Jen slept right through the day and the following night, deep and dreamless.

The following morning, she awoke alert, refreshed and bouncing with energy.  She was also ravenous, so went down early to have breakfast with Mags in the kitchen.  She thanked Mags profusely for looking after her so well, and for giving her such a wonderful rest.

“Oh, that wasn’t me, dear, it was the tea.  It’s a very old remedy for sleeplessness, but it seemed to work particularly well for you – perhaps you needed it.”

“Perhaps I did.  It was certainly a horrible dream, and a horrible night.”

“What was it about, dear; can you remember?  If you don’t mind me asking, that is?”

“Oh no, I don’t mind.  Actually, I can’t really remember.  There’s just vague flashes of an underground room, and a minotaur.”

“A minotaur?” asked Mags, sharply.

“Yes.  I’ve dreamed about him a couple of times since I came here, but the other times were fairly benign – not like this one.  But, as I said, I can’t really remember the details.  It’s probably a blessing,” she added ruefully.

“So…” said Mags, half to herself, “He’s turned up again.”

“Yeah, Dave told me about that – about how you’ve all dreamed of him at one point or another.”

“We have, dear.  They’re usually nothing exciting, though.  He tends to just sort of hover in the background.  More of a sense of presence than an actual one.  Are you worried about anything?”

“No, not really.  Well, I wasn’t.  Now I’m just worried he might come back and give me an even worse dream!”

“Well, just remember that he can’t hurt you, dear.  He is, after all, only a dream.”

“Mmm…” said Jen, noncommittally.  “The only other thing I’m worried about is never getting back into that library ever again” she mused.

“Oh, drat!” said Mags, crossly.  “I forgot to tell you.  Lord Harrington-Harrington came looking for you yesterday, whilst you were asleep.”

“Oh, no!” groaned Jen, “What have I done now?”

“Oh, nothing, dear – don’t worry!  He merely wanted to let you know that he’s finished in the library for the time being, and you may resume your duties.  I told him you were ill and not to be disturbed for the day, so he said as soon as you were well again.”

Jen brightened immediately.  “Oh, thank god for that!  I’ve been going spare trying to find things to keep me occupied!”

Mags snorted.  “I only wish I had the same problem, dear!  However, my problem is very shortly going to be the exact opposite.  Lord Ambrose has decided to throw a party at almost no notice.  This weekend, in fact.  It’s to be a large dinner party of about two dozen.  I gather it has something to do with the room in the library.”

“Hmph.  Better keep out of the way, then.  Mind you, that won’t be a problem.  I’ll just hide in the library until the party then sneak out the back and go and see the boys or something.”

“Actually, dear – you’re going to be there too.”

“I am?” said Jen, in confusion and not a little surprise.

“Well, you’ve been invited to attend.” Said Mags, with amusement.  “And being as you are living here at the moment, it would be terribly bad manners to refuse, don’t you think?” she added, teasingly.

“But I’m only here to catalogue the books!  What the hell am I going to do at a posh dinner party?  Apart from embarrass and probably humiliate myself?”

“Don’t panic, dear – you’ll do fine, I’m sure,” said Mags, soothingly.  “And you can keep Rick company, as he’ll also have to attend.  I gather the two of you two have put aside your mutual embarrassment, now?”

Jen smiled.  “Yes.  We get on rather well now, actually,” she said.

“I thought so,” said Mags.  “I’m so glad.  He was asking after you yesterday, he was quite concerned when I told him you weren’t feeling well.”

“Sweet of him.  What did you tell him?” said Jen.

“Just that you’d had a bad night’s sleep and were in need of rest.  I didn’t tell him why – I thought that was your prerogative.”

“Thanks Mags.  I’d better nip and see him before I get back to the coalface.  See you later!”

 

Jen found Rick just coming out of his flat with a mug of tea in his hand.  His face lit with a smile when he saw her.

“Hey, Jen!” he called as he came down the stairs.  “How are you?  Feeling better?”

“Hi, Rick.  Much better, thanks.  Mags sorted me out a treat.  That woman’s a saint!”

“That she is.  She’s like our universal mother.  Looked after me for a week last winter when I was down with ‘flu.  God knows what I’d have done without her.  So what can I do for you?  Have you come to help out again?”

Jen’s smile dulled a bit.  Sorry, Rick, not today.  Your brother has decided to let me back into the library – I’ve got a lot of catching up to do, so I’ll be beavering away in there again.”

Rick’s face fell.  “Shame.  Ambrose has got bloody awful timing.  Martin’s off again and I could have done with some help.  Can’t get hold of him, either – he just didn’t show up for work.  I suppose he’s got a return of what he had before.  Pity he hasn’t got Mags to nurse him, poor bugger.  Hey, speaking of which – what was it that laid you low, yesterday?”

“I had a bad dream.”

“A bad dream?” said Rick, a shade skeptically.

“Yes, a bad dream,” she replied, defensive.  “I had this horrible nightmare and it scared me so much that I spent the entire night huddled in a corner, shaking.  Mags found me in the morning and made me drink this stuff that knocked me out like a light for about 18 hours, I think.  Well, however long it was, it obviously worked.  I feel great this morning, raring to go.”

“Well, I’m glad you feel better.  Mags wouldn’t let me in to see you, and I was worried.”

“Sweet,” Jen smiled, “And bless you for being worried.  But yes – I’m fine, now.  Anyway, gotta go – books don’t catalogue themselves!”

She skipped away; inexplicably feeling like her body was full of bright, shining sparks.

