9. THE FLIGHT
Adrian could never remember with any clarity how he managed to get away from Fenneltree Hall unscathed. He dimly recollected that he and Lord Fenneltree had managed to get Rosy out of the wreckage of the ballroom and back to the stables. He remembered Lord Fenneltree saying that in his considered opinion it would be safer if Adrian and Rosy “slipped off” before either Lady Fenneltree or the Master, or both, regained consciousness, and the next thing he knew was that he and Rosy were walking down the moonlit road away from Fenneltree Hall, the coloured trap rattling behind them. Rosy, who was now suffering from a hangover and wanted to sleep, kept sighing lugubriously at all the untoward activity which was making her head ache. Adrian’s head was also aching, but for different reasons. He had a few sharp things to say to Rosy in due course, but he wanted to put as much distance between them and Lady Fenneltree’s wrath as possible, and so he kept Rosy walking at a brisk pace. Although it was a beautiful night, with the moon full and high and the sky like a dew-drenched spider’s web of stars, it was cold, and the fast pace helped to keep them both warm.
After walking for three hours Adrian felt that they were reasonably safe, at least for that night. But he wanted to find a place where he and Rosy could conceal themselves the following day, for he knew Lady Fenneltree to be a woman of iron determination and he felt sure the would not rest until he and Rosy had been pursued, caught and transported back to Fenneltree Hall. And an interview with Lady Fenneltree was the last thing that Adrian wanted to face at that juncture.
The road had meandered through open fields and small copses; not the sort of country to offer the type of concealment that Adrian wanted. Now, to his dismay, he found that they were climbing up to a vast, wild piece of moorland where it would have been difficult to conceal a small dog, let alone anything the size of Rosy. Hoping that the moorland would soon end and that they would find a wood on the other side, Adrian pressed on. But the moor seemed to grow bigger and bigger until, in the cold light of dawn, it stretched away on every side as far as the eye could see, purple and brown and green, offering no place to hide at all. Then, as the sun rose, the whole moorland seemed to catch fire. At first little coiling fingers of mist started to twist up from the heather and gorse, and then these wisps merged together into gauzy curtains. Within minutes this thickened and the whole landscape disappeared into the grey haze. Rosy became quite invisible at a distance of twenty feet, but Adrian felt sure that as soon as the sun rose higher the mist would disappear, so now was the time to have a rest and something to eat. He led Rosy off the road and down into a hollow, and here he unpacked his kettle and soon had it boiling over a small fire. He made himself some tea and cut himself some bread and cheese. Then he presented Rosy with several loaves of stale bread. She viewed these with disdain, turning them over and over with her foot and sighing, deeply. Than she went to the back of the trap and laid her trunk on the firkin of ale, and Adrian, for the first time in his association with Rosy, lost his temper. He leapt to his feet ran forward and slapped Rosy’s trunk as hard as he could and Rosy, astonished at this unkind act from her god, backed away uttering a squeal out of all proportion to the pain the blow had given her. She was astonished and hurt; all she had wanted was a small nip of ale to wet her dry mouth and ease her aching head, and here was Adrian going berserk.
Keep away from that beer you . . . you . . . you bloody elephant, you,” snarled Adrian. “That’s all you damn’ well think of, booze, booze, booze.”
He covered the firkin up with a blanket and went and squatted morosely by his fire glaring at Rosy.
“I suppose you won’t really be satisfied until you’ve killed me,” he went on sarcastically. “Not content with invading my life and disrupting it, you then frighten half the horses in the city, terrify the Monkspepper Hunt and damn’ nearly kill the Master, and then go on to wreck one of the stately homes of England, dancing round with Lady Fenneltree in your trunk as though she was some low circus performer. They’re probably offering enormous rewards for our capture even now. And look at the damages: that chandelier alone must have cost a hundred and fifty pounds. But does all this worry you? Do you feel the faintest shred of remorse? No, not you. All you think about is getting boozed up again.”
He paused and poked the fire viciously. Rosy flapped her ears and waved her trunk to and fro. Although she missed the finer points of Adrian’s condemnation of her actions she was a perspicacious elephant and gathered from his tone of voice that he was, for some reason that escaped her, annoyed. She was very fond of Adrian and she would have liked to do something to make him feel better. She wondered if she stood on her head whether this would take his mind off his problems. She was just about to test this out when Adrian started talking again, so she paused politely to listen.
