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Following his meeting with Trentmont, Charles sought out Sam Gillis.  It was time to visit the former inn and find the chest that was hidden within.  Two regimental soldiers were to be at the ready with picks to help open any panel or punch through a wall.

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Charles would find Sam standing before the doorway to the kitchen, talking to a small girl who was holding a broom that was a bit too large for her. Trijntje was not as thin as she had been last winter and her red hair, which had been cropped short because it was too matted to untangle, had grown long enough to curl softly at the nape of her neck. She had charmed the cook shortly after she arrived and she now worked in the kitchens, sweeping, washing dishes, and helping out wherever she could.

 

Lieutenant Gillis looked up when she heard the sound of Charles' footsteps, and straightened to attention, saluting him smartly. Trijntje grinned at him and saluted too. “Everything is ready,” Sam said. “The horses are saddled and the soldiers are waiting in front of the stables.”

 

Leading him outside, everything was as she had described. The picks had been safely secured to the mounts of the soldiers who would be using them, and the two strong young men stood beside them, ready to mount on Charles' orders. Joos held the reins of the Earl's horse himself. He, too, had put on weight and risen a bit in height. The boy had proved useful in the stables and had an uncanny way with horses, though he had never been close to one before the day that his luck had changed.

 

Soon they were underway, riding through the streets of London until they reached the outskirts. They saw the mansion in the distance before they reached it … an immense structure with tower rooms on each side that was set back from the road.  The entryway was  barred by black wrought-iron gates that were currently closed. The horses stopped before them, and the soldiers waited for Charles' orders.

 

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All was in readiness.  Langdon returned the salute.  "Grand."

Charles had confided in Gillis that he had communicated with a ghost that had told him to find a box of letters in a wall in this house.  He had not told her about Susan Villiers.  It had not seemed the right thing to do.  Rather, he had claimed that he needed to test whether he was mad or not.  If he found the chest, he would be proven right.  If not, he would pay the home owner for the damage and then depart.

"Dismount," came the order.  The iron gate did not dissuade Charles from trying to open the gate and proceed to the door so that he might knock.  If the gate was locked, he would call out for a house servant.  He was dressed in his regimental tunic.

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Gillis wasn't certain what to make of the story that Lord Langdon had told her. Ghosts didn't exist and even if they did, she doubted that they would be able to communicate with the living. Yet he seemed convinced, and that worried her a bit. She knew he wasn't mad, but maybe he had been working too hard lately and needed some time off. How could she tell him that, though?

 

Because of her feelings for him, she found it difficult to communicate with him on a personal level. What if he suspected that she cared for him more than a soldier cared for a superior? She had hoped that their relationship would be rekindled during their hunting trip during recess. They'd had a pleasant time, but there had been no indication that he saw her as anything more than a friend. She hoped that this excursion wouldn't turn out badly for him. The owner of the house was not going to be happy that he wanted to tear down the walls. If nothing was found, he was going to have a lot of explaining to do.

 

She and the other soldiers dismounted on Charles' orders. “Look, sir,” she said. “Someone is coming. They must have noticed us approaching.” From the higher levels of the towers, one could probably see for a considerable distance. A portly middle-aged man in green and gold livery was striding toward them, a ring full of keys swinging from one hand. Behind him, two dark-haired, very well-dressed boys, who looked to be about nine and twelve years old, struggled to match his pace. They were followed by two half-grown hounds.

 

“Good day,” the man said. He recognized Charles' uniform. These men belonged to the King's Life Guard. What business did they have here?

 

“Have you come to arrest somebody?” the older boy asked.

 

“I didn't do it,” the younger one muttered.

 

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"Good day sir," Langdon greeted the older man.  "I am Charles Whitehurst, Earl of Langdon and Lord Lieutenant of London.  I am hoping to discuss a private matter with the owner of this house."  He gave a quick smile to the boy that queried about an arrest.  Charles had considered a harder approach, threatening arrest if the owner did not consent.  However, he had decided, after speaking with Susan Villiers, to be more gracious.

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The servant knew better than to deny the soldier's request. “As you wish,” he replied, unlocking the gate and opening it. He led the way down the driveway and to the door of the house. The boys and the dogs followed at his heels, chattering excitedly to each other. “Would you like to have your horses taken to the stables or is someone going to stay out here with them?”

