A Post-Victorian Englishman Finds Out that the Story of Belle and the Beast is True
It was a chilly morning of November 5, 1923 when I discovered the disappearance of Sir Edward. It was not common occurrence for a gentleman of high origin to vanish overnight without a trace. Should such an incident happen, it would certainly have caused no small uproar. Therefore, I must explain why I, a faithful butler of the Abingdon family for thirty years, did not immediately notify the constable.
My master, still a youth of barely twenty-seven years old, had already developed a habit of getting up at the same time, ten o’clock every morning, no matter how late he had been working in his study the night before. Even his recent dangerous travels to the savage lands of Africa did not bring any changes to his regime.
Due to my sleeplessness, a malady common among the men of advanced years, I always knew when Sir Edward put out the light in his study and went to the bedroom. I considered it my duty to walk to the library after he had left to remove teacups and saucers, and to clean whatever spillage or soiling had occurred. This included disposing of Sir Edward’s clipped nails, which could be occasionally discovered in unexpected locations. Sir Edward never required me to do this cleaning. His only instructions regarding his library and the study room were not to displace any books, manuscripts or artifacts he had been working with. It was Sir Edward’s self-imposed responsibility to return all these items to their proper places unless he needed them for his work again next day.
Speaking of my master’s work, one must not be deceived by the name of it, for, needless to say, Sir Edward Ramsey Abingdon IV was never required to labour in order to maintain his finances. His nighttime studies were driven by his own insatiable interests in a wide variety of areas of human knowledge. Sir Edward inherited this passion from his learned father, Sir Archibald, and his grandfather, Sir Edward Abingdon III. Over centuries, the Abingdons had assembled an enormous collection of books, incunables, scrolls, maps and manuscripts, all of which they kept in their family library. This impressive collection occupied the ground and the first floors of the Western wing of the castle. It continued, to my best knowledge, in the cellar under the Western wing too. By saying ‘to my best knowledge’ I mean that no servant, under any circumstances, was ever allowed to proceed beyond a certain door on the ground floor of the library. This massive door was kept locked most of the time. Only members of the Abingdon family knew the secret place where the key was hidden.
A legend, circulated among the servants maintained that two centuries ago, a groom’s twelve-year-old son discovered the location of the key and tried to sneak beyond the forbidden door. He was not heard of for three days, after which Sir Edward Abingdon I, the great-great-grandfather of my master returned the dead body of the lad to his father accompanied with a considerable sum of money and a strict order to leave Abingdon Castle immediately and forever. This happened in the old times. Although it seemed extremely unlikely that my master was capable of delivering a punishment so severe, none of the servants or their children had ever ventured anywhere close to the Forbidden Door.
Once, being not far from it, I heard my master calling my name. I hurried along the bookshelves in the direction of his voice only to realize that it was coming from beyond the mysterious door. The door itself was slightly open. I stopped in front of it not knowing how to act. I listened again to Sir Edward’s words and realized that he was not calling me at all, but just talking to himself aloud. I was relieved since I remembered a tragic story of one of the Abingdons, who had had a stroke while in the forbidden area and died there alone. No servant dared to enter the door and retrieve his body, despite the strong odour of decomposition. Three weeks passed after his death before his son returned from the Continent and carried out his father’s remains single-handedly.
After assuring myself that my master was in good physical health, my next worry became the other servants, one of whom might happen to be nearby and could hear Sir Edward as I did. I feared they might break the taboo by entering the unlocked door. I did what any good butler would have done in my place. I approached the door and quietly closed it, effectively blocking any sound coming from inside. While doing this, I tried to keep my eyes down; however, I must confess that for a split moment I saw what lay beyond.
