General Fiction posted May 2, 2016 Chapters: -Prologue- Prologue... 


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She has to steal the keys to unlock the library

A chapter in the book Don'Go to Sarajevo - Rose's Journey

Fetching the keys

by antonieta






Oh, dear, was I a prisoner in that house? The chaperon might be Georgiana, so how to get to St. Martin Lane? It would be very far from where we lived, surely. I had to go to the library and find a map. I went to my room again and closed the door. What to do? I could always ask Agnes for help? No, it seemed a bad idea. I had just realized how the servants blathered. So what to do ?

I had only one option: I had to steal the rooms keys to the house. Sometimes I listened to the jingling sound of the iron ring of keys as soon as I heard Mr. Henry's steps . Those keys were sacrosanct, I guess even Georgiana had to ask him for the keys, whenever she needed, although Georgiana didn't seem especially interested in locked rooms like the library one. In a way she wished that room locked for some special reason that I wished to find out one day. After all, libraries were to be unlocked so one could read their books, so why this obstinacy of having the room locked? What was the mystery?

Oh yes, the library had been Mr. Sheffield workroom, so he might have kept some important documents there that nobody was supposed to see. On the other hand, Mr. Henry had told me that Georgiana's small room next to the morning room had also a small library with more suitable books for young girls like myself. I could read them instead .

Oh, bothered! Now, I only needed to get hold of a map . I was exhausted of pondering so much about things I didn't understand so I opened the big French windows to have some fresh air, and at once a sweet breeze came in from the garden outside. I leaned over the balcony and could see downstairs how the spring flowers were blossoming, hazels, daffodils and primroses, we had the same flowers in France, and they left behind such a sweet scent . It was warm enough, not a single cloud in the sky, the perfect day to go for a walk. I thought I could always jump from the balcony to the garden in case I needed to go out without being seen, as my room was in the first floor, which was not very high . I closed the window again as soon as I heard steps coming along the corridor. It was Agnes. She was going to help me change for lunch or rather, luncheon as they used to say.

"Mrs. Sheffield will have lunch at one o'clock, as usual," she informed." Which dress would you like to wear, Miss?"

"Oh, I will have this light green crepe dress that I have hung it outside the wardrobe already." I said.

Somehow, I didn't fancy Agnes messing about with my things . But she was a good-natured creature so I took the risk:

"Agnes is St. Martin's Lane very far from here?"

"It's near Leicester Square and Convent Garden Miss, I know because I have a cousin who sells flowers in that area. But I have never been there myself, Miss, so I don't know exactly where it is . But Tom, the chauffeur ,could drive you there." She explained while lacing up my corset.

"Thanks Agnes."

"You might feel very lonely here, Miss. I understand you want to see other places in London."

When she left, I decided I had to steal the keys that night, and try to enter the library to find that map . I knew that the big library had a door that opened outward to the garden, but of course, it might be locked as well. Altogether, the best would be to get the keys, but how ?

I had noticed the smell of alcohol in Mr. Henry's breath, mostly in the evenings, and I also knew that his room was near the wine cellar. So maybe he would be fast asleep at night and I could then slip into his room, silently and furtively and I had to tiptoe barefoot to get hold of the keys. But where did they hang? Probably on the wall of his small working room. I had to creep into his room when he and the other servants would be busy upstairs doing their jobs. The problem was the cook and the scullery maid: they lived practically in that kitchen except at night, where they slept in the attic with the other servants. Mr. Henry was the only one who slept downstairs.

Georgiana returned from her shopping tour having Tom behind carrying her shopping bags, on which I could recognize the "Lucille, Paris, London, New York" label. So she had been at Lucille's after all. She was in high spirits - in fact, Georgiana was a very pleasant person when she was in a good mood.

"Lucy is marvellous. Her new gowns for the new season are absolutely fabulous. I bought two afternoon and four evening dresses, and two promenade costumes."

And she went on describing one of the dresses and how wonderful it was:

"It's made of satin and silk velvet, trimmed with chiffon and machine made lace. The bodice is black and the tunic is pearl white. Well, I want you to see it's a marvellous, Greek inspired I suppose, you almost needn't wear a corset, of course if you are as slim as I am. On the other side, it is the kind of dress that suits best an elder woman, not that I am old. ( I still couldn't't figure out her age, maybe thirty, thirty-five )

"But I am thinking about you." She went on.

