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Retribution: Chapter 33

A Wedding and a Get Away

Marianne sat in front of the mirror in Hélène’s bedroom while Hélène arranged her hair. The morning before, she had washed it using egg yolks and then sat outside in the sun to let it dry. Lemon juice had been drizzled into her hair before she let it dry outside to bring out its golden highlights. Today, she had spent several hours in wave clamps and curlers. Hélène twisted each curl, stiff and sticky from permanent wave lotion, and pinned to Marianne’s head. The rest of her golden hair rippled in exaggerated waves.

Marianne placed her mother’s opal hair comb in the back of her hairdo. Around her neck, she put her pearl necklace, paired with the earrings Catharine had given her for Christmas. She stood up and smoothed the skirt of her wedding dress. Its white chiffon had the faintest blush of pink, which suited her rosy complexion perfectly. With it, she wore a cloche hat adorned with white ribbons.

Augustin opened the door and peeked in on them.

“You know it’s bad luck for a groom to see his bride in her dress before the wedding,” Hélène shouted at him.

“Such a beautiful bride is worth the risk,” Augustin responded, “but I won’t tempt fate much longer.”

He closed the door and left them alone. Marianne put on her lace gloves and took a final look at herself in the mirror.

“It’s also bad luck for a bride to look at herself fully dressed in a mirror,” Hélène continued.

“Surely you don’t believe in such superstitions?” Marianne answered.

“Perhaps they’re only self-fulling, but it never hurts to be careful.”

Augustin had agreed to meet up with Marianne for six o’clock at Sacre Coeur, the white onion-domed basilica at the top of the hill of Montmartre. Marianne had gone a little bit earlier to take confession; she wanted to be in a state of grace when she got married.

A young priest met them in one of Sacre Coeur’s chapels which had a white marble altarpiece topped by a statue of the Virgin Mary holding the baby Jesus. They knelt down at the altar while the priest said a blessing over them.

“Grant, we pray, almighty God” the priest began, “That these your servants, Augustin and Marianne, now to be joined by the Sacrament of Matrimony, may grow in the faith they profess and enrich your church with faithful offspring. Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, forever and ever.”

“Amen,” Augustin and Marianne replied.

They joined their right hands together and repeated the vows that the priest read aloud.

“I, Augustin Omar,” Augustin restated, “take thee, Marianne Louise...”

“I, Marianne Louise,” Marianne echoed, “take thee, Augustin Omar…”

“Ego conjugo vos in matrimonium, in nomine Patris et Filii et Spiritus Sancti. Amen.”

“With this ring, I thee wed,” Augustin put a simple golden band on Marianne’s soft, plump finger.

“With this ring, I thee wed,” Marianne put a similar ring on Augustin’s long, calloused finger.

The priest made a sign of the cross over them while they leaned in for a kiss.

“...Esto eis, Domine, turris fortitudinis…” the priest finished up the rite. Be unto them a tower of strength.

The clerk at the Mairie had agreed to meet them at ten o’clock, after closing time. To pass the time until then, they met Faucherie and Hélène on the outdoor patio of Le Consulat, a narrow rectangular restaurant on an island in the center of the cobblestone Rue Norvins. The table where Faucherie and Hélène sat was up against the red painted wall and underneath the red awning.

Augustin took Marianne’s hand and kissed it before they sat down at their table.

“We’ll stop by the Mairie and make things official,” he began, “Then we’ll check into a nice hotel, get a bottle of champagne, and I’ll bring you upstairs and… convince you to pay for the champagne.”

“Hey,” Faucherie joined in, “Let the poor girl get some sleep tonight.”

Hélène sat next to him with Johnny, who was wearing a smart little bowtie for the occasion, in her lap. After Augustin and Marianne, Hélène was the person Johnny was fondest of. She, like many other cynics before her, said that she liked dogs better than people.

As Marianne finished up her meal of soupe à l’oignon and bœuf bourguignon and a dessert of poire Belle Hélène, she saw a group of well-dressed young men about town come down from the upstairs dining room. The tallest and best looking of the group was instantly recognizable to her. She excused herself, saying that she needed to take Johnny outside, and followed them into the alley which ran alongside the restaurant.

