Mrs. Harris Goes to Paris & Mrs. Harris Goes to New York

BOOK: Mrs. Harris Goes to Paris & Mrs. Harris Goes to New York
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THE BLOOMSBURY GROUP

Henrietta’s War
by Joyce Dennys
Henrietta Sees It Through
by Joyce Dennys
The Brontës Went to Woolworths
by Rachel Ferguson
Miss Hargreaves
by Frank Baker
Love’s Shadow
by Ada Leverson
A Kid for Two Farthings
by Wolf Mankowitz
Mrs Tim of the Regiment
by D.E. Stevenson
Mrs Ames
by E.F. Benson
Let’s Kill Uncle
by Rohan O’Grady

 

 

 

A NOTE ON THE AUTHOR

PAUL GALLICO was born in New York City, of Italian and Austrian parentage, in 1897, and attended Columbia University. From 1922 to 1936 he worked on the
New York Daily News
as sports editor, columnist, and assistant managing editor. In 1936 he bought a house on top of a hill at Salcombe in South Devon and settled down with a Great Dane and twenty-three assorted cats. It was in 1941 that he made his name with
The Snow Goose
, a classic story of Dunkirk which became a worldwide bestseller. Having served as a gunner’s mate in the U.S. Navy in 1918, he was again active as a war correspondent with the American Expeditionary Force in 1944. Gallico, who later lived in Monaco, was a first-class fencer and a keen sea-fisherman. He wrote over forty books, four of which were the adventures of Mrs Harris:
Mrs Harris Goes to Paris
(1958),
Mrs Harris Goes to New York
(1959),
Mrs. Harris, M.P.
(1965) and
Mrs Harris Goes to Moscow
(1974). One of the most prolific and professional of American authors, Paul Gallico died in July 1976.

 

 

 

Mrs Harris Goes to Paris
first published as
Flowers for Mrs Harris
in Great Britain by Michael Joseph 1958

Mrs Harris Goes to New York
first published in Great Britain by Michael Joseph 1960

Copyright © Paul Gallico 1958, 1960

This electronic edition published in 2010 by Bloomsbury Publishing Plc

The moral right of the author has been asserted

Ex libris illustration © Penelope Beech 2010

Bloomsbury Publishing Plc, 36 Soho Square, London W1D 3QY

A CIP catalogue record for this book is available from the British Library

All rights reserved
You may not copy, distribute, transmit, reproduce or otherwise make available this publication (or any part of it) in any form, or by any means (including without limitation electronic, digital, optical, mechanical, photocopying, printing, recording or otherwise), without the prior written permission of the publisher. Any person who does any unauthorised act in relation to this publication may be liable to criminal prosecution and civil claims for damages

ISBN 978 1 4088 1378 2 (ebook)

10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1

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www.bloomsbury.com
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Mrs Harris Goes to Paris
&
Mrs Harris Goes to New York

Paul Gallico

 

 

 

 

 

B   L   O   O   M   S   B   U   R   Y
LONDON • BERLIN • NEW YORK

MRS HARRIS GOES TO PARIS

To the gallant and indispensable daily ladies who, year in, year out, tidy up the British Isles, this book is lovingly dedicated

 

 

 

The House of Dior is indubitably The House of Dior. But all the characters located on both sides of the Channel in this work of fiction are as indubitably fictitious and nonexistent and resemble no living person or persons.

P. G.

T
HE
small, slender woman with apple-red cheeks, greying hair, and shrewd, almost naughty little eyes sat with her face pressed against the cabin window of the BEA Viscount on the morning flight from London to Paris. As, with a rush and a roar, it lifted itself from the runway, her spirits soared aloft with it. She was nervous, but not at all frightened, for she was convinced that nothing could happen to her now. Hers was the bliss of one who knew that at last she was off upon the adventure at the end of which lay her heart’s desire.

She was neatly dressed in a somewhat shabby brown twill coat and clean brown cotton gloves, and she carried a battered imitation leather brown handbag which she hugged close to her. And well she might, for it contained not only ten one-pound notes, the legal limit of currency that could be exported from the British Isles, and a return air ticket to Paris, but likewise the sum of fourteen hundred dollars in American currency, a thick roll of five, ten, and twenty dollar bills, held together by a rubber band. Only in the hat she wore did her ebullient nature manifest itself. It was of
green straw and to the front of it was attached the flexible stem of a huge and preposterous rose which leaned this way and that, seemingly following the hand of the pilot upon the wheel as the plane banked and circled for altitude.