"About me?" I exclaimed my mind more focused on keys than on dresses.

"Of course, she made a special collection for debutantes. Girls of your own age, I mean."

"Yes, I bought some of those gowns in Paris," I said. "Do you think I need to buy more dresses?" I asked, worried as I had no wish to meet again the famous Lady Duff-Gordon.

"Of course, you will need more dresses, we have a whole season ahead. We are inviting to parties and then, don't forget George's invitation to her country house."

"How could I forget it. I look forward to it." I said, my voice thrilling with false joyfulness.

"By the way we talked about you and the other girl, Adele, when both of you were in her shop in Paris."

My heart seemed to leap out of me, but I controlled myself and asked nonchalantly:

"Oh yes, what did she say ?"

"According to Lucy she was a very strange girl, very shy and seemed quite depressed. But she remembers well that girl, Adele, and that she had the most flattering red hair."

"Oh yes, she had a very beautiful hair," I acquiesced and wishing to change subject I added:

"I wanted to buy her a dress, to lift her spirits. But she wouldn't accept it. She was too proud."

"But if she was poor, how could she afford to be in Mme Neuville's school?" Asked Georgiana wrinkling her forehead.

"Of course she wasn't poor." I exclaimed.

"Well, she couldn't' afford to buy a dress."

"Oh no," I uttered. "The thing is she was just not feeling like buying dresses. She was depressed. She did get depressed now and then. That's all."

"Maybe she committed suicide then," I saw Georgiana's eyes peeping out with curiosity. "It might explain why she jumped out of that window."

Happily, Mr. Henry came into the room. He had some matters to discuss with Georgiana, and both left the room. It was now or never, my chance to inspect the butler's room. But where were the other servants? I went to the hallway and could hear how the maids were busy cleaning upstairs. I opened the small door and sat on the stairs, but this time I couldn''t hear anyone talking. Silence reigned in the kitchen. It seemed that nobody was there. The servants had had their lunch before us and now each of them were busy doing their individual tasks. And if I was wrong? Where was the cook? Oh well, it was too early to set up the dinner, besides would she be having a break? Could the servants have some time out? I was not sure. They seemed to work all day long. Up and down the stairs, always carrying cleaning products. As for the valet he went out often, to do one or another errand. And Tom the chauffeur, I knew his room was near the garage, so I would not have to worry about him.

I closed the small door again, and I was a snake snooping upstairs to assure that the servants were busy doing their daily routine. I was good at those kind of things, I mean sneaking around, hiding myself in closets and wardrobes to eavesdrop people's jabbers and babbles, all kinds of things that could concern me. I hid myself in the big store room, where they kept the linen, bed sheets, towels and other garments. The maids had already changed the bed sheets and now they were busy cleaning the floor and the windows. I entered the room, leaving the door ajar so I would be able to listen to their prattle. I recognized Agnes' voice:

"How good for Mrs. Potters to have the afternoon off, today." Agnes was saying.

"Oh, she deserves it, although she has less to do now when Mr. Sheffield has gone." A female voice commented.

"Oh please, don't use the word has gone. The man is dead, for God's sake" A much younger female voice pointed out. It was the scullery maid, Mrs. Potter's helper. She went on complaining:

"I also deserved some time off, after all, washing windows is not really my job. I am supposed to help in the kitchen."

"Sorry, Sarah, but this was Mr. Henry's suggestion, and we have to obey him, you know that." Agnes said in her wise manner.

"Meanwhile, Mr. Henry is in the pub drinking whiskey with his other butler friends."

"None of your business, young Sarah, Mr Henry has a great responsibility in this house and he also deserves to meet his friends, now and then."

This time I recognized Georgiana's lady maid's voice. Nice, they were not talking about me. How long would they go on cleaning? Never mind, since nobody was in the kitchen, I ought to take advantage and go downstairs to inspect the butler's room. Which I did. I carefully crept outside the store room and went downstairs tiptoeing. I opened the little door close to the big hall, and went down the spiral stairs, now sure that nobody would see me.

