Chapter Twenty-One (Part Two)
I closed my eyes a moment as Jonathon did up my hands again, trying to block out thoughts of how the toxin had overtaken me, how I'd been tied down for fear of harming others. How embarrassing. This was not much better, this show of humiliation.
I tried not to think of the helpless position this put us in, how as women we were expected to be the '"bait'" for demons, as I'd chosen to be once before at the Metropolitan, to lure out evil so that I might best it with a countercurse. That we were constrained to do so was inescapably sickening to me. I was aware that society relegated us to second-class citizens, though I believed with all my heart women were equal creatures under the God that I knew. Human law and opinion just needed to catch up with the divine. Just because I could play the game of my world did not mean I was complicit to it otherwise. Jonathon must have read the struggle on my face; surely he could feel it, for what he offered was a salve:
"I take no pleasure in anything that would give you discomfort, Natalie. I would never subject you to something I didn't know you could handle with the most impressive aplomb."
"Thank you, dear," I replied, opening my eyes to take in his kind gaze. He'd always been as much of my champion as I was of myself. Bless him for that. "Thank you. For such a thing as this is not easy to stomach."
"For a girl like you, hardly," he said with a little laugh. "And I'd not have that any other way." He tied the knot of the bindings, loose in truth, but looking quite thorough to an outside eye. He kissed me fondly on the cheek and stepped away.
Jonathon took his carriage lantern, Nathaniel, too, and as he went down the marble steps ahead, he called back to us. "Wait one moment, ladies, while we light the torches on ahead."
A dank, dark corridor was revealed beyond the descending set of stairs. The fine trappings near the mouth of the corridor, presumably all that a lady ensconced in that private cottage would have seen, were enough of a courtesy. But the route to get to her was something else entirely.
Jonathon and Nathaniel darted back up the corridor and up the marble slab stairs to fetch us. They led us each by the elbows down into the corridor, taking care with our balance. None of us were in a rush, as everything had an oppressive weight of dread about it. Poor Jonathon, who should have been so excited to return home. Now home was enemy territory that had to be approached by subterfuge...
The connecting passage was like an endless tomb. Dirt-packed walls were reinforced by wood and stone beams. The soot of torches and lanterns smeared big black tongues up the slightly arched ceiling that was not far above our heads. An interminable length lay ahead of us. Jonathon and Nathaniel had only lit the periodic torches for a few paces on, but Jonathon held out a lit taper. I assumed there were more yet to light. I wasn't necessarily claustrophobic by nature- after all, I lived in
but this would try anyone's sense of space. New York City-
None of us felt compelled to say anything. I had a thousand questions as to what to expect, but I doubted Jonathon could offer me any answers. We were playing this game entirely by ear. I tried not to think about any number of my nightmares where terrible things happened down long corridors where I was, for all intents and purposes, trapped... When Jonathon and Nathaniel lit the lamps, I just prayed they would stay lit for us and not be snuffed out by God knows what... Hadn't I promised myself I'd avoid corridors? I was the worst tempter of fate that ever lived.
I had no sense of time or length of passage other than a great deal of it. Finally the mouth of it seemed to widen as if we'd come to the estuary of a river. Before us lay another set of stairs. Out from the tunnel rose another large metal door. Jonathon ascended the set of stairs, fished for the same key in yet another impressive iron lock, and was very careful to turn the lock slowly so that the latch would not echo.
"Stay quiet until I can determine if we've any measure of cover or safety," Jonathon whispered.
He gestured us through the door and into a strange space beyond, a little landing, wooden panels all around us and a few strange pipes, levers, and meters and small vertical slots in the panels before us. He very slowly shifted a lever, and a small slot opened. There was darkness beyond. A sliver of light far in the distance.
"What's on the other side?" Lavinia whispered.
"Our library." He peered into the dim vertical opening once more. "Obviously, no one is feeling literarily inclined at the moment," Jonathon replied, still in a whisper.
"What is all this?" I gestured around me to the other levers, which I assumed may be other peep holes, but that didn't explain the pipes or meter.
"When the house was fitted with gas fixtures," Jonathon began, still keeping his voice hushed, "my father became rather entranced with the secret passages and with their possible advantage. I always thought he was a bit paranoid, but now I wonder if he actually was on to something. He was so protective of Mother, all my life, terrified of losing her, that I thought he was going a bit mad over it. I wonder if some part of him foresaw their doom..." Jonathon looked at the wooden landing beneath our feet. "I know Mother had a suitor early in her life that had caused her trouble. She'd only mentioned it briefly, when she was instructing me how to be a proper gentleman. It would seem he'd proven the very opposite. I hope I wasn't blind, that there was something I should have seen, been forewarned—"
I placed my hand on his arm. "You mustn't think like that. There's nothing you could have done, truly. And you have become the good and proper gentleman she'd be so proud of..."
