Charlie spark villain.., p.17
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       Charlie Spark - Villain Extraordinaire, p.17

           J M S Macfarlane

  He decided that the guiding rule taught to cub scouts was a good one and so, like a good cub, he let out a cry of "Coooeeee .." Then both he and Lady Birch listened intently but only the wind could be heard, rustling through the leaves.

  Schwager frowned. "This iss not goot," he said, trying to search out the sky through the canopy. "Soon....very soon, it must rain."

  No sooner had the words passed from his lips than an instant thunderstorm, of several large water bombs suddenly cascaded and burst on their heads, splashing stinking bog water over Lady Birch's riding coat, soaking Schwager from head to foot, drenching his flattened top hat and causing their horses to shy with fright.

  "Donnerwetter," screamed Schwager. "Who is playing zese tricks ? They will pay dearly for zis..."

  Both of them quickly looked around them and into the trees. They were soaked through with muddy water while trying to control their horses. Then something alerted Schwager and he said : "Listen...I hear something." They both strained their ears. In the branches above them, faint giggling could be heard, as though the trees were laughing at them.

  Lady Birch detected villainy and the perpetration of violence to persons and property, especially to one who sat on the Shaledone bench.

  "Come down from there," she commanded in the pompous tone she used when passing sentence. "I know who you are. It's no use hiding from me."

  She was like this when handing down prison sentences to the scallywags and hopeless cases in her court every Friday morning. "Come along now," she added sternly as a schoolmistress might address a five year old. "We know where you are and we know what your game is."

  A few moments passed. Nothing was heard. Then out of the trees rained water and flour bombs exploding all over them, covering the horses and riders in a sticky flour and batter mess.

  Any villagers walking in the woods, would have thought they were ghost riders.

  Lady Birch was shattered and could hold out no longer : she burst into tears at this new outrage as her jodhpurs finally exploded at the seams. Her horse decided a change of scene was in order.

  Schwager followed at a trot as he was too shocked to do anything else.

  Chapter 44

  An Unexpected Meeting

  Elsewhere in the woods, Sir Harry said he wanted to stretch his legs out of the saddle. When they’d dismounted, Charlie Spark looked to see if anyone was within earshot.

  "I saw Bob King this morning and he reckons we're not the only ones interested in the safe," said Charles.

  "What ? Not the ‘only ones’ ? Who else is there ?"

  "Well, one thing's for certain – that Helmut is angling to get his mits on whatever's inside the safe, no question about it."

  “How do you know that ?”

  “I can tell a mile off…”

  Sir Harry took some apples from his pocket and gave them to the horses.

  "Aside from Schwager, who else is there ?"

  "Just about everyone – take your pick – oh, yeah – and Richie Snaggs."

  "What ? What is he doing here ? Are you absolutely certain it was him ?"

  "Bob King is – dead certain."

  Sir Harry's brow was lined with vexation as he remained deep in thought. The horses were crunching their apples and showing signs of impatience for the open fields again. Spark kicked some leaves on the ground and thought he heard something in the branches above them.

  Just as he looked up to see what it was, a horde of girl-Amazons fell with a scream on top of his head as they tumbled out of the trees to attack. There were at least a dozen of them clad in khaki, some wearing dungarees, others with army trousers and shirts and all of them daubed with camouflage war paint.

  “’Oi, what’re you’re doing ? What is this ? Who are you ?” was all that he and Sir Harry could say between them as they were rained on from all sides with blows and missiles.

  At first, Spark thought it was all a big joke and began laughing at them. This was a mistake which he was to regret. “Haw, haw, you’re having a laugh, aren’t you girls ? Care for a dance ? Come on then.” This enraged them as five of them jumped on top of him at once.

  Although he’d been fairly pie-eyed at dinner the evening before, he could have sworn that one of his attackers was part of the crowd at the Manor House.

  “Look here,” was all that Sir Harry could manage while holding his hands in front of his face to fend off the blows as best he could.

  Soon, they were overpowered by their attackers who tied them up.

