We had been some days at Castle Alucard and I had not finished my morning routine on the trapeze when Mr Gorilla Bananas, friend and foremost of detectives, bustled into my room.
In my green drawers and stripy Henley vest, I fancy I cut a virile figure as I hung there by my toes.
“Are you mocking me Maroon?” he asked.
“Whatever do you mean Bananas?” I replied, not for the first time lost by the superior workings of his fascinating intellect.
“Never mind.” he continued in some excitement, “We must get out on the moor forthwith and investigate those strange lights we saw last night. I’ve looked at the map and I calculate they emanated not a mile distant, from a place called Gibbet Wood on Gallows Hill.”
With our friend and associate Ayres, we made our hurried plans and by half past three that afternoon, Gorilla Bananas drew us up in the castle courtyard to inspect our equipment. In order to travel light, we had foregone our alpenstocks, climbing gear and the religious accoutrements in favour of a generous hamper of provisions, lest we should get caught on the moor and miss supper.
Ayres and I were to carry the hamper between us while Bananas would orienteer with map and compass.
The weather had dramatically lifted and was now at its Devon best: damp sunshine with the promise of early evening drizzle.
Satisfied with our preparations, the remarkable ape declared we were ready for departure and our trio set off across the moor, bickering, as is the English tradition, about who should have brought the mustard spoon and who the first aid kit.
We had not gone three furlongs from the castle gate when we encountered our first disquieting experience.
There in a delightful hollow was the reprobate butler, Eater, picnicking with the young American Miss Lindy. He the servant, was busily buttering her buns and spreading honey on her muffin with the back of a spoon.
Together, they had researched the meaning of the Japanese ideogram found in the American bibliophile’s book.
“quality inspected. # 23” was the puzzling translation.
Eater was far from pleased at our sudden arrival, and started back from his labours. Although his black eye had now subsided, he regarded Ayres with particular suspicion and pointedly remained out of the latter’s reach. I am afraid to confess that his familiar manner with Miss Lindy and his insolent attitude to us, his betters, infuriated me.
He addressed us with a mouth full of jam and crumpet.
“Forgive me Sir Kim, I hardly recognised you with your trousers on.”
His remark brought forth the most delightful chuckle from Miss Lindy-K. This was too much. I had to score a point back for Ayres’ honour.
“Yes, well, you were privileged, Mr Eater,” I returned in hot indignation, “his legs although short, were often remarked as the finest at college! Especially his thighs. Weren’t they Ayres?”
I was immediately rewarded by another chuckle from Miss Lindy, this time obviously at the butler’s expense, who now seemed to be choking on his teabread. I turned in humble triumph to my companions but Ayres and Bananas merely looked at me in silence, too gallant to press home our advantage.
“If you would point us to our path” said Bananas smiling, “we’ll trouble you no longer.”
We had not gone a further furlong and I was engaging Ayres in conversation to lighten the burden that hung between us, perhaps two hampers would have been better;
“Taught that fellow a lesson in life I fancy,” I said brightly.
“Why on earth did you mention my legs Maroon?” he asked.
“Don’t be so modest Ayres,” I replied.
“Yes but now he thinks…”
“Stop!” said Bananas lifting his leathery palm, “Look. Up at that copse. Do you see it?”
He was pointing to a coppice on the skyline, his nostrils flaring in that way of his.
“There. Moving through the trees!” he exclaimed.