Defining Moment

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In Which A Discovery is Made

The sun rose at last, and Maggie gratefully got up and dressed herself. She had awakened in pre-dawn darkness, but could not get up the courage to rise until the sun set her an example. The night had been long and silent, and Maggie was more than eager to splash her face in the basin, dress herself in a clean frock, brush her hair and tie it with a fresh ribbon. She surveyed herself before the mirror and her reflection looked soberly back.

“This will have to do, I suppose, since I am going to see ever to much company today,” she said aloud, “and I don't want to be a disgrace.”

Maggie slowly opened the door to the hallway which, by daylight, was not much different than by night – shadowy, and uninteresting. She walked down the corridor and turned the corner to descend the staircase. Everything looked just as it had the night before, and, Maggie suspected, as it had for years – maybe decades. Maybe centuries...

Nevertheless, Maggie paused mid-way across the atrium when she heard a sudden thud. It sent it's echoes flying about the huge manor, but sounded no more. She looked toward the place where she caught her first – and last – glimpse of her godfather; the far end of the room she thought held a door, but she saw none. She turned about, thinking perhaps she had gotten it backwards, and the door should be over there. But there was no door there either. But she had seen so indistinctly that she couldn't be sure. At any rate, she was not imagining that there really was an old man by the name of Mortimer Cadogan, Esq. that lived here. But if one were to go only by appearances...

Pushing open the door into the kitchen, Maggie surveyed the dimly-lit room as she had not been able to last night, when her only thought was to find something edible and get to sleep. Directly before her, on the opposite wall, was a huge fireplace with an iron crane for a large kettle to be hung over the fire, and a spit for roasting meat. The hearth was swept clean, but there were neither the makings of a fire within nor the traces of ashes from previous repasts. Upon a heavy wooden table in the middle of the room there reposed various bottles of vinegars and wines, as well as a clean empty platter and a small stack of tea-towels. A plain cupboard held simple tea cups and saucers, as well as an old writing case which opened to reveal silver and linen serviettes. Upon the other side of the room stood a large cabinet with a brass lock to it.

Approaching, Maggie laid her hand upon the latch and found it was unlocked. Swinging open the door, she took in her breath as she beheld row upon row of fine china, a full rack of the finest tea service she had ever seen, and several gleaming candelabras. It was quite obvious that if these things had ever been used, it was many years ago, but not a speck of dust was upon them, nor a chip or scratch to belie their newness. Queer, Maggie thought. Although she was not in the least afraid, she had the urge to bring as much as she would need for the next few days back with her to her room, so that she would not have to venture out if she did not wish to. Fittingly, she helped herself to the larder, a small closet off the main kitchen, and filled a basket with provisions – a firkin of milk, a wedge of cheese, well-wrapped in linen, half a loaf of bread, a crock of butter, a jar of some sort of jam, and – she wondered if she should – several slices of fresh ham that were sitting magically untouched upon a silver server on the shelf.

Putting an apple from a basket by the door in each pocket, Maggie took up her goods, and meandered her way back to her chamber. Finding that the wardrobe was much too big for the few frocks she owned, and lacking space to create her own stock of provisions, Maggie set about transferring her clothing to the empty trunk, and arranged her food upon the shelf of the now-empty wardrobe.

“There,” she said, her voice sounding loud in the empty room. This whole escapade had occupied nearly the whole of the morning, and Maggie, finding she was famished, opened her larder, and realized she had no dishes. “I shall have to return and give myself a china closet now,” she said, and, picking up her empty basket, and snatching several clean handkerchiefs, returned to the kitchen. Maggie selected several serviceable looking plates, though why she would need more than one she never thought, and then added a plain teacup and saucer to her store. Her basket was growing heavy, but she opened the large cabinet and carefully got down two fine china cups and a saucer for each, wrapping them in her handkerchiefs. She armed herself with a large knife for cutting, a funny wooden trencher-like item to cut upon, and two sets of silver. Silently, she returned to her chamber, and ate an apple and a slice of ham upon some bread for a mid-day meal.

Maggie found she now had nothing to do, and decided to scout out the sitting room, and see if there was a suitable place to keep her dishes, as there was but one shelf in the wardrobe, and that was filled with her food. Washing her dishes in the basin, Maggie dried them upon a tea-towel, carefully took up her basket, and walked to the end of the corridor. Without knowing why she did it, she knocked politely at the door. Not surprised at hearing no response within, Maggie eased the door open and looked about her. It was a typical little parlor, with two pretty, comfortable chairs sitting upon a rug, flanked by a chaise-lounge, and a small round table. A large tapestry showing the scene of a hunt covered one wall; beneath it was a long wooden bench with curving arms on either side and a flowered cushion. One wall was punctuated with tall windows, draped, and elegant, and the third was lined with a bookshelf and a glassfronted cupboard. There were a few knick-knacks upon the glass shelves of the cupboard, and these Maggie removed and examined with interest.

The first was a small box, made of a fine wood and inlaid with some sort of green-tinted shell, forming the motif of a trailing vine that bore a single blossom at it's tip. The blossom was formed of five small blue jewels, and Maggie traced them with a light finger. Opening the box, she saw there was nothing within, and set it aside, taking up a figurine of an eagle landing upon a branch, wrought in bronze. It was an excellent work of art, but heavy and of little interest to a nine-year old girl. There was also a common-looking inkwell, with an uncommon quill made from a brightly-colored feather – Maggie stroked its tip along her nose and smiled – and lastly, a large chalcedony which was mounted upon an octagon of polished ash. These, she set at various places about the room – the chalcedony upon the lace-draped table, the eagle upon the bookshelf, the quill and ink upon the sill of the far window, and the box she placed back inside the cupboard, on the same shelf as the fine china.

Arranging the other things to her satisfaction, Maggie stood back and gazed upon her work, then tried every seat in the room, and at last pulled a book from the shelf and flopped down disconsolately to page through it. The book was old and dull, and she soon put it aside, looking about her and wishing she had company to entertain in this lovely chamber. As fine as it all was, she was quickly becoming very bored with this place. Maggie returned to her room and brought back her sketchbook and pencils and began to draw: pictures of animals, pictures of the rooms, pictures of people she liked to create in her head – a man she called Robert whose hair perpetually stuck up, a girl she called Quinna with a little dog that did tricks, and a beautiful lady named Olivia who watched them – and at last, a picture of herself, sitting under a tree in a large garden, a book cast away beside her, her chin upon her hands.

The first weeks of Maggie's new life with her godfather in his dark old manor passed in such a way, and Maggie took it upon herself, after a sufficient length of time had passed in patience and self-denial, to explore the rest of the house. Daily she heard not a sound that she did not make herself, and nightly there was no activity at all that she could perceive. What her godfather did and where he did it was a mystery to her, and a mystery that she was content to leave unsolved. What she did not leave unsolved, however, were the secrets each closed door concealed throughout the huge house.

Her own corridor consisted of nothing but several bedchambers like her own, only not nearly so comfortable, and another dark parlor, uninviting and uninhabited. At the head of the stairs, where her corridor began, was another door, and opening this, Maggie discovered a wee flight of steps could lead you up or down to two more floors, both of which contained another corridor of rooms. The possibilities seemed infinite to the girl on the day she discovered this, but each passing day held only a new heavy wooden door to be opened, and another old, dull, empty room to be discovered.

That is, until she reached the last room of the second corridor and found it to be a chamber that held only a rug – and an open door at the foot of another staircase... at the top of which, there was a light burning.

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