Edmund Silverwood. An enigma when it came to his past, a ghost if it weren’t for the portraits hanging in the house. He rarely made an appearance though his invisible mark was clearly imprinted in every corner of the estate. Whenever he did attend a dinner now and then, everyone came, putting their best foot forward. For what? To inherit his fortune, one might think but, no…As I said, Silverwood was…different.
Mr. Silverwood stood in the doorway leaning on his black cane. Tall and thin, dressed in a smart black jacket covering a waistcoat with a subtle garnet embroidery, he gazed upon the entire brunch room. His presence chilled the chamber, the fire in the hearth burning fearfully now.
‘The dogs have been put to sleep, Edmund,’ said aunt Helena coldly.
‘And yet, I still hear them barking!’ spat Mr. Silverwood. ‘Why is that?’ His hoarse voice echoed through our hearts.
‘I apologize, it’s…’ Vera trembled looking at her son, ‘he’s so clumsy, he had no idea we had…’ she threw a glance at Mr. Porter. Benjamin just stood there, his bloodied hand wrapped in a cloth, avoiding Mr. Silverwood’s gaze.
‘Clumsy…’ stated Mr. Silverwood thoughtfully. ‘Clumsy is not something we afford in this house!’
No one moved. The tension rising. Even aunt Helena, his own sister, looked anxious though her face seemed steady, controlled, her skin perfectly smooth and white as marble and her ash hair lifted up in a bun as always.
I hadn’t noticed Mr. Porter leave my side. When I saw him, I hurried to stop him but…
‘I’m Andrew Morgan!’ he said cheerfully offering Mr. Silverwood his hand. ‘The new assistant!’ he added.
I arrived at Mr. Porter’s side. I could do nothing but witness the conversation.
Mr. Silverwood inspected the detective with his out of ordinary amber eyes. I heard a few nervous whispers behind me.
‘The what?’ spat Mr. Silverwood.
‘The new assistant,’ repeated Mr. Porter his hand still hanging in the air.
Mr. Silverwood laughed. A full, honest, hearty laughter. ‘Bold,’ he said. ‘Bold and direct!’ he added. ‘Do you know who I am?’
Mr. Porter lowered his hand. He understood by now that Mr. Silverwood had no intention in a polite handshake. ‘I’m assuming the king of this impressive realm?’ he responded to my surprise. He was cheerful and calm. Perhaps his ignorance worked in his advantage.
‘Indeed!’ stated Mr. Silverwood satisfied of the comparison. ‘Do you like hunting, Mr. Morgan?’ he said as he stared into the detective’s eyes. He was jesting, of course, testing, ridiculing…
‘I can’t say I’ve ever experienced it,’ answered the detective sensing the subtlety in the question though impossible to know the true meaning of the mockery.
Mr. Silverwood grinned, his perfectly white teeth showing. ‘Come boy!’ he said to Benjamin. ‘We need to talk.’
Benjamin moved reluctantly. I would have done the same if I were him. His mother, Vera, watched him restlessly.
‘We will meet again, Mr. Morgan,’ said Mr. Silverwood as he left the room, Benjamin following him like an obedient puppy.
It took several moments for the brunch room to regain its spirit. Mr. Porter was still watching the door, analysing it, as though Mr. Silverwood was still there. Then he watched me, his eyes filled with questions.
An arm over his shoulder startled both of us.
‘Well, Morgan! Let’s end this dreadful episode by going on our well deserved tour!’ said Victor. ‘Fred, are you coming?’
‘Yes, yeees,’ Fred came along. He was thin and a bit crooked, his paces small and hurried. He adjusted his glasses and blinked nervously as he gave the detective a nod.
‘Good, God!’ shouted Victor talking to the air, ‘we’ll need some strong drinks afterwards!’
‘Victor,’ I said.
‘No worries, there, darling! We’ll leave the boring parts to you!’ With that the three of them left the brunch room, the detective giving me one last glance before he was gone.
I remained close to the doorway wondering if this had been such a good idea. What if I had overestimated Mr. Porter and Silverwood was going to be his downfall? What if he had questions I couldn’t answer? His father…his father…did he know? Did he…
Someone pushed my shoulder and I staggered. Erika had passed me by. ‘Vicky’s brought a dead assistant!’ she said in a cheerful voice as she left the room.
I didn’t wait for the rest of them to begin with their remarks. I stormed out and sought shelter in the only place that felt safe.
We had a few libraries in the estate but my favourite and the one I worked in was the one on the left wing. It wasn’t close to my room but I had a shortcut I always used to avoid any unpleasant encounters…and to be frank, almost all encounters here were unpleasant.
One of the guest rooms, at the end of the hall where Mr. Porter’s room was located, had a secret door that led to a hallway. It was usually locked but thanks to Richard, I had a spare key. The hallway dim and cold but preferable, connected the central wing leading to the sleeping quarters which the workers occupied during harvest time but which was empty most of the year.
Exiting the sleeping quarters, up the stairs and down the hall lay the library, ‘Nicholas’ carved above the entrance. Mr. Silverwood’s late son had died at the age of 16. He had loved books and plays. Mr. Silverwood had built this library in the memory of his son. That must have been one of the few gestures that proved Mr. Silverwood had any emotions.
The library had a few spiral staircases and one upper floor all set in a warm harmony. The many amazing and various books shined in the favourable light brought by the large windows.
