“Your wife is a woman of exquisite taste!” Miss Elizabeth Strough commented as she was led inside the home of Mr. And Mrs. Cooper Armsden.
Mr. Armsden ushered her in and immediately took her coat, “Miss Strough, please do come in and make yourself at home.”
“Please,” she insisted quickly, “call me Elizabeth. There is no need for such formalities, you know why I'm here.”
He took immediate notice of her rather thin frame. She was taller than average for her build and appropriately dressed for a young lady her age whom was attending a formal dinner. But there much more to her visit than idle chat.
“Of course, Elizabeth, if you'd like to take a seat, I'll have some refreshments brought out as soon as possible.” He replied as he offered her a rather comfortable looking chair.
“Thank you,” she accepted as she eased her way into the chair, noting to herself the exquisite patterns and gothic décor of the room, “will Mrs. Armsden be joining us soon?”
Cooper Armsden seemed to stop in his tracks at the question, though his face remained as confident looking as it had when she first walked in, “I'm afraid the misses has become quite ill in the last few hours and has taken to bed early. She does apologize for any inconvenience and hoped you might still stay for dinner, no used wasting such a delectable meal.”
“That is indeed disheartening, and troublesome for her a woman of her age, I hope it is nothing serious?”
“Nothing to worry about I'm sure, now, you've come all this way, would you honor a old man’s invitation to dinner? Perhaps in due time, she may feel better and grace us with her presents?”
The young woman thought about it for a moment. She had indeed traveled way to far to just make a waste of her time, “Very well, I accept!”
“Splendid!” The old man shouted excitedly, “it won't be but a moment I assure you.”
With a bow of the head, he disappeared into another room, leaving Elizabeth alone to her thoughts. She had been on the trail of this elusive collector of rare and one-of-a-kind art work for some time. Many had attempted to interview Lady Armsden for years, and in a moment of shear luck, a representative for the art collector just happen to appear in for office.
It was a writer’s dream to interview a woman such as herself, and she wasn't going to take this news lying down. She’d camp outside the house if necessary. It was during this time that she paused from her thoughts and gazed in amazement at the absolute beauty of an art collection which nearly covered every inch of the walls in the room.
It was shortly after this discovery when Mr. Armsden made his way back into the room, “if you would like, we may sit at the table now. Dinner will be ready shortly.”
In true gentlemanly fashion, he offered the young lady a arm as he escorted her into a grand dining hall equally adorned with a collage of artwork from nearly every artist the woman could think of. The table itself could easily seat thirty people and stretched ominously from one side of the room to the other. At the far end of the table there were two places set up for them.
“Won't you have a seat?” The man gestured to one of the chairs.
Elizabeth did so as the man assisted with pushing the chair in before retiring to his own. Before her was a small plate covered in a cloche with a empty wine glass, silverware, and a napkin.
“I hope you will forgive me,” the old man started as he leaned over his own plate, “but I had sent the butler and chef home a few hours before your arrival. But if it helps, in my many travels around this world, I have become something of an accomplished chef when it comes to preparing food.”
Elizabeth was taken aback for a moment as she stared at her setting once again, then smiled, “I would be honored to taste the culinary wonders of a eccentric and elusive multimillionaire with a fine taste in visual masterpieces.”
The man smiled, “I am glad to hear it, please, help yourself!”
She reached up and lifted her cover, an amazing aroma welcomed her as she began to inspect the contents of her plate. Meats, cheeses, and a small variety of small bread wafers covered in a sauce that she could not quite identify. A quick glance across the table revealed the similar contents on her host’s plate as well. She took a moment to take in the sweet aroma before speaking again, “it smells absolutely wonderful, what do you call this?”
“I haven't really got a name for it. It is from way back in my younger days when I was on the hunt in Africa when I discovered this particular entrée from some of the locals.” He confessed.
“Do please go on,” Elizabeth said as she scooped up a spooned up a cautious amount and brought it to her lips, I am most intrigued to hear of your travels.”
The man took a healthy bite on wiped his mouth, “I'm afraid that the story is much less glamorous than it sounds, Miss Elizabeth. Myself, my good friend Thomas Thayer, and our expedition was on the hunt for an elusive lion that had been terrorizing a few of the local villages. We'd tracked it for weeks into the Libyan Dessert and somehow lost our way.”
