Gouttenoire watched the buildings rumble past with an air of detachment. Lucas tried to bring him back to the world, asking, “Are you going to become a parlour ornament there?” but Gouttenoire ignored him.
Once out of Montmartre and danger, the fiacre stopped. “Where’re you headed, messieurs?”
“Place des Vosges?” Lucas asked Gouttenoire. “Hello? I don’t have the address, Gouttenoire, you do. Félix,” he asked with a look of concern, “are you alright?”
“What? Why have we stopped?”
“He needs the address.”
“Oh, of course.” Gouttenoire pulled the scrap of paper from his pocket and handed it to Lucas. “I want it back.”
“Sure. 14 Place des Vosges,” he told the driver. The fiacre started up again. “Félix, she’s just a girl. You of all people should understand that.”
Gouttenoire spun around to face Lucas. “No,” he announced firmly, “she is not ‘just a girl’. Just as Francesca was not ‘just a girl’,” he ended in a whisper.
“Angèle is not Francesca,” Lucas informed him, for once the voice of reason.
“No one is Francesca. But Mlle Mancion is so very like. Ah, it is of no importance. She does not wish to see me again,” Gouttenoire lied. “She told me ‘adieu’ rather than ‘au revoir’.”
“I’m sorry.” Gouttenoire ignored him, watching the streets and counting trees. It was five minutes before he saw a bit of trampled grass between the paving stones, fifteen before he saw a broken sapling desperately clinging to life. Lucas took to watching the other side of the street.
Why did I allow myself to open? Gouttenoire asked himself. Lucas is right; she is just a child, a little girl. Why should she remind me of Francesca? No doubt they look very much alike, but Francesca was really so common. Many girls look like Francesca. Why do I fixate so on Mlle Mancion? I believe the folly to be mutual: she hoped to see me again but did not wish to open her heart to further wounds. It is wisest to stay away, not to further injure a bleeding heart. She will be gone soon anyway, and I shall stay here. I must go on as I always have, for Francesca’s sake.
The fiacre stopped. “14 Place des Vosges. You sure get around town. You want me to wait, messieurs?”
“Yes, if you would. Gouttenoire,” Lucas shook him gently, “come on. It’s time to get out.”
Gouttenoire descended reluctantly. “I can take care of this. Just keep your mouth shut and an appropriate expression of solemnity on your face.” He lifted the knocker, took a deep breath, and let it fall. Within seconds, a young girl dressed in a maid’s uniform opened the door. “Bonjour, mademoiselle,” Gouttenoire addressed her. “I wish to speak with Mlle Isabelle Laurier immediately. I bring a message from M. Julien Combeferre.” The girl silently produced a silver tray. “No, mademoiselle, it is not a letter and I have no card. Simply tell Mlle Laurier that there is a gentleman here with a message from M. Combeferre. Will you do that for me, mademoiselle?” She smiled and motioned for the young men to enter. Gouttenoire and Lucas found themselves in a darkly panelled entrance with an oak table by the door and mahogany furniture in view in the parlour to the left. The girl made a sign for them to stay, then she walked silently up the stairs and knocked lightly on a door just out of sight but not out of earshot.
“Entrez,” came a disembodied female voice. “Félicie! must you interrupt me now? If this happens again, I shall certainly inform mother. What is it you want now?” the voice asked angrily.
Félicie mumbled something.
“Speak up. I can never understand a word you say!”
Félicie tried again.
“Two gentlemen to see me? And you let them in? If I were not so civil, I would box your ears! Now I suppose I must speak with them. Where are they?”
Félicie mumbled yet another incomprehensible phrase.
“The entry! You could not even take them to the parlour? You shall certainly not be allowed to see the front door again, much less open it! You cannot even close a door properly!” Then the mumbling resumed, in a different tone, as if the angry voice realised it could be hear downstairs. Footsteps walked quickly away from the staircase, dragging something behind them. A door opened and shut, then seconds later opened and shut again. Calmer footsteps came toward the stairs, and momentarily a beautiful young lady descended. “Bonjour, messieurs,” she smiled charmingly, and the officers recognised the angry voice they had just heard. “Please, come into the parlour. You must forgive Félicie. She does not know what she is about. Our cook has taken our manservant to the market, and I fear that this girl has not been properly taught. I apologise for having kept you standing so long. Please, sit down, messieurs.” She herself took an upholstered armchair at the head of a small grouping of furniture.
“You are Mlle Isabelle Laurier?” Gouttenoire confirmed as he seated himself on a sofa across from the young woman. The lady nodded. “I am Lieutenant Félix Gouttenoire, of the National Guard, and this is my colleague, Lieutenant Alexandre Lucas. We have a message for you from M. Julien Combeferre.”
“Why does M. Combeferre send you? I mean no disrespect, messieurs, but he never properly respected your glorious institution.”
“Did you hear the fighting last night, mademoiselle?”
“La, it was all the cook could speak of. That is why we are without Haval today. She would not set foot outside the house without protection.”
“Mademoiselle, I regret to inform you that M. Combeferre was accidentally caught in the crossfire last night. He expired early this morning. It was his last request that we come to you.”
“M. Combeferre is . . . ? Well, I cannot say that I am shocked. He always appeared uncomfortable with his station in life. He preferred to be with the ‘working class’,” she spat out. “He truly asked for me?”
“Yes, he wished us to come to you, so that you may know what has happened to him, and that you may inform his family.”
“How like him, to give me a job to do!” she commented imperiously.
“If you would kindly give us an address, we could finish the business ourselves,” Gouttenoire offered.
“No, no, I shall see his parents within a week, when I join my parents at our summer home. It may be a shock to them. It will certainly be a relief to my father. Promises must be kept in due time, else they become burdensome and irrelevant. I, certainly, am relieved to be rid of my obligation. I have a few years left in which to marry.”
Gouttenoire stood. “Mademoiselle, I fear we have taken too much of your time. We really should be going.”
“Well,” Mlle Laurier stood as well, “I thank you for the intelligence. Allow me to see you out.”
“Thank you for your time.”
“Not at all, not at all,” Mlle Laurier said as she closed and locked the heavy wooden door.
Chapter 2 ~ Fiction ~ Chapter 4 ~ Home