Patrice sat in numb disbelief as her uncle devoured his meal with aplomb, his appetite apparently stimulated by his recent … what? What exactly had he done? He left with Pierre, then returned alone. Thrown him from the train, she surmised. But she had witnessed nothing directly. Assuming there was anyone Patrice could report the incident to, she was sure Henri would talk his way out of the situation. Perhaps he would claim the young man attacked him or something equally ridiculous, but his easy lies and his money would see him safely through as it had so many times before.
“You have barely touched your food, niece,” Henri said, interrupting her thoughts, “Is it not to your liking?” Even seemingly casual comments from the man were delivered tipped with venom.
Patrice wanted to reply - possibly even scream at him at the top of her lungs - but whatever words she would have formed seemed to catch in her throat, so she merely shook her head.
“Nothing ever is.”
Patrice said nothing. Henri, seeing that his insult would not provoke a reaction, continued, “I must say, while the cuisine is no match for the meals I enjoy back in Paris, the food here is surprisingly adequate. Perhaps if you will not eat, Georges here will be happy to finish it for you.”
Patrice contemplated the man dining next to her. There, Georges sat, his arm curled protectively around his plate as he sat hunched over what remained of his meal. His table manners left much to be desired, but Patrice found that she really was not offended; he was not trying to be rude, the man simply did not know any better. A quick glance around the dining car, though, showed that not everyone felt as magnanimous.
Georges seemed unfazed by the attention he was getting, if indeed he was aware of the unflattering stares at all. She gathered that this meal was a rare opportunity for Georges, and he was going to make the most of it. She found herself wondering what sort of meals the man was used to. Under normal circumstances, Henri would never have offered to buy food for an employee, much less be seen in polite company with a common laborer. But his determination to keep Patrice on a tight leash won out over any concern he had about any gossip among his peers of sharing a table with hired help. She also could not help but wonder if the high spirits of her uncle after Pierre’s disappearance had prompted him into a moment of uncharacteristic generosity.
Lunch was nearly finished when Patrice noticed that the gentlemen from the surrounding tables were excusing themselves and moving to the next car up in the train. Henri had noticed it as well, and it was having a strange effect on him.
“Where are they going?” she asked.
“There's a parlor car in front of this one. They are going for an after-meal cigar, I wager,” he said, his eyes quickly scanning each of the finely-dressed men as they moved past.
Patrice finally realized what was happening with her uncle. If there was one thing closer to his heart than the desire to avenge his dear departed daughter, it was money. The men headed to the parlor car were, in all probability, wealthy businessmen - potential clients or future partners in a new venture - and Henri was weighing the cost of staying behind to keep his niece under his thumb.
Henri turned to regard Georges, who was still eating. He frowned. “I have decided to join them. Finish up and take her back to the room.” Mouth full, Georges could only nod in reply.
“You're not afraid I will escape again?” Patrice said.
“You didn't escape,” said Henri, more concerned with getting into the parlor than sparring with her yet again, “Besides, I will be on the car ahead of you, and my men are but a car or two behind us - not to mention the fact that we are on a moving train.” That said, he rose from the table and fell into step behind the group of men making their way out of the dining car. Patrice slumped back in her chair, folded her arms and expelled a quiet sigh of frustration. As much as she hated to admit it, her uncle was right; she could see no way out of her present situation.
The remaining diners were finishing their meals and began to leave the dining car. Two boys in aprons, waiters’ assistants, began cleaning the tables. One of the boys, working on the table next to where Georges and Patrice sat, turned and asked if he could remove Henri’s setting.
“Is there a bar on this train?” George said. The question was a surprise to both the boy and Patrice.
“Y-Yes sir,” said the boy, “in the parlor car.”
“Could you fetch me a beer? If so, I have a franc for you.” said Georges. He caught Patrice staring at him in disbelief. “I'm paid to do a great many things, but I've never been paid enough to pass up a beer. I doubt even your uncle has that kind of money.”
The boy glanced around, no one seemed to be paying any attention to the conversation. “I … suppose I could,” he said, “What kind would you like?”
