The Material World: Part 5- The Tower of Bisset

The Material World: Part 5- The Tower of Bisset

Exercise Your Imagination!  Do you like stories with mystery and suspense? Well, if you do, keep reading and enjoy Eggcentricsagas.  If you are just joining Eggcentricsagas, start from the beginning: A La Mano: Part 1-The Treasure

“Je m’appelle Claude Bisset,” the young man stated as he stepped up onto the platform. “Voulez vous parler anglaise? (Do you want to speak English?)

A hand over her heart, Penelope readily agreed, “Oui!”

“Your French is interesting,” he said and then softly laughed. “I believe I speak English better than you speak French. And,” he smiled broadly at her, “you forgot to tell me your name.”

A flush spread over her cheeks. She averted her eyes momentarily and then grinned at Claude. “Silly of me.” She put Pepe down, put out her hand, and introduced herself. “Penelope Perkins.”

They shook hands. Pepe boldly stepped forward and began to sniff Claude’s shoes. As the dog moved to his pant legs, Claude looked down at her pet. He asked, “And him?”

“That’s Pepe.”
“Bonjour, Pepe.” Pepe looked up and wagged his tail. Claude looked back at her. “Do you know how to sew?”
Penelope thought it was an odd question but answered, “Yes.”

With a crisp nod, he said, “D’accord (okay).” Taking off his coat and holding it towards her, he suggested, “Wear this.” He clarified, “I heard the policeman tell the priest to watch out for a young girl and a dog. Hide Pepe under it. I will put my arm around you and you will seem older. Put your head on my shoulder to help hide your face and the priest will think we are together.” Swallowing hard, Penelope hesitated. When he added, “And if the policeman is still around and looking for you,” she nodded and took the proffered coat.

When they were several blocks from the church, they separated, and Penelope put Pepe down. Claude put his hands on his hips and started questioning her. “Why did Madame des Plumes and your mother get arrested?”

“I don’t know.”

“What are you going to do now?”

“I don’t know.”

“Hmmm,” he murmured as he scrutinized her guileless face. “Let’s keep going. It’s dangerous out here.” The teen proceeded to stride, and she fell in step with him. Excited that they were going on a walk, Pepe pranced ahead. Claude stated, “You know I can get into trouble for helping you.”

“I know. If you…” Penelope began, but Claude held up his hand to stop her.

“I think we were supposed to meet. You see, I was at the church for a reason. I went there for my mother. She is going blind and just lost her job with the atelier. A seamstress, she is having difficulty threading the needle and can hardly see the fine stitches anymore. All of Paris used to praise her needlework…” his voice trailed off wistfully. “The doctor said that nothing can be done. We can barely afford to live now. On my salary alone, non. So, I went there tonight to pray for help.” He glanced at the girl and then ahead again. “I think we are the answers to each other’s prayers.”

Claude took Penelope back to the apartment in Montparnasse where he and his mother lived. They climbed the stairs to the small apartment on the sixth floor. There, Claude introduced Penelope to Madame Bisset. An older, middle-aged woman with thinning, brown hair, streaks of grey running through it. Claude spoke rapidly to his mother in French, and she replied. Penelope caught familiar words here and there, but she only got the gist of what they were saying. She understood that Claude was trying to convince his mother of a plan. Finally, Madame Bisset seemed to relent and invited the girl to stay for dinner and the night.

They had a meager meal of bread and cheese by the flickering light of a small oil lamp while Madame Bisset questioned her and Claude interpreted. Could she sew? Could she crochet? What about patterns? Did she know about darts, pleats, French seams, and underlining? What about hand stitches: the running stitch, backstitch, catch stitch? Did she know how to do hand overcasting? When it grew late, Claude led Penelope to a tiny room off Madame Bisset’s bedroom and told her that was where the former assistant used to sleep a long time ago. She and Pepe would stay there. Penelope thanked him, and he retired to his room. It was not the room that she had at Madame des Plumes. It was more of a large closet, but it did have a little dresser and a tiny window.

Penelope looked out at the twinkling lights of Paris and wondered what was happening with her mother. She didn’t know if she liked Claude Bisset’s plan, but what else could she do? Her limbs heavy, the girl yawned. Then she lay down on the small bed next to Pepe, already curled into a ball. Soon, they were both fast asleep.

The decision was that Penelope would stay off the streets until Claude could determine what had happened to her mother and the fortune-teller. Penelope would learn sewing couture while Claude would carefully snoop around each day. Of course, Claude had to go to work, take care of Pepe’s outside needs, as well as peddle his mother’s designs to new ateliers. All this took time. Meanwhile, every day, Penelope learned something new in fashion and the material world. Madame Bisset not only looked at Penelope’s work but felt it. If the seams were not even and smooth, she would make Penelope rip out all the thread and start again. Soon, Penelope became proficient with her stitches. It was tedious work with great care given to exacting detail.

Madame Bisset seemed pleased with her progress but was not one to praise. Instead, she was stingy and a nitpicker. Penelope did not like her much, and being imprisoned with the old lady all day long was difficult. However, the girl liked Claude. Always cheerful, he would compliment her work, and Pepe had become his loyal friend. Frequently, Claude would take him to the park and throw the ball for him. Penelope was upset that she could not join them, but when Pepe curled up with her in bed at night, he would lick the tears off her face, and she would feel better.

One night, after they had all gone to their rooms, Penelope gazed out her small window and wondered about her life. Would she and her mother be reunited? Sitting on her bed, she opened the top drawer of her dresser and removed her Lenormand deck. Shuffling it, she pulled a card. Mice. Studying the picture, she noticed a lone mouse on the hill in the distance. As this card was generally considered a negative one, Penelope decided not to think about it. Instead, she replaced her cards and scooted Pepe over before getting under the covers. That night she dreamt that she was hitched to a cart.

The next day when Claude came home in the evening, he had a concerned look on his face. He told her that he had sad news about Madame des Plumes and Polly. Penelope lay down her sewing and listened intently. He had heard that Madame des Plumes had suddenly gone to America and a relative, her nephew, was renting her apartment. The nephew didn’t have any other knowledge and was unsure of why she left. Polly had been deported back to London and was to serve time in prison. It seems as though she and her late husband had not only been negligent in paying their bills, they were thieves. His death and her fleeing had not erased the record of such deeds. Penelope was aghast. The young girl had not understood her or her mother’s life until now.

“The red-haired policeman is still looking for you and Pepe,” Claude informed her.

“But why?”

Claude shrugged. “It was hard to glean any information from the neighbors. All they wanted to talk about was the theft and the murder.”

Next: The Material World: Part 6-The Empty Bag

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About J Fremont

Author/veterinarian J. Fremont has created Magician of Light, a novel about famed glassmaker Rene Laliqué. Exercise your imagination. Enjoy!