“‘Why, why, why’. My, I see that you would make a good detective’s assistant. Do you ever stop to think where it is that your ‘why’, ‘how’, and ‘when’ questions are getting you? There might be troublesome consequences.
“However, that shall be ignored, as your time of trouble will come to pass. I shall also choose to make no remark on your comment of our position, other than this: I think you’ll find that it is certainly not me who has become the mouse. As for my return, well, it is obvious, really! Why did I leave when I did?”
Alexandra stared at him blankly.
“I cannot perceive. Perhaps it was more convenient for you.” Alexandra tried a shrug.
“To leave when the many eyes of those plutocrats were tuned to your buffoonish butler, alert and ready for the next step of the ‘game’? That would hardly be convenient, Alexandra, I should think. No, it was when I knew the afternoon would be up; when I knew I would find you in this place.”
“Me?” Alexandra exclaimed.
“You. Indeed. I shall be leaving the estate soon, but I feel that I need to give you an opportunity. You are a clever maid, and certainly one with an eye for the details. You deserve more than the disrespected place that you have in Mrs. Winters’ eye. I shall, once I am sure of my freedom and class in London Town, be gathering together a band of people, all former servants like you and I, and we will start afresh in a place where we will be treated as equals.”
“You mean…a gang? I won’t stoop to Daphne’s levels to keep myself alive.”
“No, we will merely be freedom fighters, working to release the servants that slave to please the demeaning masters of London Town. I’m calling upon you now, and together I believe we can make a difference.”
Alexandra thought about it; it was certainly a tempting offer. There was but one point of hesitation for the maid.
“What about Christophe? May he leave with me too?”
“Unfortunately not. He may be intelligent and witty, but I cannot trust that butler with this information. He has worked too long in the fold of Mr. Winters and I can see that they both are in cahoots with what is the law.”
“Then I shan’t!” she said, bravely lifting her head. “I do not want to leave a position where I am settled, a place where I live without fear for my life and get three strong meals a day, and people with whom I have come to be well acquainted. I may not be living in the lap of luxury, but that is no reason to say that I have no raison d’etre. I’m sorry, Mr. Mahalle, but you shan’t be recruiting me into the fold of your ‘freedom fighting’ group. It’s just not a life I want to live.”
“Very well,” he nodded. “I should have seen that you were loyal too. Just remember this, Alexandra, remember the way that those who rule over us have treated you. Don’t think too well of them, for there will be great change, and you will live in regret in the future.”
“Rhaïd…” Alexandra shook her head, confused. “I won’t.”
Rhaïd continued on with his torrent of words, ever-running.
“We shouldn’t have to suffer under their hands. One day, I promise you, we will rise up and be freed. I have seen the change of times; we will be slaves no more, as servants prepare to revolt. The only thing that stands in our way, apart from the mortal hands of our slave-drivers, is that gorgeous trickster, Time herself.”
“I’m afraid you might be becoming delirious. It all sounds marvellous, I’ll admit, but it is sinking to the depths of being preposterous.”
“Well…no matter. Not all I have done tonight has been useless. I have what I came for, lying in my hands, and I have proven what the lying of others has made of the society of those who think themselves better. I have shown that no-one is exempt from their own sin and no-one is the better.”
Alexandra watched him, his beguiled expression and ruffled tresses leaving an image of someone like Inspector Whitting and Christophe in her mind. If only his eyes did not steam with contemn and his mouth spout words of bile. He might indeed be rather kind, but, in this state, there was no way to tell.
She thought about his words. Was there really a way out of servitude? She could not leave her home, though…she would not leave the man she had fallen in love with. It seemed but a dream, saying that servants were part of a freeman’s society. And did Rhaïd’s surreal words really justify his outrageous actions…? Actions that he had not entirely been truthful about…
“You staged the power shut-down, didn’t you?” she gaped. “Just to make a point.”
“Leaving them to flail in the dark proved my point that they are no better than we are. In addition, it gave me the opportunity to grab this sceptre and hide it back in the Hawthorn bush. How irritating it was when I was busy making my way to the eastern wall of the estate to escape on time, when I glanced back and saw you happening upon my prized piece. I needed to reclaim it before Christophe showed the officer, but he would not leave his spot.”
“So, it was you who pushed past me in the darkness?”
“Yes. What other choice did I have but to act then? How great that no light was emitted from when I left that fake room via that paper door. My paper moon was perfect in its actions, if I may say so. Not even a thread of light slipped out past me as I left. How great I am in victory!
“During one of the many Foresmyth dinner evenings last week, I saw a certain Mr. Stones stealing silverware from my master’s kitchen. Instead of turning the miserable soul in, I enlisted that thief's help to rig a machine up upon the lights to turn them off after a couple of hours. I knew how elaborate these dinner parties could be, and Mrs. Winters turned out to be no exception to stringing out how wonderful she was finding the ‘entertainment’. To see her in a point of peril was another advantage of my plan.
“Silly Stones thought we were doing it for him, so he could take his former wife’s jewels. How naïve the upper-class are when they lose all they have had! Though I did admire how he was a one to stand up to the way he was being trampled upon by a ‘better off’ person, but, of course, his part was done out of greed, not knowledge of revolution. We two snuck in earlier than everyone and, successful, nobody taking their time to glimpse our less well-off faces, we set down our previously-made timer box, which would activate its levers when the time was up. The levers we positioned under the sockets, and it was simple to experience the plan as it gave fruit. The thief sure knew a thing or two about new-fangled electrics, and together it was easy to assemble what was necessary. I guess being a servant gave me those skills that I could use. Don’t you find it ironic, Alexandra? I’m destroying their rule of riches by the expertise that they taught me to use in order to do the work they wanted.”
Alexandra said nothing, but shook her head, unimpressed. Once again, Rhaïd seemed to see no-one but himself.
“Which brings us round to the most important matter. I had to leave when I did in order to rescue the sceptre and my ultimate destiny that would be fulfilled by it.”
He lowered the pole into his hands, and caressed its resin silk body as though he was cradling a child.