I LET myself be herded from the kitchen. Slowly, I went back upstairs. I paused midway but couldn’t hear Mrs Bell.
Back in my sitting-room, I sank into the armchair and watched the flames. There was something odd about her behaviour that was hard to put a finger on exactly. I waited and waited. At some point I slept.
What woke me? A creak or chink of metal? The hairs on the back of my neck rose, a sense of things not quite right.
There it was. It sounded like metal hitting metal. Like tumblers set against each other too fast. And where was my hot chocolate?
I tiptoed out into the hallway. There I stopped. I had a sense of someone else abroad in the night.
I moved out and down the stairs. There it came again. A chink of glass being moved. I was not prepared for the reality. Somewhere in my mind, I think I believed it to be Edna or Lil up in the night, hurrying through extra duties.
The truth was far worse. There was a dark figure in the ground-floor hall. I gasped and it turned. I caught a glimpse of a pale face before the intruder ran.
I ran, too. He sped down the stairs to the servants’ hall. I hesitated at the top. What if I cornered him? Was I to be faced with violence?
I looked back at the wide hallway. I had interrupted a thief at work. There was a scattering of objects on the carpet. A single candlestick vaguely visible in the shadows. A couple of books and what looked like the shape of a small painting. The thief was here!
Outraged, I ran down after him, through the long dining-room and into the kitchen beyond.
I came to a sudden stop. The kitchen was empty. Where was he hiding?
I was aware of my own breathing. It was coming fast and shallow from my exertions. I tried to calm it. I wanted to hear other sounds.
The room was all shadows and angles. The range was unlit and the fire banked for the night.
A draught blew across my bare arms and brought up goose bumps. Now I knew why I couldn’t find him. Fool that I was! While I was listening for his hiding place, he was no doubt miles away, because the back door to the kitchen was ajar.
I ran to it. The bolts were undone…
I had to get Charles. I retraced my steps, avoiding the items trailed across the ground floor hallway. I went to my room and pulled on my shawl, then I went to wake the viscount.
“What the… Amelia! What’s wrong?” He was immediately alert.
I explained as quickly as possible what I had seen and heard. He grabbed his robe and followed me.
“See,” I said, pointing to the candlestick and other things. “He’s stolen from the library. Goodness knows what else he’s taken. He must have dropped these when he heard my footsteps.”
Charles bent to pick up the candlestick. He stared at it long and hard as if it would reveal all. Then he gathered up the books and the painting and took them into the library, placing them in a heap on the walnut desk.
“We must send for the constable,” I urged him. “He’s getting away. This is our chance to capture the thief that’s been plaguing the countryside. What are you waiting for?”
“Show me where he got out.”
I took him down to the servants’ hall until we reached the back door. Charles stood and stared until I wanted to shake him.
“He must have had inside help,” I said. “Someone has unlocked the bolts from here and let him in.”
I couldn’t help thinking of Mrs Bell and how nervous she’d been earlier.
I didn’t like the woman, but that didn’t make her a thief. I had to be careful before I accused her of betraying Bowerly. Anyone could have slipped down in the night and undone the bolts and locks.
I was aware that Charles had still not leaped into action. Instead, he was thoughtful.
“Shall I send a boy for the police?” I said.
“Why ever not?” I asked in shock.
Then it hit me. I moved back from him so that I could stare straight up into his eyes. I wanted to see his reaction. Then I spoke.
“You know who the thief is, don’t you?”
I had to wait for a few days before I left the house. I was due a day off on the Thursday. Time stretched like soft dough. I was kept busy with Mary’s lessons and the weather was foul. It rained and stormed without end.
Miraculously, Thursday dawned dry and bright. I picked my stoutest pair of shoes and took a bag with two candles and a few matches tucked into it.
I had promised Sarah that I would visit her but afterwards, I was determined to get inside the caves. Nothing would stop me, I vowed.
I thought of the strange events on the night of the theft.
Charles had denied knowing who the intruder was. He had only said that he had his suspicions and would be drawn no further on the matter.
His face had been grim but there was worry, too, shadowing it. I had urged him to call the authorities but he was equally adamant he would not.
The next day, Mrs Bell was called to the library by the viscount.
There was a hushed atmosphere amongst the servants. Everyone hurried about their business, eyes lowered and with no chatter or laughter. Peggy described to me later what had happened.
“She came back down to the kitchen ever so quiet. I’ve never seen her act so nice since. I don’t know what his Lordship said to her but she’s a changed woman.”
“So she is still in position as cook?” I asked.