  “Girls, you’ve got us all wrong,” said Spark while taking a closer look at them. It was then that he recognised one of them who had been with Lord Loathbery. She had the same coloured hair – only now she was masked and scantily clad with a stud in her nose and some earrings in one ear. Then again, he’d been sheets to the wind by that time and he might easily have been mistaken.

  “You evil fox-hunters who desecrate the countryside and use animals for sport will be taught a lesson – you must learn how to respect the little animals,” (and looking at Charlie Spark) “and not to run over hedgehogs either. We are going to hunt you just as you hunt foxes – we are going to set you free and give you one minute start, then we’re going to come after you and cut off your tails.”

  Having declared this, the women began to chant some sort of dirge as each took turns to throw strawberry coloured blood-bombs at their human targets who were too enthralled to speak. Cheers and squeals of delight went up as each one spattered over their victims.

  By the time Charlie Spark and Sir Harry were pasted with the third lot of rotten strawberries, both of them had managed to free their hands from the loosely bound ropes. When Sir Harry roared : "Run for your life," they both made a break for it but in Spark's view, were pleasantly dived upon by all of the women who began to vent their anger by pushing them and rumbling them and kicking them to the ground, as Spark yelled : " Hold on girls, hold on, one at a time."

  Just as things were taking a nasty turn when the Amazons were trying to disrobe the Londoners and stain their white skin red all over, Lord Loathbery and Jean-Pierre Bulot rode into the clearing with twenty other riders and a free-for-all began, with the toffs being dragged from their horses and then jumped on, the horses rearing up and scattering in all directions, with hundreds of water and flour bombs raining down from the trees and fifty other saboteurs joining the scuffle and the local constabulary bringing up the rear.

  In the middle of it all, Spark came face to face with the woman he'd earlier recognised and catching hold of her, he ripped down the handkerchief covering her face and said "I know you. You're..." and before he could say anything more, she pushed him away, face first and tore off into the thick of the woods.

  He was only just able to escape from the others and pursued her until he finally caught her again after a five minute chase, over two hundred yards away with both of them out of breath. At first, she wriggled to get free but gradually gave up fighting.

  "Well, you murderer ?" she said in pure, finishing-school accent, "Will you hand me over to the police ? Go right ahead – you torturer. Aren't you ashamed of yourself – killing defenceless animals ? You're murderers, all of you."

  "You’re Lord Loathbery’s daughter, aren’t you ?"

  "How dare you. I don’t know what you’re talking about. Let go of me this instant, you brute.”

  "You’re a bad liar – what would your father say, if he knew you was ruining his day out ?"

  "I haven’t the least concern. We have vowed to end fox-hunting and to destroy all fox-hunters – and we will – now I demand that you let me go immediately."

  "As you please, m'lady," he said with a mock flourish.

  As he released his grasp, she turned and looked him full in the face and with a sneer, said "Peasant," then ran off further into the woods and was gone.

  When Charlie had made his way back to the clearing, a full-scale battle was taking place with reinforcements summoned by both sides.

The 'local rabble' and the terrier men were smashing in waves against a massed army of crusties, hippies and travellers with the constabulary and newshounds joining in for good measure. The air was raining rotten fruit and vegetables and rotten eggs and the hunters were whipping and belting at their foes and giving no quarter until the battle was concluded with a police helicopter hovering over the canopy of trees when four PCs began grabbing collars and the saboteurs retreated.

  In the distance, the squawking of Bentley's horn could be heard, sounding over and over again, calling the hunters and the pack of dogs together. As he fought his way through the bushes and undergrowth, Charlie Spark caught up with Sir Harry.

  When they emerged from the woods, they were astounded to see the bankers, Lady Birch, Helmut Schwager and the stage producer covered in flour and their clothes drenched through. The others were just as amazed to see both of the villains covered in a bloody, strawberry mess.

  As they approached, Charlie said in an undertone: "Looks like we got off lightly…" Even some of the hounds were as white as chalk.

  "Where have you been all this time ?" said Bentley to the stragglers. "I've been blowing this stupid thing for a solid hour."

  "Terribly sorry," said Sir Harry. "But as you see, we were held up for a bit."

