The Wyverns of Addershall Park
A Hawthorne and Benton mystery
Brigadier Lethbridge Stewart of UNIT spread out photographs from the file in front of him on his desk and sighed impatiently. It was typical of the Doctor to be away at a time like this, when the Government was breathing down his neck and time was running out for an explanation. And then for him to suggest that … well, he was sure she was an intelligent woman, from what Benton had said she could certainly keep her head in a crisis, but if UNIT HQ found out that they had a witch on the staff? The sound of the intercom interrupted his thoughts.
“Miss Hawthorne is here, Sir.”
“Right, show her in, Jenkins.”
The Brigadier shuffled the photos back into the folder and stood up to welcome his visitor. She was a lady of what used to be referred to as “middle years,” slim, grey-haired and wearing a tweed skirt and jacket, with a polo necked jumper under the jacket. She had an air of looking beyond her immediate surroundings, as if seeking something just out of reach, which some might interpret as a sign of absent mindedness, although this would have been a mistake. She approached the desk and stretched out a slim hand to the Brigadier.
“Brigadier! Such a surprise to hear from you. I came as soon as I could, once I had arranged for my neighbour Mrs. Brookes to look in on my cat.”
The Brigadier sat down, and gestured to the chair on the other side of his desk. Miss Hawthorne seated herself, placing her large handbag carefully near her feet. The Brigadier raised an eyebrow, remembering what his sergeant had told him was usually kept in the bag.
“Must be stronger than she looks” he thought, but then recalled himself to the business in hand.
“Miss Hawthorne. We find ourselves in a position where, well, to be frank,”
“Well. We have a case on our hands that is, that is to say,”
“We have a case that seems to involve your particular area of expertise and we would be grateful if you would see your way to helping us with it.”
“My area of? You mean magic? But I thought the Doctor?”
“The Doctor is away at present,” the Brigadier paused, hoping that Miss Hawthorne wouldn’t ask where the Doctor was, not only because he wasn’t sure, but also because the Time Lord’s possible location could be much further afield than even a white witch could imagine, “working on another case. But before he left he suggested we might consult you in his absence.”
“Well! You astonish me, Brigadier! I shall, of course be delighted to help, if you and the Doctor really feel I can be of use, in my unscientific way. If you could tell me what it is you wish me to help you with?”
“Thank you Miss Hawthorne. Now,” feeling happier now the meeting was getting down to brass tacks, the Brigadier opened his folder and turned it so his visitor could see the contents, “are you familiar with the works going on in Essex for the new university?”
“Yes, at least, I had seen it mentioned in the newspaper. Was there not some delay with the works? I believe the paper mentioned that, but didn’t say why.”
“Yes, well, the reason they didn’t say why was that the people at the university have wanted to keep quiet about what’s been going on. When I show you, I think you’ll see why.”
He spread out the photos from the file.
“It began with these symbols appearing on the building works.”
Miss Hawthorne gasped and gripped the amulet she wore on a chain around her neck.
“Mph. The builders cleaned them off, of course, but the marks kept coming back.”
“It would take more than soap and water to cleanse those marks! Did they see who was responsible?”
“No. They appeared overnight. There is a nightwatchman, but it’s a large site and the ground is so churned up from the works it’s impossible to check for footprints. The fence was checked, but there was no obvious sign of a break in. Then after the symbols came the snakes.”
“Yes, adders. That part of Essex is known for ‘em apparently. But they don’t usually find their way into upstairs bedrooms.”
“The committee overseeing the university was staying over in the big house on site, Addershall Place. They dined together with some local dignitaries, then went up to bed. Each of them found a snake in their room.”
“and was anyone?”
“Nobody was bitten, but it gave them all a nasty scare. The local police spoke to the staff, but couldn’t establish how the things had got there. Then, last week, one of the builders working in the foundations ran into the site office swearing blind that he’d seen a monster in the foundation and refusing to go back to work. He was in early, by himself, so there weren’t any witnesses. The police thought he must have been drinking, but the other builders say he never touches a drop and he’s never been in trouble before.”
Miss Hawthorne had leant forward to examine the photographs, but at this she looked up.
“And did the police find any trace of this ‘monster’?”
“There were some scratches on the concrete, see here,” the Brigadier pointed out the marks on the photograph, “and this mark here, looks like something was dragged across the fresh cement, so there was certainly something down there. Because there had been worries about wildlife on the site, the police got one of those new night vision cameras and set that up to record overnight on Thursday and … well.”
The Brigadier pulled the photograph out from under the others. It was blurred and shadowy, but Miss Hawthorne could make out a definite shape, a squat body and long neck, with a tail curling round two legs that ended in taloned toes and a horned, reptilian head.
“Great Heavens! But that’s a wyvern! And did they catch it?”
“No, it had gone by the morning. The film has been checked, it wasn’t interfered with. The camera really saw what is in that picture. And THAT was the point at which we were called in.”
“I see.” Miss Hawthorne looked at the photograph, then at the Brigadier, “And how can I be of assistance? It does look as if there might be black magic at work, but, really, I cannot claim any familiarity with snakes or fabulous beasts,” she paused, “with one exception, obviously.”
“Obviously,” the Brigadier smiled, for the first time in the conversation. “We are, that is to say the Doctor is, of the opinion that someone is either trying to use black magic, or pretending to use it to hold up works on the university. The work is already seriously behind schedule and any further delay could lead to it being abandoned completely. That would be a disaster, for a number of reasons I needn’t go into now. It’s all in the file. Whether the people doing this believe in magic isn’t clear, but even if they don’t, someone is going to a lot of trouble to make it look as if there is some devilry at work. You know about magic, and, after that bother at Devil’s End, you know our methods too. Do you think you could help us find out who is behind this, so we can stop them?”
Miss Hawthorne looked past the Brigadier, seemingly focused on a spot somewhere through the wall behind him. Then she looked him directly in the eye, with an intensity that took him by surprise.
“Well. I can’t promise to solve your mystery, Brigadier. But I will certainly try.”
“Excellent, thank you Miss Hawthorne. Now, we can give you an office here, but I imagine you will be wanting to get down to Essex pretty soon to have a look around. We can have transport arranged for you when you need it and a driver who can be on hand, should there be any rough stuff.”
“Heavens! I hope there won’t be!”
“So do I, Miss Hawthorne, so do I, but one can’t be too careful. I wouldn’t worry though, the Sergeant will look after that side of things.”
“Would that be?”
“Sergeant Benton? Yes, as you got on so well at Devil’s End it seems sensible for you to work together again. “
“How delightful! And does he know about our, er, mission yet?”
“Not yet,” a tiny smile quirked the Brigadier’s lips, “I’m just about to tell him now!”
The Brigadier pressed a button on his intercom.
“Send Corporal Scott in please, and get a message to the range for Sergeant Benton to report to me as soon as possible.”
The Brigadier passed the folder to Miss Hawthorne.
“You’ll find all the facts of the matter in here, at least as far as we have been able to establish. Anything else you need, just let Corporal Scott know, or call the switchboard.”
“Thank you, Brigadier. May I ask? Will the Sergeant and I be acting in an official capacity, or are we, how can I put it, ‘undercover’ so to speak?”
The Brigadier cleared his throat, trying to resist the mental picture conjured by the idea of Miss Hawthorne and Benton as undercover agents.
