Printed from https://www.writing.com/main/view_item/item_id/2292436-Burning-issue
by Sumojo
Rated: 18+ · Fiction · Dark · #2292436
A story of intrigue, romance and betrayal in 19 th century Paris.
Word count 1743

Perched at the top of a hill in Paris at the time of the Paris World Fair, Montmartre was home to every kind of artist. Painters, sculptors, writers, and poets inhabited this eclectic district of Paris.
It was around this time that a young, handsome man, sporting a fashionable moustache, arrived from London. Seeking a change of pace, perhaps romance, although his ideas of romance bordered on cruelty. Women were to be used, available for the pleasure of men.
Leaving trouble behind him in England, George Sanders, instructed by his father to, “Smarten yourself up, son,” was instructed not to return home until the scandal, if not forgotten, had at least settled down and his name no longer headlines in the London Times.

George was in possession of an extremely bad temper. Even as a very young boy, he’d terrorised the nursery. His younger siblings’ lives were made miserable by his constant teasing, hair pulling, pinching until bruises appeared, and worst of all, his telling of lies to get them into trouble. Nannies and housekeepers never lasted long in Lord and Lady Sanders’ home, suffering young Master George’s temper outbursts for only a short time before giving in their notice. Usually with a parting remark such as, “He’s got the devil in him, that one.”

When George was twenty-one years of age, he’d beaten a prostitute to death. Only the influence of his father had enabled George to escape jail, or worse, experience the sensation of the hangman’s noose around his neck.

The troubled young man arrived in Paris in the summer of 1899, just ten years after the Eiffel Tower, built for the Paris World Fair in 1889, was completed. The crossing from London had been irksome. The humidity was high, and the smells of Paris revolting in July’s heat. The stench from the Parisian sewers were obnoxious, the air filled with fumes of human excrement.
George hadn’t wanted to leave London, but he wasn’t a fool and knew he had little choice. One blessing, he thought, was that the girls of Paris would be even more accessible to a man of means.
He was travelling light, his father refusing to send a manservant to attend to his son’s every need. Carrying just the one suitcase, after the long journey he appeared dishevelled. His fine clothes were creased, and he’d lost his sense of superiority. He simply blended in on the street of Montmartre, where he found himself in search of lodgings.

He trudged along the cobbled streets, pushing his way through the crowds. Soon it dawned on him, maybe this district of Paris wasn’t a safe place to be wandering alone. However, as he absorbed the vibrancy of the cafes, dance halls and street performers, the place began to appeal.
He stopped for a while to observe an artist at work, painting the view of the city below Montmartre. The artist’s canvas included the Eiffel Tower, lit by hundreds of light globes in the darkening sky.
His sense of caution dissipated. Somehow, he knew he would fit into this place, where no one knew his name, his past, nor would they even care.
Although his father had given him an allowance, it was nowhere near as generous as it had been, and George sought cheap lodgings in Montmartre. He found rooms to share with people he wouldn’t even have passed the time of day with in London.


‘George, I heard a rumour there’s a new dancer at the Folies Bergère. Everyone is talking about her.’ Edouarde, said, as he washed his brushes at the sink in the grimy kitchen.
‘Yes, Celeste mentioned it, last night.’ George cleared his throat, which turned into a series of hacking coughs, causing him to sit up from where he’d been sprawled across a shabby chaise longue.
‘That hashish,’ Edouarde, nodded to the reefer still smouldering in George’s hand, ‘it’s making you sick, my friend.’
‘Stick to your painting, Eddie, and let’s get back to the subject of the new girl in town.’
‘Alright, it’s your health. What did Celeste have to say when you saw her last night?’
‘The girls in the chorus line are jealous. They think she’s jumped the queue. Her name’s Genevieve and has already been given a solo spot.’
‘We’ll need to go one evening and judge for ourselves, my friend.’ Edouarde said.

George’s tastes ran to the more exotic than the Folies Bergère, where the dancing girls were flirtatious, but didn’t bare enough of their bodies to satisfy his more salacious side. George kept this hidden from his friends. He sought out the brothels which turned a blind eye to his predilections, on the dark side of Montmartre, places only men such as he frequented.

Celeste, George’s girlfriend, was one of the Folies girls, she was generous with her favours, after all she did love George. He was so handsome, such an English gentleman. He wore his upbringing well and hid his baser desires for most of the time. However, she refused to do everything George suggested, and he looked elsewhere for satisfaction.

