“Faster than fairies, faster than witches,
Bridges and houses, hedges and ditches,
And charging along, like troops in a battle,
All through the meadows the horses and cattle…”
The warmth of our compartment, the hypnotic rhythm of our wheels as we clattered along at such breakneck speed, and our fine tea, had lulled my senses such that I now sat on the threshold of Nod. With my head against the pane, watching but not seeing the land pass by, I fancied I saw in the gloaming, a magnificent red coach drawn by six fine horses each plumed in red, keeping pace with the train along the Great West Road. No whip used in their encouragement, such was the eagerness of the splendid beasts to be home, the coachman’s skill being fully employed to steer.
Minutes or hours later, the squeal of the brakes and the gradual slowing of the train, brought me back, just as one of Mesmer’s subjects, at the same rate, so that I was fully conscious again simultaneous with the train coming to a complete halt.
“What time do you have Ayres?” Asked Gorilla Bananas in all innocence.
“Are you without your timepiece Bananas?” The equally innocent reply.
“No, I just want to ensure that we are synchronised at the correct time.”
“Well what time do YOU have Bananas? And I’ll synchronise with you.”
“Your watch is the more accurate Ayres, besides, I asked first!”
“You know very well it is 8:09 exactly,“ said Ayres with a sigh.
“8:09 exactly, thank you Ayres.” Making a show of winding his gold hunter, Gorilla Bananas repeated the words slowly, “eight, oh, nine, exactly. Good.”
For the first time that day, Gorilla Bananas beamed his typical smile. He took a deep breath, and with it, the cares that had been building upon him, seemed suddenly lifted. Turning to me, his wise eyes twinkling, he said:
“Still got it Maroon!”
Ayres on the other hand, had opened the compartment door and was throwing our baggage, none too gently I thought, at a porter who was standing at the ready with his barrow.
“Come on man, catch ‘em!” he berated, as the poor fellow struggled to keep up with the rate the baggage was flying out onto the platform. Had he not bent to retrieve a leather hatbox, he would certainly have taken a heavy portmanteau square in the ear.
With his barrow loaded, we set off across the concourse, porter in tow, to find a coach for Dartmoor.
“Hurry man,” urged Ayres of the porter, (I had not seen him like this) “there’s a sixpence for you if we make the 8:20 Mail for Exeter!”
“Oh the missus will be pleased,” grumbled the man, rather ungratefully I thought.
* * *
Below stairs in Castle Alucard things were also frenetic. Mrs Cat the housekeeper with much unnecessary clattering of pot and pan was rustling up an evening meal for guests and staff.
“I am NOT a COOK!” She exclaimed to the silent Joke-Mail sitting at the kitchen table.
“I told them, temporary, O.K. I said, just till the caterers arrive…but if this keeps up, they’ll get my cards at the term, you see if they don’t. I don’t mind helping in an emergency, but it’s been three days now…what’s the matter with you?”
The music hall comedian, red spiky hair slightly limp, just sighed.
“Then There’s this Gathering tomorrow,“ continued Mrs Cat gathering momentum, “caterers to organise, IF they ever come, all these people dropping in to stay, sheets, towels…the towels they go through!...it’s a ruination, then there’s the Master’s Work, and I think we’re in for thunder and lightening soon, I can feel it, and we know what that means…here, have a Jaffa Cake, that usually sorts you…”
Joke-Mail, took the proffered cake/biscuit/cookie and as he ate it, his bright red hair stood on end again and a smile broke through. He gave his trick buttonhole a squeeze, sending blue ink across the room. He chuckled, that always got him going, that one.
* * *
“Can’t go no further tonight!” shouted the coachman.
The Mail had pulled up at an inn, and as we stepped down, the horses were already unhitched, forestalling further discussion. That is, except from Ayres, who had been in a foul temper since the station for some reason.
“I suppose driver, you’ll be telling us you are not in cahoots with the proprietor of this establishment? Fleecing honest travellers, you should be ashamed. We are on important business and wish to reach Castle Alucard this evening!” He blustered.
“That’s as maybe sirs, but the coach is stoppin’ here this night. There’s plenty room at the inn and iffin' the gentleman wants to walk hisself to the castle, no one will stop him. There be moon enough to see the road.”
“It’s Barbudo I’m thinking of, G. B. I worry about further delay.” Said Ayres, looking up the road...
...as dark clouds scudded across the face of the moon, showing the bleak Tors and standing stones in silhouette upon the skyline. A gathering wind, still just a breeze, but a presage of weather to come, whistled and moaned out on the Moor, just a bit like a hound or wolf.
“Good evening gents,” said the landlord come out to greet us, “you’re just in time for supper!”
With that, our spirits rose, and we entered the welcome glow.