Raider and the Lost Lamp Ch. 03bymythtrav16©
Clara was a little apprehensive as the large wooden door before her opened. From her perspective, she had only left Roft Manor six weeks ago, and yet her family had not seen her in over two years. She knew that she would have some explaining to do. From behind the door emerged an elderly, well-groomed man in a tuxedo. He was quite tall, about six foot one and stood with excellent posture. The old man smiled in delight when he saw who was on the front stoop.
"Thank goodness!" the old butler exclaimed, shirking his usual air of decorum for a brief moment. "Forgive me, Lady Roft, but we had all been praying that you would return to us, safe and sound."
"Hello, Warwick," Clara smiled warmly at the old man. Jeff, who had been standing just behind Clara, smiled in greeting as well. The old man held the door wide open for Clara and her mysterious companion as they both entered, Jeff carrying the pack containing the magic lamp over his shoulder. Warwick closed the door behind Jeff and followed him into the large foyer, walking up to Clara.
"I shall inform the lady and his Lordship of your arrival, milady," the butler said. He tipped his head briefly in respect and then ascended a nearby staircase to the second level of the house, turning a corner at the top and disappearing from sight. Jeff strolled around aimlessly, admiring pretty much everything; the elegant wall panels, the expensive-looking artworks hanging from them, the stained glass window above the door being illuminated by the daylight...
"So this is where you live?" he asked.
"That's right." Clara replied.
"Not bad..." he said, in a mock-unimpressed tone. Clara sent him a genial smile and they both chuckled at the bad joke. For Clara, it felt good to be home again. Her wild heart was forever dragging her off to some ancient building or another. Occasionally, her adventures would even take her into the concrete jungle. There was nowhere she wouldn't go to find the most fantastic and well-hidden artefacts. Some she'd keep, some she'd lose, but any treasure she sought would always come into her possession for at least a time. It always felt good to come back to Roft Manor at the end of an adventure, though. She loved it here. It was the only place she'd ever really called home. Her father had given her the deed to the second-largest of his three mansions on her eighteenth birthday, but she rarely ever stayed there. Roft Manor was more than large enough to accommodate the small family of three, and Clara enjoyed being with her parents.
"Clara!" a woman who could only be Clara's mother exclaimed in astonishment, from atop the staircase via which Warwick had left. Jeff could easily see the family resemblance, although she looked too young to be Clara's mother. She was very elegantly dressed, and had the grace of the classic noblewoman. Her eyes, however, showed a level of happiness that a mother of any class would have when fears for the safety of their child were laid to rest.
The lady of the manor rushed down the stairs, and embraced her long-lost daughter.
"Mother!" Clara exclaimed, attempting to display a similar level of enthusiasm. It was hard to get excited about the encounter, when it seemed like only a couple of days ago she'd talked to her mother on the phone. They held each other for interminable seconds, tears streaming from the Lady Roft's eyes.
"I'm so glad you're home, darling... So glad you're home," she wept. It wasn't long before an older-looking man (mid-fifties, Jeff guessed) entered from one of the ground-level passages. His Lordship, Jeff correctly assumed. He was taller than the two women, perhaps five foot eleven/six foot even. He wore reading glasses. The rest of his attire, a cream-colored woollen jumper, and grey trousers seemed much less extravagant than his wife's (Although, on second glance, the trousers did look well tailored). Nonetheless, he too had the dignified air of an English noble.
"Clara!" he exclaimed, hurrying over to his daughter with open arms.
"Oh Father!" she replied, beginning to get sucked up in the emotion of the moment. The two women welcomed the lord into the embrace. They stood there together for ages, holding each other tightly, the lady Roft sobbing in happiness, and even the more hardened lord and Clara struggling to hold back their own tears. Jeff, who was beginning to feel like a fourth wheel, stood in the background, silently and uncomfortably.
"Where have you been all this time, Clara? We were so worried..." Lord Roft asked his daughter as the group hug broke apart.
"It's... It's a long story. Let's not discuss it now," she replied, still not quite sure how she was going to explain the incredible situation she was stuck in. Suddenly, she remembered that she had not come home alone. "Oh! Father, Mother, I'd like you to meet Jeff," she said, gesturing over towards him. "Jeff... helped me to get back home."
"Hi!" Jeff said, casually, with a smile, holding his hand up in greeting. Lord and lady Roft looked at each other.
