Thats the Observatory. And further away over there is Montmartre, where theyre building the Basilica.
It looks like a piece of pumice stone, muttered the younger boy. Gontran, if I let my balloon go will it float all the way to America?
I would love to be their age and have their enthusiasm, thought Victor. Even if they live fifty years more, theyll never know greater excitement than this.
He caught sight of his reflection in the shop window: a slim man of medium height, thirtyish, with a harassed expression and a thick moustache.
Is that really me? Why do I look so disillusioned?
He went up to the railing and glanced down on the hordes of people milling around the Palace of Fine Arts, hurrying up Rue du Caire, storming the little Decauville train and massing in front of the vast Machinery Hall. Suddenly he felt that the atmosphere had become hostile.
Aunt, look after my balloon. Glued to her seat like a barnacle to a rock, Eugénie Patinot was determined not to move. Without a word of protest she let Hector knot the string of the balloon around her wrist. The garlands and flags of the Flemish restaurant fluttered in a light breeze and made her vertigo worse. She recalled a few lines of a song:
Le doux vertige de lamour
Souffle parfois sur nos vieux jours . . .
She felt suddenly sick.
Marie-Amélie, stay with me.
Thats not fair! The boys are
Do as youre told.
She was worn out after that interminable wait on the second platform with all the people wanting to sign the Golden Book, pushing and shoving. Her cheeks were flushed and her hands trembled where would she find the courage to bear the lift ride for a third time? Clumsily, she tucked a lock of grey hair back under her hat. Someone sat down beside her, rose again, stumbled, and leant heavily on her shoulder without apologising. She let out a little cry something had stung her on the base of the neck. A bee? Yes, definitely a bee! She waved her arms in fright and jumped to her feet, then lost her balance as her legs refused to hold her. She managed to sit back down on the bench. A feeling of great heaviness began to spread through her limbs and she had difficulty breathing. She leant back against the gallery partition. If only she could go to sleep, and forget her fear and tiredness . . . Just before she lost consciousness she remembered something the priest had said to her after the death of her child: Life here on earth is only a sort of prelude, it is written in the Bible, and the Bible is the Word of God. She saw Marie-Amélie run away, disappearing into the crowd, but she didnt have the strength to call her back as a weight was pressing down on her chest. Before her watering eyes the crowd drifted heedlessly in a circle that seemed to close in on her, nearer and nearer . . .
Victor was fanning himself with his hat at the entrance to the Anglo-American bar as he tried to spot his friend Marius Bonnet amongst the mosaic of dark frock coats and light-coloured dresses. Someone tapped him on the shoulder and he turned towards a small plump man of about forty, who was hiding his advancing baldness under a Panama hat worn at an angle.
I say, Marius, whats got into you? Why did you choose a place like this to meet? In honour of what? I didnt understand your message at all.
Oh, dont complain: the world seen from up here seems quite ridiculous and that fortifies the soul. Wheres your business associate?
Hes coming. So, tell me, whats this all about?
Were celebrating the fiftieth issue of my newspaper. The first edition came out on the fourth of May, on the eve of the centenary celebrations of the opening of the Estates General at Versailles. Personally, Im happy to make do with a three-hundred-metre tower, and I wanted you to join the party.
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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