Saturday, May 31, 2014

Serial Saturday: "Cipherstalker", Part 14

Karthey blinked owlishly; Cramwell blinked right back. Both individuals stood, staring at each other, both so startled at the sight of each other that neither found the will to move. Karthey’s heart threatened to gallop thunderingly out of her chest.
            Cramwell tapped his cane on the floor.

            “Leave the library, if you please.”
            
             Karthey blinked; she’d never heard that voice before. Where had it come from? Surely not—
            “Are you ignorant?” Those blue eyes pierced her gaze, “Leave at once!”
            Karthey willed her limbs to move, but her legs did not respond. Her knees were locked in place, and she felt that if she relaxed them she would faint dead away—and then what would he do to her?
            The grandfather clock in the music room struck—half-past-three! What was Cramwell doing at home a full hour before his usual time? It hardly registered in Karthey’s completely befuddled brain that she had moved; all she knew was that now she stood in the east hall, and Cramwell was settling into his armchair.

            Something on her hip vibrated; what on earth—Oh, the cell phone. Cramwell was back to his old manner of “speaking.”
           
Please return to your room until dinnertime, Miss Mavis.
           
Karthey reluctantly stumbled upstairs. Once in her room, she sank onto the window seat, still in a state of shock. Cramwell Fornberg had actually spoken! He had spoken right to her face! Karthey tried to recall what his voice had sounded like—had it thrilled her? Had it chilled her? She could not remember—it was so terse, she could not quite grasp what sort of a voice it was, whether soft or hard; it certainly wasn’t very deep, and she puzzled over whether or not she had detected an accent—which would make sense, because Cramwell was British, she knew.
“But why on earth would Cramwell cut his time in town short by a whole hour?” she questioned the lace-trimmed pillow next to her. “What could have brought him home so early?” Yet another question without an answer! Karthey thought hard for two hours straight, but still came up with nothing. Her cell phone vibrated at five-thirty.

Please take your dinner in the dining hall at this time, Miss Mavis.

The dining hall! Not the kitchen? Why did he ask her to eat there? What did he expect her to eat? Karthey was used to getting her meals in the kitchen. Mystified, she made her way down the left-hand stairs and into the dining hall. At the end of the table, a plate awaited her. On it was a baked potato, some asparagus tips, a few slices of seasoned pork roast, and a roll—piping hot this time. Karthey recalled the cold meal he had left her a few days ago down in the kitchen. That had been the day she first discovered Cramwell’s messages. Now she was taking a warm meal, prepared by Cramwell, in the dining room itself! What did this mean?

Before she had quite finished her meal, Cramwell began playing, as he had done—as he always did—every night. Karthey hurriedly swallowed the last few bites and put her dishes into the dumbwaiter. She would wash them later—for now, she was filled with an intense curiosity. She crept softly across the entryway and into the east hall. Now that she was closer, the music sounded less like the mournful wailing of an animal, and more like the plaintive strains of a sad song played not so well, but passionately. Was it a violin she heard?

Karthey held her breath; now she was at the threshold of the library. She knew the cloister was immediately inside. She could hear a second sound behind the wailing—was it sobbing? The tune changed, quickened; not so much long, drawn-out notes now, but ascending and descending tonal phrases. Karthey was inside the library now, entranced by the music she did not doubt Cramwell made himself. She crouched low to the carpet, well aware that by now she was at the very door of the cloister. Karthey reached out a hand toward the floor to steady herself—and touched something. It felt like paper. What was it? Karthey picked it up. There seemed to be writing on it; what—
Just then, she realized that the music had ceased. Karthey dove out of the library just in time to hear the latch of the cloister click open. Guiltily, she made straight for the door to the kitchen, the paper still clutched tightly in her hand. She did not stop until she reached the kitchen, and there waited with bated breath to hear if Cramwell had heard her and would now follow her. She waited for several moments, but never heard his step. Karthey allowed herself to relax, and she took a peek at the note in her hand.
At first glance it seemed to be a paltry, nonsensical poem. However, Karthey instantly recognized it for what it was: another threatening note. Where had the kidnapper hidden the clues this time? Karthey noticed that there were certain words written with a different hand than the rest. They stood out more, as if the writer wanted the recipient—Cramwell—to notice them among the others.

