Despite their adventures the night before, the Jiggleswick Air crew were up bright and early for breakfast. They gave each other knowing nods and grins as they poured themselves tea and took their seats.
Erin joined them just after they were seated. She looked gorgeously tousled, wearing elegant pyjamas, and with her hair tied back because she hadn’t yet got around to brushing out the tangles that passion had twisted into it. She blushed, briefly, as she realised that the others already at the table knew just what she had done the night before, then poured herself some tea and joined the grinning gaggle.
Jiggles had kissed her forehead, and sneaked out of her room a little over an hour before. She had mumbled something unclear, not yet fully awake, and sighed sadly that the warm body she had been snuggled up to. She sat beside Jiggles now, and they shared a knowing smile.
Toby arrived soon after Erin. He took in the four already at the table, and gave a little shrug, accepting that he was a bad host if his guests were up before him. He took his seat at the head of the table.
They sat and sipped for a while. “Where’s Godfrey?” Erin asked.
“Likely nursing a hangover, if he played himself at snooker.” Toby said, with a smile Leaning forward, conspiratorially, he stage whispered to Ginge. “Before Melissa or Donald get here, did you find what you expected last night?”
“I did, yes. I think that mystery is solved.”
“The ‘ghost’ was very active last night. More than most other nights. It fair kept me awake for ages.” Erin said. Her eyes flickered toward Jiggles, barely able to hide the truth of what had kept her from sleep.
Ginge had a cheeky grin. “Ghost hunting can be noisy work.”
Two doors opened at once. Through one, Godfrey entered. He had the grey demeanour of a man plodding through a hangover, having beaten himself at snooker several times before retiring, and drinking all the celebratory whisky. He winced as the door closed behind him, with what must have felt like an avalanche causing boom.
Through the other door came Eileen, trying to guide a large trolley that was truly a portable Bain Marie. It appeared to be a job better suited to two people, and she was struggling with it. Toby broke protocol almost immediately, rising to go over and help her with it. She beamed at him as he held the door, then took the rear handle of the trolley. Then she blushed crimson and looked away, trying to hide her expression from the guests. That shame lasted the briefest of flickering moments, as she remembered who the guests were. She turned her smiling, flushed face to them, and gave one of her sexy little curtsies.
“I must apologise if breakfast service is a little slow this morning.” Eileen announced.
“Shouldn’t Maude be helping you?” Toby asked, as they parked the trolley at the end of the buffet.
“Ah, yes. But….” Eileen didn’t want to gossip, or get a fellow member of staff into trouble. She looked to Toby, who nodded understanding. His expression still said that he wanted to know what had happened to the other maid, though. “Well, erm, she isn’t up yet. I knocked on her door, but didn’t get a response. Cook is seeing if Lucy or Annette will take her shift.”
“Maude can be flighty, but she never neglects her duties without a very good reason. Perhaps she’s ill. I will check with Cook and Lynes later, to see what the problem may be.” As he talked, Toby had moved so that his body blocked Eileen’s from easy view of the rest of the room’s occupants. They still knew exactly what he was doing when he bent down to give her a kiss, though.
“I should get back to the kitchen.” Eileen whispered when their lips parted. “Or Cook will want to know where I got to.”
“Of course, of course. And it must be busy down there, with Maude missing.”
Eileen did another little curtsy, Nipping the material at either side of her dress and lifting it slightly, whilst giving Ally a meaningful look. Ally nodded understanding and smiled. When Eileen had left the room, Ally answered Jiggles questioning stare by mouthing, “No knickers.”
Toby lifted the lids from the trolley, and they were all drawn toward it by the smell of bacon. There were multiple partitions to the trolley, the contents of each kept warm by the bath of hot water under the serving layer. They piled their plates high with bacon, sausages, scrambled eggs, mushrooms and tomatoes. Even Godfrey took large portions of everything, though he did look queasy and uncertain as he stared at them.
“The old kill or cure treatment, eh, God?” Toby joked.
“It’s the only way I know, old chap.”
