Part Two. Chapter Six. Last chapter before the Big Scene. It’s a long one, but I’ve tried to make it pretty juicy. There’s angst, innuendo, a train (surprise!), broken stemware, brioche and sex appeal. Also a cathedral.

Seriously… next chapter, I promise. Hang in there.

At the end of this one, you may be relieved to know, all the main characters are on stage (although some are hiding behind scenery so don’t get excited) and there won’t be any more names to learn. Phew!

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The Longest Night

Part Two

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by nlr alicia

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-oOo-

Author’s Note on the Author’s Notes: They’re all in Part One.

Content Warnings:
Special Director’s Cut Edition – See if you can spot the differences!
Romantical slash. PG-13 to R-Rated in the last two chapters. Angst? Buckets full. Sad little buckets. Also substance abuse, French detectives, egregious misuse of poetry and lots and lots of trains. (Actually, we’re just about out of trains.) More than a tad bit of violence. Still no kittens.

-oOo-

From “Seventy Minutes to London”
Pycroft chuckled merrily. “It goes to show my old Ma was right. She used to say, my boy, the longest night in the world’s still got a sunrise after it.”

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—oooOIIIOooo—
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Part 2: Aquarelles

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Chapter Six: Golden Courtesan

“A companion loves some agreeable qualities which a man may possess, but friend loves the man himself.”

– James Boswell

 

“My friend,” Villard said slowly, “I think it is true what we have each been told. That it is the most capital of mistakes to make a theory before the fact is known.”

I continued to sit, my elbows on my knees, staring out the window of our compartment. Behind spider web branches, the moon slivered, vanished, and reappeared flickering.

Villard’s reflection held steady on the glass. He was leaning back on the opposite banquette, staring straight ahead, one fingertip tapping rhythmically against his chin in counterpoint time with the beat of the wheels.

I leant back to rest my head against the cushioned seat. “I suspect we have also both been told,” I said. “That when you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth.” I rubbed the heel of my hand across my eyes. “Francois, I am no longer certain I can identify the impossible.”

“Non, I do not think that this is true,” Villard said. “You and I, we will reason through this thing that seems so full of impossibilities and we will see what is…” He flashed a smile. “What is un-impossible, eh?”

I smiled in spite of myself. “All right,” I said, nodding. “We will see what is un-impossible. Where do we begin?”

Villard sat forward. “I think to work back in time is easiest.”

I puffed out a sigh. “Well, we know that Holmes was in Grenoble.”

“It is so,” Villard agreed. “There he commissions a figure in wax. He sends it to London. We do not know to what address in London.”

“We can assume that he also commissioned the second bust to be sent to Paris. To the address on the card given you by Meunier… Mullerrebe – which is it?” I asked.

“Meunier,” he said. “Oscar Meunier. The address in Paris is near to the Parc du Champs de Mars.”

“I’m afraid I have only been to Paris a few times,” I said. “Is this a location I should know?”

“Eh.” Villard gave a dismissive wave. “It is not an important place compared to the beautiful sights of my city. The Folly du Eiffel. It is not too lovely.”

“The Folly du Eiffel,” I said. “Do you mean the Eiffel Tower?”

“Oui. Blot that it is.” Villard pulled a face. “For now we will set this fact aside. We have the mannequin from Meunier. We may see what we see when we arrive with it at the address. We cannot know what this is that has not yet happened, so we do not wonder. We continue backward.”

“Before Grenoble, there was the telegram,” I said.

“Oui,” Villard’s hand went reflexively to his breast pocket. “The telegram anonymous. We may assume this is from Monsieur Holmes. He knows I go to Montpelier. How does he know this?” Villard shrugged. “Who can say. Does he follow my movement as I try to follow his? This we cannot know.”

“Perhaps,” I said flatly. “We shall ask him.”

