Investigation proved that there was no rice, only a half-empty packet of Tagliatelli. Chile con Carne and Tagliatelli with a crisp green salad. Said quickly, it didn't sound so bad.
And for starters . . . ? Soup. There was a single can of consommé, not enough for four people. She searched her shelves for something to go with it, and came up with a jar of kangaroo tail soup that had been given to them as a joke two Christmases ago. She filled her arms with the carton, the packet, the tin, and the jar, closed the lid of the deep freeze, and put everything onto the kitchen table. Evie appeared, carrying the paraffin can, and with a sooty smudge on her nose.
‘That's going fine,’ she announced. 'Warmer already, that room is. You hadn't done any flowers, and the table looked a bit bare, so I put the fruit bowl with the oranges in the middle of the table. Doesn't look like much, but it's better than nothing.’ She set down the can and looked at the strange assortment of goods on the table.
'What's all this, then?'
'Dinner,’ said Alison from the saucepan cupboard where she was trying to find a pot large enough for the Chile con Carne. 'Clear soup - half of it kangaroo tail, but nobody needs to know that. Chile con Carne and Tagliatelli. Won't that be all right?'
Evie made a face. 'Doesn't sound much to me, but some people will eat anything.’ She preferred plain food herself, none of this foreign nonsense. A nice bit of mutton with caper sauce, that's what Evie would have chosen.
'And pudding? What can I do for pudding?'
‘There's ice cream in the freezer.’
'I can't just give them ice cream.’
'Make a sauce then. Hot chocolate's nice.’
Hot chocolate sauce. The best hot chocolate sauce was made by simply melting bars of chocolate, and Alison had bars of chocolate, because she'd bought two for the children and forgotten to give them to them. She found her handbag and the chocolate bars.
And then, coffee.
'I'll make the coffee,’ said Evie.
'I haven't had time to wash the best cups and they're in the sitting-room cupboard.’
'Never mind, we'll give them tea cups. Most people like big cups anyway. I know I do. Can't be bothered with those demmy tassies.’ Already she had the Chili con Carne out of its carton and into the saucepan. She stirred it, peering at it suspiciously. 'What are these little things, then?'
'Red kidney beans.’
That's the chile. It's Mexican food.’
'Only hope they like Mexican food.’
Alison hoped so too.
When she joined the others, Henry let a decent moment or two pass, and then got to his feet and excused himself, saying that he had to see to the wine.
'You really are wonderful, you young people,’ said Mrs Fairhurst when he had gone. 'I used to dread having people for dinner when we were first married, and I had somebody to help me.’
'Evie's helping me this evening.’
'And I was such a hopeless cook!'
'Oh, come, dear,’ her husband comforted her. 'That was a long time ago.’
It seemed a good time to say it. 'I do hope you can eat Chile con Carne. It's rather hot.’
'Is that what we're having for dinner tonight? What a treat. I haven't had it since Jock and I were in Texas. We went out there with a business convention.’
Mr Fairhurst enlarged on this. 'And when we went to India, she could eat a hotter curry than anybody else. I was in tears, and there she was, looking as cool as a cucumber.’
Henry returned to them. Alison, feeling as though they were engaged in some ludicrous game, withdrew once more. In the kitchen, Evie had everything under control, down to the last heated plate.
'Better get them in,’ said Evie, 'and if the place reeks of paraffin, don't say anything. It's better to ignore these things.’
But Mrs Fairhurst said that she loved the smell of paraffin. It reminded her of country cottages when she was a child. And indeed, the dreaded dining room did not look too bad. Evie had lit the candles and left on only the small wall lights over the Victorian sideboard. They all took their places. Mr Fairhurst faced the Highland cow in the rain. 'Where on earth,’ he wanted to know, as they started in on the soup, 'did you find that wonderful picture? People don't have pictures like that in their dining rooms any longer.’
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