With Pierre out of town for a short while, Aria did her best to sleep as long as possible. It was impossible. She woke up just as the sun was rising over the city anyway. In many ways, she fell into the routine she’d been in for the last year: dress, eat breakfast, enjoy the sights.
Knock, knock, knock.
“Mademoiselle Ariadne?” A timid voice came from the other side of the door.
Aria wasn’t quite sure what to expect when she opened her door. Because of the formality she had with Pierre—relatively speaking—Aria expected someone much older than herself, perhaps Pierre’s age. The woman standing before her seemed younger than she was; maybe young enough to be Pierre’s daughter. She wasn’t sure.
“Good morning,” Aria said, “you are?”
“Madeline. Monsieur Andreu wanted me to accompany you to the Cours la Reine and then take you shopping for what you’ll need for the opera. It’s a pleasure to meet you.” Madeline’s curtsy made Aria’s stomach tighten, but she forced the feeling away.
“A pleasure to meet you, as well.” Aria fetched her purse before stepping into the hallway. “Shall we?”
A carriage was waiting for Aria and Madeline when they reached the gate to the Moulin Rouge. The driver helped them up and they were off.
“You are Monsieur Andreu’s maid, correct? Have you been with him long?” Aria asked.
Madeline nodded, but said nothing. They just sat in silence until the carriage came to a stop at the garden they would walk around this afternoon. It was rather close to the Moulin Rouge, Aria could probably walk here with Philip some afternoon.
What a dream!
Unlike the garden in which Aria and Pierre had met which was full of flowers, shrubs, and trees of all shapes and sizes, this garden was little more than a large rectangular lawn with a path surrounding it and rows of elm trees on each side. There were several statues of men Aria didn’t know in the lawn some ways away from each other. It didn’t look like much, but Aria suspected the path was nearly a mile around. Many excursions in the last year had been about the same.
“Can you tell me anything about yourself?” Aria asked as they began walking along. There were few others out so early in the morning.
“I think it’d be best not to,” Madeline said. “I’m just to accompany you.”
“Did Monsieur Andreu ask you not to speak with me?”
“No. I just…I’m just a maid.” Madeline kept her eyes to the ground, preferring to trail behind Aria.
“And I’m a would-be courtesan from the Moulin Rouge. I spent years as a maid myself. We’re not so different.” Madeline didn’t know what to say, so she said nothing. Aria smiled broadly, wrapped her arm around Madeline’s and walked a little slower. “If you don’t want to say anything, that’s okay. But at least walk beside me.”
Madeline didn’t resist. In fact, Aria could swear she saw the young woman smile. “I can see why Monsieur Andreu enjoys your company. You’re very kind,” Madeline muttered.
“Thank you very much,” Aria said. “And I can see why he would send us to this garden. It’s surprisingly lovely, don’t you think?”
“It is.” Madeline took a deep breath. “I…I’ve been Monsieur Andreu’s maid for a few years now; just before his wife passed away.”
Aria pressed her palm to her chest. “I’m so sorry.”
“Thank you. I didn’t know her very long before she passed.”
The women walked nearly a third of the length of the garden before Aria finally asked, “What was she like? Monsieur Andreu’s late wife?” Part of her wanted to know, but the other part didn’t. And how could she possibly ask Pierre himself when he might still be upset about her passing?
“When I met her, she was just a few months from having their first child. She was so nervous about it. At times she could be demanding, but she would always invite all their staff—myself included—to tea as an apology. A few weeks before their child was born, she was moved to their countryside home…She never came back. Neither did the baby. Monsieur Andreu still hasn’t quite recovered from the loss, I think.”
Immediately regretting her question, Aria nodded and looked away. People of the Moulin Rouge hadn’t died, as far as Aria had been made aware, but several had just disappeared. She knew all too well how that felt. One day your friends are there joking and the next they’re gone forever. And part of you wishes they’ll come back—holds out hope for something that can’t come true—but you just know they won’t.
“How terrible that must have been for him,” Aria muttered, “to lose his wife and child.”
“It was tragic. But I know he’s healing; he’s moving on. You’re proof of that.”
“No. I’m proof he’s lonely.”
“If he were lonely, he’d have rejected this arrangement you have. When he comes home after seeing you, he beams like a man a decade younger. Preparing for this trip has been the highlight of the last week or so, beside planning your outing to the play with him. He genuinely enjoys your company. Honestly, I wouldn’t be surprised if he held other intentions toward you.”