Villard flashed a smile with little humor in it. “Perhaps we shall do this,” he said. “And so to the telegram. It says I should meet with you in Montpelier. So Monsieur Holmes, if it is he, also knows you are there.”

“Arriving at 7.10,” I reminded him. “Wearing a brown suit.” I knocked the toe of my shoe against the bag at my feet. “Carrying a leather kit bag.”

“Oui. So it is these last two facts which are of most significance, is it not so?”

“He must have observed me,” I said, fighting the tightness building in my throat. “At some point along my route.”

“We cannot know where,” Villard said, his eyes narrowing as gazed at my bag. “Was it in London? Was it on the journey? Your train stops several times. A telegram may be sent from any point or in the relay from one point to the next. Too many un-impossibilities.”

“It could have been anywhere,” I agreed. I expelled a long breath then went on, “Certainly if he was in disguise.”

Villard’s gaze came up. “This disguise you could not penetrate?”

I shook my head. “Even when I knew him to be–” I stopped and collected my fleeing thoughts. “Even when I knew him to be alive, I could never see through his disguises.”

The memory of his lips masked by layers of cracked and peeling beeswax flashed up in my mind. I willed myself to trace the fleur-de-lys pattern of the fabric on the opposite wall. “He could have been anyone.”

“Non.” Villard’s voice was firm. “Not anyone. Monsieur Holmes, he never taught to me this gift of disguise. But he taught me to see into a disguise. The things that cannot be hidden.”

“Weight,” I said, pulling the idea from those slipping through my mind.

“And ears,” Villard added. “Though these may be covered as the face may be.”

I sat up, staring at Villard. “The old woman in the station. There was an old French woman, heavily veiled, in the station when I boarded at Victoria. She–”

I broke off remembering taking her elbow as I helped her up the stairs. My mouth opened but no sound came out.

Villard’s voice was sharp. “Bon. This old woman. Did you see her again?”

I shook my head slowly. “Not after Calais. I assumed…” my voice trailed off. She had touched my arm, pointed at her book. The place on my arm felt hot and cold at the same time.

“Doctor. Later.”

The steely sound in Villard’s voice brought me up short. I met his gaze and his eyes softened.

“Later,” he said again. “There will be time later. Now we think. We think of what we know.”

I managed a crooked smile. “Oui,” I said. “We think of what we know.”

Villard’s smile touched his eyes. “Oui.”

“So,” he went on. “The old woman, we leave for now. Her importance is not for this moment. I have no more facts to add. I have only rumor and… guesses. Now I understand that I am simply playing the game with logic before today. It has been a mere puzzle to my mind. A name here. A strangeness there. Phuff.” He snapped his fingers. “Not a fact in sight.”

I rubbed at my forehead. “I can’t add much more. He might have been any face in the crowd. I could have stood and spoken to him–” I froze. “The old bookseller. The old bookseller who–” I thrust my hand into my open bag and sat up holding aloft the rust-colored book of poetry.

Villard’s eyes widened. He reached out then withdrew his hand. “May I?” he asked diffidently.

I held the book out to him. “Please.”

He flicked through the pages. He turned the book over so the pages hung toward the floor. He held it up, bending the spine to peer through the gap. Finally he traced the interior edges of the cover.

He looked up at me, disappointment in every line of his face. “Without some indication,” he began. He turned the book up in his lap and stared vacantly at the pages. “We may simply read and see if we find a key…” his voice trailed off.

“Wait!” I bent and dug through my bag again. I pulled out my new journal and flipped it open to the flyleaf. I thrust it triumphantly at Villard. “The key.”

Villard’s gaze ran down the list of numbers inscribed inside the cover. “A cipher,” he said wonderingly.

To my surprise, I laughed. “Yes, in the Birlstone Manor case, Holmes,” I swallowed. “Holmes showed me how to read a number cipher that corresponded to words in a book. This book,” I tapped the open journal. “Arrived on the morning I left London with no indication who had sent it. I assumed it had come from a friend of mine…”

As my voice subsided, Villard leaped into the gap. “Oui, yes,” he said excitedly. He thrust the open journal back toward me. I took it as he opened the book of poetry on his knee and grinned.