“Ah-hum! Well, er, for the time being we aren’t investigating in an official capacity. The Chief Constable will be kept informed, but the powers that be are keen to keep a lid on any publicity for as long as they can, so you’ll be there to gather facts and report back. Any serious developments and we’ll get the local police or UNIT sent in.”
“Ah, thank you.”
There was a knock at the door and Corporal Scott entered and saluted.
“Ah, Scott, take Miss Hawthorne to her office, see she has everything she needs, then get onto transport to arrange an unmarked car for when she’s ready to travel.”
The Corporal turned smartly and left the room, Miss Hawthorne following her out. As the door closed behind them, the Brigadier leant back in his chair. One of the benefits of rank, he reflected, was that, when events became as strange as they frequently did at UNIT, you could always pass a fair amount of that strangeness on to your subordinates.
The door opened to admit the tall and reassuringly solid form of Sergeant Benton.
“Ah, Benton, at ease. In fact you may as well sit down, this will take a few minutes.”
Miss Hawthorne followed Corporal Scott through the corridors of UNIT HQ, hoping that she would be able to remember the way out and not wander into anywhere she wasn’t supposed to be. Eventually, the Corporal stopped at a door that seemed identical to all the others and opened it, standing back to let Miss Hawthorne enter.
“Here we are, Ma’am.”
The “office” proved to be a medium sized room that reminded Miss Hawthorne of a school chemistry laboratory. A blackboard occupied one wall, with a desk and chair in front of it and a workbench ran along the wall under the windows, with an enamel sink set into one end. Chairs were stacked in rows along the wall opposite the desk. Miss Hawthorne supposed it was an unused briefing room of some sort. She set her handbag down by the desk. Corporal Scott joined her
“The phone is here, Ma’am, just dial 0 for the switchboard.”
“Thank you, Corporal”
“Is there anything else I can get you for the moment?”
“Well. Let me think a moment. Yes. As the Sergeant and I will be travelling, ahem, incognito, I think perhaps I had better arrange for our accommodation myself. Could you find me a guide book with some addresses for hotels or bed and breakfast establishments near Addershall?”
“Certainly Ma’am, I’ll drop it by as soon as I can, there’s an untraceable outside line you can use, I’ll show you when I get back.”
“Ah, thank you. And er, about, the cost?”
“You’ll get an allowance from the cashier when you’re ready to leave to cover the costs, no need to worry about that.”
“Thank you, I had wondered about that! Well, I think that is all I need for the moment, I shall get myself sorted out and then consult the Brigadier’s file.”
“Very good, Ma’am, I’ll fetch that guide and then you can just give the switchboard a bell when you are ready.”
Corporal Scott saluted, which made Miss Hawthorne jump slightly, then left the room. Miss Hawthorne crossed the room to open a window, then seated herself cautiously at the desk.
“Olive Muriel Hawthorne, what have you got yourself into?”
Then she shook her head. She was there to do a job and do it she would, to the best of her ability. She reached into her handbag and drew out a small, round stand, followed by her crystal ball. She might not need to use it, but it made her feel at home to have it on the desk. The crystal ball was followed by ceramic dish, a bag of dried leaves and a box of matches. These she placed on the bench near the window, pouring some of the leaves into the dish and then lighting them with a match. As the familiar scent of sage spread through the room, Miss Hawthorne settled herself more comfortably at the desk and opened the file, taking a small notebook and a silver propelling pencil from her pocket. She spread out the photographs from the file and opened a map that was included with them, then leaned forward to examine them more closely, making a note in her book when she found something of particular interest.
A knock at the door turned out to be Corporal Scott, bearing a well-worn but up to date guide book to North Essex.
“Thank you, Corporal, that was very quick!”
“No difficulty there, Ma’am, Sergeant Osgood is keen on birdwatching and he goes that way camping when he’s on leave.”
The Corporal departed, leaving Miss Hawthorne with this surprising insight into the life of Sergeant Osgood, whom she vaguely remembered as a small bespectacled man with a harassed expression, entirely covered in soot. Armed with the Sergeant’s guidebook, she turned to the map again.
She was on the point of reaching for the phone to call for Corporal Scott when there was another knock at the door.
“Hallo Miss Hawthorne.”
“Sergeant! I am pleased to see you. Do come in.”
The Sergeant entered, then stopped, coughing.
“Blimey, Miss Hawthorne, what’ve you been cooking up in here?”
“Sage, Sergeant, sage. It clears the mind and drives out malign influences.”
“Anything you say, Ma’am.” The sergeant glanced at the desk, “made any progress?”
“I believe so, but it will be easier to tell once we have arrived in Essex. I was about to make the arrangements for our accommodation, but I’m unfamiliar with how these things work. Are we to travel under assumed names?”
“I don’t think so, just not tell anyone who we work for.”
“Hmm, in that case we had better have another reason for our visit. I have it! I will need to visit some churches and historical sites, we can pretend that I am researching family history, or something of that kind.”
“Right, and who am I?”
“Hmm.” Miss Hawthorne looked appraisingly at Sergeant Benton, who would, she thought, never be mistaken for anything other than a soldier, no matter how he was dressed. Then an idea struck her.
“Well, even these days people don’t expect a lady of my age to be able to drive, so perhaps you can be, er, my nephew who is escorting me on my visits while you are on leave from the army.”
“Right!” The sergeant suppressed a smile “Auntie?”
“You had better call me Aunt Olive. And you have a first name, I suppose, I can’t very well address you as Sergeant!”
“No, er, it’s John.”
“Good, that should be easy enough to remember at least. Now, if you can show me how to make a call on this contraption, I will make the arrangements and then we had better look at this file together and make our plans.”
The afternoon shift was coming to an end as Bill Murphy set out from the site office on his round. The mud sucked at his boots as he walked, sending his already low mood even lower.
He muttered, pausing to withdraw his left boot from a deeper patch. The sun hadn’t set yet, but already the evening silence was beginning to settle. Bill walked on, his torch gripped firmly in his right hand, a whistle on a chain bumping on his chest. And that was another thing. Bloody whistles. Ever since that fool of a chippy had got himself in a tizzy, they’d had to do more patrols and have these things hanging round their necks like bloody traffic policemen. As if that would help if you got attacked by a monster. Fool was probably half-cut anyway. A sudden noise on his left made him stop. He caught his breath, then relaxed. Probably just a fox. Trouble was, you started hearing things. Then it came again. A hissing, grunting sound, from behind a pile of sacks. Gripping his torch more tightly, Murphy crept towards the sacks, trying to be quiet, and silently cursing the noise made by the mud, slurping around his boots. Closer and closer he crept until.
A fox darted out from behind the sacks. Brushing against Murphy’s legs as it passed him, it sped off across the site, teeth bared. Murphy shook his fist at the departing animal. That was the thing, you started imagining and then all it was was a bloody… And then he saw what it was that had made the fox run, and began to run himself. He blew on the hated whistle as he ran, again and again, the thumping of his pulse in his ears and the sound of his feet in the mud drowning any sound of the creature behind him, but he knew it was there. At last, nearing the edge of the foundations he turned to look and he fell, his feet sliding from under him, and he saw the creature leap and closed his eyes.
“There, that must be the park, Sergeant”
“Yes, it looks like it from the ... hang on!”
The car braked suddenly as an ambulance came out of the turning ahead, lights flashing and siren blaring. Miss Hawthorne looked at the Sergeant in alarm.
“Oh dear, do you think?”
“Dunno, but I’d better report it. I’ll just pull over, there’s a layby just up there.”
