the cups, “I brewed it myself.”

The tea had a pleasant floral smell and an herbal taste, peppermint and camomile being most pronounced, slightly marred by the cough syrup flavor of strong alcohol, possibly bourbon. There were also hints of orange and cinnamon, and the tea was sweetened with honey, vanilla, and cream.

Marianne stifled a yawn. Hélène’s brew had lulled her back into a doze. Faucherie nugged Augustin.

“Show our little bird to her nest,” he whispered.

Augustin whisked her upstairs to one of the bedrooms. She sat down on the bed, he removed her shoes and began to kiss and rub her ankles.

“So, what happened?” he asked.

“My aunts now know about us,” she responded.

“Did you tell them?”

“I had to.”

“How did they take it?”

“Why do you think I ran away?”

“For this…”

He kissed her so forcefully that she fell back onto the bed and tickled her thigh.

“Please, please stop,” she giggled, “Do you want to know why I had to tell them?”

“I guess so.”

“Edmond has been bad mouthing me since December. He had to make me look like the Whore of Babylon because I wouldn’t be his whore. I don’t know that hurt worse: what he said or that it was all true?”

“You don’t regret going to bed with me, don’t you?”

“I hate him! I hate him for turning my feelings for you into something dirty. I’ve never hated anyone before, not even Mathilde. I was always been told that hating someone was like swallowing poison and expecting someone else to died; Well, I feel poisoned now.”

“Then I hate Danton as well, not just for trying to make a whore out of you but for putting an ugly thing in your heart. Just for that I could kill him.”

“And what will happen if you do kill him? You’ll just end up in jail again. Edmond isn’t worth it,” she poked her nose into his shirt collar and began to cover his neck in little kisses. They were quick, soft, and unbearably seductive, “Besides, you aren’t a murderer, my love.”

“If only you knew, Chérie,” he thought.

He left her alone to rest.

Faucherie decided that they should go out that evening to celebrate Marianne’s arrival. Hélène noticed that her guest had nothing to wear and offered to lend her something.

“You and I should be about the same size,” she said, “Though I’m a little bit taller.”

Marianne looked through Hélène’s evening dresses and found a number in slate blue which would suit her coloring. But when she she took it off the rack, she noticed that the chiffon fabric was nearly see through and the back of the dress was completely nonexistent.

“You’d look ravishing in that,” Hélène commented.

Marianne blushed at the prospect of wearing something so revealing.

“Come on, what do you have to be shy about. Most girls would die to have a figure like your’s.”

Marianne put aside her modesty and wore the dress. Faucherie whistled when he saw her in it; Augustin’s olive toned cheeks flushed bright red and he looked like he had been struck by lightning.

“What are you wearing?” he demanded of her, “The back dips all the way down to your ass and you can’t possibly be wearing anything underneath that.”

“All I have on is stockings,” Marianne informed him.

His cheeks flushed even redder and he even appeared to start sweating.

“Hélène was right; you are fun to tease.”

They went to a place in Pigalle called Le Habanero for dinner and dancing. Marianne danced with both Augustin and Faucherie, who showed her how to do a tango. Above Le Habanero in an old attic was a bar called Le Barque de Danton, where it was fairly dark and lit only by candles. Behind the bar counter was a reproduction of Delacroix’s The Bark of Dante. This is where Hélène made her announcement.

“Since it’s a special night,” she began, “I have something special to say. Faucherie, my rabbit, you’re going to be a father. That’s why I’ve been feeling unwell and been in a bad mood these past few months.

Faucherie took her hand and kissed it.

“The kid, when is he due?” he inquired.

“In October, I think.”

“That’s wonderful, Hélène, I’m sure you’ll be the most beautiful mother in all of France. Garçon! Garçon! A round of champagne for the whole place!”

The proud father-to-be kept the champagne flowing until late into the night. Augustin excused himself around one in the morning saying that he was taking Marianne home. Faucherie winked and said that he understood.

The dress that Marianne borrowed from Hélène had a row of tiny buttons running from mid thigh to just under the bustline, which she struggled to undo.

“Can I help?” Augustin asked. He had already undressed and was in bed. His clothes lay on the floor where he had thrown them around like a madman.

“No,” she insisted, “Your hands are much too big and clumsy.”

“Take off that tarte’s dress and come to bed. I’m sure Jean Harlow would be ashamed to wear that thing.”

“Alright!”

