“You don’t truly believe that your old house is haunted, do you?” Godfrey insisted, as Toby led them down the slope toward the grand old building. Three storeys tall, it presented a flat, light brown facade to the grand drive that ran between the garden and the lake. Most visitors came up this approach, getting to be impressed by the grandeur.
“Of course I do not. But my stepmother insists there must have been a ghost that scared him to death. She has held seances and had exorcists around, and now she is convinced that the ghost is here to stay, and wants to sell the house and move to the city. I don’t know that I can stop her, unless you help me solve the mystery and stop the so-called haunting. I know the old place makes some awfully strange noises. But they are not ghosts, I am certain of that much. I have to hope that you can help me find out what they are, and what it was that killed Papa.”
“We are aviators, not ghost chasers.” Jiggles protested.
“You are adventurers, my dear.” Godfrey said. “And you have a history of dealing with the strange and arcane. After all, you did uncover a whole new, previously unknown, civilisation when you were in Africa. And you created a brand new river. A British country house ghost should be no problem for you.”
“We didn’t really create a new river, you know? The Fiona had flowed that way centuries before. We just unblocked the dam that had redirected it.” Ginge pointed out. “Everyone always says that we created a new river, but we didn’t, really.”
“Of course they do. It makes a better story. And Professor Quince, and Fiona herself, knew a lot about the history of the local culture before we turned up, so we didn’t really discover that, either.” Ally said. “But it is a rattling good yarn. And if it gets us more work, who are we to complain.”
“I suppose not.”
They crunched across the gravel court in front of the house. The grand double doors opened as they approached, and a gentleman’s gentleman straight out of a novel stepped out to greet them.
“Ah, Lynes, would you mind having some of the chaps collect the rest of the baggage from the Jiggleswick Air kite? If they can move it uphill of the hangar and line it up for take off, that would be rather good of them as well.” Toby said to the butler as they approached.
“Of course, sir. I have already taken the liberty of ordering a bowser of aero fuel to be delivered, and the old one taken away. I fear it has been sitting for so long that it may have become…. stale.” Lynes stepped aside as the young lord of the manor and his guests mounted the broad steps and entered the house.
“What would I ever do without you, Lynes. You are a treasure.” Only Ginge noticed the light flush that coloured Lynes’ cheeks at the compliment from his employer. That was the pink of someone who occasionally harboured unprofessional thoughts about his boss, Ginge thought.
They were in a wide and deep hallway, with a grand staircase at the far end. Either side of this entrance space were the social rooms- the dining room and parlours, where guests could be wined and dined. A narrower hallway continued past the stairs, on to a terrace at the rear of the building and, no doubt, hidden doorways to the servants quarters, kitchen and larder.
The Jiggleswick Air crew had visited enough stately homes- and operated from the grounds of one- to be able to guess the layout of the rest of the building. On the first floor, there would be more intimate social rooms. A smaller dining room, for when it was just the family and a small number of guests eating. There might be a library, or what had been a room full of books, converted to the lord’s obsession. They had seen small armouries, galleries of paintings of the Raj and beyond, and more. Most likely, the library in this house would have an aeronautical flavour to it.
Also on the first floor would be the master bedroom, and one or two smaller ones for the children of the family. Guest rooms would be on the second floor, but some of those may have been converted to studies for the indulgence of secondary or tertiary hobbies. Above that, in the dusty, cobwebbed space under the roof, would be storage, and, no doubt, more than one secret room that had once been used for arcane ritual or lustful encounters.
As they had been standing in the middle of the grand hall, taking in the portraits of Toby’s forebears, a couple of young women had arrived from somewhere down the rear hall. Demurely dressed, in nearly ankle length black skirts, long sleeved, formless blouses, and flat, sensible shoes, they stood at the foot of the stairs, hands behind their backs. They didn’t quite stare at the floor, but they weren’t poker upright and brazenly looking back at the guests.
“Eileen and Maude will show the guests to their rooms. If sir doesn’t mind coming with me to sign the purchase order for the aero fuel and to attend to some other paperwork.” Lynes announced. He led Toby down the back hallway, and they disappeared through some hidden doorway.
Ally found herself face to face with one of the maids who had just appeared. She did a double take when she realised that this Eileen was the very same sexy young nymph who had run away from the hangar just after their arrival. It was the smear of oil on her cheek that gave it away. The girl looked up, meeting her gaze, and gave a little grin.
Returning the grin, Ally reached into her flying jacket and pulled out a neatly folded, crisply ironed handkerchief. She offered it to the girl, whose expression turned to confusion. So Ally mimed wiping her cheek with it. Realisation dawned, and Eileen briefly appeared nervous of being found out. She took the rectangle of cotton, and wiped her cheek with it. Checking it, and seeing the smear of transferred oil, she turned it in her hand, to find a clean section, and swiped it across her cheek again.
The handkerchief was clean this time, and Eileen gave a relieved little curtsy of thanks to Ally. “I shall see that it’s cleaned for you, ma’am.” she said, pocketing the cotton.
Maude, the other maid, had been looking sideways at this exchange, expression suspicious and dark. The taller of the two servants, she was attractive in a blonder, bigger breasted way than Eileen. Ally suspected that Maude was used to being the one who got all the attention, even from other women, and wasn’t handling this innocent exchange between a guest and her fellow servant at all well.
“If you will come with me.” Maude said, leading the way up the stairs.