Hey guys. Apologies for the lateness of my returning, I have struggled for months to write this chapter and I'm finally happy with it (even though I might not be when I wake up). Won't take up any more of your time, thought I should just let you know that I'm back to writing this and more will be coming soon. Enjoy!
'You see this?'
Hugo and his father were in the back of the shop, working as always ever vigorously on the Automaton found abandoned in the Museum. His father was pointing to the heart-shaped keyhole located on the back of the Automaton, no doubt the mechanism used in winding the contraption.
'Another complication,' he said softly as he admired it from an arm's length, but quickly a smile came over him and in an excited whisper he added, 'another mystery.'
They both smiled happily to one another.
'It makes you happy,' Hugo said matter-of-factly, his father agreed.
'Hmm,' he ran his fingers over it again and again, 'a keyhole in the shape of a heart...'
He opened his notebook to a page where he had been drawing a similar shaped heart.
'Unfortunately, we don't have the key,' he said, indicating the drawings he'd made.
They both stood back, surveying it, pondering its brilliance.
'Can we make one?' Hugo asked hopefully.
His father looked down upon him sternly, his face full of shadow and doubt.
'Oh I don't know, Hugo,' he said seriously, 'the craftsmanship is incredibly difficult, and the design has to be perfect or it might not fit. It could take months.'
Yet, after deliberating for several seconds the coldness seemed to melt away into a smile, lighting the space around him and indeed even making Hugo smile.
'Of course we can make one,' he said in an amused voice, 'we're clock makers.'
Hugo literally became cemented to the spot. Never before had he been so scared in his life as he stood, sweating, pale in the face and torn between whether to run or give himself up. His mind raced over the multiple scenarios, each more devastating than the last, and each consequently ending with him being in an unbearable Orphanage for the rest of his life. He closed his eyes, swallowed hard and waited for the inevitable firm hand to grasp his shoulder and take him away.
But it never did.
Instead a voice, softer and far less frightening than he'd imagined. No, this voice did not belong to the station Inspector, it was far too sophisticated and well mannered for it to be any station Inspector let alone the one Hugo had encountered.
'Those things don't belong to you, you know?'
Hugo recognised the voice from somewhere, and when he spun around to face them he suddenly felt whatever colour that had remained in his face wash away. It was if his thoughts of the past twenty four hours had caught up to him, for there stood a very pretty girl, looking particularly judgemental at him with her lips pursed and eyebrows rose.
It was Isabelle.
Hugo hesitated. This was the first time in quite a long time that he had had an interaction with another person, he was not sure if he could conjure up any words to say.
'You're that thief Papa George told keeps talking about,' she said importantly.
When Hugo didn't answer, she seemed rather annoyed.
'Well?' she hissed, 'aren't you?'
'I don't know what you're talking about,' Hugo lied.
Hugo was lost in the sensation of being in her presence; he could smell her fancy French perfume, and it made his nose itchy but he dared not sneeze nor scratch it. Isabelle was looking at him rather quizzically, as if attempting to hear what he was thinking; she gave him a once look-over, her eyes lingered most particularly on the more dirtier parts of his clothing and when she reobtained eye contact she furrowed her brow.
'Hand over what you've stolen now,' she insisted, putting out her hand, 'or I'll... I'll-'
'What?' Hugo queried her, 'call the Inspector?'
Isabelle rose to her full height and stared at him.
'I might,' she said, nodding, 'yes.'
'You won't,' Hugo told her.
'I beg your pardon?'
'If you were going to,' Hugo explained, 'you would have by now.'
Isabelle seems quite offended that he was telling her what she was going to do. However, after a few minutes of not having denied his words, she shifted forward the conversation.
'They don't belong to you,' she spat, clearly frustrated now, 'what interest does a little boy like you have in a bunch of gears and bolts anyway?'
Hugo wrung his hands together.
'I- I don't want to say,' he said nervously.
'Why not?' Isabelle asked curiously – and then, as if some sort of switch flicked inside her head she smiled widely, she took a step closer, 'is it a secret?'
'I love secrets,' Isabelle said rather loudly, 'you must tell me.'
'But you must.'
Hugo's heart was racing. This was his chance. He could not possibly foresee another opportunity like this to ask Isabelle about the heart shaped key that she had drawn and that he needed. Therefore he could hardly believe that he was trying his best to not mention it at all.
'It's complicated,' Hugo said with a shrug.
'Are you suggesting I wouldn't understand?' Isabelle asked with venom in her tone.
After Hugo did not answer for several moments, Isabelle clearly got impatient.
'Fine, if you won't tell me, then perhaps you ought to leave,' she sounded disheartened.
Hugo was for sure.
He began backtracking blindly through the traffic of people, until eventually Isabelle disappeared completely from view. From there to when he ended up back in his quarters was a blur for Hugo; he stood at the door, crying, the feelings of being ever so close yet now surely ever so far from his answers was unbearable. He couldn't believe he had become as close as to finding the truth, he hated himself so much for it now, and his hand was bleeding from where he had angrily punched the wall. He wondered what his father might have said, if he saw him like this – would he be disappointed?
Hugo was disappointed in himself that much was for certain.
He pulled from within his pocket his notebook and slid down the cold surface of the door. This was his sanctuary for the next past few hours, as he attempted to regather himself from what had just happened. It seemed like it lasted only minutes though, flipping through the many pages of the notebook, for eventually he got to the page with the heart-shaped key on it and felt his stomach drop again and thoughts come flooding back.
Hugo's father looked up from his work, the large Grandfather clock he had to fix by next morning was taking longer than expected, and in agreement he would go straight to bed the minute it was fixed, Hugo had been allowed to stay up and watch his father work so he might learn.
'Where do you think that key is now?' Hugo asked sleepily, 'for the aut- autom-'
'Automaton,' his father finished with a smile, 'I don't know. One can imagine thousands of possibilities though,' he continued, returning his focus to the Grandfather clock, 'most likely the key is still owned by the maker or original owner, perhaps without even knowing or perhaps they can't remember what it was for.'
Hugo seemed amazed.
'But how could you not?' He asked.
'It's hard to believe I know,' his father agreed, 'so perhaps the key is lost. Can you imagine it on the bottom of the deepest blue ocean? Or buried under an important building or landmark in London? It is very old, remember, perhaps someone thought it as junk.'
'Maybe it broke!' Hugo suggested, sounding excited.
'It might have,' his father nodded, 'but I hope it didn't.'
Hugo fell quiet as his father worked. His imagination did take over him, for he came up with hundreds of thousands of alternative resting places for the heart shaped key, each more unlikely than the next.
But he never imagined, not in a million years, that it would turn up in the very city he lived in or indeed at the very train station that only led him here on the back of a tragic incident involving his father. He never pictured it linking to a young girl by the name of Isabelle, who was probably oblivious to what she had and was up late like Hugo rolling it around in her hands, just as Hugo was his notebook.
He wondered aimlessly though, if he had asked Isabelle about the key, would she have divulged the information? Did she have any information to divulge? Perhaps she didn't own the key at all. He felt somewhat better about this idea, that she knew nothing, that it was pure coincidence she drew that picture (much like he had first suggested). But, was that better than if she did have what he was looking for? He wasn't sure if that made him completely happy.
As he retired for bed, with his eyes swelled and red, he still remained at a loss, he had no answers to the questions that his father had left him and he was probably further away from knowing just what he was suppose to do than he had to begin with.