Miss Henderson came into the dining room with two covered plates. Sir John and Marie were both looking thoughtful.
“Was the soup satisfactory?” asked the maid warily as she put down the plates and gathered up the dishes.
“Yes, thank you,” said Sir John and managed a weak smile.
“Chef said this is poison,” said the maid and uncovered the plates to show two fish. She noticed that Marie’s eyes were a little red and pushed Sir John’s plate toward him with a glare then left.
“We don’t have to…” started Sir John.
“No, it’s fine, I want to tell you,” said Marie, “On the way to Paris my aunt told me sternly that I must never speak of the events in the village. I didn’t need telling. When we arrived in Paris it was … encroyable. Never in my life had I dreamed of such a place. The buildings, even then, and the people, hordes and hordes of them. And best of all, none of them knew me or knew about me. I decided to forget about talking to animals, the strange man, and the frozen children, and I think I convinced myself it was a childhood dream.
“So I grew up in Paris, learning the fashions and tastes of the city. My aunt and uncle were … they were not unkind, but they were not warm like my mother had been. I tried so hard to forget that I forgot about her too. Even today I can barely recall her face. When I was sixteen they told me she had died some years before, that they had waited until I was old enough to tell me. That whole other life died on that day, too.
“I went from a being a village child to a Parisian young lady and thought myself very sophisticated at that. It was a nice time, really. And then the Prussians came and the siege. It was terrible. There was no food and we ate … we ate whatever could be found.”
Marie looked at her half-eaten fish. Suddenly she set upon it, tearing the meat from the bones and devouring it.
“I learnt it is good to eat well and to be alive,” she said.
“This is when your aunt and uncle…” started Sir John. Marie nodded.
“In the shelling, at the end, they perished,” she said. “Then we had the commune and more fighting. It was chaos, my beloved Paris was in ruins, riven by conflict. It seemed like humanity had gone crazy.
“And in the midst of this, I remembered who I was. When the government came back into Paris, they rounded up the Communards. Some of my friends were with them. We heard stories … that people were being killed. I shouted at the soldiers who took my friends and they chased after me. They thought I was a Communard too, I think. I ran through the streets with these men after me, terrified. Eventually, I ran into a dead end, with the soldiers at the other. Once again, like years before I shouted ARRETER. And these men stopped too.”
“I stood paused, thinking it was a trick, but they didn’t move. I ran past the stationary men and away from the street. I ran and ran, frightened of the soldiers but more frightened of what I had done. Everything I had tried to forget was coming back into my mind. After just running wild I found myself at the Notre Dame. I thought I should go inside and ask for forgiveness. But I was frightened that I wouldn’t be able to, that I was somehow tainted. I sat down and cried. Then I heard a voice, from above, and he spoke to me.”
Sir John looked puzzled.
“Do you mean God?” he said.
“No, mon cher,” said Marie smiling, “a gargoyle.”