Lightning scratched every surface with silver fingernails. Sisily’s heart skipped a beat, but it was the shadows that jumped. They dashed to the deepest corners. Although they returned quickly enough. This house belonged to them and they would not be driven away for long.
She hummed to herself. An inoffensive ditty she recalled from some show she couldn’t remember. Nothing loud or emphatic enough to disturb the hosts.
She searched the landing for any signs of the movement she’d thought she’d glimpsed before. But the gallery was too broad a circle, ringing the entire hall. And the lightning scratches were too brief. She had to peer at one specific arc of landing at a time.
Sisily shook her head. Why trouble herself? If there were anyone wandering around up there, then surely they would have seen and heard the arrivals. Once again, she nibbled her lip and fretted about the damage Grievance had done to the door. The man had been drenched and frustrated and his massive frame caged a terrible temper.
Never mind, she told herself. We’ll leave what we can for the damages. And perhaps she should write a small note of apology. Not to mention make sure the troupe were all on their best behaviour while sheltering here overnight.
Behind her, fuss and fluster filled the doorway as a handful of normally exuberant and colourful egos dragged themselves and their baggage in out of the storm. The exuberance and colour was heavily diluted under a layer of damp and sodden clothing and they quarrelled over who should enter first.
Eventually, chivalry won, with Livier Revoir claiming ladies before gentlemen and reminding everyone of his various tour-de-force performances as the leading lady in all their plays. Clustering in his impressive wake came scrawny Derby Brown, pecking at the air like a nervous chicken; Benevolence Wisheart, their grand old dame of stone, living proof that one could grow to resemble a gargoyle and yet retain a kindly disposition; young Wallis Fringe, with his handsomeness that was never dashing, but rather just sat around and posed on his face. He flicked his rebellious hair out of his eyes and curdled his creamy-smooth features in disgust as he was confronted by their prospective lodgings. Finally, Grievance tramped inside, depositing the last of the bags on the UNWELCOME mat.
“Lords and saints preserve us from this filthy night!” implored Livier. Loud enough for the shadows at the very back to hear – and possibly enough to make them flinch. “What manner of stage have you brought us to, Sisily, darling?”
Grievance nudged Livier aside and grabbed the hat stand, which he then proceeded to re-purpose as a bar to brace the broken door closed. It worked – just. Although the storm hissed and spat breezes through the gaps.
“Please, Livier, do try to be nice about the house. This is someone’s home and we are all guests.”
Benevolence’s point was well made but invoked only a puff from Livier.
“Uninvited guests at that,” added Sisily.
“Uninvited, but not unwelcome, I am sure,” argued Livier. He hadn’t looked down at the mat yet. He rubbed his hands vigorously, warming them before dipping into his pockets for one of his hip-flasks. A generous swig and his spirits were restored. “Look at the place. Lit like a church, holy symbols hanging hither and thither. Why, our host must be a religious and highly charitable sort. Hallooooooooooooo!” he called out, as though yodelling from the highest peak. “I shall gladly shake him by the hand, once my own have been sufficiently warmed over a crackling hearth.”
“Good luck finding one of those,” said Wallis. “At best we may find a crumbling one.”
“Nonsense, my boy. Now, let us away to our rooms. I may require some assistance lighting my fire, but I’m sure we will find a hearth in every chamber.”
He strode towards the staircase.
“No, Livier, wait. I – ” Sisily trotted after their leading lady and arrested him with a hand on his arm. “The thing is, I promised our host – assuming he heard me – that we would be no imposition. That we would bed down here in the hall. Think of it. All the charm and adventure of camping without the need to be outdoors. It’ll be fun.”
“Fun?” Livier appeared horrified. “And what, pray, are we to warm ourselves over? My bones are soaked.” In line with his organs, Sisily didn’t wonder.
“Why, with modest tipples and fireside tales. Without the fireside.” She applied gentle pressure, attempting to guide him away from the stairs and any idea of claiming a bedroom.
He gazed forlornly aloft, fixated on the landing like a child mourning a lost kite stuck in a tree.
“Oh,” he said, all of a sudden. Lightning flashed and a smile lit his face. He waved. “Halloooooooooo!”
In the last slice of vanished lightning, she spied her moving shadows. Two figures in slow procession along the landing, their arms oddly outstretched.
Sleepwalkers? she wondered.
And instantly doubted herself. As well as Grievance’s wisdom in barring the front door.
[To Be Continued…]