“I hope he doesn’t. For his sake,” Aria said.
“Why not?” For the first time during their outing Madeline looked at her. “Would that be so terrible?”
“No matter what, at the end of our arrangement in three months, I will be—” Aria stopped herself long enough to pass a couple along the path. Once they were out of earshot, she continued. “I will be just another courtesan of the Moulin Rouge.”
“What if he could take you away from that?”
Aria gave Madeline a weary look. Such a bold question for a timid woman.
“I don’t know. I hadn’t thought about that possibility,” Aria said.
Aria and Madeline walked together, chatting about other simple things for the duration of their walk. Things Aria didn’t need to remember. Things so automatic she could think of something more enjoyable for a short time until they made a full circle to the carriage.
“Thank you very much for accompanying me to the garden, Madeline,” Aria said. “I’m quite tired. I think I’d like to go home. I will spend my free time tomorrow shopping.”
Madeline simply nodded and muttered something to the carriage driver. They were back to the Moulin Rouge in no time.
“Allow me to escort you—” Madeline started climbing out of the carriage after Aria.
“There’s no need, Madeline. Monsieur Andreu usually allows me the freedom to walk to my own room. Good day.”
Without another word Aria left the maid staring after her.
Aria waited just inside the entrance of the Moulin Rouge until the carriage was out of sight before leaving once more. The only person who could guide her in any manner was Grandmother Gigi. In the early daylight hours, she felt certain the journey to and from the seamstress’s home was safe. It was if one walked with purpose, like they belonged. And Aria was getting so much better at that.
“You shouldn’t have come alone, Aria. You know better than that.” Grandmother Gigi said as she prepared their tea.
“I know, Grandmother. I know. But…I need help and I don’t think Mother could be fair.”
Gigi said nothing until they were seated in the parlor sipping on tea and nibbling small cucumber sandwiches. “What guidance can I give you? I’m not wise to contracts and other negotiations, Ariadne.”
“I’m afraid no one is, Grandmother,” Aria chuckled. “Monsieur Andreu is away on business. His maid accompanied me to a garden earlier today, but…but she said something that made me wonder…have noblemen ever taken courtesans away from the Moulin Rouge?”
Gigi furrowed her brows. “What did this woman say to make you think that?”
Aria blushed from embarrassment; she felt so naive. “We were talking about his late wife…she said she wouldn’t be surprised if Monsieur Andreu held other intentions toward me. I told her, once this arrangement is over, I won’t see him again. And she asked me, ‘what if he could take you away from that?’”
“Has that ever happened before?”
Gigi sighed, staring into her cup. “Nearly. There have been a very small handful of men who, upon learning they may be fathers, offer to whisk the mother off her feet. There was only one man who ever meant it, to my knowledge. But she died before he could.”
Aria and Gigi sat in silence until their tea was cold.
“I will die there some day, won’t I?”
“Aria…there are ways of escaping the Moulin Rouge. There are ways of saving yourself that life. But you are one of few people with family there. I know that complicates things.” Gigi touched her hand across the table.
“I hate it there. Monsieur Andreu has been wonderful, but we’ve already agreed that in three months…what if he does intend something different? How could I leave?”
“Are you afraid of leaving your mother behind? Or someone else?” Gigi raised an eyebrow in curiosity.
Aria’s eyes fell to her cup. “I love Mother…but she wants a life for me I don’t. I will never love Pierre; I know that. I…” she sighed deeply looking back to her best friend’s grandmother with tears in her eyes. “How could I leave?”
“Oh, Ariadne, you poor dear.” Gigi moved her hand from the young woman’s hand to her cheek, using her thumb to wipe the tears away. “It is very hard, I know. Perhaps, while you are working for Monsieur Andreu, you will meet someone—or many people—who can help you. Perhaps you’ll meet someone who has access to skills you can learn to earn a good living? Who knows what good will come of this. For now, you must just keep moving forward, one step at a time.”
Aria nodded. “Thank you, Grandmother,” she whispered. “You’re right. He is so well connected, I’m bound to meet someone who can help me.”
“One step at a time, Ariadne. And if you need something—anything—you need only ask.”
Aria nodded before standing. She embraced her elder, stifling the desire to break down in Gigi’s arms, and took a deep breath. “Thank you so much, Grandmother.”
"Now, you must be off before it gets dark. Would you like me to have a carriage take you?”
“No, I’ve imposed enough for one afternoon. I will be fine.” Aria smiled. A few moments later, she began her journey back to the Moulin Rouge.