“John,” he said. “If you please. What number is first?”

o00o

After a frustrating start we decided that the first number referred to a page and that the words on the page were grouped in threes. The second number referred to a group and the third to a word in the group.

“It is a simple enough cipher,” Villard commented as he turned pages. “If one has the right pieces.”

“And a working knowledge of the French language,” I said, smiling.

“Oui.” Villard chuckled. “Monsieur Holmes leaves not much to chance. He knows where you are going. He knows I, too, am going there. A coup-de-maître indeed.”

A thought had been niggling at the corner of my mind. As Villard counted out the words, tracing his finger across the lines, I asked, “Francois, why use a code at all? Why not just send a telegram?”

Villard put a finger on the page to hold his place and looked up past me toward the window. “I, too, have pondered this, my friend. I think perhaps it is a part of why Monsieur Holmes takes himself away for so long. I will tell you what I believe. This is purely the work of speculation you understand. Maybe you will agree with my speculations, maybe not. We will see.”

He gave a little sigh and began, “Monsieur Holmes, he takes you on his journey to the mountains these years ago. He does this because he knows this Professeur Moriarty wants to revenge himself. The Professeur has this man with the air gun. The Professeur follows on the trail of you and Monsieur Holmes. Is the Professeur killed? I think so. Was he alone? Maybe not. I think maybe the Professeur dies and the man with the air gun is left. This man knows Monsieur Holmes is not killed. Now this man with the air gun, he wants revenge.”

Villard shrugged. “Is all just airy thought, you understand. Remember I have not the facts. What we know is Monsieur Holmes, he somehow escapes. He goes here and there in disguises, with other names. After these years of masquerade, he makes himself known to you and I by this telegram. Yet he is invisible. The telegram tells me that it is urgent to meet you and I must ‘observe all due caution.’ Let us assume then that this… hypothetical, eh? This hypothetical man with the air gun is looking for him still. This air gun man goes to look in London. You are in London. You are leaving London. Monsieur Holmes follows you. Why? ‘All due caution.’ Air Gun Man and I are of the same mind. Each of us think maybe you go to meet Monsieur Holmes. Your friend sees this in the mind of Air Gun Man and he knows you face danger. Monsieur Holmes must watch over you, but he must also stay hidden until he may capture Air Gun Man. We say this is true. Hypothetical. So now where is this Air Gun Man? Does he follow you on the train? Maybe he follows you to Grenoble. To Paris even. He may ride this train with us. We do not know, but we must assume the danger is not past. And we must trust Monsieur Holmes to make all clear when the time is come.”

With considerable effort, I was able to keep my silence through this recitation. At last I said, “If all that is so, Francois, and I have no reason to doubt it after what I’ve seen today, then where is Holmes now?” I took a steadying breath. “Is he on this train?

“I think he is not,” Villard said quietly. “I think he trusts that we learn what we learn from Monsieur Meunier. That we continue. Your friend is not arbitrary, eh? He makes decisions with thought. He thinks to keep you from danger. He sends me to go with you. Your friend, I think, is waiting in Paris. When we understand this message before us… we see where it will takes us.” He looked down at the book and clucked his tongue. “Ah, I have foolishly lost count. What is the number we look for on this page? Oui, 17413. Here. The word is matin – morning.”

I forced myself to concentrate on the notes I had jotted in the journal alongside the numbers. “We have friendly cat blue cathedral gold courtesan morning.” I looked up. “And you say the Blue Cathedral–“

“I believe it is Our Lady, the Notre Dame,” he said, nodding. “The Madonna is known by her blue gown, the cathedral is not far from the Tour Eiffel. It is a place full of English people, touristes. It is a safe place to meet. This ‘gold courtesan’ may be a woman we will know by her dress or her hair. Does she have another message for us? I think that is likely. I think because Monsieur Holmes, he must construct the message before us in London, he does not yet have a rendezvous planned in Paris. The place of rendezvous will be the message we get from the gold courtesan. Again I speculate. It is a bad habit as Monsieur Holmes warns,” He shrugged. “I will worry on that later. But this friendly cat in the message. That is strange.”

