The old clock downstairs in the bar creaked slightly as its mechanism wound back the hammers to strike the hour.
‘Five o’clock!’ groaned Victoriana to herself, ‘and I’ve hardly slept at all. I’m just going to have to find out what has happened.’
She crept out of bed, dressed hurriedly and was just trying to open the door as quietly as possible when Rusty’s voice challenged her.
‘And where are you going without me?’ he asked.
Quietly the pair made their way on tiptoe across the landing and had reached the stairs when Irving and Fingers appeared from their room, both fully dressed.
‘T’ought so,’ said Fingers with a grin. ‘C’mon all o’ youse, leds see whad’s cookin’.’
They paused outside St George’s room to see if he was awake, but were startled by an enormous snore which made the door rattle; the children glanced at each other and could barely stifle their giggles.
Once more they entered the tunnel beneath the inn, having availed themselves of some lamps they found on a shelf in the cellar. They made their way cautiously along until they reached the iron doors.
‘An Caisteal it is,’ said Irving, following Fingers who had opened the door as though he had a key. They tramped on and on until Victoriana thought they must be under the sea, and strained her ears to hear the waves above them. She was quite surprised when they turned a corner, and there in front of them was a set of steps leading up into what could only be the castle, to judge by the massive stonework. At the top of the stairs there was an ancient wooden door.
‘Dis’ll on’y take a second,’ murmured Fingers, ‘dese ol’ doors are a pushover.’
They crept up through the cellars and entered the main hall to find the morning light filtering through the high windows. Everything seemed quite still as though the castle was waiting for them.
‘Ain’t nobody here,’ stated Irving, and everyone breathed out together. ‘Guess we go to da nex’ level,’ and started up the main staircase with the others following warily in his wake.
They reached another large empty hall and followed another broad staircase leading upwards before emerging into a long corridor whose walls were adorned with pictures of gallant knights and elegant ladies. Great wooden doors barred the entrance to rooms at intervals along the corridor.
‘Gotta search dem all, I guess,’ said Irving. The others shrugged, and followed him into the nearest room, which was set up as a laboratory. In the middle stood what appeared to be a scaled-down version of the Telectroscope, with a huge lens at each end.
‘McCavity must have made a half size model before he managed the miniaturisation,’ opined Rusty. Irving combed his hair with his fingers as he looked at himself in the lens.
‘C’mon, boodiful,’ urged Fingers, opening a connecting door to the next room and passing through.
Victoriana lingered behind to admire the gleaming instrument. There was a scuffling sound and a small brown mouse with a white blaze on its forehead appeared.
‘Oh, what a sweet little mouse,’ she said to herself, ‘and he wants to look through the Telectroscope; I wonder what he will see?’
There was a hiss and a thump, and a fat ginger cat landed on the floor behind the mouse: Victoriana jumped in surprise, catching her arm against a large device loaded with wires and tubes which trailed towards the Telectroscope. There was a loud bang and a bright flash, and when Victoriana’s sight returned to normal, she discovered the cat hanging by its claws from the top of a bookcase.
She wandered along the Telectroscope anxiously running her fingers against its shiny case, worried that she had caused the detonation and damaged the fine looking instrument. To her great relief, she reached the far end without discovering a single scratch.
‘For I should hate to think,’ she explained to the small brown mouse with a white blaze on its forehead which was sitting in front of the lens washing its whiskers in a bemused fashion, ‘that I had damaged this splendid instrument. By the way,’ she continued confidentially, as the mouse carefully inspected her, ‘I have just seen your twin, at the other end of this Tele thing.’
She turned and pointed, but there was no sign of another mouse at the far end, and when she turned back the mouse she had been talking to was scurrying off as fast as it could go.
Victoriana sighed, and made to follow the others through the door when the sound of voices reached her ears; she paused in the doorway to listen, and peeped round to see who was talking.
Irving, Fingers and Rusty were all clustered round a great mullioned bay window, looking out onto the grounds before the castle, and Rusty was chattering excitedly.
‘I think Major Trelawney has rounded them all up, though I can’t make out McHerring down there.’
‘Yeah, da Major seems to a’ won da baddle okay an’ dose guys in skoits have all surrendered to him.’
‘Kilts,’ corrected Rusty automatically, ‘but I still haven’t spotted McHerring.’
‘Yecouldnaspotacaberinawuidyeweewretch,’ screeched McHerring, throwing wide a door and striding into the room. The draught made the arras on the wall flap and Victoriana slipped unnoticed into the room and hid behind it.She could just make out the figures through the balding weave.
