Madeleine Ch. 02byjack_straw©
It was cold, bitterly cold, as I turned up the collar of my overcoat and walked out of the embassy into the gathering gloom of the late afternoon.
On impulse, I decided to turn down the little side street that was so familiar and visit Marcel's again. I hadn't been there since my return to France a few weeks earlier, and I found I missed it.
So much had changed in Paris since those heady days of August, when the young Frenchmen had so eagerly sought out war. No one was seeking out the war any more; it was coming for them.
And much had changed for me, as well.
I had spent a very long day in mid-August as a guest of the state police, as they questioned me about my activities over the previous 18 months. I was treated politely, as a foreign diplomat should, but there was no question that I was going to be interrogated.
I believed I had little to hide, so I was forthcoming with as much as I felt they needed to know, and I also indicated that I was willing to share what I knew about the Germans. That put things on much lighter note, and we soon came to an understanding.
I have to say here that from the beginning my sympathies were clear. My country might have been neutral, and thus, officially, so must I, but my heart was with the Allies.
It wasn't that I hated the Germans, but I had seen enough of them during my time there that I didn't trust their leadership for a song. Moreover, I was a Cajun descended on both sides of my family from the original settlers who came to Louisiana from French Canada in the mid-18th century.
Later, I had watched as my predictions to Marcel on the eve of war had come to fruition. The Germans had come barreling across Belgium, disregarding that country's neutrality and bringing the British into the war, as expected. The Germans had smashed into northern France like a runaway train, and it looked like they would roll right into Paris, just as I had told Marcel.
But somehow, thanks to some key blunders along the way by the German generals and incredible bravery by the French and British troops, the Allies, as they were already being called, had rallied and stopped the advance at the Marne River.
What followed was a race to the sea, as the two sides tried to outflank the other, until they ran out of land. Then they dug in, just like I knew they would, the lines hardened and the horrors of trench warfare were soon a reality.
In college, I had studied certain campaigns where trench warfare and a lack of maneuver had prevailed -- notably at Vicksburg and in the Petersburg campaign in the American Civil War, and, later, in Manchuria during the Russian-Japanese War.
I could see that with the new weapons and materials available to the two armies -- the machine guns, the big cannons, the barbed wire -- that this new kind of warfare would put a premium on defense.
It was a bloody, debilitating business, and already no one could quite figure out how to break the deadlock.
In early November, I had been called back to Washington to report on my findings with the French Army, much as I had with the Germans, and when I got back I got a surprise. I was promoted to Undersecretary to the Ambassador in Paris, and would be returning to France.
I conferred with my superiors in the State Department and even met the president, Woodrow Wilson. My impression of him was decidedly mixed. He was very intelligent, but I found him to be somewhat cold, and a man who knew he was the smartest person in the room.
Nevertheless, he was the president, he was a gracious host, and I enjoyed my brief time in his company.
Afterward, I spent Christmas at home with Amelie and her family, which already included three daughters and a son, and it was a truly memorable time. When I left after the holidays I somehow knew that it would be a long time before I saw my sister again.
In fact, more than five years would pass before I would return to Louisiana.
On January 3, I sailed from New York to Le Havre and thus made my way back to Paris. There was some concern about German submarines that were rumored to be prowling the seas in the approaches to the English Channel, but we saw no evidence of them and the passage across the Atlantic was made without incident.
Once I arrived back in Paris, my work had consumed so much of my time that I hadn't had much leisure time. However, I was also fearful of going to Marcel's, because I wasn't sure I could cope with being around Madeleine.
I had written her a letter while I was back in America, and told her some of what was going on in my life, but I had been guarded in how much I revealed to her about my feelings. I merely told her about my promotion and that I would be very busy when I returned.
But, like I said, I missed Marcel, missed Madeleine, missed the warmth of his pub, so I decided to screw up my courage and pay him a visit. I was glad I did.
I was surprised to find the place nearly deserted, but that didn't stop Marcel from hustling out from behind the bar to greet me when he saw who it was that had darkened his door.
"Monsieur Robert!" he exclaimed as he enveloped me in a bear hug, then bussed both of my cheeks in the classic French tradition. "You have come back to us. Madeleine! Come! Look who is here."
I was gratified to hear a feminine squeal from the kitchen then Madeleine too wrapped me in a tight hug.
"Oh Robert!" she said breathlessly. "I have missed you so!"
As she clung onto me, I could feel myself becoming aroused from Madeleine's firm young breasts and slender hips as they pressed to me. I began to wonder if, perhaps, my feelings toward this young lady were reciprocated. The prospect excited me. She was about to turn 18 and she was becoming more woman than girl.
"Madeleine, bring Monsieur Robert some food," Marcel said. "Robert, please, take a table. You must tell us about America!"
"If you insist," I said, giving him a wink. I was truly gratified by this greeting. It meant the Lévesques had become my friends.
