It was a dark and stormy night. Elizabeth awoke to her window clattering back and forth in the wind.
‘Hello?’ she said, levering herself upright. ‘Who goes there?’
‘Whooooooooooooo!’ came a voice from the shadows.
Elizabeth sighed. One of those ghosts again, no doubt. Just like in that Christmas Special, when she was six months’ pregnant. She scratched her head for a moment. How many months was it now? She was convinced it was now only three or four. Life could be so confusing when it was run by publishing schedules, with no firm idea as to whether there was ever going to be a sequel and a concomitant end to her confinement. She could be with child for years at this rate.
‘So which one of you is it?’ she called out. ‘And what do you want this time?’
An evil figure stepped out, swathed in bandages. Elizabeth shrieked. ‘Great heavens,’ she cried, ‘What kind of fiend are you?’
‘I am your Mummy!’ it said.
‘Nooooooooooooooooooooooo!’ said Elizabeth, collapsing back onto the bed.
Elizabeth was glad of company as she broke her fast the next day. Mr Darcy was out early on some business matter, but fortunately her friend Charlotte Collins was staying for a few days before returning to the care of the Prior of Roehampton.
‘Charlotte dearest,’ she said, ‘I had the most extraordinary dream last night. At least I think ’twas a dream. There was this Mummy – ’
‘Ah, I have had many such visitations myself,’ replied Charlotte, her eyes widening, ‘Mummies, golems, zombies, vampires, werewolves, goblins and incubi.’ She paused for a moment and a wistful look came over her face. “The incubi were awfully strange. Do you know, they made me – ’
‘More tea?’ said Elizabeth, before her friend could elaborate further. She really had to talk to someone about this, but on reflection Charlotte may not have been the best choice. ‘How is your treatment going, by the way?’ she said.
‘Very well,’ said Charlotte. ‘In fact, Lord Byron – ’
‘Ah yes,’ said Elizabeth, ‘We need to talk about Byron.’
‘My dear Elizabeth, you need not worry about him. In fact he is travelling back to Greece even as we speak. He has been asked to help their government decide on the best way to handle their finances.’
Elizabeth frowned at this. ‘Lord Byron is a man of many rare and unusual skills, but I was unaware that financial engineering was one of them,’ she said.
‘Oh no,’ said Charlotte. ‘I thought you knew. He has asked your brother-in-law to help.’
‘Charlie Bingley?’ said Elizabeth, brightening, ‘Oh in that case, everything will be perfectly fine. With Byron and Charlie advising them, the Greek economy will be as solid as a rock for the next two hundred years or more!’ Then her face clouded again. ‘Charlotte,’ she said. ‘I am still vexed about the Mummy. What do you think I should do?’
What you need,’ said Charlotte, ‘is a little diversion. Why don’t we both go to the fair?’
When they arrived, however, things were not looking good. All the tents had been packed up and loaded onto carts.
‘What’s up, Mr Barnum?’ said Elizabeth to the man in charge.
‘Oh, begging your pardon Mrs Darcy,’ said the man, doffing his cap, ‘but we’re moving on. This place has always been good to us, but there’ve been some odd things happen here these past few days and some of the men are saying like there’s a curse on us or something.’ He shook his head.
‘A curse?’ said Charlotte.
‘Aye, ma’am. A curse. And it couldn’t have come at a worse time with young Phineas eating us out of house and home. I hardly know how we’ll survive the winter. Happen we may even be forced to sell up and try our luck in the New World.’
‘But what sort of odd things have been happening?’ persisted Elizabeth.
‘Well,’ said Mr Barnum, scratching his head. ‘First of all there was the incident with the beads.’
‘Beads?’ queried Charlotte.
‘Yep, beads. Load of beads appeared out of nowhere, making people trip over and hurt themselves. But that was nothing compared to the swarm of bees that attacked them afterwards.’
‘Great heavens!’ exclaimed Elizabeth.
‘And then,’ added Barnum, his voice dropping to a whisper ‘And then there was … the Mummy.’
‘A Mummy?’ said Elizabeth, panicking slightly. ‘In Derbyshire?’
