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“It was past eight. The sky over London was pitch dark, as were the slushy streets. The only light came from street lamps and shadowy windows, making the whole world a sort of sickly ochre. Just the sort of night on which one would expect ghosts to be out.” Declan’s pen stopped for a minute while he tried to remember the exact meaning of ochre. Try as he might, he could recall nothing except that it was an unpleasant color. If he had had his dictionary, he could have found the word in seconds, but the dictionary was in his study, in his house near the Thames. He, sadly, was on the opposite side of London waiting for his late sister Cara’s niece. She was arriving from Spain and had agreed to meet him here, at the Petit Jardin Restaurant half an hour ago. Despite having raised the girl, her short absence had caused him to forget her worst trait. She was incurably tardy. Shaking his head with a mixture of love and annoyance, he returned to the hateful sheet which lay before him. Being elected editor of the Chambers Edinburgh Journal had been an honor, one he had worked for for years, but the downside was that he had to read the work of every aspiring writer who applied for publication. This one was by far the worst he had yet encountered- a horror story set during the recent war. Glancing up again, in a final attempt to put off the work he had to do, he beheld his niece entering the restaurant.
“Olivia, darling. So good to see you!”
Declan shook her hand, while Olivia stooped and briskly kissed his cheeks.
“Uncle Raynott. So sorry I’m late, the train was delayed.”
Declan smiled, already tired by her boisterous presence, but trying desperately to be the perfect uncle.
“You always have an excuse, don’t you?”
Oliva looked embarrassed for a moment but quickly recovered herself by opening the menu.
“I am absolutely famished. What do you recommend?”
Declan squinted at her in surprise.
“I must advise you to ask the server, Olivia. My business does not usually allow me to eat in stores such as this.”
Declan cast what he hoped was a meaningful, but not wholly disapproving, eye over the flower garden which surrounded them, at the same moment waving the waiter over.
“Good day. What do you recommend?”
“Our specials today are swordfish and blue cheese salad or steak with fennel and red wine sauce on creamed corn. Today’s soup is ginger and chicken.”
“I do hope you remember the dangers of seafood which you and I discussed, Oliva.”
To Declan’s surprise Olivia sighed.
“Yes, Uncle. I’ll have the soup please.”
Declan nodded approvingly.
“And I’ll have the steak.”
The waiter jotted down the orders before scuttling away.
“Olivia, darling? How were your journeys?”
“Quite well, thank you Uncle. I visited Mother’s farm. It was so beautiful! Why, she grows three kinds of.”
Declan allowed his niece to prattle while he pondered the flowers around them, a trick he had learned during long years a lawyer. Once or twice he nodded to assure her of his undivided attention, but, to him at least, the rose arbors around the little table were far more fascinating than Spanish cow breeds.
After a quarter of an hour, the food arrived on neat silver platters. Fastidiously dusting his fork and knife, he raised the lid, prepare to enjoy his food, both for Olivia’s sake and because of the fact that it had cost ten pounds. To his utter consternation, he was confronted with a large, pale slab of fish resting on a dainty pile of lettuce. Olivia noticed his annoyance.
“Is everything alright, Uncle?”
Declan quickly composed his face. This was Olivia’s first day home, and he would not let even such an odious thing as a fish spoil it.
“Of course, dear. I was just enjoying the sight of my wonderful dinner.”
Olivia smiled oddly and returned to her dish. Her uncle, while the most polite gentlemen in England was peculiar at times. First his sudden interest in Spanish agriculture and now this? His hatred of fish was so great that many hours of her early education had revolved around the evils of fishing and sea creatures. And hadn’t he just warned her not to buy seafood? Could he be going mad in his old age? Worried, Olivia glanced over at her uncle, who was eating through his meal with a fixed and obviously pained smile on his face.