He offered me a strained smile before shaking his head as if casting off something he didn't wish to consider further. He continued. "Father had a device fitted here"—he gestured to a little open-faced dial with a needle—"that tells us if any of the gas lines have been turned anywhere in the house. The needle is down, so that indicates no lamps have been turned. And he had every room fitted, even the kitchens. Told no one but Mother and me about this little area, as we were the only ones to know about the passages themselves. I never dreamed I'd actually have cause to use them. So by the lamp theory, no one is here at this hour, as staff, if any were here to attend to anyone present, would always be awake at this time."
I nodded. I nearly offered the critique that demons could likely act in the darkness, but I wasn't sure if that would be helpful. My body seemed to know when they were present before my mind had any registry, and while I was tense, there were no telltale hairs rising on the back of my neck. Not yet.
"And now we listen," he added, gesturing to a small phonograph-like bell. "There is a pipe from each room to carry any noise. It's frighteningly sensitive. Father never made it a habit to hide here, he wasn't mad about it, but he did threaten me never to keep secrets, as he said he'd hear everything like the ear of God." He chuckled again, and this time didn't bother to blink back a tear.
The poor man still had never had time to grieve. There had been no proper funeral for his parents. There had been no closure. My heart seized with an ache and a love so pure and raw. He hadn't spoken of them much since we'd met. I could see now that was only because speaking of them was so fraught with melancholy and wistfulness for the time wrongfully stolen from their lives.
"Do keep quiet and your breathing shallow, friends," Jonathon bid, "and let's see if anything picks up."
We listened. Only the occasional creak of an old house. No stirring of any presence, no footsteps, no words, snores, no rustling or shifting. An uncanny blanket of quiet.
"It would seem we are indeed alone, but I still say we proceed with caution. If anyone finds us, we play our parts. However, I'm not sure the bindings will be necessary. I'd rather do without them," Jonathon said, and in a moment I was free once more.
"I'll hold it in case," I said, keeping the fabric clutched in one of my hands. With my other hand, I pressed against the stays and laces of my corset and felt the ridge of the small, sharp scissors I'd been yearning for earlier. I undid one hook and eye of my bodice near my navel to allow for a quick plucking out of the blade. The small comforts were profound.
Nathaniel untied Lavinia's wrists, and I wasn't sure which of them lost control, but suddenly their lips were as locked as their arms were around one another. Perhaps the quiet tension simply had been too much for them. In unison, Jonathon and I turned away as if we didn't notice.
But I thought I saw Jonathon smirk as he took my hand and led me forward, pressing his hand into the darkness. With the drop of a clunking lever, a panel swung forward into the library we'd been scouting. We left the panel open for the entwined couple; they'd see to it as they would.
I looked around in wonder at the dim library, rectangular and tall, with floor to ceiling books, lit only by the moonlight streaming in from behind the arched French windows curtained in lavish fabric. But Jonathon didn't linger here. I think he was too concerned with getting to the heart of the estate to truly take stock, for he moved forward with specific intent. The library led into a grand corridor with chandeliers dropping down periodically throughout the length of it, sweeping out into an open area beyond, likely the main foyer.
Everything ahead was shadowed and glittering silver, all the finery, all the mirrored and crystaline surfaces, the golden frames around still-lives and landscape paintings and well-polished wood. It was the hallway of a palace, with arches marching forward, everything dim save for a wildly bright moon that sent light in at odd angles to bounce off any responsive surface and make the hall look as if it were enchanted. I was, certainly.
He looked back to me, to why I'd paused, and his furrowed brow eased. He bowed slightly and tried to hide the pain in his expression, but I was too accustomed to that beautiful face to miss it. "Allow me to welcome you to Rosecrest, my lady."
(End of Chapter 21.2 - Copyright 2013 Leanna Renee Hieber, The Magic Most Foul saga - If you like what you see, please share this link with friends! Tweet it, FB, + it! The Magic Most Foul team really hopes the audience will continue to grow and it can only do so with YOUR help! If you haven't already, do pick up a copy of Magic Most Foul books 1 and 2: Darker Still and the sequel: The Twisted Tragedy of Miss Natalie Stewart and/or donate to the cause! Donations directly support the editorial staff.
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