Chapter 25 An Attack and Apologies
Jimmy agreed that `spooky' would be a great word to describe Azavilla. The boys stood at the foot of a small rise that led to the Porte-cochere of an imposing mansion. Jimmy tried to decide what style would best describe the four story structure.
Harry commented, “The guy who built this place must have been drunk or he just couldn't make up his mind!”
Which seemed to be quite true. For the architect must have had trouble deciding on any certain style because it was a hodgepodge, with characteristics of many styles of buildings put together with no regard for balance. The light was fading quickly.
Jimmy said, “Well I guess we might as well make our presence known!”
Upon which he strode purposefully up the drive. Harry stood for a moment, shrugged and caught up with him.
As they approached the door Jimmy began to look for a knocker or a bell pull.
After a few moments of helping Jimmy look Harry finally said, “I guess there isn't one, come to think of it, why would you need a door knocker or a door bell if you never expected guests?”
“I guess that makes sense,” said Jimmy, “but what do we do now. Bang on the door? They'll never hear us in a house this size.”
“Wait!” said Harry, “Have you tried the door? Is it locked? I mean, if you never expected anyone would you lock the door?”
Jimmy reached out, turned the ornate brass door knob, and the door swung silently open.
The door opened on to a dark foyer with a grand staircase which made a graceful arc toward the second floor. Beyond the stairs was a short hallway with a series of doors, all of which were closed except for one. From this open door came a soft glow of light. As one, the boys cautiously stepped over the portal and without saying a word they walked slowly and quietly over the carpeted floor toward the open door.
Stopping, they peered around the corner. It was a library. There were shelves upon shelves of books. Arranged around the center of the room were fine pieces of furniture resting on a huge oriental-looking rug. On the far wall from the door they were spying through were French doors on either side of a fireplace. There, sitting at a small table in front of the hearth, was a woman, blonde hair piled high on her head, her back to the boys, writing with an old fashioned plumed pen. Just as Jimmy was about to reach out and knock on the door frame the woman replaced the pen in the crystal ink well, placed the folded the paper she had been writing on into an envelope, picked up a small bell and rang it.
Suddenly a door swung open from what Jimmy had thought to be a blank panel in the right wall of the room. Through the door came a Chinese man. He was dressed in traditional pajama-like garb, complete with a pill box hat, braided ponytail, and sandals with soles built up by two narrow blocks of wood. These clattered on the floor sounding like horse hooves until he reached the carpet and the table.
When the panel door swung open Jimmy froze like a statue with his hand poised to knock on the door. Harry froze too, and both boys listened. There was a rapid-fire exchange of Chinese between the woman and the man. The woman seemed to be quite upset. Harry could not help but think that the two sounded like a pair of cats hissing and spitting at each other. If he had not been so frightened it would have been funny, he thought. Jimmy, listening to the strangeness of the language, did hear one thing he understood. This was the name of Doctor O'Shaughnessy. Harry heard it too and touched Jimmy on the shoulder. Doctor O'Shaughnessy was each boy's own family physician and a trusted friend.
The woman then handed the Chinese man the envelope and shooed him toward the door still urgently pleading with him in Chinese. When the door slammed shut she stood with her hands over her face for a moment. Then she slowly made her way to stand before the fireplace, looking up as if praying. She began to pace back and forth wringing her hands. As she paced it was clear to see that she was quite a beautiful woman. Small and delicately thin, gleaming blonde hair, cloudy blue eyes, skin the color of fine bone china. It was easy to see that she was deeply troubled as well. Something was worrying her terribly.
Finally she stopped and lifted her gaze above the fireplace. There, Jimmy noticed for the first time, was a portrait of a startlingly handsome man.
At the same time there was a whisper in his ear from Harry; “Jimmy, look at the picture. There's an organ console. Look!”
It was then that Jimmy realized that the man in the portrait was, indeed, posing at the key desk of an organ console! As he took this in he became aware that the woman was speaking to the portrait, in English. Though she spoke softly the boys clearly heard her words.
