Clive pushed his back against the door, wedged it with his foot, turned, and walked over to the king sized bed. Gertrude was pulling herself up and resting against the plump pillows.
Placing the tray on Gertrude’s lap, he said, “I’ve brought you breakfast in bed, darling. The resort operators phoned up just now and said there would be no skiing today and probably none tomorrow as we are all snowed in.”
“Oh Clive, how disappointing. I was so looking forward to a day’s skiing?”
”I know, darling. But it’s only today and maybe tomorrow.”
“We’ve paid so much money for this holiday. I thought at least we would be skiing every day. This is just not fair.”
“Well, it can’t be helped, poppet. You know as well as I do we have no control over the weather.”
“What on earth are we going to do? I’m not staying cooped up in this bedroom all day long.”
“We could play scrabble in the lounge.”
“But that won’t take all day.”
“Then we will have to think of something else, Gertrude. Maybe scrabble this morning and monopoly this afternoon. Then this evening we can sit by the log fire and maybe read a book.”
Gertrude sighed and pushed out her bottom lip as she spread thick layers of butter and marmalade over her toast and stirred her tea.
“I’m going back down to the lounge now. I’ve already had my breakfast. I’ll see you down there shortly. No need to rush.”
“That’s the problem. No need to rush. Oh, I’m so frustrated that’s ruined my day.”
Clive gave a half smile, wiggled his fingers in the air and headed down the hallway to the pine staircase.
“Bonjour Fayette,” Clive hoped he had pronounced the words correctly and inwardly reprimanded himself for never having taken courses in holiday French each year. Pushing himself up against the bannister and pulling in his stomach, Clive made room for the maid with her large bundle of sheets and towels.
“No ski today, Mr Clive? Snow very bad?”
“Oui, Fayette, no skiing today.”
Conversing with foreigners embarrassed Clive. He skipped downstairs.
Standing at the verandah doors watching the black clouds looming over the mountain, Clive wondered if there would be any skiing at all tomorrow, let alone today. Crashing and banging noises along with foreign sounding profanities coming from the kitchen made Clive turn his head. Francois was busy preparing the day’s meals.
On the long pine table, scattered with bread crumbs, was a pile of newspapers. Clive picked up the top one, opened it out, and pretended to read it. It was all in French. He looked at the pictures. Why can’t they have English newspapers delivered?
Gertrude floated down the stairs and sauntered over to the table, where she placed a box of scrabble. “I’m not sure I feel like playing this today, Clive. I’d much rather be outside in the fresh air.”
“Well, it looks as if your wish has been granted poppet. Look, the sun’s shining now. We can sit on the verandah and have a coffee. It should be quite warm with the sun bouncing off the snow. Even warmer than it is in here. They won’t light the log fire until this evening. I’ll ask Francois for a couple of coffees and some biscuits to take outside.”
Clive strolled over to the kitchen hatch, leaving Gertrude to open the verandah doors. Once outside, she inhaled the fresh crisp air and took a seat at one of the tables. Clive came back with two coffees and a plate of chocolate biscuits.
“Francois seems rather panicky today.”
“I’m not surprised he’s got an extra meal to prepare for everyone now we’re stuck in the chalet all day long. He’s used to the place being empty.”
Francois came over to the long pine table with a cloth and began clearing up the crumbs as he mumbled to himself. Clive called out, “Do you need any help, Francois? We’ve got nothing else to do.”
“No. No help. I got new boy. Only he very lazy. Still in bed.” Francois pointed a finger upward as he spoke.
“Ah, a new chef?”
“No. He not chef. He—um—learning. How you say?”
“Oui. Apprentice. He better turn up pretty soon mate, or Francois be very angry. I go now. Make bread for soup for lunch.”
Francois disappeared behind the swing doors of the kitchen. The crashing and banging began again.
Suddenly, from one of the bedrooms came ear-splitting screams, along with loud stamping noises. Then the sound of someone scrambling down the stairs. It was Fayette. She almost fell over as she burst through the door, red faced, pointing toward the stairs.