There was nothing extraordinary. Just another large hall with rows of oaken bookcases filled with books. Contrary to Mrs. Pock, our gardener’s widow, who guessed that whatever was behind the door must be absolutely messy due to the absence of servants, the space I saw looked neat enough to say that the Abingdons did very well keeping it in order. Whether the Abingdons stored their most precious books there, or just used the rooms as a hermitage to avoid seeing other people or to perform some sacred family rituals, I shall never know, for under no circumstances shall I cross the forbidden threshold.
Thus, Sir Edward’s disappearance on that chilly November day could have meant that my master had simply retired to the forbidden quarters. Two days later Sir Edward was still unaccounted for and I began to worry about his well being. After one more day had passed, I was about to call William Abingdon, Sir Edward’s cousin, who, unlike servants, had an access to all parts of the Abingdon Castle, when I found a letter from Sir Edward on the telephone table. I could swear that neither other servants, nor I had placed it there. The letter was addressed to Sir Edward’s friend, Henry Didcott, whom I called immediately. I shall now deviate from my narration and return almost two years back in time, soon after the end of the Great War, to better explain to my readers what started all these mysterious events.
As I have said, Sir Edward was an adept in sciences, both philosophical and empirical. He rarely took pain to clarify the nature of his explorations to me. I could only deduce it from the books and periodicals he left in his office. One night these could be the catalogs of Australian plants, next time Sir Edward’s interests could shift to South African anthropology, mathematics or that fashionable theory of Mr. Einstein, unpatriotic as it sounded, since this Swiss gentleman refuted the laws of Nature established by our Sir Isaac Newton.
Although I had never read Mr. Einstein’s works, I considered myself a man sufficiently educated to be of assistance to Sir Edward in his scientific endeavors.
To let my master become aware of my broad mind and learning, I once allowed him to ‘catch’ me reading a fresh issue of West Berkshire Natural Philosopher, the major source of my knowledge about recent trends in science. That particular volume contained an extremely interesting article by Mr. Alderney, a beekeeper from Streatley and an amateur scientist, like myself. The author had conclusively proved that Jews and Ethiopians could not have originated from the same protoplasm.
As I expected, Sir Edward asked me what I was reading. I showed him the article, explained its content and even took liberty to ask my master’s opinion on the matter. Sir Edward snatched the journal from my hands, looked briefly through the paper, then fell in a chair and started to laugh, his body shuddering uncontrollably as if he were having fits. I stood by, not understanding what ignited such an outburst of Homeric laughter. It took Sir Edward several minutes to calm down. At last, he said,
‘I’m sorry, Balderton. I didn’t know that anyone still wasted paper on such rubbish. What’s it called? West Berkshire Natural Philosopher! Sounds impressive. Would you mind lending it to me for some time? Henry is calling tonight, and I cannot imagine a better entertainment for him. Jews and Ethiopians not coming from the same protoplasm! Fancy that!’
Sir Edward marched into his library leaving me to blame myself for the foolish and highly inappropriate attempt to show that my erudition was close to that of my master. Still, I could not help but feel offended for Mr. Alderney, the author of the paper. It was evident that Sir Edward was of a different view on the protoplasmic precursors of the Semitic and Abyssinian races. This, however, should not have been an excuse for mocking his scientific opponent, especially when Mr. Alderney had presented his theses so brilliantly and logically.
Aforementioned Henry Didcott was Sir Edward’s friend since their college years at Oxford. He had come from one of those nouveaux riches families, whose habits Mr. Galsworthy described so vividly in his recent scandalous novel. I never cared to read it, but Mrs. Pock had retold its content to me rather extensively.
I was very concerned about Henry Didcott’s influence on Sir Edward. Although he shared my master’s interest in science, Mr. Didcott was the initiator of all their adventures that included women and gambling. It was so this evening, too, when after making some indiscreet jokes in Mr. Alderney’s address, Mr. Didcott suggested that he and Sir Edward must visit their alma mater the very next day, for there was a new professor of Slavic literature, whose daughter, in Mr. Didcott’s words, was such a sweet peach. The professor had apparently come from Russia, narrowly escaping the Bolsheviks.
