A “Captain Scarlet” story for Christmas
by Marion Woods
“SIG, Lieutenant.” Captain Blue’s cap mic snapped back to the peak of his colour coded cap.
“Sounds bad,” His companion commented. He glanced across to the passenger seat of the SSC and raised one dark eyebrow in query.
“What about another airport?” Scarlet suggested.
we could go to
“Do you mean to say The Colonel’s giving us Christmas off?” Scarlet asked in hopeful disbelief.
“Seems so, Captain.” Blue hadn’t thought of it that way
– in fact he hadn’t even consciously realised it was Christmas Eve. “Any
thoughts on where we might spend the time until then – every where’s likely to
be closed or booked up?” Blue’s morale sank a little lower. He had hoped to spend Christmas in
Captain Scarlet glanced across at his friend. They had been on the go for almost 18 hours solid. It didn’t matter to him so much, he needed very little sleep these days, but Blue got miserable when he was tired. Scarlet made a quick calculation: it was almost 2pm and already dark with heavy rain clouds and showers. If they were at leisure to do as they pleased, he knew where he wanted to be. He flicked the indicator and took the next motorway junction.
“I know just the place. Good food, comfortable beds, pleasant company and no charge.”
“Sounds ideal; what’s the name of this paradise?”
“Won’t your parents mind if we both turn up for Christmas unexpectedly?” There was a small spark of hope in Blue’s tone.
“Not really. You see, they’ve known me for a long time and they expect the unexpected.”
Blue sat back with a contented sigh pulling his cap over his tired eyes. “Home, James, and don’t spare the horses.”
The SSC turned through the gates into the tree-lined drive and picked up the row of parked cars in its powerful headlights.
“Oh-oh, I think they have company,” Blue commented sitting upright and pushing his cap back from his eyes. He felt better after his short sleep.
Scarlet wove through the stationary cars and drove round to the rear of the house. He clambered out and keyed a number in the security pad whilst Blue slid across to the driver’s seat. The garage door swung open and Blue drove the SSC in and turned off the lights.
As the garage door closed, they stood and looked back at the house, which was ablaze with light; even the trees nearest the house had lights woven through their stark branches.
Scarlet was surprised and a little put out; his parents were not given to extravagant entertaining as a rule and now couldn’t have been a worse time for them to start. Still, what mattered was how to get indoors and have something to eat and drink.
“We’ll go in through the kitchen and up the back stairs, that way no-one will see us. We’ll go down once the guests have left,” Scarlet explained, as he started towards the house. He looked at Blue who was still standing staring at the building.
“Paul, there’s a gorilla in your kitchen,” he said matter of factly.
“What? Damnation! This is all your fault, Adam.”
“Mine? How’s that?” Blue protested with justifiable confusion.
“I made the mistake of telling my Mother about the parties your parents give at Christmas time. She thought it was a great idea and decided to do the same.”
Blue looked bemused. “A fancy dress ball? I wonder what your Dad’s gone as.”
“Lords knows.” Scarlet frowned and glanced at his friend thoughtfully. He scratched his head and looked back towards the kitchen window. The gorilla had disappeared and a pirate was now visible opening the fridge door. “Fancy dress – that could be our salvation. We’d be okay because after all we are in uniform.”
Blue caught on quickly. “You mean pretend it’s a costume? Brilliant – as long as Cloudbase doesn’t call through.”
“Oh, they won’t. One of us can slip away and do the radio check when it’s time. Come on Adam, what do you say? We could both do with a little R & R and what’s better than a party? ” Scarlet asked encouragingly, sensing that Blue would rather have gone back to sleep. He’ll perk up after he has something to eat, Scarlet thought enthusiastically.
“Well, okay, but don’t blame me if we get court-martialled when the Colonel finds out.”
Scarlet sighed and gave his friend an exasperated smile – trust Adam to see the bleak side of any suggestion! He sprinted for the front door, with Blue strolling after him. He rang the doorbell and waited impatiently until the door was opened by an Elizabethan Lady in a red wig of tight curls and a tiara.
“Forgive us, Your Majesty, we are two weary travellers seeking succour. May we enter and partake of your wassail?” He swept off his cap in an elaborate bow.
“Where on Earth did you spring from?” Mrs Metcalfe asked, sweeping her son into her arms with obvious joy. She held him away from her and examined his face with maternal concern, brushing the short, black, fringe back from his eyes and smiling tenderly.
“We’re a surprise – Adam’s here too. We came in costume, as you can see,” he hinted.
“And how splendid you both look! Come on in Adam, it’s so nice to see you again. You look frozen.” She extended the free hand that wasn’t clutching her son’s arm towards his friend, with a warm smile.
“Thank you Ma’am,” Adam replied as Paul led the way into the open hallway which was decorated with boughs of holly and mistletoe. Coloured paper lanterns lit the stairwell and a huge, real Christmas tree dominated the scene, glowing with fairy lights, tinsel and shiny glass decorations. Through into the living rooms, they could glimpse the log fires in the open fireplaces.
People had been watching their entrance and voices called out in welcome as they recognised their hosts’ only son. Paul grinned and waved back at friends and acquaintances. He was already feeling better just from being at home. He turned and grinned at the silent man by his side and then looked down at his mother and gave her a spontaneous hug, just for the sheer delight of it all.
“Are you two hungry?” she asked, adjusting the wig he had dislodged and not really doubting the answer. Paul was always hungry these days and Adam looked grey with fatigue.
“Ravenous,” her son confirmed, rubbing his stomach.