“What are you doing here?” she demanded when she caught up with the tall, handsome young man.

“This is a favorite place of mine,” Edmond responded, “The crème du barry is fantastic. I believe congratulations are in order since it's your wedding day.”

“How do you know?”

“Your lover isn’t as discrete as he should be. Mathilde and I were at Le Monstre last week and he, obvious after too much to drink, was bragging that he was going to marry you on Sunday.”

“Go home, Edmond. Mathilde is probably wondering where you are.”

“Mathilde is probably swilling gin cocktails and throwing away my money on a roulette table. Let’s hope you make Lerou a better wife.”

He looked her over in a hungry, predatory way.

“How sweet you look in that pretty white dress, though a whore’s red would be more appropriate.”

Marianne raised her hand to strike him but he grabbed her wrist to stop her.

“Let go of me,” she shrieked.

“I’m taking you back to your aunts. You won’t disgrace our family further by marrying that rat.”

She struggled but he twisted her arm, making her scream. Johnny barked as if calling for help.

“I guess all your daddy’s money couldn’t buy you some manners,” Augustin approached with his pistol aimed at Edmond, “Is that how you treat a lady?”

“Ha! I don’t see a lady,” Edmond laughed, “All I see is a filthy slut.”

“Let go of her, Danton. Marianne is mine and she’s coming with me.”

“She’s a stupid, worthless thing who’ll come with whoever will have her.”

“Is that so?” Marianne taunted, “Or am I stupid and worthless because I wouldn’t have you?”

Edmond let go of her and shoved her away. Marianne landed on the ground, flopping back like a rag doll. Johnny began barking again, hysterically alerting passers-by to what was going on.

“Shut that damn dog up,” Augustin shouted.

Marianne rushed to scoop up the dog into her arms and soothe him.

Augustin again raised and aimed his pistol at Edmond, “I’ve been wanting to do this for months.”

“Pull the trigger and to Hell with the consequences, that’s all that your type know how to do.”

Laughing, Augustin dropped his pistol, “Why waste a bullet on the likes of you?”

He smiled and pushed Edmond out of his way. Edmond landed against the wall, his right hand cushioning the blow. His right hand clenched into a fist which he pounded against the bricks.

“Not so hard now, are we?” Augustin taunted, “Pushing around little girls is more your speed?”

Edmond stood up and took a few steps forward. Twisting his body, he launched a punch that made Augustin stagger. Augustin kicked the pistol on the ground over towards Marianne, who bent down to pick it up.

The pistol felt heavy in her hands which trembled as she held it. She took a breath, and tried to compose herself, then looked Edmond in the eyes and raised her pistol so that it was level with both of their line of vision.

“Nice try, Cinderella,” Edmond laughed, “If Ali Baba here doesn’t scare me, you certainly don’t. Now be a good girl, put that thing down, and come with me. Your loving aunts have been anxious about you.”

“I don’t want to have to use this,” Marianne shouted, “Now be on your way.”

“Why don’t I tell the flics that you and your little friend have been hiding out here in Montmartre? The two of you could spend your honeymoon in two separate jail cells.”

Her finger curled around the trigger of the gun. She took a deep breath and pulled it.

The next thing that Marianne was aware of was Augustin grabbing her arm and dashing off, pulling her along with him. They disappeared down into the nearest metro station and hopped onto the next train which jerked and rattled them far away. Marianne stared blankly in front of her the entire time and did not say a word. When they got off, Augustin led her back up to the street and to his aunt’s flat on the Rue Saint-Denis. Maude was surprised to see them. Augustin explained the situation to her as she lead them into the living room.

“Poor thing,” Maude replied, referring to Marianne, “On what was supposed to be her wedding day.”

Marianne had not said a word the entire time. She held Johnny close to her chest and the little dog licked her face to try to comfort her. Augustin discussed with Maude how he was going to leave Paris the next morning.

“A tramp named Gui Berger, an acquaintance of mine told me about hobo camp behind the Gare St. Lazare,” Augustin told her, “I plan to sneak out of town through there.”

“You’ll have to get up early in the morning,” Maude replied, “Get some sleep.”