Amiteaux, Chat,” I recited the words.

“But ‘amiteaux’ has no word in English,” Villard murmured as if to himself. “The Delightful Cat? The Cat with Good Spirits? Is it a café? There is no such place near to– Ah!” He slapped his knee. “I have it. It is the play on words. The Bishop’s Cat. There is no word ‘Bishop’ in these poems. So, Amiteaux. Ami Dieu. We go to the cat of the friend of God in the shadow of Notre Dame. Le café the Bishop’s Cat. C’est bon. C’est très, très bon.”

His delight was infectious. I smiled as I tapped the journal in my lap. “But why ‘morning’?” I asked. “Did Holmes know we’d arrive in the morning?”

“Ah,” Villard said and gave a dismissive wave. “That is easy. All trains east to Paris are night trains. C’est tout.”

I felt a pang in the pit of stomach at the memory of my last ride on an eastbound night train through France. “So it seems we have our message and still some time before Paris. Shall you go to sleep?” I asked.

“I believe I should. We may have much to worry us in the morning. We must think of this hypothetical Air Gun Man. Should he exist, no doubt he will be near. You will go to sleep?”

“I should do,” I agreed. I stared out the window. The moon had sunk below the horizon. We sat in silence for a moment.

Villard cleared his throat. “Perhaps I read from Verlaine, eh? You practice more en Francais?”

I settled back in my seat. “Très bon,” I said giving him a small smile.

“Ah, see?” His eyes twinkled. “Already you have a little French.”

“Francois,” I said as he began to thumb through the pages, “You said before that Verlaine was notorious. Is it for his addiction to absinthe and opiates? Surely that’s not entirely out of the common for men of artistic temperament.”

“Hem, non.” Villard studied the book in his hands. “It is not for that reason alone.” He pursed his lips. “Perhaps… Perhaps, I will give you this poem.” He turned the book so I could see the words and began to read.

“It is of a set of poems with the name “Brussels.” he said. “Of its own, it has no name.” He began to read.

The pathway runs on without end
Yonder where the heavens blend
Over this sweet glade.
Do you know that it would be
Good to lie beneath this tree
In the secret shade?

Some gentlemen in careful dress–
Who they are one well might guess
Friends without a doubt
Of the Royer-Collards – go
On their way toward the chateau.
Would that were my route!

The old chateau is all in white,
With, at its side, the somber light
Of the setting sun.
Fields around… Here all is blest,
Oh! that here our love could nest
When our day is done.

“Many people,” Villard said still studying the page, “They say Verlaine wrote this poem for a friend. A poet called Arthur Rimbaud. A very… tempestuous friendship they had. Verlaine was one day arrested for trying to kill Rimbaud in a fit of rage. Of jealousy maybe. Most people believe he was not serious in his attempt. He is only being French, they say,” Villard shrugged. “Who knows? The Belgians say he is serious and send him to prison for some years. The young man, Rimbaud, does not find it agreeable to wait. So now Verlaine sits in the Lapin Agile drinking absinthe and writing bad poems.” Villard gave a humorless smile. “My city, Paris, she can forgive the misbegotten love. She can forgive the crimes of passion. She can forgive many things. But to lose one’s talent? That she cannot forgive.” Villard closed the book in his lap. “And so for all these things, Verlaine is notorious. But at the bottom it is just, as they say, a case of l’amour toujours.”

“Yes,” I said and gazed out the window. “It sounds very like l’amour toujours.”

After a moment, Villard laid the book of poetry on the banquette beside me.

