Aunt, I want a balloon! A helium balloon! A blue one! Give me a sou, Aunt, a sou!
A clout on the ear more like!
She regained her self-control. A poor relation, given a roof over her head out of pure charity, could not afford to give free rein to her feelings. Regretfully she held out a sou to Hector.
Gontran was still reciting impassively from the Exhibition Guide. . . . on average, eleven thousand visitors a day, and the Tower can accommodate ten thousand people at any one time . . .
He stopped abruptly, sensing the icy glare of the man just ahead of them, an immaculately dressed middle-aged man of Japanese origin. He stared at Gontran unblinkingly until he lowered his eyes, then slowly turned away, satisfied.
Turning towards the ticket window, Eugénie was so overcome by panic that she was unable to string two words together.
Marie-Amélie pushed her aside and, standing on tiptoes, bellowed: Four tickets for the second platform, please.
Why the second? The first platform is high enough, stammered Eugénie.
We must sign the Golden Book in the Figaro Pavilion, have you forgotten? Papa insisted he wants to read our names in the newspaper. Pay the lady, Aunt.
Propelled to the back of the lift, close behind a Japanese man whose face bore an expression of childish delight, Eugénie collapsed onto a wooden bench and commended her soul to God. She could not stop thinking about an advertisement glimpsed in the Journal des Modes that declared: Do you lack iron? Are you anaemic? Chlorotic? Bravais tincture restores the blood and combats fatigue.
Bravais, Bravais, Bravais, she chanted to herself.
There was a sudden jolt. Her heart in her mouth, she saw the red mesh of a birdcage passing by. She had just time to think, Mon Dieu, what am I doing here?, when the lift came to a stop on the second floor, one hundred and sixteen metres above the ground.
Leaning against the railing on the first floor of the Tower, Victor Legris was keeping an eye on the coming and going of the lifts. His business associate had suggested they meet between the Flemish restaurant and the Anglo-American bar. The gallery was crammed and the atmosphere was electric with the nervous laughter of women, the animated conversation of men. Those returning for a second visit looked blasé. The lifts stopped, discharged their cargo and set off again. A motley throng stretched back along the stairs. Victor loosened his cravat and undid his top shirt button. The sun was beating down and he was thirsty. Hat in hand, he wandered as far as the souvenir shop.
A blue balloon brushed past his nose and a piercing voice cried out: He was a cowboy, I tell you! He signed the Golden Book behind us. He comes from New York!
Victor observed the two boys and the little girl whose face was pressed up against the shop window.
Everythings so beautiful! The brooch with the Eiffel Tower on top, and the fans and the embroidered handkerchiefs . . .
Why do you never believe me? yelled the little boy with the balloon. Im sure hes part of Buffalo Bills troupe!
Thats enough about Buffalo Bill why dont you look at the view instead? The older boy pointed towards the horizon. Do you realise we can see Chartres from here? Its a hundred and twenty kilometres away. And there are the towers of Notre-Dame and there, those of Saint-Sulpice. Then theres the dome of the Panthéon, the Val-de-Grâce. Its amazing, like being giants in Gullivers Travels!
What are those things that look like enormous boiled eggs?
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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No Man's Land
by Simon Tolkien
Inspired by the experiences of his grandfather, J. R. R. Tolkien, during World War I.
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