Letter 37 - Chez Rousseau

Miss Maitland Bristow
14 Bathurst Mews
London

28 April 1903

Dearest Maisie,

My days have been in such disarray since last I wrote. I have been pacing the estate with nothing to occupy my time now that Vaughn has withdrawn himself as my tutor. I have walked the gardens--and it was lovely to see the beginnings of the blossoms and the spring--but much of my time has been spent within the confines of the château, due to rain. I have read more of the letters in the hat box, but none thus far have divulged any great secret. Oh, what folly on my part to have spent my time with Vaughn so unwisely!

After weeks of lamenting my childish dismissal of Mr. Rousseau, I at last mustered the nerve to ask Madame Fifi to call on him. My questions about the abduction are ever-mounting, and more strangely, mixed with some foreign thoughts of kindness towards Vaughn ever since he revealed that it was he who saved me. Madame Fifi found me later that same afternoon and informed me that Vaughn was, in fact, coming to fetch me that very evening. Maisie, I have never been more nervous. I was shaking as the chambermaid laced my corset, and I startled when Madame Fifi entered the room. "Mademoiselle, Monsieur Rousseau has arrived. He is waiting in the parlour." I tugged at my curls, and stomped my boot to the floor, "Fifi! Can you not see I am completely unhinged? You musn't storm into a room whilst I am dressing--." I feared I may have bruised Fifi's feelings with my scolding, but I needn't have worried. I glanced at Madame Fifi only to see that she had braced herself against the bedpost and was doubled over in laughter. Once composed she replied, "Pardonnez moi, I will be sure to check your suitor for a crown next time--left to my own judgement, I had thought this one more likely to be the court fool!" Unable to interject my fury past Fifi's raucous chortling, I straightened my corset myself and, tearing my skirt from the chambermaid's hands, huffed down the hall, red-faced and--I am ashamed to admit--very much in the spirit of Mr. Rousseau himself. I had scarcely collected myself upon entering the parlour. Vaughn was standing at the window, looking out. Upon the noise of my entrance he turned, stiffened his frame, and advanced towards me. Maisie, never has my mind been so at war with itself. It seems to me there is an indiscernible line that divides my every instinct regarding this man. It is nearly indescribable, Maisie. As I attempted to greet Vaughn I found that the seemingly elementary act of willing my body to move forward was intrinsically contrary to my body's more natural reflex to turn and run from him. But once I was able to strangle the latter (quite ridiculous) impulse into submission, an entirely new feeling took over. It was one of admiration for his good will in looking for me when I went missing, and gratitude that his actions had no doubt spared me a great deal more harm than I had actually suffered. This notion of thanksgiving for Vaughn Rousseau, however, was equally fleeting. Amidst all this chaos within me, I was quite unable to deliver a simple "bonsoir." A strange marriage of sensations crept over my skin as Rousseau gathered my hands into his, along with a most unsettling set of contrasting persuasions--one whispering what a pompous and self-serving creature Vaughn has always proven himself to be, the other beguiling me to trust this man who had no doubt risked his very life to ensure the safety of my own. Rousseau raised my hands to his lips and kissed my fingers. His lips felt thin and cold. The instinct to recoil from this familiar salutation caused my hands to twitch, and though I stayed them, Vaughn raised his piercing gaze to meet mine, saying, "Is it still unnatural that it is not Steichen standing in your parlour?" The idea was so completely foreign to the barrage of emotions with which I was contending that it hadn't once occurred to me that it was, in fact, Eduard who had last come to call. I suppose I am the envy of every young lady in London, Maisie, as a chaperon has never been imposed upon me--but at that moment I wished more than anything that I were standing in the parlour of my father's home, for he would never have allowed an escort such privacy. But alas, Mr. Westley has no interest in whom I marry, other than to ensure the man would not bring embarrassment upon his household. I made a great effort to withdraw my hand slowly, and replied, "No, Vaughn. I haven't thought on Eduard for some time now ... especially since discovering that it was you who came to my aide." Vaughn smiled broadly and led me to the door.