Sergeant Benton parked the car and Miss Hawthorne got out, wanting to stretch her legs and get a sense of the place they had come to. Benton opened the glove compartment, which contained a small radio set, a feature of all UNIT “unmarked” vehicles.
“Greyhound four, calling Trap One. Greyhound four calling Trap One, are you receiving? Over.”
“Receiving you, Greyhound four, go ahead, over.”
“Have just seen ambulance leaving Addershall Park in a hurry, over.”
There was a muffled crackling and the Brigadier’s voice came through the speaker.
“Thank you Benton, any other signs of trouble? Over.”
“Not so far, Sir, but I thought I’d better report it. Over.”
“Quite right. I’ll check with the Chief Constable and update you as soon as possible. Meanwhile, carry on as planned. Over”
Benton replaced the handset and closed the glovebox. Hearing the end of the conversation, Miss Hawthorne got back into the car.
“Well, Sergeant, it looks as if things are starting to happen, I hope we are not too late.”
“So do I, Miss Hawthorne, but let’s get to the hotel first, then we can take stock”
“I agree, we will be able to think more clearly once we have settled in and had some refreshment.”
The hotel in Addershall village was adequate, if a little old-fashioned. As befitted their roles of aunt and nephew, Miss Hawthorne went to the reception to announce their arrival, while Benton parked the car and got the luggage out of the boot. He came in as Miss Hawthorne was taking the keys to their rooms from the owner at the reception.
“Ah, John, there you are. Mrs. Hobbs was just explaining about dinner and lunches, she can give us a packed lunch for our adventures.”
“Oh, good, thank you, that’ll be ideal.”
“If you’ll follow me, Miss Hawthorne and Mr?”
“Ah. I’ll show you your rooms. Two bedrooms and a sitting room, like you asked for.”
“You’re very kind. And if I might impose on you again? It’s possible that my publisher may call this evening about an urgent matter, I took the liberty of giving him your number.” (before leaving UNIT HQ Miss Hawthorne had decided that posing as an author would offer a reasonable explanation of some of her investigations.)
“That’s fine, Miss Hawthorne, I’ll let you know if they call.”
They crossed the lobby, passing an elderly man who was seated in a battered armchair near the desk.
“That your car out there booy?”
“Yes, well, it’s a hired job.”
“Ah, flash job. Thought yew mighter been one a’ them from the paark.”
“The park? Oh you mean the university?”
“Now Dad, don’t go on at our guests like that,” Mrs. Hobbs cut in quickly and ushered her customers away from the lobby, “I’m sorry about that, Dad is set in his ways and he doesn’t like changes, especially close to home.”
“Well, that’s understandable,” said Miss Hawthorne in calming tones, “He must have seen a lot of changes in his day”
“He certainly has!” Mrs. Hobbs relaxed a bit.
“If I may, I’d like to interview him later. Nothing formal you understand, but I feel sure he might know things that would be a tremendous help with my book.”
“Oh, well if you think so, Miss Hawthorne. Is your book about Essex then?”
“Yes, I have a particular interest in folklore and local history. I gather from my researches that this area was once well known for witchcraft!”
As Miss Hawthorne said this, she looked sharply at Mrs. Hobbs. Was there the tiniest flicker in her hostess’ eyes? She decided not to press any further at the moment.
“In any case, I shall be wanting to consult the parish registers and look at the church, which seems charming and very interesting from the description in the guidebook”
Mrs. Hobbs seemed to relax again.
“Oh yes, you’ll find plenty to interest you in there. Right, here we are, dinner at half past six, remember, down the stairs and turn right in the lobby for the dining room.”
As the hostess bustled away, Benton and Miss Hawthorne exchanged meaningful glances.
“Yes, I reckon you put the wind up her properly when you mentioned witches”
“Yes, it looks as if the case is closer to home that we might have thought. In any case, we must get ready for dinner.”
“Yes, see you later Auntie!”
Benton went into his room and closed the door quickly before Miss Hawthorne could reply.
The dining room was, like the rest of the hotel, clean, but old fashioned. The tables and chairs were made of a dark, heavy wood and there were dark red, tasseled shades on the lamps and wall lights, which lent a slightly ghoulish air to the room. On the other hand, Miss Hawthorne thought as she contemplated the dessert, an uninspiring mixture of jelly and tinned fruit cocktail, given the lurid pattern on Sergeant Benton’s tie, perhaps subdued lighting was desirable. Was it being in uniform all his working life that made him want to indulge in such bright colours when in civvies? Her train of thought was interrupted by her hostess.
“Miss Hawthorne? There’s a call for you.”
“Ah, thank you.”
Miss Hawthorne put down her napkin and followed Mrs. Hobbs to the lobby. The telephone was in a small booth near the reception desk. Miss Hawthorne went in and picked up the receiver, pulling the door closed behind her.
“Ah, Miss Hawthorne, Lethbridge Stewart here.”
“Mr. Stewart, how good of you to call!”
There was nobody else in the lobby, but Miss Hawthorne thought it wise to maintain their cover story at all times.
“I’ve spoken to the Chief Constable, there has been an attack on the site. One of the security guards was chased and mauled by ... something. He survived, but had to be sedated at the hospital, so he hasn’t been questioned yet.”
“Ah, thank you for confirming that.”
“So the sooner you can get to work.”
“Yes, of course, I shall be visiting the church tomorrow. John may go to the pub later, if he isn’t too tired after the drive, but I shall be getting an early night.”
“I see, well, I never thought I’d say this, but the sooner Benton gets to the pub to pick up the local gossip, the better!”
Miss Hawthorne smiled.
“Quite, thank you Mr. Stewart.”
“Well, good luck Miss Hawthorne, report as often as you can.”
“Yes of course, goodbye Mr. Stewart.”
By the time Miss Hawthorne returned to the dining room, the dessert bowls had been cleared and coffee brought round. Miss Hawthorne looked at the contents of her cup and decided not to take a chance on drinking it.
“All sorted out, Aunt Olive?”
“Oh yes, Mr. Stewart has cleared the matter up for me.” She picked up her handbag and stifled a yawn ostentatiously. “And now, I think I’ll go to bed, it has been a long day.”
“Right you are, I think I’ll go and see what the local’s like for a bit.”
“Well, don’t be too late, you’ve driven a long way today.”
Benton avoided Miss Hawthorne’s eyes, trying not to laugh.
They parted company at their bedroom doors, Miss Hawthorne to make plans for the following day and Benton to change into a more casual outfit before heading off to find a pub.
The Spread Eagle on Addershall’s main avenue seemed a likely place to find what Benton was after in the way of local gossip. The front door was propped open and a warm yellow light flooded out onto the drive. A couple of cars were parked at the front and four or five bicycles, in various stages of decrepitude were propped against the wall under the windows. Benton could hear the sound of chatter, laughter and argument coming from inside. He walked in and was not surprised when an awkward silence fell. The men seated at the bar turned to look at the newcomer and he met their gaze directly as he walked over to the bar. Having listened to him order a pint of the local ale, the regulars seemed to lose interest and the chatter resumed as he made his way over to a vacant table near the door. Putting his pint down carefully on the sticky surface of the table, he wedged himself onto the bench behind it, so he was facing the room, then pulled one of Sergeant Osgood’s birdwatching books out of his pocket and, to all appearances, buried himself in the contents. The sound of a stool scraping on the floor made him look up. A thickset man in his thirties was standing by the table. He wore overalls, and Benton noticed dried mud on his heavy, steel toed boots. Without waiting for an invitation, he plonked his pint glass down on the table and sat down on the stool. Benton waited for him to speak.