Augustin was to sleep in his old bed in the room he had shared with Léon. Maude made a bed for Marianne on the sofa in the living room. After Maude have gone to sleep, Augustin crept out to check on Marianne. She had undressed but was pretty much the same as he had left her: quietly holding Johnny close to her chest. Augustin sat down next to her.

“Do you think he’s dead?” she asked him when she finally spoke.

“Unfortunately no,” he responded, “Don’t look at me like that. Edmond Danton is a stupid, arrogant bastard and he got exactly what he was asking for.”

“I understand, but I never wanted his blood on my hands.”

He put his arm around her and she snuggled closer to him.

“Listen, Marianne, I think you should go back to your aunts.”

“Edmond will tattle about me shooting him to everyone. My aunts will make me turn myself in and I could end up in prison.”

“They’ll go easy on you. Edmond was harassing you and you can say it was self-defense. The fact that you ran away with me won’t matter either. They’ll think you’re a silly little girl who didn’t know what she was doing and shouldn’t be punished too hard. That sweet face of yours would be plea enough.”

“I want to leave with you, Augustin. We’re not married by law but we are in the sight of God. I’m your wife and I’m going to stay by your side.”

He smiled and kissed her on the forehead.

“Suit yourself. Good night”

“Please stay.”

They were both exhausted after the day's events and fell asleep, their arms entwined around one another like a honeysuckle vine around a hazel tree.

Maude woke them up the next morning up before the sun had risen. Augustin put on some of his old clothes: a corduroy shirt, a pair of denim overalls, and a pair of heavy work boots. Marianne was given a similar outfit which had belonged to Léon. She plaited her hair into a braid, so it was easier to tuck under her baker boy cap.

With her hair worn underneath a hat and the baggy clothes which managed to hide her very feminine figure, she could pass for a boy under casual inspection.

“Goodbye Maude,” Augustin said to his aunt, “I’ll call and write.”

Maude kissed him on the cheek and said, “God bless you, my boy.”

The pale light of early morning shown through the greenhouse like walls and ceiling of Saint Lazare and cast long shadows. Its platforms stretched further and further into these shadows and seemed to go on forever. At the platform’s end was the railyard, where an elaborate system of tracks lead in countless different directions. Beyond the railyard, a gravelly hill sloped down to the banks of the Seine and a cleared out area among a grove of trees and bushes which grew alongside the river.

A few tumbledown shelters made of boards, scrap metal, and whatever else could be found were placed up against the trees along with a number of sagging tents. Bits of clothing were laid out to dry on the bushes. In the center of the cap was a fire pit where a large pot filled with stew and a smaller pot filled with coffee simmered above a pile of glowing embers, filling the air with the smells of stew, coffee, and woodsmoke. Most of the tramps were stretched out on the ground underneath their ramshackle dwellings, sleeping with their hats covering their faces. Some of them had the laces of their old, beat up, and mismatched shoes tied around their wrists. One man was shaving in front of a cracked mirror which hung from a tree while another sat by the fire, playing a soft, haunting tune on a harmonica.

“Say, brother,” Augustin said to the man with the harmonica, “When’s the next train coming?”

The man stopped playing and put down his instrument.

“In about an hour,” he replied, “There’s some stew left in the pot if you and your friend want some.”

“Thanks.”

Augustin and Marianne sat down by the fire and, hungry since they had not yet had breakfast, helped themselves to the leftover stew, a muddle of different ingredients that was nonetheless delicious. The man looked over Marianne, who at first glance appeared to be a baby-faced youth of about twelve or thirteen.

“A little young to be out on the rails,” he said, “Aren’t you, son?”

“I’m a girl,” Marianne replied. She took off her hat to let loose her braid.

The man chuckled and scratched Johnny, who had come over to sniff him.

“Where’s the next train heading?” Augustin asked.

“It’s the Paris/Le Havre line,” the man replied.

“The coast,” Marianne added, “Augustin, we could get on a boat and sail across the Channel to England.”

“Fancy living in England?” Augustin responded.

“Not particularly. I’ve heard the weather and the food are terrible.”

Over the hill leading up to the railyard, came a gangly, raggedy figure. Augustin called over to him.

“Hey,” he said, “There’s still some stew left if you want it?”

As the figure came closer, Augustin recognized him.