“Perhaps we try to sleep after all, eh, John?” he said softly. He leaned back against the seat and closed his eyes.

I did not answer. I closed the journal on my lap and placed it on the bag at my feet. Then I picked up the rust-colored book and turned the pages, seeing without reading words with no meaning.

o00o

At nine o’clock in the morning, the depot of Gare de Montparnasse was teaming with travelers. We met the railway porter and after retrieving the case into which Monsieur Meunier had packed the wax bust we had to make our way through the throngs coming and going through the wide glass-paned doors of the station.

“It is fortunate,” Villard said, raising his voice above the din. “That we did not have the many suitcases to gather, eh, my friend? We are on our way tout de suite.”

I wasn’t entirely sure I agreed with Villard. Having left my traveling wardrobe along with my toilet requisites in Marseilles, I was becoming ever more conscious of my travel worn suit and the wish for a warm bath.

As if reading my mind, Villard took my arm and guided me toward the cabstand. “We will stop at my flat, I think, before the rendezvous, n’est pas? It is close by and the Bishop’s Cat will not be open for some bit of time more.”

Villard and I were soon jouncing over the Paris streets to his flat in Saint Germain. “The roads on the Right Bank are not so, eh… Bohemian as this,” he said with a laugh as my hat bounced off and landed in his lap. “They say the Right Bank is for spending and the Left is for thinking. I think they could spend more on this road, eh?”

After a short wash (perhaps more refreshing than I might have wished given the icy chill of the water), during which Villard managed to procure for me a clean shirt and collar from a rather larger neighbor, I felt much more myself.

We agreed to leave the bust in his flat along with my traveling case. The book of Verlaine’s poetry fit easily in the pocket of my tweed coat.

I asked Villard if he would take measures to ensure we weren’t followed to the café. He nodded and said noncommittally. “We shall see. I believe it will not be too difficult to keep up the surveillance, eh?”

A short time later we were bouncing along in another cab, this one bound for the Ile de la Cíte and Notre Dame. The love Villard felt for his city was plainly evident in the excited way he pointed out the landmarks along our way. I had visited Paris before, but never with a native of the city. It was a very different to wandering the streets with one’s face buried in a guidebook.

He kept up a steady stream of narrative, turning to remark on this and that, telling tales of a city that had been ancient when the Romans arrived. Listening to his exuberant descriptions of events long distant was so diverting I was almost able to forget the tightness in my chest.

A little more than twelve hours before I’d learned that Sherlock Holmes was still alive. That he had been close enough to touch. That I had looked into his eyes and he had said nothing.

Villard’s hand on my wrist called me back to myself. “John,” he said brightly over the steady clop of horse’s hooves. “You have not eaten, I think, since I so rudely interrupted your breakfast of yesterday. I will order for you at our destination. You will have a very large meal and perhaps a little glass of wine, eh? In Paris, it is not too early now I think.” He gave me grin.

I managed a smile of assent and he beamed back at me. “Ah, bon,” he said. “We must have the energy for the day. I think it may be an exciting one, non?”

He grinned and pointed past me out the window of the cab, “Ah, see! There is Our Lady. She is truly beautiful.”

I followed his gaze and saw the two towers of the great cathedral rising like a galleon among clippers. Morning light bathed the great edifice lending the stone a warm glow. It was indeed beautiful, yet somehow terrible in its grand silence. As our cab rocked across the Pont Neuf to the open square that marked the very heart of France, Notre Dame and her great, still face filled the sky.

Our cab juddered to a halt at the corner of the two narrow streets that crossed on the northern side of the cathedral. Villard bounded out and paid the cabman while I climbed down more slowly. Villard was at my elbow before the horse gave a high whinny and the cab started away.

He began his travelogue again on the instant, pointing down the road before us. “There,” he said excitedly. “That is where the doomed lovers Abélard and Heloïse met and fell in love. Ah, it is the most beautiful tale of woe, is it not?”