“What I’m going to do with you, you damned animal, is to get you down to the coast by hook or by crook, and then I’m going to give you to the first person that’s fool enough to want you. And I don’t care what they do with you . . . they can do anything they like with you . . .” Adrian paused and searched his mind for a suitably terrible fate for Rosy. “They can put you in a lumber yard, for all I care. They can stuff you and put you in a museum. That would probably be the safest place for you. I don’t care what happens to you as long as you get out of my life.”
Adrian paused for breath and Rosy, to show him that she bad been attending carefully to everything he said, flapped her ears and gave a small squeak.
“It’s no good pleading,” said Adrian austerely. “My mind’s quite made up. I have decided that the one thing I don’t want in my life is an elephant, particularly one which has an infinite capacity for drink and staggers through the countryside leaving a trail of destruction behind her. As soon as we reach the coast our association is at an end. I have suffered more than any normal human being can be expected to suffer and still remain normal. So, while I still have some sanity left, you must go. Now shut up and eat your bread. It’s all you’re going to get.”
So saying, Adrian pushed some more twigs on to the fire, rolled himself up in a blanket and tried to get half an hour’s nap before the mist lifted. He was so physically and mentally exhausted that he fell into a deep sleep almost at once, and slept blissfully on for two hours. When he awoke with a start the mist had disappeared and the moorland was flooded with sunlight. He sat up and looked about him, and what he saw made him leap to his feet in alarm. Some fifty feet away, parked by the side of a small stream, was a brightly coloured if slightly battered-looking caravan, with red and white check curtains drawn tightly over its windows. Rosy was leaning against it, a look of ecstasy on her face, scratching herself so that the whole caravan shook and rocked. From inside the caravan a shrill voice was endeavouring to make itself heard above the rasp of Rosy’s scratching.
“Go away, I command you,” shrilled the voice. “Foul demons of the pit, desist. In the name of Nebuchadnezzar and the ten Seals of Solomon, avaunt! In the name of Erasmus and the Sacred Pentacle of Promethus . . .”
“Rosy!” shouted Adrian. “Come away from there.”
Rosy sighed deeply as she left the caravan. It seemed to her that recently Adrian was always telling her not to do the things she liked doing. Adrian approached the steps that led up to the door of the caravan.
“I say!” he called. “You in there . . . I’m extremely Sorry . . .”
“Avaunt!” screamed the voice. “Avaunt, you demon, in the name of . . .”
“I’m not a demon,” shouted Adrian irritably. “Will you come out and let me explain?”
“No, no,” screamed the voice. “You can’t catch me like that . . . I’m only a poor, old woman and you’re trying to lure me out so that you can snatch the soul from my body . . . avaunt, I say . . .”
“Oh, do shut up,” said Adrian in exasperation. “I’m not a demon and I don’t want your soul. Why don’t you come out and let me explain?”
“If you’re not a demon,” said the voice cunningly, “how did you rock the caravan?”
“It was my elephant,” explained Adrian. “She was scratching herself against the side.”
“A likely story,” said the voice.
“Well, if you open the door and look you’ll see her,” said Adrian.
“How would I know it was an elephant?” asked the voice. “I’ve never seed one.”
Adrian took a deep breath and closed his eyes.
“Madam,” he said at last, “I merely wanted to apologize to you for any inconvenience that my elephant may have caused by scratching herself on your caravan. If you cannot accept the apology in the Christian spirit in which it is offered, I’m sorry. And now, good day to you, I must be on my way.”
“No, no, don’t go, I’ll come out,” screamed the voice. “I never seed an elephant.”
There was a long pause during which Adrian could hear various spells being muttered in the interior of the caravan, and then the door was opened a crack and a face like a walnut peered out, surrounded by straggling grey hair. It belonged to one of the tiniest old ladies that Adrian had ever seen. She looked, Adrian decided, exactly like a minute witch. She was dressed in a faded black velvet skirt, a tattered scarlet blouse and the had a thick black woollen shawl around her shoulders. She looked Adrian up and down, mumbling with her toothless gums.