“Gui, where you heading?”

“Don’t know,” Gui replied, “I just hop aboard and see where it takes me.”

He swept Marianne a little bow and greeted her with a “Mademoiselle” before sitting down by the fire and pouring the last of the stew into a beat up tin cup he had with him.

“Augustin and I are taking the Paris/Le Havre line,” Marianne told him, “We’re going to the coast.”

“I hear Le Havre is nice this time of year. They’re sure to have plenty work at the docks.”

Dawn spread its rosy glow over Paris, who yawned and stretched like a languid beauty. An ethereal fog covered the Seine and the air was humid, heavy, and still. It was hard to believe on such a quiet morning that the events of the night before could have happened.

Augustin, Marianne, and Gui enjoyed their stew and chatted about their plans until it was time to meet the train to Le Havre. The hiss of the train’s whistle marked the hour and the train began to chug away, building up speed as the three of them ran after it. Gui grabbed onto the metal ladder attached to the boxcar and skillfully pulled himself onboard. He opened the sliding door and helped Augustin jump inside. Marianne continued to run alongside them, carrying Johnny under her arm but had a difficult time catching up because the boots she was wearing were too large for her.

“Take my hand,” Gui called to her.

She reached up and caught his hand. He pulled her up and threw her inside; she fell hard against the wooden floor. Johnny scampered away from her and went to whimper in the corner.

“Sorry Mademoiselle,” he helped her up.

She looked out of the boxcar door. The wind blew her hair; stray strands brushed against her face, making her itchy all over, like a flea-bitten dog. Smoke made her eyes blurry. With every turn of the wheels, Paris got smaller and further away.

“Get back,” Augustin told her.

He pulled the sliding door shut and closed the latch.

“There’s still a few hours until we reach the coast,” Augustin continued, “Get some more sleep if you can.”

He sat down and leaned against the wall of the boxcar and pulled his hat over his eyes. She placed herself next to him and put her head on his shoulder, dozing off curled up against him like a she-wolf with her mate. Johnny curled up on her lap.

As her old life became more and more distant, Marianne dreamt of the places and people she had known back in Paris. Tante Catharine’s stuffy and uncomfortable second empire style drawing room which was always unbearably hot. Her aunts and cousins gathered for afternoon tea or evening cocktails. The poky corners, chalkboard walls, and rattan chairs of La Première Étoile; stealing a moment or two to gossip with Manon and Anna between serving tables. Her own prim and cozy little flat; Louise Verte dropping by for a chat. She wondered if they were all looking for her or had they given up on her completely.

“Excuse me, Madame,” Annette said as she tapped on Catharine’s shoulder to try to wake her up. Catharine rolled over but Annette continued to tap on her shoulder.

“I’m sorry to wake you up so early,” Annette continued, “But there’s been a call from Mademoiselle Mathilde. She says it's urgent.”

Catharine sat up and rubbed her eyes. It must be urgent if her daughter was awake before noon.

“I’ll be right there,” she told Annette.

She dragged herself out of bed and into the front hall and picked up the telephone receiver which was hanging off of its stand.

“Dearest,” she said, “What’s the matter?”

“It’s Edmond,” Mathilde shrieked, “He’s in the hospital. He was shot last night and has been unconscious for hours.”

“How on earth did he get shot?”

“They don’t know yet. The shooter was gone before they found him. We won’t know anything until Edmond wakes up if he ever wakes up.”

Catharine could not tell if Mathilde was about to cry or if it was just her high-pitched and whiney voice.

“I’ll be there as soon as I can.”

She quickly got dressed and called a cab to take her over to Auteuil. Agnès, still in her pajama, greeted her at the door.

“Where’s your sister?” Catharine asked her.

“Upstairs in her room,” Agnès replied.

“How is she?”

“Hysterical.”

They found Mathilde draped over her triangle shaped bed; pale blue pajamas, willowy porcelain colored limbs, and a dark french bob laying across a silver satin coverlet. Her sobs were muffled by white velvet throw pillows.

“Maman’s here,” Agnès called to her.

“Dearest,” Catharine said, “How are you feeling?”

“My husband is going to die,” Mathilde whined, “My life is over.”

