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Authors: Emily Hahn

Francie Again

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Francie Again

Adventures in Portugal

Emily Hahn

CHAPTER 1

Clouds held them up at Le Bourget. The plane circled around in the mystifying manner of its kind, so that a few passengers were able joyfully to point out landmarks to each other but then lost sight of them temporarily and were angry with the pilot when they spotted them again, farther away. However, the hostess said everything was under control, and she obviously meant it.

It had been a rough crossing, and habit, not vanity, made Francie look at her reflection in her compact mirror. She had seldom cared less how she looked. She had been tossed around, her legs were cramped from sitting still, and the air was stuffy in spite of the air-conditioning system she had been reading about during the past hour, for want of something better, in the glossy booklet of the air company.

It seemed years since she had been happily excited about boarding the plane in New York and embarking on this adventure. Everything was different after a nearly sleepless night. She scarcely dared look ahead to the winter which had seemed so lovely before, when Aunt Lolly's letter arrived and she read it in Pop's hotel apartment. Only the present was actual, and that seemed grimy, though the plane was the air line's pride and the people on the passenger list had possessed nearly as much glamour—yesterday—as their impossibly soignée prototypes in the booklet illustrations. That woman across the aisle, for example, who said she was going to France on a buying trip for her Fifth Avenue employers: yesterday at the New York airport she had been as smart and impeccable as if she had just arrived from Paris, rather than being on the way there, but now she looked dowdy and cross.

“About as dowdy and cross as I do myself,” Francie reflected. Thinking of her own childish scowl, she laughed and immediately felt better. There was no reason in the world for bad temper, unless hunger and sleepiness could excuse it. Nobody was ever in a better spot, she thought. With the career she wanted ahead of her and plenty of friends to help her on the way, with Aunt Lolly waiting for her, no doubt only a few hundred yards away this minute, and Paris for the winter, and the famous Plessis' studio to work in, could any girl want more? Well, yes—food would be very nice.

Also, she felt just a bit uncertain about things in general. At eighteen, most people would not mind uncertainty, and when Francie was normally fed and rested she didn't, either. But now, in one swift gloomy moment, she could not help remembering an earlier time of upheaval, not quite a year before, when she had been suddenly whisked away from home and plunked down in an English boarding school. It had all turned out for the best, but oh, those first few days at Fairfields School! Still, it
had
turned out for the best, and this time was different. This time she would not be on her own, but visiting darling Aunt Lolly, who made it home wherever she was.

“And this time,” thought Francie, “I'm different myself. I've found myself. I know what I want to
do
in life.”

She was going to be a great painter. That was settled—at least it was settled for Francie and she had met with no obstacles from the two people who directed her life. Pop, her father, wasn't opposed to the idea at all.

“If that's what you want to do,” said Pop, “I guess the sooner you go ahead with it the better. I don't like the way some kids hang around doing nothing.”

That was Pop's way—quick, decided, and, if the truth were told, just a bit absent-minded. Francie always said he didn't ever really wake up unless he was talking to somebody connected with the oil business. It was a family joke between them.

The only other person who had influence over Francie was Laura Barclay, her Aunt Lolly—an auntby-courtesy, really. She had been the best friend of Francie's mother, and, as the girl could not herself remember her mother, she knew how lucky she was to have such an understanding older woman to depend on.

Aunt Lolly
was
dependable, said Francie to herself. She was better than that; she often turned up with glamorous plans that somehow fitted in beautifully with Francie's serious desires or ambitions. How like her it was, when she found out that her husband Martin Barclay was to be in Paris for a year on United Nations business, to remember a talk she had had with Francie about Plessis.

Francie had said, “He's the best teacher in the world. I'd give anything to study under him for a while! But I don't guess I'll have any such luck for years. Pop says he won't let me go and live alone in Paris until I'm older.”

It was like Aunt Lolly not to have forgotten, and to have written straight off to Mr. Nelson when she knew she could offer Francie a home. Thinking about her, Francie's shreds of ill humor vanished. At the same moment the plane made up its mind really to land, at last. They came down gently, rode along a sunny field, and halted.

Francie glanced again into the compact mirror, refreshed her lipstick, tugged at her hat, and smiled at the Fifth Avenue buyer. The looking-glass reflection had done its part to cheer her up. She was bright-eyed and fresh in spite of the bad night, and she still liked the looks of the blouse she had bought on Fourteenth Street and made over, just before she took the plane. Pop had been a little startled by the effect, but she was sure it was good. Yes, thought Francie, she might yet be able to face the critical eyes of Paris (for of course everyone in Paris
would
be critical) without shaming Aunt Lolly, or feeling apologetic about her education. After all, it was perfectly good Middle Western Jefferson, and it had a thin veneer of England. Aunt Lolly would help wherever necessary. Aunt Lolly would tell her if her appearance or behavior needed moderating. Francie took comfort in this thought, as she always did. Laura Barclay would never allow her to make a spectacle of herself in Paris.

“How slow they are,” said the buyer. “This is always the worst of arriving by plane, isn't it?”

“Always,” said Francie, hoping she sounded bored and experienced. Actually it was her first long plane voyage and her first time in France, but she had no desire to confess such matters to any of the other passengers. They all seemed blasé about Europe; they were people of the world. She didn't want them to look down on her as a gushing teen-ager.

Then at last the door opened, the air hostess stood at attention by it, and the passengers filed out to the welcome sun, glittering on France.

