فصل 05

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فصل 05

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Chapter five

Nothing happened that first night. No noises, nothing. I saw Selena at breakfast and I asked to stay another night. She said that I could stay as long as I wanted to.

There were noises the second night. As I was getting up, I realised they were not inside the house, but outside, in the grounds. And they were not human noises, but animal noises. I looked at my watch. It was twenty-five past two. I supposed the tigers were looking for another servant to eat. I went back to bed.

The third night, yes, noises. This time inside the house. I thought I heard footsteps. And perhaps a door opened and shut. I got up immediately, put on my dressing gown and went out of the bedroom. Selena was coming out of her room at the same time.

‘Do you hear it?’ she asked.

‘I can hear it. I’m going down to see what it is.’

I went into every room on the first floor, and then on the ground floor. Nothing! Nothing unusual, nothing suspicious. And Selena was right; the moment I left the bedroom, the noises stopped. I went back to the second floor. Selena was still waiting at her bedroom door.

‘Well?’ she said.

‘Well, nothing,’ I answered. ‘Your ghost is very elusive.’

The next morning, I sat down at my desk in my office. I left the newspaper on the desk without opening it. I needed to think. It was the fourth day on this case and I didn’t have even one clue. Thoughts, possibilities, came into my head and went out again. Nothing seemed to make any sense. I knew what I had to do - go home and drink two or three cups of my special coffee brew. This idea I got from the 19th-century French novelist, Honore de Balzac. This enormously productive writer (he wrote and published about ninety novels) wrote mainly at night and usually for fourteen or fifteen hours without stopping. Then he went to bed for a few hours and tried to sleep. Not very successfully, I imagine, because to keep himself awake and, more importantly, to keep his imagination working on all cylinders, he drank many cups of coffee while he was working. Not just any coffee, but his own special mixture of coffees, in exact proportions, bought from various coffee merchants in Paris. While he was writing his first books, he experimented until he had a coffee mixture as strong as coffee can be. Then, from time to time, he visited his coffee dealers in Paris to renew his supply.

Now, I don’t write novels, but I do sometimes have cases which are very difficult to work out and which call for some really imaginative thinking. And as Balzac’s recipe for his special mixture has not survived, as far as I know, several years ago I decided to experiment with creating one for myself. I went every few days to a coffee dealer who has a little shop in Soho and who sells only coffee, coffee from everywhere. I don’t remember how I started, but it was something like this: ‘Put two ounces of Colombian, then mix in one ounce of Indonesian, now three ounces of Brazilian…,’ and so on. By changing the proportions, and sometimes the source countries, each time for about a year, I achieved my own special, very strong blend, one that could help me to think of possibilities that I couldn’t reach without help. Now, just as Balzac did, I go to my coffee dealer every two or three months. He knows me well. ‘Two pounds of your special, Mr Boot?’ he asks, with a smile.

At home, I made a pot of my mixture. Then I poured the first cupful and while I was sipping it, I did some housework. As I live alone, this is a necessity from time to time, although I’m not very good at it. So, still sipping, I made the bed for the first time that week and washed and dried some plates and cups and saucers which were waiting in the sink for me for the same length of time. Then I swept the kitchen floor, and I couldn’t remember the last time I did that. After this, I sat down in my armchair and started drinking another cup. I began to concentrate on the case. But, after the second cup, I still didn’t have any good ideas. So I poured another cupful. Halfway through that cup I decided that my special mixture wasn’t working that day. The best thing to do was to take the rest of the day off and relax. I decided to make some lunch and then return to my armchair and finish reading Henry Esmond. Henry Esmond? Suddenly, yes, an idea came! The events in Thackeray’s novel take place in the last years of the 17th century and the first years of the 18th. The 17th century was a very violent time in English history; civil wars, the execution of a king, and bloody battles all around England between royalists and parliamentarians. And I remembered that once I read that during this period, secret rooms or cupboards were installed in some big country houses. Rooms or cupboards big enough to hide people during the wars. There is one secret cupboard, ‘big enough for a man’, in Henry Esmond. Of course, these secret places don’t show on any plans that still exist of the houses.

The more I thought of the possibility of a secret room in Selena’s 17th-century house, the more I liked it. Both Selena and I were sure that the noise came from inside the house. I decided that the next thing to do was to search for a secret room.

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