Had one of the guests been running around naked? Had she found a couple making love in a bathroom?
Fayette, still pointing, shrieked in some incoherent foreign language that Clive assumed was French. Even though he did not understand her, the fear in her eyes translated perfectly.
Francois rushed into the lounge, still holding the stainless steel bowl full of bread dough he had been kneading.
“What’s wrong with Fayette Francois?”
“Rat. She see rat in bedroom. You open outside door. Rat come in. Stupid English.”
“How on earth was I to know there were rats about? And in this snow?”
“Snow outside. Rats inside. Mr. Clive. Now they in bedroom.”
Francois charged upstairs two steps at a time, hugging the stainless steel dish full of bread dough. Clive and Fayette followed.
There was a loud thud as Francois upturned the dish of dough on top of the rat as it tried to escape through the bedroom door. Then he raced back downstairs, almost falling headlong as he did so, took a metal sheet from the kitchen, ran back up, and pushed it carefully underneath the upturned mixing bowl.
Is he catching a rat or a spider? Clive thought.
Everyone stared at the upturned bowl with the metal sheet under it and hopefully the rat inside. They took a wide berth as they all traipsed back downstairs, drama over.
Francois scurried over to Clive and, in short bursts of broken English, asked him to get the new lad out of bed as the bread needed baking ready for lunch time.
Clive raced back upstairs, hammered on the apprentice’s door and shouted commands about making the bread and the bowl being in one of the bedrooms.
A skinny, blurry eyed, long-haired lad of about twenty opened the door. Clive pointed to the upturned metal bowl and tray and told him to make the bread for lunch. The lad indicated he understood with a thumbs up and closed the door. Clive sauntered back downstairs to Gertrude on the verandah and consumed all the chocolate biscuits.
Slow, plodding sounds on the staircase caused Clive to turn around to see the apprentice carrying the bowl. Francois came out of the kitchen and mumbled something about going into the basement for provisions. Clive stepped over to the lad, pushed back the kitchen swing doors, and pointed to the oven.
“Francois says bake the bread for lunch.”
“Oui Monsieur.” Said the apprentice as he half heartedly opened the oven door and shoved the bowl and metal sheet inside.
At one o’clock Francois rang the little bell that sat in the centre of the long pine table and began placing a bowl of soup out for each guest.
“Come on, Gertrude, lunch is served. You sit opposite me at the end of the table.” Clive and Gertrude took their places at the table, along with the other guests. Fayette stood near the kitchen door, waiting to help with clearing away the dishes.
Pierre ambled in, placed the round stainless steel bowl on the table and lifted off the metal sheet. He stood aghast as he stared at the misshapen half burned loaf with the rat’s two hind legs and a long thin tail sticking out of it.
Fayette screeched ten decibels higher than when she was in the bedroom. Gertrude fainted, her face landing in the hot tomato soup. The other guests scattered to the toilets and the bedrooms.
Clive knocked over his chair as he scurried round the table. He grabbed Gertrude by the hair and yanked her red face out of the bowl, then wiped the drips of tomato soup from her chin with a paper serviette.
Pierre stands ashen faced and motionless, eyes glued to the loaf of bread with the rat’s hind legs and tail protruding from it. Francois runs around with his hands on his head and froth coming from his mouth as he yells foreign sounding obscenities at the ceiling.
“I give you the carrier bag.” Francois bellows in Pierr’s ear.
“Don’t you mean the sack?” says Clive as he holds the pale faced Gertrude to his chest and shields her from the ugly site of the rat infested bread.
“Carrier bag—sack. He leave. Or I leave. I no care about deep snow. I am good chef. I no stand for this. Verandah door open. Rats in bedrooms. I leave now and good riddances to you English.”
The last Clive saw of Francois was his grey rucksack disappearing over the horizon as he stomped through the snow back to base. His white chef coat melting into the white of the snow.