EPISODE ONE HERE
EPISODE TWO HERE
EPISODE THREE HERE
EPISODE FOUR HERE
EPISODE FIVE HERE
EPISODE SIX HERE
We arrived at the mausoleum which was about twenty minutes walk through the gardens from the boat house. It was an imposing circular stone building standing proud over a hill. The outside had large statues of angels all around with a naked cherub standing by the entrance.
Personally, I have never understood the need to have what amounts to a burial plot in one's garden; which a lot of stately homes seem to have. It must have cost a fortune to build such a big mausoleum with all the statues outside only to contain the remains of dead relatives inside. But to each his own, I suppose.
Like the boat house, the imposing big wooden door of the mausoleum was open. It creaked ominously as we pushed it and got in. I had a frisson down my back as we entered what was in fact a tomb. But since we were not in France, let's call it a shiver running down my back and up again a few times.
As my eyes adjusted to the relative darkness inside the big hall I saw several stone busts of various people all around me.
"This is uncle Herodicus," said Claudia Armoff pointing at one of the busts, "he died over three hundred years ago. He wanted to be a brain surgeon, but he was very short, so he specialised in knee surgery instead!"
"And this one is Grand-papa Ebenezer," she said pointing at another marble bust, "he was an undertaker; and very popular too. People were dying to meet him. He always signed his letters 'eventually at your service' ".
"And this one over here is my great-uncle Bartholomew," she continued, "he was a taxidermist. He died accidentally when a snake he was preparing to stuff bit him in the hand."
I said nothing and thought it prudent to let her talk about her family. She was obviously proud of them.
"And over here we have a distant cousin, the Reverend Jehoshaphat. He was a preacher and well respected pastor of the Parish near here. He was very strict and often preached against drinking, and gambling and having sexual relationships outside of marriage," she said with a twinkle in her eyes as she looked at me. "One day news came to him that an old parishioner of his, a man in his eighties, had inherited a large sum of money from a relative who was a professional gambler. The lawyer handling the affairs of the deceased was concerned that if he broke the news to the octogenarian the shock might kill him. So the lawyer asked Reverend Jehoshaphat to break the news gently to the old man; seeing that he knew him well. At first the Reverend did not want to have anything to do with it; since the money originated from gambling and was therefore tainted. But the lawyer convinced him to go and see the old parishioner at his home.
"Jehoshaphat met the old parishioner by his bedside. The man was very old and frail. The Reverend broached the subject carefully and asked the man what would happen if good fortune came his way. Say he suddenly got a lot of money for instance.
"The old man thought for a while and then said, 'I am very old Reverend. And not in good health either. I have lived a happy life and need nothing more. If I were to have a lot of money, as you say, I think I would give it all to you!'
"The shock of hearing this news killed the Reverend there and then!"
After a moment or two of silence whilst I digested the irony of this tale she said, "It's funny isn't it how we always say nice things about people who have died. No one ever speaks badly of the dead. It seems hypocritical. If a person was bad all his life, and now he is dead, the only difference is that he is now a dead bad person!
"When you are dead and lying there in your coffin and people come to pay their last respects; what would you like them to say about you?" she asked.
"I'd like them to say, 'I have seen him move!' " I replied calmly.
"Let's go down in the vaults," she said, "it will be fun down there!"
"Do we have to?" I said with some trepidation, "Carro and Miss Maple are hardly going to be there!"
"Are you a scaredy cat?" she asked, "too frightened are we?"
"Of course not," I protested, "I just don't see the point. We should concentrate on looking for the two missing people who may well need our help right now!"
"All right, you go looking for them," Claudia replied, "I am going down into the vaults and if anything happens to me you will be responsible for not protecting me."
Why is it that some women have the power to make you do things against your better judgement? They say that a woman always gets what she wants in life because men are too weak to resist them.
Anyway, I stupidly agreed to go down the vaults with her. She opened the heavy wooden door which creaked as it did so; the same way as the mausoleum door did when we came in. Someone must oil these hinges; I thought to myself.
She lit a candle which she gave to me, and then lit another for herself and made her way down the narrow staircase. I followed her gingerly into the dank humid smelling underground chamber. There were cobwebs everywhere which she burnt by moving her candle towards them as she walked down the stairs. When we reached the vault and my eyes accustomed to the darkness all we could see is a lot of slots in the walls crudely bricked over after use.
"Behind each of these there is a coffin," she said, "I have never been here. Isn't it exciting?"
"It's not exactly the word I would have used," I said, noticing that one of the compartments had some bricks missing and you could clearly see some bones there.
"It would be fun having a party here, don't you think?" she said.
I did not reply.
"Oh ... you are scared," she said teasing me, "all right, let's get out of here."
We climbed up the stairs to the upper chamber and closed the door behind us. As we blew out the candles, it was then that I noticed something on the ground. It was the missing disc from the backgammon set.
"This is the disc from the game set," I told her as I bent down to pick it up.
As I got up I heard a massive R I I I I I I P sound. And it had nothing to do with the RIP for Rest In Peace.
There was a protruding piece of metal from the wall which had somehow got caught into my trouser pocket when I bent down. As I got up it ripped the whole of my trouser leg at the side.
To my great annoyance Claudia burst out into hysterics of laughter. She just could not contain herself. She was laughing so much that tears ran down her face. This solemn place of eternal rest and sorrow had never witnessed so much fun; albeit from just one person.
I tried my best to hold on to my shredded trousers whilst she bent down almost double holding her stomach in fits of laughter. Why do some women laugh so much at little things?
When she'd calmed down I suggested we leave quickly to the house where I could get changed. She closed the mausoleum door and we ran as fast as we could to the house. Me running faster first, and she following me in fits of laughter.
I dreaded meeting anyone on the way; but as bad luck would have it, as soon as I entered the house I ran into Sir Ivor Status.
He looked at me, then at his sister in howls of laughter and said, "What have you been doing to him Claudia? Behave yourself woman! You're incorrigible."
TO BE CONTINUED