“There’s food laid out in the dining room, go and help yourselves. I’ll try to find your father in all this crush.”
“Who is he?” Paul asked.
beg your pardon, young man! Oh, you mean his costume!” Mrs Metcalfe teased.
“Well, he’s supposed to be
“Mawlbra?” Adam asked, following Paul through the crowded room.
Churchill, 1st Duke of
Blue shook his fair head, playing dumb. “But the name Churchill sure does.”
“There’s hope for you yet then,” Paul responded with a teasing grin as he concentrated on getting two plates whilst responding to the greetings coming his way from all directions now.
They piled their plates with the food and ate in silence until they had taken the edge off their appetites. Then Paul turned his attention to liquid refreshment and went to get some drinks. He returned with two glasses of beer and handed one to his friend.
Adam sipped the brown liquid warily and pulled a sour face. “It’s warm.”
“Of course, best bitter should be.” Paul drank deep. “It’s the nectar of the Gods, this is. Drink it down, Adam! My Dad always promised me it would put hair on my chest.”
“Hmmm,” Adam said doubtfully.
Paul relented. He knew Adam would be too polite not to drink the beer and that he almost certainly didn’t like it. “I’m sure there will be a lager beer somewhere – probably frozen on a stick in the fridge.”
“Ice box,” Paul sighed.
“Would you mind very much if….” Adam indicated the glass of beer.
“Give it here. You’ll never educate your palette if you don’t persevere, you know.”
“When I drink I want it to be pleasurable not a test of endurance.” Adam laughed and wandered away towards the kitchen.
Paul downed his pint and started on Adam’s. Suddenly he heard a familiar voice close to his elbow.
“Paulie? It is you – I haven’t seen you for ages.”
“Good Lord, Josie Symonds! It must be…well, too long anyway. How are you?” Paul extended a hand towards a small, plump, dark-haired woman, dressed as a Jane Austen heroine in a regency-style gown and long gloves. She pulled him down towards her and kissed his cheek.
“I’m well and you look wonderful – you’ve hardly changed, Paul. That red jacket suits you – you have the complexion for it.”
“Thanks, you look smashing too,” he complimented her, although the dress did little for her rounded figure except emphasise her breasts – but hey, he wasn’t complaining!
“Your mother didn’t say you were coming tonight.”
“She didn’t know - it was a surprise.”
“What a wonderful idea – she misses you very much, you know. You should come home more often. Where are you now? Still in The States?”
“Oh, all over – you know how it is.” He saw Adam hovering uncertainly, a bottle of lager covered with condensation in one hand. “Adam, come and meet an old friend of mine, Miss Josie Symonds. The Symondses have the farm across the valley. Josie, this is my good friend– Adam Svenson.”
“Please to meet you, M’am.” Adam shook her hand.
“An American? Oh how nice. And you’re in matching costumes – you clever old thing, Paulie! I must say, Mr Svenson, you are better off with the blue – the red wouldn’t suit you at all.” She came to Adam’s side and smiled up at him.
“Nor would it M’am,” Adam smirked. “Paulie was sure right there.”
Captain Scarlet glared at him, but bit his lip.
“Oh, that’s an old nickname from when we were children – Josie and Paulie – do you use it too?” She asked a little suspiciously.
“No, he doesn’t and he’d better not start!” was the sharp reply as Blue laughed.
Josie seemed a little happier. “Heather Fellowes is over there – she used to be Heather Topliss? She’s in the middle of a messy divorce – Mike left her for a cocktail waitress he met in a so-called nightclub in The City. She could do with cheering up. I’ll go and fetch her, shall I Paul? Now, don’t either of you two go away!” Josie gave an arch glance at Blue and bustled away.
“Paulie?” Blue sniggered.
“Careful or I’ll tell them what Karen calls you!”
“You don’t know,” Blue protested mildly.
“Oh, don’t I?’ Scarlet tormented him with a wicked grin.
“Okay, okay – no need to play dirty,” Blue said with mock dismay and swigged at the lager.
“Sure. German, but better than that stuff.” He pointed at the beer glasses.
Josie returned with a tall, fair-haired woman, dressed as a 1920’s flapper in a fringed dress, with long strings of beads around her neck.
“Hello, Heather. Good to see you.”
“I didn’t believe Jo when she said it was you, Paul. Nice to see you and your friend. And what a clever idea for a costume.” She gave Adam a cursory glance.
“Don’t they look so cute in these dinky little jackets?” Josie prompted, running her hand down Adam’s uniform tunic.
Paul grinned at him, almost fit to burst with laughter. Adam grimaced back over Josie’s head.
“They do indeed. Where did you get them from? I mean you have the boots and everything.” Heather slipped her arm through Paul’s.
“Eh, Adam got them – in the States.”
“Do the shoulder pads light up?” Josie asked standing on tiptoe to prod at an epaulette.
“I bloody well hope not,” Scarlet muttered, adding more clearly, “Or it will mean we’re plugged into the fairy lights!”
The women giggled and Blue rolled his eyes.
Just then there was a commotion as General Metcalfe pushed through the crowd. “Hello boys!” he bellowed, as he bore down on them, smiling. “I see you are already getting into the party mood!” he nodded at the young women hanging on their arms.
“Now, Sir Charles, you behave,” Josie threatened playfully, with a shake of a finger in his direction.
“Hello Dad,” Paul said cheerfully. He was long resigned to being addressed as ‘boy’ forever. “Where’s your wig? Mum said you’ve been very negligent about wearing it.”
