Judge By the Cover
They enter the house. Etta keeps on twirling her head trying to see as much as possible. It's not that she's snooping! But she does need to suss out what her mission here is, doesn’t she?
He took off his boots by the door; she followed his example. Etta has little idea what a farmhouse is to look like - besides seeing Farmer Pickles with his perpetually requiring replacement gutters on telly, when she was a kid - but a clean white house, its porch decorated with some poofy, red flowers in pots, and a living room worthy of Ms Marple, don’t strike her as too farmerly. Except everything being just a bit too beige to her taste, and a puzzling window taking the whole front wall - what about privacy in the living room? - she finds the inside of Farmer Thorne’s house quite agreeable. And shockingly clean and neat. Isn’t he a single male?
The kitchen is comfortable, most surfaces wooden, and what is this lovely smell in the air? The man pours two mugs of coffee from a machine on one of the many counters; and then the oven bleeps.
Etta feels her jaw slacking into the coffee - the mug is the size of the pool Squirrel Jack had almost found his demise in - and watches the bear man put on paisley pattern oven mitts and take a tray out of it. During her breakfast in the hotel restaurant, Etta has familiarised herself with the typical Canadian pastries. These are bran muffins - strangely heavy, excessively sweet, and sinfully delicious. Etta’s mouth waters.
Farmer Thorne thumps the tray on the table - on a obviously specifically allocated for it cork board - and gives her a grumpy glare.
“Cream?” Is the man capable of anything but growling and barking?
“Yes, please. And sugar.” The glare intensifies.
“I don’t have sugar in the house.”
He walks to the fridge, opens it, places a carton in front of Etta, and slams the door back closed. Some vases and bottles sadly clank on top of the fridge. Etta looks up and freezes.
Above the appliance, in an old copper frame, there hangs the portrait of her cat, Mr. Thornton. And yes, Etta is that much of a batty, cat loving spinster to recognise her pet’s smug muzzle! Some people might say all cats look the same, but she would bet her home library, including her Hugh Thomson illustrated Pride and Prejudice, that it is indeed Mr. Thornton.
“Well?” Farmer Thorne’s irked voice shakes her out of the petrification.
“What’s that?” Etta croaks, and points at the painting.
“A cat.” The man’s tone clearly signifies what he thinks of Etta’s mental capabilities. Etta's too shocked to be insulted - for now, at least.
“Who drew it?”
“It’s been in the family for years. My grandmother hung it there.” Farmer Thorne sits on one of the chairs near the large oaken table. “Well?” This repeated grumpy question, as if addressed to a stroppy horse, finally makes Etta focus on the grouch.
She clears her throat, reining her temper, and sits as well. To gain time, Etta sips her cuppa. Even with cream, the coffee is so strong that she feels that her ginger springs are going to straighten out into a halo around her head.
Etta isn’t much of a coffee connoisseur; but so far coffee in Canada struck her as most odd - salty, no bitterness or sour flavour, and astonishingly uniform. No matter where one buys it, it tastes that bland and inoffensive.
Etta is still under the influence of seeing her cat portrayed with a lilac bush at the background, so her unfortunate habit of blurting whatever is on her mind manifests itself.
“What kind of coffee is this?” she asks, and sees Farmer Thorne roll his eyes. Just a tad, and she can’t see the whole expression under all this fur of his - but nonetheless, he's obviously irritated. Well, tough tits.
“It’s Tim’s,” he growls - Etta gives him a confused look - and then he emits a long sigh. “Ms. Ryan, can you ask your questions already? After you show me your ID.”
Etta feels taken aback. And here they say that Canadians are hospitable and trusting! He’d make a proper paranoid Londoner. She rummages in her handbag and places her wallet in front of him. He studies her passport, the visa in it, and the ticket that she had folded in it; and then pushes them back to her on the table.
Etta doesn’t want to, but notices the long-fingered, large hands with surprisingly elegant, artistic wrists, and short - once again surprisingly, clean for a farmer - elongated nails. Etta orders her libido to shut its gob, and reminds her nether regions that the man is a nuisance and nothing but a tool to help Officer Thorne. A joke about a ‘tool’ pops up in her head, and she hastily sips the Molotov cocktail in her mug to silence her noggin.
“So, I guess you are a librarian from London,” he mutters. What did he think she was?! A SAS officer, here to steal his secret beetroot salad recipe? “What do you want?”
Etta wants to clobber him to the head with that lovely blue and white biscuit jar on the table near him. And a muffin. She properly wants a muffin.
“I’m researching your ancestor, Officer Thorne from RMS Olympic. I’ve followed his biography till the time he fell ill with scarlatina, but after that it’s rather hazy, and I was hoping to find out more. Do you have any letters? Any papers left?” Etta dives into her handbag again. “I have all the official waiver forms, the confidentiality contract, and...”
“Listen, Ms. Ryan,” he interrupts her. “I have letters and papers, and you can have a look at them. You have 45 minutes. I’ll get them.”
Etta once again wonders what is Farmer Thorne’s barney with talking in longer sentences.
He rises - and Etta finally understands what those romance novels by Olivia Dane mean by ‘he filled the room with his presence.’ Dane would know, her husband is of the same six four as the man in front of Etta, and of the same imposing, wide-shouldered, grizzly bear built. Except in all photos Mrs Dane’s husband is smiling a friendly smile, with white teeth gleaming in the black beard - while Etta is stuck with an irked yeti, who snarls and stomps out of the room. Etta regrets ever secretly dreaming of encountering a Rochester or a Darcy. She would much prefer dealing with a Gabriel Oak right now.
She sips her cuppa, feeling her synopses firing up, and perhaps burning out with a sad whimper from all the caffeine. Mr. Thornton in oil is giving her a cantankerous look down his black, fur covered nose.
Farmer Thorne interrupts Etta struggling with the painting riddle by dropping a large cardboard box on the table in front of her, making her squeak and jump up.
“Thirty five minutes. And then you’re out of my house,” he snarls, turns around, and marches out of the kitchen.
Etta sticks her tongue, giving his muscular back a scowl; and opens the box. She just can’t wait for the thirty five minutes to pass!