There was scarcely six feet of space between the floor of the vault and its ceiling, so the Aechyed was forced to hunch over to stand. He proceeded to tap upon seemingly random portions of the ceiling, floor and walls, all of which were built of stone. Satisfied that no one had tunneled in, he ran his eyes about the chamber twice more and then exited.
“That is all you need to see, Mr. de Winter?”
“Yes, of this place. I would like to conduct a few interviews before I leave, however. Are your sons at home?”
“No, they generally return quite late at night…or rather early in the morning. You may be able to find them here if you come back near to noon on the morrow.”
“I shall. At the moment, though, I would like to speak with your maidservant.”
They returned, at length, upstairs to the parlor. Caligard summoned Mildred and bid her to sit down and speak with the guest. She was evidently unused to such requests and became quite uncomfortable when her master left her alone with the Aechyed.
“What do you want, merman?”
“A few questions, she-monkey. Don’t like that, do you?” He grinned widely at her indignant expression. “Then stop calling me ‘merman.’”
She scowled at him, looking as if she were contemplating all the gruesome ways in which she might kill him.
“I’m glad that’s cleared up. Now to the matter at hand. You may have already deduced that I am a private detective, and your master sent for me regarding a burglary of this house, of which surely you are familiar.”
“Of course. He was going to get my pay, wasn’t he?”
“Did you let anyone into the house between yesterday morning and this afternoon without informing Mr. Caligard?”
“No, I did not.”
“Have you recently seen anyone behaving suspiciously either inside or nearby the house?”
She frowned. “No, not that I can remember.”
“Have you encountered anyone carrying a peculiar or rather heavy package through the house, especially coming from the wine cellar?”
“No, but Mr. Frederick Caligard had me carry a few heavy boxes up from there and to the kitchen yesterday afternoon. I looked in them afterward, but they only held potatoes.”
“Show them to me.”
She took him downstairs to the kitchen and pointed to four wooden boxes lined up against the wall. “That’s them.”
He approached them and removed the lid from each of them, proceeding to rummage through them all. But, as Mildred had said, there was naught to be found there except for potatoes. No false bottoms, no stray coins, just hundreds of potatoes, filling the boxes to about three-quarters of capacity.
“Very well,” he said eventually. “It is late and I have no more to do here, so I shall go home. Bid Mr. Caligard a good night from me and tell him I will return here at noon tomorrow.”
Seymour de Winter made his way across the city and home to his flat on foot, his path cast in wavering, eerie shadows by the flickering lanterns. When he had reached his destination and had gone to bed, he lay awake for a long while, watching theories chasing one another about his brain. They battled and fought with each other late into the night, arguing even as they morphed into his dreams, until at long last there was one victor, proclaiming its triumph and jerking him into wakefulness with the rising of the sun.