Through a Bookcase Darkly: Part Two
Last week, you went on a small adventure with Elinor MacTavish in Through A Bookcase Darkly: Part One (see post here). She made an unexpected discovery whilst dusting. Hidden behind Northanger Abbey was a mechanism that opened a secret passageway in Graeg Selix’s ancient library, and harnessing her flagging intrepidity, Elinor explored and found a portfolio. We left her giddy with anticipation. She’s going to tell her historian husband what she’s discovered. If you’re wondering how Angus MacTavish took his wife’s slightly absurd story, you’re in luck because today, as Paul Harvey would say, you’ll get the rest of the story.
Through a Bookcase Darkly: Part Two
“You found this where?” Angus asked, his Scottish brogue thickening in stupefaction.
“In a small room down a secret passageway behind the bookcase in the library.”
“That sounds like the beginning of an urban legend.” Angus carefully opened the folio and perused the first page. Apparently he divined a great deal more interesting material than she had, but then again, he did have that book about bud vases.
“Except we’re in the country, all thoroughly rusticated, and this is no legend. It’s a real place.” She put her hands on her hips. “I was there, remember.”
Why did she feel like Lucy trying to convince her siblings that Narnia was really there through the wardrobe? Over their evening repast of cold roast beef sandwiches in their bedroom suite, Elinor had related the whole adventure to her husband before presenting him with her finding. Had she not handed him the folio, she was pretty certain he would have continued biting his way through his roast beef making no attempt to silence the disbelief she heard so clearly in his chewing. Even after the folio was in his hands, she thought he was going to accuse her of being smashed. He hadn’t.
“A secret passageway. How extraordinary. And you found it behind an Austen novel? Crickey.”
She laughed. “And not just any Jane Austen novel, m’dear. Northanger Abbey, her most fantastical novel. Someone had a sense of humor.”
“Or irony. Show me.”
He was up and out of the room before she could protest. She heard his footsteps descending the first of three flights of never-ending steps on his way to the library. Quickly, she shoved her bare feet into her Uggs and ran after him. With his head start, and the fact that he had nearly a foot on her, she did not catch up with him. To say nothing of how out of shape she was, huffing and puffing down staircase after staircase until she reached the library where she found her intrepid and athletic husband scanning the shelves with a flashlight’s beam, searching out yet another staircase.
“I suppose this is the first time you’ve ever seriously searched for a Jane Austen novel,” she quipped, taking his hand and guiding him to the proper place.
Elinor pulled Northanger Abbey from its place and fumbled with the mechanism until she heard the audible click. The shelves started to quake. And, with the opening of the bookcase, Angus’ mouth formed a perfect O.
“You know, were I the sensitive type, I would be insulted by your lack of faith in me. Clearly you thought I was spinning some elaborate tale worthy of Scheherazade.”
Angus’ attention shifted from the passage to her. His eyes twinkled.
“You know how much it riles me when you make pertinent literary allusions,” he growled, kissing her, to her delight, with unbridled passion.
Ah, she thought, all that required reading in high school did come in handy after all. Now if only she could find a viable application for polynomials… But, Lord, her husband could kiss!
Alas, as he was also her own private Indiana Jones, the lure of the unknown proved too much. He released her, somewhat reluctantly, to her gratification, and directed the beam of light down the stairwell.
Elinor followed close behind him as he descended. Good Lord, but with the addition of this staircase, she would have to ascend four- FOUR- staircases before bed. She did, indeed, have miles to go before she slept.
“At first, I thought it was an oubliette.”
“Well, it couldn’t be, now could it,” Angus stated. “An oubliette is accessed through a trap door in the ceiling. This is a stairwell through the casement.”
“All right, Einstein. I think you should just be thankful I even know the word oubliette.”
His hand reached backward and grabbed hers, giving it a squeeze that made her smile giddily. This whole channeling Indiana Jones was quite fun, so long as Angus went before her to battle any cobwebs. For a fleeting moment, she thought about snakes. Scotland didn’t have snakes, right? Or was that Ireland?
And what about rats? Ugh! She hated rats.
“Are you all right, Ellie?”
She hadn’t realized how hard she was gripping his hand.
“I don’t like the dark.” Her sheepish voice echoed in the blackness. His laughter vibrated through his back. “What? Bob Dylan said to fight against the dying of the light.”
“It’s rage, and that was Dylan Thomas, Ellie. And he’s not talking about the dark as in night, but the dark as in death.”
“Well, I suppose I’m grateful for this dark now so you can’t see me rolling my eyes.”
Angus chuckled, stopping at the foot of the staircase and flashing his light around the square room. Everything remained as it had been when Elinor had left. With Angus there, however, it felt immeasurably smaller, big strapping lad that he was.
“Had you any idea this was here?” she asked, tracking his gaze as it followed the flashlight beam.
“None whatsoever. It’s extraordinary.”
“You said that already.”
“It bears repeating.”