One night George and a group of friends were out on the town. His roommate, Edouarde, was celebrating the sale of a few of his paintings to a wealthy tourist. His delight at the sales had instilled in him a feeling of joie de vivre. ‘Gentlemen let’s have an evening to remember. A new show is starting at the Folies, I believe we will not be disappointed. The price of admission is on me!’

The show had already started when the group arrived. They immediately headed to the bar where one of Edouard’s paintings hung on the wall for the patrons to admire the image of a buxom dancer showing a heaving bosom. If one looked closely enough they could see a hint of nipple.
They took their drinks to a vacant table and within a few minutes, a vision of womanly perfection stood alone on the stage, in the spotlight. Her dark hair fell over perfect, alabaster shoulders, her emerald eyes seemed to scan the audience and lock on to George’s. Her voice was that of an angel; sultry, smooth like the underside of a songbird’s feathers. She sang of unrequited love and for once in his life George was struck speechless.

‘Did you see the new girl, Genevieve?” Edouard slapped his friend on his back as they left the theatre. “I swear she was singing just for me!”
‘Damnation, man.’ George snapped. ‘She only had eyes for me.’
‘What’s wrong with you? His friend frowned. ‘You have your own special girl. I’m going backstage to ask Genevieve if I can take her to dinner.’
‘She’ll simply laugh at you. To her you’ll simply be another backstage Johnny.’

George came aware of the familiar rage, building inside. He knew the only release would be to visit one of his haunts, down the dark backstreets of Montmartre. Away from decent people, away from laughter and good humour. He needed to hurt someone, badly.

After that evening, the friendship between the two housemates deteriorated to such an extent, living under the same roof became too intense. Both Edouarde and George were both determined to pursue Genevieve’s love. George packed his bags and moved out.

One night at a brothel in Montmartre, he struck up a conversation with a young man who shared George’s inclinations. Toulouse, was short of stature with fragile bones and the only reason a woman would bed him would be for money. However, being a successful artist, drawn to Montmartre by the bohemian lifestyle, Toulouse had many friends. Known for his hedonistic indulgencies, he frequented the cabaret’s, cafes, and brothels of the district most evenings.
Toulouse was soon agreeable to George’s suggestion they share lodgings. Perhaps he too was looking for someone who would join him in his habits of hard liquor, drugs, and women.
A regular patron of the Folie Bergère, Toulouse was also in love with the new artiste, as it seemed was all of Paris. Genevieve was generous with her favours to those who appealed, but this eccentric little man was simply her friend, who expected nothing from her. At George’s suggestion he spoke of his newfound friend to her, praising his generosity, good looks, and wealthy family in London.
Before too long, Paris’s darling, began sharing her leisure time between the two rivals, Edouarde and George.

When he and Genevieve were alone, George was gentle in his lovemaking. He needed her to love and adore him, as much as he desired to possess her. He could think of nothing but owning her forever. He bought her jewellery, flowers, and whispered promises of a high-society life in London, when he returned with her as his bride.
Little did he know Edouarde was just as persuasive. The painting on the bar at the Folie Bergère had attracted the notice of art connoisseurs and he was getting many commissions. Genevieve was torn between her two suitors.

Taking particular care with his appearance, George prepared to propose marriage after the evening’s show. He’d been in contact with his father at home in England, and it seemed he was forgiven for those youthful transgressions, but only if he was willing to settle down with a wife and start a family of his own.
Tucking the blue velvet box containing the ruby engagement ring into his inside jacket pocket, he checked his pocket watch for the time. It was a little early, the show wouldn’t be finished for another hour. Pouring himself a whiskey to steady his nerves, he saw the day’s newspaper on the table where Toulouse had left it. George wasn’t interested in politics or sport and opened the paper at the society page. And there it was: The Darling of the Folies Bergère and artist Edouarde Manet announce their engagement.
Under the announcement, a photograph showed the couple gazing lovingly into each other’s eyes.

George stared at the image; the words blurred under his gaze. His hands shook violently, the need to destroy, overwhelmed him. Jealousy sparked, took hold, began to smoulder. Still gripping the paper, his eyes bulged, and he gasped for breath. The edges of the scandal sheet began to scorch, spreading upward. The smell of burning filled the room before the whole of the newspaper combusted into flames.

Perhaps his nannies had been right after all. There was the devil in him.

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