  With a look of outrage mixed with sympathy, Lord Loathbery soon joined them and addressed the gathering.

  "Well now, my friends, it seems that those who escaped the saboteurs are all here, the others must be left to find their own way back. Bentley – I see no reason to abandon things – if we can pick up the scent again. What is your opinion ?"

  The huntmaster pointed at the hounds. "Those blackguards used pepper, your Lordship. The poor old dogs didn't know what hit them. They ought to be prosecuted.... the hooligans, I mean....not the dogs. They're destroying the sport. No, not the dogs, the saboteurs. But how on earth did they know we'd be out today ? This is the third time this has happened – last time it was down near Froull – they attacked us from the side of a hill with missiles – and this," indicating the flour paste. "I think there's a sympathiser in your household staff, m’Lord. We should get the police to investigate this. Shouldn't we boys ?" he said, addressing the hounds.

  All of them looked up at him and wagged their tails in agreement.

  While everyone was deciding whether to go on with the hunt or not, a couple of anarchists were dragging a dead cat's carcass around the nearby fields, hills and dales to confuse the hounds. The corpse had been perfumed with a concoction of blood and bone, dog nip and artificial fox's scent. The idea was to send the hounds off in different directions until they were tired out and could be turned homeward.

  Without knowing this, Bentley led the pack to cast for the scent until Blister and Bounder darted away in the direction of the dead cat, barking madly as they went.

  "By Jove, I think they're really onto the blighter this time, eh ?" shouted Lord Loathbery, whipping up his horse to a stately gallop in pursuit of the pack. The others followed, with Sir Harry and the Bolter keeping their distance in case of any further attacks.

  Chapter 45

  The Hunt Is Interrupted

  At that stage, everyone noticed the hounds were behaving rather oddly.

  A row of seven or eight oak trees stood close to the boundary of two adjoining fields. A hedge separated them, running as far as the eye could see. Sir Harry, Charlie Spark and the others stared in amazement as Belter, Sniffer and Troweller led the pack, weaving in and out between the trees and back again with the huntmaster and Lord Loathbery in pursuit.

  In the middle of this toing and froing, the peer suddenly stopped in his tracks and shouted : "Bentley. What in heaven's name are they playing at, man ?" as the dogs whisked around the trees following the trail set half an hour earlier.

  "Looks as if the fox is playing ring around the roses…" said Sir Harry.

  The hounds circled the last tree half a dozen times in a wider circumference as they went, then seemed at a complete loss where to go next until Belter dashed maniacally at the hedge and tried to leap over it in one bound. At a second attempt, he crash landed mid-way and tumbled hind first, onto the other side. The other dogs followed in crazed pursuit as the scent was still fresh.

  The huntmaster wondered aloud to himself : "Am I dreaming this or is it really happening ?" as he followed each phase of the performance.

  The hunt party stared with open mouths as the pack vainly tried to take the hedge in a single leap but bounced off it, yelping and whining and pawing and bobbing up and down like so many corks in a pond, in their frantic desire to reach the other side. Finally, some of them scratched a hole in the middle of the hedge and they fell over each other, trying to get through. No sooner had they taken this escape route than Bentley, Lord Loathbery and many others followed in pursuit over the hedge. But to their combined fury, the pack headed further along the hedge and tried to get back to the field from which they had just scratched their way out.

  "Quite extraordinary..." murmured Loathbery. "I've never, never, never, in all my born days, seen anything as absurd as this. That fox must think he's out on a joy ride – he must be the slipperiest fellow I've ever encountered and I've hunted quite a few in my time, don't ye know."

  Bentley was exasperated with events and began worrying that his job was on the line. He got off his horse and led some of the dogs still further along the hedge where the scent re-emerged, directly into the fields and open countryside. All at once, the pack let out a yowl and shot off in a disorderly mob, straight into the fields of a neighbouring farmer whose crop of celery and lettuce was half grown. The riders decided that the hounds had now properly caught hold of the scent for good this time and the hunt recommenced in earnest.

