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 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 the 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. Its 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.”
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 chamomile 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 dose. Faucherie nudged 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?”
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 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 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 yours.”
Marianne put aside her modest 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 the 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.”
She managed the last few buttons and stepped out of the dress before reaching over to grab her night dress.
“Please. Not yet.”
“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 at least 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 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 Nasty 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 fitted 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 ad 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 gentle 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?