‘You just imagine, Eddy,’ Didcott said. ‘A beauty in her tender eighteenth year, with abysmally blue eyes and the charming accent of our former competitors for Asian riches. Her father had lost everything back in Russia. Just a single discreet mention of your nobility and wealth will make her start dreaming of princes, castles and whatever rubbish these girls are dreaming of. She’ll fall into your depraved hands in a matter of hours.’
‘She must be one of those home-grown poor creatures,’ Sir Edward retorted, ‘whose cheap governesses warned them against the perils of frequent bathing. As a result, they smell terrible, gain fat and wear dresses that had gone out of fashion ten years ago.’
‘Nonsense, Eddy! Even if she smells like your Balderton, so what? You’ll take a bath together. You’ll teach this girl the civilized way! And she is by no means fat.’
Sir Edward went to Oxford next morning accompanied by Mr. Didcott. He returned alone three days later and rushed into his study without having a supper. After he retired to his bed around four-thirty in the morning, I examined the books he had left on his desk. They were English-Russian and Russian-English dictionaries. There was also a small book that, judging by the pictures in it, was some kind of children’s fairy tale. I said ‘judging by the pictures’, since the book was not in English. Some of the letters in the text looked familiar, but many were absolutely foreign, making me think that it was in Russian. In addition, there were several volumes on Eastern Slavic folklore borrowed from the Oxford Library and a notebook filled with Sir Edward’s handwriting.
The notebook was open to the middle. When removing the teacups, I accidentally touched it, and its pages flipped to the right, revealing the beginning of the text. I noticed the words ‘The Scarlet Flower’ written in Sir Edward’s beautiful calligraphy. Apparently, it was a title of the translation Sir Edward was working on. I turned the pages back to where they had been and left the study.
My finding left me worried. Sir Edward’s behaviour was alarmingly familiar. Last time my master expressed such a lively interest in a foreign language was four years earlier when Mr. Didcott introduced him to a young Spanish beauty. At that time Sir Edward made an attempt to completely translate Don Quixote in a month, a task so exhausting that I became concerned about his health. It soon became clear, however, that the Spanish girl had no interest in scholastics in general and literature in particular. It was also questionable whether she had ever read Cervantes. The only things she was interested in were Sir Edward’s title and money. Needless to say, I felt relieved when Sir Edward realized it too before proposing to the young harlot, a misstep she was waiting like a vulture for him to make.
My discovery of the pile of dictionaries in Sir Edward’s study could mean only one thing: my master fell in love with the Russian girl, whom Mr. Didcott had mentioned. It was not that I had something against my master having a wife and heirs. My silent disapproval was based on Sir Edward’s inability to receive proper parental advice in choosing the spouse. His father, good old Sir Archibald, passed away eight years earlier, and his mother had died even before that. There was also a selfish motive: master’s marriage will undoubtedly result in changes in my own life – something I rather disliked. The only relief was that the book Sir Edward attempted to translate this time was significantly thinner than the two volumes of Don Quixote.
Next morning Sir Edward hurried to his study as soon as he woke up, neglecting his usual morning horseback ride in the woods. I served him porridge in the library. He barely touched it. The little book completely absorbed him.
It was not until two days later when I heard Sir Edward’s explanation of his interest in Russian fairy tales. He and Henry Didcott were talking by the fire in the drawing room, and I was serving them cognac.
‘I have reason to believe, Eddy,’ Mr. Didcott said, ‘that little Miss Petroff caught your attention. You stole her away soon after I had introduced you and I am desperate to hear the details of what happened next. I believe you owe me a story.’
‘She did catch my attention indeed,’ Sir Edward said. ‘I confess I have never met a girl of such rare combination of beauty and intelligence, not to mention her superb education and manners.’
‘And can you claim a victory over this clever combination yet?’