Agnès brought over a tempting looking place of fruit and pastries over from the rectangular daybed where a maid had left it.

“Eat something,” she said, “You need to keep up your strength.”

Mathilde sat up and sulked petulantly.

“I couldn’t possibly eat a thing,” she said, before noticing that the plate was laden with apricots and choux pastries, her favorites, “Well, maybe just a little bit.”

She began to greedily nibble on a choux and said that she had absolutely no appetite.

A polite knock was heard at the door. Agnès went to answer it.

“There’s been a call from the hospital,” the maid who crept in said, “Monsieur Edmond has regained consciousness.”

Catharine made the sign of the cross and Agnès sighed “thank God.”

“He says that he wants you to come to the hospital,” the maid told them.

Edmond had been brought to the Hôtel Dieu on the Ile de Cité. A nursing sister showed Catharine and her daughters to the room where he was convalescing. When they came in, they Edmond sitting up in the bed, a piece of cotton wadding placed on his left eye and held in place with gauze bandaging wrapped around his head. He was speaking with a policeman, who had come in right before Catharine, Mathilde, and Agnès.

Mathilde rushed in and went to Edmond’s bedside.

“My poor ducky,” she gushed before peppering his face with kisses.

“Easy there, Poupée,” Edmond responded.

“What in the world has happened to you?”

“Excuse me, Monsieur Danton,” the policeman said, “I’m Inspector Marcel of the Dix-Huitième Arrondissement, may I ask you a few questions?”

“Certainly,” Edmond replied, “Whatever it takes to put that dangerous animal and his tart behind bars.”

“Do you mind describing what happened to you?”

“No, not at all. I came to Montmartre last night with some friends of mine, Philippe Esterhàzy, Hugh de Courtenay, and Newland van Schuyler, and we had dinner at Le Consulat, where I spotted a girl I know. Her name is Marianne d’Aubrey and she is my wife’s cousin. She had been missing for weeks and my aunts-in-law were beside themselves trying to look for her, so I decided that the decent thing to do would be to try to convince her to return to her family. But the type she was with, an unsavory character named Augustin Lerou (you might remember that he escape from La Santé back in February) pulled a gun on me. Marianne urged him on to shoot and that’s all I remember.”

“That Lerou character is a slippery one. They’ve been trying to catch him for months but have had no luck.”

“Good Lord,” Catharine said, “You chickens are worse than useless. What on earth do we pay you for.”

“We believe that Lerou was being harbored by Bruno Faucherie himself,” Inspector Martel continued, “Faucherie is one of the best-guarded men in France. It would be easier to try to make off with the Mona Lisa. Now how does the girl play into all of this?”

“How do you think?” Edmond responded, “She’s Lerou’s floozy. That’s why she disappeared; she ran off with him.”

“Excuse me, Inspector,” Catharine cut in again, “Mademoiselle d’Aubrey is my niece. I’ll do whatever I can to help you find her.”

“Thank you, Madame,” Inspector Martel responded, “I’m sure your help will be invaluable.”

As Inspector Martel walked out, another man walked in. He was in his early thirties, of medium height, and stout build and wore a somewhat shabby looking suit and hat.

“I’m sorry to bother you,” he said, “I’m Aidan Murray from La Vie Française.”

Edmond told the journalist everything he had told Inspector Martel. Murray greedily jotted down every detail.

“What do you want to bet that your son-in-law got shot because he was fighting it out with Lerou over your niece,” Murray said to Catharine as they walked down the stairs going down to the main floor of the hospital.

“You sound like a pulp novelist rather than a newspaperman, Monsieur Murray,” Catharine replied.

“Pulp novels, newspapers, I don’t see much difference. But I do see a good story when it’s in front of me. Dangerous love affairs, the criminal underworld, high society, jealousy, violence: it has all the right ingredients. Readers will eat it up.”

“You’re a vulture, do you know that?”

“Nothing personal, Madame, we all have to earn our bread somehow. Maybe after this story breaks, I’ll be able to buy my wife those Cartier earrings she’s been wanting.”

Catharine did not like the idea of her family’s dirty laundry being aired in front of the whole country one bit but perhaps it might be necessary for finding Marianne, wherever she was. 

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