THE FOLLY OF THE WISE
Part 2 -The Village of Fear
Jack, Yoz, Dr Zeus and Alex are guests at Poolford Manor in England. They are here at the behest of Lord Starling to prove that his family folly is not haunted.
The following morning, after breakfast, they intended to ask Starling if they could look at the will to see who would inherit if he didn’t. However, they got side-tracked into asking for a demonstration of the pendulum. Starling led them to the tower and unlocked the door with a large brass key
“How many keys are there?” asked Jack. “Just this one”, was the reply. “It hangs on a hook in my study, under a portrait of my father.
The inside was eerie; several benches were spaced round a circular pit into which hung the pendulum, a massive plumb bob at the end.. The floor of the pit was laid out as a circle divided into degrees by brass strips. Looking up, the wire seemed to stretch upwards forever; inspiring a feeling of vertigo. Climbing shrubs and plants hid the uprights of the tower.
“How much did this cost to build?” “About ten thousand pounds”. Alex whistled softly “ten thousand bucks to win a hundred? The guy must have been nuts.” He caught Lord Starling looking at him. “Sorry, I guess you English call it eccentric”.
With some help, Starling set the pendulum swinging and started a large stopwatch mounted on the wall. The pendulum behaved exactly as the theory predicted; moving its plane of swing one degree every five minutes.
“Do not go down into the pit”, warned Starling. “There is a lot of kinetic energy in that bob and being hit by it would be like being hit by a steam locomotive.
Starling locked the tower and returned to the house. The PC’s headed for the village; as they were about to cross the stream they spied a brick tunnel in the bank. Investigating, they found an arched brick-lined tunnel leading towards the gardens. A large pipe came from up out of the river and a culvert had a trickle of water going back into the river. The tunnel was blocked by an iron gate; locked. Yoz was about to try picking the lock when a loud voice came from behind: –
“Be on your way. You’re trespassing.”
The speaker was a dour man, wearing a hunting jacket, canvas trousers and wellingtons. He carried a double-barrelled shotgun.
“We are guests of Lord Starling”, said Yoz. “Are you Ferguson? Lord Starling told us you were the groundkeeper”.
“Lost are you? The house is that way”.
“We are here investigating the haunting of the tower. Where does this tunnel go?”
“Don’t know. It’s been locked for years and the key’s gone”.
They headed back up to the driveway and crossed over the bridge; Ferguson watched them leave. Walking down the road towards the village they discussed various theories; it was possible Isadora Downes was doing it as she stood to inherit* Or, it was someone pretending to be the ghost of Old Harry the disappearing coachman.
“You know; Ferguson wasn’t being straight with us. As groundkeeper, it’s his job to know where that tunnel goes”.
In the village; Yoz and Alex went to the church to try and find any mention of Old Harry; or a recently-disturbed grave. Reverend Holt was quite helpful; he believes the noises are being made by the wind blowing from a certain direction. He does not believe that Reverend Downes has returned as a ghost; he was a devout man of the cloth. He has never heard of anyone called Old Harry.
Jack and Dr Zeus went to the public house (“The Starling’s Tower”) and talked with the landlord and Bert Roper; who claimed to have seen “the divil ‘isself come out of the trees at him and pursue him to the village green”. After a few drinks and some talking they decided that Roper hadn’t actually seen anything. Neither Roper or the landlord knew anyone called Old Harry. Jack left the pub a little worse for wear; not being used to English beer.
In the village store; Jack bought a quarter of humbugs** and Dr Zeus bought a quarter of Rhubarb and Custard. The shopkeeper confirmed that they could hear the ghost here in the village and that it would be terrible if Lord Starling lost his inheritance as he owned the village. Nobody called Old Harry lives round here.
Yoz and Jack found Isadora Downes working in the ‘Copper Kettle’ tea shop and café. Yoz ordered a large pot of tea and scones and butter. They learnt that she used to tutor Ethelred Starling when he was a boy; that her father was a very devout Christian and remained good friends with Lord Starling and that she was not a beneficiary of the will (by this time, they’d given up asking about Old Harry).