“You staying up at the hotel then?”
“Yeah.” (why make it easy for him?)
“Been here before?”
“No, first time, my Aunt’s writing a book and I had some leave, so I said I’d help her out with the driving.”
“Writing a book, eh? What about?”
“Oh, local history and legends and so on. She’s got a bee in her bonnet about there being witches round here.”
Benton glanced back down at his book, but even so, his eyes caught a movement near the bar and he heard a sharp intake of breath somewhere close by.
“I mean, it’s barmy right? But her publisher likes it, so,” he shrugged.
The other man seemed to have made a decision, he stretched out his hand.
“Good to meet you, John. And what are you doing while your aunt’s chasing witches?”
Under normal circumstances, Benton would have told him to mind his own business, but these weren’t normal circumstances. Instead, he held up the book.
“Thought I’d have a go at this. One of the chaps is crackers about it and said this was a good place to start, gave me a few tips.”
He looked at his watch and stood up.
“Anyway, I’d better get back.”
“Right, might see you again then?”
“Right, well, if you get bored of the birds, I might be able to help you out there.”
Benton sat down again, slowly.
“How do you mean?”
“Oh, never mind that for now, we can talk about it later, just keep it in mind.”
“Right, well, goodnight all.”
Benton left the pub, his mind racing. What exactly was Mullins suggesting? Something underhanded for certain, or he wouldn’t have been so cagey about it. From the look of him, he worked on the building site. Could it have something to do with the case, or was some other dodgy business going on? Either way, it was worth looking into. Mustn’t seem too keen though, leave it a day or so… This train of thought took him to the door of the hotel. He let himself in with the night key he had been given and closed the front door quietly behind him, then walked upstairs. Seeing a light under Miss Hawthorne’s door, he tapped gently. A sudden rustling noise in the corridor made him turn round. It was Mrs. Hobbs, in a nightdress and dressing gown, with a torch in her hand.
“You found your way back alright then, Mr. Benton?”
“Yes, thanks, Mrs. Hobbs. Just letting my Aunt know I’m back, she likes to sit up reading.”
“Good night Mr. Benton.”
“Good night Mrs. Hobbs.”
Benton went into his room and locked the door firmly behind him. Really there was nothing unusual about a hotel owner checking on their guests at night, but he felt somehow disturbed at Mrs. Hobbs sudden appearance in the corridor. Sergeant Benton was not given to the creeps, but, somehow, the events in the pub and the nature of the case, together with his encounter in the corridor added up to something he didn’t like at all. Hoping that nothing would happen in the night, he got into bed and turned out the lamp. He would have plenty to tell Miss Hawthorne in the morning, though, or rather, Aunt Olive. And with a smile, he turned on his side and was soon snoring.
A darkened room, lit by a single lamp. A pale hand holding a telephone receiver, one finger bearing a heavy silver ring with a curious design engraved on it.
“And he came back in before midnight?”
“Yes, he just went to the pub, Arthur Wilkins saw him there.”
“Good. Perhaps we needn’t worry about him. What about her?”
“She went up early, but her light was still on when he came in.”
“But she hadn’t gone out?”
“No, I would have seen her.”
“Good, we must make sure that she learns nothing. Even if she is not here to snoop, we can’t risk discovery. We are so close, once more and they will be gone and we will have won! You must watch them carefully.”
“Yes, sister, I will.”
“See that you do.”
The pale hand put the receiver back on the cradle. And at the hotel, Mrs. Hobbs hung up the phone on her bedside table and switched off the light.
Breakfast at the hotel proved to be as underwhelming as the dinner of the previous evening. Miss Hawthorne restricted herself to tea and toast and Benton, having started on what was described as full English, was beginning to wish that he had done the same. After breakfast they repaired to the sitting room and, having made sure the door was locked and drawn the draught excluder across to muffle any sounds, Benton brought Miss Hawthorne up to date with what had occurred the previous evening.
“How interesting. I feel sure that there are dark witches here. The Doctor would not trust my intuition, I’m sure, but I can feel that some evil is at work. And the evidence seems to confirm my suspicions.”
“It looks that way, and there’s something fishy going on at that site or I’m a Dutchman. You think there’s a connection?”
“It seems an unlikely coincidence. Well, I must be going, I have an appointment to interview the vicar at ten at the church.”
“Right, shall I run you down there in the car?”
“No, I think I shall walk, it seems to be quite close on the map, and one never knows what one might see in a village.”
“Then I’ll get on with some ‘birdwatching.’”
“Yes, but do be careful Sergeant.”
“I won’t go too close. Are we getting lunch from here?”
“It seems churlish to refuse, but, after breakfast and last night, I can’t say I am tempted. I gather from the guidebook that there is a tea room in the village, suppose we meet there at three, then we can make up for lunch, or lay in supplies in case dinner is a repeat of last night?”
“Sounds good to me, I’ll see you there. We’d better get going then, hadn’t we?”
“Indeed. You’ve got the offending documents?”
Benton patted his jacket pocket.
“Good. Good hunting, Sergeant.”
“And to you, Miss Hawthorne.”
They left the sitting room and went downstairs to the lobby to collect their packed lunches. Miss Hawthorne tucked hers away in her handbag, Benton put his in a BOAC flight bag that he had slung over one shoulder. With binoculars round his neck, a folding stool in one hand and one of Osgood’s bird books poking out of his pocket, he hoped that he looked enough like a trainee bird watcher to pass muster with any onlookers.
Miss Hawthorne and Benton parted on the hotel drive, she to walk down to the Church and he to the fields opposite, but not too close to, the building site. The sun was pleasantly warm that day and Miss Hawthorne enjoyed her walk, listening to the birdsong and feeling the breeze on her face. The church of Saint Osgyth was set back from the avenue, surrounded by a brick and flint wall. Miss Hawthorne passed through the lych gate and the churchyard, noting with interest the dates on some of the tombs and headstones. The church itself was typical of the area, a rectangular building with a short tower and spire and a tiled roof. From her research, Miss Hawthorne had learned that it had been constructed in Norman times, and retained many of the original architectural features, although, sadly, the wall paintings that would have adorned the interior had been painted out in a less enlightened age. Miss Hawthorne sighed at the thought of this historical vandalism, but then smiled as she saw the vicar waiting to greet her in the porch.
“Yes, thank you so much for meeting me, I know you must be a very busy man.”
“I’m always happy to greet visitors if I can. Welcome to Addershall and to Saint Osygth’s!”
After her unfortunate experience with the alleged Reverend Magister at Devil’s End, (who had turned out not only not to be a priest, but also not a human being, rather a rogue Time Lord bent on global domination), Miss Hawthorne had got into the habit of looking closely at any men of the cloth she encountered. The Reverend Butterworth, however, appeared to be an unthreatening example of his kind. Small of stature and wiry of build, with thinning fair hair and wire framed glasses, he smiled up at Miss Hawthorne as he held out his hand to her.
“Do come in. I gather you are interested in our witches and mythical monsters?”
“Well! News travels fast around here I must say.”
In her call to the vicarage, Miss Hawthorne had only mentioned wanting to look at the parish registers, clearly the village gossip circle was as lively in Addershall as it was in Devil’s End.