“How horrible!” She replied as she continued to eat. The dish was absolutely delicious and she caught herself beginning to take very un-womanly bites. She cautiously forced herself to keep to the small bites despite the fact that as unlike her it was, all she wanted to do was pick up the plate and pour it in her mouth all at once.
“It was a horrible experience to say the least.” The man continued, “Both our trackers were lost to the lions during our hunt and we'd all but given up the search. By the thirtieth day, we were lost and exhausted of all our rations. It seemed almost hopeless until…”
Elizabeth leaned into the table completely enthralled by his tale. His long pause felt like an eternity, she felt the need to push him forward into the story but at the same time felt it to be rude. Perhaps a painful memory he was trying to word very carefully.
“My friend was the first to go. I supposed it was better that way. I wouldn’t wish our experience on my worst enemy. We were found luckily by a native tribe who nursed us back to health. And it was this very meal that they served us again and again.” He finally smiled, “of course I’ve embellished and tinkered with the recipe on and off, but the basic ingredient is still the same.”
“And that is?” she asked as she looked down at the plate and noticed it was empty. She was surprised yet mortified as to how quickly she had eaten it, almost embarrassed that he might notice. Instead, as she raised her eyes back at the gentleman, she was greeted with a warm and kindly smile.
“Relax my dear, your eyes say it all, and it is the same reaction I had when I first had it. It is quite an intriguing and wonderful dish do you agree?”
“Quite,” she hesitated as she stared back down at the plate.
“Would you like another helping,” the man asked with the same quirky smile on his lips, “I will understand if you say no, but there is no need for lady-like courtesies around here, no one in this house goes hungry.”
“If it be no trouble…”
“No trouble at all. But if you don’t mind, perhaps you may join me in the kitchen,” he gestured towards the kitchen door, “my old legs don’t get me around quite as quickly as they used to.”
“But of course.”
“And maybe while we are there, we can make a dish for the misses as well, perhaps the aroma may wake her naturally and you can still get your interview.”
“That would be lovely.”
Elizabeth stood and walked to the old man’s side. After helping him from his chair, she began to walk him to the kitchen door. He stopped her just short of the door and turned to her, “we must take care to be silent as not to wake her before she wakes on her own.”
“I understand,” she replied with an excited grin on her face, “silent as a mouse.”
The two finally walked quietly into the kitchen. The room was pitch black with a very ominous feel that clung to her like rain soaked clothing. A stale stench filled her nostrils as the door behind them shut with a uncommonly loud click. It was about that time when she noticed that the old man was no longer beside her. She began to franticly wave her arms around her immediate area in hopes of finding him.
“Is this a joke?” she asked loudly as she continued her search, “if it is, I’m not very amused.”
“Relax my dear,” the man replied, his voice sounding as though it were coming in all directions, “I just need to find the light switch. It will be but just a moment.”
Elizabeth was frightened at this point but continued to feel her way through the dark until she finally found his hand and held it for dear life. “I am terribly scared of the dark, please hurry!”
“Ah!” he shouted, “Eureka!”
The lights suddenly turned on with a blinding glow. Elizabeth had to squint her eyes momentarily as she became accustomed to the glare. Once adjusted, she was finally able to focus on the man who was standing across the room from where she was.
“I’ve been meaning to have a switch placed closer to the door, will you forgive me?”
Suddenly, she began to wonder to herself that if he was across the room, whose hand was she holding at the moment. She also noticed the cool clammy feeling the hand she held offered. She slowly turned and stared down at the hand and instantly began to scream.
The hand was attached to the body of an elderly woman who was lying pale on the kitchen counter. Her lifeless face was frozen with the look of extreme terror. But even more horrifying was that a portion of her leg looked as though it had been sheered with a kitchen blade.
As hard as she tried, Elizabeth could not tear her eyes off the woman as the old man approached her from behind, the sound of a kitchen knife being unsheathed from a wood block was nearly deafening.
“Well my dear,” the old man replied calmly, “you did say she was a woman of exquisite taste…or as it would turn out…a woman that taste…exquisite.”