The Extraordinary Adventures of Dragonette in Paris
Roman de Marie-France de Monneron
Traduction : Maureen Phillips
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After having buried her unfaithful husband and sold her château to repay her debts, Countess Dragonette of Holdmetight decides to go to Paris to find work. She’s a confirmed optimist with no inhibitions, believing in her lucky star, and finds a succession of jobs where she happily deals with the most improbable situations. She is among others a cleaning lady for a couple of gay hairdressers, an eccentric millionairess’s sports coach, an embalmer’s assistant and a receptionist, and becomes a celebrity by allowing her face to be used to promote the sale of rillettes pâté from the Brave Cochon Rose.
From one unlikely adventure to another, thanks to the unusual characters she meets through her different jobs, Dragonette finally becomes the talk of the town, which does not escape the attention of a mysterious “president”. But who really is this elusive admirer?
The Extraordinary Adventures of Dragonette in Paris is a story full of humour, poetry and tenderness.
In the village of Little Nowhere, rumours were rife on this damp, Saturday morning that was as misty as the eyes of the inhabitants, all of whom were mourning Count Hubert de Holdmetight. But his funeral was also a great opportunity for all the sycophants, blabbermouths and professional misery-guts, the dimwits who were always green with envy, to make a meal of the event, going over and over the details. Their target for this particular morning was the widow!
“What’ll become of Countess Dragonette? She’s always been a dreamer, and now she’s a widow. She’s really had it this time. But it serves her right. We should have got rid of all them nobles a long time ago. No place for ‘em in this day and age.
And who’ll be paying for her upkeep? We will, of course - the workers… What, she’s taking herself off to Paris? She might already have found a job? I don’t believe it – she’s always had the luck of the devil. But then, her philandering old husband really was one… He certainly led her a merry dance! But still, the village will be a sad place now. It’s true, his lordship will be a great loss for us all. And the Dragonette, she looks devastated too…
She was pretty when she first got married: as shy as a young foal – but a stupid little goose – so naïve. Always going around in jeans. When you live in a manor house, you should dress like a lady.”
For the sycophants assume that they know it all, and notably how to behave and how to dress. And in the name of their poisonous consciences, impose their stupid ideas on the more feeble-minded.
“The lady of the manor, she should wear straight or pleated skirts, round-necked sweaters, pearl necklaces, flat heels, hats… And Dragonette never even did her hair, which was logical as she never went near a hairdresser. But at least she wasn’t stuck up.
She was always too kind, it wasn’t normal. It’s not normal to speak to everyone, to be interested in both the well-to-do and ordinary people, especially the simple folk. What on earth can she be going to do in Paris? Maybe she’s looking for a new husband? Because even aristocrats have needs… It’s true, they wash, they eat [the verbs “to lunch” and “to dine” have no place in the vocabulary of the unsophisticated] they go to the toilet like everyone else…”
Alas, it was impossible for the sycophants to be like Dragonette and therefore be loved by most of the people, as they sowed the seeds of slander. Unlike the farmer who casts good grain they cast only chaff. The only consolation was that their malice did not spread beyond the village of Little Nowhere.
On the death of her husband, the Countess of Holdmetight had found herself in a sticky situation: no money and nowhere to live! The enforced sale of their property had barely covered her late husband Hubert’s debts. He had been far more successful in his many and various love affairs than in his business undertakings. She had nothing left, but Dragonette was not one to cry over spilt milk.
The day before the sale of the manor house, she had sat down to think things through with her last bottle of Gevrey Chambertin and a pot of duck pâté that, as far as one could see, had not been contaminated by listeria. How on earth was she going to live from now on?