A large clean rectangle shone stark on the dirty table where the folio had set. Angus stooped to pick up the quill and deposit it in the empty inkwell. He eyed the stool.
“I wouldn’t chance it,” she said. “Besides, we have a much more comfy chair in our bedroom complete with electric light which is just the thing to read by.”
“I don’t know. I think electric lighting is rather overrated. Don’t you want to enjoy this quaint atmosphere. I’ll have Chandler get me some candles from the closet.”
“I knew there was a candle closet,” she exclaimed.
“Never mind.” If it was a closet that housed candles, then by golly, it would henceforth be known as the candle closet and to hell with anyone’s opinion, including her husband’s.
Angus stepped to the table and leaned forward, intensifying the beam of light on the wall where she had seen scrawling. From his diligent scrutiny, including his head shifting, moving closer than to one side then the other, he too was having difficulty deciphering what was written there.
“Can we do this tomorrow?” she asked. “When it’s daylight?”
“Daylight won’t reach down here.”
“Angus, it’s creepy!”
He laughed, pulling her to him in a sideways embrace.
“Not channeling Dorothy L. Sayers tonight, dearest?” he quipped planting a kiss at her temple.
“No, darling. Not even Dora the Explorer.”
“I told you all that Austen would ruin you,” he chided, taking her hand to lead her up the steps. “The gossip, country dances, scandalous sisters, bonnet making, embroidery. To say nothing of the muslin.”
And there it was. The tell. Only an Austen fan would know about Henry Tilney’s understanding of the nuances of muslin and the humor derived from Jane’s writing of it. Do you know your muslin, sir? indeed!
“Oh, you poor dear. The burdens you must carry” was her rejoinder.
“Alas, you are but one of those outrageous arrows of fortune that has pierced my heart.”
The dramatics- particularly the invoking of Austen’s Wentworth- would have been highly successful had he not laughed and dropped the flashlight. Elinor watched the beam bounce down the steps before hitting the bottom and drenching them in darkness.
“Ah, Ellie, where’s your sense of adventure?”
“I never had one of those,” she replied dryly.
“You married me, didn’t you? So, there has to be a modicum of adventure in here somewhere.”
She felt his hand skimming up her waist, settling on her hips, drawing her closer until his lips nuzzled the tender flesh below her earlobe.
“I don’t think I realized just how much of an adventure I was getting myself into when I married you, dearest. Or is fairy tale the more appropriate term?”
“Must I remind you of where you grew you?”
“My parents’ home?”
“Don’t sound so bewildered,” Elinor snipped. “You neglected to mention several words in your nominal description of your childhood home, the most glaring being CASTLE. One located on an extensive ESTATE. A TITLED estate.”
“Ah, Ellie.” A murmured laugh susserated over her skin followed by his lips, softness framed in the coarseness of his beard. “I had to know that you could love me for myself along and not my golden ducats.”
“Regardless, it was altogether too akin to a Disney concoction for my sober mind to digest,” Elinor replied, a little too breathlessly for her husband not to laugh. And with his mouth against her, his lips were entirely too distracting. To say nothing of his hands.
“Och, darling, you’ve never had a sober mind.” Were he not punctuating each word with a kiss, his lips following the inviting line of her v-neck sweater, she would have taken umbrage. But, she was too sober minded not to let her newly landed Scottish gentleman take full advantage of her. But she couldn’t not say something in her defense.
“Grand, wonderful surprises are just as difficult to contend with as nasty, terrible ones.”
Another laugh exhaled over her skin as he pressed her back against the wall, his fingers riding up beneath her sweater, taking the hem higher. Standing there, she almost forgot how much she hated darkness. Almost until she felt the the distinct shiver of insect legs crawling over her skin.
Visions of that poor woman finding herself trapped in that room with all those horrid and frightful looking insects in the Temple of Doom filled Elinor’s mind’s eye.
“Angus, something’s crawling on me.”
Another laugh, as though she weren’t currently in imminent danger. It could be a spider. Or something far worse. Didn’t he remember that particularly long and segmented millipede?
“Angus!” she exclaimed in a firm whisper. “There’s something crawling on me.” While he did take her hand and lead her out of the blackness of the stairwell and into the moonlit library, she felt his repressed laughter coursing through his shoulder and down his arm. Let him laugh, she didn’t care. She was free once again.
Silver light lined Angus’ body. Even in the large library, he was huge. A bear of a man, broad of shoulder, broad of beard.
Faintly, her Macbeth returned - for Angus would have stood among the ranks of Macduff, brandishing the branches of Birnham Wood to stand beard to beard with any villain. Even a spider, the most vile of villains.
His dark hair curled, the only boyish softness to an otherwise manly man. Weren’t they the best sort? Those manly men who knew their way around a boiler room as well as a ballroom- to say nothing of a library. Angus knew them all. Perhaps the library best. Which had made his gifting it to her all the more sweet. She was certain her husband would have loved to commandeer this room.
