Home > Wrong Train to Paris

Wrong Train to Paris
Author: Jennifer Moore

Chapter One


   Spring 1900

   The train plunged into darkness, lit only by the weak light of the gas lamps, dimmed for daytime. The car went quiet as the travelers shifted uncomfortably in the strange gloom. Julia Weston paused in the act of setting a stack of playing cards on the table. She looked toward the window, seeing only the reflection of the interior of the lounge car against the black of the tunnel and her own face staring back at her.

   The faces of her companions were reflected in the glass as well: one stern middle-aged woman, one distinguished older gentleman, and one—she noticed her gaze rested too long on Herr Klausman and pulled it away lest he see her staring—one handsome younger man. A blush crept over her cheeks.

   She let her gaze move over the train car’s other occupants and attempted to appear as if she were not looking at one spot in particular. The noise of dishes and conversation had quieted, almost as if the tunnel had cast some sort of spell over the passengers. Julia was always amused by the way people stopped whatever they were doing and stared out the windows when there was nothing to see. Perhaps it was simply human instinct for one’s attention to be drawn to the unexpected.

   Though aspects of the journey, such as a game of cards with a handsome gentleman, were far from ordinary, the trip itself was exceedingly familiar.

   Julia had made the journey between Vienna and Paris often enough over the years, but this was the first time her father—busy with preparations for the World’s Exhibition—had been unable to accompany her. And since Colonel Weston, retired from the British army, would not hear of his daughter traveling alone, he’d found a companion to accompany her.

   And Frau Maven snored at night.

   Splendidly.

   Julia stifled a yawn. She did not believe she’d slept one minute in the compartment adjoining the older woman’s the night before, but it was too late to take a nap now, and if she fell asleep after dinner, she’d miss her stop at Igney-Avricourt. And that wouldn’t do at all.

   She kept her gaze moving, thinking if she allowed it to rest in the dim light, she might fall asleep. Her eyes met Herr Klausman’s again, and she jolted, fully awake.

   Julia had always considered the train very romantic. And perhaps this time—without her protective father’s accompaniment—it would be romantic for her. She loved this train. The elegance of the furnishings and the passengers were a sight one did not get used to. Travelers hailing from all over the world journeyed on the Orient Express, and the variety of languages and costumes surrounding her filled her mind with imaginings.

   She kept her focus on the darkness, wondering if Herr Klausman was watching her reflection. The idea was rather pleasant. The man possessed many qualities she valued. He was handsome, of course, and his clothing and manners were impeccable. He sat straight-backed in his chair, his fair hair was parted precisely, and he was punctual, a habit Julia considered among the most important in a person’s behavior. He had come into the lounge car for the card game seven minutes earlier than their arranged time—eight minutes after Julia herself had arrived.

   She blinked as the train emerged and sun shone again through the windows.

   Frau Maven cleared her throat and motioned toward the cards in Julia’s hand.

   Julia set them down and straightened the stack carefully, sliding the smaller piles to her three companions. She took the last for herself, then turned over the top card, placing it next to the center stack.

   Herr Klausman, seated across from her, lifted his cards and spread them into a tidy fan, moving a card here and there into order. “And I hear zeh grand tower has been painted a ghastly yellow,” he said, his German accent thick. He raised a brow and curled his lip in a complicated expression that indicated his disapproval of either the color or, more likely, Monsieur Eiffel’s creation itself. It somewhat ruined the effect of his handsome face.

   But the gentleman was not alone in his opinion. Many—especially among the artistic community of which Julia was particularly associated—still considered the Paris monument a disgrace—an atrocity of mangled steel towering over the skyline of the most beautiful city in the world, a colossal waste of money and resources. Others admired the contemporary structure as a marvel of modern architecture comparable with America’s Washington Monument. Strong feelings existed on both sides of the argument, and it was still hotly debated by all Parisians, from wealthy financiers, heiresses, and clerks to street performers and penniless urchins.

   As for herself, Julia adored the tower, having watched its construction as a child and viewed it with nostalgia each time she returned to Paris.

   “A most extraordinary creation,” the man who had introduced himself only as Nicholas, sitting at Julia’s right, replied with a nod. “Even still, eleven years after its creation, she is zeh tallest structure in zeh world. She has zeh strength of iron, yet zeh lines are so graceful. Elegant.” He hooked his curved pipe back beneath his thick black mustache, then swept his hands wide, lifting them to a narrow point in imitation of the tower’s shape. “A true masterpiece.” He spoke the words slowly, drawing out the last and infusing it with a dramatic flourish.

   Julia arranged her cards both by suit and in numerical order and then spread them evenly in her hand.

   “A masterpiece indeed.” Frau Maven nodded and smiled sweetly.

   Julia’s companion, a stern-faced widow from Austria, had agreed with every statement either of the men had made so far, making the conversation, in Julia’s opinion, rather dull. The older woman sat to Julia’s left with her back to the train’s window, wearing fresh lip rouge and a colorful silk scarf with her beige traveling clothes. Neither accoutrement had been present when Julia and the older woman had boarded the train late the previous evening at the Vienna station, nor had they appeared at any time over the nearly fourteen-hour journey until just an hour earlier, when she’d entered the lounge car. Not only had Frau Maven’s attire been drab and free from color of any kind, her temperament had seemed to follow the same course. Julia had not heard a kind word or seen a hint of a smile on the woman’s face until the two gentlemen had introduced themselves, joining them for luncheon in the train’s dining car earlier that day. The transformation that came over the older woman had been astonishing, to say the least. She’d not only smiled and spoken quite cordially but had actually giggled—often.

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