Slowly descending the steel steps at the heels of the Fifth Avenue buyer, Francie looked eagerly toward the crowd of welcomers who stood beyond the barrier. This was Europe again—Europe, which she had not expected to visit again for years. It wasn't England, but still it was the other half of the world, and for a second she had the experience, so difficult to describe, of seeming to be a much earlier self, wearing another, well-remembered shell of personality. She was Francie the schoolgirl, a stranger, homesick in England. Then she glanced down at her pretty suit, her reassuring shoes and slim nylon ankles. No, she was today's Francie, thank goodness—no faltering schoolgirl but a well-bred young woman, coming to Paris to visit the popular Mrs. Barclay.

Incidentally, where
was
the popular Mrs. Barclay? She should have been there in the front row, smiling and waving. The passengers came close to the barrier and Francie scanned the crowd carefully, face by face, but no Aunt Lolly was there.

“Oh well, she's probably had trouble parking,” she decided, and went through the gate. She had not looked at the men in the crowd, so she was startled when a man seized her arm and said, “There you are, young woman, and about time, too. I thought you were never coming down to earth.”

“Oh, Uncle Martin! I was just beginning to think I was deserted. Aunt Lolly's outside, is she?”

“No, she's at home waiting for you. Come on, we'll have to get you through the customs,” said Martin Barclay. Francie followed him meekly while he found her luggage and talked to the
douaniers
. People always deferred to Uncle Martin, because in his easy way he seemed to be used to deference. Today, however, he looked preoccupied and grave. She wondered what might be the trouble.

Then she dismissed her misgivings and turned to look at France, or at as much of it as she could see in the shed. It all looked very much like the pictures. Dark-eyed, vivacious people talked to each other excitedly, and now and then she could make out a word, but it was clear that her school French was not going to be adequate for her needs. Uncle Martin's French, however, was fine. It had a quickening effect on everybody. Long before the Fifth Avenue buyer was released, Francie and Uncle Martin were driving in his car toward Paris.

Away from the traffic confusion at the field, Francie felt free to ask, “Is anything the matter, Uncle Martin?”

“Well, yes, there is,” he replied. “It's nothing really to worry about, but your Aunt Lolly isn't well.”

Francie exclaimed in dismay, “I knew there was something!”

“It's not serious,” Uncle Martin went on, “except that it makes her so uncomfortable. She's quite crippled, temporarily. Arthritis of some sort in her hip, they told us at the American Hospital. She's relieved, though, to find she'll be all right if she takes care. That's going to be the difficulty. You know what she is.”

“You should have let me know,” said Francie. “I'll bet it's been bothering her to think about me coming just now and making a lot of trouble.”

“Not at all! You'll probably do her a lot of good.”

“I hope so,” said Francie, gloomily. She couldn't remember that Aunt Lolly had ever been ill before. France was forgotten and she ignored the flat countryside, though she had intended to look at everything during this momentous first drive. Uncle Martin, however, cheered up after unburdening himself.

“Well, young lady, haven't you anything new to tell us? I thought you'd be wearing an engagement ring by this time.”

“Me? Don't be silly, Uncle Martin. Who would I be engaged to?”

Uncle Martin said, “Your old reliable, of course. What's-his-name, that snub-nosed kid in Jefferson. Glenn, that's it.”

“Glenn!” From Francie's tone, one would have thought Glenn was the last person in the world she had ever considered. Yet she was not displeased. She smiled in spite of herself.

“Haven't forgotten him in the big city, have you?” asked Uncle Martin with pretended anxiety.

“Oh no, we correspond. But to think of
Glenn!
I mean—oh, look!” She broke off with a cry of pleasure at sight of the chestnut trees that line the Avenue de Marigny. “Oh, what a beautiful neighborhood! Do you live here? How lucky!”

“It's not too bad,” said Uncle Martin. He stopped the car in front of a stone house. “Now then, Francie, if you'll ring the bell so the
concierge
will let us in—that's it. Just pull the handle.”

A bell rang far inside the door, and after a pause an old woman shuffled out. She spoke shrilly to Uncle Martin, then shuffled back indoors to shout up the stairs Francie saw beyond her in the gloom. It all seemed old-fashioned in an unfamiliar way that was yet evocative. “I can
almost
remember places like it,” thought Francie, “probably from books or pictures.”

A younger servant came running downstairs. She smiled at Francie as she picked up the heaviest suitcase, and went indoors. “You go along with her,” commanded Uncle Martin. “That's our maid Félice. Tell your aunt I'll be up right away.”

“What a funny arrangement,” Francie said to herself, “like the Middle Ages, keeping a guard at the door of your own house.” She followed the maid up a dark narrow stairway.

“Francie, darling!”

There was Aunt Lolly—oh dear, there was poor Aunt Lolly coming across the floor of a big room, limping on a stick and leaning way over. It was a drawing room with a high ceiling, and gilded mirrors that reached all the way up the wall. They magnified the room enormously. Several Aunt Lollies seemed to limp across the soft carpet.

Aunt Lolly hugged her with one arm, leaning on the stick with the other. “It
is
good to see you, my dear. I can't give you a proper welcome, crippled like this. Isn't it infuriating? Uncle Martin told you, I suppose? What a shame this is! I did so want to come to the airport to meet you, but I simply couldn't. I've already canceled everything else this afternoon, and suppose someone had seen me after I'd sent regrets? It's the kind of thing that invariably happens.”

“You couldn't possibly have come, Aunt Lolly. I think it's a rotten shame this has happened to you. You should have put me off, you know you should.”

“What nonsense the child talks!” Aunt Lolly sat down on an elegant little sofa, making room for Francie. “I'm not really laid up or at death's door or anything like that.”

Yet she was thinner than when Francie had last seen her in England, and there were dark circles under her eyes.

BOOK: Francie Again
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