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The strange noise provoked enough of a talking-point the next day for some of them to go out into the grounds and explore the nearby vicinity of the house.
“We seem to be constantly chasing daylight round here at the moment”, said Ransey, as he and Bardin trudged into what had in the past been used a kitchen garden “We’re lucky if we get 2 hours of full daylight”.
“When we leave here we’re going somewhere hot!” said Bardin “Where they never have Winters”.
They paused by the garden wall and looked back at the house.
“If we only knew SOMETHING”, said Ransey “Something about the people who lived here, and what happened to them. It could be anything. Environmental disaster, war, plague, anything”.
“Sometimes I’m tempted to suggest leaving”, said Bardin “But I think we need a bit longer to be fully sure we’re free of infection, plus sailing out across the ocean at this time of year isn’t an enticing prospect”.
“We’ll stick with it”, said Ransey, philosophically “And count off the days”.
The two of them returned to the house, but they were both restless. Ransey’s urgent need to know more about the house had inspired Bardin too, but the problem was that the house had always stubbornly refused to yield up any of its secrets. The only hint to its past was the strange comment carved awkwardly into the cellar walls: ’FUCK YOU, YOU ONE-EYED BITCH’.
“Do you think that could possibly be of any significance?” said Bardin, holding up the hurricane lamp to study it closely.
“I’ve never thought so”, said Ransey “For all we know she could have been the lady of the house, and that was carved by a disgruntled employee, or even a child being petulant”.
“Yes”, said Bardin, as though with sad resignation “I remember we came to that conclusion before”.
Suddenly he heard a low moaning sound. Very faint.
“Did you hear that?” he whispered.
The moaning sound happened again, still very faint. It seemed as though it was coming from the very walls around them. Instinctively, Bardin imitated it. He gave a low moaning noise. It responded in kind.
“We’ve got something here”, Bardin hissed.
“It can’t be somebody in the walls”, said Ransey “Not after all this time”.
“A ghost?” said Bardin, by now almost beside himself with excitement.
“It could be an echo”, said Ransey, feeling that one of them should be keeping his feet on the ground.
“IT moaned first!” said Bardin, triumphantly.
Julian’s voice cut rudely across this little impromptu séance. He was shouting at Hillyard in the hallway up above. The spell was broken. Bardin tried to resurrect the moaning sound but it seemed to have (understandably) fled. Bardin steamed up the cellar steps in a tizzy.
“Julian!” Bardin shouted, when he emerged into the hallway “Oh God, sometimes I could kill you!”
“What’s got into you?” said Julian “I was just telling Hillyard that it’s started snowing again, and that he should move those useless man-traps out of the courtyard. They’ll get buried under snow-drifts, and then we won’t be able to see where they are! The sort of thing you should be doing, not skulking about in the cellar!”
“Don’t start picking on Bardin as well”, said Hillyard.
“Where’s Kieran?” said Bardin, heading off towards the living-room “We need him in the cellar”.
“We heard something down there”, Ransey explained to the others “Could be a spirit”.
“Foolishly, I equated you with more sense than that!” said Julian, waspishly.
“I know what I heard”, said Ransey.
“I’m going to go and sort the man-traps out”, said Hillyard “Seeing as none of you lot can talk any sense!”
Kieran was very happy to go and do a sort of impromptu séance down in the cellar, but - to Bardin’s impatience - he insisted on doing a little prayer and blessing session first instead.
“It’s only like you putting your make-up on before a show”, Kieran explained “And getting your props ready”.
“But in an emergency we’d perform totally on the spur of the moment”, said Bardin.
“When would you perform in an emergency?” said Kieran.
“This is the most ridiculous way to spend the evening I can imagine!” said Julian.
“Here”, said Hillyard to Julian “I’ve moved the man-traps into the outbuilding nearest the greenhouse, so any time you want to go in there and get caught in one then that’s alright by me!”
“Oh boys, really”, said Adam “What a way to carry on!”
“Well he’s been getting right up my nose today”, said Hillyard.
“Not a day goes past when Julian doesn’t get up somebody’s nose, old love”, said Adam.
Kieran went down into the cellar, and many of the others crowded round the steps of the cellar door to watch him.
“If I’d known it was going to be this popular”, said Bardin “I’d have sold tickets!”
“There’s not exactly much in the way of competition when it comes to local entertainment!” said Joby.
“It’s so cold down here”, said Bengo, standing on the bottom steps “Will you be alright, Kieran?”
“Will it take long in other words”, said Joby.
Immediately a scrabbling sound broke out on the walls all around them, as if someone was running around the room scraping something sharp against the stone.
“My God”, said Kieran “We’re really getting something”.
He raised his voice louder and addressed the walls.
“Who are you?” he asked.
He instantly had a woman a feeling somewhat akin to being plunged suddenly underwater, leading to a painful smarting sensation in his nose. Bengo cried out, and Kieran instinctively raised his hand to his nose. He was having a nose-bleed. It was accompanied by a feeling of intense oppression, like being suffocated or drowned.
“Get him out of here”, he heard Ransey saying, before he passed out.
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