“Good morning,” said Adrian.
“Well, where is it?” enquired the old lady.
Adrian gestured to where Rosy was standing, endeavouring to uproot a gorse bush under the mistaken impression that it was edible.
“Eeeeeeeee!” said the old lady, expelling her breath in a long gasp of wonder. “Did you ever? The size of it . . . did you ever?”
“She’s quite tame,” explained Adrian. “She was just scratching herself against your caravan.”
“I never seed anything like it,” said the old lady. “A wondrous beast . . . truly wondrous.”
“You wouldn’t, I suppose, be wanting an elephant for your type of . . . er . . . work?” asked Adrian hopefully.
“Work?” said the old lady, bristling indignantly. “I don’t work.”
She stumped into the caravan and reappeared carrying a board which she hung on a hook by the door.
“That’s me,” she said proudly, jerking a thumb at the board. “Finest witch in these parts.”
On the board was written in slightly shaky capitals the legend:
BLACK NELL THE WHITE WITCH
THE FUTURE AND PAST FORETOLD,
“Oh,” said Adrian, surprised that the old lady had in fact turned out to be a witch. “How very interesting.”
“Yes,” said the old lady, “I’m on my way to the Tuttle-penny Faire is that where you’re going?”
“No, I’m on my way down to the coast,” raid Adrian. “As a matter of fact I’m not altogether sure where we are at the moment. Could you tell me the best way to go?”
“Bite of breakfast?” said Black Nell. “You can’t walk on an empty stomach.”
“It’s very kind of you,” said Adrian, “but I just had some breakfast.”
“Cold rabbit pie?” asked Black Nell. “Bit of cold rabbit pie, home-made bread and a mug of tea, eh?”
The thought of cold rabbit pie made Adrian’s mouth water.
“Well, if you’re quite sure you have enough,” he said.
“Plenty,” said Black Nell. “You get the fire a-going under the kettle and I’ll fetch the pie.”
So Adrian, Rosy and Black Nell sat down to have breakfast together. The pie was delicious the crust melting in the mouth, the chips of rabbit meat, pink or coral, embedded in jelly as brown as amber, redolent with herbs. Adrian decided that he had never eaten anything quite so delicious in his life, not even at Fenneltree Hall. After his third piece of pie he even started to view Rosy with a less jaundiced eye. Full of pie and hot tea he grew expansive and told Black Nell all about the trials and tribulations he had had since Rosy bad entered his life. To his surprise Black Nell thought it was one of the funniest things she had ever heard, and at his description of the ball she laughed until she cried, and Adrian, against his will, was forced to laugh too.
“Oh, my! Oh, my!” gasped Black Nell, holding her sides. “I wish I could have seed that.”
“Looking back on it, I must admit that it was rather funny,” said Adrian. “But I didn’t think it was funny at the time.”
Black Nell wiped her eyes still giving shrill hoots of laughter. Then she delved in her pocket and pulled out a pack of stained and greasy cards.
“Come along, come along,” she said, “I’ll tell your fortune and let you know what’s in store for you.”
“I’m not altogether sure that I want to know,” said Adrian.
“Nonsense,” said Black Nell firmly, “’course you do, everyone does. Now, cut the cards and then pick out six rows of seven.”
Gingerly Adrian shuffled, cut the pack and then picked out the rows of cards. Black Nell turned them face upwards and pored over them, mumbling to herself.
“Ha, ha!” said Black Nell so suddenly that Adrian jumped and the hairs on the nape of his neck prickled.
“What is it?” he asked nervously.
“Nothing,” said Black Nell. “Your future’s very obscure, very obscure indeed.”
“Oh, well, don’t bother then,” said Adrian in relief.
“No, no, it’s coming,” said Black Nell. “I can see you going on a sea voyage.”
“A sea voyage?” said Adrian incredulously. “What, with Rosy?”
“And I see danger,” said Black Nell, lowering her voice to a hoarse whipser, “danger and a short, fat man. He’s going to cause you a lot of trouble.”
“Can’t you see anything nice?” asked Adrian plaintively. “I’ve had quite enough trouble recently.”
