A Week in Paris: A Novel

A Week in Paris: A Novel

by Rachel Hore

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781250080462
Publisher: St. Martin's Press
Publication date: 08/09/2016
Pages: 320
Sales rank: 551,671
Product dimensions: 6.10(w) x 9.40(h) x 1.20(d)

About the Author

RACHEL HORE is the bestselling author of several novels, including A Week in Paris. She worked in London publishing for many years before moving with her family to Norwich, UK, where she teaches publishing at the University of East Anglia. She is married to the writer D. J. Taylor, and they have three sons.

Read an Excerpt

A Week in Paris


By Rachel Hore

St. Martin's Press

Copyright © 2014 Rachel Hore
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-4668-9249-1


CHAPTER 1

MARCH 1956

PARIS


Fay pushed open the heavy door and followed the other girls into the soft gloom of the interior. The air hung heavy with incense, and it took a moment to adjust to the whispering darkness and the vastness of the space. On either side of the nave, a line of arches undulated towards a light-filled area before the altar. High overhead soared a vaulted ceiling. It was all breathtakingly beautiful.

'Gather round, girls!' Miss Edwards' well-bred English tones summoning her sixth-formers sounded distant and dreamlike. Fay crossed the chequered floor, and lingered at the edge of the group in time to hear her say, 'Notre Dame is French for what? Our Lady, that's right, Evelyn. A masterpiece of Gothic architecture and the heart and soul of Paris for centuries. The cathedral is built on the site of ...' but Fay was hardly listening.

Her attention was attracted instead by a row of stained-glass windows. She edged sideways to contemplate them more clearly. Each was a patchwork of glowing colours with rich, sensuous names. Crimson, she said to herself. Imperial purple, indigo, lapis lazuli. Far from being overwhelmed by the darkness of the church, the colours shone out, their beauty enhanced by it. She was pondering the significance of light shining out of darkness when Miss Edwards said, 'Fay, dear, are you still with us?' which brought her out of her reverie.

'Sorry,' she mumbled. After that she did her best to keep up.

When they reached the open space before the choir stalls and the altar, the girls loitered, pointing in wonder at the great rose windows floating high above the transepts on either side, bathing everything in jewelled light. Even Margaret, usually bored by sightseeing and culture, spread her arms to admire the rainbow on her coat. 'Golly,' she managed to muster, her bold eyes softened with delight. 'Golly.'

Fay smiled at this, but as she glanced about, half-listening to Miss Edwards, she felt troubled. The more she tried to catch at her unease, the stronger it became. It meant something to her, this place — and yet how could it? She'd never been here before. This school trip was her first time in Paris. She knew it was.

Later they explored the aisle that curved round behind the altar and stopped to peep into some of the prayer chapels that fringed the outside walls. Fay and Evelyn liked an altar where there was a carving of the Virgin Mary cradling the dearest Baby Jesus, who reached out a dimpled hand. Evelyn insisted on lighting a votive candle there, but Margaret hung back, more interested in a group of boys in striped blazers who were milling about outside.

'Aren't they with us?' she whispered to Fay.

'I think so.' She recognized one, a tall slender lad with butter-coloured hair that gleamed like a choirboy's in the dimness, remembering him from the Channel ferry. She'd been going up on deck to get some air and had met him coming the other way down the narrow stairway. He'd smiled as he'd held back to let her pass.

The girls were leaving the chapel when it happened. From somewhere high in the building a bell began to toll with a sound so deep and grave that the very air vibrated. Fay clapped her hands over her ears to shut out the sound, but on and on it rang. She couldn't breathe. She needed to get out. Turning, she ran blindly. And barged straight into someone. A hand gripped her arm. 'Whoa!' the someone said softly.

She looked up to see the blond boy. 'Sorry,' she gasped wildly but allowed him to steady her.

As suddenly as it had begun, the ringing stopped. As the echoes died, her panic, too, ebbed away.

'Are you all right?' the boy asked in his clear, cultured voice. He released her and she stepped back, hardly daring to look at him properly. His forehead was crinkled in a frown. Such an expressive face he had, the dark eyes full of concern.

'Thank you, I'm fine now.' She could not stop the shame rising in her cheeks. Evelyn came across to claim her whilst Margaret set off with her funny loping run to fetch Miss Edwards. The boy remained quietly by. His companions hung about in the background, cuffing each other and laughing.

Eventually the graceful figure of Miss Edwards hurried up, and Fay was glad to hear her light tones: 'Fay! That'll do, everyone. It's all over now.' And she steered Fay away with gentle firmness.

They sat together in the chapel before the Virgin and the entreating baby. 'What on earth was the matter, Fay?' her teacher murmured. 'It was only a bell. Summoning people to a service, I expect.'

'I don't know,' Fay answered with a shiver. 'It frightened me, that's all. I'm all right now, really.' She was struggling to capture a formless memory. No, whatever it was had gone.

