66: The Basement

Matron must not like seeing where the servants enter a room, Edmund thought. It was very well hidden. From even a few feet away it looked almost exactly the same as any other carved ornamentation on the trim. Up close, he could see it was a handle. He traced it with his finger until his eye fell on a paper thin seam that was barely visible in the wall, a few inches from the corner. Gripping the small handle, Edmund pulled.

At first the door resisted, but when he tugged again he heard a faint snap and the wall swung open, revealing a long dark staircase headed down. The gas lights were dim, their glass spheres tainted a faint gray from dust, Edmund supposed. A deep hissing noise echoed up from the stairs, reverberating between the wooden walls as it bounced up from below. Edmund strained his ears to see if he could discern its origin, but he couldn’t.

Edmund made his way down the stairs, carefully checking each step in the dark. When he reached the bottom of the staircase, he was excited to find another hallway, similar to the dark bare wood that had framed the kitchen. It was long and thin, the gas lights dark and dreary. A locked door periodically broke up the long plain walls, with faint smells of dust and mildew behind each one. As he walked, the hissing sound became louder and deeper until it was a dull roar.

At the end of the hallway, the passage opened up into a large room. The walls were surrounded by large metal pipes burrowing in and out of the thick brown wood like giant worms. Some of the pipes were square, others round. One looked triangular. Several pipes ended in one corner of the room, where they opened over a large pile of ash. Others gaped wide over dusty and sooty baskets. Some moved from one wall to the other without any openings, and one massive pipe circled the ceiling without seeming to exit the room at all.

In the middle of the room, most of the large pipes converged near the ceiling, and plunged downwards into a massive metal furnace, bigger than the carriage Edmund had come to Moulde Hall in. It was curved upwards, like an onion, and was at least twice as large as Ung, or even Mrs. Mapleberry. The whole room reminded Edmund of a picture he had seen once of a church pipe organ.

It was from this giant furnace the roar was coming from. Edmund crept closer, bracing himself to feel the heat from the flame encased in this giant metal stomach, but it never came. It wasn’t until his hand was almost touching the black iron that Edmund felt the least heat, and it was more than manageable–less than he had felt from a candle.

It was an unsettling warmth. It almost felt alive.

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