They tucked into the food, only pausing to all look around when the service door opened again. This time, the maid who appeared wasn’t Eileen, but Lucy. She had dressed quickly, after being roused from what she had thought was going to be a lie-in. Two buttons on her blouse were unfastened, making it appear even more as if her luscious breasts were straining to escape. Holding a copper kettle, she had come to top up the big teapot, but stopped and stared back when she realised the room’s attention was focussed on her.
Everyone gave Lucy a welcoming nod, then returned to their breakfast, before she became too self conscious. Godfrey, searching for a subject of conversation, asked, “Ginge, did you track down the ghost? The noises were particularly loud last night.”
There was a clatter from the buffet table, as Lucy’s guilty hand shook, and the spout of the kettle rattled against the teapot. Godfrey didn’t notice this, or Ginge’s nods toward Lucy, and expression that requested discretion. “Was it what you thought? Were some of the staff having it away in the back passage, as it were?”
There was a clang as the kettle hit the floor, then a squeal from Lucy as she danced backwards to avoid the scalding water that sloshed out. When the boiling deluge had subsided, she grabbed the kettle, and ran from the room.
Godfrey looked at the slammed door, realisation dawning. “Oh Lord. Did I put my foot in it? Again?”
“It would appear so, old chap.” Toby shook his head and sighed. “I thought you were some sort of spy or diplomat. How do you ever manage to do your job?”
“Oh, I can keep secrets when I’m in the office. It’s just my days off where I make a fool of myself. So, was miss Lucy…. It was Lucy, wasn’t it, not Annette? I’ve turned off the part of my brain that remembers new names, it seems. Was, that voluptuous young creature one of the ghostly voices I heard last night?”
“Well, I didn’t know for sure until she dropped the kettle, but, yes, I believe she was.” Ginge told him.
“You didn’t see her? How do you know what went on, then?” Erin asked.
“Well, there are no lights on those stairs. That is why they call it the Black Shaft. But trust me. I felt what happened.”
“You joined in? Good grief. So, you were one of the ghostly noises I heard last night? You put me off several of my shots, you know.” Godfrey lamented.
“Yet somehow you still won every game, and drank all of my whisky.” Toby teased him. “But perhaps now we can start the work of convincing Melissa about it.”
“Convincing me about what?” Melissa timed her entry to perfection. She had dark rings around her eyes, and the irritable look of someone who had not slept well. As if avoiding any further scrutiny, she immediately turned aside and went to the breakfast trolley.
“Ginge has been helping me investigate the secret of the ghost. He believes he has some important information. I need to look into it, but we may be able to put an end to the, erm, haunting.” Toby told his stepmother.
“I do hope you are right. Those noises kept me up all of last night.” Around the table, everyone stared at their plates, trying not to crack smiles. “What is this? What happened here?” Melissa demanded, pointing at the wet floor where the kettle had overflowed.
“Oh, one of the girls slipped when she was topping up the teapot. I’m sure it can be dealt with after breakfast.”
“Which of them? Clumsiness such as this should be punished, you know. The staff have been getting away with too much for too long. It’s time you cracked down. It’s your father’s fault, of course. He let them get away with….” Melissa forced herself quiet, satisfying herself with angrily spooning scrambled eggs onto her plate. She was particularly irritable this morning. Ginge flashed an apologetic look at Toby, for keeping her awake so long with his investigations.
The door opened again, and the Donald oozed in. He was impeccably turned out, dressed for whatever it was he was doing in Carstairs Hall. He cast a superior gaze around the room, until he met Jiggles’ gaze. Reminded of their conversation the night before, he actually flinched before looking away. He walked over to Melissa and attempted quiet pleasantries with her.
“I have to say, breakfast seems to be working. I almost feel alive again.” Godfrey announced.
“Should I call down for a second course? Just to make sure your resurrection is successful?” Toby asked him.
“Well….” Godfrey’s consideration of the question was interrupted by the heavy sound of feet running up the main staircase. Everyone looked to the door.
“This is ridiculous. It is most unseemly to be charging around the house like that.” Melissa growled, stopping halfway between the buffet and her seat.
The door burst open, and Lynes blustered in, followed by the gardener who wasn’t Clive. “My lord, my lady…. And, ah, everyone else. Something terrible has happened. Arthur has found a body in the lake. He thinks it may be Maude.”
Melissa’s plate and cup dropped to the floor, crashing and smashing as they hit.