209. A Conversation with Boswell
Amy decides there's no realistic way to get through that door without the strange man seeing her, so the only way she'll get through the door is to deal with him directly. She stands up straight and walks along the balcony to the far wall.
"Hello? Hi. Can you help me? I'm looking for a friend of mine..."
"And whom may I say is calling?" The man asks. He continues to stare straight ahead as he talks. His voice is firm, with a hint of a British accent.
"I'm Amy, Amy Shaw." Amy sticks out her hand and moves to shake with the strange man. He ignores her. "Umm, who are you?"
"I am Boswell. I am in charge of the day to day operations of this manor. I am aware of all of the comings and goings in this household, and I am aware of all of the master's appointments and guests." At this, he turns his head to fix Amy with a cold, passionless stare. "As such, I can state definitively that you are not an invited guest of the master's. Which brings me to my next question: Why are you here?"
Amy is unnerved. She almost wishes the man would go back to staring into space when he talks. She squirms like a schoolgirl who's been called on in class, but hasn't listened to the question.
"Well, I'm here looking for my friend Shannon. She told me she was planning to come out here about a week ago and I haven't seen her since then. So I just came to see if she's here. I can leave just as soon as I find her..."
Boswell continues to stare at Amy. He doesn't look expectant, or angry, or annoyed, he just... looks. Amy realizes that what unnerves her is that he doesn't even seem to be looking at her, he seems to be looking through her. Or possibly... into her?
Amy decides to switch to the direct approach. "Has Shannon been here? She's a little shorter than me, blonde, short hair..."
"I'm afraid I am not at liberty to divulge the comings and goings of this household, particularly to... uninvited guests. The master holds me in his strictest confidence and I am loathe to betray that confidence."
Amy isn't getting anything helpful out of this guy, so she decides to change the subject. "Who is your master? What is this house?"
Amy sees a faint spark of interest in Boswell's eyes. He grows ever so slightly more animated as he answers her question. "You stand in Stephenson Hall, ancestral home of the Stephenson clan, whose present head is the master of this house, The Honorable Geoffrey Stephenson, Esquire."
"And what does The Honorable Geoffrey Stephenson, Esquire, do?"
"If you mean what profession does he practice, the answer is none, at the moment. He once was called to the bar and had a reasonably successful practice, but the practice was always more a hobby than a career. He now focuses on the maintenance of this manor..." at this, Boswell's eyes narrow and he adds "...to the extent he focuses on anything, that is."
Amy senses Boswell opening up. "Well, if you aren't at liberty to discuss the manor's guests, perhaps I could speak with the master of the house?"
Boswell looks amused. "I'm afraid the master is not accepting visitors at the moment."
Amy presses onward. "When might he be accepting visitors?"
"The master has not accepted visitors for a long time and it is doubtful when he will accept visitors again. He has been rather... despondent since the death of his first wife." This last part Boswell says somewhat whistfully, his eyes wandering over to the portrait of the woman.
"The master of the house was married?"
"Many times, but he has never recovered from the passing of Mistress Claire." Boswell's gaze now shifts to what is evidently the portrait of Claire Stephenson.
"What was Claire Stephenson like?"
A hint of a smile plays across Boswell's face. "The mistress was regal. Firm, but gentle. The model of a lady of a great household. One might say that she was the motive force behind the manor; she animated these old walls. Master Geoffrey was quite smitten with her. She died of a wasting disease some years ago."
"And you mentioned that the master of the house had several wives?"
Boswell's face darkens. "The master's personal affairs are his own, and it is not my place to comment. He has indeed had a number of subsequent marriages, none of which has lasted particularly long."
Amy senses the conversation has gotten away from her, as Boswell seems to shift back to his former emotionless demeanor. She tries to wrest it back, "Umm, how long ago did Mistress Claire die? Was it a long illness, or..."
"A long enough time ago, not that it is any of your concern. I'm afraid further conversation would serve no useful purpose. I cannot divulge the comings and goings of this house and the master will not see you. Now, as it is after dark and this manor is many miles from a public accommodation, decorum requires that we offer you shelter for the night. Unfortunately, the master's orders are inflexible. No guests are permitted beyond these doors unless specifically invited. You may, however, stay on the ground floor. If you'll give me a moment..." He makes a strange gesture with his right hand. "You have been given full access to the ground floor. Be forewarned, however, that the master and this house will not be held responsible for any harm that may befall you. I wish you a pleasant evening." At this, Boswell ceases speaking and resumes his original position, staring into space.
After a moment's pause, Amy turns around and makes her way back to the staircase. Boswell calls after her.
"Ms. Shaw! One word of advice." It may be a trick of the light, but Amy almost thinks she sees a look of concern on Boswell's face. "I would advise you to avoid the powder room. Mistress Stacy has been in there for some time. She has a slight temper and is not fully aware of her own strength." Boswell falls back into silence and resumes his vigil. Amy makes her way back down the stairs.
Amy returns to the Grand Hallway