"In that case, we're honoured, Jeff," Lord Roft said, offering his own hand, which Jeff shook with a firm grip. "Please, you must stay with us for a while. I insist!" the lord said with a friendly smile.
"In that case, I accept!" Jeff replied, returning his host's smile.
"Excellent!" Lord Roft said. "Warwick, prepare a room for our guest!"
"At once, milord!" said Warwick, who must've inconspicuously returned to the room some time after Lord Roft came in. Warwick turned and once again left the room via the staircase to the next floor.
"I'll have the servants bring the belongings from your vehicle to your room for you," Lord Roft said, almost as an afterthought.
"Oh, don't bother," Jeff said. "It's mostly just jerry-cans of water and diesel."
"You travel around with tanks of water and diesel?" Lord Roft asked, puzzled. Clara's expression became anxious - she wasn't ready to have to explain the situation now.
"Well... Yes..." Jeff sheepishly replied. "My mates told me that the U.K. was a very dry country in the grip of a fuel shortage. Apparently they were having me on..." he continued, ad-libbing as best he could. Lord and Lady Roft looked at each other in confusion. Clara rolled her eyes. "I don't get overseas much," Jeff said, as an attempted explanation.
"I... see..." Lord Roft responded, somewhat thrown by this new exhibit of eccentricity by the young man.
"Well, never mind all that, I'm sure we all have much to talk about," Lady Roft said, ending the awkward silence. "Come, let us go into the sitting room. I'll have the kitchen put on some Earl Grey." The lord and lady lead Clara and Jeff through the house to a grand sitting room with elaborate couches and armchairs, an antique coffee table, and a large hearth with a fire burning merrily away. It was adorned by magnificent paintings and other artworks, just like all the other rooms. Jeff could scarcely believe that he was sitting down to tea in a house like this. Although when he thought about it, it was probably one of the less remarkable things that had happened to him today.
The three Rofts and Jeff sat down at the coffee table and began to talk. A maid bought in a trolley with a tea set shortly thereafter and served them all. They talked for about twenty minutes. The lord and lady both hinted several times as the many unanswered questions they had about Clara's disappearance, but Clara repeatedly dodged the issue. Jeff, to his own relief, was never broached about the subject. Then Warwick entered the room.
"Master Jeff's room is ready, milord," he declared.
"Very good, Warwick," Lord Roft replied. "Well, it's starting to get on, and I'm sure you would both like to freshen up. Warwick will show you to your rooms," he said to Clara and Jeff. They all stood up. Clara kissed her father on the cheek, and then her mother. Jeff and Lord Roft shook hands once again. Clara and Jeff walked over to Warwick, who had been patiently waiting at the door. The three were about to leave when Lord Roft called Warwick over to him. The lord quietly said something to the butler, and Warwick nodded in compliance. Then he turned around and led Clara and Jeff away, Lady Roft very reluctantly letting Clara out of her sight again.
Warwick lead the pair to a huge main hall, with a wide staircase that lead up to a platform that had two further staircases branching off in separate directions. Warwick led them up these stairs to the mansion's second floor. They walked down another wide hall, stopping a short way down at a large set of ornate double-doors. Warwick reached into the inside breast pocket of his jacket and removed a key.
"When we first began to suspect that you had gone missing, Lady Roft, His Lordship ordered that no one was to set foot in your room until your return. I've been carrying this key with me every day for the past two and a half years. Somehow, I always knew that I would be needing it again one day," Warwick said with a smile, as he unlocked the door.
"Thank you, Warwick," Clara smiled. She hugged the old butler and he returned the embrace. Warwick had been serving the Rofts since long before Clara was born, even before her father assumed the title of lord, following the death of his own father. The Rofts all considered him to be a member of the family, and a trusted friend. Indeed, he was one of the few people that Clara herself did completely trust. Warwick himself loved the Roft family, but never allowed himself to rise above his station (except on rare occasions). He tried to keep an appropriate distance and always treated them with the respect they deserved.
Clara entered her room, smiling at the two men as she closed the door behind her.
"Your room is just down the hall, sir," Warwick said as he led on.
"Sounds good," Jeff replied as he followed. They soon came to another set of double doors on the same side of the hall as Clara's room. They weren't as fancy as Clara's doors were, though. They were done in much the same style as the walls were, so they had a tendency to blend in, from a distance.
"Here we are, sir. His Lordship humbly requests you to join him for dinner this evening," Warwick said.
"Thanks, I'd be honoured," Jeff said, smiling.
