“And you are quite sure they are sane?” said the lady, hunched over the canvas and applying generous quantities of paint to it.
Emile looked over her shoulder at the chaos of colours and shapes of the painting. A quizzical look passed over his face. He squinted and tilted his head.
“As sane as anyone I’ve met, Sabine,” he said. The lady turned to look at him, a wild plume of dark hair sweeping around as she did. She looked closely at his face.
“Well, that doesn’t tell me much,” she said. There was a knock at the door and Emile went to answer.
“That will be them,” he said, then jovially, “Marie! Sir John!”
As he saw the couple he changed his tone. “My God, what is it, what has happened?”
“Terrible, terrible business,” said Sir John, face pale and holding on tightly to Marie.
“The Libraire du Magie,” said Marie. “We went there…”
“That is a terrible business!” said Emile. “That man sells the worst nonsense I’ve ever seen. A profiteer on the gullible.”
“That man is dead,” said Sir John. Emile sat down suddenly.
“Dinard. Dead?” he said quietly.
“Yes,” said Marie, “We found him in the shop, slumped over the counter. He had been there some time by the looks of it.”
“Well, he was never the healthiest specimen,” said Emile absently. “Poor Dinard.”
“Oh, what a shame,” said Sabine. “I liked him so much! He was so clever, and I so liked his colour-music ideas.”
Sir John and Marie looked around at the lady.
“I’m sorry,” said Sir John, “we haven’t…”
“My God, my manners,” said Emile. “Marie, Sir John, this is Sabine. She is a guest of mine.”
“Enchanté,” said Sabine.
“Et vous,” said Marie.
“The same,” said Sir John.
“Sabine is an artist,” said Emile.
“Amongst other things,” Sabine said. “Emile, darling, perhaps we should have something to drink?”
“Yes, good idea,” said Emile.
“I shall go to the cave and retrieve something worthy of our guests,” Sabine said with a sly smile and swept out of the room.
“Sabine is very modern,” said Emile after she had gone.
“I see,” said Sir John. “Are you… that is… do you… I mean… is she?”
“We are not lovers, no,” said Emile. “Well, not exactly.”
“I see,” said Sir John. “I think.”
“Paris,” said Emile and shrugged.
Sabine returned then with a bottle of Veuve Clicquot. She waved it imperiously round the room.
“It is a little on the warm side,” she said, “but in light of our guests and the sad news they bring, it is the only thing I will drink.”
“I was saving that…” said Emile.
“For an occasion more worthy than this?” said Sabine, looking perplexed. With a single twist of her wrist the cork came off the bottle.
“I’ll get the glasses.” said Emile, resigned.
“Paris,” said Sir John and glanced at Marie. She smiled for the first time that afternoon.
“So, Sir John, Marie,” said Sabine, sitting down in front of the couple and fixing them in her gaze, “you must tell me everything about your adventures.”