“Damned thing,” the General commented, shaking Adam’s hand. “It’s here.” He produced it from under a copious bell-shaped sleeve. “God knows how they managed – its boiling my brains under this.” He plonked it back on his head and grinned, “What d’you think, young ladies, quite the dashing soldier, ain’t I? I can still provide some decent competition for these two whippersnappers.”
Blue gave Scarlet an astonished look – he’d never seen The General behave like this before. But Scarlet had realised long ago that his Father’s jovial, good host, persona was not something anyone who had met the business-like General Metcalfe would expect!
“Adam’s not familiar with Marlborough, Dad, but I’d say you were a pretty good imitation,” he laughed.
“I should have taken a leaf out of your book, boys, and gone for a nice modern costume – but your Mother wanted something grand.”
“Well, these can get a bit hot too,” Paul admitted. Every Spectrum Officer had learned to dread an assignment in the Tropics.
“Nonsense, you should try one of these wigs and see what suffering really is!” The General had heard Paul’s complaints before. “I hope you are well fed and watered, young Adam? Good. Mrs Metcalfe is about to start the dancing and you youngsters are just what’s needed. Paul, bring Mrs Fellowes along and Adam, you take our Josie.”
Unable to avoid being shepherded into the large living room – emptied of furniture for the occasion, the two Spectrum Officers found themselves joining a long line of excited dancers and standing side by side.
Adam whispered, “Here’s another fine mess you’ve gotten me into! I don’t know any country dances.”
Mrs Metcalfe, walking the line of dancers, heard him and said, “Someone’s going to call out the moves, Adam, surely you can manage that – I thought Americans were always holding barn dances.”
“Yes M’am - but I don’t go to them,” he added under his breath as she moved on.
“Charles! Charles, where are you?” Mrs Metcalfe rounded up her husband and they took their place at the top of the set. Everyone shuffled down and the gorilla standing next to Paul stood on his foot.
“Sorry Paul,” a muffled voice said.
“Neville? Good grief I never realised it was you under all that fuzz. How are you?” Paul pumped the gorilla’s hand.
“Fine – just too hot,” came the reply.
“Tell me about it,” Paul agreed, “And now we’re expected to trip the light fantastic! Mum’ll be lucky if nobody melts.” He grinned, and then shuffled apologetically under his Mother’s reproving gaze.
The music started and the dance began, rather chaotically at first, but once everyone got the hang of it, Paul found that he was beginning to enjoy himself. He thought the two pints of beer might have had something to do with it, mind you, even though his retrometabolism prevented him from getting too drunk.
He glanced at Adam, swinging Josie Symonds round so much that she was having trouble keeping up. Even Adam – that determined non-dancer - was grinning happily.
After about twenty minutes of energetic dancing, everyone had had enough and Mrs Metcalfe led the way back towards the refreshments. Adam slipped away from the attentive Josie and cornered Paul at the foot of the stairs.
“Look at the time. We’d better report to base. Where did your Mother say she put the caps?”
“In the Library – second door on the left.”
“You want me to do it, I take it.”
“Cheers, Adam, I must just … it’s all that dancing,” Paul stammered, waving a hand in the vague direction of the bathroom.
“All that beer, more likely,” his friend retorted good naturedly, strolling towards the library.
The Library was a small room, fitted out with wall to ceiling bookshelves and packed with books. There was a small desk in the centre and a comfortable armchair in front of the arched window. Captain Blue closed the door purposefully and collected his cap from the desk. The epaulettes flashed almost as soon as he put the cap on, and he had to apologise to the Colonel for being over ten minutes late with their duty report.
“We were dancing the dashing white sergeant, Sir,” he explained.
“Together?” Blue cringed at the Colonel’s dry response.
“No Sir, that is, we were both dancing it with someone else. Mrs Metcalfe insisted we join in, Sir,” Blue added plaintively. “We could hardly refuse.”
“I think I understood that, Captain. It might have been a good idea for one of you to have notified Lieutenant Green of your whereabouts before you joined the Metcalfe’s houseguests.”
“I take it you are both alright?”
“Very well, in the light of the … festivities and in deference to Mrs Metcalfe’s wishes, you are excused from further reports until fifteen hundred hours tomorrow. Merry Christmas, Captain.”
“Yes Sir, thank you Colonel, same to you! – Sir.”
Paul found him still in the library some time later. “I came looking for you – Josie’s pining away.”
Adam gave a slight smile. “I was researching Mawlbra. There’s a book here called Marl-boro. Is that the same guy?”
“Stop trying to be cute with me Svenson, you know it is,” Paul grinned.
“Works with most Brits,” Adam shrugged, he had been using it successfully on Josie all evening.
“Not this one.”
Paul sat on the desk and watched his friend put the books he had examined back on the shelves. Then Blue came and sat on the other side of the desk and stared thoughtfully at the deeply recessed arched window.
“I was wondering about this house. Josie told me it was over 800 years old. Can that be possible?”
“Well, bits of it are; but generations of Metcalfes spent good money dragging it through to the twentieth century,” Paul explained. “I think this bit is the oldest part still left.”
“I wouldn’t have changed it,” Adam said decisively.
Paul was surprised. “Oh no? I suppose you’d have preferred dodgy wiring and a temperamental heating system - not to mention draughty windows.” He laughed. Adam was seeing the place through a haze of romantic notions.
mother’s grandparents always made a fuss because their house goes back over 300
years. My paternal grandfather always used to annoy them by insisting the
Vikings got to
“You sound awe-struck.”
