I followed Miss Adell and her father into the sitting room. I was becoming quite accustomed to the sitting room, though, as I always came with the unpleasant task of needing to impart bad news, I never really felt comfortable there.
“Please, sit down, Mister …” Mary’s father began, motioning me toward the familiar lounger.
“Martin, sir. Dylan Martin.”
“Martin… Helena, please bring our guest some tea.” The maid, who had been hovering near the sitting room’s doorway, jumped, suddenly, at the mention of her name.
“Oh, please, don’t go to any trouble on my account.” I started to rise from the sofa, but was waved back down by Mary’s father.
“Nonsense! You are our guest. Besides, it’s no trouble. We really have more tea than we can handle.” He laughed softly, then motioned to the window he was standing nearest. “I do so enjoy growing plants and my greenhouse, at the moment, is nearly overrun with thick tea plants. I find that harvesting our own leaves and our experiments with different methods of treating the leaves makes for better flavor.”
Through the tangle of greenery outside the window, I could just make out the corner of the greenhouse, though the shape of the building was about all I could discern.
“Ah, excellent.” The maid returned with a tea tray. The cups and saucers rattled with such force as she moved to pass them out, that I almost offered to pass the tea out myself, though I restrained myself. “Thank you, Helena, you may go.” So quickly was the maid’s departure, that I hardly had a chance to thank her for the tea myself.
“Now, Mr. Martin, please, give our tea a try. We are always eager to hear another opinion.”
A sweet, flowery aroma with a woody background escaped from the cup. The scent was indeed pleasing and through the steam of my cup, I could see Miss Adell already enjoying her own tea while her father eagerly looked on, his cup sitting on the desk beside him. I took a timid sip, the woody flavor winning out over the flowery scent. There was a slight bitter aftertaste, but it wasn’t so strong to detract from the overall flavor. “It’s actually quite good.”
“Excellent! Good, good…” His eyes lit up with the natural pride of someone who’s invested in something they already know to be exceptional. “So, Mr. Martin, all that remains is for you to tell us why it is that we are graced with your company this afternoon.”
The pang of guilt, that seemed to be suddenly as familiar as the Adell’s sitting room, settled in the base of my throat and in the pit of my stomach. I sat aside my cup of tea and looked from Miss Mary to her father. I really had no desire to share bad news with either one of them, and now having both of them before me made it nearly impossible to get the words out.
“I’m afraid I come with rather bad news concerning Mr. Manuel Dison.” I all but stopped breathing once the words left my lips.
“Come, now, Mr. Martin,” Miss Mary began. “You’ve tried to give me bad news concerning my fiancé before, and it’s always been of the nature of unfounded suspicions.” She continued sipping her tea as if the news I needed to tell her had no more impact than the color of the sky on a sunny afternoon. “Do go on with your news, so that we might have an end to it.”
“What I bring to you concerning your fiancé has no bearing on his questionable character. This, I’m afraid, is far graver news.” This time, I did stop breathing. Both Mary and her father fixed their eyes upon me. “I’m afraid I must bring you news of your fiancé’s untimely and tragic death.”
The cup slipped from her fingers, crashing to pieces on the floor, as she fell back against the sofa.
“Helena!” Mr. Adell’s cry brought the maid scurrying through the door. “Quick! Bring some brandy.” He knelt beside his daughter and took the brandy from the maid as soon as she’d returned. Touching the glass to Miss Mary’s lips, the strong burn of brandy brought her quickly around.
“I must ask you, Mr. Martin, to leave us. You’ve done enough upsetting today.” Mary’s father didn’t even turn to face me as he urged my leaving.
“Of course, I am sorry. If there had been some other way...” I stood to leave, turning once more to Miss Mary.
In her disoriented state, Miss Mary’s eyes ran wildly about the room. When they did, for a moment, focus on me, I felt my breath catch in my throat. Her eyes were suddenly more disturbingly familiar than they had ever been. The blackness from her eyes staring up at me made my blood run cold. Here were the very same swollen pupils that had been the herald to her fiancé’s death.