Before I could give my opinion, Villard was pulling me forward toward our destination. The Bishop’s Cat was a café like many I had seen from the cab. Delicately curved iron chairs were arrayed along the walk with round tables scattered among them. Each table looked hardly large enough to hold a tea set, yet several were occupied by groups of two or three, each diner sipping dark coffee from saucer-shaped cups and now and again reaching out to pull apart a golden brioche. Some dipped the sweet bread in their coffee before popping it into their mouths.

Villard ushered me to a corner table under the shade of the narrow yellow awning that extended the length of the establishment. Looking to the café itself I saw there were no tables other than those at the road, the interior being entirely dominated by gleaming wood bar traced with brass fittings.

Villard called a hearty “Bonjour!” to a tall waiter with neatly groomed side whiskers. The man wandered up with an easy rolling gate. “Bonjour, ça va, Messieurs,” he murmured. His eyes followed a young woman strolling past until the hem of her trim velvet dress vanished around the corner.

Unconcerned by this apparent lack of attention, Villard was rattling off a long list of items from a menu we had not been offered. I could only assume the menu was identical at every sidewalk café throughout the city.

While Villard made arrangements for what sounded like an enormous meal, I glanced discretely around at our fellow diners. At the nearest table two couples of middle years conversed in rapid bursts of dialogue interspersed with bouts of gay laughter. In the farthest corner an apparent philosopher in a faded black woolen suit was engaged in vigorous disputation with two young women who made gestures that set the bonnets on their heads bobbing.

I was startled to see one of the young women gazing curiously back at me and I blushed at being caught out. Villard chuckled beside me and I turned to him.

“It is the national sport,” he said wryly. “You have your cricket, we have watching one another. It is part curiosity, part diversion. But it makes it something more difficult to spot a golden courtesan from those casting their eye your way, non?”

He chuckled and inclined his head toward the girl who was again in conversation with the serious young man. “It is not that one. We wait. She will appear.”

o00o

Villard proved forceful in his insistence on fortifying me with the local cuisine and despite the heavy knot that persistently rolled in the pit of my stomach I managed to consume at least enough to appease him.

“Francois,” I said, studying the fragments of anise-flavored biscuit on my tea plate, “You are sure we should expect to receive another set of instructions. Holmes, if he is in Paris, will not meet us here.”

Villard took another sip of strong black coffee from his tiny demitasse. “That is my belief, my friend,” he said at last. “But we cannot know what– ah, non. Not this one. C’est impossible…” His eyes narrowed and he set down his cup with an uncharacteristic clatter of china.

I tried to follow his gaze but saw only milling throngs of tourists. “Do you see her?”

“Oui,” groaned Villard. “I see her. But ‘courtesan’ is rather kind a name, I think, for this Séraphie Bouguereau.”

I spotted her an instant later, moving through the caterpillars of tourists who shuffled behind brightly chattering guides. She strolled with a gliding walk that set the lace trim (I hoped it was lace trim and not petticoat) of her cherry blossom pink dress swirling around her ankles. Men and women alike turned to watch her pass.

As she drew closer I could see she did indeed have an abundance of shining golden hair piled loosely under her simple white bonnet. It complimented her faintly olive skin remarkably. She wore no paint, but had a healthy, glowing complexion. Her beauty was all the more profound for its apparent artlessness.

When she saw my companion rise from his seat (I followed his example rather tardily, so rapt was my attention on her approach) Séraphie’s radiant smile encompassed us both and for an instant seemed to cast a spell of silence over the babble of voices and the rattle of cabs passing endlessly on the street.

“Monsieur Villard,” she said brightly, extending one slender hand to the Inspector even as she inclined her head to me. “And this I think is Doctor John Watson, is it not?”

I murmured something in response and touched her delicate fingers to my lips. A light scent of lavender lingered in the air as she settled in the vacant chair, arranging her slim skirt decorously as she sat.