“You must excuse my flock, having an author arrive to research here is something of a novelty, some of them have got a little over-excited perhaps.”
Miss Hawthorne smiled.
“There is no harm done! I should probably have ‘come clean,’ as the young people say, when I spoke to you on the phone. I was worried that you might resent my incursion if you knew what my actual interest was. I can assure you that I am intending to treat the victims of the Witchfinder General’s campaign with the utmost sympathy and that my interest in wyverns (she looked sharply at the vicar, but he seemed untroubled by this reference) and other local myths is purely academic and founded in an interest in how stories become part of local culture.”
“My dear Miss Hawthorne, you need not excuse yourself to me! Working in a rural parish one becomes acquainted with all manner of tall tales and strange events that would make my urban colleagues’ eyes water! I was only going to say, that if you are interested in the local mythology, you should speak to Miss Forster, the librarian. She has that knowledge at her fingertips, not only in the library, but also in her personal collection, and I’m sure she would be delighted to answer any questions you may have.”
“Oh! That is most kind. I shall certainly look in to the library, I believe I passed it on my way down the avenue.”
“Yes, it is on the left just after the Co-operative store.”
“And now you will want to look at the registers. I have them for you here.”
“Thank you, yes, I have the names of some of the women who were persecuted by Hopkins and his ilk, I should like to find out if they were registered in this parish and whether they had any descendants who may still be in the area.”
This time there was a definite reaction. The vicar flinched, ever so slightly, but recovered himself quickly.
“Well, I wish you success with your search. If you don’t mind me leaving you to it?”
He gestured vaguely towards the lectern and altar, where preparations for a service were clearly underway.
“Not at all!”
Miss Hawthorne took her notebook and pencil out of her bag and turned to the page where she had listed the names of the women who had been accused of witchcraft in the time of the Witchfinder General.
Alys Byrd, spinster, died 18th October 1630. Mary Cross, married, 17th September 1625 to … Matthew Foryster. Miss Hawthorne made a note and turned to the deaths columns. Died 1645, “So there could have been children … yes!”
Henry Foryster born 21st April 1626 … married to Elizabeth Greene … died December 1687… children?
“Mind you the plague must have taken a toll… ah! Yes!”
Elizabeth and Arthur, born October 1641.
“Twins, good Heavens!”
Elizabeth married to Charles Rainbird … Arthur married to… ah, Anne Hobbes
“Hobbes, that’s interesting”
Miss Hawthorne worked her way through the registers, painstakingly tracing the Foryster family members and sketching a family tree in her notebook. In the late 18th century a development occurred that made her breathe in sharply
John Forster married to Mary Clegghorn… FORSTER? Well, changes in names weren’t uncommon, but could that mean? Her interest sharpened, Miss Hawthorne carried on her exploration, following the Forster family through the 19th and finally into the 20th century until she found;
Forster, Enid Elizabeth Alice, born 14th March 1920. No sign of a marriage. So, if this was the Miss Forster from the library, that would mean that she was a descendant of one of the Addershall witches! Which could, Miss Hawthorne admitted to her herself, mean nothing at all, but she had to start somewhere and the library was worth a visit in any case. She glanced at her watch. Half past twelve. The library would be closed for lunch, but that would still leave her time for a visit before meeting Benton for tea at 3. Miss Hawthorne closed the registers and put away her notebook, smiling to the vicar as she rose from her seat.
“Thank you so much for your time Mr. Butterworth, it has been most interesting. Would it be permitted to eat my sandwiches in your churchyard? I think I saw a bench on my way in?”
“You would be most welcome to, Miss Hawthorne. Have you managed to complete your researches?”
“I have plenty for the time being at any rate.”
Again, a slight twitch under the vicar’s left eye betrayed him, but, again, he recovered swiftly.
“I’m glad to hear it.”
He ushered Miss Hawthorne out of the door and locked it with an imposing iron key. The vicar and Miss Hawthorne made their way through the church yard to the bench. Behind the tower Miss Hawthorne noticed a patch of ground where the turf appeared to have been scorched.
“Ah, I see your grounds man has had a bonfire, I must think about that myself when I get home, the leaves do pile up so.”
“Er, yes, yes, quite. Well, good afternoon Miss Hawthorne.”
Miss Hawthorne sat down on the bench and reached into her bag for her lunch. As soon as the vicar was out of sight, she got up again and went back to the site of the alleged bonfire. Why should the vicar be so nervous about it? There wasn’t a law against bonfires, even in churchyards. Miss Hawthorne bent to inspect the ground. If there were bonfires here they were frequent, her experience told her that the ground had been burnt repeatedly and recently too. Not wishing to arouse the suspicions of passers-by, she returned to the bench and to her lunch, which proved to be as unappetizing as she had feared it would be. She abandoned the curly-edged cheese sandwich and made do with the apple, wondering, as she bit into it, how Sergeant Benton had been getting on.
After he had left Miss Hawthorne on the hotel drive, Sergeant Benton had strolled off in the direction of the Park. He whistled as he walked down the path at the edge of the fields, enjoying the fresh air and the rustle of the breeze through the wheat. Having reached what he felt was an adequate distance from the village, he unfolded his stool and sat down in the shelter of the hedge. He took Osgood’s book out of his pocket and a notebook and pencil out of his bag and laid them on the ground next to the stool, to be picked up quickly in case anyone came past. These preparations made, he took his binoculars out of their case and, finding a handy gap in the hedge, trained them on the building site in the park. The binoculars looked like an ordinary pair, that might have been carried by any birdwatcher, but were actually considerably more powerful, having been, as the UNIT staff put it, “Doctored.” As far as Benton could see, the site looked much as any building site did. Scaffolding had been erected and work was going on all over the site, with the exception of an area surrounded by police tape, presumably where the attack had taken place. So far, so normal, then. Benton moved slightly to look at the perimeter of the park, which also looked much as could be expected, until he spotted a dark coloured van, parked in a layby, with two men standing near the bonnet, deep in conversation. This wasn’t, in itself, particularly suspicious. They might be lost, or delivering to the site, but the van was unmarked and there wasn’t a map spread out. Benton focused on the faces of the men and realized that one of them was his new friend from the pub. Well, well, well. The Sergeant put the binoculars back in their case and the bird book back in his pocket. He picked up his notebook and took a small, hikers map out of the bag and unfolded it. Time to get a bit closer to the action.
Benton stepped through a bigger gap in the hedge and onto the road. He walked towards the van with his eyes fixed on his map, apparently oblivious to the van and the men. He hadn’t got far when he was tapped on the shoulder. Benton gave a start and dropped both the map and the book.
“Sorry mate, didn’t mean to make you jump.”
“D’you always creep up on people like that?”
The Sergeant bent down and picked up the map and the notebook. As he did so, a slip of paper fell out of the book and fluttered down to the road. He grabbed at it hastily, but was beaten to it by Mullins, who stepped back out of Benton’s reach.
“Oi! Give that back!”
“Well, well, been having a bit of bad luck with the horses have we?”
“That’s none of your business!”
Benton made to snatch the paper, but Mullins dodged him.
“Given any thought to my invitation from last night?”
“Oh, I could put a bit of work your way, if you’re interested. Looks like you could do with the cash.”
Mullins gave the betting slip back to Benton, who stuffed it into his pocket.
“Alright, so what? There’s no law against having a flutter, is there?”
“Not that I know of, mate. How about it? Fancy earning some quick dough for one night’s work?”
