“Oh, I’m so sorry, Sir. I didn’t mean to scare you”, she said, her own eyes wide with surprise. A cold shiver ran down her back.
“You were so quiet. I was deeply engrossed in this study on herbal tinctures to combat hexes, I didn’t hear you. I’m sorry for startling you, young lady. Are you looking for something particular? I am quite familiar with this library and might be able to help.”
He had kind eyes and seemed nice so she explained her dilemma about needing to see a chapter in Full Moon Rituals, by Reginald Smythe for her doctoral thesis and that it was in a restricted room.
“Oh, yes my dear. I know that book. Miss Pritchard is very protective of her domain here. I may be able to persuade her to let you see it,” he said with a warm paternal smile. “Let me go talk to her.”
“I’m so sorry to bother you with this. Really. I’m interrupting your own research.”
“It is of no matter. I need to get up and move about for a moment to keep my old body from seizing up completely. I have been sitting here for far too long.” He slowly and carefully raised his thin body, using his arms to help him get to his feet. He spent a few moments steadying his balance, rolled his shoulders and smiled at her, “There, that should do it. I shall return momentarily,” and he slowly walked towards the doorway.
She heard him muttering to himself, “I don’t know how much longer I can keep going if I don’t find that bloody formula.”
As she watched him walk away, she wondered how old he really was, much older than her grandfather as she had first guessed. She waited at the top of the stairs and heard his raised voice, “I have perfect right to let her see that book! Please remember it was mine, if your memory might be deserting you.”
The woman replied angrily, “My memory is NOT deserting me and please keep your voice down, Mr. Smythe. She may be listening.”
Emma’s heart began racing and perspiration began to form on her forehead. Mr. Smythe. No. It can’t be him. He’s been dead over fifty years. Smythe is a common enough name in England. Isn’t it? But he said ‘It was mine . . .’ They were now whispering but she knew they were arguing. This was a bad idea. I should get out of this place. It’s starting to creep me out.
A minute later the whispers ceased and she heard the jangle of keys. She saw ‘Mr. Smythe’ coming slowly up the stairs and she regretted him going down. It looked so difficult for him as he slowly moved up the steps. He finally managed to reach the top, stopping to catch his breath.
“I’m so sorry, Sir. The stairs looked very difficult for you. I shouldn’t have . . .”
He raised a hand to quiet her, “It is jolly good. I need some exercise. The truth is, I am not as old as I look. There are circumstances that have gotten out of control, but I shan’t trouble you my problems, my dear girl. Pay no heed. Come and follow me.”
Her heart was racing from both fear and anticipation. Her instincts were telling her to turn and run down the stairs and get away from this place as fast as she could. This was getting stranger by the minute. She should not have come here. But she had come this far and to see this damn book which now seemed to be within her reach. She followed him down the hallway to the right.
He led her to the last door on the left, pulled out a keyring filled with ancient looking keys, selecting one and unlocking the old oaken door, elaborately carved with symbols of the occult, some she recognized from her research. Others she did not. The ones she did know were for protection of the contents within. Mr. Smythe opened the door and ushered her into a room. It reeked of dust and smell of the old books in a single book case lining one wall of the otherwise barren room. The room was dimly lit like everywhere else she had been in this library. He led her to the one table and offered her a seat in an old straight baked chair, then walked over to the shelf retrieving a book which he brought back and, with apparent pride, offered it to her.
“Here is what you have come so far to see. Take your time, I shall return within the hour and set you free,” he said with a reserved chortle. “I must lock the door when I leave. Rules you know. We wouldn’t want to get Miss Pritchard in a huff now, would we.”
“No, no, of course not. Thank you. Please don’t forget me,” which was more a plea than a request.
“Of course I won’t forget you, my dear girl. As I said, I shall return within the hour.” He turned, went out. She heard the lock click.
To be continued . . .