As she was not accustomed to drinking, that evening opened up new and exciting horizons for her. When you are as poor as Job, you have to find a job. So why, to keep the wolf from the door, should she not launch herself into the oh so elating profession of cleaning lady? This apparently simple solution seemed to the Countess to be a stroke of genius, certainly lacking modesty, but with obvious merits. A triumphant shout of “Eureka” that Archimedes would not have refuted, sprang from her throat:
I’ll become the queen of polished floors, scrubbed bathrooms and shining tiles, she exclaimed to the supposed ghosts of her ancestral home. I’ll be the “pasionaria” of the broom, the duster and the mop.
Dragonette blankly refused to see the minimalist aspect of this sudden vocation, for she was a born optimist and would remain so until her dying day. She made a quick calculation. If she stayed in the countryside, she could only earn six Euros an hour. And anyway, no one would employ her, given her position as lady of the manor. In Paris, the rates were twice as much and she could go into action incognito. She had just forgotten that life in the capital is also twice as expensive. Despite this fact, an avalanche of Euros already cascaded down in her vivid imagination, dazzled by this fabulous project: at the end of the day, the thoughtlessness of her husband, leaving her penniless, offered her most invigorating future prospects. Her decision was made. After reimbursing all her debts, she chose her destiny and decided that she would one day be awarded the “Golden Broom” of housekeeping. Having herself always had housemaids and never ceasing to complain about those lazy girls who always dusted around objects without moving them, she knew the definition of “housework well done”. As the Empress of the feather duster, the Countess of Holdmetight exulted at the prospect of her future house-cleaning prowess!
Housework is so much nobler than prostitution. Moreover, it was unthinkable that she might practice the oldest profession in the world. She considered herself rather too old and also wore glasses. She had never been able to exploit her brainpower, let alone the body around it. Her competitors knew this only too well, always beating her past the post and winning the big prize – Hubert – without paying any interest. Yes, the man who had put a ring on her finger rather like one puts a ring through a pig’s snout…
Finally, her husband had done her a good turn when he insisted that she did the housework when the maid had been sent away: “Tidying up rests the brain cells”, he would shout.
With such a project, her Parisian brain cells could relax whilst her muscles exercised for the championship of cleanliness!
Conscious of the exceptional challenge that awaited her in Paris, Dragonette phoned her uncle, Theodore de Chabignol, to ask him if his garret flat, tucked away in the attic of his superb apartment building in the Boulevard St Germain, was still vacant.
- Could you put me up for a few weeks? What? A rent?… Alright, how much?
With half-hearted enthusiasm, the old miser had therefore agreed to lodge his niece by marriage. He had had the nerve to ask for a rent – perhaps not a lot – but as he was so rich and owned half the building in which he lived, he scarcely needed it. But the rich always want more…
Dragonette could not help thinking that if she had been born in a more southerly region, the other side of the Mediterranean, in one of those warm countries, she would perhaps be called Sarah Zeitoun or Ben Larissa, but her family would not have let her down. She suddenly had an irrepressible yearning for palm trees, camels and an oasis, where mutual help is far more generous than in the north…
Dragonette announced her decision to her best enemy in the village of Little Nowhere.
- I’m very lucky. I’ve found a place to live in Paris!
- I’m not surprised… you have always been lucky. Where is it?
- Saint Germain des Prés. But the apartment is not very big… it must be about 15 sq meters.
- But that’s about as big as a postage stamp! You are going from 300 sq meters per floor to 15 sq. meters! One had to dampen the countess’s enthusiasm.
- I’ll get used to it… I am getting ready to wear my dwarf’s shoes! Thank heavens the bailiffs took away all the furniture from the manor house. Every cloud has a silver lining. At least I won’t have to do any removals…
The enemy hung up, totally confused by Dragonette’s permanent good nature. She was going to leave the manor house for a cupboard and wasn’t complaining. Such a pain, people who are always happy with their lot!