“Is it on the level though? If my C.O. found out...”
“And what about if he found out about the horses, eh? I don’t suppose he’d be impressed.”
Benton scowled, but nervously.
“Ok, ok, you’ve got me, what do you want me to do?”
“Oh it’s easy. Me and my lads are shifting some stuff off the site tonight, and we need a look out who can handle himself. We’ve got some help for a distraction, but we need a bloke to keep an eye out for trouble while we work. Paid cash in hand once we’ve finished the job. Are you in?”
Benton looked troubled, his shoulders sagged. Then he sighed.
“Yeah, OK, I’m in. When do we start?”
“After dark, meet me back here at nine and bring a torch”
Mullins clapped him on the back and went back over to the van. Benton turned and walked back towards the village, a slow smile coming over his face. Got them. Hook, line and sinker.
Having spent a diverting, if not particularly productive, time examining the inscriptions in Saint Osgyth’s churchyard, Miss Hawthorne made her way to the library. This was a modern building, with large windows and a flat roof, the afternoon sunlight flooding through onto the metal shelving within. Miss Hawthorne pushed open the door. Inside, an argument, or at least a ticking off appeared to be taking place. A woman in her mid-fifties was seated at the enquiry desk. Her wiry, grey hair was pulled back in a pleat and she wore a black, polo necked jumper. A tweed jacket, similar to Miss Hawthorne’s own, hung on the back of her chair. Miss Hawthorne couldn’t see if she was wearing an identical skirt, but imagined this to be the case. The woman was glaring at a younger woman who stood at the other side of the desk, clad in a cheese-cloth shirt and well-tailored slacks.
“May I remind you, Miss Wilson, that trousers are not considered to be appropriate attire for female members of the library staff! I won’t send you home to change, but don’t let it happen again!”
“No, Miss Forster.”
“Dreadful old bat,” thought Miss Hawthorne, then had to suppress a smile, clearly Sergeant Benton’s vocabulary was rubbing off on her. Pretending that she hadn’t heard any of the previous conversation, she walked into the library and trilled, “GOOD afternoon!” in her cheeriest voice. The women at the desk turned to look at her, Miss Wilson with a naturally cheerful expression, Miss Forster attempting to transform her scowl into a smile, with limited success. Miss Wilson spoke first:
“Welcome to the library! How may we help?”
“Thank you! If you would be so kind as to guide me to your local history section?”
“Certainly! This way.”
Miss Hawthorne followed Miss Wilson towards the back of the library. The local history section covered two bays of shelves against the back wall.
“Here it is. This is the general Essex section, then there’s Rowchester town, and here are the books about Addershall.”
“Thank you. Have you any maps?”
“Yes, there’s some local maps here, and the OS are on the shelf by the window.”
“Thank you very much. I must say (Miss Hawthorne glanced across at the enquiry desk where Miss Forster was glaring balefully at her computer screen) I do like your outfit. I couldn’t carry it off at my age, but it looks so smart and must be very comfortable and practical for work.”
Miss Wilson grinned. “Thank you! If you need anything else, I’ll be over there (she gestured towards a shelf where a half empty trolley showed that she had shelving to do) or ask at the enquiry desk.”
“Thank you very much.”
Miss Hawthorne deposited her handbag on a chair and went to look at the shelves. The books were much as she expected them to be, no contemporary historical texts, but plenty of pictorial works and a few more scholarly works. She selected a couple of volumes and a local map and sat down at a nearby desk, taking out her notebook and pencil. She read steadily for about a quarter of an hour, making occasional notes. The history of Addershall and Addershall Park were fascinating to her without her additional particular interest, and she always enjoyed the atmosphere of a library and the chance to consult works that were new to her. Miss Forster came over, apparently feeling that she needed to make up for her unfortunate first impression.
“Are you finding everything you need?”
Miss Hawthorne looked up. Her eye was instantly drawn to the ring on Miss Forster’s right hand. She smothered a gasp when she recognized the design and smiled.
“You really do have some excellent books here. Of course, one can’t expect to find original historical texts, but this section really is most helpful. I should introduce myself. My name is Hawthorne and I …”
“yes, Mr. Butterworth called, he said you would be visiting us”
(Did he indeed?)
“That was kind of him. He told me that you were the person to speak to about the local folklore”
Miss Forster smiled.
“He flatters me, I fear, but I do have quite a collection of works about our local myths and legends, one or two of them go back to the 17th century.”
“I wonder, would you care to come and see them? I am free this evening and I’d be honoured to show them to a fellow historian, especially one who is so interested in our little community.”
“Well, I, I feel I would be imposing,” said Miss Hawthorne, trying not to appear too eager.
“Nonsense! It would be my pleasure. I know you are staying up at the hotel (was there anything, Miss Hawthorne wondered, that the inhabitants of Addershall didn’t know about their visitors?) and Agatha Hobbs serves dinner at half past six, so shall we say at eight o’clock?”
“That would be delightful. Thank you so much.”
“That’s settled then! I’ll just give you my address,” Miss Hawthorne proffered her notebook and Miss Forster wrote down her address, and sketched a map of how to find the house from the Avenue, “there you are. It’s not far from here.”
“Thank you, I shall ask my nephew to bring me in the car. I’m sure we will have no trouble finding your house.”
“Good! Then I will see you at eight.”
Miss Forster returned to the enquiry desk and Miss Hawthorne looked at her watch. Half past two. Well, she could take a leisurely stroll down to the tea room, but she should probably put in another fifteen minutes or so with these books, just for the look of the thing. She turned to a fresh page in her notebook and pulled the map towards her.
The tea room proved to be a small but welcoming establishment, run by a capable young woman with the assistance of a lanky boy and a giggly girl. The food was a definite improvement on the meagre fare at the hotel, and Benton and Miss Hawthorne tucked into excellent sandwiches and freshly baked scones. When he had taken the edge off his hunger, Benton sat back with a sigh.
“Ah, that’s more like it!”
Miss Hawthorne smiled at him, but commented with what she felt was an appropriately aunt-like tone;
“Now, John, we mustn’t be greedy! But I must admit, our hostess could learn some valuable lessons from this establishment”
“Not half!” Benton grinned at her “Did you have a good time at the church?”
“Yes, thank you, the vicar was most welcoming and I made real progress with the registers. Then I visited the library, and the librarian has invited me to her home tonight to look at some of her rare books!”
“Really?” Benton’s eyebrows went up “Are you going to go?”
Reading the question within the question, Miss Hawthorne nodded.
“Yes, I think so, it seems too good an opportunity to miss. If you don’t mind running me down there later on.”
“Of course not!”
“Thank you, dear. Now I’ve talked enough about my day, how was yours?”
“Oh, pretty quiet, didn’t see many birds. I don’t know how Osgood sticks it for all that time. But I did have a bit of excitement.”
It was Miss Hawthorne’s turn to raise her eyebrows.
“Oh? Well you must tell me all about it on our way back. I shall just settle up and then we can be on our way.”
She caught the waitress’ eye and asked for the bill. On the walk back to the hotel, Benton told Miss Hawthorne about his meeting with Mullins and their arrangement for that night.
“And he didn’t suspect anything?”
“I don’t think so. I think he was just looking for a mug who he could leave in the soup, who wouldn’t be able to identify his gang.”
“And what about the church, did you find anything out?”