By now it was tea-time and the air was heavy and oppressive. Thick clouds were building up; it was obvious that a storm was brewing.
They headed back to Poolton Manor and down to the river. Something had changed; the gate now had a chain and padlock on it! Yoz set to work and easily picked the padlock and the lock on the gate. He and Jack went into the tunnel; convinced it was a secret passage leading to the house; Dr Zeus and Alex went back to the house.
Yoz pulled the gate shut behind him and tried to relock it. His lockpick snapped off in the lock; locking the gate permanently***. The tunnel was dark and they had no torches.
At the house; Dr Zeus and Alex asked if they could see the will. Starling obliged and helped translate the complex legalese. Basically; if Starling doesn’t inherit then four cousins get 25% each.
Wesler, G (England); Crossingham A (England); Longbaugh A, (USA), LaRue J (France).
Longbaugh? Just then the gong sounded; “Dinner is served, My Lord”
“Thank you, Groves. Oh, I won’t be here tomorrow; I’ve got to attend a meeting in London and then I’m lunching at the Carlton with Fermi and Heisenberg; they’ve got some exciting new ideas they want to talk about. I’ll stop over at the Savoy and be back on Friday.
Dinner was served at 7pm; when asked about Yoz and Jack; Dr Zeus made up a story about them experiencing drinking in an English pub. 8pm came; but the ghost did not appear. At 8:15pm the storm broke; lightning flashed and thunder rolled. At around 8:20 a massive bolt of lightning struck the tower; for several seconds coruscating flashes of blue fire flickered up and down it. Longbaugh and Marian looked worried; Starling was unconcerned.
“The globe is a lightning conductor”.
Meanwhile; down in the tunnel; a different battle was raging. Jack had refused to give Yoz any mint humbugs unless he did something good. They ended up fighting; Jack was shot in the foot and they ended up in a MAD situation with guns pointing at each other****. The impasse was broken by someone trying to get through the gate; they couldn’t see who it was; but the silhouette looked like Ferguson.
Back at the house; after some conversation in the library; everyone retired to bed. It was in the early hours then that the ghost put in an appearance.
Down in the tunnel; having made up their differences; Yoz and Jack explored up the tunnel. There was a massive flash of lightning and almost immediate explosion of thunder overhead; in the flash they saw something gleaming white at the end of the tunnel. Yoz nearly fell into it; a water cistern with a hose rigged up to collect water from the lake overflow, with an outlet pipe leading out through the wall. He turned on the inlet tap; the cistern filled, then flushed. From somewhere outside came the horrifying sobbing groans of the ghost.
Inside the house there was a general state of alarm. Lights were lit in various rooms; several of the servants were visibly upset. Dr Zeus watched Longbaugh; he was peering out of the window as if looking for something. He saw Dr Zeus and Alex and suggested that they should hold a séance; with Marian as the medium. Both of them were dead against it.
“I am a scientist”, said Dr Zeus, “and Starling would never agree to it; he’d be compromised”
“I agree,” said Alex. “Science, not séance” *****
As no more noises came; eventually everyone settled back to sleep. Down in the tunnel; Jack disconnected the hose leading to the cistern so that it wouldn’t fill up; intending to use it as evidence. At this moment, there came the clink of metal from the gate. Ferguson stood there, gripping his shotgun.
“You had to interfere, didn’t you? Well, you’ll not stop me getting my share”.
With that, he discharged both barrels of his shotgun through the gate and into the tunnel …
Stay Tuned for the next issue of Thrilling Adventure Stories – The Pit of Peril
* No idea where they got this idea from
** Later to cause so much dissension and some of the best laughs we’ve had
*** Yes, a Critical Failure!
**** Ben is a SW GM so I just let them get on with it. After all of this; they ended up still as friends!!
***** Pretty good, coming from an illiterate gangster