Defining Moment

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In Which Maggie Arrives

Maggie took a long look at the large dark manor rising before her. It appeared very old, and was grim and strange. Stranger still was the fact that all about it, squashed in at odd corners and tipsy angles, were the homes and businesses of the town, seeming to have sprouted up out of the ground about the ancient manor in a day when it was acceptable to have a falling-in-roof, a thrice-painted door, and one shutter to a window. The dark mansion stood in sharp contrast to the squalor surrounding it, and Maggie took a deep breath, wishing she was once more in the beautiful park scarce a block away, enjoying again her silent picnic lunch with James.

“So this is to be your new home,” James found himself saying. They bade each other goodbye at the park, and agreed to make the actual parting official and brief. “Out you go, then.”

Everything about this place gave James the feeling that this was all a great mistake, but the address in his hand, written in the unmistakable script of Maggie's dear mother, spoke the truth.

“My godfather has been advised of my coming?” Maggie asked.

James did not answer. “Are you afraid?”

“No.” It was the truth. Maggie had never before feared a thing in her life. She was more dubious than anything, as to what on earth life might be like behind the walls of this gothic fortress.

“Go on then,” James said in a rough voice, giving her hand a quick squeeze, and handing out her gladstone bag. “Goodbye, Maggie. I hope we may meet again someday.”

“In heaven,” Maggie said lightheartedly, jumping from the carriage, and approaching the single step that stood before the huge iron-studded door. She raised the knocker, letting it fall with a resounding bang as James watched from the carriage window, and presently the door swung open, as if on its own, and the nine-year old lass in a white frock and pink sash stepped fearlessly through. The heavy door shut upon her, and James called, “Drive on,” in a voice much more sure than he felt.

The interior of the manor was dim. Maggie's eyes took a moment to adjust to the darkness within, but soon she could see that she was in an atrium with a ceiling soaring in deep shadow. Despite the ancientness of the place, it appeared to be in good order, and as clean as a whistle. Setting down her case, Maggie lightly touched the edge of a black marble-topped table which held a statue of a rearing stag and found it as polished as if it had been dusted by a diligent servant that very morning.

“Hello?” she called, her voice echoing up a lightless staircase that rose before her. What a place! She was a sensible girl and knew better than to believe in ghost stories, but something about the mansion depressed her more than she could say. And this was her new home. She had never met her godfather before, but expected him to be terribly unpleasant, or worse, terribly dull. No servants appearing, Maggie decided to announce herself. She cleared her throat.

“Ahm – Mortimer Clancy here to see the master.”

There was no answer. Maggie was just about to call out again when a door at the far end of the room opened, and a tall figure stepped through. Footsteps echoed time and again around the lofty ceiling as the man stepped slowly from the gloom.

“Who is it.” It was not a question. “Who is here asking for the master.”

Supposing she was to answer, Maggie spoke to the spectre. “My name is Mortimer – ”

“My name is Mortimer. Come closer.”

Maggie turned and walked toward the apparition, and stood in a small patch of light thrown upon the floor by a high window. She curtseyed, not knowing what else to do. The figure came closer, but was still shrouded in shadows. Maggie could see enough to discern that it was an older man, who in his youth had been tall and strong, with wild white hair and a voice husky from disuse.

“Elizabeth Toliver.” He spoke the name in a strange tone of voice.

“No, I am her daughter,” Maggie began, but he cut her off.

“I know who you are, Mortimer Clancy.”

“How did you –”

“You shouted it to the whole house, that's how I know.”

Maggie was undaunted. “Then you are my godfather.”

Silence reigned. Slowly, Mortimer Cadogan, Esq. stepped into the patch of light that illumined the moted air about the girl, and looked her over. Maggie did the same, and noted his burning amber-colored eyes beneath bristling eyebrows, his firm mouth, rimmed with harsh lines, his strong nose, and his well-made suit of a very old style, covered by a Turkish dressing gown. A fearsome edifice he is, Maggie thought. Dear me.

“I am to care for you.” He spoke at last, retreating again into shadows, and continuing in a ringing voice, “I am your godfather. You are to live here. Go up these stairs, and down the first corridor you see. The room with the open door is for you. There is another room at the end of the hall – that is a sitting room, which you may also have. The kitchen is underneath the stairs. There are no servants- you may help yourself. You are the first to set foot through that door in many years. Do not disturb me, and you will be well cared for. Your mother is dead?”

Maggie's head was spinning, but she nodded. He cursed under his breath, and then asked, “Your things?”

Maggie managed to point to the gladstone. Her godfather picked it up and set it at her feet. “Good day, then.”

The door at the far end of the atrium slammed, and Maggie was left alone in the huge manor, standing in the dwindling puddle of light, her only belongings at her feet, and a dreary life, she feared, ahead of her. She had a sudden urge to sit down, and did so on her portmanteau, slowly turning completely around as she looked curiously about her. When her light had disappeared almost entirely, Maggie sighed, stood, and toted her case up the stairs, and down the first corridor she was in. There were many other corridors that branched off from the first, but Maggie resisted their interest, and set herself to settling into her room.

Before her stood a huge curtained bedstead, at the end of which crouched a gigantic iron-bound trunk. She heaved open the lid and found it to be empty. Maggie removed her boots and stockings and placed them inside, shutting the trunk with a satisfying bang. She opened her case upon the bed and hung her clothes inside an ancient wardrobe that stood beside a window, and peered behind an oldfashioned Japanese paper dressing-screen that concealed a corner of the room. A clean-swept hearth with a box of wood stood by, should the night prove cold; her bare feet sunk noiselessly into a rich rug at her feet.

Maggie quickly crossed the room to set her small box of personal effects before a lovely dressing-table which was the only new-looking thing in the room. Stowing her empty luggage underneath the bed, Maggie retrieved her boots and stockings from the trunk, and on a sudden whim, clambered inside herself, lowering the lid shut. She blinked in the utter darkness, and then with a sigh, raised it again, climbed out, and put her stockings and boots back on. It was late, and she was very hungry. Godfather Cadogan had said to help herself... Maggie opened the door and looked out into the corridor.

There were candles in sconces on the walls, and finding a taper and matches in the drawer of her dressing table, Maggie set to lighting those just opposite her door and continuing down to the end of the hall, where there was a window. She looked out, but could discern but little, on account of there being a large tree just on the other side of the leaded panes of glass. Maggie decided, in order to make her amusement last, to explore the kitchen tonight, and reconnoitre the sitting room by daylight. She munched her cold supper of bread and cheese and sniffed a canister of tea, wishing she knew how to make her own, and resolving to teach herself on the morrow. Sit in a sitting room. Make a cup of tea. My what adventures awaited her, Maggie thought. Though not being given to gloom and outbursts of emotion, Maggie extinguished the lights and slipped into her nightshift. Then she climbed into the huge bed and sobbed herself to sleep.

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