“Chef has prepared an amused bush,” said the maid and placed the two small plates in front of Sir John and Marie Jennings. She looked dubiously at the small piece of cheese and sauce on the plate.
“I have taken the liberty of informing chef that in this house it is customary to have bigger portions,” Miss Henderson added, “and that you sometime have seconds even then, Sir John.”
“Thank you Miss Henderson,” said Sir John. “I’m sure that’s very helpful.”
The maid left, and Sir John looked across the elaborately laid out table to his wife who smiled back at him. Their dining room was lit by candles and the glow of the fire, crackling gently.
“It is so nice to have a taste of ‘ome at Christmas mon cher,” said Marie. “Thank you.”
“My pleasure,” he said, “I’m just glad I managed to keep it a secret.”
Marie’s head dropped. Sir John didn’t see as he was eating the food.
“Hmm, she has a point,” he said. “It’s very tasty but not terribly filling.”
Sir John looked up and saw a tear running down Marie’s face.
“I’m sure we can get some more,” he said.
“No,” she said, “it’s not that … it’s when you mentioned secrets I thought of…”
“Oh, I’m sorry,” said Sir John. “I didn’t mean…”
“No, I know, but we ‘ave to ‘ave a conversation,” she said, “I ‘ave to tell you about my past.”
“My dear, it’s Christmas Eve,” said Sir John. “It’s a special day, perhaps some other time.”
“No,” said Marie, “now is perfect. No-one can bother us, and we have this nice food. Please, let me tell you about my life.”
“All right,” said Sir John. “If you like.”
“I do,” she said. “Can you remind me what you know?”
“Well,” said Sir John, “you grew up in a small village where you lived with your mother. Then you moved in with an aunt and uncle in Paris when you were about nine. You lived there but lost them in the chaos of 71 … taught in schools after that … joined the Société d’Evénements Mystérieux where we met, and the rest, as they say, is history.”
Marie looked thoughtful.
Just then, Miss Henderson arrived with two covered bowls. She was looking rather pleased as she put them on the table.
“I believe that chef has taken my suggestions seriously,” she said as she took lids off the bowls which were quite full of clear soup. “Chef said this a bowl of consumption.”
The maid looked at Marie’s uneaten food and took the plate.
“I didn’t like it much either, Mrs Jennings,” she whispered to Marie and left.
“Well, the facts are all true,” she said, “but that story has some gaps. Let me start at the beginning…”