"Very good, sir. I took the liberty of placing some formal suits in the wardrobe. I believe they're all in your size. I'm sure you'll find something there that will suit you."
"Oh... Well, thank you very much," Jeff replied somewhat flustered by the level of service he was receiving.
"Not at all, sir. If there's anything else you need, don't hesitate to ask. We're all at your disposal. And... if I may be so bold, sir, thank you for restoring this family," Warwick said with a smile that conveyed heartfelt gratitude.
"Think nothing of it," Jeff smiled and began to walk into the room. He'd half opened the door when a thought occurred to him. "Hey, Warwick, could you tell me where to find the bathroom, mate?"
"The room has it's own ensuite, sir," Warwick replied, holding back a chuckle.
"Oh... Right. Thanks!" Jeff replied sheepishly, continuing into the room.
"Not at all, sir," Warwick repeated in an upbeat tone, as he turned to walk back down the hall.
Jeff closed the door behind him. The room was quite large, with an elegant victorian four-poster bed against one wall. There was no shortage of other furniture, either. There was a full-length mirror, two bedside tables and a large wooden wardrobe (among other things), all of which looked very expensive. Jeff noticed a door on the far side of the room. "Must be the ensuite," Jeff thought to himself. It was only now that he was alone, that he checked the backpack. He'd kept it close at all times since they entered the manor. He opened it to make sure that the precious lamp hadn't slipped out at some point along the way. Then he closed it again and stowed the pack under the bed.
Jeff walked over to the wardrobe and opened the doors. He looked over the suits that Warwick had put in there for him. Jeff knew very little about men's fashion, but the suits certainly looked expensive. He closed the wardrobe and walked over to the door he'd spied earlier.
"Jesus, Warwick, you weren't kidding! Ensuite... This place is bigger than my living room!" Jeff said to himself. The bathroom was indeed grand; the wall tiles were the most pristine white that Jeff had ever seen outside of a showroom. It had a nice large counter with the sink only taking up maybe a quarter of it's length, in the middle. It had both a bath and a shower (not a combo shower/bath) and, of course, a toilet. All the fixtures and taps looked golden, though they wouldn't have been actual gold. "They can't be THAT rich," Jeff thought. Jeff looked at the shower longingly. He could've really gone for a nice shower, but first, he turned his attention back to the counter, where he thought he'd spied a shaving kit.
Clara stood behind Warwick as he knocked on the guest bedroom door. The door soon opened and Jeff stuck his head out.
"Yes?" he asked.
"Dinner will be ready shortly, sir. I thought you might like some assistance in finding the dining hall," Warwick explained.
"Oh! Righto! Well, I'm ready to go..." Jeff said as he stepped out into the hall, closing the door behind him. Clara looked him over with an approving smile. He looked quite dapper clean-shaven. The suit that Warwick had provided for him didn't hurt, either.
"Very well, then, sir," Warwick replied. He led Clara and Jeff down the hallway. As they walked, Jeff couldn't help but admire Clara's new look. She had changed into a body-length black cocktail gown, with an eye-catchingly low neckline and a cut on the right side of the skirt that ran all the way from the base to the top of her thigh. The entire garment held her figure nicely. Clara had also let her hair out, which now flowed freely behind her. She looked, in a word, incredible. Warwick led the pair down the stairs at the end of the hall, and through a couple of large rooms to the largest one yet, a massive dining hall with a long table that Jeff guessed could easily seat thirty people. Tonight, however, there were only four places set at the far end. Lord and Lady Roft, who were also dressed quite formally, were waiting there for their daughter and guest. Warwick escorted Clara and Jeff over to the lord and lady, before taking his leave to tend to matters in the kitchen. The Rofts and Jeff all exchanged pleasantries with one another, before taking their seats.
Warwick served as chief waiter during the evening. The meal itself was an exquisite chicken dish, painstakingly prepared by the Roft's personal chef. It was nicely accompanied by a well-aged bottle of Pinot Grigio that Lady Roft had been saving for a special occasion.
The dinner conversation during the night was quite pleasant, with the bulk of it pertaining to archaeological matters. Lord Roft, in his salad days, had been a famous archaeologist himself. Jeff had heard about some of the lord's exploits, although none of them were half as gung-ho as some of the stories he'd heard about Clara. Lord Roft had given up field work many years ago, due to health reasons, but still remained a valued consultant in the archaeological world. Up until Clara's disappearance, that is, when he began to focus all his energy on finding her.