  At that precise moment, the farmer and his wife were crouching in the middle of their field, inspecting their crop for frost damage. For a moment, the farmer raised his head, then looked at his wife and said “Listen – what’s that ?”

  It was then that they heard the distant rumble of horses and riders, the blaring horn and calls of "Tally-ho, yoiks, yoiks," and saw the hunt in full gallop heading straight for them.

  For eight months, the farmer had sweated and slaved, trying to bring in a good harvest and had laboured night and day. His bank manager was grumbling about the overdraft while his creditors were threatening him with the bailiffs because he hadn’t paid his debts for months. All of them could see that without a good yield that year, the farm might very well be finished. And considering this and how he'd wept at times at his desperate predicament, the farmer became slightly unhinged, throwing handfuls of dirt at the passing riders and shouting at them to get off his land.

  "You swine, Loathbery. Who the blazes d'you think you are ? You're trespassing. I'll sue you into the ground. You don't own me, you crook," which were the polite comments hurled at the hunt party as the hounds and horses trampled over the crops leaving a sorry sight in their wake. As the group rode past, Lord Loathbery yelled at the farmer : "Send me the bill tomorrow, Jenkins. And don’t try to cheat me."

  Into the distance, the pack ran on and on, barking in a yapping cacophony ; they sensed they were close to cornering their quarry and were ready to dig the fox out, if it came to it and then finish him. The toffs were also warming to the healthier pace and thinking that the hunt might redeem itself for the pasting they’d received earlier in the day.

  When Charlie Spark caught up to Sir Harry, they both looked at each other and the mess covering them and let the others race off without them. Instead, they turned their attention to the smoked salmon, lobster, caviar and champagne awaiting them further down the hill.

  "If those saboteurs are still on the trail, the hunt will be back in double quick time. It's just gone two o'clock – I'm starving. Bob King and that other fellow should be waiting for us further along. Let's take a short cut and adjourn for lunch. I think we rather deserve it after that lot." And they left the others to tarry down dales and over fences and ar
ound trees.

  After they'd ridden cross-country in a direct line, they saw Bob King, Clifton Earls and the Garrard in a clearing with table, chairs, lunch and champagne at the ready.

  On dismounting, both of them could hardly walk or sit down for a time until the circulation got going in their legs again.

  The Scotsman looked absurd in his chef's uniform and hat and when they’d sat down to the spread before them said, "The smoked salmon is nay good as the stuff in the highlands but it's awl still a fair treat and ye can take ma werd for it."

  Four glasses of champagne were poured and a toast proposed by Sir Harry that they should at least savour that moment for quite a while to come, especially if the hand of fate turned against them.

  Across the far enclosure, they could see a whirlwind of missiles, motorcycles, strangers on horseback and crusties fighting a war of attrition against the hunters on horseback who were trying to outrun them. In the middle of it all, the hounds were in complete disarray, not knowing where to go from one minute to the next, as Bentley and Lord Loathbery leaned low in their saddles, avoiding a torrent of flour and water bombs, balloons filled with a red mixture that looked like rotten tomatoes and missiles of horse manure. The others, including Antoinette Loathbery who had caught them up at the wrong moment, were all howling hysterically or hurling retreated abuse at the saboteurs who were gaining the upper hand.

  "Disgraceful..." said Sir Harry, turning to Bob King to refill his champagne glass. "Absolutely disgraceful. Never seen such a razz in all my days..."

  And as they popped open their third bottle of stolen bubbly, Sir Harry was eager for the latest news of events at the Manor House.

  “Well….ah kin say for certain that everyone you can think of – has got their eyes on the vault – including friend Snaggs,” said Bob King. “And if he’s in on this, we’ll have tae be quick tae beat him to it.”

  For some moments, Sir Harry didn’t answer and after a lengthy silence, in which they all savoured the champagne, he gave them his verdict.

  “What we must do is – wait….We must wait and see what happens during the next forty eight hours….All may not be lost….In the meantime, keep your eyes open, your ears sharpened and your trap shut…And now, for a few moments at least, let’s enjoy our banquet – we’ve earned it.”

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