‘I can’t, I admit. You did not warn me of her exquisite cruelty. Can you imagine what Tatyana told me in reply to my advances?’
‘Whatever she said, it could hardly be a manifestation of her cleverness. With a cavalier like you…’
‘Do you remember the story of Belle and the Beast?’
‘Why, a fairy tale? As I recall, there was a girl who asked her father to bring her a rose…’
‘Not a rose, Henry, but Scarlet Flower! At least this is what the Russian version of this tale says.’
‘Whatever. What has it to do with Tatyana?’
‘She told me that she would be mine if I brought her the damned Scarlet Flower.’
‘What a nonsense! Buy her a lorry of red orchids. Girls like them.’
‘This was exactly what I did next day after I’d met her. She refused to take them. In reply, she sent me this little book.’
Mr. Didcott took the book from Sir Edward and shuffled its pages.
‘It’s in Russian. Did she tell you what it’s about?’
‘No, she did not. I translated it.’
Sir Edward picked his notes from the tea table.
‘It is called The Scarlet Flower. A tale recorded by an obscure Russian writer named Sergei Aksakov in the early nineteenth century from the words of his serf housekeeper Pelagea. Never heard of his name? I am not surprised. Aksakov’s literary heritage is limited to very few titles that include The Notes of a Rifle Hunter of the Orenburg District, The Notes of a Rod Fisherman, and an unremarkable autobiography. Hardly anything eye-catching, though it describes Mr. Aksakov’s life style squarely. If it were not for Pelagea’s story, he would not be remembered at all.
‘The tale itself is simple. A daughter of a merchantman, the youngest of three sisters, asked her father to bring her the Scarlet Flower, the most beautiful flower ever. Not a rose, mind you, but an unnamed species, extremely rare, since her father failed to find it in any of the many country he visited. Eventually, his caravan was attacked by robbers somewhere on the border of a desert and a great forest. In the woods, he found refuge in a magnificent palace. Of course, there was the Scarlet Flower. He picked it up, heard thunder and saw the Monster who had risen in front of him as if from under the ground. This Monster resembled a human, but was all covered with dense fur, had a beak and eyes like an owl, wild boar’s tusks, bent arms, claws instead of nails and a hump on its” back.’
‘A familiar combination of animal and bird features, which is characteristic to the monsters from all fairy tales.’ Mr. Didcott noted.
‘Right, I thought so too. What followed, however, ignited my curiosity tremendously. The Monster demanded that the merchant send his younger daughter to him using a ring that would transport her to Monster’s palace the moment she put it on her finger. So the merchant did. The daughter came to the Monster, but never saw him. Ashamed of his body, the Beast hid himself from her, using very interesting way of communicating with the girl. There was a ‘white marble wall’ in his palace where words could appear and disappear. Monster’s messages simply showed up on this wall and the girl read them.
Doesn’t it remind you anything?’
‘Hmm. The letters on the wall of Babel during Balthazar’s banquet.’
‘Exactly, Didcott! Cinema was my first thought when I translated this sentence!’
‘But the story is definitely older than the Lumiere brothers.’
‘I dated it seventeenth century, since it mentioned clocks and coffee. But this was not all. The Monster played music for the girl, and she could see neither musicians nor instruments. What would you make of that?’
‘A well-hidden gramophone or phonograph playing records.’
‘Very likely. Now, Monster employed ‘invisible servants’ to care for the girl. She also took rides in the forest ‘in chariots without horses or harnesses’ on a road, ‘wide and smooth’. She wrote letters to her father, and they disappeared as she finished them only to show up in her father’s house thousands of miles away. And I have already mentioned the instant transportation device in the ring. Honestly, I don’t know what to make out of this one, but perhaps Mr. Einstein will some day find practical use for his general relativity theory and it will be much similar to this wonderful ring.’
