The Paris Awakening: Earth Part 16

acrobat

The three men wore fixed expressions as Clackprattle ranted on. They were sitting around a table with Clackprattle at its head, his goblet dripping wine as he swung it round manically.

“And it is I that has triumphed,” he shouted. “It is I that have succeeded and it is I that have the key.”

Pook smiled insipidly at his employer.

“Indeed, Master, it is a great success, one that, I feel sure will be greatly remembered for years as a stepping stone to a most splendid achievement,” he said.

“Stepping stone!” roared Clackprattle, quite red in the face. “Don’t you see Pook, you fool, see how easy it was for me? The other three keys will be ours in a week and we shall then hold the weapon.”

Pook, who had flinched only slightly at the insult, went to speak but was interrupted by the man opposite him.

“Indeed, Master Clackprattle is correct,” said Bisset. “We have achieved a famous victory and the next steps will proceed as quickly as possible.”

“I trust we haven’t forgotten our bargain?” said Clackprattle, waving his gloved hand. “We aren’t stalling, are we?”

“Most certainly not,” said Bisset. “We are indebted and I trust our support is clear. Indeed, even now we are working without pause to locate the other three parts. But, you have had a tiring day, no doubt. Why not retire to your chambers whilst we continue the investigation?”

Clackprattle sat down.

“It is true,” he said. “The exertion required is quite astounding.”

“Of course it is, Master,” said Pook. “Monsieur Bisset makes a valid point, why tire yourself more when we, your willing servants, can carry out your biding while you rest?”

Clackprattle made a grunting noise, his head lolling onto his chest.

“It would expedite matters if we could take temporary possession of the key-piece,” said Bisset, still smiling.

Clackprattle rotated a bloodshot eye at the man.

“You mean to take it from me?” he said groggily.

Bisset went to speak when Pook interrupted.

“I, your most loyal and devoted servant will be here all the time,” he said. “Nothing untoward or unseemly will occur.”

Clackprattle seemed to think on that for a minute. He made another grunting noise and dropped the round key-piece on the table. He then stood up woozily and headed out of the room.

Bisset and Pook looked across at each other, both still smiling.

“You need the key-piece to find the next one,” said Pook, “I surmise.”

“Most astute,” said Bisset. “Not only must the pieces be retrieved in order, it is necessary to use the first to find the second, and so on. You won’t mind if I take the piece to look?”

Pook shrugged.

“I am sure you will return it in good measure, after what Master Clackprattle has done for you,” he said.

“Naturally!” said Bisset brightly. “But may I ask you one question?”

“Please, feel free to do so,” said Pook.

“Earlier by the fire, what were you doing?” said Bisset.

“I was warming myself,” said Pook. “I find that I feel the cold quite acutely.”

Bisset frowned.

“It looked like, you…” he started, then shook his head.

“What shall we do with him?” said Pook, indicating the man at the end of the table, dressed in an acrobat’s outfit.

Bisset looked at the ashen face.

“Someone will deal with him,” he said and got up from the table. “I will take my leave and will start on the key.”

As Bisset left the room, Pook and the other man both stared into space.

“What a remarkable day indeed,” said Pook, turning to the other man. “I imagine you’ve not seen one like it before?”

The acrobat, long dead, stared vacantly in front of him.

Pook made a little giggling sound then got up to leave the room.

 

 * The superb bronze sculpture of the acrobat can be found in the city of Montreux along the beautiful shores of Lake Geneva.

 

The Paris Awakening: Earth Part 15

Earth 15

“I say sir!” said Sir John, echoing his wife’s annoyance. But Marie had gone, while the bearded man sat and laughed.

There was a roar of excitement from the crowd and then a sigh of disappointment.

“Where’s Marie?” said Sir John, perplexed at the absence of his wife who had been there just a second before.

The crowd started to slowly move away from the famous windmill.

“She was just here?” said Emile, equally perplexed.

“Did that man…” said Sir John, turning to look where the bearded man was sitting. He moved towards the table, his view obscured by the departing crowd.

“What did you do?” said Sir John as he pushed his way to the table, but he found he was addressing an empty chair. The man had gone too.