“That’s because I am,” Adam admitted.
to my Mum. She can bore for
“You don’t deserve to live here – you philistine!” Adam laughed.
“That’s what my mum says….”
The majority of the guests left quite early in the evening, and by eleven o’clock Mrs Metcalfe was free and only too pleased to tell Adam the story of the house. She sat him down in front of the log fire in the ‘great hall’ and settled down to her task with obvious pride.
used to be an Abbey – part of the lands belonging to Winchester Cathedral, but
it was sold off during the dissolution and that’s when the
“The Metcalfes bought it in the 1630’s. They had been out of favour under the Tudors
– they were notable Yorkists after all, but they made
steady progress under the Stuarts and eventually had enough money to buy a
decent estate. They even had estates in
“Paul never mentioned that.”
“He’s never been one to talk about his own family history - except for who got killed where,” She said wryly.
“What exactly is a Yorkist?” he asked, sipping the mulled wine she had pressed on him and finding it very pleasant.
“The Wars of the Roses, dear - York and Lancaster? You only really need to know that
the Tudors were Lancastrians – the Metcalfe family originated in the
nodded vigorously – hoping to stem the flood of superfluous detail. Mrs Metcalfe always assumed that he knew no
“Yes, I suppose it has. Did you know it was reputed to be haunted?”
“Really?” Adam looked delighted; surely any house this old and worth its salt would be haunted.
there’s a very sad story attached to it.
It was in the Regency period – the Napoleonic wars, yes? - Well, the
master of the estate - Francis Metcalfe - married a young woman on Christmas
Day in the chapel in the village. They
all came here to celebrate and the house must have been decorated much as we
have it tonight – apart from the Christmas tree, of course, that came later
“Do you think it’s true?” Adam asked, wide eyed.
Mrs Metcalfe laughed gently. “I don’t know dear, there are similar stories told about other families – one of them being the Lovells. The Metcalfes were partisans of Lord Lovell – back in the Yorkist days – and Francis Lovell disappeared after an unsuccessful rebellion against the Tudors then later, when the house at Minster Lovell was being renovated, they found a skeleton in a secret room and supposed it was the unfortunate Viscount. Perhaps the Metcalfes took a version of that story for themselves in memory of their once noble benefactor.”
“Have you seen the ghost, Mrs Metcalfe?”
“No, I haven’t, Adam dear. One of Charles’s maiden aunts told me she saw her as a girl – up near the attic rooms. But Laetitia was always a bit – fey.”
“Well, I think its fascinating, M’am. Thank you for taking the time to tell me all this.”
“You really are most welcome; get Paul to show the attic tomorrow if you’re interested. I doubt you’ll find much more up there now, except Paul’s old teddy bears and his train set - that might keep you two boys interested for a while. I suspect The General still has a crafty go with the trains from time to time.”
“Did you know that your house is haunted?” Adam asked Paul, surprised to see him sitting between Josie and Heather, and grinning like the Cheshire Cat when he finally found him again in the library.
“Oh, that old story. Has Mum been stringing you along with our Lady Nancibel?”
“Was that her name?”
“I have no idea! That’s what Dad called her when he told me the story as a kid.”
“Has any of you seen the ghost?” Adam asked.
“No, but I believe in ghosts. Don’t you Adam?” Josie cooed. “And the story is so romantic I would love for it to be true.”
“Romantic? That some poor, silly, girl suffocated in a box trunk? Very romantic.” Paul scoffed and drank his beer.
“I agree with Paul,” Heather said. “It’s tragic not romantic.”
“Oh, big surprise! You always agreed with Paul – whatever he said. If he said it was raining in a heat wave, you agreed with him!”
“I did not!”
“Ladies, we were all getting along so nicely. Please, don’t spoil it,” Adam said, trying to calm things down.
“Seeing as we’re having such a traditional evening - we could always play hide and seek, like Lady Nancibel. Or even sardines?” Heather suggested. “Before my taxi comes.”
“You want to get Paul alone, I suppose,” Josie said waspishly.
Paul glanced at the two women and raised his eyebrows at his friend, rolling his eyes heavenwards. Adam thought he was rather enjoying himself.
“Now cut that out Josie! Wouldn’t you like to play?” Paul asked.
“Of course, I’ll play – if Adam will come looking for me,” Josie replied silkily, smiling invitingly at the American.
Adam gave a startled smile. “Me? Well, okay, I guess so. But if I have to be the searcher, remember I don’t know the house very well and don’t go off anywhere too obscure.”
“Okay, you go to the drawing room, count to one hundred, whilst we all hide and no peeking!” Heather ordered and the three of them hurried away leaving Adam to amble to the drawing room and flop onto the sofa with his head in his hands.
“Ninety-eight, ninety-nine, one hundred.” Adam looked up from his hands to see the General and Mrs Metcalfe watching him with polite incomprehension. He blushed.
“The others have gone to hide – we’re playing hide and seek - like Lady Nancibel,” he stammered, feeling a complete dork
“Mary, have you been telling that old story again?” The General asked with a laugh. “It’s all rot, Adam. Now I bet Paul’s challenged you to find him, heh? If I was you, I’d try his bedroom first – he was looking tired when I saw him last.”
“There’s Heather and Josie as well, Sir,” Adam said.
“Heather’s taxi arrived a few minutes ago and she’s already left,” Mrs Metcalfe smiled. “Heaven knows where Josie is…” she glanced at her husband, “No – he wouldn’t?”
The General laughed. “Well, Captain, you’re a braver man than me if you want to risk looking in Paul’s bedroom!”