“I have a message for you, Doctor,” she said, lowering her voice to a breathy whisper. The rapt attention of her sea green eyes was reserved solely for me as she murmured, “But first, I think I would like a glass of wine.”

o00o

It was impossible to hurry Séraphie to the burden of her visit and despite the welling sense of anxiety that was fighting upward in my chest, it was just as difficult to ignore her charms, although I noticed Villard seemed to be managing quite well in that regard. I once looked over to find him elaborately rolling his eyes.

After some twenty minutes of polite badinage in which Séraphie complimented the cut of my suit, while taking special care to let her gaze linger on my shoulders, and asked if my hair was always so fair or if I had been sailing recently in the Mediterranean, Villard was finally able to turn the conversation to her message.

“Ah, oui,” she said with a little sigh that caused her bosom to rise and fall. “The message is very simple.” She leant across the table and laid one hand lightly on my arm. “It is for you, John.” I held my breath as she murmured, “Seventeen, fourteen, and one hundred thirty one.”

She canted her head a little to the side, her delicately arched eyebrows raised quizzically as she studied my face. “Is it the message you desired, cher?”

It was only with profound effort that I kept from digging for the book in my jacket pocket on the instant, but I felt Villard’s fingers on my wrist under the cover of the table and I forced my hand to relax.

“Thank you, Mademoiselle Bouguereau,” I said carefully. “That is just the message I expected.”

She smiled beatifically, her hand still resting lightly on my upper arm. “I am so glad. It seemed very important that you receive it so I took special care to remember the numbers.”

“Who gave you–” I began, but Villard cut across my words.

“We thank you for your time, Séraphie,” he said flatly. “I am sure I will find a way to recompense you for your consideration in the not too far future. If you will excuse us–”

“Oh, non, it was my pleasure,” Séraphie responded with a light laugh, gazing at me as she said, “It is I who am grateful for the chance of conversation with two so charming gentlemen.”

“- we really mustn’t keep you from your other appointments,” Villard went on.

Séraphie showed her first sign of pique as she shot him a glance from under her lashes then she gave a mock sigh and leaned toward me conspiratorially. “Poor Francois,” she said in a whisper that carried easily across the small table. “He is so jealous, is he not? I think he would like to keep you all to himself, John.”

She touched my arm again and as her lips parted to speak her wine glass exploded in a shower of fragments. Séraphie gave a tiny scream and slipped sideways. I slid from my chair and caught her as she fell insensible.

I looked wildly at Villard. He was on his feet scanning the street and the windows above.

“Air gun?” I gasped. He nodded.

The other diners around us seemed to have noticed no more than a broken glass and a fainting woman. There were murmurs of concern and curious stares, but no one seemed inclined to leap to their feet in panic.

“He is most certainly gone by now,” Villard snapped. “But we cannot stand here in the assumption. And we must see to this one.” He spared Séraphie a glance. “She is not hurt?” he said with slightly more solicitude as I helped the girl back into her chair.

“No,” I said tightly as her eyelids fluttered open. Her eyes were unfocussed, but showed no sign of pain. “The spots of red on her blouse are wine. Villard what does this mean?”

“We must determine that,” he said under his breath. “But at a distance, I think. We may not wait for Séraphie to decide she is recovered. Can she stand?”

I put a hand on the girl’s elbow and gingerly eased her to her feet. She rose unsteadily and stood gazing around her in frank confusion.

“Good, I will pay the check. Signal a cab, Docteur.”

While Villard settled with the waiter, offering some explanation for the shattered glass and our companion’s rattled nerves, I waved down the next passing hansom.

The three of us were quickly settled inside and the cab jolted forward with a lurch. Séraphie put her head against my chest and clung to my waistcoat. I kept an arm around her quaking shoulders as we rolled toward the Pont Neuf.

-«oOo»-

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~ Coming Soon ~
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Chapter Seven: White Light
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