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Printed from https://www.writing.com/main/view_item/item_id/2115960-Croix-de-Guerre
Rated: 13+ · Short Story · History · #2115960
A confrontation between a priest and a lady outside a cafe in Paris - for Writer's Cramp.
Father Jean was walking along the Rue Saint-Antoine in the direction of the Bastille, admiring the fine cherry blossoms, when he spied something very odd on the sidewalk outside his favorite café. A brazen woman sat there all by herself dressed like a gentleman, with a trouser suit and fedora hat. He'd heard of these “flappers”—women with no sense of propriety. In all of his forty years of faithful service to God, he'd never seen anything so ungodly. And this lewdness in the very center of his own parish, to boot.

He clenched his fists and stormed past this abomination into the establishment. He hadn't felt this angry since a German shell hit his Church during the Good Friday mass ten years ago, when so many innocents lost their lives. If he didn't do anything to nip this salaciousness in the bud, immorality would spread across his parish like wildfire.

The middle-aged, plump proprietor was standing behind the mahogany counter, issuing instructions to a waitress.

Father Jean interrupted him. “René, what is the meaning of that obscenity on the sidewalk outside?”

“Pardon, Mon Père. What are you talking about?”

Father Jean pointed toward the street. “That… that indecent person sitting at one of your tables as if she's a civilized person instead of a freak.”

“Ah, you mean Miss Gordon.”

“You actually know the woman?”

“Yes. She is a very nice English lady who moved to Paris only a few weeks ago and now lives nearby. I know she dresses strangely, but she doesn't cause any trouble. And, besides”—he gestured the café's resident mouse-catcher who was curled up in a corner nearby—“Henri likes her.”

As if the feline understood their conversation, the black tom stood, stretched and then leisurely walked outside and threaded himself between the woman's legs. She reached down and ruffled the traitorous feline's fur.

Father Jean had seen enough. It seemed he was the last bastion of morality in this parish. He marched outside to confront the freak, and loomed over her table. “Excuse me, Mademoiselle.”

She glanced up, no shame in her expression. He flinched upon seeing an ugly, jagged that ran from one eye to her chin, and a metal cross attached to her jacket caught his attention.

“Oui,” she said. “May I help you, Mon Père?”

He opened and closed his mouth like a goldfish, the words he'd planned to say lost in the ether. Regaining his composition, he asked, “Isn't that a Croix de guerre?”

“Yes.”

Was she one of the many thousands of war widows who never remarried? “Your late husband's, perhaps?”

“No, I have never been married.” She blushed and glanced away demurely. “The medal is my own. I served as a driver in the Hackett-Lowther Ambulance Unit.”

He'd heard about this thing: a special corp of women volunteers attached to the French Third Army. It was said they drove their ambulances right up to the front lines and even entered the trenches to bring back the wounded soldiers for medical treatment. Many such ladies had been killed or injured performing those courageous duties.

Henri's loud purrs reached Father Jean's ears, and for the first time, he noticed a heavy walking stick resting against the table edge—the kind used by people who could not walk far without assistance. He thought then to ask about her scar but decided it would be rude. Miss Gordon once again stroked the cat's glossy fur.

“You must be very brave, Mademoiselle.”

She smiled, and then her face didn't look so ugly. He realized she was younger than he'd first thought, maybe only in her mid-thirties. “Why, thank you. But all I really did was drive around a bit.”

Her perfume reached his nostrils, and he recognized the aroma from confessionals—that new kind of perfume the younger ladies in his congregation had taken to wearing over the past few years, less floral than traditional scents yet still pleasing. He returned her smile. “I think you are being too modest.”

Her eyes sparkled, but she didn't rise to his comment. Instead, she changed the topic. “I have a question, Mon Père.”

“What would you like to know?”

“I've been searching for a Church where I may take mass on Sundays, but so far all the places I've attended have been somewhat… unfriendly.”

He straightened. “That's terrible. Anybody should be welcome in Church, not the least of all a wearer of the Croix de guerre.”

“Well, perhaps you could advise me, then. Where do you suggest I go this Sunday?”

“I would be proud to welcome you into in the Église Saint-Gervais. It is my own chuch. And if anybody there proves unfriendly toward you”—he banged a fist on the table—“they'll answer to me.”

Miss Gordon beamed. She was really quite pretty once you saw beyond the clothes and the scar. It was the kindness in her eyes; the hope that she must have given a thousand dying servicemen. He doffed his cap to her and turned to leave.

After a few steps, on a whim, he spun back and re-entered the café.

René came over, wringing his apron, his eyes wide. “Did you talk to Miss Gordon, Mon Père?"

Father Jean nodded. “We had a wonderful chat.” He gestured to the shelves behind the counter. “René, I would like to purchase a bottle of Champagne.”

“Why, certainly, Mon Père.” René's frown turned into a grin. “The 1912 rosé?”

“I was thinking the 1898.”

René gasped. “But, that's our most expensive.”

“I believe I can afford it.”

René handed over the bottle.

Father Jean carried the Champagne outside and approached Miss Gordon. He bowed and smiled, then handed over the bottle with a flourish.

Miss Gordon frowned. “Mon Père. I don't understand.”

“It's a gift for you, Mademoiselle. Please, accept this small gesture of a bottle of wine from your humble local priest to welcome you to the parish.”




WORD COUNT: 1000
WRITTEN FOR:
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The Writer's Cramp  (13+)
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HISTORICAL BASIS:
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Toupie_Lowther
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/St-Gervais-et-St-Protais
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chanel_No._5
And partly inspired by the protagonist of this novel:
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Well_of_Loneliness

"Drama Newsletter (September 20, 2017)
© Copyright 2017 Robert Edward Baker (robertbaker at Writing.Com). All rights reserved.
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