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fic: Le garçon aux yeux d'or

Title: Le garçon aux yeux d'or
Author: fengirl88
Fandom: The Marlows - Antonia Forest
Characters: Ginty Marlow, Claudie
Rating: PG
Warnings: homophobia; spoilers for The Attic Term
Wordcount: 1100

A/N: Written for the Antonia Forest Fanworks: 2015 fest, in response to an anonymous prompt: "Claudie and Ginty meet! Could it turn into a cat-fight or might they end up rather liking each other? I think Claudie could teach Ginty a thing or two ... Content can be anything from innocent to explicit."

“Virginie Marlow?” the new instructor said, staring at Ginty with frank curiosity. “But you are the petite amie of Patrick Merrick, n’est-ce pas?”

Ginty’s stomach lurched, the way it had in the lift at the Eiffel Tower.

“Non,” she said, her face scalding with embarrassment. And then, remembering Mademoiselle Renier’s grammar lessons (“ancien(ne): before the noun it means former, after the noun it means ancient”), “Ancienne petite amie.”

“Félicitations!” the woman said, which was just plain rude.

Ginty fumed inwardly, wishing she could come up with a blistering retort. Her conversational French still wasn’t adequate for that, though it was improving faster than her cooking skills.

When Madame Orly had suggested she should take a course at the Ecole de Cuisine Marcel et Solange Dubois, Ginty had jumped at the chance. After the disaster of her O-levels, there’d been no more talk of trying for Oxford; the closest she’d get to that would be a secretarial course at the Ox and Cow, which would be worse than nothing. She’d imagined herself returning from Paris in triumph like Audrey Hepburn in Sabrina, dazzling everyone with her glamorous outfits and her newfound genius for soufflés. But the cookery school was hard work, living with her grandmother was no fun, and one month into her stay she felt as clumsy and hopelessly English as ever. If her family could see her now, even Lawrie might stop saying it wasn’t fair. And now on top of everything else a complete stranger was prying into her affairs and making personal remarks.

“How do you know Patrick?” Ginty asked coldly.

“His father is a friend of my parents,” the woman said. “I’m Claudine Dubois.”

That explained a lot, Ginty thought bitterly. Probably the only reason Mademoiselle Dubois was teaching at the school was that her parents owned the place. She could hardly be more than a couple of years older than Ginty herself, though she looked so sophisticated. Her clothes made Ginty feel dowdy, and her long straight black hair was twisted into the kind of artful topknot Ginty could never manage…

“Small. Dark. My mama says she’s what’s called a belle laide,” Ginty remembered Patrick saying, that September day in the Merricks’ walled garden. “She belongs to French friends of my papa’s… My mama says she cooks so easily, it isn’t true.”

Oh, no. It couldn’t be her, could it? But the description fitted only too well.

“You’re Claudie?” she asked, with a sinking heart.

“Mais oui,” Claudine Dubois said.

This was the last straw, Ginty thought. It was bad enough running into someone in Paris who knew who she was, when she was trying to get away from that whole grisly episode, but Claudie... The conversation in the hawk garden was when it had all begun to go wrong: the first time Ginty had told Patrick she loved him, speaking as herself and not as Rosina or a character from a play, and when she’d pushed for reassurance that he loved her in the same way (“‘think’ isn’t a sure word”), he’d said “This is beginning to sound like a Claudie conversation.”

She hadn’t even known Claudie existed until then, much less that she’d been living with the Merricks as their “sort-of au pair” for the whole of the previous term. It felt like stepping on a rake and getting the handle full in your teeth. Was that how it had been for Monica, discovering that Ginty hadn’t even mentioned Patrick after nearly a year of Ginty and Patrick being – whatever they were?

“He has pretty eyes, that Patrick,” Claudie said, musing, “but otherwise he is nul, not worth the trouble.”

Ginty felt a cold squirming sensation inside her. “How would you know?”

Claudie burst out laughing. “Soyez tranquille, there was nothing between us. Rien qu’un baiser.”

A kiss was bad enough, Ginty thought, her stomach knotting with jealousy. All she’d ever had from Patrick was the occasional chaste peck, and she was willing to bet that wasn’t the kind of kiss Claudie was talking about.

“In any case, I don’t think he likes girls so much,” Claudie added. “Lucky for him he is such a good Catholic, he can tell himself it is only because of that.”

Oh, that’s rubbish!, Ginty wanted to say, but she thought of all the times when something more could have happened between them and hadn’t. Could it be true, or was Claudie just making it up because Patrick wasn’t interested in her? Underneath the shock, there was a glint of consolation: if Patrick didn’t like girls, then it wasn’t Ginty’s fault he’d dropped her after he’d been expelled from his school. Better still, if Patrick didn’t like girls, then Nick didn’t stand a chance with him either, even in Miranda West’s cast-offs.

But if Patrick didn’t like girls –

Jon, Ginty thought with a jolt, remembering Patrick’s white, stricken face at her cousin’s funeral. Of course there couldn’t have been anything going on between them – Patrick had been much too young for that – but if Jon hadn’t been killed…

If Jon hadn’t been killed, the Merricks wouldn’t have been their neighbours, because Commander Marlow wouldn’t have inherited Trennels.

“What about Mariot Chase?” she blurted out.

Claudie shrugged. “What about it?”

“Patrick’s parents – they expect him to get married and have children. But how can he, if –?”

“Cela n’empêche pas,” Claudie said tranquilly. “Monsieur Merrick and Helena managed it, after all.”

“That’s a horrible thing to say!” Ginty protested. “They’re happily married.” Of course one never really knew with grown-ups. It struck her for the first time how odd it was that Patrick should be an only child, when his parents were practically more Catholic than the Pope.

“Mais que vous êtes bébé! One can be well married without passion between husband and wife, as long as both are considerate of each other, and discreet.”

Claudie’s lips curved in a faint, reminiscent smile that made Ginty’s head swim. Helena, she had said, not Madame Merrick.

“Don’t tell me!” Ginty said, horrified and disbelieving.

“Tell you what?” Claudie asked, as if butter wouldn’t melt in her mouth. The evasion was more convincing than any insistence could have been.

Ginty remembered all the times that Mrs Merrick – Helena – had made her feel three inches high. It was gruesome to think of Patrick’s mother in bed with Claudie, of course, but also curiously satisfying. She’d never considered before what it would feel like to know someone else’s secret and hug that knowledge to herself.

Discretion, Ginty thought. It had possibilities. She wondered what else a Claudie conversation might bring to light.


Forest doesn't provide Claudie with a surname; her parents' Christian names come from Lilliburlero's Super New Insights, which explains how Claudie came to be a 'sort-of au pair' for the Merricks. My thanks to Lilliburlero for their encouragement in writing this, and for allowing me to borrow Marcel and Solange.

This version of the Merricks' marriage was inspired by the Trennels readthrough of The Attic Term, and by Ankaret's fic All-Night Sitting.

Title is a nod to Balzac's story La fille aux yeux d'or, as well as a tribute to The Merrick Boy's improbable golden eyes.

Also posted at http://fengirl88.dreamwidth.org/185574.html with comment count unavailable comments.


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