Any knowledgeable London housewife who had ever availed herself of the services of that unique breed of ‘daily women’, who come in to scrub and tidy up by the hour, or for that matter anyone English would have said: ‘The woman under that hat could only be a London char,’ and what is more, they would have been right.

On the Viscount’s passenger list she appeared as Mrs Ada Harris, though she invariably pronounced it as ‘Mrs ’Arris’, Number 5 Willis Gardens, Battersea, London, SWII, and she was indeed a charwoman, a widow, who ‘did’ for a clientele living in and on the fringes of fashionable Eaton Square and Belgravia.

Up to that magic moment of finding herself hoisted off the face of the earth her life had been one of never-ending drudgery, relieved by nothing more than an occasional visit to the flicks, the pub on the corner, or an evening at the music hall.

The world in which Mrs Harris, now approaching the sixties, moved, was one of perpetual mess, slop, and untidiness. Not once, but half a dozen times a day she opened the doors of homes or flats with the keys entrusted to her, to face the litter of dirty dishes and greasy pans in the sink, acres of stale, rumpled, unmade beds, clothing scattered about, wet towels on the bathroom floor, water left in the tooth-glass, dirty laundry to be packed up and, of course, cigarette ends in the ashtrays, dust on tables and mirrors, and all the other litter that human pigs are capable of leaving behind them when they leave their homes in the morning.

Mrs Harris cleaned up these messes because it was her profession, a way of making a living and keeping body and soul together. And yet, with some chars there was more to it than just that, and particularly with Mrs Harris - a kind of perpetual house- proudness. And it was a creative effort as well, something in which a person might take pride and satisfaction. She came to these rooms to find them pigsties; she left them neat, clean, sparkling, and sweet-smelling. The fact that when she returned the next day they would be pigsties all over again, did not bother her. She was paid her three shillings an hour and she would again leave them immaculate. This was the life and professions of the little woman, one of thirty assorted passengers on the plane bound for Paris.

The green and brown checkered relief map of British soil slipped beneath the wings of the aircraft and gave way suddenly to the wind-ruffled blue of the English Channel. Where previously she had looked down with interest at the novelty of the tiny houses and farms below, these were now exchanged for the slender shapes of tankers and freighters ploughing the surface of the sea, and for the first time Mrs Harris realised that she was leaving England behind her and was about to enter a foreign country, to be amongst foreign people who spoke a foreign language and who, for all she had ever heard about them, were immoral, grasping, ate snails and frogs, and were particularly inclined to crimes of passion and dismembered bodies in trunks. She was still not afraid, for fear has no place in the vocabulary of the British char, but she was now all the more determined to be on her guard and not stand for any nonsense. It was a tremendous errand that was taking her to Paris, but she hoped in the accomplishing of it to have as little to do with the French people as possible.

A wholesome British steward served her a wholesome British breakfast and then would take no money for it saying that it came with the compliments of the airline, a little bit of all right.

Mrs Harris kept her face pressed to the window and her bag to her side. The steward came through saying: ‘You will see the Eiffel Tower in the distance on your right.’

‘Lumme,’ said Mrs Harris to herself, when a moment later she discovered its pin point upthrust from what seemed to be an old patchwork quilt of grey roofs and chimney pots, with a single snake-like blue thread of a river running through it. ‘It don’t look as big as in the pictures.’

A minute or so later they landed without so much as a bump on die concrete of the French airport. Mrs Harris’s spirits rose still further. None of her friend Mrs Butterfield’s gloomy prognostications that the thing would either blow up in the sky or plunge with her to the bottom of the sea had been borne out. Paris perhaps might not prove so formidable after all. Nevertheless, from now on she was inclined to be suspicious and careful, a precaution not lessened by the long bus ride from Le Bourget through strange streets, lined with strange houses, and shops offering strange wares in a strange and unintelligible language.

The British European Airways man assigned to assist travellers confused by the hurly-burly of the Invalides Air Station in Paris took one look at the hat, the bag, the outsize shoes and, of course, the inimitable saucy little eyes, and recognised her immediately for what she was. ‘Good Heavens,’ he said to himself under his breath, ‘a London char! What on earth is she doing here in Paris? The domestic help situation here can’t be
that
bad.’

He noted her uncertainty, quickly consulted his list, and guessed right again. Moving smoothly to her side he
touched his cap and asked: ‘Can I help you in any way, Mrs Harris?’

BOOK: Mrs. Harris Goes to Paris & Mrs. Harris Goes to New York
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