The Sprawling 185‑acre estate of Chateau Villette was located twenty‑five minutes northwest of Paris in the environs of Versailles. Designed by Franзois Mansart in 1668 for the Count of Aufflay, it was one of Pariss most significant historical chateaux. Complete with two rectangular lakes and gardens designed by Le Notre, Chateau Villette was more of a modest castle than a mansion. The estate fondly had become known as la Petite Versailles.
Langdon brought the armored truck to a shuddering stop at the foot of the mile‑long driveway. Beyond the imposing security gate, Sir Leigh Teabings residence rose on a meadow in the distance. The sign on the gate was in English: PRIVATE PROPERTY. NO TRESPASSING.
As if to proclaim his home a British Isle unto itself, Teabing had not only posted his signs in English, but he had installed his gates intercom entry system on the right‑hand side of the truckthe passengers side everywhere in Europe except England.
Sophie gave the misplaced intercom an odd look. And if someone arrives without a passenger?
Dont ask. Langdon had already been through that with Teabing. He prefers things the way they are at home.
Sophie rolled down her window. Robert, youd better do the talking.
Langdon shifted his position, leaning out across Sophie to press the intercom button. As he did, an alluring whiff of Sophies perfume filled his nostrils, and he realized how close they were. He waited there, awkwardly prone, while a telephone began ringing over the small speaker.
Finally, the intercom crackled and an irritated French accent spoke. Chateau Villette. Who is calling?
This is Robert Langdon, Langdon called out, sprawled across Sophies lap. Im a friend of Sir Leigh Teabing. I need his help.
My master is sleeping. As was I. What is your business with him?
It is a private matter. One of great interest to him.
Then Im sure he will be pleased to receive you in the morning.
Langdon shifted his weight. Its quite important.
As is Sir Leighs sleep. If you are a friend, then you are aware he is in poor health.
Sir Leigh Teabing had suffered from polio as a child and now wore leg braces and walked with crutches, but Langdon had found him such a lively and colorful man on his last visit that it hardly seemed an infirmity. If you would, please tell him I have uncovered new information about the Grail. Information that cannot wait until morning.
There was a long pause.
Langdon and Sophie waited, the truck idling loudly.
A full minute passed.
Finally, someone spoke. My good man, I daresay you are still on Harvard Standard Time. The voice was crisp and light.
Langdon grinned, recognizing the thick British accent. Leigh, my apologies for waking you at this obscene hour.
My manservant tells me that not only are you in Paris, but you speak of the Grail.
I thought that might get you out of bed.
And so it has.
Any chance youd open the gate for an old friend?
Those who seek the truth are more than friends. They are brothers.
Langdon rolled his eyes at Sophie, well accustomed to Teabings predilection for dramatic antics.
Indeed I will open the gate, Teabing proclaimed, but first I must confirm your heart is true. A test of your honor. You will answer three questions.
Langdon groaned, whispering at Sophie. Bear with me here. As I mentioned, hes something of a character.
Your first question, Teabing declared, his tone Herculean. Shall I serve you coffee, or tea?
Langdon knew Teabings feelings about the American phenomenon of coffee. Tea, he replied. Earl Grey.
Excellent. Your second question. Milk or sugar?
Milk, Sophie whispered in his ear. I think the British take milk.
Milk, Langdon said.
Teabing made no reply.
Wait! Langdon now recalled the bitter beverage he had been served on his last visit and realized this question was a trick. Lemon! he declared. Earl Grey with lemon
Indeed. Teabing sounded deeply amused now. And finally, I must make the most grave of inquiries. Teabing paused and then spoke in a solemn tone. In which year did a Harvard sculler last outrow an Oxford man at Henley?
Langdon had no idea, but he could imagine only one reason the question had been asked. Surely such a travesty has never occurred.
The gate clicked open. Your heart is true, my friend. You may pass.