 

If Charles were to look up, he would briefly see two faces peering through separate windows, one on the second floor and one on the third. Suddenly, they were both gone, as if they had never been there at all. Gillis noticed them, but said nothing.

 

 

(OOC: I left it here so that Charles can issue orders to his men, such as whether he wants them to take the pickaxes inside the house right away. The owner will appear in my next post).

 

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"The men will stay with the horses," Langdon replied.  He would enter the house alone to achieve permission.  If it was granted, the horses could be stabled while the men worked.  If the owner was so unwise as to refuse, he would take his leave rapidly awaiting another chance to approach.  

For now he left Gillis with the two men.  There were no dangers awaiting him in this house.  There was another house, however, that would prove dangerous to approach and he would need to bring a full squad or two of men

"Take me to see your master," he urged as he moved to enter the house alone.  He awaited an introduction..

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The servant led Charles through the huge double doors and into a large tastefully decorated foyer with gently curved staircases at both ends of the room. A finely dressed woman in her sixties appeared on the landing and descended. The two boys moved to either side of her, their eyes wide. “Good day, my lord. I am the Dowager Baroness of Sanderley. How may I be of assistance?” she asked.

 

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He removed his hat and tucked it under his arm.  Why were the boys' eyes wide he wondered to himself.  Were they seeing a ghost perhaps?  It was an amusing thought.  

"Good day Baroness.  It is a pleasure to make your acquaintance.  I apologize for this unannounced arrival but I find myself in a delicate position and am hopeful that you can be of assistance. I am the Earl of Langdon, Lord Lieutenant of London, and an officer.  I am in an awkward position because I have come by intelligence from a source that I cannot disclose that there is a hidden compartment in your residence.  It seems that a small chest of correspondence may have been hidden here when this building was an inn, many years ago.  I would like your permission to search a certain area of the house looking for a hollow spot.  I have men from my regiment outside who will assist me and have picks to break through the wall should the compartment be located.  I will gladly pay to have the wall repaired and you shall have my gratitude for any assistance you provide.  I apologize that I am not at liberty to discuss more than that.  I am hopeful that you will assist me in this endeavor."  

His posture was erect as a military gentleman might adopt.  His tone was polite and deferential.

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The boys were awed that the King's Life Guards had actually come to their house. They were both hoping that he was going to arrest somebody. Maybe one of the servants was a spy for France. That was what they had been chattering about, trying to figure out which of their many attendants was a traitor to his country.

 

The woman and the children listened carefully to Lord Langdon's explanation. As soon as he mentioned a hidden compartment, the older boy whispered to the younger and he practically ran up the staircase. It took the Baroness a bit longer to process all that had been said. “Though it was once an inn, this house has been remodeled several times since it was bought by my son-in-law's family. I would think if there was a chest hidden behind the walls, it would have already been found. My son-in-law did not come to court this season, and my daughter is the one you need permission from. She is visiting friends and won't be back until this evening.”

 

The boy came hurtling down the stairs. “Let's go back outside, Will,” he said to his brother. “Please excuse us, Lady Grandmother.” Both boys brushed past Charles and the younger one pressed a small piece of paper into his hand. Obviously, he didn't want his grandmother to see it.

 

Lady Sanderley shooed the dogs out the door and stood at the threshold for a moment, watching them play. While her attention was diverted, Charles could read the note if he wished.

 

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Charles liked to think he was an observant fellow.  Soldiers relied on noting the disposition of others in order to make decisions.  Though often distracted by the presence of young ladies, Charles was not so encumbered at the moment.  The boys chose to act at the very moment that he mentioned a secret compartment.

They have found it already, he told himself wishfully.  He worried that they might hide the chest before he could go upstairs.  He felt the urge to give chase but this was not his home.  Unfortunately it was not the Dowager's home either.  That surprised him.

"They made no mention of a chest with correspondence," he noted aloud.  "I would think they would have found such a discovery notable."  He paused to consider his options other than withdrawing.  It was then that the boys raced by, one delivering some piece of paper into his hand.  This was an unexpected turn of events.  He had expected the boys to be obstacles.

"Apologies, I fear I must have gotten dust in my eye."  It was all a ruse to pull forth his handkerchief and turn away from the Baroness.  He made a motion of rubbing his eye as he turned his back somewhat to his hostess.  As quickly and discreetly as he could, Charles attempted to read what was on the paper.