After a short walk into the fifth arrondissement, Vaughn stopped us at rue de la Harpe and picked a key from his pocket. Turning to me, he said, "Par ici," and motioned for me to follow him up a flight of stairs. He was halfway up the stairwell whilst I lingered apprehensively behind. He looked down through the slats in the railing. His voice echoed, "Shall I say it en anglais?" Looking up in his direction, I was quick to reply so as not to upset him, "No, I just lost my footing momentarily ... " Vaughn continued upward until we reached the second floor of the building. I was most unnerved at the setting for our evening. Behind the door, marked 197, was a lavish apartment, quite large for a student. A gilded clock with a fine figurine of a hunting man and his dog sat upon the mantle above a crackling fire. The mantle was mahogany, and adorned with a grand beveled mirror and brass sconces. In every direction I discovered some form of opulence. Every thing I laid my eyes upon was impressive. A long dining table was set with fine linens of bobbin lace and monogrammed napkins. I could hardly gather my thoughts amidst all the displays of affluence. Three elaborately filigreed candelabras stood upon the server, and the china cabinet in the corner displayed some elegant trinket on every shelf. Vaughn's shadow moved across the dimly lit room as he pulled out the chair behind me. A young woman emerged from the kitchen and began to serve us. Vaughn ate as he stared in my direction. I was most uncomfortable, and diverted my eyes to my surroundings to avoid meeting his gaze. I began to question my own reasoning in accepting an invitation to dine alone with my French tutor. I cleared my throat and commented, "This is a beautiful home you have made for yourself, Vaughn. I hadn't realised the proximity of your home to my uncle's estate." He casually replied whilst buttering his bread, "Well, it is very convenient to La Sorbonne." Maisie, the man did not take his eyes from me. I looked down and began to eat, unable to make idle conversation with him. It seemed an eternity while the silence lasted. I remembered Vaughn saying he was from Brittany whilst we walked to Montparnasse, and thought it a suitable topic. "Vaughn, tell me more about your family in Brittany." He looked rather put out, and said only, "My father is a fisherman in Morlaix--foolish man. We haven't seen each other in ages. I pity my mother most for having been sentenced to a life with a man whose only ambition is to troll the English Channel for sardines." Vaughn continued to slice into his sweet potato croquette. As for me, I had rather lost my appetite. Vaughn, no doubt noticing my unrest, set down his silver and placed his napkin on his seat. He moved to stand beside me and said, "Come with me." He lead me to a chaise by the fire. I felt I could not bear much more of this, Maisie. I began to consider my options in excusing myself when he spoke, "You were unconscious when I found you." He swept the curls from my shoulder, his fingers lightly brushing my skin. He had certainly captured my attention with this announcement. I felt my heart race at the thought of being at his mercy--without even my wits about me!--and struggled for clarity of mind as I said, "There is much I do not recall about that night." "Well, the monster holding you hostage was certainly not going to harm you once I had found you." Something in my heart began to soften at the thought of this chivalry. Vaughn continued, "Mr. Westley was certainly thorough in alerting the authorities and in offering a handsome reward for your return, but I simply could not sit and wait for the police to discover your body in some godforsaken place." He rested his hand atop mine, and I could not help but take comfort in his generosity and sacrifice on my behalf. I replied, "You must accept my apology for my recent behaviour--I had never predicted it was you ... I suppose I have neglected you from the very start ... " He smirked, "Well, I am sure it is not difficult to conclude how preposterous your whimsical ideas of Eduard and Peter were." I flinched away from him as he said the name. "What do you know of Peter?" I leapt up from his side and began to back away from him. Vaughn's complexion blanched white, "I--I simply mean that your friend, Peter, is too far removed from your life here in Paris to possibly care for you the way that I do." I stared at him for a moment before asking, "Have I mentioned Peter?" Vaughn was smiling again, and in a calming tone replied, "Yes, Adeline ... of course." He clasped my hands in his. "Do you honestly not recall, Adeline? Shall I call on Doctor Laroche? I am confident I could have him here within the hour." The wild thumping of my heart slowed, and I spent a moment regaining my composure. "No--no, that will not be necessary. I would be grieved at the thought of worrying my uncle any further with the matter." With a gentle hand, Vaughn turned my face to his and said, "This is what is real, Adeline. On me, you can rely." A strange certainty began to creep its way toward my heart. It seemed to me that truer words had never been spoken. The world at that moment might be full to the brim with men of good intention, but Vaughn was the only man who cared enough for me to act. Vaughn's sincere offer of protection seemed to satisfy a need I had not known to be so utterly wanting. At the close of the evening, after Vaughn had escorted me home, I turned to him and said, "Will you find some time for me again?" Vaughn kissed my cheek and whispered in my ear, "How could I not?" I retired to bed that evening with a feeling of security that I had not felt for some time, Maisie--I daresay since before I left London. I think it is high time for me to be sensible and practical. I think of the time we have wasted on both Peter and Stuart ... and to what end?

I am eager to hear your latest news.

Yours,

Adeline Westley

23 rue Saint Paul
Paris


5 comments:

Thora said...

Whoa! I guess I always knew that Vaughn was interested in Addie-- but wow! The most alarming thing to me is his knowledge of Peter. Now I am wondering if he IS the one who has been spying on Addie, and maybe HE orchestrated the whole kidnapping so that he could rescue her!

Sticht Fam said...

I was thinking the same thing about Vaughn. This is good. This is exactly what I needed today. I just wish I could keep on reading.

sunrabbit said...

Thora and Leslie--thank you so much for letting us know your thoughts! We will be posting the first narrative soon ...

Cathy said...

he must be the one spying! she needs to trust her initial instinct and stay away from him.

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