“What is going on?” said Sir John to himself.

The crowd was still dispersing around him as he wandered back to where he had been standing. Miss Henderson was there looking around distraught.

“I’ve lost Morag,” she said. “I had her with me one moment, then she went the next.”

Sabine emerged from the departing crowd.

“It was an acrobat,” she said. “Doing some trick on the sails of the windmill, jumping from one to another. At the end he stood on the roof and waved with something in his hand. Then he went in.”

“Something’s happened,” said Sir John. “Marie and Morag and that obnoxious gentleman have all vanished.”

Sabine looked unperturbed.

“Be calm, Sir John,” she said. “It is a big crowd in Paris, they are probably somewhere in it. We will wait here and all will be fine, I’m sure.”

“But the man…” said Sir John.

“Even in Paris people sometimes leave a café,” said Sabine.

Emile leaned close to his friend.

“You know earlier, when Marie said we needed a witch,” said Emile quietly, “what exactly did she mean?”

“Well,” said Sir John, “it’s funny you should ask that…”

“We’re too late!” said Marie, emerging from the crowd with Morag. “They have it.”

“Who has what?” said Emile.

“The key, the part of the key,” said Marie.

“You mean the part of the weapon?” said Sir John.

“No… yes,” said Marie. “Whatever it is, they have it. There was a man on the sails…”

“An acrobat,” said Sabine, “from his costume.”

“Yes, that was the task, the man at the café was the elemental, the task was to go around the sails three times while it moved. The acrobat did it and… something appeared in his hand.” said Marie.

“We tried to get to the windmill, but we were too late,” said Morag. “Even with everyone frozen for while.”

“When was everyone frozen?” said Miss Henderson. “I didn’t see that.”

“Aye, well,” said Morag, “you were one of them.”

The crowd had thinned out now and the street was mostly visible again. As the group looked at Marie and Morag they missed the fat man, short man and acrobat getting into a carriage.

“The point is,” said Marie glumly, “the point is, we lost.”

The Paris Awakening: Earth Part 14

crowd at moulin rouge

The Place Blanche was filled with people all seemingly staring at the Moulin Rouge. From the back of the crowd it was hard to see exactly what was catching their attention, beyond the lights starting to seduce in the pall of dusk. But there were audible gasps and fingers pointing in the direction of the windmill.

“What’s happening?” said Morag to the group.

A young man staggered past, visibly drunk and even more visibly perturbed by a talking dog. He looked in horror at the bottle of absinthe he was drinking and hurled it to the ground before running away. Emile winced at the sight of it.

“It’s a bit hard to make out,” said Sir John, clutching his wife. “Something on the windmill maybe?”

“Oh for ‘eavens sake!” said Sabine and started pushing through the crowd. Her apologies were quickly followed by her blows to the ribs or backs of the onlookers. People turned and made exclamations as she pushed her way to the front but she seemed oblivious to her impact.

“Not very ladylike,” said Miss Henderson to Marie, before casually standing on the foot of a drunken man leering towards her. He howled in pain and fell backwards. Emile made a moue of approval.

“Ho ho, so you brought the maid,” said the fat bearded man at the café, sitting in the same spot as before and once more with a crowd around him.

Sir John glanced over and muttered something.

“Ignore him,” said Emile, under his breath.

“It’s annoying,” said Sir John, equally low voiced, “and ungentlemanly. In London he would be horsewhipped.”

“My friend,” said Emile kindly, “you are not in Kensington now.”

Sir John made a noise.

“Which one is your maid,” said the man. “The amazon?”

Miss Henderson rolled her eyes.

“Or is that your wife?” said the man.

Monsieur!” hissed Marie and swivelled round to confront the man.

Then…

…everything stopped….

…nobody moved….

…time halted…

…and sounds faded to silence.

“Is that you?” said Morag, walking up to Marie and looking at everyone now still as statues.

“No!” said Marie, confused.

“It’s just no-one else is moving.” said Morag.

The bearded man let out a big earthy laugh.

“Well, nearly no-one!” he said.

“You!” said Marie. “You’re the elemental.”