Miss Hawthorne gave him the details of her discoveries. By the time she had finished, they had reached the hotel. Mrs. Hobbs handed over their keys and, seeing them both deep in thought, said “why, what’s got into you two? You look as if you’d lost a pound and found a sixpence!”
Recalled to their roles, Miss Hawthorne smiled at her hostess.
“Not at all! It has been a very good day, but very tiring. I’m sure we will feel better after dinner,”
at which Benton suffered a sudden coughing fit. Having changed for dinner, Miss Hawthorne and Benton met briefly in the sitting room to confirm their plans for the evening. Benton had nipped out earlier to a phone box to inform the Brigadier and had received confirmation that UNIT troops would be ready to move at a moment’s notice and that, if no updates had been received by ten o’clock, they would move in anyway.
“So that’s all settled.”
Miss Hawthorne was surprised at herself, perhaps it was the time they had spent together that made her feel as if she and Benton really were related, but she placed a slim hand on top of one of his large, muscular mitts.
“Do take care, John. If these people are prepared to use black magic as a diversion, they must be utterly ruthless.”
Benton, equally surprised at himself, squeezed her fingers briefly.
“I will and you do too ‘Auntie’. I don’t like the sound of that librarian at all, or the vicar.”
There was a brief silence. Then Miss Hawthorne rose from her chair.
“Well, it won’t do any good to meet trouble halfway, we had better go and see what delights Mrs. Hobbs has in store for us.”
Benton grinned and stood back for her to leave the room before him.
Dinner passed largely in silence, a plate of chewy casserole and lumpy mashed potatoes followed by yet more tinned fruit cocktail. Having endured the after dinner coffee, which was brown, but singularly lacking in either flavour or caffeine, Miss Hawthorne and Benton returned to their rooms, to get ready for the rest of the evening. They met again on the landing, Miss Hawthorne in her tweed suit, with handbag, and Benton in dark trousers, a jumper and scarf and a bomber jacket, with a torch bulging in one pocket and a slight distortion of the material under his left arm, which told Miss Hawthorne that he was taking no chances. They drove the short distance to Miss Forster’s house in silence, Miss Hawthorne’s notebook propped on the dashboard so Benton could follow the map. Miss Forster was looking out of the window as they pulled up. Miss Hawthorne got out of the car and turned to go up the drive, until Benton called out
“Aunt Olive! You’ll want your notebook!”
He leaned over from the driver’s seat to pass it to her, his jacket falling open as he did so. Miss Forster turned from the window abruptly and went to open the door to her visitor. Miss Hawthorne turned to wave to Benton, then walked up the drive, steeling herself for what might come and fixing a smile on her face to greet her host.
“Miss Hawthorne, do come in!”
“Thank you, Miss Forster, it’s so kind of you to invite me.”
Miss Forster closed the door behind her guest and ushered her into what was clearly her study. She gestured to a wing-backed chair, “do sit down,” and busied herself with pouring sherry from a bottle which she fetched from a cupboard below the bookshelves.
“Oh, thank you.”
Miss Hawthorne accepted a glass and raised it to toast her host. As she did so, she noticed a slight sediment in the glass, that spoiled the usual clarity of the sherry. Had it corked? Or was it…? While Miss Forster’s back was turned, she raised the glass to her nose. Her long experience of herbs and distillation of remedies had sharpened Miss Hawthorne’s sense of smell. As Miss Forster turned back to face her, Miss Hawthorne put the glass to her lips as if to drink, but kept her lips closed.
“Ah, thank you. I don’t indulge often, but I do like a good sherry.”
“I’m so pleased you like it. Now, let us look at my books and see what I have that will be useful to you.”
Miss Forster’s collection was, indeed, impressive. Volumes of all sizes, some clearly of great age, bound in leather or in vellum, lined the walls of the study. Miss Forster selected a seventeenth century bestiary and passed it to Miss Hawthorne.
“Oh, this is wonderful.” Miss Hawthorne set down her sherry glass and began to turn the pages, genuinely thrilled by the contents. She lighted on a picture of a wyvern and compared it with her memory of the Brigadier’s photograph. Miss Forster came to look over her shoulder.
“Ah, I see you have found our local monster. There have been stories of wyverns in these parts for hundreds of years. They are said to appear in times of conflict, when evil-doers need to be driven out.”
“How fascinating! I don’t suppose, you wouldn’t happen to have a map that is contemporary to this book?”
“I believe so, there is at least a small map in this volume I believe…”
Miss Forster turned to the shelf again, and Miss Hawthorne took the opportunity to empty some of her sherry into a potted plant that stood on the table near her elbow. She then raised the glass to her lips again as her hostess returned with the book.
“here you are.”
“Thank you. Ah, I see. So this area is now Addershall Park?”
“And this (pointing to an illustration of a clearing in a clump of trees) could this have been a sacred grove?”
“Very likely. Worship of the old gods took place here long before anyone had even thought of universities.”
Miss Forster’s face was expressionless, but her voice shook with suppressed emotion. Miss Hawthorne pretended not to notice. Instead she pressed one hand to her temple and handed the book back to its owner with the other. Miss Forster leaned forward, with a concerned expression.
“My dear, are you quite well?”
“I… I’m afraid I must have over-exerted myself today. Either that or your sherry is stronger than I thought. I feel … rather …”
Her voice trailed to nothingness and she slumped in the chair, her head against one of the wings. Miss Forster lifted one of Miss Hawthorne’s hands by the wrist and watched if flop back limply.
“Good!” The word was hissed, rather than spoken. “You stay and have a nice nap and keep out of my way for a bit. I’ll sort you out properly later on.”
She moved to the telephone and picked up the receiver, dialing rapidly.
“It’s me. Yes. Out like a light. She won’t bother us this evening. Now what about him?”
Miss Hawthorne strained to hear, but the reply from the other end was inaudible
“Of course they are in it together. I saw him this evening with a gun. Off duty soldiers don’t go armed when escorting their aunts do they? What?”
More garbled squeaks from the other end.
“Mullins is a fool. Oh well, at least you can get word to him. It’s his mess, he can sort it out. I’m leaving now, don’t be late. This last ritual is the most important.”
She banged the receiver back in its cradle and looked again at the apparently sleeping form of Miss Hawthorne.
“Yes, you’ll do. But just to make sure.”
she took the key out of the inside of the study door and left the room, closing and locking the door behind her. Miss Hawthorne waited until she heard the front door close and Miss Forster’s footsteps recede down the drive, then she sprang out of the chair and scrabbled for her notebook in her bag. Finding the right page with a sigh of relief, she picked up the telephone receiver and dialed the number in her book. She waited for an answer, drumming her fingers on the desk in frustration. After what felt like an eternity, an answer came:
“UNIT HQ, Corporal Scott speaking”
“Oh thank goodness. It’s Olive Hawthorne here, Corporal, I must speak to the Brigadier at once.”
Miss Hawthorne gave her report in as few words as possible. With the Brigadier’s “We are on our way, Miss Hawthorne, hold tight,” still ringing in her ears, she opened one of the study windows, dropped her handbag through it and then clambered out, before setting off at a run towards the church. UNIT might be on their way, but the ritual would have started by now. As she ran, her mind went to Sergeant Benton, who, if she had understood the phone call, was walking into a trap.
After dropping off Miss Hawthorne, Benton had driven back to the hotel and parked the car. Torch in hand, he had then walked round to the meeting place. He reached the layby and turned off his torch. There seemed to be nobody there. Was he early? No, the illuminated dial of his watch showed just on nine. He whispered
“Mullins? Are you there?”