* * *

That evening, the chatter of English voices rose to the roof of a huge reception room in the Hôtel de Ville. It was like the twittering of starlings in the trees of Place de la Concorde at twilight. At the sound of a car backfiring, the birds would lift together in a great cloud, its shape forming and reforming against the purpling sky.

These were gaudier birds than starlings — several hundred sixth-formers and their teachers from fifteen English schools gathered under one roof for the final night of a spring trip to Paris organized by the League of Friendship. The girls were awkward and self-conscious in their first evening gowns, the boys hot and uncomfortable in formal suits with stiff collars. Earlier there had been lengthy speeches by stuffy French dignitaries, then a buffet supper of strange meats in aspic and an oily salad. Rumours of a skiffle band had been dismissed, but now that the string quartet was tuning up beside the area cleared for dancing, excitement was mounting all the same.

From her place of safety by the wall, Fay scanned the crowd, wondering where Evelyn and Margaret could have gone while she'd been in the powder room. They'd all been talking to two boys from Winchester a moment ago, or rather Evelyn and Margaret had. Fay hung back, unpractised in the flirtatious banter the occasion demanded, and worried that her neckline was sinking too low. She'd muttered an excuse and slipped away.

In the ladies' she'd repinned the dress, then stared at her fragile features in the ornate looking-glass. She tried not to notice how the garment's murky shade of green made her skin look bleached and dulled the blue of her eyes. Her mother, reluctant to let her come on this trip at all, had not been able to afford a new dress to be made up for a single night, so Fay had borrowed one from a neighbour's daughter.

Mummy had done her best to alter it, Fay conceded, and had shown her a pretty way of wearing her dark hair — she tucked a stray wave back into the slide — but they both recognized that the dress would no more than 'do.' Certainly she felt dreary next to striking, chestnut-haired Margaret, sheathed in full-length ivory, or fair Evelyn, pretty as a doll in gauzy blue. She frowned at her reflection, scooped up her homemade evening bag, and set off back to the hall. There must be some boy, she thought grimly, who would save her pride by claiming her for a dance.

Standing by the wall, watching the crowd, she eventually spotted a statuesque white figure that could only be Margaret. As she started to weave her way towards her, someone touched her arm, and a clear voice said, 'Hello, again.' She turned and found herself looking into the face of the blond boy from that morning.

'Adam Warner,' he said rather shyly, putting out his hand. 'You remember ... from Notre Dame?'

'Of course I do,' she said, shaking it. 'I'm Fay — Fay Knox.' She added, 'I should apologize for my ridiculous behaviour.'

'Nothing to apologize for,' he said quickly. His forehead wrinkled in that nice way he had, as though he was really listening to her. 'Are you all right now?'

'Yes,' she nodded, a little too enthusiastically. 'Completely all right.'

'Good, I'm glad.'

'I'm not usually so silly.'

'The bell was very loud,' he said with a grave expression.

'It was, wasn't it?' She was relieved to be taken seriously. 'And it was the urgency of it.' She'd puzzled about the incident for the rest of the day, remembering how the sound had cut into her, unmade her. Margaret had snorted with laughter afterwards, of course. Their school lives were ordered by bells. Why make a fuss about this one? Fay still had no answer.

Just then, the musicians struck into a lively foxtrot and all around them people started pairing off. Fay glimpsed Margaret taking the floor with the taller and cockier of the boys from Winchester, but couldn't see Evelyn.

'I say, do you like dancing?' Adam asked.

'I'm not very good at it,' she said cautiously. She'd hated dance classes at school, the stupidity of being paired with other girls, nobody wanting to lead.

'Nor am I.' It was his turn to look relieved. 'Shall we try? Perhaps we wouldn't tread on each other's toes very much.'

He offered her his hand, and she took it and followed him through the crowd. She'd feared being a wallflower this evening, but here she was, asked for the first dance by this, not handsome exactly, but certainly very nice-looking boy. Margaret raised an eyebrow as she sailed by in the arms of her partner, and Fay couldn't help giving her a smug smile.

She found dancing with Adam delightful and her toes were quite safe. It was much more natural than having to lead Evelyn in lessons. They seemed to float along, she giving him little glances that took in the rich brown of his eyes, his fair skin with its light dusting of freckles. He'd only just started needing to shave, and his mouth still had a boyish tenderness.

They weren't able to hear easily above the music, but she learned that he was at one of the older grammar schools somewhere near the Welsh border. A couple of hundred miles then from Little Barton in Norfolk, where Fay lived with her mother, and the girls' high school she attended in Norwich. This League of Friendship trip was a one-off, so realistically, they were hardly likely to bump into one another again. For her this lent the occasion a certain poignancy.

The foxtrot ended and a waltz began. They kept passing Evelyn, dancing with another boy from Adam's school, a boy who rather gauchely kept addressing comments to Adam instead of talking to his partner. Then that dance, too, ended and Fay and Adam found themselves standing awkwardly on the edge of the dance floor, neither sure what to do next.

'It's awfully hot, isn't it?' she said, fanning herself. She didn't want him to think he had to stay with her out of politeness — that would be mortifying.

