It was midnight, or around that time, when I woke from fitful dreams. Typical Agnetha had exhausted herself during the day and had to face the exhaustion of a night, too. Lately, I had been seeing less and less of Mr. Craig’s blood-less face in my dreams, his fingers outstretched instead of curled back, telling me I’d failed- but that didn’t make the images any easier to bear when they came.
At first, the night-time echoing through my room led me astray and into confusion; when I had realised where I was detained, I was still left within the mystery, albeit a smaller one to those I’d known, about why I had woken so unusually.
Little moonlight dripped through the curtains, the gap where I was not tall enough to pull them fully shut. Excluding that scenario (having slept through the electric beams of a street-lamp outside my bedroom for years), I crept out of my own bed, bemused. The glass of water Marina had fetched for me lay half-full on the bedside table, as did my notebook, strewn but not yet forgotten. I might not have written in it for a while, but the memory of its pages was fresh in my mind, utterly reliable if I ever needed it. The flower of a desk-light snapped on. I rifled through said notes, still mystified. My conscience was clear about their words, wasn’t it? Surely nothing here could unsettle me from my rest?
And it was then, in that contemplation, that a sound told me the answer.
Someone was sobbing, out in the corridor. Pitiful cries leaked under the door, loud sobs of regret, if I knew those sorts of cries.
Edging the door open a crack, I let my eyes wander down the empty corridor, blue carpet and dark walls so unlike the floor below. The grandfather clock still ticked back and forth in its case, as was its way, wound immaculately. I could see no evidence; but the crying persisted stronger.
Stepping out of my room- as my curiosity would no longer be quelled in such a way that I could ignore it- one bare foot of mine brushed up against something soft. The something squeaked, jumping. There, the sobbing subsided.
As I looked down, a tear-smudged Elsie looked up at me. Her shock, I believed, came to be presented just as obviously as mine; evidently, she’d not been told of my sleeping arrangements.
The girl bit at a fingernail, chewing next into her whole finger with embarrassment. For a moment, I thought her pain had been postponed, settled rather by my presence; instead, she broke down once more, the volume of her agony almost reaching a howl at my appearance. I had set the girl off even further!
In the deep darkness, I crouched down beside Elsie, who stifled another tear rolling down her face. Her eyes, I noticed, were deep and wide as they became clear to me in the dark. She peered a little way up to my face- though, I did try to level myself with hers- before her eyes flicked over to Marina’s door, careful this time.
“You can come into my room, if you like.”
From her expression, I knew that she understood every word and that she simply chose not to answer. Instead, the girl heaved herself up on shaking limbs, crossed the corridor to its end and pushed aside one corner of a curtain to reveal her face, ghostly lit by moonlight alone.
I followed with some speed, letting my own face be cloaked by the shaft. Here, we could see the entrance to the cellar; here, we both knew, could exist quiet.
“It is worse, I know,” Elsie began in a shaking accent akin to the depth of Russian as Maripose’s, “that all think my Ivor the one in centre of things. All…the older, the more not knowing. None of you saw…”
“Saw what, Elsie? Please it is paramount that I know.”
Elsie shot me a confused look, evidently not accustomed to eloquence in vocabulary. Her breathing ragged, she fingered the tassels on a curtain and became the silent sentinel as she stood in thought.
“The…um, bitter… the, I don’t know, poise…?”
“Yes, the poison. Meant for Ivor, yes? The misunderstanding clear to me, my fault, too. I-I talk to Ivor. He understand, my brother. I tell him; he listen, away from parents’ busy, more busy… So, I tell Ivor what I see- what I saw. I say ‘do not tell an- any other people’ and he becomes quiet. For me. I try to talk him, get him to change his mind. No, and I have no other people to tell reason.
“Miss Caroline think- thinks- I protect Ivor. She is wrong. I quiet in thought; Ivor quiet because he needs to stop. But I am, we both are, lost translations. Ivor did nothing, see nothing. It was me. I see- I saw.”
“Elsie…” I whispered, placing a hand on hers that had come to rest on the latch of the window. Instantly, it sprang away, robotic and accusing. She had only stopped to collect the remnants of her linguistics.
“Yes, you want answer. I tell as best I can. What I…saw, on the night of Petre Rusav’s murder, I think, was that figure. A figure in the hall below. Might have been hurry from the chamber of mother. He not want to be seen, but I saw him- and I need tell Ivor only.”
“Are you sure it was a man?” I asked breathlessly, baited and ready to spring should anything go wrong now.
“No, I not know. The figure dark and trench-coat. There was a hat. But I do not tell if it was man or woman. I glimpse, I am afraid- and I retreat to bed. I had my milk; I ask no questions.”
“But you do now,” I persisted.
Elsie’s head inclined in and gently out of the light.
“If Ivor had poison because of his information… I think ‘perhaps the visitor is up to no good, is around the house again’. It makes me afraid, Agnetha. Mysteries are not the fun of riddle-books.”
Still, she pronounced my name as ‘Ag-net-ah’, but such a pedantic point had to be overlooked in revolutionary shock.
“Not when you’re in the centre of them, no.” It felt good to finally concede to what I had always taken as a black truth. I stretched my fingers across my wearied face. “Will you go back to bed?”
“I walk the grounds. There, I awake nobody,” she replied gruffly. Dark rings ran under her eyes as strongly as the ones under my own.
“Elsie, I don’t think that’s wise.”
“Wise? Pardon? I know not this, sorry.”
Despite the irony, I reiterated in two breaths.
“It’s better to stay inside, safe, than to walk. There might be more trouble now that you have told me the full truth.”
“Ha! I don’t think you get poison, Agnetha.”
“No, but…I worry, and it’s for you that I do…”
“I know you’re not keen on sympathy, but-”
“Do not! I be quiet. I trust Marina R; we have no other Karkroff incident. You rest- I think; I no sleep tonight.”
“Because I see a bit of me in you…” I sighed. I found myself yawning when I next looked into her innocent eyes.
“Please, Elsie, try.”
The girl shrugged, her fast hand letting the curtain fall to its close. We were both returned to the jet darkness, and, when my sight came back, echoes of footsteps down the corridor alerted me to the fact that Elsie had already made her route away. Silently cursing the girl’s Russian-good eyesight, I followed; neither glanced at the other as we parted ways, and soon I was yawning at an inordinate rate. I slurped the remainder of my drink alone.
The last thing I remember, before I succumbed to the confusing lack of light, was the girl’s words buzzing around my head, each turning its sound, with every twist, becoming one word new.