‘Wait, Eddy!’ Mr. Didcott ejaculated. ‘Not so fast! Are you telling me that someone in seventeenth century possessed the knowledge and technology as advanced as we have now in 1920’s? Let me offer you more plausible explanation. Wasn’t it Roger Bacon who several hundred years ago wrote about horseless carts moved swiftly by inner drive? I am absolutely sure that Bacon himself had never seen an automobile. As for the ring and the rest, I must say that this serf woman Pelagea had imagination equal or better than that of Mr. Wells with his Invisible Man and Time Machine.’
‘Curiously, I said the same thing to Tatyana over the telephone soon after I had finished the translation. Do you imagine what she replied? She claimed to be a descendant of that very merchantman who picked the Scarlet Flower and met the Monster!’
‘She dictated me her complete genealogy starting from the sister of that girl, who went to live with Monster. There were three sisters, as you remember. The young one who asked for the Flower and two older, covetous sisters, one of whom was Tatyana’s ancestor. ‘
‘I’m sure she made it up.’
‘You may be right, Didcott, but I have a feeling that she was not lying. I questioned her and she told me her family legend, which I found free of contradictions and consistent with Pelagea’s story. Tatyana also told me some details that were missing from this little book. Like the location of Monster’s palace.’
‘And wherever is it?’ Didcott chuckled.
Sir Edward turned to me.
‘Balderton, would you please bring the map of East Africa? It’s in my study, the only map on the desk.’
When I returned, Sir Edward unrolled the map and pointed at the border of yellow and green areas.
‘It must be here, some two hundred miles or so East of the British Somaliland into Abyssinia. Tatyana’s story places it in the Horn. There are not so many places where ancient forest meets no less ancient desert without savannas in between. I looked up some literature about this region. I did not find much, but from whatever little was available, I discovered a couple of clues that pointed to this area.’ Sir Edward delineated a shilling-sized circle on the map.
‘What are you going to do with all this?’ Mr. Didcott asked.
‘Why, I shall go there, find the Scarlet Flower and whatever marvelous machinery still remains in the Monster’s palace and bring it all back to England.’
‘You must be joking.’
‘Not at all. Would you like to join me?’
‘On the contrary, I shall take all steps to prevent you from going into this heathen land!’
‘I’m threatening you with marrying Tatyana while you are away.’
‘Go ahead, marry her, I cannot care less! The more I study this Scarlet Flower matter, the more I feel that my obsession of Tatyana vanishes under the prospect of making the greatest discovery ever. Yes, Balderton,’ Sir Edward looked at me over his shoulder. ‘I am planning to pay visit to the very same Ethiopians, whom your beekeeper anthropologist denied the honour of originating from the same protoplasm with the Jews.’
Two weeks later, Sir Edward boarded a ship going through Suez. I did not receive a single letter from him during the next eighteen months. He returned one summer night, utterly exhausted, and malnourished, carrying only one bag that was as unclean as his khaki clothes. To my ‘Welcome back to the Abingdon Castle, Sir!’ he only said, ‘Fetch me some meat, bread and wine, Balderton.’ After consuming all mentioned food, Sir Edward retired to his bedroom and had a healthy twenty-hour-long sleep. Upon waking he sent an invitation card to Henry Didcott. At six o’clock next evening, a Rolls Royce arrived at the Abingdon Castle, and I went to announce Henry and Tatyana Didcott to my master. He was visibly shaken by the appearance of Mr. Didcott’s young wife, but gathered himself and walked out to welcome his guests.
‘You see, Eddy, I never make empty threats.’ Didcott said. ‘Tatyana and I became married a year after you had left. So, tell us how many lions did you shoot in the Horn?’
‘None. There were hardly any left after Patterson and others. I was not really interested in them anyway.’
‘Did you wrestle the bloody Flower from the Somalis then?’ Didcott asked with a mocking fighting gesture.
Instead of answering, Sir Edward paced toward an oaken table and removed the cloth from a tall woven basket. Everyone in the room gasped.
‘This is my wedding gift to you both.’ Sir Edward said.