“What're my options?”
“I honestly don't know, sir, but you can see the bar from the window in the door, if you like.”
Georges started to stand, but caught himself mid-movement and turned to regard Patrice. “Will you stay put?”
Patrice shrugged, “As my uncle has pointed out, where can I go?”
Georges' brow furrowed as he briefly contemplated the situation, nodding to himself as he reached a conclusion. “I only need a moment,” he said, walking towards the door in the far corner that connected the dining car with the parlor.
A spark of hope flared briefly within Patrice. This was an opportunity! But what could she do? Where could she go? Her eyes sped across the dining car and finally came to rest on the plate of half-eaten food in front of her. An idea occurred to her.
“Boy,” said she, whispering, “I have a very import favor to ask of you.”
There was a cheerful fire providing light to the room. The woman sitting beside it was beautiful - for some reason that thought stood out to him; her beauty was familiar, but only rarely contemplated. The lamp on the table next to her gave her skin a ethereal glow. He wondered if the woman knew how beautiful he found her and resolved to tell her more. She was reading a book to a pair of children, one nestled on each side of her. It was an idyllic scene and he stood watching it, fearing that the slightest movement or sound sound might cause it to evaporate suddenly. The three of them stopped their reading to look at him; her gaze was warm and inviting and the children smiled. At first.
Warmth was gradually replaced with puzzlement, which then quickly gave way to fear. What was wrong? He started to move towards her. The children buried their faces in her side, clutching at their stuffed animals and blankets. She was panicked and opened her mouth, drawing a deep breath. She was going to scream. He felt himself rush upon them as they cowered, falling upon them like a tidal wave of darkness.
“P-pardon moi, sir?”
Anger and sadness and fear and loss ...
The smell of food.
Something struck his arm.
Wendell sat up with a start and looked around. Beside him, Mr. Baine wore an expression that was equal parts annoyance and concern.
“Bad dream?” he said.
“You were growling in your sleep.”
Wendell felt the blood drain from his face as he looked at his traveling companion.
“I thought it was funny, at any rate.” Mr. Baine shrugged, then raised a finger to point past Wendell to the aisle running next to him. Standing there was a boy in an apron looking terribly uncertain. “This young man would like to speak with you.”
“Me?” Wendell looked at the boy, “Can I help you?”
“I was asked to give you something, monsieur,” he reached into a pocket on the front of his apron and fished out a dirty napkin.
The monk could only imagine the look of confusion he wore as he plucked it from the boy’s hand, but it could not be helped. “Who asked you to bring this to me?”
“I don't know her name, monsieur,” the boy looked as confused as he felt, “A young woman, in the dining car. She asked me to deliver this to you. She described your
orange robes specifically.”
“Is that all?” Mr. Baine asked.
“Oui. She said the man in the orange robes would know what to do.”
“Was she alone?”
The boy shook his head, “There were two men with her, an older gentleman and another besides.”
“Two men and a young woman ...” Mr. Baine rubbed at the stubble on his chin.
“Please, monsieur, I must return to the dining car …”
“You have done as you were asked, thank you.” Wendell gave a nod, giving the boy leave to hurry out the back of the car.
“I must say, courting rituals among the French certainly leave something to be desired.” Mr. Baine quipped.
“This makes no sense,” said Wendell.
"It's not even clean."
“It is a message of some sort - a message that could not be written out, spoken or delivered in person for some reason.”
"Not an environment conducive to messages, then.” said Mr. Baine. “There must also have been a risk of interception ... Perhaps her handlers would disapprove of her contacting you?”
Even without holding it to his nose, Wendell could smell the residue of rich food still clinging to the napkin. The odors prompted his stomach to rumble in discontentment, reminding him of the full breakfast they had enjoyed just this morning, and of the lunch they could not afford but a few hours later. And then, just now, was that the smell of … ? Wendell slowly raised the napkin to his nose and inhaled deeply.
“What is it?” Mr. Baine had sensed the shift in his companion, puzzlement replaced by tension.
“She is here,” Wendell said, “Patrice is on the train.”