Sir John and Marie both looked silently at their menus as they sat at a table for three in the pleasant restaurant. It was Marie who broke the silence first.
“I keep thinking about that poor man,” she said.
“Yes, it was a shame about that chap. I do hope he recovers,” said Sir John, “but we really weren’t to know. We merely asked him a couple of questions, it’s not like we twisted his arm or anything.”
Marie looked back down at her menu again.
“Still, the maid is coming soon,” said Sir John. “Perhaps we’ll get some information from her.”
“If we don’t kill her too,” said Marie, still looking down.
“And I saw this poster for some chap called Herringbone-Stove. He had a talk on you-know-what a couple of weeks ago. I think I’ll try and track him down too. We’ll get to the bottom of this,” said Sir John cheerily.
The maid from Miss Copperwaite’s bedroom appeared wearing her Sunday best.
“Good evening your highnesses,” she said somewhat nervously and stood behind the vacant chair.
Sir John stood up quickly.
“Please, Miss…” he started.
“Harper,” said the maid. “Mrs Harper.”
“Please, Mrs Harper, take a seat. Thank you for coming, and for your discretion,” said Sir John. “We wanted to talk to you after you mentioned to us… in the room… about… you know.”
“You mean about…” said Mrs Harper.
A waitress walked past with a tray with several bowls of soup.
“Probably best not mention it,” interrupted Sir John. “But please, we’d like to know why you said what you said.”
Mrs Harper looked at the menu in front of her.
“Oh, my… These prices are a little dear for one on my poor income,” she said. “I could barely afford a bread roll.”
“We’ll pay,” said Sir John. “As a thank you.”
“You’re very kind!” said Mrs Harper. “Now, our story begins just over a year ago. I was maid to Miss Copperwaite around that time, and she often confided to me her most innermost thoughts and secrets. Mostly it was sentimental tosh, but she had some unusual interests. She believed that art and religion could raise the common man and woman out of the poverty of their existence. She meant spiritually, of course. I don’t think she was that bothered about raising them out of their actual poverty.”
“I see,” said Sir John. “What manner of interests did she have?”
“May I take your orders?” said a waiter.
“Oh, I’ll take the soup,” said Sir John.
“And also me,” said Marie.
“I’ll have this, and this,” said Mrs Harper, pointing to the menu, “and one of them.”
The waiter left, and Mrs Harper continued her tale.
“She started an organisation that was trying to share art with people. Free galleries, art on a horse and cart, music down those telephonic devices, that sort of thing. Well, it seemed to me to be a great way to throw money away. I had to remind her that most impoverished people don’t have telephonic devices, for example. But she also got involved with what you might call new-fangled religions. Or what my father might have called utter codswallop. She went from group to group until she met this one man. She said he was the real thing. That he had powers.”
“Two soups,” said the waiter to the Jennings’, then turning to Mrs Harper, “and your lobster. The caviar is here in the bowl, and the bottle of champagne should be arriving shortly.”
“Oh, very nice,” said Mrs Harper. “Very kind of you, Sir Jenkins.”
“You’re, er, welcome,” said Sir John, a little flustered. “Perhaps you can tell us about this man?”
“She’d always meet him at the theatre, he had a box there, said he told her all sorts of things that she couldn’t tell anyone about,” said Mrs Harper. “Then one night she went to his home. That night, she came back and went to sleep like she is now. The one thing she told me was the name for what he could do… Mesmerism!”
Sir John gasped. He waved a hand in front of his open mouth.
“This soup is rather hot,” he said. “Be careful Marie, dear. Mrs Harper, do you know the name of this mysterious gentleman?”
“That’s the funny thing,” said Mrs Harper. “You know, she told me many a time and not once did I remember his name.”