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“Yes, of course,” the older woman replied absently, still watching her grandsons playing on the lawn with their hounds.

 

The message was succinct:

 

Quote

I think I know what you seek. Make an excuse to go to the third floor. I will meet you there. Do not bring the Baroness with you and do not tell anyone you received this note.

 

It had been written quite hurriedly and nothing could be discerned about its author by the handwriting alone.

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The note was tucked in his pocket as covertly as possible.  He turned to face the dowager, pondering as he did.

"Before I depart, might I walk up the stairs to see the condition of the walls on the third and second floors?  I promise I will do them no violence.  I merely wish to see what we will be working with once your daughter grants permission to bring a pick to the right part of the house."  He managed his most angelic look.  "I shall be but a moment." 

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When Charles turned around, the Baroness was looking straight at him, no longer distracted by her grandchildren. “That won't do any harm.” The gentleman didn't have any picks with him so she didn't need to worry that he would knock down a wall or two. “If you find no hollow areas, then you won't have to bother my daughter-in-law about it. If you do think you will need to break down a wall, please let me know before you leave. I'll be in the parlor.”

 

Lady Sanderley glided down the hallway to a door that was pulled open by a servant. When she had disappeared inside, the door was left slightly ajar.

 

A long corridor greeted Charles on the third floor with doors set at equal intervals, probably bedrooms and quite large ones considering the distance between the doors. One of them close to the end of the hallway opened, and a dark-haired girl whom he would recognize poked her head out. Lady Tamsin Faraday smiled and beckoned to him. “Over here, Lord Langdon,” she called softly.

 

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"You have my word Baroness," Charles pledged.  He had been afraid that she would not let him wander alone.

Up on the third floor he encountered Lady Tamsin of all things!  "This is unexpected," he greeted her.  "It is good to see you again lady but I had know idea this was your place of residence."  He moved closer so that they could speak in lower voices.  "Are you the author of this note?"

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Tamsin waited until Charles moved closer before she spoke again.

 

“My lord father inherited this house from my grandparents. It was renovated so that my mother and I could live here while we attended court. Last season, we stayed mostly with my aunt. You've already met two of my brothers. My mother missed them so she brought them with her this spring, along with their tutors.”

 

Opening the door wider, she beckoned Charles inside. He would find himself inside a large well-appointed bedroom that looked like it was not currently being used. Tamsin looked toward the bed and blushed. She had never been alone with a handsome gentleman … or even an ugly one … in a bedchamber before.

 

“Yes, this is quite unexpected. When Nate heard you tell our grandmother why you had come, he immediately informed me and I wrote the note so that you would meet me here. Can you tell me why you're so interested in what lies behind our walls? Is the chest that you think you will find there important?”

 

As she spoke, Tamsin strolled nonchalantly toward the far wall where a fireplace stood. There were no flames blazing in the hearth, another sign that this room was usually unoccupied.

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"Divine providence," Charles uttered in finding Tamsin associated with the house.  

"Ordinarily I would not tell anyone, but you are one of the few that knows something of the matter."  He looked about to make sure they were alone as they moved into the room.  "There is a chest of letters here that should identify the story about the golden dagger that so interested you when you saw it in the weaponsmith shop."  Perhaps he should have been more careful.  He was not entirely sure that he trusted the lady that seemed so intertwined with the dagger; but then, Charles had a hard time thinking ill of any lady that did not insult him.

"It is curious that such a clue would be in a house that you resided in."  He gave voice to some of his concern. Perhaps it was just coincidence.  He looked towards where she moved.  "I think you might know where this chest is."  Had she not provided a clue?

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Tamsin remembered the dagger with those pretty Tudor roses which she had yet to sketch. “I assumed the dagger had been in your family since it was made. But you recently acquired it? What does it have to do with a chest of letters? How did you discover the two were connected?”

 

The young lady shrugged. “This house was a rather popular inn in Tudor times. Many things could have been hidden here. It is probably just coincidence.” Bending down, she reached into the fireplace, feeling along the length of one wall. “Ahh, there it is. It's been so long I had almost forgotten where it was.”

