[button link=”http://irez.uk/2013/06/04/it-takes-a-village-chapter-4/” bg_color=”#000000″ border=”#757575″]< Chapter 4: The Mill[/button] [caption id="attachment_18118" align="aligncenter" width="600"] Goatswood: The Manor[/caption]
Chapter 5. The Manor
After hours of waiting for the train, many of the passengers, cold and tired, found their way to the Manor. Lord Crewe opened its doors so they could sit in the warmth of the inviting living-room. This was an unusual situation for the village and unusual situations needed unusual measures, he announced. A table was set and the servants rushed to replenish it with appetizing foods. Chairs were solicitously brought from the upstairs rooms and the generally well organized Manor went into a temporary pandemonium.
The stationmaster was still carrying the unusual bag; the mysterious man was nowhere to be found. What intrigued him the most was that he had crossed paths with several of the passengers a few times already, but not with this particular man. The village was not that big after all.
A few of the people who stood closer to the man at the station, during the upheaval, mentioned seeing him walking up the hill, but the stationmaster didn’t quite understand what he would do up there; no ceremonies would take place at this time of the afternoon, and most certainly not with the extra people roaming the village.
The corridors of the Manor overflowed with passengers, so the stationmaster elbowed his way towards the kitchen.
“Mr. Kirby, how lovely to see you,” greeted the cook, a lively matron whose fascination for food produced the most memorable dishes and earned her a well-deserved fame as far away as the capital.
“I am exhausted, Mrs. Thomson,” he replied, plopping down on a chair by the fire.
“How so?” she asked, her vigilant eyes on a steaming pot of stew. “Too many people, you mean?”
“No, no… I have been everywhere in the village with this bag. I simply cannot find its owner. He was at the station when I explained the passengers they’d have to wait for the next train. But then he disappeared, leaving it behind.”
The cook took a glance at the bag and laughed.
“Strange way to pack a bag!”
The stationmaster agreed. He had never seen such a thing.
He then proceeded to explain each step he had taken to find the man and how thorny it was for him to leave an issue unsolved. It was a matter of honor, of professional pride.
The cook agreed out of compassion for the excessively distressed stationmaster. She knew him for a fairly long time and she had never seen him so upset. He was a picky man who paid attention to the tiniest of details and who could drive a Zen master to madness with his excessive obsession with having everything neatly organized. He would never get tired of stating that schedules were to be respected. And he never got tired of repeating that his trains were always on time.
That fussiness was transferred over time to his meals. Although they were the best of friends, he had colossal arguments with Augustus, the innkeeper, for not serving dinner at the agreed time. That interfered with his work, considering he had to be back at the station punctually, and it interfered with his stomach too. He would rage out of the Inn without eating and the whole village would know about it five minutes later. Mrs. Thomson would then grab a few bits and pieces, put them in a pot, wrap it up to keep everything warm and trod her way to the station, pot in hand, to leave it there for him to eat when he calmed down.
However, this time it was much worse. He seemed to be distraught, broken. For the first time in his life, he was on the verge of becoming a failure.
“Mr. Kirby, you’ll find the man, don’t you worry,” she said in a soothing voice. “He didn’t go anywhere, did he? There’s no train. So, he’s around.”
The stationmaster knew the cook was right. She always managed to lift his spirits somehow. A few sentences, her motherly ways, and he felt like new; he didn’t know how she did it.
“Yes, you’re right, Mrs. Thomson, you are right” – he leaped out of the chair and grabbed a muffin from the bread basket. “You are absolutely right.”
The cook smiled. It was so easy, a few words and freshly baked muffins, the stationmaster’s favorites.
“Why don’t you open the bag and tuck those sleeves in? It looks ridiculous, Mr. Kirby.”
He straightened his back up a bit. The cook was right. He must’ve looked ridiculous and that had never crossed his mind, not once. His confidence levels recharged, he placed the bag on the counter. Against his principles of not touching the passengers’ private property, he opened the bag.
An extraordinary array of colorful shirts and jackets seemed to be rebelliously entangled. It struck him that that didn’t look like a bag packed for a trip. There were several obvious items missing, the clothes didn’t match and nothing was folded which seemed quite irrational for the orderly stationmaster.
“This is odd.”
Mrs. Thomson turned to look at the bag on her counter, at that dusty, dirty, old bag on her food counter.
“Mr. Kirby…” she started, with a threatening tone in her voice.
“What is it?” asked the young kitchen helper who had been peeling potatoes silently by the sink.
“Rose, shut up and go back to your potatoes.”
“This looks familiar.” He was holding an old key with a symbol. “Isn’t this…?”
Mrs. Thomson took the key from his hand and turned it over a few times. “Mr. Kirby, I don’t think I like this. Do you know who this man is?”
“You do realize that the Tower has the…” replied the cook, suddenly extremely agitated.
“Yes, Mrs. Thomson. That much I know, but it is probably a coincidence.”
The young kitchen helper cleared her throat.
“Mrs. Thomson, I just need to find the man and that has proven to be a rather intricate task.”
The young kitchen helper cleared her throat again.
“Well, you will, Mr. Kirby, you will.”
The stationmaster closed the bag, making sure all the sleeves were inside this time, and placed the key in his pocket. That stranger had a lot of explaining to do.
The young kitchen helper cleared her throat once more.
“For Pete’s sake, Rose, what is it?” asked the cook, angrily.
Rose pointed at the window. A man was walking alone up the path leading to the main entrance of the Manor.
The stationmaster couldn’t believe his eyes. He ran out of the kitchen with the bag, elbowing his way through the corridors towards the front door and shouting “Stop him, stop him!”
[button link=”http://irez.uk/2013/06/06/it-takes-a-village-chapter-6/” bg_color=”#000000″ border=”#757575″ class=”alignright”]Chapter 6: The Gypsy Camp >[/button]