‘Aye, a Mummy. Came to us all in the night, one by one. Scared the wits out of grown men, he did.’ Barnum shook his head sadly. ‘So we’re moving on. Won’t be easy this time of year, but we’ll have to find somewhere else we can pitch up. Leave the place to the folk over there.’ Barnum nodded towards where a moth-eaten blue and yellow tent was being erected on the space left behind by his own, next to a large hoarding that read:
COME TO RYANFAIR!
CHEAP AND CHEERFUL FUN FOR ALL!
GET IN QUICK BEFORE THEY INVENT
HEALTH AND SAFETY LEGISLATION!
‘Good Lord,’ said Charlotte. ‘That sounds rather odd.’
‘That’s the owner over there,’ said Barnum, pointing to a man who was running around gesturing alternately at the crowd of fairgoers and at a group of men who were struggling with the guy ropes.
‘Oh, really?’ said Elizabeth.
‘Yep, that’s the feller.’
‘I don’t like this at all,’ said Elizabeth. ‘Let’s go and see if we can have a word with him.’
But they soon lost him in the crowd that was rapidly gathering around the new fair. Things were made worse by the fact that everyone was constantly on the move in order to avoid the Ryanfair ‘Ground Rental Charge’ that was levied on anyone who stood still for more than thirty seconds.
‘Now what are we going to do?’ said Charlotte.
‘He must have an office somewhere,’ said Elizabeth.
They found it in a caravan parked at the back of the big tent. Elizabeth and Charlotte went up to the door and knocked. There was no reply.
‘Come on then,’ said Elizabeth, grabbing hold of the door handle.
‘Do you think we should, my dear?’
‘Of course. I mean, what would Wickham do?’
‘Something wild and dashing, and more than a little stupid?’
‘Charlotte, my dear, I do believe you’re beginning to talk perfect sense at last.’
The two women glanced at each other and nodded.
‘Stand aside,’ said Charlotte. ‘This is not a job for a woman in your condition.’ She took hold of the handle, turned it and simultaneously hurled herself against the door, which responded by falling off its hinges. ‘Oops,’ she said.
‘Never mind. We will soon prove there is wrong-doing afoot.’ Elizabeth scanned the room, searching for clues. ‘Aha!’ she cried, ‘Look, over there!’
Charlotte looked. ‘Great heavens! A jar of beads with a scoop next to it! And listen! Can’t you hear it?’
‘The buzzing! From that hive in the corner!’
‘Good Lord, I do believe you’re – ’
But Elizabeth was interrupted by a sound behind her. She turned around and caught sight of a dreadful apparition. Judging by the scream from her companion, Charlotte had seen it too.
The Mummy had returned.
‘Run!’ screamed Charlotte, ‘Run!’
But Elizabeth stood her ground. ‘No,’ she said calmly. ‘You’re no Mummy.’ And grabbing hold of a bandage, she proceeded to unwrap the intruder, until standing there in front of her was the man they’d seen earlier.
‘Great heavens!’ exclaimed Charlotte, ‘’Twas the manager of the rival fairground all along!’
‘Bejaysus, you pesky pair of eejits!’ said the man, ‘You’ll pay for this!’
‘I rather think not,’ came a familiar voice behind him.
‘Mr Wickham!’ said Elizabeth. “I was wondering when you – ’
‘I’m here too, dear,’ came another voice.
‘Ah, Fitzy dearest. Always good to have a few men around the place. Just in case we need anyone to claim credit for anything.’
‘But for the love of Mary, how did ye know it was me?’ said the fairground owner.
Elizabeth glanced at Charlotte and they replied in perfect synchronization.
‘Scooped beads – ’
‘– duped bees, too – ’
‘Ah, faith and begorrah, ’tis a fair cop,’ said the man as he was frog-marched off between Wickham and Darcy.
‘Come on,’ said Elizabeth, ‘Let’s go and tell Mr Barnum the good news.’
As they walked away, Charlotte turned to Elizabeth. ‘Lizzy my dear’ she said, ‘Is it my imagination, or is there a very large mangy old dog trotting along behind us?’
‘Ah,’ said Elizabeth. ‘I was wondering when you were going to mention him.’