It was rather dark, but once in the servant's hall, where a big oblong table stood in the middle, I saw at once the pantry, where Mr. Henry had his office, and luckily the door was open. I kept quiet for a while to be sure nobody would turn up, and then I went in.
It was dark there too. A small room with a desk and a bookcase filled with newspapers, I guess old newspapers. Did he collect newspapers? The desk was tidy and I noticed a small bottle of whisky laying beside some papers that looked like invoices. But where were the keys? Above, on one of the walls, there was a small window that hardly let the light pass through, and below I saw the central bank of bells leading to every room upstairs, from which Mr. Henry attended his commands and passed to the other servants. Behind the desk, there was a door, which was shut that probably led to Mr. Henry's bedroom, and above it, a large ring with keys hung on the wall.

All of a sudden, I heard a door open, maybe the back door entrance to the kitchen. I felt a squeezing around my chest and my heart started to beat fast. I had just one option, to hide myself but where? No time to think, I just sneaked under the desk, being as noiseless as possible, except for my heartbeats. I saw the big feet of a man entering the room, and I recognized Tom's, the chauffeur whistling, to trying to mimic some melody. He took the whisky bottle and poured it in a glass, leaving the room at once. Of all the nerve, but I could breathe as usual again. Now, I knew where they kept the keys, so I ran upstairs to Georgiana's small room, took a book from a shelf, and sat on a fauteuil feigning I was reading it, because my mind was only focused on those keys. Oh dear, I hope Mr. Henry would drink copiously that night so he would not be able to hear a sound.

I picked up a French novel translated into English, "Madam Bovary", that by the way, I knew that it was not the sort of book suitable for young girls. I had read it in Mme Neuville's, since she thought that we girls should be aware of the facts of life. However, it was at odds to what Mr. Henry had said, that the small sitting room was filled with books for girls of my age. A lie just to vindicate why the library was locked.
Meanwhile Agnes entered the room.

"Yes, Agnes." Strangely, I was starting to like Agnes.

"Mrs. Sheffield said she won't dinner at home." She announced.

I was almost going to exclaim "Perfect", when I held my tongue.

"Mrs. Sheffield was looking after you, "she said." She wished to have a look at your dresses."

I had locked my wardrobe, but Georgiana would never inspect my clothes without my being there.

"I have been here all the afternoon, reading." I lied.

"Anyway, Miss, if you wish I can bring your dinner on a tray to your room, so you needn't eat by yourself in that big dining-room."

"Thank you, Agnes, it's much kind of you. Yes, I'd rather eat in my room." I said.

Agnes left, and I almost yelled in excitement. Everything seemed to favour my plan. But I would need to be on the alert. What time would Georgiana arrive?

I went upstairs, and changed my dress into a kimono. I loved kimonos and they were far more comfortable that those old-fashioned Victorian tea gowns. This was of course a formal garment trying to imitate the Japanese ones, a turquoise tunic, on which I loved its butterflies' patterns.
I sat by the bay window, to be able to look outside. When would Mr. Henry return? What about the valet? I decided to close the curtains, living just a small rift, from which I could peep out. I drew the small desk toward the window, so I sat by, pretending to read the "Bovary" book, looking through the window every five seconds but at the same time feigning that the I was very focused on the book, in case Agnes came in with my dinner.

I glanced through the window once again and  I saw old Mr. Henry walking unsteadily on the way to the kitchen door, in the basement. Perfect, he was quite intoxicated already, after a whole afternoon with fellow friends in a public house. Now, he would probably eat his dinner and go to bed, since I was the only one at home. I breathed a sigh of relief. No worry about the cook and the other maids as they would go up to their attic, early that evening.
Agnes came in with my dinner: "sole meuniere with parsley potatoes". She knew I didn't drink wine so she brought me a carafe filled with water and strawberries for dessert.

"If you need something else, Miss?"

"Oh no Agnes. Everything is perfect. I won't need anything else." I answered to assure her I wouldn't need her that evening.

"In that case, good night, Miss."

"Good night Agnes."

Had she noticed I had drawn the curtains and put the lights on, since it was her job?  But no, as said, Agnes was not the suspicious kind of person.