Footsteps sounded on the gravel behind him. He turned and then froze as the cold metal of a gun barrel pressed into the back of his neck.
“There’s been a change of plan. Search him!”
Two figures appeared out of the dark and hands patted inside his jacket, removing the gun and the torch.
“Now walk and keep your hands where we can see them.”
Benton raised his hands to shoulder height and walked forward. He had no idea how many were in the gang, or how many of them were armed, he would just have to wait for a chance to get away and hope he was able to take it. By the light of dimmed torches and the scaffolding security lights, the gang and their prisoner crossed the site until they reached a demountable cabin that was serving as one of the offices. The lights had been left on, so Benton was able to see at least five men, not including Mullins, who was behind him with the gun. As one of the gang went up the steps to the cabin to open the door, Benton turned suddenly, crouching as he did so and grabbing Mullins round the waist. He pushed with all his strength and the two men landed on the ground, Benton reaching for Mullin’s wrist to try and knock the gun out of his hand. Mullins hissed “Get him off me you idiots!” as the rest of the gang tried to pull Benton away. It took all five of them to haul the sergeant off Mullins and force him onto his knees in the mud. Mullins spat, then struck Benton across the face with the butt of his gun. Two of the gang half dragged, half carried Benton up the steps and threw him to the floor in a corner of the cabin.
“Tie him up, quick and shove something in his mouth. We haven’t got time to muck around now.”
One of the gang yanked Benton’s arms behind him and secured his wrists with some fuse wire from a roll on the floor, while another tied up his ankles. The sergeant’s own scarf was taken off his neck and shoved between his teeth. Mullins looked down at him and spat again.
“If I have time, I’ll come back and make you pay for this. Or I might just leave you for the police. Come on lads, the old bags will be getting going any minute with our last distraction, so we’d better make the most of it.”
Benton watched blearily as the gang left the cabin. He heard the key turn in the lock, then struggled to see if there was any give in his bonds. There was not. Exhausted he collapsed back in the corner, trying to plan for some way, any way to alert the authorities. He could only hope that Miss Hawthorne had had more luck.
By the time Miss Hawthorne reached the churchyard, the fire had already been lit. She could see the glow from behind the church tower. She crept past the gravestones, finally crouching behind a larger, family tomb to watch the ritual. A small fire was surrounded by robed and hooded figures. The leader (who Miss Hawthorne identified by her voice as Miss Forster) was leading a series of chants. The voices of the hooded followers rose and fell and slowly, before Miss Hawthorne’s horrified gaze, a shape began to form above the flames. It began as a blob, which resolved itself into clawed feet, a tail, wings, a body and, finally, a long neck and dragon-like head. The beast opened its mouth and let out a rasping howl. Miss Forster’s voice rose above the chanting and the wyvern turned its head to look at her, as if listening to instructions. Miss Hawthorne reached into her handbag. In an inside pocket she found, by touch alone, a muslin bag, tied at the neck with string. Leaving her refuge behind the tomb, she edged closer to the fire. Finally, having got as close as she could, she stood up to her full height and hurled the bag at the flames. A sudden, magnesium-bright flash went up from the fire. The coven recoiled, dazzled as Miss Hawthorne spread her arms and cried;
“Foul beast of darkness! Begone! I banish thee!”
The wyvern twisted in the air and howled, then vanished. Miss Forster pointed to Miss Hawthorne and shouted to her followers;
“Get her! She must pay!”
The coven was still dazzled by the flames and moved slowly towards Miss Hawthorne as she backed away. Suddenly the churchyard was flooded with light and a man’s voice called out
“You are surrounded! Stay where you are! Do not attempt to run!”
Almost as mysteriously as the wyvern had vanished, soldiers appeared out of the shadows. One of them ran over to Miss Hawthorne, who was leaning against a headstone, breathing heavily after her exertions.
“Alright, Miss Hawthorne?”
“Captain Yates! Yes, I think so. But Sergeant Benton is in terrible danger, he…”
Yates put an arm around her to support her as they walked to the gate.
“It’s OK, this is a two-part operation, the Brigadier is at the building site, he will find Benton and sort out that gang.”
Miss Hawthorne looked at the Captain’s bright, clean-cut face and sighed.
“Oh Captain Yates, that is a relief, I can’t tell you.”
“Here we are,” Yates helped Miss Hawthorne into a jeep that was parked a short distance from the church, “back to HQ, Jenkins and step on it.”
As the jeep pulled away, Miss Hawthorne felt herself relax at last. Jenkins glanced at the rear-view mirror and smiled. The events of the night had taken their toll and Miss Hawthorne was, actually, asleep.
Sergeant Benton had lost all track of time. He didn’t know if Mullins would make good on his threat to come back, or even how long it had been since the gang had left. He closed his eyes, to try and ease his aching head. The next moment his eyes snapped open. Was that gunfire? Where from? Were those lights reflecting in the windows? Someone ran up the steps, and rattled the door handle. It couldn’t be Mullins, he had a key. The cabin shook as repeated thumps landed from the outside. Finally the door burst open and a figure in uniform was silhouetted in the doorway. The figure turned and shouted,
“He’s in here! Get in here and bring those wire cutters!”
Benton closed his eyes again. Only one person had a voice like that. He was safe. The next moment the Brigadier was leaning over him and loosening the scarf around his mouth.
“Well, Sergeant, you seem to have been having more than your fair share of the action.”
Benton managed to say “Yes Sir” before he lost consciousness.
Two days later and a small group had gathered in the Brigadier’s office for a final debrief. Miss Hawthorne, restored to her usual poise, her handbag at her feet, was stirring a cup of tea. Sergeant Benton, on the mend, but with an ugly bruise across the right side of his face, sat next to her. The Brigadier occupied his usual position behind his desk and, lounging against the wall, was the Doctor, returned from his latest exploit and eager to hear what had happened in his absence.
“So,” said the Brigadier, consulting his notes, “the gang was using the coven.”
Miss Hawthorne set down her cup and saucer, “Say, rather, that they were using each other. The coven wished to drive the university away from what they saw as sacred ground and the gang was stealing building materials to sell and using the confusion caused by the apparitions to disguise the thefts and distract the police and the site security.”
“And the painted symbols?”
“That was the gang at work. They were all employed by the builders, so they knew how to avoid the watchmen and get onto the site. While some of them were engaged in theft, the others were repainting the symbols from the previous night”
“And where did the wyverns come from?”
“It is the Doctor’s opinion,” said Miss Hawthorne, carefully avoiding that gentleman’s eye, “that they were summoned from a parallel dimension. I know nothing of such things, of course, but they seem to have gone back to wherever it was, at any rate.”
“I see. Well, it’s all wrapped up now. One of the coven turned out to be Miss Forester’s niece, worked up at the big house, which explains the adders.”
“I see.” Miss Hawthorne picked up her bag, “Thank you for the tea, Brigadier, but now I really must be getting home. I feel I have had enough excitement in the last few days to last for the rest of my lifetime!
“Oh, really?” The Doctor said mischievously, “I thought this might be the beginning of a new crime fighting partnership!”
The Brigadier appeared to choke on his tea. Benton turned towards the Doctor and said, plaintively;
“I wouldn’t mind, Doctor, but every time I work with Miss Hawthorne I seem to get beaten up. I wouldn’t want to make a habit of it!”