12. Saltpêtriere




            It was past noon when I put down the books about Jeanne de la Motte and faced my math homework.  I was anxious to get out.  I half did the problems and half guessed by adding up the numbers Aunt Mill gave for the answers.  As long as I had two of them right I could just drag the dial and listen for the click of the third tumbler.  Easy.  Inside the safe were more Metro tickets and five more Euros.  Not wanting to alert Sief, I eased the apartment door closed, padded down the steps on my toes, snuck across the courtyard, and slipped out the carriage door.  I looked over my shoulder a few times on the way to the metro to make sure Sief wasn’t following me. 
            I made a mess of the Metro.  From Filles du Calvaire I went to the Bastille stop and got totally confused, taking the number five line to Richard Lenoir before I realized I was going the wrong way.  I got off, took the tunnel over the tracks and headed back the other way.  At Place d’Italie I transferred to the number six line and took it to Denfert Rochereau. 
            I didn’t mind taking in the extra stops.  I love looking at all the people in the metro, and all the big posters and the roar and tick and hiss and squeal of the trains.  I love the whir of color as your train slips in and out of each station and even the weird metro smell, slightly different at each stop.  I wonder if blind Parisians navigate the metro by smell?  Oh, and sure enough, I saw a few rats creeping about under the steel rails.   
            When I came up it was raining again.  Denfert Rochereau is a huge station under a big, multi-avenue intersection, so of course I was on the wrong side of the catacombs and had to cross five or six million avenues and rues, dodging buses and taxis and old ladies with umbrellas and shopping carts.  The catacombs were not marked by any huge sign or anything, so it took me awhile to find the entrance house, and when I did, it was locked up.  A sign said, in four languages, that the catacombs were closed for repair.  So that was that.  I guess the bones and skulls needed dusting.
            I decided to make my way to the Saltpêtriere, where Comtesse de la Motte had been locked up.  Back into the metro, back to Place D’Italie, back onto a number five train to the Saint Marcel station.
            When I came out of the Metro, the rain had paused.  Even rain gets tired sometimes.  Low clouds were turning purple-orange overhead.  It was easy to spot the Saltpêtriere, a magnificent building with a black dome and clock tower.  It didn’t look like a prison exactly, more like a chateau, but it was plenty intimidating anyway.  Modern buildings had sprung up around it.  Occasionally a man or woman in a lab coat, or some college-student type, would stroll by.  When I tried to walk in the main archway a guy in a blue uniform came from a side office and waved his finger at me.  I asked him where Comtesse de la Motte had stayed but he had no idea what I was saying and I had no idea what he was saying, thought it was clear form his tone that he thought I was a nuisance. 
            I walked out to the wide drive in front and stood there imagining the Comtesse opening a third story window, dropping down a long braid of bed sheets, and shimmying down in the dark.  I wondered if anyone helped her?  Did she have to walk across the lawn and avoid the guard in the blue uniform?  Was there a coach waiting for her?  Or maybe, since she was disguised as a boy, they just let her walk right out the door. 
            “Who goes there?” demanded the guard.
            “It’s me, Pierre, the stable boy,” said Jeanne.  “See you tomorrow.”
            “Right, bonsoir mon garçon.” 
            I hate to say it, but the Comtesse seemed like my kind of girl.  Oh, I don’t mean like with all her boyfriends and stuff.  Plus, I’m not so stupid that I don’t know what they mean in the book when they wrote that the Saltpêtriere was for mad women and women of tainted virtue.  But still, virtue or not, dressing up as a boy and escaping to England was pretty cool. 
            So who pushed her from the window?  Secret agents working for the king and queen?  Somebody working for Cardinal Rohan?  Mr. Boehmer or Mr. Bassange?  And even more important, what happened to the diamonds?   The books said the necklace was broken up and that some of the diamonds were sold in France and others in London.  But it made it sound like most of the fortune tied up in that necklace just vanished.  Poof.
            I got the feeling Aunt Mill knew more than she was telling.  Plus, it seemed to me, if you were going to hire someone like Aunt Mill and pay them good money to decode old messages, then there had to be something valuable at the end of it.  Say, diamonds?