The man nodded forward, his demeanour seeming to change from brusque bon vivant to gentle man-mountain.

“Enchanted,” he said, “quite literally. And what may I ask are a witch and a… I’m sorry m’dear. What are you?”

“I’m an alchemist,” said Morag. A frown crossed the man’s enormous forehead.

“We’re looking for the weapon,” said Marie.

“The weapon?” said the man.

“The four parts,” said Marie. “The weapon in four parts.”

“You mean the key,” said the man. “The key in four parts.”

“The key?” said Morag.

“Yes, the key,” said the man, looking a little uncertain. “I guard one part and administer a test for it.”

“Yes, that,” said Marie. “What is the test?”

The man looked at the windmill on the Moulin Rouge.

“The test is simple, one must stay on top of the sails of the windmill for 3 full turns. A garçon over there is trying to do it as we speak,” said the elemental.

Marie tried to squint.

“I don’t see, what garçon,” said Marie.

“The one that came with the English men, the fat pompous one and the thin one that rubs his hands,” said the elemental. “They came yesterday, spoke to me, and I explained the task. Today they came back with an acrobat, I think. They started a little a while ago and he has made two turns now.”

The elemental turned to look at Marie and Morag, but they were gone, pushing through the stationary crowd and towards the Moulin Rouge and its windmill.

The Paris Awakening: Earth Part 13

peacock

“And what did you find there?” said Sabine, rapt.

“Nothing,” said Emile flatly.

“Nothing?” said Miss Henderson.

“Nothing,” said Sir John.

“Nothing at all?” said Phlebotomous, prompted by Osvold.

“Not a thing,” said Emile. “No elemental creature, no challenge, no weapon.”

“But Clackprattle and Pook were there,” said Morag, “and there was still nothing?”

“Is my accent a little confusing?” said Emile, sounding irritated. “We saw nothing, found nothing, heard nothing, smelled nothing!”

There was a pause during which a peacock walked into the church. It looked at the group sitting around the table and made a noise.

“Is that new?” said Sir John, pointing to the peacock.

“It matches the decor,” said Sabine waving a hand round at the reworked church hall, now filled with rooms made with ornately decorated panels.

“We lost the noise of the workmen and now we have the noise of this overdressed chicken,” said Miss Henderson to Sir John, with a poor attempt at sotto voce.

Morag barked and the peacock ran out of the church.

“It’s a bit wary of me,” said Morag. “Probably with reason.”

“So what do we do next?” said Sabine.

“We go back, I think,” said Sir John. “We can take some of our investigative devices to see if that helps. Phlebotomous, do you think you have anything?”

“It’s not exactly my area,” said Phlebotomous,” but I could probably make a sort of elemental detector. Something that registered when one element was out of balance. That might help you find this creature.”

“Sounds perfect,” said Sir John, “and we can take the Ectoscopic Glasses. They may help with identifying supernatural sources. Emile?”

“I’ll see what I can find, but I have an Ethereal Detector that may help,” said Emile.

“And we’ll need someone who can carry out the physical challenge,” said Sir John. “When we find out what it is.”

There was a short pause.

“Of course!” exclaimed Sabine excitedly. “It is obvious. I will do it.”

“Ah,” said Sir John, “we were actually wondering…”

“Nonsense,” interrupted Sabine. “The duty falls to me. I insist.”

“Sabine,” said Emile, “we wondered if Miss Henderson would volunteer.”

They all looked at the maid.

“Well of course, mess sewer,” said Miss Henderson. She did a strange sort of half-courtesy and tried to hide a smile.

“And since I’m the only one who can’t be hypnotised by that numpty Pook, I’d better come along as well,” said Morag.

“Osvold and I will stay here,” said Phlebotomous. “Since it’s day time.”

“Well, that’s settled then, I guess,” said Sir John. “Let’s go tomorrow, first thing and find whatever it is.”

The door to Marie and Sir John’s room swung open and Marie walked out.

“You’re forgetting one thing,” said Marie, smiling. “You’re probably going to need a witch.”

“Did she say what I think she said?” said Sabine to Emile, her sotto voce as bad as Miss Henderson’s.