The great day arrived. The impedimenta of the countess were contained in two cardboard suitcases, big enough to transport her remaining treasures. Comfortably settled in the train, she told herself that in Paris, she would start again from scratch to launch into the great unknown. The thrill of the vacuum, as when standing on the edge of a precipice, sent shivers down her spine when she suddenly realised that her future was more than uncertain… For she supposed that on arrival in the capital, she would have to live on a shoestring. Given her very flat purse, she would logically not have two pennies to rub together. An ideal way to lose weight and free at that! When you think that there are people willing to pay hundreds of Euros to lose a few kilos – One’s figure is often directly proportional to one’s purse: the less there is in it, the more weight one loses.
Theodore de Chabignol welcomed her quite affably, but when he realised she was broke, he almost changed his mind. Renting her his “cosy nest” meant the risk of not being paid! Dragonette pretended to sob, for the sake of necessity. She acted out Niagara Falls with such conviction that finally, she won the day. He gave in, still making her swear on the bible that she would pay her rent with clockwork regularity, otherwise she would be out. He had yielded in the name of Christian morality, brotherhood and kindness. The idea that his family – or what remained of it – could take him for a man of little consequence, he preferred to be seen as what he was not: a man with a big heart. And to prove it, he did not ask for a down payment. Once the deal was done, he invited his niece to visit what would from now on be “her lodgings”. His stick, his wooden leg, his arthritis and his ill will prevented him from accompanying her to the seventh floor.
So the Countess of Holdmetight was left to discover her new room alone. Alas! It was no bigger than a mouse hole with its tiny oval skylight, its narrow metal bedstead, certainly not to be shared and sagging miserably from old age…On top of that, there were the usual lodgers, rodents and spiders, who were apparently not bothered by the thick layer of dust. Cleaning this up would be no mean task. She considered it a dress rehearsal!
Climbing down the stairs to the third floor after this initial inspection, Dragonette shed tears of despair in the arms of her uncle, who interpreted them as the due expression of her gratitude. His Christian charity knowing no bounds, he magnanimously agreed to lend her the necessary equipment for the perfect housewife. And in a few hours, the hovel looked quite different. Dragonette thought of her late husband Hubert, who must be watching her from above… She hung on the wall the four miniatures that she had saved from the claws of the bailiffs, representing her two parents and a close-up of Hubert, but taken from behind! She then placed her father’s horse guards’ helmet and the family silver teapot in the left hand corner of the room. The last item from her “luxurious” past – an electric kettle – was able to function thanks to Mustapha, who lived in the neighbouring room. Long live people from south of the Mediterranean! Mustapha Defrance (he bore his mother’s name) had immediately offered his willing services. With the usual oriental salutations, he had lent her a ten-metre extension lead. For of course, electricity in the “cosy nest” of old miser Theodore had not been on the agenda for the past twenty years. With images of Robinson Crusoe in her head, Dragonette imagined herself to be in her own cavern, restoring a semblance of life to these sordid surroundings.
She carefully wrapped the ancient sagging mattress in a pair of linen sheets and promised herself that she would buy a mattress topper with her first earnings. Her two suitcases, one on top of the other, would serve for the time being as a bedside table. Her cashmere stole which dated back to Methusalem made a perfect cover and immediately looked stylish. She placed her torch on it and gave the extension lead back to Mustapha, after having shared a cup of Lapsang Souchong tea that she had fortunately found in her luggage. The room suddenly seemed almost cosy. But being December, it was freezing cold…
Luckily, being used to the ice-cold bedrooms of stately homes, the countess had taken the precaution of slipping warm socks and a woollen hat into her luggage: the ideal outfit for a sex bomb! Her sacrosanct copper hot water bottle, dating back to the Napoleonic wars, had also been included in the expedition: its elegant curves fitted perfectly one’s lower back. But tonight, it would mainly fit perfectly into her sheets as luckily, before dinner, she had had the foresight to fill it with boiling water.