 

The fireplace moved slightly, revealing a dark space behind it. Standing back up, she looked down at her hands, which were covered in soot. “You wouldn't happen to have a handkerchief, would you?

 

“I know where the chest might be, but I'm certain if it's there or not.” Indicating the fireplace, she instructed: “Push hard and it will slide inward. I doubt I could do it myself. My brothers and I had trouble moving it when we first discovered the secret room. We were playing hide and seek and Will hid in the fireplace and accidentally pushed the lever. That was when our grandparents still lived here.  I was eleven, Henry was nine, John was eight, and Will was six.  Nate was  too young to play with us  back then, but we showed him the secret when he was old enough to keep it."

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His suspicions had been correct.  Tamsin had been favoring the fireplace.  "Of course," Charles uttered as he pulled forth his handkerchief and presented it to her so that her hand could be wiped clean.  He moved to assist her with opening the fireplace.  "Do you have a lantern?"  He scanned for a  candelabra with multiple lit candles.  That would do as well.

He set his hat on a nearby table, not wanting the plume to become dirty.  As he thought on it, he removed his jacket as well.  Soot did terrible things to brushed velvet.  Now in his shirt sleeves he stated softly "apologies for being so informal but I do not wish to ruin my uniform."  Peering in the hole, he was ready to be handed the best available light source.

"Now do not shut it behind me.  I do not wish to be imprisoned in there."  His mind fell to the tales of Merlin being trapped by Morgan Le Fey when he entered the cave that might well be on his lands.  Throwing caution to the wind, he was eager to enter and look for evidence of a chest.

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“Thank you,” she replied as she took the handkerchief from him, wiping her hands as best she could. The small piece of cloth was now splattered with dark stains. “I would have brought my own, but I didn't have time to run back down to the second floor after Nate told me what you're looking for. If you want it back, I'll have it cleaned and sent to you.” Most courtiers had handkerchiefs in abundance, and Tamsin didn't think that Lord Langdon would want this one returned. However, it was polite to offer.

 

“Yes, I hid a few here when we first moved in. My brothers and I were planning to go back to the secret room sometime this season. We haven't had much time alone yet, and we can't just disappear.” She helped him push the fireplace, revealing a dimly lit space beyond it and then walked over to a cupboard on the other side of the room and removed two lanterns from behind some stacked linens.

 

She also took out two folded pieces of cloth. After lighting both lanterns, Tamsin returned to the fireplace, blushing at Charles' state of undress. She felt quite awkward in a bedroom with a partially dressed gentleman. After setting the lanterns beside his hat, she shook out one of the pieces of cloth, revealing an apron that would have been a bit too small for him. “That's why I brought this,” she said with a grin. The other one was for her.

 

She handed him one of the lanterns and while he looked through the opening, she pulled the apron over her head to protect her own clothing. “I won't close it behind you,” she promised. “I'll close it behind me. There's another lever on the other side that will open it for us when we're done. You'll have to bend over to get through the hole but you'll come out into a small space containing a spiral staircase. I'll take the lead from there. We'll be going up into the tower.”

 

There was a small pause and then she added: “I hope you have a key.”

 

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"It seems as though you have thought of everything," Charles complimented as Tamsin produces lanterns and aprons.  "We must be quick about it.  My men are waiting outside."

Taking the lit lantern, after donning the apron, Charles kneeled to get through the opening.  He had the key he had found in the hidden room.  "I believe so," he declared, "If not, I'll break the lock if necessary."

He waited for Tamsin to join him and then they moved up the stairs.  He had been thinking there would be a small chest in a wall cavity.  Now he was beginning to think that there might be something more.

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“I hid lanterns and aprons in the cupboard because my brothers and I plan to go to the secret room again. We haven't been up there since our grandparents lived here. This room wasn't included in the renovations. It looks just like it did before. I'm hoping the one in the tower hasn't been touched either. But there's a possibility that we could find a wall at the top of the stairs instead of a door.” Tamsin shrugged. “Nate told me you came prepared to break down walls, so if that's the case, you know which one to demolish.”

 

She ducked through the opening after Charles. As she had said, they emerged into a small area dominated by a very steep spiral staircase. “Good, because you'll need one,” she said about the key.