Annoyed, Adam shook his head. “I guess it’s just my turn to be the mug tonight!”
“Come along dear, we’re going up now as well. You look even more tired than Paul.”
Blue followed them upstairs and Mrs Metcalfe kissed his cheek when they reached the guest room door. “Goodnight, Adam. Sleep well and Merry Christmas! It’s well after midnight now.”
“Goodnight Mrs Metcalfe, Sir. A Merry Christmas to you too.” He pushed open the door and rested momentarily on it as it shut behind him. I’ll be glad to get out of these boots and this tunic. he thought, unzipping the tunic and reaching out to try to find a light switch.
There was a blaze of light from across the room as Josie, snuggled down in the blankets, switched on the bedside light.
Adam cursed. “I am so sorry, Josie… eh, Miss Symonds, that is. Mrs Metcalfe said this was my room. Please forgive me,” he stammered, starting to turn to leave.
“It is and I do.” She smiled invitingly, patting the bed beside her. “Won’t you join me, Adam?”
Momentarily speechless, he shook his head. “I mean… its very kind of you and much appreciated, of course, but … but well… I am … I am – engaged… to a girl… in The States. I am sorry if I led you to believe otherwise…” He turned and fled back downstairs, leaving Josie to pound the pillows with frustration.
Mrs Metcalfe was first down in the morning and had the surprise of her life to find Captain Blue curled up on the sofa with a coat over him. It wasn’t a very long sofa and he looked most uncomfortable. She puzzled over it and guessed what must have happened.
Poor Josie, she must be getting desperate – not that Adam isn’t a good catch – almost as good a catch as my Paul!
She brought Blue some coffee and woke him gently. “Here you are dear; drink it down, whilst it’s hot. You’re looking very uncomfortable in that uniform – how many days have you had it on now? Do you have a change of clothes with you – or shall I dig out some of Paul’s? You’re much of a size… I think. Then you can give me the uniform and I’ll put it through the machine for you.”
Bleary eyed, he drank the coffee and tried to wake up. “Mrs Metcalfe, I’d appreciate it if you didn’t mention this to Paul. I mean… Miss Symonds… there was nothing… I...”
“She’s a silly girl, Adam – well, woman really, at her age – but she always means well and we are all fond of her. You obviously took her fancy more than you realised.”
“I swear, Mrs Metcalfe, nothing happened.”
“I believe you, Adam. Poor Josie, I wonder if she’ll want breakfast? You go and shower and I’ll sort out some clothes and drop Josie the hint that the coast is clear, shall I?”
He nodded gratefully and stretched his aching body. She followed him upstairs and ushered him into one of the bathrooms. Then she went and woke Josie and suggested a quick get away might save everyone’s face – especially if Paul wasn’t to find out!
Josie cried a little and pleaded that she had drunk too much last night and that Mr Svenson had been a complete gentleman and she owed him an apology.
“Which I will pass on to him on your behalf. Now, he’s in the shower, so off you go and drive home before anyone realises.”
Leaving Josie to gather the shreds of her dignity together Mary Metcalfe went next door to Paul’s room. He wasn’t there and his bed had been made. No, correction - it had not been slept in. She frowned and collected a pair of jeans and a rugby shirt for Adam’s use. There were some new underpants - still in their packet from last Christmas - so she took him those as well.
She knocked firmly on the bathroom door – which was locked - Adam was taking no chances – and called, “The clothes are outside the door. Adam, have you seen Paul?”
“No!” came the muffled reply. “He’s not in here!”
Shaking her head, Mrs Metcalfe went and escorted Josie out to the garage. “Happy Christmas, dear, and don’t worry – Adam won’t say a word and neither will I.”
Josie hugged her and drove away at breakneck speed down the drive.
Adam came down a short time later and joined Mrs Metcalfe at the dining table. Paul’s shirt was a little tight across his chest and the jeans a little loose on the waist, and she noted, short in the leg, but he looked presentable.
“Josie has gone home, full of abject apologies and the explanation that she was drunk – which you can take two ways, I guess.” She smiled at him.
“I prefer to take it as an apology and forget the whole thing,” he answered. “Did you find Paul?”
“No, and I don’t think his bed’s been slept in either.”
“Perhaps he did go to hide like Lady Nancibel after all, and fell asleep somewhere waiting for me to find him,” Adam suggested, demolishing a slice of hot buttered, toast.
The General came in. “Good morning all – Merry Christmas! Where’s Paul- not still asleep?”
Mary explained and the General laughed heartily. “He’s going to make you suffer for this, Adam. Let’s breakfast and we’ll all go and find him.”
They searched through the house, without finding a sign of Paul. Adam suggested searching the garages next.
By lunchtime the General was getting cross. “Go and start the dinner, Mary, or we’ll never get anything to eat today.”
Unwillingly she did as he suggested, although she couldn’t feel quite at ease. She told herself it was silly, that she was imagining things. As she went through the hallway something made her glance upwards. Standing at the top of the stairs, on the gloomy landing was a figure. At first she thought it was her son, but on second glance it was a woman – a woman in a long pale, high-waisted dress.
“Josie?” But it couldn’t be - she had seen Josie drive away and her car had not returned. A shiver ran through her and she turned and went back to the door, shouting for her husband.
The men came across at a run.
“Have you found him?” her husband asked.
“There’s someone in the house – a woman. Upstairs, I saw her on the landing. It wasn’t Josie,” she added.
“I thought she went home last night,” Charles Metcalfe said, “perhaps Paul went with her?”