And now boasting a secret passageway, Elinor wondered if she would have to relinquish the room before she’d even had the chance to claim it in the first place.
She supposed she could live with that. After all, 150,000 square feet of mansion guaranteed enough room to have TWO libraries. In fact, once the north wing was declared fit enough to enter, they might discover just that. Even if there wasn’t another library lurking in the unplumbed depths of their quaint home, it wasn’t as if Graeg Selix didn’t already boast a bevy of beautiful rooms ripe for a library transformation, north wing or no north wing. That one John Morris homage off the belvedere came complete with a second story that overlooked a floor currently stacked with mismatch chairs, rickety tables, moth eaten carpets, and a motley miscellany of other furniture acquired during centuries of habitation.
Visions of Disney’s Beauty and the Beast burst in her reverie, and after several minutes of mental rearrangement and remodeling, the derelict room was at once a light, gilded affair complete with gliding ladders and dancing tea services. There’s something there that wasn’t there before…
“Ellie, darling?” My, but she loved the burr that rolled his Rs. “Where’ve you gone to?”
Affectionately, he tapped his finger to her forehead. “Where are you? Care to tell your ole chap?”
“I never.” He crossed his heart and raised his right hand. “Scout’s honor.”
She shook her head and volleyed a question at him instead.
“Will you be wanting the library for your study now?”
“I have a study already.”
One which he holed up in with his scholarly stuff mourning the loss of his placement in his profession after a wee dram too many. He protested that he did not care about being overlooked by academia, but shethinks the lad doth protest too much.
“It’s a historian’s dream, Angus. You didn’t know there was a hidden staircase squirreled away behind Northanger Abbey when you said I could have it.”
“I’ll not take it from you. Besides, it must be a Romantic’s dream to discover a hidden passageway in her very own library.” He paused, his lips pressed into a line. “Behind Northanger Abbey, no less.”
“Fantastical, I believe, is the word you’re looking for.”
“Historians don’t like the fantastical.”
“Oh, stop it. You thrive on it.”
A flash of teeth. “I’ll tell you what I’ll be doing tomorrow.”
“What’s that?” Elinor asked, sitting on the back of one of the sofas she’d moved earlier that day .
“I’ll be pulling out every book on every shelf in this room to see what lies behind it.”
“That’s assuming secret passageways are exclusive to this room.”
Delight flashed in Angus’ eyes. Like fireworks.
“Or for that matter, that the mechanism is solely activated by books. Remember Young Frankenstein? That mechanism was a candle.”
“If you wanted some historical reference or hoity-toity literary allusion, you married the wrong girl.” She planted her hands on her hips, and added, with a cheeky grin, “Put zee candle beck.”
Angus glanced from her to the open casement then to the sturdy desk beside the sofa then to her again.
“Och, darling, I most certainly didn’t marry the wrong girl. Quite the opposite.” He wove his arm around her waist and pulled her flush against him. “Now let’s reenact your latest bodice ripper.”
“Alas! I’ve forgotten my bodice. And I know how important faithful reenactments are to you.”
“It’s a curse all we historians bear.” He screwed his mouth up, ruminating, his sober minded countenance warring with his dancing eyes. “We’ll have to search further afield for our inspiration?”
“Further afield? What precisely do you have in mind?”
Angus said nothing. He just stared at her and the heat of his gaze would have lit the fire Prometheus shared with mankind for all the creative thoughts it kindled in her.
“Ah, darling, I’m a boorish brute of a Roman, and you, my dear, are an unassuming Sabine.”
“The Rape of the Sabine, Angus. Really? Couldn’t you come up with something—”
Her sentence ended in a shriek as he hoisted her over his shoulder and proceeded out the door and up the first mountainous flight of stairs.
“But what about the secret passage and the room and the portfolio and all the research you could be doing?” Elinor asked, the question bouncing out of her with each step he took.
“Rome wasn’t built in a day,” he quipped, quickening his pace to a slight jog as he mounted the second flight. At the third, he broke into a full run.
“The city built on seven hills has nothing compared to this lumbering, meandering mansion with all its stairs. One day you’ll be jogging up them and find me dead midway between like those unfortunates who never made it up the final miles of Mount Everest.”
He kicked in the bedroom door and pitched her onto their bed, jolting a gleeful laugh from her as she slid to the headboard. Elinor bit her smiling lower lip in anticipation. He crawled across the comforter toward her, a predatory grin on his face.
“Shut up, you saucy wench, and let me ravage you.”
And since a saucy wench such as she deserved a sound ravaging by her boorish brute- especially after her grand adventure contending with cobwebs, dancing with darkness, and undertaking the unknown- she did just that.
I hope you enjoyed that one as much as I did writing it. I will confess that I did not intend to write a romantic element into this one. Through A Bookcase Darkly was meant to be part of a longer story. However, as it sat on the back burner, nothing was forthcoming. So, I decided to work it into a short story. This was the result and I’m very happy with it. I hope you are, too. Let me know what you think.