She managed the last few buttons and stepped out of the dress before reaching over to grab her night dress.

“Please. Not yet.”

“Why?”

“I want to look at you.”

“I thought you wanted me to come to bed.”

“Fine! You can come to bed, but without your nightdress.”

She climbed under the sheets and snuggled into his arms. He kissed her hair, then her forehead, then her mouth.

“Are you sure you’ll feel here? What about what Faucherie said?”

“You heard him. As long as I keep my mouth shut, I can atleast keep my face intact. Please don’t send me away, I promise I won’t cause any trouble and I’ll be as obedient as a little odalisque.”

“As long as you’re my little odalisque.”

The summer-like early days of April came to an end when the spring rains arrived. A non-stop downpour was predicted to last for nearly a week and the sky showed no sign of clearing up. Even the thickest overcoat was soaked through within minutes of stepping outside. Vast puddles filled the depressions in streets and fed raging rivers which flowed into the drains and filled up the shoes of the people who had to walk through them.

Charles’s doctor prescribed a cup of ginger and turmeric tea and two aspirins twice a day to keep the arthritis in his knee at bay.

“Do you regret marrying an old invalid yet?” he asked Adèle when she brought his morning tea and aspirin into his office.

“Stop feeling sorry for yourself,” she responded.

“I’m only forty-five, I’m not ready to grow old.”

Feeling sorry for himself was all that Charles felt he could reasonably do: he might have to use a cane before long, possibly even a wheelchair. Old age was catching up with him, whether he liked it or not.

Benoît, the butler, stepped in and announced that Madame Mathieu was here to see them.

“Tell her we’ll be down in a moment,” Adèle instructed.

“I have some work to do” Charles told her, “I’ll come down when I’m finished.

“But your sister-in-law is here to see you.”

“My sister-in-law can damn well wait!”

Adèle went downstairs and greeted Catharine and took her drenched raincoat and umbrella.

“My husband has some work to finish up, he’ll be with us shortly.”

Charles kept Catharine waiting for twenty minutes. She impatiently sipped her coffee while Adèle tried to make excuses for him. Catharine tried to be polite to her but something about the girl rubbed her the wrong way. Perhaps it was Adèle’s cheerful but inconsequential chatter.

Charles walked in, whistling nonchalantly. Catharine gave him her most gorgon-like stare.

“Ah, my dear sister,” he grumbled, “To what do I owe this pleasure.”

She took a piece of paper out of her hand bag and gave it to him.

“My dear aunts,” he read aloud, “I hope you will understand my reasons for doing this… my actions have brought you nothing but shame for which I will never be able to sufficiently apologize for. The two of you have done so much for me and what have I given you… …so I bid you goodbye. Please do not be too angry with me-Marianne.”

“Did you know anything about this?”

“You would like that wouldn’t you.”

“She’s been missing for two about two days. Madame Océane, her boss, told me that she gave her notice last week. Madame Verte, her landlady, called Mimi yesterday to say that she hadn’t been home in twenty-four hours.”

“Any ideas about where she is?”

“No, but I’m pretty sure who she is with.”

“She said she’d had nothing to do with him since his escape. I knew she was lying but I didn’t want to believe her.”

“That dishonest, ungrateful little tramp! After how Mimi and  I took care of her since her mother died, she does this”

“Apparently, you didn’t do such a good job looking after her…”

“I see what you’re doing: Blame it on Mean Old Catharine; everything is always her fault; nothing is ever anyone’s fault but her’s. Handsome James-Charles-whatever his name is abandons his wife because he’s jealous of any man she comes into contact with, it’s all Catharine’s fault. Little Marianne was carried off by bandits, it’s all Catharine’s fault.”

“Catharine, I’m sorry…”

“Every fairytale needs a wicked witch, I guess I fit the role too well.”

Catharine was not in the mood to argue with her brother in law any further, what good would it do? She took another piece of paper out of handbag.

“I wrote down the phone numbers for some Paris newspapers; we’ll have to put out a missing person’s add for her.”

They spent the next few hours calling these newspapers and giving them Marianne’s description: nineteen years old; five feet tall and around 110 pounds; blond hair, a delicate, rosy complexion with freckles, and greyish hazel eyes; pretty, soft spoken, and gentile mannered. Catharine said that she would send a photograph of their missing person. The picture chosen was the perfect one to get everyone’s sympathy. How could anyone fail to be concerned about such a sweet faced innocent.