“No, Josie went this morning and Paul was not with her.”
Adam left them at the foot of the stairs and went up to the landing. He had no desire to hear the rest of their conversation. There was nothing to see but there was an unusually cold draught coming from along the hallway. He walked along; switching on the light which fused immediately as he did so. He heard Mrs Metcalfe’s gasp of surprise.
He felt his way to the guest room and found his torch. With the aid of that, he went along the hall and tried each bedroom door, checking for signs of life. He hoped the General was fixing the lights, but then he heard footsteps and saw both the Metcalfes coming along with torches of their own. However annoying that was, he couldn’t order them about in their own home, so he waited for them and they moved forwards together to where the door that led to the attic rooms stood ajar.
Without saying anything, Adam climbed the narrow stairs, hearing the General’s heavy tread behind him and assuming that Mrs Metcalfe was coming along too.
The stairs opened out onto a small landing with four doors leading off.
“These would have been the servants’ rooms,” the General whispered. Adam nodded; his great-grandparents home had back stairs for the household servants.
He tried each door in turn. The first room was full of boxes, suitcases, old tennis rackets and the like. There was what looked like an inch of undisturbed dust on the floor.
The second room had the train set – carefully laid out on a table and obviously still in use. It was an excellent train set and Adam made a quick mental note to ask Paul – when he found him – if they could have a try of it.
The third was full of dismantled bedsteads, rickety tables and wonky bookcases.
The last room was smaller and empty apart from a table.
Adam felt the urge to inspect it further and walked in, there was a thick layer of dust as there had been in every room except the train-set room, but here he saw a clear set of footprints. Ochre would be proud of me, he thought as he examined them. They were the unmistakable imprints of Spectrum boots. He followed them by the light of the torch until they stopped at the wall. There was no sign of footprints leaving the room.
“General, Mrs Metcalfe, is there another room beyond this one?” he asked.
“No. This is where the chimney comes through,” she replied.
Blue poked around, feeling the wall and running his finger along the picture rail and then, when he crouched down to do the same to the skirting board, his fingers encountered a cold metallic lever and he pushed it. It was stiff and hard but suddenly part of the wall swung back with a shower of dust and he fell over in surprise.
“Great Scott – whatever is that?” General Metcalfe said walking into the room.
“A secret room of some kind,” Adam said, brushing himself down. “Perhaps Paul knew of it from his childhood?”
“I doubt it: the train set was in the playroom then,” Mrs Metcalfe said. “He never came up here – that I know of,” she added honestly enough.
One glance from Blue was enough for the General to go and stand beside his wife. Then he went into the room.
It was small, with sloping walls and ceiling. A sullen light shone in through the grimy window set into the roof. There were few signs of habitation, beyond a pile of disgusting blankets against one wall and a wooden table in the centre. Blue caught his breath for seated at the table was the skeleton of a woman, dressed, not in bridal finery, but in torn and dirty rags.
There was no sign of Paul. He looked at the floor once more. The footsteps had come in but not out – he had to have gone somewhere.
There was a set of prints beneath the window and then half a print by the far wall. Adam started searching again, pressing the wall with his fingers. As he stepped on a floorboard there was a creak, a panel slid open and the body of Captain Scarlet fell forward on top of him.
Mrs Metcalfe screamed. “He’s dead – oh, Charles, he’s dead!”
Her husband gathered her to him, stopping her hectic dash towards her child, as Adam felt for a pulse.
There was nothing and the body was cold.
“Adam,” the General’s voice pleaded, “how is he?”
“I think he’s okay – I’ll try artificial respiration.” Blue shrugged. What else could he say? The General had become aware of his son’s unique ability to cheat death, but his mother knew nothing and Paul was adamant that he did not want her to.
“I’ll call an ambulance!” she cried and made to rush downstairs.
“General, please, if you contact anyone make it Cloudbase – he cannot go to a hospital,” Blue pleaded. With a nod the General followed his wife.
Left alone, Adam nursed Paul in his arms. “What the hell were you doing? You’ve scared us all witless and it looks as if something got to you too.”
He laid the body down and knelt beside his friend to brush the dust from his face. Paul’s nails were broken and bloody – suggesting a frantic attempt to escape the slow death he must have realised was his fate. Adam felt like weeping. It was one thing to die in the line of duty – quickly and – he could only hope – painlessly enough, but a slow inexorable death by suffocation was another matter. Especially in the one place Paul had always felt safe and secure – his beloved home.
Feeling inadequate to do anything useful, he went and examined the second room, careful not to step beyond the wall panel. The space was no more than a cubby hole, receding back into the eaves of the roof, without proper ventilation or light. If Paul was trapped in there he would have suffocated – eventually. Adam deduced he must have gone up to the attic last night – probably inspired by the tales of Lady Nancibel and looking to make a fool out of his gullible friend. What had led him to the false room and the secret panel, only he would be able to tell.
The problem was that Adam had no way of knowing how long Paul had been ‘dead’ for, nor if the length of time he’d been dead affected his recovery time. Doctor Fawn might know, but his cap mic was down in the guest room and he couldn’t bring himself to leave his friend like this.
He reached out gently to place a finger against the cold neck and felt - just for a moment - the flutter of a pulse.
“Thank God!” he breathed as relief flooded through him. He wondered what to do next. There was nothing here he could use to make Paul more comfortable and he dare not move him yet. It was far too cold for him to strip off the rugby shirt to wrap his friend in. Besides, Paul would not thank him for needless histrionics.
