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Something Nasty In The Cellar

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It was Mrs Ruddle who first noticed something was amiss with the cellar. Admittedly, no-one paid much heed to her complaints that there was a spot at the bottom of the stairs "what was colder than what it should rightly be"; Bunter, indeed had muttered something about "hysterical old biddies" and "what does the stupid woman expect in a cellar, central heating?"

Fortunately, Bunter being Bunter, he had muttered this where Mrs Ruddle could not overhear him, sparing him the irritating necessity of apologising to her when it turned out that she was quite right. Harriet, who had overheard him, nonetheless forbore to comment, as she had thought the same thing.

Rather than voicing her thoughts, reliable chars being thin on the ground these days, she had tried to reassure Mrs Ruddle that it was probably just the contrast between the cool of the cellar and the heat of the kitchen. At the time, Mrs Ruddle had allowed herself to be convinced, remarking that "It was a pleasure to work for a gentleman like his Lordship, who wasn't so perishing near with the coal," but the situation, alas, escalated.

*

Peter and Harriet were eating dinner one evening, when there was a loud thud from the cellar.

Bunter, dispatched to see if something had fallen and to look for signs of subsidence, reported that there was nothing out of place at all.

*

"Someone," roared Bunter, "has moved the port! The Tuke-Holdsworth '08!"

Mrs Ruddles quailed, but held her ground. "Well, it wasn't me, and don't you dare go saying it was. You wouldn't catch me touching his Lordship's port after last time, not if it was ever so."

Bunter glared, but did not challenge her. In a quieter, but hardly milder voice, he added, "It's damned odd, now I come to think of it. They've definitely been moved,and roughly, too - they won't be fit to drink for a week! - but there's no finger-marks on the bottles."

"It's Old Noakes," said Mrs Ruddle, flatly. "I told you there was something wrong with that there cellar."

"Rubbish," said Bunter, but for once his voice carried no conviction.

*

"I know that Wimsey family tradition dictates that, when it comes to ghosts, one lives and lets - well, not-live," said Harriet, raising her voice over the banging from the cellar. "But must we really...?"

"I think poltergeists fall under a separate rubric," said Peter. "And it's not as if he's family. Or as if it had been his family's house. And in any case, this is becoming intolerable."

"What does one do in these cases? I don't suppose even Bunter deals with this kind of thing regularly."

"I'll have a quiet word with the Vicar." Peter looked thoughtful. "Thank God he's a Keble man. I have cheek enough for most things, but I can't say I'd care to ask a liberal, enlightened Broad Churchman for an exorcism!"

*

"Oh dear," said the Vicar. "How distressing for you both. But don't worry, Lord Peter, I don't imagine we'll need to go as far as an exorcism. A simple blessing of the house and cellar should suffice. Let me see. It's Saturday - I'll come after Evensong tomorrow."

*

But despite the Vicar's vigorous application of holy water to every corner of the house - Peter suspected he was rather enjoying himself - the banging continued; and, to Bunter's horror, the ghost of Noakes, if that was what it was, smashed a bottle of rather good claret.

The Vicar, summoned back for a glass of sherry and the bad news, was concerned but calm.

"I know the very man," he said. "A little eccentric and a bit of a late-Victorian fossil, but absolutely discreet and very, er, experienced. He's a member of an Anglican Benedictine order - the Fordites. His name's Darcy."

*