As his eyes became accustomed to the darkness, now he saw that Mr Olderglough’s attire, which had appeared so regal at the start, was actually quite scruffy — buttons mismatched, and stains illustrating his lapels. Lucy thought he looked like an aesthete chasing a run of foul luck. Pointing at the sling, he asked,
“Have you had an accident, sir?”
Mr Olderglough stared at his hand with what Lucy took for regret. “No, not an accident,” he answered, and now he lay his left hand atop his injured right and began to stroke it consolingly, which summoned in Lucy a revulsion he couldn’t put words to. Mr Olderglough emerged from his reverie and asked if Lucy would like a tour of the estate; before Lucy could answer, the man tottered away down the darkening corridor. Lucy followed after, not because he wanted to particularly, but because he could think of no other option, and because he didn’t like the idea of standing alone in the dim, dank place. Other than the stillness of the air it was not noticeably warmer inside the castle, and he did not unbutton his coat.
Mr Olderglough was not an enthusiastic guide. “This is a room,” he said, pointing as they passed. “Not much use for it these days. Better not to go in at all, is my thought. And here, here too is a room, just a room, serving no purpose whatsoever.”
In fact, most every space in the castle was not in use, and the property in general had fallen into disrepair: the furniture was covered with canvas, the heavy velvet curtains drawn, and clumps of dust had built up in the corners and doorways. None of the fireplaces they passed were in use, and Lucy asked,
“Do you never light a fire, sir?”
“I wouldn’t say never. I’ll admit that it’s rare. Room.”
“I wonder,” said Lucy, “on what occasion do you light one?” For the deeper they travelled into the castle, the more the temperature fell, with the light growing dimmer all the while.
“I avoid them, myself,” Mr Olderglough answered. “It seems I get nothing done with a fire going other than have a fire going. The notion of reading by the hearth is pure farce, so far as I’m concerned. Every half a page I have to set my book aside to nurture the flames — not at all my idea of a relaxing evening.” He gave Lucy a reproachful look. “You’re not cold, are you?”
“I am not warm, sir.”
“Well, if you’re after a fire, you may be my guest. But you’ll have to forage your own wood, as the little we have stocked goes to the scullery stove.”
“That’s fine, sir, thank you.”
“Yes, boy. And now, if you’ll follow me, please.” They entered a cavernous ballroom. Ringing the high walls were any number of ornately framed oil paintings, portraits of similarly regal-looking individuals, the Barons and Baronesses of yore, Lucy supposed, and correctly. Mr Olderglough stepped to the centre-point of the space and swivelled to face Lucy; when he spoke, his voice was staggered by an echo on the air. “Yet another room,” he said, “and a very large and empty room it is, wouldn’t you say?”
“It is large and empty, sir.”
“This dingy chamber once was filled with music and dancing and laughter and gaiety. And look at it now. Quiet as the grave.”
Indeed, the ballroom gave Lucy an uneasy feeling, as though it had been host to some godless occurrence or other. “And where have all the people gone to, sir?”
“After the Baroness left us, then we fell into our Decline.”
“Do you mean to say she died?”
“I don’t mean that, no. Only that she departed, and hasn’t returned, and likely will not return. But her leaving was like a death, if you’ll allow me my small melodrama.”
“Thank you.”
“You’re welcome.”