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Chapter 8. The Market Square
The trains had always been vital for the village. They brought a certain amount of wealth, resulting from the lower cost of products being brought in and bigger profits from products sent out.
This time, nevertheless, the sudden hiccup in the railway schedule had triggered a whole new range of issues far more complex than Augustus, the innkeeper, had anticipated. “I could’ve sworn that man was up to no good when I saw him the first time. What were they doing in the Indian Pavilion?”
“Talking. I overheard something about a share. Plus, I found this key in the man’s bag.”
It was difficult for the stationmaster to admit having looked through a passenger’s private property, but at this point a strong sense of apprehension mixed with growing anger made it possible for him to set those hesitations aside. “Mrs. Thomson was terribly concerned, especially because this key, look…” – he showed the key to the innkeeper.
“This symbol…” Augustus started, lowering his voice and looking left and right to make sure no one was listening.
“Yes.” Ernest Kirby, the stationmaster, nodded solemnly. “Precisely.”
“We need to move it.”
“And place it where?”
The two walked briskly down the road from the Inn to the Tower.
Not many people knew about the Tower and its secret. Augustus had stumbled upon it when Lord Crewe spilled the beans on a grief-stricken inebriated evening after being inconsolably rejected by a strong-willed, hot-tempered redhead maid. The innkeeper had pulled him aside to the back of the Inn and let him drink as much as he wanted, a well invested amount of beer as it was proven later on when Augustus went to the indicated location to confirm Lord Crewe’s information.
Because he was not the safest depository of this secret, or any secret, the innkeeper sought an accomplice, so to speak, and asked the stationmaster to accompany him. The stationmaster, also a feeble keeper of secrets, confided in Mrs. Thomson. Mrs. Thomson, who became good friends with the gypsy matriarch, hinted it to her. Since then, the four felt like the guardians of the Crewe secret, the responsibility of its safekeeping solely on their shoulders.
Dusk was approaching and the two friends, Augustus and Ernest, surreptitiously went inside the Tower, up to the second floor and finally to the roof. Augustus pressed a stone slightly different on the wall and they heard the sound of a mechanism; then they went back down one floor and checked in the fireplace that was fortunately off.
“Here it is.”
The innkeeper held a magnificent box. This box was no usual box. It had no lid. It had no buttons, no handles. It was solid outside. The wood work was absolutely superb, made of several different types of wood cut into oblong patterns.
Whenever he was feeling overwhelmed with his wife, the Inn, his daughter, Augustus would wait till late hours of the night to climb to the Tower and be amazed by this marvel’s rareness.
This box was unique though, because its top face showed a very familiar symbol, Lord Crewe’s coat of arms.
“I am always stunned by the beauty of this box,” said the stationmaster dreamily.
“Yes, yes, let’s not waste a minute though, Ernest. We need to go and hide this.”
They left the Tower, looking over their shoulders constantly.
“Augustus, where on earth are we going to hide this?”
While they walked back, many places were considered, some a bit more obvious like the Inn, others somewhat hazardous like Mrs. Thomson’s kitchen; a few of the less enlightened servants would probably consider the box very pretty but totally useless and would either try to break it open, sell it or get rid of it. They couldn’t take the risk.
Ella Marie stood by her fruit stand, stubbornly trying to sell the two breads she had left and the last apple. “I haven’t seen him anymore,” said Augustus’s daughter eagerly, prompting his father to wave at her to shut up.
“It’s ok, Ella, let us know if you do.” Ernest was fond of the young lady despite her depleted teeth, and he was the only person in the village who called her Ella and not Ella Marie. Ernest knew the young vendor would smile and he always dreaded the moment, but he never had the courage to make a nasty comment and would scold anyone who did.
Ella smiled. The stationmaster waved and Augustus’s heart leaped with joy at the prospect of seeing the smiles and waves turn into something far more permanent.
The two men moved to the opposite side of the market square for privacy.
“I have no clue where to hide this thing,” the innkeeper wrestled with the overwhelming temptation to keep the box at his place, but it didn’t belong to him and the oath he and his companions took was sacred to him. “We can’t possibly burry it, can we?”
Ernest looked around. The village had grown eerily quiet after the hustle and bustle of the day. The passengers settled down for dinner either at the Inn or at the Manor. Some took refuge at the station and at the Club. Hardly anyone wandered outside anymore. He checked his watch. The next train was due in a couple of hours. It would be dark by then.
After rotating a few times on his heels, making Ella Marie suspicious of his level of sanity, the stationmaster lifted his index finger, as if figuring out the direction of the wind.
“Dear Augustus, I believe I found the solution to our predicament,” he said, opening his eyes wide and shaking his head in the general direction of the Priory Ruins repeatedly.
“Where…?” The innkeeper could not comprehend what Ernest meant, but he went as far as considering the nearby Church. He rolled his eyes inquisitively and did the sign of the cross, holding his two hands together as if in prayer.
The stationmaster shook his head negatively. “Follow me, dear friend.” And the two marched down the road, much to Ella Marie’s apprehension. She had kept an eye on the pair and for the life of her, she couldn’t understand what they were doing.Chapter 9: The Priory Ruins >