 

Taking the lead, Tamsin began carefully climbing the staircase. “When I was a child, I always wanted to explore the towers but was told that they had been walled up when my ancestors purchased this house. They had been used when it was an inn, but everything was so old that it was dangerous to go up there. Then, surprisingly enough, my brothers and I accidentally discovered the opening behind the fireplace and found that one room had been remarkably preserved.”

 

They reached the top of the staircase. Before them was a round foyer with only one door. “This is it,” Tamsin said, opening the door and strolling inside. The room was curved like the tower walls and it was furnished with items that looked to be about a century old. Everything from the tables to the chairs to the bed was in fairly good shape. A faded rug covered part of the floor and tapestries that had seen better days hung on the walls. There was one window that looked out upon the front lawn.

 

The young girl turned around slowly, taking everything in. “It's exactly as I remember it. Nothing has changed at all. As you can see, there is no dust or cobwebs. Someone else knows about this room and keeps it clean. Probably my mother, but it's not as if I can ask her because then she'll know that I found it.”

 

She led Charles to one of the tapestries which depicted a garden gate surrounded by flowers. He might recall that the Lion's ghost had indicated that the key led to both a chest and a gate. Tamsin pulled it aside, revealing a small metal door in the wall with a keyhole in it. “I think your chest might be in there,” she said. “Where did you get the key?”

 

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It was a surprise that the hidden stairs and room were not abandoned.  He expected a rickety climb and a room full of spider webs.  When Tamsin indicated that her mother might use it, Charles stated "we had best hurry then.  We do not want her to discover us here together."  What sort of person keeps a secret room behind a soot-filled fireplace?  What is she hiding?

"The key was discovered along with the dagger.  They are linked.  I expect that the letters in the chest to reveal the name of the dagger owner and his lady."  Noting where the gate was depicted in the tapestry, Charles moved to use his key in the lock.  "I will need to borrow the letters to complete my research; but, since they may belong to your family, I shall return them to you secretly, along with the key, so that you can replace them later," he pledged.  He had no need for the key once he and Susan had the chance to read through them.

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“We don't have to worry about that,” Tamsin assured Charles. “She's out shopping with my aunt. I doubt they'll be back before dinner. My grandmother never goes above the second floor. There's no need since the rooms here aren't currently in use. My brothers could show up, but I doubt they can move the fireplace by themselves. If Henry and John were here, they could, but they're off at school.”

 

So the dagger and the key had been found together? “Where did you find them?” she asked as he placed the key in the lock. It turned easily, revealing a compartment that did, indeed, contain a small silver chest made exactly like the one he and Susan had found earlier. It, too, was locked.

 

“I was right! It's there!” Tamsin exclaimed. “If there are letters inside that are connected to my family, then of course I'll want them back, but it might have been left here by long ago guests of the inn. You will tell me what the chest contains, won't you? And I would still love to sketch the roses on your dagger.”

 

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OOC~ I could swear I posted a response a week ago and it is not here.  Apologies.

 

It seemed as though they might have more time than he imagined, but haste was still the order of the day.  She asked where he found the key and he kept himself from answering.  "It is a long story that I might share with you in time."  That was enough to try and move past the subject, he hoped.

He took the silver chest in his arms, examining the similarities before replying.  "You are likely correct.  These letters likely predate your family.  I had best get back to my men, lest they worry."  He moved to close the compartment again.  "There may been haunting memories in these letters" he announced quietly.  "You have not heard any ghost stories about this old inn have you?"  He hoped to discuss this as they returned to the fireplace entrance. 

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Tamsin was a well-mannered young lady and knew when not to pry, even though she was disappointed that Lord Langdon didn't take her hint about drawing those roses. It was possible that she wouldn't get the opportunity to ask him again now that there was no reason to return to her residence. Maybe she shouldn't have shown him the compartment behind the tapestry after all. With a bit of creativity, she and her brothers might have been able to open it without a key. That was one thing they had planned to try when they were able to sneak back into the secret room. Then she could have given the chest to Lord Langdon in exchange for sketching the roses.

 

But her curiosity had needed satisfying and the chance was gone. She closed the door in the wall and pulled the tapestry back in place. “Haunting memories?” she asked, intrigued, as she led him out of the room and back to the steep spiral staircase. “Did the dagger's owner meet a bad end?”