There were footsteps on the stairs and Adam was relieved to see General Metcalfe appear with blankets and a pillow and behind him Mrs Metcalfe with a jug of water and a flask of – Adam suspected – hot tea, the British panacea for all ills.
“Will these help?” Charles Metcalfe asked, staring fearfully at his son’s still body.
Adam nodded and took the blankets to cover his friend. “He’ll need a drink when… he comes round,” he said, casting a wary glance at Mrs Metcalfe.
“She knows about his condition, Captain. I had to tell her – it wasn’t fair to let her worry, but I have asked my wife not to discuss it with Paul. “
Captain Blue looked concerned. “General, I’m not sure that was wise, Sir.”
“Why wouldn’t he tell me himself?” Mary Metcalfe challenged, her eyes full of hurt as she looked at the man who was now her son’s closest friend. “Even if he has this alien virus, why should he keep it from me?”
With commendable presence of mind, Blue looked at the General for enlightenment, but said nothing.
“My wife understands that this virus was brought from Mars by Captain Black, and its effect on the body can send the individual into suspended animation for several hours,” the General said carefully. “Paul is no longer contagious and there may even come a time when he recovers.”
“I see – well, whilst I am sure that Spectrum knows it can rely on your discretion, Mrs. Metcalfe, it would not be helpful if too many people learnt of this. He is our most successful agent in the fight against this alien threat and we must restrict knowledge of his condition. His father is one of the few people outside of the senior members of Spectrum who do know and that is due to his rank and position – not to his relationship with Captain Scarlet. I know Paul worried that you might be put in danger if anyone suspected you knew.”
“I can appreciate that as senior member of the organisation he must obey the rules, but I do feel that Spectrum could have been more open with me – if not Spectrum, then my husband or my son at least! It is not as if I am not used to keeping secrets,” she said with simple pride. “He’s my son, Adam – I will always love him whatever happens to him,” she added a single tear gliding down her face, unheeded.
The General looked uncomfortable; he did not like lying to his wife and he felt humbled by her simple all-embracing love for their only child.
So did Adam. He wished he could have thought his own parents would have accepted him with such honest emotion, if it had been him and not Scarlet who had been in the Mysterons’ power. Suitably chastened, he mumbled an apology, which seemed to mollify his hostess slightly and made himself a mental note to warn Paul about the General’s fabrications, as soon as possible.
As the two men sat silently around the prone body of Paul Metcalfe each wrestling with their own emotions, Mrs Metcalfe busied herself with pouring them all a cup of tea.
Perhaps the very normalness of doing that helps her cope? Adam wondered, wishing he could find something that made it easier for him to cope with Scarlet’s all too frequent brushes with death.
Suddenly Paul coughed and struggled violently.
Adam grasped him in his arms. “Paul, wake up… I am here... We are all here, your Mum and Dad too!” he warned his friend.
The deep blue eyes opened, showing the memory of the last minutes of terror before the merciful oblivion of death had taken him. He grabbed at Adam’s shoulders and tried to speak.
“Water, give him some water,” he said urgently.
Mrs Metcalfe knelt beside him and gave her son a glass of cool water. He drank thirstily, his eyes expressing both his thanks and his bewilderment at seeing her here.
“We found you in the secret wall panel – you are safe now,” Mrs Metcalfe said, gently relieving Adam of his burden and wrapping her son in her own embrace. “Hush, my darling child, we are here and you are safe.”
Paul’s dark head came to lie against his mother’s shoulder and he breathed deeply until he could raise his head and look at the three of them.
“Did you see her?” he croaked.
“Who?” Adam asked.
“He’s delirious,” the General said.
“Be quiet Charles. Tell us what happened Paul. I saw her.”
Slowly with many pauses and mis-recollections he told the story:
“I got Heather to challenge Adam to hide and seek after you told him the Nancibel story. I was planning to give him a fright, so we all went upstairs to hide. Then Heather saw the taxi arrive and she said she’d have to go – she had left a baby-sitter with her two kids. Josie said she was going to hide in a bedroom – I guessed she meant to hide in yours, Adam – the minx! I went to hide in the darkest part of the corridor and then I saw Josie going along the hall to the attic stairs. I thought she might get hurt up here and I followed her.
I couldn’t see her very well, but then I heard her calling, ‘I’m in here.’ And I came through to this room.
The doorway to the secret room was open and I saw the skeleton at the table. It gave me quite a turn, I can tell you! There were papers on the table and I took them to the window to read them by the moonlight. What I read there was so shocking I was quite… distressed. I turned back to the body and quite suddenly the wall panel opened. I swear I heard a voice saying, ‘Come in here, this is where you should be.’ I went to see what was in there and the panel shut behind me.
I couldn’t get out, it was dark and I couldn’t find the lock. There’s no room to turn in there and I couldn’t stand up straight because the ceilings are so low. I could hear her laughing and taunting me; she kept saying, ‘I told you I would have my revenge, Francis. Now you will suffer as you made me suffer.’
I don’t remember much more, except that I tried to get out and tried to shout, but no-one could hear me. I must have blacked out until you found me.”
He glanced nervously at Adam, who nodded. Paul let out a huge sigh –his secret was still safe.
“What papers, son?” The General asked.
“I dropped them - they must still be in there.” Paul pointed with his right hand and Adam noticed that the nails were now whole and unbloodied.
He crawled across and shone the torch into the void, seeing yellowed sheets of paper on the floor. He reached and picked them up; as he withdrew from the space the wall panel slowly closed.
“What do they say?” The general asked.