Over a plate of roast beef, a tureen of thick French onion soup and several glasses of cognac, I told them about my trip home. All the while, Madeleine flitted about making sure I was well served. She seemed full of nervous energy, and she smiled at me a lot, her dark eyes sparkling with mischief.
Marcel watched the exchange of looks that passed between us with a wry smile on his face. He asked a few questions, but mostly listened while I told him about going back to Louisiana.
He didn't believe me when I told him how cold it was on Christmas Day in Thibodaux, since I had frequently bragged about how balmy the winters were in the Gulf South.
We avoided the subject of the war, and the fact that his clientele was down since more and more young Frenchmen were being called up to the front.
Finally, I was sated and Madeleine had removed the bowl and plate, leaving me with a after-dinner snifter of brandy.
I looked over at Madeleine and stared purposefully into her eyes. Uncharacteristically, she blushed and turned away with an almost shy smile, like she knew the thoughts I was having. I swallowed the last of the sweet tart liqueur, still gazing at Madeleine. Then I turned my attention to Monsieur Lévesque and spoke my mind.
"Monsieur, may I ask you a personal question, concerning your daughter?" I said quietly, evenly, not giving a hint of the passion that was welling beneath the surface. "May we speak man-to-man?"
"Madeleine, please, leave us for a moment," Marcel said to his daughter. "We wish to speak privately."
Satisfied that we would not be disturbed, he bade me continue.
"Marcel, my friend, why is it that Madeleine does not have a husband?" I asked with more confidence than I felt. "I would think a beautiful young woman like her would have met and married some handsome young suitor, yet she remains here, and, apparently, does not see gentlemen."
"You must understand my daughter," Marcel said after regarding me for a long moment or two. "She is very independent-minded, and I cannot tell her what to do. I can make suggestions, plead, cajole, but, in the end, she will do as she wishes. In that way, she is very much like her mother. A woman of spirit, that one."
For a long moment, Marcel gazed into his glass reflecting on his late wife, who had been gone for nearly 10 years. Then, he perked up and smiled at me.
"Besides, I believe she is waiting for one special man to come calling," he said, giving me a wink. I picked up the none-too-subtle hint.
"And if this one man were to come calling, how would you feel about it?" I asked. "Is this one man acceptable in your eyes, even if he may be quite a bit older than she."
Marcel laughed heartily at that.
"Oh ho," he exclaimed. "You are my friend, Robert, and I would be honored. True, you are several years older than my Madeleine, but she is old beyond her years. She had to grow up quickly when Marie died. I had to carry on here, and I needed her to take Marie's place as hostess. She had no brothers or sisters to help with the burden, or to spill her soul at her loss. There was only me. You have been a blessing to her, because you listen to her and treat her as an equal. Go to her, she will not fail you."
And that was how my courtship of Madeleine Lévesque began. I walked back to the kitchen, and asked her if she would like to take a stroll with me and talk, and we did, even though it was bitterly cold outside.
We walked in silence the few blocks to the main street, then to the bridge over the River Seine. We looked out at the powerful river, now choked with ice, and for some reason we were hesitant, as if we weren't sure what the next step should be.
"I wrote you while I was in America," I said finally.
"It was very nice," she said. "I can't believe you thought of me while you were home, with your family and friends."
"There aren't many of either, I'm afraid," I said. "My best friends are here."
"Oh?" Madeleine replied. "And am I one of those best friends?"
"Of course," I said. "But you are more than my friend. I ..."
"I know," she said, cutting me off, then she pulled me to her, turned her head up and kissed me.
At first it was just a sisterly peck, but as we looked at each other we knew instinctively that we were indeed more than friends.
We kissed in a way that would have scandalized people even in my rather laid-back home. It was deep, soulful, her tongue slid into my mouth in a manner that I had come to expect from French girls, and I responded in kind. It was liberating to finally let my passion have full rein with this woman who had haunted me from the first time I'd seen her.
It wasn't until we could feel the cold seeping in through our heavy coats that we separated.
"That should tell you how I feel about you, Madeleine," I said in a husky voice. Even with it being as cold as it was, my penis was rock-hard in my pants, and I had no doubt that she had felt it as we had embraced.
"I've been waiting for you, Robert," she answered as we strolled back toward the pub. "I wasn't sure until I got your letter that you felt about me the way I feel about you."
"But I really didn't say anything about that," I said, puzzled. "In fact, I tried hard to keep from gushing like a schoolboy."
"It was the tone," she said. "It was just conversational, but intimate. You wrote to me about things in your life that you would only tell someone for whom you had a great affection. You may not have expressed it in so many words, but I knew what you wrote came from your heart and was only for me to see. I love you, Robert, and I will love you until the day I die."
"And I love you, Madeleine," I said, then pulled her to me and kissed her again as we reached the back entrance to Marcel's.
In that moment, I knew my life was complete.