1 – Friday Evening
It was dusk when they arrived home. The cottage was in darkness and except for the evening birdsong, all was deathly silent. Nothing disturbed the balance of peace in the Brittany countryside.
William Blake and Marie, his pretty French wife, had returned from their adventure-filled honeymoon voyage on the elegant brigantine, the Lady-Bird. They had docked early on Friday morning and, after a long farewell to the captain and his crew, had hired a taxi to bring them home. It had been an eventful trip with a lot of sun and fun, but there’d also been a frightening storm, a suicide and a narrowly escaped arrest by a British policeman. They’d not heard the last from him and they were sure he’d find them again, and probably quite soon.
~ ~ ~
Although it wasn’t cold, Marie shivered and sighed.
‘I feel quite drained.’ she said, putting her arm around my waist. ‘I was so looking forward to coming home. And now, it feels like a complete anti-climax.’
‘I know what you mean.’ I said. ‘Silly isn’t it. To be disappointed, I mean.’
‘Mm, I suppose so. It’s a Friday night, so Charles will be busy at the restaurant. With a full house, I hope.’ she said and put her head on my shoulder. ‘And who else could be here to greet us?’
‘We don’t have too many close friends I suppose.’ I said, looking at the wisp of smoke that found its way out of the tall stone chimney. ‘That’s odd.’ I muttered.
‘Oh, nothing I suppose. But, looks like the fire is going in the lounge.’ I pointed to the cottage chimney.
I picked up a bag in each hand from the heap of luggage on the gravel drive and followed Marie down to the porch.
‘The doors not locked.’ said Marie. ‘You don’t think that English policeman has found us already do you?’
‘No…probably not.’ I said, suddenly not wanting to go inside. ‘I’m sure, if they were here, they’d be sat in a car outside. More than they dare do, to break in.’
I put our bags down and quietly pushed the door open. Marie picked up a walking stick and held it in front of her like a club. I took a step inside, the familiar smells of beeswax polish and the soft background odor of wood-smoke washed over me. But there was something else, a sweet smell or was it a herb. I felt my heart beating harder, sweat chilled my face. Slowly I reached for the light switch and snapped it on.
‘Welcome Home!’ a chorus of voices burst from the darkness of the lounge and the lights came on.
It was so unexpected that Marie squealed in shocked surprise, I’m sure I gasped and stood blinking like an owl in the sudden wash of light. Then Rachel, my daughter, led a laughing band of people into the hallway. It felt like a crowd, but there was only a dozen of them, all with beaming smiles. Marie recovered first.
‘What a surprise.’ she said. ‘When we found the door unlocked, we thought we had robbers…Or worse.’
Rachel put her arms around both of us and shepherded us through to the lounge, Charles went out to bring our bags in. Marcel our head waiter from the restaurant bent to stoke the fire into a welcoming blaze and his nephew, our sous Chef, handed out glasses of champagne. Henri a fine jeweller and friend from the local shooting club shook my hand and welcomed us home. There were several others that I didn’t recognise, but they knew Marie. It seemed to me that most of the folk gathered around us were regular patrons at our restaurant and I was just beginning to think it odd, when Rachel took my arm and nodded towards the dining room.
‘I’m so pleased to see you again. I got down here lunchtime…Day off from the new job to get settled in.’ she said, reaching up to kiss my cheek.
‘We’re pleased to be home, it was quite an adventure…So you’re working in Paris now eh?’ I said.
‘Yes, I started last week. I’ve a lot to learn.’ she said. ‘We’re all here to welcome you home. But, everything is not quite as it appears.’ She said and pulled out a couple of chairs.
‘What’s it all about then?’ I asked sitting down.
‘Well, it’s the restaurant in town. Someone threw a rock through the front window this afternoon.’ she said. ‘Don’t worry though, Marcel has had it fixed and it’s been done with toughened glass.’ said Rachel, sitting next to me.
She went on to tell me that the Gendarme suspected a visiting football club of causing trouble. Apparently several other businesses were attacked in a similar way along Pontivy’s main street, the Rue Nationale. The window company had been very busy this afternoon.
‘The replacement work wasn’t finished in time to prepare for the evening guests, so we got a mini-bus and brought them here for a free dinner. Everyone thought it a marvellously good idea, but they don’t know everything.’ she said.
‘Good work…But this is beginning to sound ominous.’ I said
‘The thing that is most upsetting is this.’ she pulled an envelope from her jacket pocket. ‘It offers Marie sympathy on the event of your death. It arrived today, this morning in fact and really…it’s a threat. Marcel opened it, he thought it was just another bill, I’ve asked him not to say anything. Oh…this one is a copy, I’ve given the original to the Gendarme.’
It was in french, but I managed to read the economically short and to the point note. It had been printed on a small white card with a gloomy black border. It gave me a creeping, cold feeling, perhaps a glimpse of death.
Ms. Marie Blake,
We are sorry to hear of your unfortunate loss.
Please accept our sympathies and condolences.
‘I’d like to think that this is an awful mistake. But I don’t believe it is.’ I said, as a terrible thought occurred to me. ‘Its from a Greek word, “Nemesis” is linked to revenge or an avenger. Perhaps someone still thinks I’m responsible for shooting Jacques.’
‘Marie will have to see it of course, I know it’ll upset her. But the Gendarme will want to talk to you in the morning. Maybe you should be the one to let her read it.’ suggested Rachel.
‘Mm…I guess you’re right. I think she’s coming now.’’ I said.
Marie came into the dining room, followed by the group of chattering diners and Marcel with a tray of steaming soup dishes.
‘Ah…here you are. What are you two planning?’ she asked, innocently.
‘Oh, Rachel’s been telling me about the window.’
‘Yes…Marcel’s just given me the story. If I ever catch who did it, there’ll be hell to pay!’ she said, stamping her foot.
‘I wouldn’t like to be in their shoes if you do.’ I said. ‘But that’s not the only new problem.’
I couldn’t think of any other way to tell her of the note, so I just passed it to her.
‘My god! What’s this? It’s the most horrible mistake I can imagine.’ she said and put her hand to her cheek, her face went paper-white.
Rachel stood and put an arm around Marie’s shoulders, muttering something in French that I didn’t catch. Marie smiled up at her and briefly held Rachel’s hand.
‘Well, I’d like to think it was a mistake too.’ I said. ‘But we’ll have dinner first. Talk about it later. You’ll be staying with us Rachel, won’t you?’
She smiled and nodded.
Marie and I weren’t so hungry anymore, but we made a valiant effort to eat the delicious supper that Marcel’s talented nephew had presented. The table-chatter was vigorous and all in French, but I managed to understand most of it without too much help. Everyone wanted to know what had happened and all agreed that it might be a serious threat, but was more likely to be just a clumsy, malicious attempt to upset our happiness. Perhaps it could even be some local person who, wound-up by jealousy and envy, wanted to spoil things for us and was probably nothing to worry about.
All the surprise guests were very good and left the cottage as soon as the dinner had been cleared away. Charlie had decided to stay in the flat above the Restaurant, in case there was any more trouble. But he was under strict orders to call the Gendarmes if he had a problem and not to intervene himself. No matter who it was.