26. My Little Secret

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Stepping into the foyer of the Elderberry Hotel, I concealed myself behind one of the columns near the entrance, took the onion I had brought with me out of my pocket and cracked it in half. The strong smell immediately bit into my nose and brought tears to my eyes. Only with difficulty did I keep from sneezing.

It took a while for my eyes to become significantly wet. Two or three times I checked in the large mirror on the wall. Did I look distressed enough yet? No, not quite. I needed to be really distraught. Overwhelmed. Terrified.

When I was finally satisfied with my appearance, I let the onion drop and kicked it into the nearest corner. With an audible sob I staggered out from behind the column near the entrance, as if I had just now come in.

It wasn't easy to stumble and stagger like a real damsel in distress on my way to reception. This kind of silly behaviour was kind of annoying. But I did a great job, if I do say so myself. By the time I had reached reception and clutched the counter in an apparently desperate effort to keep myself upright, the man at reception had noticed me. Oh yes, most definitely he had noticed me.

"Um... Miss... Are you unwell?"

In response, I gave him a pretty impressive heartbroken wail, and tottered precariously.

"Err..."

The receptionist was desperately trying to find a spot where he could grip me to support me without being improper. His eyes were wild, showing his panic and complete puzzlement about what to do with this female who had suddenly appeared in front of him. Finally, he hit on the perfect solution.

"Sarah! Hellen!" he called. But unfortunately, the female staff seemed to be out of hearing range.

"I... no, don't call anybody else, please," I begged him in a low whisper. Compassion and panic mingled in the face of the young man. My, my, I was pretty good. If Mr Ambrose kicked me out some day I could always try a career as an actress. "The shame is too great. Please, Sir, don't"

"Of course not, Miss, if it will distress you," the receptionist answered warmly. "Only tell me what is the matter with you, and how I can help you. Do you wish a room to rest? You look in need of rest."

"No, I..." Shaking my head, I pressed my clenched hands to my face, half-concealing my features, and wiping away a few of the tears that were running down my face. "I don't need a room. I came... I came to..."

"Yes? Yes?"

"Oh no!" I half turned away from the young man, once again swaying from right to left as if I were about to fall. This was starting to be fun! "I can't reveal the secret to another living soul! What he has done... it is too shameful. My lips will not form the words. What he has done... No, I cannot tell you. Even if he is here..."

"Who, he?" demanded the young man. "Has somebody harmed you?"

"Please! Do not force me to speak of it!"

"You said he was here. It is one of our guests who has harmed you?"

"Please, Sir... have pity..."

"Miss," he said gently, coming around the counter to stand directly in front of me, "if one of our guests has behaved dishonourably to such a fine young lady as yourself, the honour of our house is in question. I must beg you, please, tell me who this man is and what he has done to you."

I made a smile flicker across my face, with just the right amount of feminine feebleness and a pinch of sadness thrown in.

"You are too clever, too persistent for me, Sir. You are right. There is indeed a man I am looking for, a man who has done a grievous wrong. I have heard that he might be in this hotel, and have come in the hope of finding a gentleman willing to aid me. And now I have. Oh Sir, you have no Idea how great a pleasure it is for a weak girl such as myself to find that there are still strong and honourable men in the world, willing to stand up for what is right."

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