French Passion

French Passion by Jacqueline; Briskin Read Free Book Online

Book: French Passion by Jacqueline; Briskin Read Free Book Online
Authors: Jacqueline; Briskin
to afford either fire or candle. Across the street, at irregular intervals, clumsy lanterns hung on ropes. The feeble candles gave off a sickly light. Over narrow shop doors swung trade signs showing faded pictures of the smallest loaves, tiny cuts of unrecognizable meats. The few people hurrying through the night wore ragged clothes, a hunched, starving look. Rough cobbles rose like crippling stepping-stones, and I picked my limping way over sour-odored water.
    I heard a rustling.
    In a dark slit two scarecrow children, their rags too tattered to differentiate their sex, picked through an offal pile. The odor was foul, like death. A mongrel slunk near them. Both children raised sticks, shouting the foulest oaths. I remembered the thin boy with the little band of robbers. That child was robust compared to these. The dog whimpered away into darkness. The skeletal children went back to whatever lay hidden in that odorous pile.
    What could I give these starvelings? I had no money purse. I’d forgotten the jewels hidden under my petticoats. Looking down, I glimpsed my black velvet belt. I undid the silver buckle.
    â€œHere,” I called.
    The children, seeing me, turned as if to run. I threw the sash toward them. Silver clinked, velvet soaked into mud, and the buckle shone in feeble light.
    The gaunt faces gazed down with the same awe with which I’d looked at the Comte de Créqui’s priceless miniatures. The taller of the two children snatched up the belt. Without a word they ran off. Barefoot, they faded silently into darkness.
    I turned a corner. Here were wineshops, each with its own inadequate lantern. A few women in gaudy bonnets walked listlessly.
    I was planning to ask one of these prostitutes the way to Rue Maupin when a wineshop door burst open. A man staggered out. Seeing me, he called, “Come here, pretty little whore.”
    He was burly, with huge hands. I moved faster. He came staggering after me. He was very drunk, but in high-heeled slippers, with a turned ankle, on slippery cobbles, I couldn’t outrun him. He caught me. Grasping my shoulders, his wine-sour breath spilling over me, he said, “A sou?”
    The price of a glass of bad wine!
    I pushed him away. He must have been more drunk than I thought. He sprawled on his back looking up at me. And I, amazed at what I’d done, stared back.
    A streetwalker stopped to look. “Why’d you do that?” she asked. “Ain’t that much trade around.”
    Her face had the huge-eyed expression that comes with hunger.
    â€œHe’s yours,” I said. “Only tell me. Where’s Rue Maupin?”
    â€œThree down, four to the left,” she replied. “Ain’t you got no shawl? It’s too cold without a shawl.”
    The drunk’s butcher hands grasped for my skirt. I kicked at him, touched the girl, and said, “Thank you,” then hurried in the direction she’d pointed.
    Rue Maupin was difficult to find. The narrow streets twisted and turned like a rabbit warren. Finally I came to a wider street, with more lights and fresh paint.
    R. Sancerre
    Couturier to the Court
    11 Rue Maupin
    I hammered on the door until a lackey in a leather apron answered.
    His arms outstretched on the jambs, he barred my entry. “Well, wench. What is it?”
    And then I realized how I must look. Curls blown over my forehead, bodice torn, sash gone, green silk skirt splattered with dark water marks, shoes muddy. The lackey, sober, knew no whore plied her trade so bedraggled. He must’ve imagined he was facing a lunatic escaped from the madhouse at Charenton.
    â€œI wish to see Monsieur Sancerre.” I took a deep breath to steady my voice. “I’m Mademoiselle d’Epinay, a client.”
    At this Monsieur Sancerre, pulling a gold-laced sky-blue coat over his canary satin breeches, came into the hall. “Mademoiselle d’Epinay!” he cried, effusively repeating my name as he

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