'Would you like a drink?' he asked and she nodded gratefully.

They found a small side room with a bar from which Adam fetched lemonade. As they edged their way through the crowds with their glasses, looking for a place to sit, someone knocked into Fay, splashing her drink over her dress. Adam solemnly produced a handkerchief, and they stood together in the cool air by an open window whilst she mopped up. Then they looked out at the silvery river, the soft lights on the bridges, each searching for something to say.

'It is lovely, isn't it?' Fay said. 'Have you enjoyed Paris?' She cursed herself for such an obvious question, but he didn't seem to mind.

'Very much. It's so sophisticated compared to London, isn't it? Not that I don't like London,' he added hastily, 'but when you read writers like Camus and Sartre you realize how stuck we English are in our old-fashioned ways.'

'We've not really read them, I'm afraid. Our teacher, Miss Edwards, pointed out that café where they're supposed to go — what's it called, Les Deux Magots? But I think she finds what she calls their "irregular lives" a little shocking.'

Adam laughed. 'She seemed rather a brick today, your Miss Edwards, but I can well imagine.'

'What do you make of existentialism?' she asked, genuinely curious. Miss Edwards had at least explained the philosophy but made it sound grim.

Adam glanced to where, nearby, a strapping boy was gesticulating as he told some funny story very loudly to an admiring circle. 'It's a bit difficult to explain in a nutshell,' he said, and she felt sorry that she'd asked. Perhaps he thought her too serious. People often did.

The music changed to another waltz. 'Oh, this is Strauss,' she said, changing the subject. 'Our orchestra played this last year.' She listened to the joyous swing of it.

'You're a musician, obviously,' he said, watching her fingers move to the music.

'I play the violin. And the piano, too, though I gave that up.'

Fay's mother was a pianist. She taught music at the village school and took in pupils at home. For a long while she'd taught Fay, but Fay had come to prefer the passionate voice of the violin. It expressed so many things she couldn't put into words so that it became her voice, too.

It was when Fay outgrew the violin teacher in Little Barton that her mother had found Signor Bertelli. Long ago, before running off with his conductor's young English wife, Signor Bertelli had been leader of the most prestigious orchestra in Milan. Fay visited their flat in Norwich near the cathedral twice a week after school for lessons, painstakingly saved for by her mother. If she played well he closed his eyes and listened with an expression of dreamy pleasure, but if she hadn't put enough work in, he would slap his brilliantined head in despair and groan, 'No, no, no,' as though grievously wounded.

'I'm fond of listening to music,' Adam was saying, 'but a duffer when it comes to playing. I admire anyone who can scrape the catgut and get a few notes out of it.'

'It's not made of cat,' she said, laughing. 'I love it. It's all I want to do.'

'Good for you.' He sighed. 'I haven't the faintest clue what I want to do. University, I expect. I'm thinking about languages — my French isn't too bad. After that, I'll see what turns up. Your glass is empty. Would you like another?'

'No, thanks. I ought to see if my friends are looking for me.'

'Yes, of course you must.' He sounded disappointed.

She was still clutching his handkerchief. 'I'm sorry, it's quite sticky,' she said, holding it out to him.

'Keep it,' he said. 'I've plenty. I was given some of my father's.' A cloud of unhappiness passed over his face and was gone.

'Oh. Well, thank you. I enjoyed dancing.'

'So did I. Very much.'

She didn't see him alone for the rest of the evening, though they smiled complicity if they passed, dancing with other partners.

* * *

Very early the next morning, Fay saw Adam arrive on the platform with the rest of his school group at the Gare du Nord as she was about to board the train. She gave him a tentative wave, and his face lit up. 'Bon voyage,' he said.

'Thanks. Vous aussi.'

When she was sitting with the other girls she felt another pang of sadness, knowing that after today she'd probably never see him again. There was something about him that echoed a call inside her, though she couldn't say what this something was.

She'd stuffed his handkerchief in her coat pocket, and her hand closed over it now. What was it that he'd said? That he'd inherited a lot of handkerchiefs from his father. The implication struck her. Perhaps he, like her, was fatherless.

Fay's father had died when she was a toddler and she had no memory of him. He was American, Mummy had told her. A doctor, dedicated to helping people, and he'd been killed in the war, in an air raid. Fay couldn't recall the house that Mummy said they'd lived in, either. It had been in a leafy part of London, apparently, near an old walled park stocked with deer that kings had once loved to hunt. Mummy had shown her a picture of the house. It was pretty, part of a Georgian terrace, painted white and with a tiny front garden full of roses, which her mother adored. Two years after Fay's father's death a stray doodlebug had dropped on that house in broad daylight, destroying it and most of its contents. 'It was lucky that we were out,' her mother said. Fay thought this sounded wrong. Why should they have been lucky and her father unlucky? Luck, it seemed, was very capricious. The piano had also survived. That, apparently, was lucky, too.


(Continues...)

Excerpted from A Week in Paris by Rachel Hore. Copyright © 2014 Rachel Hore. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
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