It had been quite dark in the drawing room, due to Sir Edward’s order to turn down the electricity, and the corner where the Flower was standing became instantly illuminated with mysterious crimson radiance. It was the first time I saw the Flower. Sir Edward had apparently brought it in his bag. But how did he succeed in keeping it alive during the arduous trip from Africa?
The petals of the Flower were pure scarlet and were emitting soft red glow, as if they contained an unusual sort of phosphorescent substance or a salt of radium. I could not clearly define their shapes. The overall form of the Flower reminded that of Aquilegia, only larger, incredibly more complex and unbelievably beautiful. Its delicate openwork structure was reminiscent of the skeletons of the Foraminifers. The leaves were simple, fleshy, and elliptical in shape, with parallel veins, suggesting that the Flower might be a distant relative to orchids.
Sir Edward broke the silence.
‘As you see, I could not have possibly made a mistake. This is the most beautiful flower in the world.’
I saw that his words were true. I felt that the other people in the room totally agreed with my master.
‘Did you find the palace?’ Tatyana asked in a slightly husky voice.
‘I did indeed. It is the only place where this plant grows.’
‘And did you meet … the Creature?’
Sir Edward frowned.
‘Yes,’ he said quietly.
‘Was this the same Beast from the fairy tale?’ Mr. Didcott asked.
‘Yes, he was.’
‘How could he possibly live so long?’
‘He explained it to me, but I confess that I did not understand the details. All I know is that this plant,’ he pointed at the Scarlet Flower, ‘is the reason.’
‘Did you actually talk to him?’ Didcott asked. ‘In what language?’
‘In plain Oxford English. He could speak any language. I still don’t know how.’
‘Does she still live with him?’ Tatyana said again.
‘Elizaveta, my ancestor aunt.’
‘Ah, no. I’m sorry, she died long ago. The Monster told me about her. He had offered her long life, but she refused. The price was too big for her.’
Sir Edward did not reply.
‘How did he let you bring the Flower here? Did you steal it from him?’
‘It’s impossible to steal anything from the Monster. The Flower… it came at a price too.’
‘Was it… the same price as in the fairy tale?’ Tatyana put the hand over her mouth.
‘Yes. I had to agree to it, since my Colt had jammed. You must not worry about it, though. You will have the Flower with no obligation to go to the Monster.’
‘Wait!’ Mr. Didcott said. ‘Did he give you the ring then? The one that transfers you to another place instantly? And did you see all his machines? They must be worth a fortune!’
‘I had seen the devices before I saw the Flower. However, I could hardly call them ‘machines’, since they were very much unlike the bulky and clumsy creations we admire as technical marvels nowadays. As for the ring… I arrived at Portsmouth by ship.’
‘Then we must go there with a large expedition!’ Mr. Didcott exclaimed. ‘With airplanes and Maxim guns. We shall strike a partnership, you and I. I can organize everything! You can rely on my financial contributions.’
Sir Edward stopped him with a firm gesture.
‘Nobody is going back there. Your airplanes and guns will be useless against the Monster. Now, Tatyana, Henry, I want you to take this Flower and leave. I desire solitude.’
Mr. Didcott slowly, as if hypnotized by Flower’s glow, moved toward the table, but his wife held him back.
‘We cannot take it! We are not supposed to touch the Scarlet Flower. Henry, I beg you! If you take it, I shall leave you! This Flower is for me only, and I am refusing to take it.’
Mr. Didcott was taken aback.
‘If this is your wish.’ He said to his wife. ‘I appreciate your generosity, Eddy, but as you can see, we cannot accept your gift. I understand that the trip had a deep emotional impact on you. Still, should you change your mind and organize a full-scale expedition to that place, I hope that I shall be the first man you call.’
With these words Mr. Didcott turned around and walked out of the room, followed by Mrs. Didcott.
