Immediately Gontran piped up, Did you know that they had to manufacture eighteen thousand pieces in the workshops of Levallois-Perret, and that it took two hundred workmen to assemble them on the site? People predicted that it would collapse after two hundred and eighty metres but it didnt.
Here we go, thought Eugénie. What are you talking about?
Why, the Tower, of course!
Sit up straight and wipe your nose.
If you wanted to transport it somewhere else on wheels you would need ten thousand horses, Gontran continued, rubbing his nose.
Hector and Marie-Amélie came bounding down from the top deck. Were here, look!
Pointing straight up into the sky on the other side of the Seine, Gustave Eiffels bronze-coloured tower was reminiscent of a giant streetlamp topped with gold. Panic-stricken, Eugénie searched for a pretext to get out of climbing it. When she couldnt think of one, she laid a hand on her pounding heart. If I survive this I shall say fifty Paternosters at Notre-Dame dAuteuil.
The bus drew up in front of the enormous Trocadero Palace, flanked by minarets. Down below, beyond the grey ribbon of the river filled with boats, the fifty hectares of the Universal Exposition were spread before them.
Tightly clutching her bag, her eyes fixed on the children, Eugénie began her descent into hell. She charged down Colline de Chaillot, passing the fruits of the world display, the tortured bonsai of the Japanese garden, and the dark entrance of Journey to the Centre of the Earth without a second glance. Though the whalebones of her corset chafed her ribs and her feet begged for mercy, she did not slacken her pace. She just wanted to get this over and done with as soon as possible and get back on terra firma . . .
Finally, she held out her tickets and pushed the children under the canopy of the Pont dIéna. Listen to me carefully, she said slowly and deliberately. If you stray from me by so much as a centimetre do you hear me? a centimetre were going home.
Then she plunged headlong into the fray. A huge crowd was jostling around the multicoloured kiosks, forming a human tide of French people and foreigners of all races. The minstrels of + Leicester Square, with their soot-blackened faces, led the way along the left bank, to the rhythm of banjos.
With pounding heart, and overwhelmed by the noise, Eugénie clung to Gontran, who was unmoved by the hubbub. The Exposition seemed to come at them from all sides. Jostled between the street vendors, the Annamese rickshaw-pullers and Egyptian donkey-drivers, they finally succeeded in joining the queue in front of the southern pillar of the Tower.
Moving reluctantly along in the queue, Eugénie looked enviously at the elegant young people comfortably installed in special rolling chairs, pushed by employees in peaked caps. Thats what I need . . .
She looked up and saw a forest of crossbars and small beams, in the midst of which a lift slid up and down. At once she was seized with a desire to flee as fast and far as her exhausted legs would carry her.
She dimly heard Gontrans monotonous voice: Three hundred and one metres . . . leading straight up to the second floor . . . four lifts. Otis, Combaluzier . . .
Otis, Combaluzier. Something about those strange names suddenly reminded her of the projectile vehicle, in that book by Jules Verne whose title escaped her.
Those preferring to walk up the one thousand seven hundred and ten steps will take an hour to do so . . .
She remembered now: it was From the Earth to the Moon! What if the cables snapped . . . ?
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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