            Karthey got a taste of what Cramwell had no doubt been through over the last week: the momentary stopping of the heart, the coldness of the extremities, the awful, trembling dread. “Nothing will stop me,” the kidnapper seemed to taunt both Karthey and Cramwell at the same time, (though he could not possibly know that Cramwell was receiving assistance), “Watch, for one you know will be no more.”
This must have been the thing that was troubling Cramwell so much. He must have just received it in town that day. Karthey wondered where he had found the note this time. She waited until she heard him go to bed, then she snuck softly downstairs and returned the note to the floor of the library, just as she had found it. Karthey could only shudder as she wondered who would disappear next.
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            Karthey awoke early the next morning, but try as she might, she could not fall back to sleep, or even find the will to relax again. Grudgingly, she rolled out of bed and slipped into her bathrobe. She checked the time on her cell phone: seven-thirty again. This whole abduction business was really taking its toll on her! Karthey rolled her eyes and trudged to the door. She stumbled down the right-hand stairs and down into the kitchen to make breakfast. She started making breakfast for herself, but before she began she remembered Cramwell, and how he had treated her somewhat differently when she had made breakfast for him in the morning. Perhaps if she tried the same ploy again, it would still work. She made two of everything, and prepared a plate for her host. This time, she was done in enough time to carry the meal up the stairs herself. As she exited the door to the kitchen stairwell into the east hall, Karthey caught sight of the library door and remembered the adventure of the previous evening. She had been right outside it a little more than twelve hours ago. She knew he kept it locked—but she also knew that he did not keep the key on his person. As adamant as Cramwell Fornberg was about security and monitoring Karthey’s movements, he was not the sort of person to wear a key ring on a string around his neck or anything like that, and his suits generally didn’t have the sort of pockets in which he could safely keep a key. Could it be somewhere in the library, then?
Mystified, Karthey left Cramwell’s breakfast on the dining room table and went to the kitchen stairwell landing to eat her own, safely behind the closed door. Right on time, she heard Cramwell come downstairs, pause at the front door to get his newspaper, and continue on to the dining room. She ate her breakfast, returned to the kitchen in time to get Cramwell’s dishes, washed them, and returned to the stairs, not trusting herself to return to the main part of the house until after he was gone.
            Nine-thirty struck, and Karthey held her breath as the last chimes sounded, waiting for the distinct sounds of Cramwell Fornberg leaving the house. At last, the door opened and closed, and Karthey knew the coast was absolutely clear.
            She crept out the door, senses on full alert as she darted across the hall toward the library door. Once there, she closed the door not quite all the way, and stood in front of the cloister door. For a moment, she studied its every detail, its every crevice, scrutinizing the carved curlicues, ribs, and patterns to see some little irregularity that would belie a hiding place for a key. She rested her ear against the door and tapped with her fingertips, listening carefully for any hollow sounds. It was at this angle that Karthey saw the candelabras on either side straight on; the right one had a feature behind it that she didn’t remember seeing on the left. Karthey inspected this closer. It was a small recess, a hairline crack in the surface that she probably would not have noticed had she not rested her ear against the door, nor the curtains been open, nor the sun been exactly where it was at that moment. As matters stood, she saw it. Instantly, her nimble fingers flew to the small area, and within moments, she had it open. For one awful moment, she felt only wood—which would mean all her sneaking around and her searching had been in vain—but at last, her fingers connected with the cold metal of a key! Karthey carefully drew the key out and closed the recess.
            She moved slowly even as her heart thumped wildly within her, seeming to vibrate her whole body with every beat. She inserted the key into the lock—it fit and turned! After one week of tiptoeing around it, of wondering, of waiting, of dreaming—Karthey Mavis had her first look at Cramwell Fornberg’s cloister. She gasped.
            Before her was a full-length painting of The Woman! She sat in the same armchair that now stood in the cloister, one with purple velvet cushions. Unlike the paintings in the library, this one was simply the subject herself, seated in her garden, surrounded by a rhododendron bush with its glorious white blossoms, and with a nosegay of red roses in her lap. On a table before the painting stood a beautiful violin, tenderly resting in its case, the surface below its strings whitened with use, the rest of the instrument shining for the same reason in the dim light of two lamps on either side of the painting. So this was the source of the wailing that had terrified her since she first heard it! Cramwell was a musician after all! At the bottom of the frame, Karthey noticed a small plaque that read:

In Memoriam
JELILAH ARABELLA FORNBERG
“Where Music Is, There Am I”

            Karthey blinked. “Jelilah,” she murmured, trying out The Woman’s name for the first time. It floored her to see the beauty and the simplicity of the painting and imagine the depth of Cramwell’s love for her. She reached out to touch the tender, skilled brushstrokes.

“Don’t.”

            Karthey jumped and whirled around, nearly knocking the violin off the table with the violence of her movement. She had been caught! By Cramwell himself, no less! He stood there in the doorway, staring at her with his terrifying (and, now that she considered it, pain-filled) blue eyes. She saw that he very much wanted her out of the cloister, and he was likely very angry with her for intruding where he had explicitly told her not to go. He had actually spoken to her again, and he continued, as Karthey remained where she was, with little or no idea how to act or what to say.

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