“Oh, yes, I can see something nice. But it’s very obscure, very obscure,” said Black Nell. “I’m glad all my clients don’t have such obscurity in their cards or we’d never got anywhere.”
She put the cards back into her pocket, took out a short black pipe and lit it.
“Tell you what,” she said, puffing out clouds of grey, chest-constricting smoke, “you’d better get a move on, young fellow. You’ve got a tidy bit of moor to cover and it’s as bald as an egg for hiding an elephant. Now, what I suggest you do is this. Go on along this road for a few miles, maybe six or seven, and you’ll come to a right-hand turn. It’s only a sort of rough track, really, but it goes through the dells and you’ve more chance of hiding there. Now, twenty miles or so along the track it crosses the railway line, see? And just after that it forks. You take the left-hand fork and presently you’ll come to a pub called the Unicorn and Harp, run by some people called Filigree. They’re the nicest people round those parts and very fond of animals. They’ll probably let you stay there until the hue and cry dies down. Tell ’em Black Nell sent you.”
“You’re very kind,” said Adrian warmly. “I’m most grateful to you.”
“Well,” said Black Nell philosophically, “if we what’s on the road don’t help each other it’s a sure and certain fact that no one else will.”
So Adrian hitched Rosy up to the trap again and said good-bye to Black Nell.
“Not good-bye!” she said enigmatically, “I’ll be seeing you again when wigs are in season.”
“What?” asked Adrian bewildered.
“Joke,” said Black Nell sardonically. “Cheerio.”
So Adrian and Rosy set off across the brilliant moorland and by midday they had come to the turning that Black Nell bad described. She had been right, for the track dipped and wound its way through gentle undulation, and offered much more chance of concealment should their pursuers catch up with them. They had their lunch by a small pond whose contents were the only liquid refreshment that Adrian allowed Rosy to have, much to her annoyance. Then they pressed on.
Presently the sun nestled down in a great bank of feathery clouds in the west and busily turned them to gold and green and red. A purplish twilight settled down over the moor, and small bats flicked and purred across the track like metronomes. The track climbed up a small rise and when they reached the top of it Adrian could see at the bottom of the valley below, the gleaming railway lines running across the track.
“There we are, Rosy,” he said. “Nearly there now.”
The trap tinkled and creaked its way down into the valley and when they reached the railway lines Rosy stepped across them carefully. On Adrian’s instructions she drew the trap slowly after her until the wheels were resting against the lines. Then Adrian got his shoulder under the trap and heaved, at the same time telling Rosy to pull. The trap lifted, hung for a minute on the rail and bumped down. It was then that Adrian discovered that whoever had designed the rails had obviously done so with the malicious intention of entangling pony traps, for the wheels of the trap lay neatly wedged crosswise between the two lines and would neither move forward nor back. If Rosy pulled, the shafts creaked ominously, and Adrian was frightened that they would snap off. Glancing around, Adrian saw, lying some distance away at the side of the track, the remains of an old sleeper. This, he thought, would do admirably as a lever. Telling Rosy to stay still he went to fetch it, and it was as he was returning that he heard the train.
He had been so engrossed in his efforts to get the trap off the lines that he had been oblivious to the distant sounds. But now, to judge by the harsh scream and the roar and clatter, the train was. nearly upon them. Bathed suddenly in cold sweat, Adrian staggered down the line with his burden, feeling the rails throbbing and tingling with the approach of the train. He must move the trap. The roar and rattle of the train was terribly loud and frightening as he staggered up to the. back of the trap and wedged the sleeper under it. He got his shoulder under it and heaved.
“Pull, Rosy, pull,” he shouted, and Rosy stepped forward. The trap started to lift, teetered a moment and then bumped over the lines as the train roared round the corner like a ravening dragon. The trap was safe, thought Adrian exultantly. He turned to leap from between the lines, but the train caught him as he jumped and flung him viciously to one side. He landed in the heather covered with blood and as limp as a rag doll, while the train thundered on imperviously, flashing the golden lights from its windows and showering the countryside with glowing sparks like a meteor. It thundered away into the distance and gradually the noise of its progress faded. Adrian, bloodstained and unconscious, lay twisted in the heather, his white face staring up at the star-freckled sky.