 

Picture adapted from W.H. Bradley “The Modern Poster – Frontis art” under Creative Commons License

“Our Best Man is in Switzerland”

We apologise for the spontaneous intermission but traveling has overwhelmed our ability to publish. Please accept this holiday snap as an apology, enjoy the over-priced ice cream and normal service will resume shortly…

The Paris Awakening: Earth Part 12

earth 12 pp

Sir John and Emile pushed through the drunks and raucous groups spilling from bars, theatres and clubs of the most dubious kind.

“Are you looking for a good time?” said one hideously painted lady to Sir John as he walked passed.

“Not especially,” said Sir John and hurried away. “You know, I thought it might be useful to have Marie or Miss Henderson with us, but I do believe you are right. This place is the worst kind of sordid hell hole. What kind of lascivious swine would gain pleasure from being here?”

“Hey Emile, are you coming in tonight?” shouted a barman as they strolled down Rue Lepic.

Sir John looked shocked at Emile.

“Mistaken identity,” shrugged Emile. “It’s a common name.”

“Hey Planquette!” shouted the barman. “Are you deaf, man?”

Emile looked unmoved.

“That’s a common name as well,” he said. “Half of Paris is called Emile Planquette.”

They stopped in a square and looked around.

“We are pretty much out of Montmartre,” said Emile. “And no sign at all.”

“Hey,” shouted a large man with a red face and big beard, surrounded by a group of men. “What are you two looking for? A woman?”

Sir John scowled.

“Ignore him,” said Emile. “We must have missed something. It seems like we’ve been down every street, though.”

“A boy?” shouted the man. Sir John glanced over, but Emile was impassive, facing away from the man.

“Has the topography changed recently?” said Sir John. “Some change of energy perhaps, to make the map wrong?”

“A sheep?” shouted the man to howls of laughter from the group. Emile pivoted round.

Monsieur!” he shouted. The man smiled back at him.

“It’s just the lamb here is delicious,” he said.

“Look out,” said Sir John and pushed Emile into an alleyway. The bearded man and his entourage laughed even harder. Emile was about to speak when Sir John put a finger to his lips. Clackprattle and Pook walked by the alleyway. Emile gasped then put his hand over his mouth. The men hid as the two walked down the road a little. Sir John looked at the building their adversaries had emerged from.

“A windmill?” he said.

“Tsch, of course,” said Emile. “The Moulin Rouge. I assume that’s the famous Clackprattle and Pook.”

“Indeed,” said Sir John “and moving with some purpose. I suspect they’ve found the elemental. We should go in at once. I hope we’re not too late.”

“You think they may have completed the challenge?” said Emile. “A physical challenge? But… one is so fat and the other so scrawny…”

“Then there’s no time to lose,” said Sir John. ”Let’s go in there and find out what it is.”

Sir John and Emile strode out of the alleyway. The group around the bearded man regarded them with curiosity.

“You know,” said Emile, “on reflection we probably should have brought the maid.”

Sir John’s response was lost in gales of laughter.

 

The Paris Awakening: Earth Part 11

earth 11 pp

Sir John reflected that it was the second time he had found himself inside a Parisien house with his wife looking disturbed and confused. Like before, a stranger had let them in, this time the neighbour, without quite knowing why they had done it.

“I am sorry madame,” said the neighbour, an elderly lady with a face mapped with wrinkles, “we found him a few days ago. He must have died shortly before.”

“But I just found him…” whispered Marie, staring into middle distance.

The neighbour looked on awkwardly for a moment, hovering in the door.

“I’ll… I’ll  leave you,” she said and hurried out. Sir John held his wife’s hand. She barely registered his touch, but looked up at his face.

“Did I do this?” she said.

“Do you mean…” said Sir John, lowering his voice, “…magically?”

“No, no.” she said. “I mean, the shock of seeing me, of finding out I was alive. Did it kill him? Did I kill him?”

Sir John squeezed his wife’s hand.

“Marie, he was a very old man, you said yourself,” said Sir John. “More likely, he felt happy he knew you were alive than shocked.”

Marie frowned.

