Actions

Work Header

Concerning the Daily Maintenance of a Large Country House

Work Text:

'This house of the Professor’s -- which even he knew so little about -- was so old and famous that people from all over England used to come and ask permission to see over it. It was the sort of house that is mentioned in guide books and even in histories; and well it might be, for all manner of stories were told about it, some of them even stranger than the one I am telling you now. And when parties of sightseers arrived and asked to see the house, the Professor always gave them permission, and Mrs Macready, the housekeeper, showed them round, telling them about the pictures and the armour, and the rare books in the library.' -- Chapter Five, The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe

'"And don’t mention it to anyone else unless you find that they’ve had adventures of the same sort themselves. What’s that? How will you know? Oh, you’ll know all right. Odd things they say -- even their looks -- will let the secret out. Keep your eyes open."' -- The Professor, Chapter Seventeen, The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe

+++

Ethel Macready had seen the Professor like this before. His eyes twinkled mischievously and the corner of his mouth kept twitching as though he had just come across a great secret that he had not yet decided to share. Usually this look came about after he had spent a particularly long time leafing through crumbling books in the library or sorting through antiques in one of the countless spare rooms of the house. Ethel did not make a habit of asking, mostly because there was something about this look that always seemed to suggest he wanted her to ask. She had no interest in guessing games, being much too preoccupied with the daily maintenance of the large country house. Besides, the Professor would always tell her in the end anyway.

On this particular evening, however, she knew exactly what had brought this look about. The Professor had been skulking around the kitchen for the last hour as she finished the evening dishes -- it was Sunday, which meant she’d sent the girls home early -- but had yet to say a word himself. Ethel waited until she’d finished drying the last of the plates before commenting somewhat dryly, “The youngest Pevensies seem to have had an Adventure.”

“Mmm hmm,” said the Professor around his pipe. He then removed it from his mouth and continued, “In the midst of one, actually, or so I believe.”

People were always falling into Adventures in the Professor’s house. Ivy had discovered an undersea kingdom in the linen closet just last week, and Margaret was always nipping off to visit the knight who lived under the chest of drawers in the right wing corridor. Ethel could not count the number of times she had led a group on a tour of the house only for at least one member to somehow acquire that peculiar indescribable air about them that practically screamed of otherworldly experiences. She herself had never stumbled into another world; she did not hold with such nonsense and had enough to do with running the house, thank you very much.

The Professor was absently fiddling with the end of his beard now and staring hard at the table. Clearly, there was more to this incident. Ethel hung the tea towel on the drying rack and waited.

“It seems there is a winter wonderland in the upstairs wardrobe,” he revealed at last. “The wardrobe built from the wood of a very special apple tree, if I guess correctly. The elder siblings did not know the name of this place, having not visited it themselves, but I wonder…”

Ethel was thinking equally as hard. “I suppose they can’t come to much harm with the fur coats kept in there.”

“Hmm?”

“Winter means snow,” she explained impatiently. “If they don’t wear the fur coats, I’m sure they’ll catch a chill.”

The Professor waved a hand. “They seem sensible enough. That oldest girl, Sarah --”

“Susan.”

“--Susan, seems to have enough common sense for the four of them together. No, no. That’s not what worries me.”

Again, she waited. The Professor puffed at his pipe, then said, “I told you my uncle was a magician, did I not?”

Guessing that this was leading to a longer conversation and that it would not occur to the Professor to invite her up to his study, Ethel gave in and pulled up a chair to the table. “Andrew Ketterley,” she confirmed, with the tone of voice that conveyed how little she thought of the Professor’s relation despite never having met the man herself.

“Yes yes. Uncle Andrew of the magic rings... and complete lack of common sense,” added the Professor with a nod. “This house has been in the family for a great many generations, you know. Sometimes I wonder how many of my ancestors also played with forces beyond their control. There are a good many doors in this house that open to where they shouldn’t.”

“I hadn’t noticed,” Ethel said wryly.

The Professor chuckled. “Indeed. Ah yes, a good many doors. I explored a fair share of them myself while growing up here. And yet none have ever opened to the one world to which I would most wish to return.”

She saw where he was going with this. “You believe the wardrobe…?”

“It is made from an apple tree grown from the core of an apple brought from that other world, you see. I was just a boy when I went to that world and I have always longed to return. There was someone there that I would much like to meet again.”

Ethel rather doubted that anyone who had met the Professor on his childhood adventure would still be there to greet him now.

He caught her look and grinned, “Unlikely, I know. Not to mention that the wardrobe doesn’t seem to be one of those doors that always stays open. A pity. I suppose I shall ask the children all about it once their Adventure is done. I shouldn’t like to interfere while it is still in progress, of course."

On that, the Professor had always been extremely clear. His role was not to interfere with the Adventures and, therefore, neither should the housekeeper. Instead, he would remain helpfully near at hand with advice should anyone want it. Ethel thought it all a bit silly but she could not deny that it was a good deal easier than answering questions and giving directions all the time. She was not very good at either.

Eventually the Professor retired to his study. Ethel climbed the old, creaking steps of the back stairwell and passed quietly by the rooms that had been given to the Pevensie children. No sound came from behind their doors; Ethel nodded in brisk satisfaction and continued on down the hall.

She checked beneath the chest of drawers, lowering the candle far enough to be sure there was nothing but wooden floorboards and dust bunnies -- she’d have to tell Margaret to sweep up under there next time the girl came back from visiting her knight -- and then peered through the blue pane of the stain-glass window to see that the volcano was still visible. On she went through the halls, straightening curtains and squinting through keyholes, always adjusting her mental checklist of Places The Tourists Should Not Go.

At last, coming to the wardrobe room, Ethel hesitated on the threshold and listened. She had never had an Adventure herself -- although that was not for lack of trying on the house’s part -- but had developed over the years a keen sense for when a door was open. This one was, at the moment, closed... but something still hung in the air like a soft scent or the strain of fading music. It had indeed been open, then, and likely would not stay closed for long.

“I’ll have to keep an eye on you, then,” she said disapprovingly, and stepped back out into the hall.