Sir Edward waited for them to drive away, then returned to the Flower, picked it up and carried it to the West wing. I never saw it again.
During the next month, I began finding in my master’s study the books mostly on botany, physiology, chemistry and pharmacology. Sir Edward had ordered a variety of chemicals and laboratory equipment from Cambridge. All of it he took to the room behind the forbidden door. This made me assume that he had set up a laboratory in there. Then came the fateful day in early November when my master disappeared followed by his letter to Henry Didcott several days later.
The Didcotts arrived soon after I called them. Mr. Didcott opened the envelope, looked through the letter, frowned and read it aloud to his wife and me.
I must beg your forgiveness for my insolence during our last meeting. Although I had told you that I would not care whether or not your marriage to Tatyana would take place, I was deeply shocked to see that it indeed had happened. Please accept my sincere apologies and no less genuine wishes of your happiness.
Now I must confess that I was not honest with you when I said that I had arrived to England by ship. In reality I took advantage of the device in the form of a ring that was generously provided by the gentleman whom we used to call the Monster. I have yet to elucidate its exact mechanism, but I am determined to undergo tutelage from the aforementioned gentleman, who had kindly agreed to grant me an access to the source of vast knowledge he had been guarding for millennia. This will require my absence from the Abingdon Castle for an undefined period of time. Thus, please relay to Balderton my following instructions: under no circumstances anyone, including my cousin William, should enter the restricted area on the ground floor of my library. The Abingdon Castle shall not be put for sale, mortgaged or given as a gift to any party. A trust I have established shall manage the finances of the estate.
It is my strong suggestion that you, Henry, refrain from organizing an expedition to the Monster’s Palace. You will never be able to find it even if you fly directly over it on the airplane or comb every square foot of the forest. The power it contains is able to keep off any unwanted guest.
Please convey my best regards to Tatyana. I am deeply grateful to her for inspiring my quest for the Scarlet Flower, which turned out to be more than just a botanical curiosity.
Edward R. Abingdon, November 7, 1923.’
A silence fell after Mr Didcott had finished reading the letter. Tatyana stood pale holding her hand over her mouth.
‘Balderton, where is this ‘restricted area’ he is writing about?’ Mr Didcott asked.
‘It’s on the ground floor of the West wing, but…’
‘We shall go there immediately. There must be some clues on his whereabouts. Eddy may require our help.’
‘Mr. Didcott, my master’s instructions regarding that part of the library were explicit and unambiguous.’
‘Cut the nonsense, Balderton!’ Mr. Didcott said. ‘Eddy may be in grave danger this very moment! I must know where he is to save his life even if he doesn’t want it.’
I did not move.
‘Mr. Balderton,’ Tatyana said. ‘I know it is entirely my fault that Eddy disappeared. I must find him to redeem myself. Please help us!’
‘I am very sorry, Mrs. Didcott,’ I said. ‘If Sir Edward had not sent this letter, I would have shown you the location on my own will, but since I have his instructions and assurance that he is alive and sound…’
‘I should be able to find it myself.’ Didcott said. ‘I had been in his library many times. I reckon that there was a large door on the back wall on the ground floor. Eddy told me that it led into some dusty storage, and I had a strange feeling that he was lying to me. I did not press him at that moment, but now I’m sure that there is something more than just a broom closet behind it. Let’s go, darling!’
They hurried past me toward the West wing. I had no choice, but to follow them. In five minutes we three were standing in front of the forbidden door. Didcott pulled it. It was locked. I sighed with relief. Suddenly, Didcott produced a strange-looking steel rod from his inner pocket. I had never seen picklocks in my life, but I was sure that this was it. It did not take long before the lock clicked and the door opened.
‘This lock must have been made when Shakespeare was still alive.’ Didcott said. ‘A child could open it.’
He crossed the threshold followed by Tatyana. I made sure not to enter, just looked inside.
The room was approximately fifteen yards long and ten yards wide with no windows. T