“You mean, he felt that he could die because he knew there was someone left behind,” she said.

“I mean…” said Sir John. “I mean I don’t think you killed him. It’s just a coincidence.”

Marie walked away from her husband and her hand slipped from his. She wandered around the room looking at the furniture, the decrepit armchair, the table next to it. Her shoulders shook a little and she absently brought a handkerchief to her face.

“Excuse me, madame,” said a woman at the door. She was young and her face was set firm. “But who are you? We don’t know you, or what you want.”

Marie turned round to look at the woman, tears rolling down her face. The other woman looked surprised and went to speak.

Aller,” said Marie quietly and the woman withdrew.

“Marie,” said Sir John. “Perhaps we should go. We can do nothing more here.”

Marie nodded silently and walked toward the door. She glanced down at the cupboard beside her then froze.

“Marie?” said Sir John.

Marie picked up a pendant from the cupboard and held it to the light, its green jewel sparkling. She looked confused at it then turned to Sir John.

“This was my mother’s,” said Marie.

“Are you sure?” said Sir John.

“She wore it when we were in the village. Mon cher, this is what my uncle wanted to give to me. Not the broken sundial.”

Marie put the chain over her head.

“Um… perhaps we should leave it?” said Sir John. “That could look a bit like stealing.”

Marie frowned at her husband.

“It is my mother’s pendant in my uncle’s house” she said. “It is not stealing.”

There was some noise outside and Sir John glanced outside.

“Ah” he said, “there seems to be rather a crowd there. I really think we should take our leave.”

Marie sighed and walked to the door. She opened it wide and the group murmured louder.

Madame…” one of them started.

Arrêter!” said Marie and they all froze.

Marie glanced at her husband.

“First trick I ever learned,” she said and left the house.

The Paris Awakening: Earth Part 10

the honey is on the table_processed

The sun had set and the interior of the art church was lit by candles. The near constant construction work had finished for the day. It  had produced some small cubicle-like rooms made from ornate, organic panels. A huge table had been placed where the altar had once been and scattered on it were many pieces of paper covered in symbols. Around the table stood Emile, Sabine, Marie, Sir John, Miss Henderson, Morag, Phlebotomus and Osvold.

“So” said Emile, “we have good news and bad news.”

“What’s the bad?” said Sir John.

“The bad news is that we have two murderous swine loose in Paris searching for a weapon of immense power. The weapon is in four parts, we think, and they have a map to the parts,” said Emile. “And we do not.”

“That does sound rather bad,” said Sir John, “put like that. What’s the good news?”

“We have the notes that Dinard made when he acquired and studied the map.” said Emile.

“And… they tell us the location of the four parts?” said Sir John.

“Possibly…” said Emile. “We have a small problem with the notes.”

Everyone looked down at the table and the pages covered in symbols.

“It looks Greek to me,” said Miss Henderson.

“It is Greek,” said Emile. “I’ve been translating the notes with Osvold’s help, but it’s a slow process and its hard to be sure we have it right. It seems like either a dialect or…”

“Ancient Greek,” said Sabine. Everyone looked at her.

“How do you know that?” said Emile, looking flabbergasted.

“Because I can read Ancient Greek,” she said, “and Latin for matter. I am quite the scholar of antiquities.”

Miss Henderson rolled her eyes.

“Then what does it say?” said Emile.

Sabine picked up a piece of paper.

“The four pieces are represented by four elements, each one kept safe by a guardian who will set the seeker a task. The task will conform to the element in question, so physical for earth, intellectual for air and so on,” she read. “The elements must be acquired in order, beginning with earth.”

Emile looked shocked.

“It has taken the two of us all week just to decipher one page,” he said.

Sabine shrugged and picked up another.

“Ha! That pompous ass will be back in the shop within the hour when he sees the map. Whoever designed it is a true genius. It is a map of mind states not places. Only someone who has walked and knows the streets of this city can use it,” she read.

There was a murmur from the group.

“Then maybe it is not too bad,” said Marie. “Maybe they cannot read it.”

“They will just hire some urchin,” said Sabine. “For a centime they could crack the code. Dinard was a fool to let them have this map.”

