Eleven-year-old Henrietta arrives at the Gare du Nord uncomfortably early in the morning. She has never been in Paris before, but she is to be there for one day only, between two night trains. By a previous arrangement, the girl is met at the station by Miss Naomi Fisher, an acquaintance of Henrietta’s grandmother, who will look after her during her day in Paris.
Clutching her plush toy monkey while the taxi bumps through gray Paris streets, Henrietta drowsily absorbs Miss Fisher’s nervous chatter. The flow of comments, however, is not entirely pointless: Henrietta is presently made to comprehend that her stopover will be affected by rather unusual developments at Miss Fisher’s house. Miss Fisher’s mother is ill, although today she is feeling better, and Miss Fisher still hopes to take Henrietta out for a short sightseeing expedition after lunch. A more important complication seems to be the presence of Leopold.
Miss Fisher explains with obvious agitation that Leopold is an added responsibility, which she did not foresee when she agreed to meet Henrietta. He is nine years old, and he comes from Italy to see his mother, a very dear friend of Miss Fisher. Apparently, Henrietta gathers, he has never seen his mother before, a fact that strikes the little girl as being odd and mysterious. Miss Fisher agrees that the circumstances are rather unusual, but she evades a more direct explanation. She is careful to tell her that Leopold is naturally excited and anxious; Henrietta might play with him, if she likes, but she must not question him about his mother.
Upon arriving at the house in Paris, Henrietta has breakfast and a nap on the sofa before she awakens to find Leopold standing across the salon and gazing at her curiously. The children make wary approaches to acquaintanceship and tentatively compare notes on their respective journeys. In spite of Miss Fisher’s injunction, Henrietta manages to learn that Leopold lives at Spezia with his foster parents. Before she can find out more about him, she is summoned upstairs to meet Madame Fisher. She seems a strange person to Henrietta; her manner is ironic and penetrating, and, to her daughter’s distress, she insists on discussing Leopold’s father. Once, Madame Fisher intimates, he broke her daughter’s heart. Now he is dead.
Left alone below, Leopold rummages through Miss Fisher’s purse in a vain search for information about his mother. After Henrietta rejoins him, the children have lunch and play aimlessly at cards. While they are occupied, the doorbell rings, and Miss Fisher is heard to go to the door. A few minutes later, she enters the room, her face suffused with regret and pity. Leopold struggles to affect nonchalance when she tells him that his mother is not coming, after all.
Leopold has no way of...
(The entire section is 1153 words.)