 

Tamsin chuckled when he asked if she'd heard any ghost stories about the old inn. “Only the ones I made up to scare my brothers. Maybe my father knows more about our home's origins. He lived here when he was young and came to court. I'll have to write him.  He doesn't like London and is still at our estate."

 

After descending the staircase, they ducked through the opening in the fireplace. Tamsin immediately removed her apron. “Give yours to me and then help me push the fireplace closed again.  Then I'll distract my grandmother and you can leave with the chest without her knowing you have it."

 

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Charles would not fathom why the ability to sketch roses would be at all important to anyone, and had acted accordingly.  As such, he felt no angst in Tamsin's demeanor.

"I fear there was an unhappy ending."  He decided to reveal that much to the lady that assisted him.  Trying to cover for his unusual question, he added "it seems that all old buildings have their stories of ghosts.  I was thinking that an inn this old would not be exempt  No need to disturb your father over such old wives tales," he offered with a chuckle.

Once through, Charles returned the apron to Tamsin and moved to close the fireplace opening.  "What is your plan of distraction?" he inquired with a smile.  He assumed she would just engage her grandmother in conversation while he slipped out.  He followed her lead.

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“Are you always so secretive?” Tamsin teased. Lord Langdon had stumbled upon a fascinating mystery and she was becoming more interested in it by the minute. “Will you tell me the whole story when you find out what happened?”

 

He didn't seem very interested in the ghost stories associated with the old inn. Maybe he had just been trying to make conversation. She had no idea that an actual ghost was involved in Charles' investigation.

 

When he gave her his apron, she blushed again at his state of undress. After they pushed the fireplace back into the wall, she snuffed out the lanterns and put all the supplies back into the cupboard. She placed the soiled aprons beneath the clean ones just to be safe. Tamsin didn't think that whomever cleaned the hidden room was even aware that the supplies were there. If so, something would have been said about it already.

 

“I'll show her my latest sketches. Grandmother is a talented artist and it was she who first taught me how to draw. We'll need to stop at the second floor so I can fetch them.” Ready to go, she led Charles out of the vacant bedroom and down the staircase to the second floor. “I'll be right back.” Tamsin disappeared down the corridor, reappearing a couple of minutes later with a sketchbook under her arm.

 

“Do you still need the key to the compartment?” She grinned winsomely. “It would be a good place to hide things if I had a way to open it.” Maybe he would give it to her if it's purpose had already been served.

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"Only when secrecy is required," he replied with a cryptic smile.  "I may not be at liberty to tell all, but I shall see what I learn and then decide."  That seemed non-commital enough. "I shall let you sketch the dagger however," he pledged.  That seemed harmless enough.  Donning his jacket again, Charles was ready to depart.  He followed Tamsin to the stairs and waited, as instructed.  She asked for the key and he gave it to her.  "I suppose I have no further use for it," he conceded. 

When the way was clear and the grandmother distracted, he was ready to make his escape.  Gillis and the soldier would be wondering what happened to him.

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Tamsin's blue eyes lit up with delight. “You will? When?” She had chosen another Christmas gift for her father but perhaps she would be able to have a weapon made for him with those Tudor roses before his birthday in October. Lord Langdon also gave her the key to the compartment behind the tapestry. “Thank you, my lord,” she enthused, tucking it into the pocket in her petticoat. “If you need it again, you know where to find me.”

 

With her sketchbook in hand, she was ready to distract her grandmother. “Stay here,” she instructed Charles. “When you hear our voices, you will be able to leave” Tamsin smiled at him. “I hope that chest holds what you're looking for.”

 

Everything went according to the dark-haired girl's plan. Charles was able to leave unnoticed through the front door and join his men. Two of the soldiers were standing by the horses where they had been all along. Gillis, who had been sitting on the steps with the two boys, regaling them with stories about her adventures in the military, stood up when she saw him. All three saluted smartly. Sam was quite surprised to see that Lord Langdon had indeed found a chest inside that looked the right size for storing letters. Perhaps his story had been true, though she didn't believe the part about the ghosts. Maybe he just didn't want anyone else to know from whom he had discovered the chest's location.

 

The boys looked at the chest with curiosity and then turned and ran back to the house to find out all the details from their sister. Their hounds followed at their heels. All three soldiers looked at Charles, waiting for their orders.

 

(OOC: Ready to wrap this one up?)

 

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