“Lars! Lars! I'm so sorry! I fear there will be strangers in our sanctuary this night. No matter what has happened I cannot blame you whatever you did, I know you did it to protect me, my beloved! Oh, God, please . . .”
Jimmy began to feel like an eaves dropper and somehow protective toward this sad creature. Quite involuntarily he knocked on the door frame, the loudness of the sound startling not only Harry and the woman, but himself.
“Uh! he stammered, “Um! Uh, Ma'am, please excuse us!”
She whirled around as if someone had jerked her. In a voice somewhere between fright and anger she hissed: “Who are you? What are you doing in this house?”
“Ma'am! Please don't be frightened!” Harry exclaimed, “We were fishing in the river when someone took a sh. . .”
Jimmy elbowed Harry hard in the stomach and finished for him: “Ma'am our boat somehow got a hole in it and began to sink. We were caught in the swift current and this island was the closest land. We lost the boat but managed to swim ashore. If you have a telephone we'd like to use it to call someone to pick us up and take us home, please. There's no need to be frightened.”
Absently she said, “There is no telephone . . .” closely she looked them over. “Why you are only boys and I'm sure you wouldn't hurt anyone! And you're all soaked, too. Surely you are hungry as well.” She picked up the bell and rang it.
This time a Chinese woman entered. “Teng-ting, would you bring a couple of blankets and some hot English tea?” she spoke in English, then repeated it in Chinese. To the boys she implored, “Please, come sit down. Tell me what happened to you. Tell me your name, young man.” this to Jimmy, her voice sharp but her eyes still showing fear.
Jimmy told her again what he had already said.
When he finished Harry interjected: “Ma'am he's not telling you all of it!”
Jimmy said tightly, “Harry!” and again gave him the elbow.
Harry doggedly continued, “No, Jimmy! I think she needs to hear it all. Ma'am someone took a gun shot at us.” At this the woman's already pale face got even more pale. “If Jimmy had not had to make a grab for the oar at just the right moment the hole in the bottom of my Granpap's boat would have been in his head! The sound of the gun shot came from this island, Ma'am. Someone on this island tried to kill us.”
As Harry spoke the woman began to sink back into her chair. When Harry finished she covered her face and moaned as if in pain. All was quiet for a moment. With a great effort she pulled herself upright in the high backed chair. As if summoning all her strength and courage to the effort she finally spoke.
“Was there anyone with you who is now missing?”
Harry looked at the floor. “No, Ma'am.”
“Have either of you boys been otherwise harmed?”
“No Ma'am.” Jimmy answered quietly.
Jimmy thought he heard her whisper, “Thank You, God!”
In an audible voice she said, “Good. Very good! Nevertheless, my husband's personal physician will be arriving precipitously. I would like for him to examine you both to see that there is no hidden injury.”
At once Harry and Jimmy began to politely protest, saying they really were fine and an examination would not be necessary. She seemed to accept this.
Then speaking to Harry she said, “I gather that the damaged boat belonged to you. I shall have my friends locate it and repair it, and return it to its proper place.”
Then, as if with a great effort, she stood. The boys scrambled to their feet as well.
In a voice that was almost a sob she said, “Now I shall dispatch one of my friends to fetch the police as I am sure you will want to file a grievance over this matter.” Then as if things suddenly became too much to bear she crumpled to the floor like a marionette with severed strings.
At once both of the boys reached out in order to break her fall, which they were just able to do. Gently they lowered her to the carpet. Jimmy grabbed the bell and rang it furiously. Two things happened almost at once. In the first instant a Chinese woman appeared at the panel door, took one look at her mistress and began a tirade in Chinese while swinging a good sized wooden spoon intending injury upon Harry and Jimmy. In the next second voices could be heard in the foyer hallway getting louder, soon an angry Chinese man was advancing upon the boys with a murderous look in his eyes.
The boys were undecided whether to defend themselves or attend the unconscious woman. The intentions of the Chinese man and woman presently became clear and the decision was made for them. Holding their hands up to fend off spoon blows and chopping gestures, the boys began to protest their innocence. Just when things were getting quite out of hand, a booming and commanding voice ended everything.
“Stop! I say, stop!”