‘I confess I entertain the doubt that you would be able to recognise a tree for what it is, even if you were in the middle of Birnam Forest, you young ne’er-do-well,’ said a stilted voice.
Victoriana started slightly, then noticed the Translator box lying on the floor a couple of feet from her where Rusty must have dropped it as he entered the room.
‘McHerring!’ The three at the window turned as one.
‘AyetisI,’ quoth he, yanking at a large lever on the wall, causing a huge screen to fall from the ceiling which very effectively imprisoned them in the bay window. Victoriana could see them gesticulating and shouting behind the thick glass windows set into the screen, waggling the door handle ineffectively up and down, but couldn’t hear a thing.
‘You will find,’ announced the translator box, ‘that this blast screen is completely sound- as well as blast-proof. You cannot escape. I hold in my hand the key to your freedom.’
McHerring waggled a key in front of the window, grinning fiercely as Fingers fruitlessly yanked at the door handle again. Still grinning, he marched across and set the key down on a small table just in front of the arras where Victoriana was concealed: she held her breath desperately, and hoped she wouldn’t sneeze.
McHerring twirled a swizzle stick in the glass he was carrying, took a sip and set the glass down on the table beside the key; then he turned towards the door where he had entered.
‘Perrooott!’ He roared, and the one-armed man shambled into the room. Together they opened a large set of double doors and disappeared briefly; with much grunting and groaning they reappeared, wheeling into the room a small tandem-seater steam-powered airship.
‘Raisethehatchyebooby,’ commanded McHerring.
Perrott took hold of a hefty rope running up the wall into the ceiling and started hauling on it. As he pulled down a length, he trapped the rope on the floor with his foot while he grabbed another handhold. With a loud creaking, a large hatch in the wall opposite the window started to lift towards the ceiling, giving a view of the sea on the other side of the castle. Slowly the hatch creaked upwards towards the rafters, but then Perrott gave a squawk as the rope slipped through his hand; in a trice his foot was caught in a loop as the rope on the floor snaked upwards, and he was whisked up towards the ceiling. The hatch started to fall and jammed in its runners, leaving a gap just large enough for the miniature airship to squeeze through.
Victoriana took advantage of the confusion to slip out from behind the arras, but before she could grab the key, McHerring had recovered from his surprise and was turning away from the dangling figure and inspecting his machine. Within minutes he had set the engine going and filled the room with a cloud of smoke and steam. He dusted off his hands, walked over to the table and drank off the glass of water, smacking his lips in satisfaction. With a triumphant wave at his prisoners, he climbed into the airship and puttered gently out of the hatchway, ignoring the despairing pleas of his swinging minion.
Victoriana slipped out from behind the arras, picked up the key and released her friends.
‘Too late,’ shouted Rusty in frustration, ‘he’s getting away!’
They watched as McHerring opened the throttle and roared out over the sea. He circled the stately HMS Devastation as it patrolled close to the shore, making mocking gestures out of the porthole, then turned the craft towards the open sea and freedom.
At which point his little craft started behaving very strangely; it veered from side to side, performed an abrupt loop, and then plunged straight down into the sea with a tremendous splash.
‘What on earth …’ started Rusty, then noticed Victoriana was smiling. ‘Wait a minute – what did you do?’
‘Well,’ explained Victoriana, ‘I recognised the swizzle stick he had in his drink because Mama had one just like it when she was following a health regime that was advertised in The Perspicacious Lady’s Journal. Apparently water has a natural magnetic charge, and the swizzle stick can boost this to promote the ‘elegant glow of a healthy body’,’ she recited. ‘Papa advised her to stop using it after she accidentally turned the device up too high, and the cutlery started flying off the table and sticking to her. So I just wound it up as far as it would go…’
‘…and the magnetism affected McHerring’s controls and caused him to crash!’ finished Rusty, ‘Brilliant!’
‘Dat’s me goil!’ exclaimed Irving, beaming at her.
They watched as HMS Devastation lowered a small boat into the water; its crew grabbed the oars and started splashing their way through the waves towards the lone struggling figure.
A series of shouted orders from below drew them to the mullioned window, where Major Trelawney was organising his troops and their prisoners.
‘Ahoy, Major,’ Rusty called down, making the Major look up in surprise.
‘Well done, Major!’ added Victoriana, waving at him.
‘I say, you fellows,’ he called back, ‘what are you doing up there? Haven’t seen McHerring by any chance, have you?’
‘Yeah, da Navy’s goddim,’ bellowed Irving.
‘What about that fellow Perrott? Any sign of him?’
‘He’s goin’ nowhere,’ responded Fingers with a grin, ‘he’s jest hangin’ around up here!’