After a few moments, he began to feel slightly foolish. This couldn’t have been what Plinkerton had intended for him to do. He was about to stand, when his eyes caught up with his brain and told him to pay attention. He was looking at the skeleton’s feet, which were resting on what looked like a small stone foot-rest. Upon closer inspection, however, it was evident it was not stone, but a small chest that merely looked like one.
Slowly, reverently, he reached out and took the chest from under her feet, carefully pulling aside the thick cloth-like cobwebs. The chest was covered with dust and a thin layer of mold, which gave it a grainy texture that flaked off as Edmund turned it around.
Scraping away the mold, Edmund discovered a small keyhole just large enough for the teeth on the gold leaf. Carefully, he pulled out the leaf and slipped the bumpy stem into the hole and twisted. A soft click echoed through the tiny room, and the chest creaked open. Inside lay a thick fold of papers wrapped in oiled leather. Edmund carefully took the folded papers out and opened them, gently peeling back the ancient leather cover and laying it on the floor so he could better see the contents as he cranked the dimming lantern.
Diagrams, blueprints, formuales, and dissertations covered the papers in small handwriting. Lists of elixirs and infusions, studies of the humours and nerves, explorations of levers and springs and countless other curios spilled out over the floor. Edmund shifted through them all, trying to understand, to ingest all he could.
Edmund stared at the parchments scattered on the floor, thinking. There were designs for carriages that were moved about by steam like miniature trains, machines that looked like balloons with bird wings, or bicycles that floated on water. There was even the drawing of a human body, laid out like a schematic complete with bones, blood vessels, heart, and lungs. It was all so beautiful that it wasn’t until the light flickered out that the spell was broken, and he remembered to start turning the lantern’s crank again.
And there, in the flickering light, was the tiny schematicis of a strange humanoid shape sitting at a desk, being held up by a cushion of string.
Quickly, he gathered up all the paper and shoved it under his arm; he needed to get them back to the library. He wasn’t entirely sure what he would do with them, but held safe in the encircling walls of books, he could study them carefully and learn exactly what he was looking at. He slipped through the stone door, and began to climb his way back up the stairs to the clock statue.
The night sky was a velvety purple against the deep black of the tunnel as Edmund reached the exit. His head had just crested the final step, when a flash of lightning lit the sky, and the short silhouette of a man holding a large umbrella filled Edmund’s vision. He froze as the man slowly stepped towards him, a faint outline of something thick and broad in the shadow’s left hand. Slowly, Edmund began to crank the lantern again, casting a faint glow over the thin face of Mr. Shobbinton as it twisted in a harsh mask of scorn, his eyes narrow.