At four in the morning, as was their want, Dragonette’s kidney’s woke her up with a start declaring a pressing need. An anguished shiver ran down her spine and she could have kicked herself: she had forgotten to ask where the toilet was. What was she thinking of - her bladder reminded her cruelly that it was about to overflow. It had to be said that her new life was enough to disconcert her. Dragonette switched on her torch and searched despairingly for a recipient capable of containing the most human and natural expression of the urinary tract. She prayed so earnestly to Mahomet, Jehovah and our Lord Jesus Christ, her favoured Friend and Counsellor (she always addressed all three as she had decided that they were all one and the same God) that the miracle occurred. The beam of her torch designated two possible chamber pots; the horse guards’ helmet and the shining hallmarked teapot.
- Impossible! she exclaimed, imagining the eventual misappropriation of these two objects.
But needs must. Out of respect for the French army, Dragonette found herself astride the family teapot! Fortunately, her generous nature did not manage to fill it to the brim. Getting up again, or rather raising her 70 kilos from the squatting position, demanded many strange contortions which resulted in a sudden cramp, and as luck would have it, a few pubic hairs became stuck in the lid of this barbaric utensil! Was she going to be able to save this precious tuft which, at the age of fifty-four, given the logical passing of the years, had begun to thin out dramatically! Finally upright, the teapot in her hand, Dragonette thanked heaven for having invented this utensil, whilst cursing the trap that held prisoner these precious hairs. But by wriggling around, she managed to triumph over fate by abandoning a few hairs on the battlefield…and was able to go back to bed. So how about writing a book called “The balding bush”? Fearing only a few likely readers, she quickly abandoned this idea and had barely time to say to herself “Life is such an adventure!” before falling into the arms of the best lover of them all, Morpheus, the God of dreams, son of the night and blissful sleep. Fortunately, the copper hot water bottle continued to warm the sheets of her bed, shipwrecked in a room that had all the attributes of a highly superior freezer.
The following morning, she was awakened by the familiar sound of a flushing toilet in the corridor. She jumped out of bed and tried to identify the location of the WC. She had to get rid of the contents of her improvised commode. Putting on her silk dressing gown, the last gift from her late husband Hubert, given to her some considerable time ago, she strode into the corridor carrying the precious recipient like a chalice, with the dignity required by such an exercise. Naturally, she ran into her neighbour, coming out of the toilet. With her woollen cap pulled down over her ears, her thick woollen socks emerging below her silk dressing gown, under which she wore two sweaters, Dragonette looked like a cosmonaut. Mustapha, half-amazed, half-amused, was wondering with whom his new neighbour was about to take tea, when he saw her head off in the direction of the WC. His WC. His pride and joy that he cleaned daily with such care and attention. He scratched his head, perplexed. Why would this lady want to take tea in the WC? If he had been braver, he would have offered to join her, he loved tea… But never mind, next time he would be the one to invite her, also for a homemade tea. He would show her the generosity of the Mediterranean countries! Dragonette could see how ridiculous she must look, but carried on stoically. On entering the toilet, the lady of the manor was lost for words. As immaculate as a new pin, the white tiles were whiter than the summits of the Himalayas (before they became so polluted). She was enraptured. So dazzled that she nearly slid on the sparkling tiles. Only then did she notice the walls covered with pictures of naked women, their breasts like over-ripe melons ready to explode. Mustapha was a great one for fantasizing! She rapidly threw the contents of the teapot into the urinal, to the delight of Mustapha’s telescopic ear. Thank heavens, all is well, he thought to himself, without really knowing why. She happily completed her mission and emerged, with a winning smile on her face. Mustapha could not help calling out to her:
- Good morning, Madame, is everything all right? Please be careful to keep the toilets clean. I spend a lot of time polishing everything, just as well as any cleaning lady.
Dragonette looked at him, her eyes full of gratitude and added:
- Ten times better than any cleaning lady!
On receiving such a compliment, Mustapha was almost on the brink of an orgasm. Even the worst clairvoyant in Paris could have predicted that the 7th floor would soon be experiencing moments of a very rare intensity.