Returning to our literary tour through the pages of my novels, let’s pop over to the romantic city of Paris, where we’re going to join our main character, Laura and her boyfriend, Greg from The Silver Locket. The city of Paris is rather special to me, being the first overseas place to which I travelled with my husband, when we were very young, back in 1985. In a similar way, Paris is special to Laura, being the first place Greg took her for a weekend away.
Specifically today we’re going to tag along with them on their visit to Père Lachaise, the largest cemetery in Paris and the most visited necropolis in the world. You may remember from the first stop on our tour that I share Laura’s fascination for old graveyards. You can’t get much more fascinating than Père Lachaise with its catalogue of famous decedents including Oscar Wilde, Edith Piaf, Jim Morrison, Gertrude Stein and many, many more, so naturally Laura would choose to visit the place during her weekend away with Greg.
It’s a fascinating place where you can wander for hours amongst some of the most incredible funerary monuments. I’ve been drawn to the cemetery during several subsequent visits to Paris, which was an easy hop from Liverpool on Easyjet by the late 1990s.
The narrow lanes and twisting paths are the perfect place for another eerie encounter with the mysterious woman in the brown coat, whom Laura first meets in the Rufford graveyard, although on this occasion, Laura’s mistaken and it’s someone else. Greg’s reaction to her erroneous confrontation and, a little later on, to the silver locket with its naively-drawn picture and odd little talisman inside, show us how dismissive he can be of Laura. We start to see that he’s on different trajectory to her, scorning simple pleasures, like picnics by the river, which Laura continues to enjoy (as do I, provided there’s a nice bench to sit on).
I have to say that I’m in rather good company with this particular choice of setting. Alexandre Dumas references the famous cemetery in his novel The Count of Monte Cristo as being ‘alone worthy of receiving the mortal remains of a Parisian family…’ and the protagonist of Victor Hugo’s Les Misérables is buried in Père Lachaise. More recently, in the film Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald, the eponymous dark wizard convenes his followers at Père-Lachaise towards the end of the film.
Excerpt from ‘The Silver Locket’
Laura and Greg stood together poring over the plan of the famous Parisian cemetery, Père Lachaise.
“Okay,” said Greg, “we’ve seen Oscar Wilde, Jim Morrison, Edith Piaf, the Belgian poet who’s climbing out of his grave…”
“Yeah, Rodenbach, who else do you want to visit?” Greg looked around at the lines of gravestones and monuments stretching off in all directions. “We don’t want to spend all day here do we?”
“No, but can’t we just wander around for a bit? Oh, but we should see the wall where the communards were executed, that should appeal to you,” Laura laughed. “Round up the anarchists and shoot them.”
“Mmm, very amusing,” said Greg consulting the plan. “The Mur des Fédérés, as it’s actually called, is along here,” he said pointing to the map. “We can go there and then loop back along here towards where we came in.”
They wandered along in silence, Laura veering off the path to take a closer look at some of the more intriguing or quirky-looking tombs. A large ginger cat was happily curled up on the step of Rossini’s tomb. Laura stopped to stroke it. It purred loudly.
She looked up; Greg was already some distance away further down the path. Then out of the corner of her eye she saw a movement. At first she thought it was another cat, the cemetery was full of them, but then she saw a figure emerge from inside one of the tombs. It was a large woman wearing a brown coat. It was her, Laura was sure. And this time she’d followed her all the way to Paris. Laura moved stealthily towards the woman. She wasn’t going to get away from her a third time. Laura crept as quickly as she could after the woman, keeping out of sight. The woman was on one of the main pathways now, heading towards the gate. Laura broke into a trot. She was almost on her when she heard rapid footsteps catching up behind her. She ignored them as she drew level with the woman and caught her by the arm.
“Got you,” Laura cried triumphantly. “Now you can tell me who you are and…” Laura’s voice trailed off. It wasn’t her. “Oh, sorry. Pardon, madame,” she said, letting go of the woman’s arm. She continued her apology, explaining in her fluent French that she’d mistaken her for someone else. Laura stepped back and bowed her head. “Pardonnez-moi.”
“What on earth do you think you’re doing, Law?” It had been Greg behind her.
“It was a mistake,” Laura said to Greg, then turning to the woman: “Une erreur, Madame.”
The woman brushed her arm in an exaggerated fashion, snorted, and headed off towards the gate.
“Do you think I should go after her?” asked Laura.
“No, I don’t. Just leave it. But what in heaven’s name were you doing? You virtually assaulted that poor woman.”
“I know, I feel awful. But this woman in a brown coat keeps following me. First I met her in the churchyard in Rufford. But then she was in Preston, and then I saw her by the park in Liverpool and then at the train station there too.”
Greg rolled his eyes. “Come on, let’s get out of here,” said Greg. “There was a café near we came in, let’s go and have a drink and maybe you can explain what this is all about.”
Laura did her best to explain, but under Greg’s critical gaze, it did seem that her bumping into the mystery woman a couple of times was probably no more than coincidence. Laura took out the locket and handed it to him, telling him where she had found it and showing him how it opened.
“What’s this scruffy bit of paper?” he said, pulling out the little drawing. Laura was only just quick enough to stop it blowing off the table where Greg had dropped it in disgust. “And this stamp inside, it doesn’t look like a proper jeweller’s mark to me. Is it worth anything? At least you’ve not been tempted to wear such a naff little object.”
Laura snatched it back from him and carefully replaced Thomas’s drawing over the little talisman which still looked up at her imploringly. There was clearly no point in explaining anything further about it. As for the dreams, she decided she should keep those to herself. It was all very well trying to find out about the history of the house she’d inherited, but to try to get Greg to understand that she’d been trying to trace the existence of someone she had just dreamt about, however strangely and vividly, was really not a good idea.
The sun was high in the sky; it was past noon and people were leaving their offices for their customary long lunch breaks.
“Come on,” said Laura. “Let’s get a picnic from the boulangerie over the road there and take it down by the river.”
“Wouldn’t you prefer to go to a nice bistro somewhere?”
“Not if we’re eating tonight. Oh please, Greg, let’s have a picnic. It’s what we always used to do.”
“That’s because it was all we could afford. But okay, if you like. I’ll leave the choice up to you, as long as you promise not to attack any more old ladies.”