He was standing by the fireplace with a solemn look that I hadn’t seen on his face before. The house was silent except for the loud ticking from the clock. I never noticed how loud it was before.
“Sir, dinner is ready.”
He continued to stare out of the window.
I moved closer towards him. “Sir?”
He turned to look at me. “Yes, what is it James?”
“I said dinner is ready sir. Will Madame be coming down?”
“No,” he replied slowly, with what seemed to be great effort. “She won’t be coming down. She has gone and left me.” He stubbed his cigarette out in the ashtray, turning it round and round, long after it had been extinguished.
“Gone?” I gasped in surprise. “But I only saw Madame early this morning, when I brought up her breakfast.”
He nodded sadly, his dark eyes glistened with unshed tears. “lt’s dinner for one now please James.”
My heart sank at this revelation. Why would Madame have left, and more importantly where would she have gone? Leave this beautiful house, and the man who adored her? It made no sense to me, but propriety forbade me pressing him on the matter.
“Don’t be downhearted James. I’ll still eat your dinner, even if it is only a few mouthfuls,” he told me with a wry smile.
He sat down and lit another cigarette. “I never thought we’d ever part, what funny games love plays,” he said so quietly, that I wondered if the comment wasn’t made to me, but that he was speaking to himself. He fell silent and, head down, gazed at his shoes. I rather thought he didn’t want me to see the tears in his mournful eyes.
The silence hung between us awkwardly. I didn’t quite know what to say, so instead I said: “Shall I bring the wine in with your dinner sir?”
“You may as well, ” he replied heavily. “There’s a bottle opened from the party last night.”
“Very good sir.” I went back into the kitchen and laid the tray for the sad solo meal. When I returned I saw that he had pushed the second set of dinner ware to the end of the table.
I set the tray down on the table, and as my hand hovered by the vase of flowers, and was about to move it slightly to place the wine bottle there he cried out “No! Don’t move her favourite flowers!” in a tone so full of anguish it startled me and filled me with sorrow.
“Of course not sir, I was merely making a little room for the wine.”
“Maybe she’ll come back to me, and I’d like her flowers just where she placed them.”
“Oh I most certainly hope so sir,” I said with the brightest tone I could muster. “I’ll leave you to your dinner then.”
“No, don’t go yet James-” he gripped my arm, and then withdrew a note from his jacket pocket, and held it out to me. I hesitated before taking it.
“Go on read it.”
“I’m not certain I should sir.”
“Please, then you’ll know why–why she left.”
“That’s not my business sir,” I told him. “I was very fond of Madame as you know, her being the one who engaged me.”
“I don’t want you to blame her for leaving; the fault was not hers.”
“I wasn’t thinking any such thing sir,” I replied stiffly. “If you insist, I’ll read the note, but it’s not very proper I must say. You can count on my discretion.”
I confess at this moment I suspected some impropriety on his part, and I think he saw it through my expression, although I attempted to hide that from him.
“You know how much I love her James. Since I met her, there’s been no one else.” His tone was so utterly sincere that when I read the contents of the note, I was inclined to believe him and felt rather outraged on his behalf.
“Why would your best friend say such a thing? I don’t understand.”
“I don’t either. I telephoned him this afternoon and he admitted he’d talked to my wife at the party last night, but strongly denied he’d told her that he’d seen me with another girl. He was very upset I’d even think he’d say something like that!”
“But when we went up to bed last night,” he continued, “I thought something might be up because she went to sleep in her own room, saying she was very tired. I mean, she has done that once or twice before, so I didn’t think much of it until I got up late this morning and found the note slipped under my door.”
“How I wish Madame hadn’t given me the rest of the morning off sir,” I sighed. “Perhaps I could’ve found out who it was who said those terrible things to her, if she had mentioned the matter to me, that is. You know how I don’t like to pry. I wonder why Madame would say it was your best friend? It’s quite a mystery!”
“She doesn’t know all of my friends, and I haven’t exactly got a best friend either. I’ve a few close friends and some fellas I know from my work. It could’ve been anyone, but from the description in the note I thought it most closely described Jerry, but he swears it wasn’t him. He’s not the type to make things up either. Must it end like this James?”
“I sincerely hope not. Surely she will realise it’s all been a terrible mistake, and come home. I’d better get on with helping Jessie in the kitchen now if you don’t mind sir.”
“I don’t know how I can go on without her,” he murmured to himself. I gave him pat on the shoulder, which I know is rather familiar for a butler-man servant, but the poor fellow looked so forlorn. After I had assisted Jessie in the kitchen I went up to Madame’s room and filled her vase with her favourite white gardenias.