The lid of the bathtub hid most of the duchess's body. It was basically just her head which stuck out, with her hair cascading almost to the floor. The maid left the towels on the easy chair and picked up the clothes that the lady had taken off.
When she got to the laundry room, she realized that among the clothes was a pendant: a black velvet cord with a key. She would return it immediately, but she decided to arrange the clothes into appropriate piles first, before going back.
The prince's nursemaid appeared at the door.
‘What did you do in the duchess's room?’ she asked, languidly. Oda knew very well that the Bosfor woman did not need much provocation to find a reason for complaining.
‘Nothing’, answered the girl, turning pale. ‘I just took the dirty clothes.’
‘Well, she's looking for you. She has us all looking for you. She was ringing that hand bell like mad.’
‘I... was just about to give this back to her. It was among her clothes. Maybe this is what she wants. Does she think I stole it?’
Oda gazed at the key the girl showed her.
‘Give me that. I'll take it to Her Ladyship.’
The maid looked at her with gratefulness in her eyes. The thought of being scolded by the duchess made her knees tremble.
‘And don't worry’, said the old woman, turning her neck when she was already leaving. ‘I'll explain that you took it by mistake. She should just be more careful with her things... or wash her clothes herself if she becomes so annoyed by someone else touching her belongings.’ The last part was mostly muttered to herself. All her life, Oda had always been extremely discreet –which had earned her a position of great trust at the court–, but lately –possibly due to her old age– she was starting to be rather fed up with a lot of things.
She knocked on the bedroom door, but it was not answered. Just as she was hoping for. She had expected the duchess, in view of her urge to solve this incident, to have decided to go and handle things personally.
The fact that the location of the laundry room was, in all likelihood, unknown to her, would give Oda a little bit of time.
She opened the door very carefully. Yes, the duchess was not there. She scanned the room in search of any clues provided by the lady's rush.
One of the chest drawers was not closed as tight as the rest of them. Oda walked a few steps and opened it slowly. Inside, there was a locked metal box. She had been right to think that, as it was a key that the Duchess was missing, she would have gone to check what this key opened, in case she had left it in the hole.
She could not stay there any longer. One word from the duchess to the king and, no matter her many years of service or how dear she had become, she would be kicked out of the palace without any consideration; or worse. Oda was well aware of that. Nevertheless, her curiosity was more powerful than her fear of being caught. So she took the key out of her pocket and put it in the lock.
In truth, she was not just trying to appease an impulse to nose around. Since the duchess of Bosfor had arrived at the palace, not that long ago, a series of strange events –disappearances, to be precise– had taken place. First, the prince, whom she had taken care of since his early childhood; someone she loved as if he were her own son and would not just forget about. Then, Detlef, who, despite having come as the duchess's servant, had helped Oda on several occasions, so that she regarded him as a good, kind boy. Even the lady's own daughter had left in a too sudden manner.
Oda was suspicious. So now that she had the opportunity at hand she wanted to investigate.
The Duchess was so peculiar, so fussy about her things –the maids' nerves were on edge since her arrival– and so mysterious that the old woman was prepared to find the most unimaginable thing inside that box. She unlocked it, and opened it as if she were putting her hand into a wasps' nest. On the other hand, she was also conscious of the lady's taste for luxury and jewels. It could be just that: her most precious jewels, put in a safe place.
But there were no jewels in that box.
There were some small glass bottles, with labels, probably stating their contents. She picked up one of them, which read "Inv.".
She had to go. She locked the box and closed the drawer –not completely, like she had found it. Then, she walked out of the room, just as she heard someone's steps approaching. When the duchess appeared in the corridor, she was outside, by the closed door, waiting for her.
‘I have brought you this, Your Ladyship. The girl found it among the clothes she took from your room. She didn't realize until she left them in the laundry.’
‘Yes, I know. I saw her. She told me.’
Oda felt the need to explain herself further. The duchess glared silently at her, as if she were not fully convinced.