“It’s good to see you again, Mademoiselle Ariadne,” Madeline said as Aria finally emerged from her room Wednesday morning.
“You as well,” Aria said.
Today Madeline would escort her to the Jardin du Palais Royal before spending Aria’s free time shopping for whatever things Pierre thought she might need to see an opera. If she had time left she might even read or spend time on the roof in the evening should Philip be able to get away.
“It was a good thing for you to postpone your shopping until this afternoon. The Jardin du Palais Royal has a shopping arcade. It’s very popular with the sort of company Monsieur Andreu mingles with. It will be a wonderful experience for you, I’m sure.”
“I have never heard of that,” Aria said. “I’m sure it will be wonderful.”
The carriage ride to the palace was quick and, as always, beautiful. Perhaps someday the novelty of something as simple as a carriage ride would lose it’s splendor, but not today. The carriage slowed as they pulled around the front of the palace to disembark.
Everything was immediately overwhelming once they entered the old palace. It had been transformed from the royal palace to shops and retailers as far as Aria’s eyes could see. All manners of people stood along the walls talking about whatever they pleased away from the dreary February weather as if this place were the most important. Aria could see all manners of clothing boutiques, but she swore she saw bookstores and a cafe, too. Though she couldn’t see its origin, croissants and tea wafted to her as refreshing as the summer breeze.
“Does Monsieur Andreu come here often?” Aria said.
Madeline chuckled. “Often enough, yes. He loves the atmosphere and these are some of his favorite stores, too.” Wrapping her arm around Aria’s she added, “we should see the gardens first and then you can see all the stores.”
For the moment—because she no longer had female friends—Aria allowed Monsieur Andreu’s maid to be familiar with her, as if they were friends. If she could pretend she was more than a courtesan she could pretend to have a friend.
The garden itself was quite wonderful. It was beautifully sculpted with hedges one could see over with taller hedges creating little more privacy for couples. Along the outside path small flowers and shrubs provided complements to the greenery. Birds chirped and the sound of a fountain grew stronger the nearer they stepped until it came into view. Few people decided to walk the rather muddy grounds but it never bothered Aria nor Madeline. On the contrary, they both enjoyed the crisp cool air as a departure from the humidity of the Moulin Rouge. Having so many people in close quarters always brought such an atmosphere—in Aria’s experience at least.
“It’s lovely here,” Aria said. “I would love to come back in the summer to see what it’s like then, too.”
Madeline said nothing. She followed Aria along the path toward the back of the garden to another, much larger, fountain. It was magnificent.
Aria was starting to understand things Pierre enjoyed, or at least enjoyed sharing with her. Her view of the city had been beautiful when she had nothing but the bakery and the florist to compare it to. Now, with so many different gardens so close to her home it would pale in comparison. That was the point, she suspected. There were so many other wonderful things outside the Moulin Rouge and for now she could experience them. Plays, operas, gardens, boutiques. How many other wondrous things would she experience and struggle to convey to Philip?
“Mademoiselle Ariadne? Are you all right?” Madeline said. She looked worried.
“Oh. Forgive me. I was just lost in thought.”
“You looked like you wanted to cry. Is everything fine? We could leave.”
“There’s no need for that. I’m perfectly fine.” Aria said. She smiled as genuinely as she could. “I would love to see the boutiques now.”
“Certainly. Monsieur Andreu wanted you to find a new purse, gloves, and a fan. He also encouraged finding opera glasses, though that is entirely your decision.”
There could well have been a shop for everything one desired.
“Good heavens,” Aria muttered. “How could they have the space for all this?”
“It’s rather interesting what they’ve managed to bring together. I’ve never once seen it empty here. Here we are.”
Madeline guided Aria into a store that seemed to sell fine accessories exclusively. Despite the overwhelming presence just outside the doors, the noise didn’t carry into the store at all. There were few others inside speaking to salesmen about purchasing whichever items they saw fit. Aria soaked in the grandeur. The purses prominently displayed to the passersby in the window cost a small fortune to purchase; others that caught Aria’s eye weren’t much less expensive. Definitely much more than she was comfortable spending.
“Madeline, there is no way—”
“I assure you, Monsieur Andreu wanted you to have a nice purse. Just look around. There are plenty of other shops, but they are similarly priced for more inferior products. These are the best.” Madeline said.
Aria suspected the words had been rehearsed, given by Pierre himself to comfort her. Strangely, they did. She nodded, moving carefully around the store. A satin golden yellow purse caught her eye sitting on a display away from the more lavish choices; it’s price was much more reasonable.
“I would like this one,” Aria said, showing Madeline her choice.
“Monsieur Andreu will like that.”
Madeline paid the shopkeeper, then they made their way to the next shop.