The cellars were around the side of the house. Mr. Thomason and I trudged out the decorated entrance hall, and took a smaller path that snaked through the rose-bushes, which were gathered around that part of the garden in a precise zigzag. Although I felt physically exhausted and mentally drained due to the quick-march through the tunnels and being constantly alert for my clues or signs to help me guide justice to the door of Karkroff Hall, I kept a close watch of this walkway, from its ivy trellises that stood beside us as more than decoration, to the large garden gate that Mr. Thomason pushed through as we travelled past an old, crumbling stone wall. There had to be something more for me to uncover round here. Otherwise…it felt like I was at the bottom of uselessness; Carrie had asked me to help, but I had found nothing, and could do no more for my old friend.
Finally, down a short flight of stone steps, Richard and I were standing at the base of a wine cellar. It was vast, and the walls towered up high to the dry ceiling; before us lay shelves upon shelves of red bottles stacked sideways into their ornate wooden holders.
“Satisfied?” said Richard in a tired, teacher-like voice. He rubbed a palm across his forehead. Here I was, his dumb student, asking countless pointless questions, and Mr. Thomason was sick of directing the same answer into me.
“Hmm. Not quite,” I replied, and begun to walk with my hand running along the sides of the wall, as I had done when I had been in the first trapdoor-led cellar.
“I’ve been thinking,” I continued, “there might be-”
“A passageway? Forget it. Gustaf is down here a lot and, judging from what Marina said before, he knows about the old helping passageways; he would surely know if there was something not blocked off. It was probably in his childhood when they stopped using them anyway.”
I glanced at Richard, annoyed. Now he was just speculating.
However, I managed to fight the comeback that was rising in my throat and ignored him, continuing with my rapid scouring of the walls. I placed both hand against the wall, side-stepping as I felt the rough stone-grain beneath my hand for secret levers or indentations that could signify a change in the way the wall had originally been built.
It was only when Mr. Thomason’s face wavered back into my view that I realised that I had gone full circle around the square chamber without encountering any latch, notch, or secret device. I had found nothing at all.
The expression that met with mine was the most unimpressed, eyebrows raised.
“Are you finished?” he remarked.
“Fine,” I snapped. “There’s not much here, I’ll agree with you on that. Should we-?”
I was interrupted, once again, by my mobile phone. Surprise, surprise, my mother was the one on the other end.
“Agnetha!” she replied icily.
“When will you stop doing this? You never know, I might be in the middle of something very important.”
“When you decide to tell me what you’re up to. You promised to be back by five, and I don’t think that you’re even on your way. I’m interrupting your work, am I?”
“It isn’t five already, is it? I mean… Hang on…” I jogged up the steps, past bemused Richard, into the garden and the main house, popping back into the entrance hall in a swift movement, my phone limp, but still active, by my side. Once inside, I poked my head into the first room, a rather shabby place, but what looked like a lesser dining room, a dark-wood table and eight chairs situated in the centre, and with what I was looking for towards its furthest walls: a mantelpiece, complete with a clock ticking away. I stared as I saw my fate; the slender hands already reading twenty to five.
As I lifted my phone back up to my ear, I realised that my hands were shaking. If there was one person I couldn’t stand to be on the wrong side of, it was my mother.
“I had no idea,” I said quietly. “I guess I lost track of time.”
“Agnetha, this is getting ridiculous,” she replied, her voice filled with deeply-hidden contempt.
“I guess,” I continued, trying to justify what I knew was unjustifiable, “the morning passed more quickly…and I was…busy. I must have woken up late too.”
Now, I was just musing to myself. It did not impress my mother though.
“I don’t care. Agnetha! You said you’d listen this time and be back. You’re going to miss dinner again if you don’t hurry. I’m just glad that I rung now, otherwise we might have had so much trouble.”
“Okay, I know. I just thought… I honestly didn’t mean to cause any trouble. I just lost track of the time. Honestly-”
“This trip was meant to be for us, Agnetha,” my mother sighed. “For our entire family, you included; but all you seem to do is walk off.”
“You’re going to stay with me tomorrow. Without arguing. Aggie, please, this is necessary. You broke a promise, and that I can’t take off the shoulder again.”
“No, Agnetha. Whatever it is, you shall have to make your excuses in the same way that you made them to me before you disappeared.”
“No. I am sorry, but…” A sigh came from the other end of the line, an exhausted one. “Goodbye, Agnetha. I’ll see you at the hotel soon.”
My final “but…” was lost into the thin air as she had hung up the phone without waiting any longer for a proper answer. Annoyingly, today featured yesterday’s situation but in reverse.
We were two peas in a pod who could not stand each other; our closeness in personality and residence drove our relationship to its downfall.
“Agnetha?” A different voice roused me. I was still standing in the doorway of the dusty dining room, my phone clutched, silent, in the palm of one of my curled fists. I hadn’t realised any of what I had been doing, as much of actions were my own autonomously, but in a rushed state of mind, unaware. I had also been dragging my feet and lichen had been smeared onto the carpet.
I glanced to the source of the voice, strangely calming. There, standing at the doorway of a room that I knew led to the main flight of marble stairs, was Caroline, wiping her hands on a fluffy white handtowel.