I sat at my desk, unlocked the middle drawer and took out my journal. I had important information to write down. Today, Benjamin’s reaction had startled me. The look in his eyes, anger, fury as he said the words ‘you should be ashamed!’ Was he angry that we talked of other things aside the death of his father? Yet, he never seemed fond of uncle Albert…why the sudden rage? ‘You should be ashamed…’ it could have also been projected towards one person. Robert, perhaps? They couldn’t stand each other.
My journals held many moments similar to today. I had been keeping one since my mother’s death and strangely I have always believed they will be read one day by the one who will put an end to all of this. Perhaps William had given me hope the day he gave me the letter to pass on to his son. Perhaps I had put all my faith in his son, Nathan Porter and I was afraid he might not succeed. Or worse, he might not believe me.
I prepared a stack of journals filled with events, episodes, quarrels, rumours, grudges, pasts…all that may be of use one day. They rested on my desk awaiting their reader. Though, I wasn’t sure he’d want to read them. Maybe he would find them ‘biased’ and would like to form his own clean opinion.
I prepared my lesson for tomorrow. I used to enjoy uncle Albert’s classes of Mythology and Monsters. I attended them with enthusiasm and full attention. He had a magnificent way of story-telling capturing the entire audience. Now, I had to take his place. Dear uncle, what happened to you? I suddenly felt 10 years old again, sobbing on the first floor of this library, hidden behind book shelves, torn of losing my mother. 18 years ago. 18 long years. The commotion of that night still vivid in my memory. She adopted me when I was five and five years later I lost her. No! She was taken away from me! Taken by a monster. Just like Albert was.
I hadn’t heard him come in. He walked slowly while the candle lights danced shyly as he passed them by. His face was beautiful, his eyes dark, deep with things I did not know. He had suffered too in his life. He had seen things too and yet…he hadn’t seen it all, not yet.
‘Quite a family you have,’ he said ad he touched the cover of an old book lying on a table. He opened it, flipped a few pages then slammed it shut as he looked at his surroundings. ‘This place…’ he continued, ‘it’s a maze!’ He spoke calmly yet I sensed a tension.
‘How did you find me?’ I asked doubting Victor would have included libraries in his tour.
‘Richard,’ he answered. He avoided my gaze as he walked around. ‘These walls have ears?’ he asked me as he studied the staircases and ceiling.
‘The library is safe,’ I stated.
He watched the door which was at a fair distance now and approached my desk. ‘Explain to me the rules, Miss Cane!’ he said. I wasn’t sure what had happened on his tour but I am sure Victor had made a few unpleasant remarks. Fred undoubtedly tried to be kind, too scared to reveal anything that may raise suspicions.
‘First of all,’ I said looking at the pile of journals, ‘that’s for you to read.’ He looked at them but did not approach. ‘Keep them close, I beg you. They are my lifetime observations.’ He nodded. ‘Second of all, we must prepare for the classes tomorrow. You need to know what to expect. Though, I will accompany you to each class to guide you. But only tomorrow. After that you will have the chance to investigate freely and I am sure the teachers will be more open to talk to you without my presence.’
He leaned over, his palms resting on my desk. ‘The rules, Miss Cane!’
I stared in his eyes. He was anxious, angry? Irritated? ‘Very well,’ I added as I stood up and walked around the desk. ‘Rule number one. Visitors may not leave the house after dark.’
‘Why not?’ he asked.
‘Mr. Silverwood’s rules, Mr. Porter, not mine. Any visitor seen outside the house after dark will be expelled from the estate. Rule number two. Visitors may not wander through the estate without an escort.’
‘Why?’ his eyes spat fire as he watched me. He approached me, the distance between us uncomfortable. I took a step back. ‘Mr. Silverwood does not like strangers to poke around his estate.’
He crossed his arms, his eyes narrowing. ‘Rule number three,’ he said. Had he heard the rules already? What had upset him?
‘Rule number three,’ I continued, ‘you may not feed the dogs or bring your own pet to the estate.’
He said nothing, only stared, his eyes piercing through mine.
‘Rule number four,’ I almost whispered it. ‘No silver is allowed.’
‘Now that’s curious! Why would anyone have such a rule?’
‘Mr. Silverwood is allergic to silver…’ I avoided his gaze. ‘Many of his children and grandchildren have inherited his affliction.’
The detective shook his head in disbelief.
‘Rule number five. No visitors allowed without the approval of Mr. Silverwood himself.’
‘You brought me here, without the consent of Mr. Silverwood and without telling anyone about your decision!’ he spat.
‘They wouldn’t have accepted it if I had.’
He smirked but it was clearly a gesture out of irritation.
‘Mr. Silverwood was well aware of the fact that I needed a temporary replacement for my function. He agreed I’d find a suitable replacement as soon as possible. Trust me, if Mr. Silverwood had opposed, you would have been forbidden to come in the first place.’
He sighed angrily.
‘I don’t understand why this can be problematic to you,’ I added.
‘It’s hard to investigate when all eyes are on me!’
‘It’s easier in fact! You’re everyone’s favourite subject now and everyone wants to talk to you!’
‘Are you more familiar with my job than I am, Miss Cane?’ he asked stepping closer. Was this his way of intimidating me?
His eyes narrowed as he observed my face. ‘What is this place?’ he whispered to me. ‘What is it that you’re not telling me?’
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