Osvold made a whimpering noise and Phlebotomous patted him on the shoulder. Miss Henderson looked pityingly at the small vampire then shot a look at Sabine.

“Still,” said Marie, “it is some hope. Did Dinard find where the earth part was kept?”

Sabine riffled through the notes reading then rejecting several before reading one in detail. She gave a short high laugh.

“Yes,” she said, “he found it. He says that he didn’t even need to walk the street to find this place. He says it was almost too obvious, stuck between the palaces of desire and consumption.”

“Where is it?” said Sir John.

Sabine looked at all of them and smiled.

“The first element is to be found,” she said, “in Montmartre.”

The Paris Awakening: Earth Part 9

La Fleur Compass pp

The noise of construction was quite constant in the church interior, and despite Sabine’s intentions, Sir John felt sure the only artistry was the colourful language coming from the workers. He was near the entrance and had taken to pacing and glancing occasionally out the front door, interspersing this with comments like “she doesn’t know we’re here” to anyone passing. When he finally saw Marie returning with Miss Henderson and Morag his heart leapt with joy.

“Marie!” he called as his wife arrived in the church and gawped up at the decoration. “You have returned.”

“Oh mon cher, I am sorry I left so suddenly, but I felt sure I could find him,” said Maire.

“It doesn’t matter my dear,” he said, then added, “Find who?”

“My uncle, look he gave me this,” said Marie holding out the compass.

“Oh,” said Phlebotomous, coming to see what the new commotion was, “it’s a sundial!”

“No Mr Bosch,” said Miss Henderson, carefully and slowly. “It’s a compass. See the little needle moving?”

“Oh that’s just to calibrate it,” said Phlebotomous, taking the device. “See I lift up the latitude arm here, open up the gnomon thus and…. Well perhaps you could check it Miss Henderson. I can’t really go out. But make sure it points north, that’s what the compass is for.”

“What a jolly good idea,” said Miss Henderson. “Morag, why don’t you accompany me? Mr Bosch, I expect your little friend needs you.”

“No Osvold is fine,” said Phlebotomous, “I can wait here until you get back.”

Miss Henderson’s eyes rolled up, then shot sideways at Sir John and Marie, who were looking awkwardly at each other. Finally she nodded vigorously to where Phlebotomous and Osvold were hiding from the sun. Phlebotomous looked confused at her then suddenly a surprised look spread across his face.

“Oh!” he said, “I’ve just remembered something very important that I need to do over there.”

He started to walk over to the little hideaway he had built for himself and Osvold.

“It’s best that I don’t tell you what it is,” he said, and walked on a little further before adding, “It is however completely safe.”

Miss Henderson sighed and walked out of the building with the compass, Morag following after her.

A silence grew between Sir John and Marie.

“My dear wife…” started Sir John, his voice a little hesitant.

“Oh mon cher, I am sorry for running off and how I have been lately,” said Marie. “Things have been so strange for me.”

“…you seem as if something in the diary has upset you…” continued Sir John, barely registering what Marie had said.

“Yes and…no,” said Marie. “It was not the diary itself but the memories it provoked. I had thought all my life my childhood was a sad one, filled with rejection and alienation. But the diary reminded me I was someone else back then, someone more confident than I am now. And it made me wonder who the real me was.”

“…would you like to talk about it…” Sir John said.

“I should have from the start I suppose, but I started to think that if I wasn’t who I thought I was, who would know the real me. I suppose I closed down a little. I started to think about my uncle, that he would know me better than I knew myself. So I started to search for him in my memories, but I couldn’t see where he was. Then it came to me, I should use my powers to find him. I wasn’t sure how, but I felt sure if I walked the city I could walk my way to him. And it worked and I found him. Oh mon cher, we talked for just a little while, but it made me realise that I am not this girl anymore, that she was the seed of who I am. And then I realised I needed to be who I am now, and be with the people I know now and be…”

“…with me?” said Sir John.

Marie’s face softened and she gazed at her husband. She took his face in her hands.

“Yes, mon cher, with you,” she said. “I need to be with you.”