Jeff made a few jokes during the meal, a couple of which flopped, but he also went into some of his own theories on a few archaeological mysteries, all of which were quite interesting and at least somewhat founded. By the end of the night, Lord, Lady and even Clara Roft were all quite impressed with their houseguest. Clara's disappearance was not bought up once in the entire evening. All four members of the dinner party had made a silent agreement that the subject would not be discussed that night.
After everybody at the table had cleared their plates, the tea trolley made another appearance, this time manned by Warwick himself. The dinner conversation continued for at least another three-quarters of an hour after the meal was over, nobody was in any hurry to go anywhere. Even when they had all tired of sitting in one spot, the conversation didn't end, as the party began wandering through the mansion, eventually making their way to the games room, where they took turns playing pool with each other. Eventually it was decided amongst the group that it was time to turn in. Clara hugged and kissed her parents once again, and led Jeff through the maze of halls and chambers back to their bedrooms. They said goodnight to each other as Clara entered her room. Then Jeff walked the short distance down to his own bedroom. Upon entering, he removed his jacket and tie and dropped them on the bed.
"I think that Mother and Father were quite impressed by you tonight."
Jeff turned around, startled to see Clara standing just behind him, smiling. "I guess that walls aren't much of a deterrent when you're a genie, are they?" he said after the shock had passed.
"Not unless they have a central heating duct running through them. You can still walk through them, but they have a nasty habit of shrinking you clothes," Clara quipped.
"I apologise for the surprise entrance, but I wanted to talk to you in private and I didn't want to take the risk that one of the servants might see us entering the same room," Clara said.
"Oh... Okay..." Jeff said, not quite sure how else to respond.
"I wanted to thank you for bringing me back here. It's been very hard on Mother and Father the past couple of years. It's meant so much that I've been able to come back home and see them again," Clara said, hiding her emotion quite well.
"Oh, that's alright. To be perfectly honest, there wasn't much point in going back to Australia. I told my roommate I'd be gone for at least another five days, so the guy he's putting up in my room to cover the rent will still be there," Jeff joked.
"Well be that as it may, you still didn't have to bring me back here, and I wanted you to know that I really appreciate it," Clara said, with a grateful smile.
"Anytime," Jeff replied, returning her smile. After a few serene seconds, Jeff changed the subject, "Actually, I'm really glad you're here, because I wanted to talk to you myself."
"I'm ready to make a wish," Jeff stated. Clara looked at him intently, as a tense silence grew between them. "I wish that I was rich. Really rich," Jeff proclaimed in decisive tone.
"Very well, master," Clara said, quietly, as her expression began to show a hint of disappointment. She wiggled her fingers in Jeff's direction, and an expensive-looking slim leather briefcase appeared on the bed beside him.
"What's this?" he asked.
"Your stock portfolio," Clara answered. "You now have a net worth of three thousand million pounds." Jeff whistled in astonishment as he opened up the case and began running his eye over the papers within. "Rich enough?" she asked.
"Hell, yeah!" Jeff chuckled, engrossed in the documents that outlined his newfound fortune.
"Glad I could be of service," Clara said, unhappily. The recent change in Clara's mood did not go unnoticed for long, and Jeff soon turned his attention back to her.
"Clara, what's wrong?" he asked, sympathetically.
"It's nothing of consequence, Jeff," she responded briskly, sidestepping the truth enforcement powers of the imprisonment spell. "Goodni..."
"C'mon Clara, don't make me pull rank..." Jeff interrupted, in a playful tone. Clara paused for a second, let out a frustrated huff, and then looked Jeff in the eye.
"It's just that... I didn't think that you were a materialistic guy..." Clara said with uneasy frankness.
"Neither do I," Jeff promptly replied, with a smirk. Clara looked at him in confusion. "As a matter of fact, money's never really been an interest of mine. But I can't deny that it's an integral part of life." Jeff sat on the side of the bed as he continued, "I'm just tired not being able to do stuff because I can't afford it. I mean I had to sell my car, and talk to three financial experts, who speak their own fucking goo-gah language, by the way, about getting my hands on some money that my parents invested for me when I was a kid to get over to Kazakhstan. And even then I couldn't afford anything better than a rickety old jeep and the bare essentials. And then I come here, and I see you guys living in a house so big it makes a shopping mall look like a broom closet, with butlers and Gogans, and the money to go on any expedition you want, without even having to think twice about it." Looking up at Clara, Jeff could see that she was a little hurt.