 

Back in the library, the sparks dimmed somewhat as she came back to reality with a bump, surveying all the work she still had to do.  Sure, she’d passed the halfway point, but the journey was still a long one.  Sighing, she drifted over to her desk, turned the computer on, and then wandered towards the back of the library whilst it woke up.  She had a vague notion of taking a sneaky peek into the concealed room to see if she could discover what Lord Harrington-Harrington had been up to for so long.  However, when she got there, she was incensed to discover that he had somehow managed to break or block the opening mechanism.  No matter how hard she pressed the carving of the minotaur, it refused to budge and the panel stayed resolutely shut.  Damn him!

Finally, she accepted that whatever Lord Harrington-Harrington had done to the mechanism, he’d done it properly.

Sighing once again, she returned to her desk with a pile of books to take up the threads of where she’d left off.

 

She was hard at work that afternoon, when a voice behind her shoulder nearly made her jump out of her skin.

“Miss Alexander.”

She spun in her chair to find Lord Harrington-Harrington looming over her.

“Oh!  Lord Ambrose!  Oh, you gave me a fright!”

“My apologies,”came the cold and patently insincere reply.

“Erm…” began Jen, as he just stood there.  “What can I do for you?”

“In a few days’ time, I shall be hosting a dinner party.  I require your attendance, as some of my guests have expressed an interest in the contents of my library and may wish to question you regarding these.”

“Well, what a delightful prospect!” Jen gushed, “I’d be delighted to attend and entertain your guests.”  She was thinking, ‘like some performing monkey’.  “Thank you for the invitation.”  She was aiming for enthusiasm and gratitude but, she suspected, came down more in the vicinity of sarcasm.  “I’m honoured,” she continued, trying to dampen the sarcastic sound to her words, “But, may I ask, what is the occasion?” She thought, ‘may I ask?’… Christ!  The man rubs off on you like slime from a rock!’

“There is no occasion, Miss Alexander, it will merely be a gathering of intellectuals and worthies who wish to discuss the contents of the room off the library.”

There was a pause whilst Jen struggled with herself, then she said as innocently as she could, “What did you find in that room, sir?  I couldn’t see…”

Lord Ambrose smiled a very small, very thin smile, then snapped, “Really, Miss Alexander?  Then I suggest that when you next go for a midnight stroll with my gardener, you take a better torch.”  With that, he turned on his heel and stalked away.

Jen sat stunned, staring at his retreating back.  How did he know?  How?  There was no way that Rick or Dave would have let on, and Mags didn’t know.  Unless, as Jen privately suspected, Mags knew everything that went on in the house through some weird housekeeperly omniscience of her own. That left only Merry, unless Lord Ambrose had bugged the library…

She quickly looked around at various likely looking spots for concealed cameras.  Then she chided herself for being stupid.  She shook herself mentally, and her head, physically.  But why would Merry rat them out?  She seemed such a sweet old girl, if a little ribald, and it hurt to think she might have been deceived.  It hurt more to think she might have allowed herself to be.  She sank deeper and deeper into gloom as she wondered if Merry had indeed set them up, or if she’d belatedly decided that giving them the key was a bad idea.  She was briefly comforted by the fact that the information may have been prised or tricked out of her by Lord Ambrose, until she realised that in order to do so, he would have had to have known it was there in the first place…

And so on, round and around and around until she was paralysed in the vortex of her own thoughts, staring at the screensaver on her computer.

In the end, she managed to shake off the stasis that held her.  She decided that however Lord Ambrose had found out, it didn’t really matter.  The fact remained that he had.  And that he did may indicate that he also knew of her little exploration a couple of days ago.  Or, he may not.

“Oh, to hell with it!” she said aloud, crossly, returning to her work.

She managed to fool herself for some time that she was concentrating hard and not making any mistakes at all.  It is said that you can fool some of the people all of the time, and all of the people some of the time; but Jen eventually had to admit that she couldn’t fool herself for one second longer.  She was far too annoyed to work – her concentration was shot to hell.  She decided that now was the perfect time to go for a wander through the grounds.  She hadn’t really explored them yet, despite having been in situ for several weeks.  The evening was ambling slowly closer, and the light was long and golden.

With a last, reproachful look in the direction of the stubbornly closed room, she set off, once again, to explore.

 

The gardens were much more extensive than she’d initially thought.  Since her room and the library both faced out over the trees behind the house, she’d had little occasion to look out of any upper floor windows to allow her to fully appreciate their extent.  There must, she decided, be a wide streak of secrecy in this family.  Normally in a large country house, one expected at least one sweeping vista from the ground floor windows – perhaps down a ridiculously long drive or grassy ride.  Or a vast, perfectly manicured lawn, terracing down to an equally vast reflecting pool.  Or something.  All she could see from the ground floor of Harrington Hall were shrubberies, trees, and one modest sized lawn.  There were numerous open areas, as well as secret, hidden little bowers.  She imagined assignations and plots being hatched in half-concealed summerhouses and pavilions that were almost lost in the foliage around her as she passed by.  Every now and then, she would find evidence that Dave and his minions had been at work, trimming and digging.  Otherwise, the gardens were deserted.  It seemed a shame, somehow.  The fresh air gradually began to clear and calm her head.  Eventually, she came to a little pond with a fountain in the shape of a mermaid in its centre.  She sat on the low stone wall surrounding the pond and dabbled her fingers in the water, watching the ripples spread from her fingers to cover the surface of the water, rocking the leaves and slowly closing flowers of a majestic water lily that appeared to be taking over the opposite half of the pond.  Eventually, though, she decided that it was probably time to return to the house, as she didn’t want to get lost in the gathering dusk.

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