After dinner, I put on my nightdress and my dressing gown. My satin soles slippers were perfect so they would slide on the floor without making noise. Now, since I wouldn't be using electric light, of course, I would need a flashlight and then I remembered that I had a small one, but where had I seen one? Oh yes, Agnes had shown me it inside my nightstand, in case the lights went off. I opened the small cupboard and "voila". I checked whether it had batteries, and yes, besides, when I switched off the light I was ecstatic, the lamp emitted an excellent light.

At about ten o'clock I heard the sound of a motorcar. At once, I switched off the lights as I understood Georgiana was back home. Someone had driven her, but who? Oh it didn't matter, she had so many friends. I pulled slightly the curtain, and I recognized George opening the car door to let Georgiana go out. Why on earth were those two together? None of my business, or perhaps, some of my business yes, after all it concerned my fiance. I heard the front the door close and the creaking sounds of Georgiana's steps going up the stairs, then she walked along the corridor to her room and shut the door. I would wait at least one hour to start my expedition.

I was on edge. Honestly. I could hardly do anything but wait and wait. The lights were off, of course and every five minutes I opened my bedroom door to know for certain that the whole household was sound asleep on their beds,both the servants and Georgiana. So the slightest vibration, the slenderest echo or resonance made me jumpy, but of course, in the middle of the night, when silence reigned, one did perceive the smallest little noise. In the end I left my door half closed, I lay still on my bed, closed my eyes, and tried to calm down by controlling my breath. Jenny had once taught me how to do it:

"Breath in slowly through your nose until you feel your abdomen start to rise then slowly exhale your breath through your pressed lips. Imagine yourself lying on the grass, on a beautiful summer day. Feel the grass between your toes while repeating this exercise several times. After a while, you will calm down."

"Where did you learn that?" I had asked.

"Oh never mind," was her laconic answer, because Jenny could be very concise and brief, straight to the point, but she also avoided passing extra information, if she thought it necessary. I sometimes got hurt because after all we were friends, so there ought not to be any secrets between us. But then, I always thought that I was me the true friend. My heart was always open to let her in. Funny to remember her at that moment when I could get caught and cause lots of trouble for myself.

I waited thirty minutes more. Meanwhile the time stood still, and thirty minutes looked like thirty hours. In the end, I heard the hall's grandfather clock downstairs striking midnight, that in the night's silence, it sounded like a cannon delivering its shells. I opened the window, because the room was stifling and my forehead was beading with sweat. An owl was howling somewhere in the gardens of Berkley Square. I closed the window, picked up the flash light, and decided that after all I would go barefoot .

Now, I knew the way downstairs to the ground floor by heart so I did not need to use the flashlight. I left my room and walked towards the big staircase and crept down the stairs to the big hall. I almost bumped into the old grandfather clock, but I must have hit the weird art nouveau table of which Georgiana was so proud because it moaned like an injured small animal in the silence of the night. My heart beat fast and I decided to stay still for a while fearing someone had heard it. But of course a sudden panic had overwhelmed me so it was up to me to control it. I opened the little door whose spiral stairs went down to the kitchen and tip toed always being aware that Mr. Henry might be awaken. Having my flashlight switched off, I saw that the servant quarters were in the dark so I had to be careful not to bump into any chair, table or other piece of furniture, which was not an easy task because the place was overcrowded with furniture.

I closed my eyes tightly and used the palm of my hands to apply a slight pressure on them and when I opened them I could faintly distinguish my surroundings . I focused my gaze to the pantry and saw at once that the door was closed. What to do? Again my heartbeat sped up as I feared the door was locked. I moved slowly, being sure to move my arms and hands so not to knock on any object, and I reached the door. I turned the knob gently so it would not squeak and it opened.

This time the darkness didn't hinder me, because I knew that the keys hung above Henry's bedroom door, which was closed but I still could hear him snoring. I fetched the ring of keys as fast as I could and as noiseless as possible, which was not easy, because there were no less than twenty keys . I put them on my dressing gown's pocket whose flannel material would certainly muffle them. Once in possession of the keys, I closed the door behind me, and I sneaked quickly upstairs, closed the small door and made my way to the library.


Recognized


After Jenny's death Adele takes her identity and goes to London to live with Georgiana, Jenny's father's widow. She has to marry George a landowner and use her Money to restore the country house. In this scene she plans to steal the keys of the library so she can get a map of London.
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