the storm of the night had abated, but dark clouds still held sway in the sky when babette, the housekeeper, approached the comtesse, who was staring out the front window at the leaves and branches scattered on the wet grounds.
"i am going to the village now, madame. the storm looks as if may return, and i would like to go and return before it does."
"i am sure you know best, babette."
"would madame like me to obtain anything extra, for our guest?"
"who is, i assume, still asleep?"
"jeanette and arette tell me she is still in her room."
"and who has, therefore, given no indication that she wants anything to eat at all."
"arette said she looked healthy enough when she arrived. i assume she has at least a normal appetite."
"maybe she is a werewolf. in that case she will no doubt feed herself."
"madame is pleased to be droll."
"her appearance seemed to partake somewhat of the miraculous and mysterious to me. jeanette was skeptical. what do you think?"
"the mysterious is quite outside my purview, madame. as to the supplies from the village..."
"oh, use your own judgment. for one or two days i don't suppose she will bankrupt us. if she wakes up and wants a whole roast oxen for her lunch, we can always send one of the boys out to find one, eh?"
"indeed, madame." babette took her leave. the comtesse continued to look at the window and through the trees at the darkening sky. presently babette appeared on the path, accompanied by one of the kitchen maids with a basket on her arm.
"excuse me madam, " a squeaky little voice behind her interrupted the comtesse's reverie. she turned and saw the young maid referred to by the other servants as "little margaret" with her hands clenched nervously in front of her. behind her, in the wide doorway of the drawing room, stood a woman of about thirty years, of medium height and haughty bearing, wearing a plain blue dress.
"good morning," the woman entered the room and smiled placidly at the comtesse.
"good morning to you."
"as you may or may not know, comtesse, i am eugenie fox-cuthbert, the daughter of your sister zorine, of blessed memory."
"ah, zorine. i have little memory of zorine, and less of anyone ever blessing her memory."
the comtesse noticed little margaret staring at her. "you may go, margaret - unless mademoiselle has some need of you? "
"oh no, no."
"have you had breakfast?"
"i was offered it. i declined."
"some tea, perhaps?"
the comtesse nodded to margaret. "find william or jeanette - in whatever cozy corner they are dozing - and have some tea sent."
margaret hastened off. the comtesse gestured to eugenie to be seated, and sat down herself.
"these servants! they are bad enough in civilization, but here in the primeval forest they are beyond description. but you, mademoiselle - i understand you arrived without a servant?"
"how curious. did you have one that died or decamped on your journey here?"
"no, nothing like that." eugenie smiled.
the comtesse stared at her guest. "and the young woman given to you - she is satisfactory?"
"i have no complaint. but i would as soon do without a servant, if it is all the same to you."
"but it is all the same to me. i find such an attitude shocking - ineffably shocking."
eugenie leaned back and smiled. "then i will make such use of her as i can. please, let us say no more about it."
"before we go further, mademoiselle, may i ask you a question?"
"of course. ask me anything. i realize how i am imposing on you, and answering your questions is the least i can do."
"well then - are you a vampire, or a werewolf?"
"i see these deeply sylvan surroundings have an effect on the imagination."
"that is as may be. but are you, in fact, any sort of supernatural being?"
"i am afraid not. you may rest easy on that. "
"i have another question. how did you find me?"
"quite by accident. one of my colleagues, a reporter for the paris - "
"you consort with journalists? how disgusting. but, please, go on - "
"my colleague, a reporter for the paris something or other -"
"that was the name it, the something or other?_"
"no, it had a name, i can't remember it, call it the paris flower of a day. it was one of those little journals that spring up around some particular cause or issue, then disappear."
"and the cause was - "
"the trial of some anarchist colleagues of ours. we were always on trial, it was what we did."
"ah, so you were an anarchist. how dreary. "
eugenie smiled politely. "so my colleague was filling up the ages of the paper - and one way that he did this was to buy the cheapest, most obscure and forgotten books he could find in second hand bookstalls, and rewrite little passages from them as stories -"
the comtesse shook her head. "i am afraid i am not following you. ah, here is jeanette with our tea. thank you, jeanette, it is good of you to take the time to serve us."
"i dozed off, madame. i am not as young as i once was."
"ah, mademoiselle. you see what i have to put up with. please go, jeanette, i will pour the tea myself."
"please go on, my dear, with your boring story."
"well, aunt, if this story bores you, perhaps i can tell you another one."