Wednesday 22 June
WEARING a tight new corset that creaked with every step, Eugénie Patinot walked down Avenue des Peupliers. She felt weary at the prospect of what already promised to be an exhausting day. Endlessly pestered by the children, she had reluctantly left the cool of the veranda. If outwardly she gave an impression of dignified composure, inside she was in turmoil: tightness in her chest, stomach cramps, a dull pain in her hip and, on top of everything, palpitations.
Dont run, Marie-Amélie. Hector, stop whistling, its vulgar.
Were going to miss the bus, Aunt! Hector and I are going to sit upstairs. Have you definitely got the tickets?
Eugénie stopped and opened her reticule to make sure that she did have the tickets, which her brother-in-law had bought several days earlier.
Hurry up, Aunt, urged Marie-Amélie.
Eugénie glared. The child really knew how to annoy her. A capricious little boy, Hector was hardly any better. Only Gontran, the eldest, was tolerable, as long as he kept quiet.
There were about ten passengers waiting at the omnibus station on Rue dAuteuil. Eugénie recognised Louise Vergne, the housemaid from the Le Massons. She was carrying a large basket of linen to the laundry, probably the one on Rue Mirabeau, and was quite unselfconsciously wiping her pale face with a handkerchief as big as a sheet. There was no way of avoiding her. Eugénie stifled her irritation. The woman was only a servant but always spoke to her as an equal, with overfamiliarity, and yet Eugénie had never dared point out this impropriety.
Ah, Madame Patinot, how hot it is for June! I feel I might melt away.
That would be no bad thing, muttered Eugénie.
Are you going far, Madame Patinot?
To the Expo. These three little devils begged my sister to go.
Poor dear, the things you have to do. Arent you frightened? All those foreigners . . .
I want to see Buffalo Bills circus at Neuilly. There are real Redskins who shoot real arrows!
Thats enough, Hector! Oh thats good, hes wearing odd socks a white one, and a grey one.
Its coming, Aunt, its coming!
Omnibus A, drawn by three stolid horses, stopped by the pavement. Marie-Amélie ran upstairs.
I can see your drawers, shrieked Hector, following her up.
I dont care! From up here everythings beautiful, retorted the little girl.
Sitting next to Gontran, who was glued to her side, Eugénie reflected on the fact that the worst moments of ones life were those spent on public transport. She hated travelling; it made her feel lost and alone, like a dead leaf floating at the mercy of the tiniest breeze.
Is that a new outfit youve bought yourself? asked Louise Vergne.
The treachery of the question was not lost on Eugénie. Its a present from my sister, she replied curtly, smoothing the silk of the flame-coloured dress into which she was tightly packed.
She omitted to mention that her sister had already worn the dress for two seasons, but added softly: Mind you dont miss your stop, my dear.
Having silenced the tiresome woman, Eugénie opened her purse and counted her money, pleased that they had taken the omnibus rather than a carriage. The saving would give her a little more to put by. It was worth the sacrifice.
Louise Vergne rose haughtily like an offended duchess. If I were you, I would hide your bag. They say that all of Londons pickpockets have emigrated to the Champ-de-Mars, was her parting remark as she got off.
From Murder on the Eiffel Tower by Claude Izner. Copyright © 2008 by the author and reprinted by permission of St. Martins Press
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