“What do you mean?” asked Michael, baffled but the rest of the group had already understood.
“It might have been unlocked,” suggested Kate, silently cursing all the mysteries they had to uncover.
Edward shook his head, “No. I don't think so. Also Aunt Brunhilde was taking a nap then. It would definitely have been locked.”
“Before we get too carried away with our wild theories again like last time, it seems weird that Uncle John didn’t notice. Do you think he could have left it open on purpose?” asked Laura who was shaking out her hand after having attempted to write down their whole conversation.
“Why would he? And even if…” Kate trailed off.
“What?” pressed Ivy, desperate for the slightest lead.
“Edward? Do you remember what Uncle said when he walked out of Aunt Brunhilde’s room?” the eldest murmured.
Her brother snorted, “More like rushed out and he said…” He paled too as he stopped abruptly leaving his sentence unfinished to the despair of his siblings.
“Yeah. He said that right? You heard him too?”
“You’re making me nervous now,” said Laura, “Please tell us what you heard.”
“He said that he’d lost his keys,” Kate finally murmured.
“Lost or… stolen?” added Edward.
“That is what I thought.”
The children stared at each other in utter dismay. How were they going to deal with objects going missing?
“He could have just misplaced them,” argued Michael, “That happens to everyone.”
“We’ll have to ask him,” suggested Laura scribbling down:
Ask Uncle John if he’s found his keys and if he’s misplaced them.
Kate looked over her sister's shoulder at the notebook.
“That will be hard since we can’t admit that we’ve been eavesdropping.”
“We can always try.”
Slightly discouraged by their lack of advancements made and the twists twisting into further knots, the Llandy children made their way down the stairs in search of Uncle John.
When they reached the dining room, they nearly bumped into Blake who was whistling a merry tune which differed from his normal character which was generally very business-like. He saluted the children and laughed as he walked past them, grinning from ear to ear. The astonished siblings just stared before Michael saluted back and they continued on their way.
“Did you see?” whispered Ivy when they were sufficiently far enough to be out of earshot, “He wasn’t wearing his uniform today.”
“I know!” replied Edward excitedly, “Why do you think that is?”
The butler’s uniform usually consisted of a tie and a blazer. They were a matching navy blue colour but the tie had thin yellow stripes running down it. Underneath, he wore a white, ironed shirt tucked into his also navy blue trousers. Black shoes completed the outfit. Although Blake always claimed that it was actually comfortable, the children shuddered at the thought of having to work all day in that uniform, especially as they already suffered in their own school one.
“Maybe it was too hot so he was allowed to wear something different?” suggested Michael.
Kate looked out of the window, the rain battering against it. If it started to snow, she wouldn’t have been surprised. She repeated that comment to her brother and added that question to the list of things to ask Uncle John.
Uncle John was found sitting in the living room amongst the plump pillows laid on the sofa. A cup of tea was placed on a small, wooden table. He was reading a book which he put down next to his tea as they entered the room.
“Hello children! I heard you’ve been braving the rain! Are you looking for a bit of comfort next to the fire?”
“But the fireplace is boarded up,” said Michael, puzzled.
“It’s a joke Michael,” said his sister, then turning to her uncle she added, “Yes, we met Finlay outside so we talked a bit.”
Laura then asked, “We also bumped into Blake but why wasn’t he wearing his uniform. He also looked much happier!”
“Ah! Our dear butler! You think he is very strict normally?” he chuckled, “Ah! So he’s glad to be leaving then?” Uncle John laughed again amongst the puzzled children.
“He’s leaving?” they asked, incredulously.
“Well, you see, he’s been working very hard here for, hum, 38… no, 39 years now. And with his age! Do you know he is nearly 73? He is retired now but he agreed to keep working here until we find a new butler. But I’m afraid to make him work too hard!” He finished his little speech with another round of laughter. Uncle John seemed in very high spirits today.
Edward seemed confused:
“Being a butler looks easy enough. Just polish, bring stuff to you, open to people,” he said.
Uncle John laughed for a long moment and ruffled his nephew’s hair affectionately.
“Just you wait till I hire you and you have to answer to all of Brunhilde’s wishes!”
“And none of yours?” demanded Laura mischievously.
"No. I have simple tastes and I’m content with the very least,” he replied.
At that moment, Helen stumbled into the room carrying a tray with more steaming tea, a thick blanket and an assortment of biscuits. The children rushed to help her and, for once, Michael barely acknowledged the cookies.
The maid appeared flustered and presented him with the tea and biscuits.
“Here you go Sir. I think it is the right one this time.”
“Is it Black tea with a zest of orange and a hint of cherry?”
Helen’s face was flooded with relief as she nodded, laid the biscuits on the table and handed him the blanket.
“I trust this is the right one Sir?” she asked.
“No. I wanted the one with different shades of blue,” he told her, giving it back to her.
She flushed a deep red. From anger or embarrassment? The children couldn’t tell.
“But this is blue.”
“Yes but I wanted the checkered one. This one has stripes and the other one is warmer.”
Maid Helen turned to fetch it mumbling under her breath something that sounded a lot like:
“Seventh time… least got the tea right… See no difference… too many blankets.”
When she had gone, Kate turned to her uncle:
“Simple taste? Content with the least? If that is simple then I don’t want to see our aunt’s demands.”
“You’ll work everyone to death!” added Edward.
Uncle John laughed sheepishly, “You’re right. If she doesn’t find it, I’ll fetch it myself.”
“And every time after that?” demanded Ivy.
“Ok! I shall!” their uncle cried dramatically.
He sipped at his tea and shook his head:
“She forgot to add the honey.”
“But I bet you also forgot to mention it to her and you’re not going to say anything and you’re going to drink your tea obediently, right?” countered Edward.
“Sure my little peace-makers. I’ll do anything for you,” he said, batting his eyelashes comically, “Anything else you wanted to ask me?”
That suddenly reminded all of them of the reason they had come here in the first place.
“Back to Blake,” asked Michael, “Where is he going?”
“Not too far away, don't worry. Brunhilde and I wanted to spare him the trouble of having to find a new house so we decided to give him that little cottage next to that hill. We restored it for him to thank him for all his hard work. It’s only about a kilometer away so he can come to visit us if he wants. He’s become great friends with Finlay and he likes to be able to join him easily. I do hope he’ll be comfortable and not too far away from civilisation,” Uncle John said this with another round of laughter, “Anything else you wanted to ask me?”
The children looked at each other unsure of how to start the subject.
“Well,” murmured Ivy, “We heard you lost your keys and…”
She looked at the others, hesitant on how to finish this clumsy start.
Edward came to help, “We wanted to know if you’d found them.”
“No, as a matter of fact I haven’t but… how do you know? Did you steal them?”
The thunder in his eyes made them back away slightly.
“Of course not. We just saw you looking for them. Did you misplace them?” asked Laura looking at him innocently.
He sighed and said:
“I don’t know. Strange things are happening and I always have my keys on me so…” he seemed to remember who he was talking to and shook himself, “Go away children. These are grown up problems.”