Marie kissed Sir John and smiled.

“I should find Emile and we should get everyone together,” she said. “We need to find these things that Clackprattle and Pook are searching for.”

Marie went looking deeper into the church and Sir John stood stunned.

“I’m getting rather good at this husband lark,” he whispered to himself.

Miss Henderson walked in just then.

“Mr Bosch, this sundial thing doesn’t tell the correct time,” she shouted across the church. “I think the gnome is broken.”

The Paris Awakening: Earth Part 8

Artifact

Marie sat in the old man’s living room as he brought a coffee pot into the room with some old looking biscuits. He served Marie then sat down, barely taking his eyes off her.

“I can’t believe it’s you!” he said. “All these years… and you were alive.”

“Uncle, I am so sorry,” said Marie, “I had no idea we were really related. I thought… you were a family friend.”

“It doesn’t matter,” said Uncle Thierry. “All that matters is that you are alive. Have you been in Paris all this time?”

“For a while, but I live in London now, I’m married to an Englishman,” said Marie.

Uncle Thierry snorted.

“Well, each to their own,” he said, “but how can you stand the food?”

Marie smiled.

“You get used to it,” she said.

Thierry laughed long and hard. Marie thought how she had forgotten his laughter. How it had brightened up her home as a child.

“Uncle,” said Marie. “I wanted to ask you some things. Something about my mother.”

“Of course,” said Thierry, “but in truth I didn’t know her so well.”

Marie looked puzzled.

“But, you are her brother?” she said.

“Ah,” said Thierry, “I know why you are confused. No, I am your aunt’s brother, yes, but your aunt was not your mother’s sister. It was her husband that was your blood relative, Marie. He was your mother’s brother.”

“But… I thought,” said Marie.

“Yes, I think they told you the other way round,” said Thierry. “I don’t know why. Your mother was… well, she was… different you know. Had some unusual ideas.”

Marie looked at the kind face.

“How would you say she was different?” said Marie.

“Well she never stayed still for a start,” said Thierry. “First she came to Paris, then moved to that village when you were born…”

“She was in Paris?” said Marie.

“Yes, yes,” said Thierry, “That’s where she met your father. He died of cholera you know, in the outbreak, when you were still inside your mother. It was a miracle she survived, that you both survived. I guess that’s why she wanted to go back to the countryside.”

“So she came first from the village?” said Marie. “The one where I grew up?”

“No, not at all,” said Thierry, “She came from somewhere South I think. I never knew where. As I said, I didn’t know her too well, Marie. Your uncle didn’t talk much about her either.”

There was silence then as Marie looked into her coffee cup.

“Here,” said Thierry, “I have something for you to cheer you up.”

The old man rummaged about in a big cupboard, grumbling and cursing. Marie smiled at this, remembering other times.

“Here it is,” he said at last and brought forward a small brass object. He gave it to Marie and she stared down at it. It looked like a compass but with other gauges and attachments.

“What is it?” said Marie.

“No idea,” said Thierry. “It belonged to your uncle. He said it was special somehow. Never explained why. Come to think of it he was a little different too. It’s no wonder you’ve run off to England!”

Marie smiled again.

“Thank you Uncle,” she said and started to stand.

“Are you going already?” he said sadly.

“I should get back,” said Marie, “People will wonder where I am.”

“Well, come see me soon,” said Thierry. Marie gathered her things and pocketed the compass.

“By the way.” said Thierry, “How did you find me in the first place? I’ve only lived here five years.”

“It was… a bit of luck,” said Marie. She hugged her uncle and then left.

He pottered a bit around the room, then looked in the cupboard again. Inside he found a small piece of jewellry and held it to the light.

“I knew you were in there somewhere,” he said.

There was a knock at the door and so Thierry dropped the jewelry on the side and went to answer it.

“Marie?” he said, as he opened the door, “Did you forget something?”

Outside stood a short thin man and a larger fat man with a glove on one hand.

“I wonder sir,” said the thin man, “if we may possibly come inside for a short moment to discuss a matter of no small importance.”

The fat man took his glove off and Thierry stared at the strange green colour of his hand.