“It’s very difficult to read.” Adam sat cross legged and tried to make out the scrawl by the light of his torch.
Paul answered on behalf of his friend. “It tells the story of the Metcalfe bride. She wrote it herself whilst she was imprisoned in this room.”
“What do you mean, Paul?” his mother asked. “How could she have written anything if she was the Metcalfe bride who died in the hide and seek game?”
Metcalfe lived well beyond his means for many years and was deeply in debt so
in order to acquire more money he married the young daughter of a rich
neighbour, one William Bell. He married her purely for the money and thought of
her as beneath him socially. He made
wanted to marry again, a lady of wealth and social standing, but whilst
She expected her son to release her and restore her to her rightful place, but Thomas, who had now inherited the fortune and was looking to make a splendid marriage feared the scandal might interfere with his plans and he left her here with her single attendant.
Finally, the woman who had looked after her died and Thomas did not replace her. People had forgotten about the insane Nancy Metcalfe and he left his mother up here to starve to death. That was when she wrote her story down – she must have been close to death by the time she finished writing it.”
Adam looked at the shaky handwriting on the last page and shuddered to think of the woman – knowing she was near death, scrawling her undying hatred of her husband and son in what looked like her own blood.
“He must have come and seen her body and had the false wall put in to hide her – for how could he ever explain away her emaciated body– and why bother if everyone had forgotten about her?” The General reasoned soberly.
Metcalfe completed the story. “Thomas did marry well, to a wealthy and socially
acceptable wife, but she did not willingly consent to the match. Soon after the wedding she eloped with her
lover and fled away to
“Was that her real name?” Charles Metcalfe asked looking across at the decayed body of his ancestress.
“She was Nancy Bell – daughter of the gentleman farmer who owned the land across the valley. Her only sister married Robert Symonds, who eventually got the farm,” Paul said. “They are mentioned in the diary.”
“The Symondses? I knew there was a connection between the families,” the General mused, with a rueful glance at the skeleton.
“But, if Josie was… not the woman you saw last night – who was?” Adam asked.
“I believe it was Nancy Bell – seeking her revenge,” Paul said with a shudder.
“But why you? You had nothing to do with it,” his friend reasoned.
I can help with that, Adam,” Mary Metcalfe offered. “In the small drawing room there is a
portrait of Thomas Metcalfe - Francis and
“But I thought Paul took after your family in looks, Mrs Metcalfe?” Adam said.
“Yes, but my Grandmother was the daughter of Henry Symonds who farmed across the valley.”
you are descended from
Mrs Metcalfe nodded. “Perhaps the fact that Josie was here dressed in the costume of the period and then Paul arrived, looking so like Thomas – stirred something that had slept for centuries.”
“Yes and perhaps we’re all getting carried away,” Sir Charles said prosaically.
“Well, next time we see Lady Nancibel, we can always ask her if we were right,” his son answered with a spark of his old humour.
The General gave a snort. “I don’t mean to doubt your word, son, but, why are we all sitting in this cold and filthy attic when there is a perfectly decent fire downstairs?”
Adam grinned and unfolded his long legs, knocking the table so that the skeleton shifted. A small locket fell to the floor and the General opened it. Inside was a picture of a young woman and her infant son.
“Nancy and young Thomas in happier days, perhaps?” Adam asked as he examined it over the General’s shoulder. He looked again and glanced at Mrs Metcalfe. There was a striking resemblance between the two women.
The General snapped the locket closed and put it in his pocket. “Well, I for one am sorry for what happened to her and I’m ashamed to call those two men ancestors of mine. I can only say that I cannot imagine any of the family behaving in such a way now!”
“No indeed,” Mrs Metcalfe said with a hug of her son and a smile at her husband. “I count myself very fortunate in both my husband and my child! And if you ever think of having me put away – remember that revenge is a dish best eaten cold and think on the near calamity Lady Nancibel caused.”
“My dear, if I ever think of having you put away, you have my permission to lock me in here – for I really will be insane.” Charles Metcalfe helped her to her feet and kissed her with a gentle passion.
Paul and Adam exchanged embarrassed smiles, and then the American reached down his hand and hauled his friend to his feet.
“I am never going to play hide and seek with you again!” he smiled.
enough – I can’t say I’m desperate to give it another try. Oh, by the way, Adam, if it wasn’t Josie I
saw last night – but
soon as the
On top of the coffin, Paul Metcalfe placed a small mistletoe bough, in token of his remorse for the actions of his ancestors.
The ghost of Lady Nancibel was never seen again.
There are several traditional stories about brides who disappeared on their wedding nights to be found years later having died in some bizarre, tragic accident. One I heard as a child was called The Mistletoe Bough which concerned the dashing Lord Lovell and his bride – who died during a game of hide and seek, by suffocating in a trunk. A rather peculiar entry into a book of Christmas Carols, I hope you’ll agree, but one which made a lasting impression on a young girl!
There really was a Viscount Lovell who disappeared after the Battle of Stoke in 1487 and a body discovered hundreds of years later in a secret room at the family home of Minster Lovell in Oxfordshire. There was a family of the name of Metcalfe living in Wensleydale in the late 15thCentury who became people of local importance due to the patronage of Richard, Duke of Gloucester – later Richard III – who’s best friend was Francis, Viscount Lovell. Whether any of these people can be linked to our family of Metcalfes is a debateable point, but I hope no-one is upset by my ‘borrowing’ them for this story.
I acknowledge that I have no rights to the characters in this story – except Neville the Gorilla and the two young ladies – having borrowed them from the Captain Scarlet TV series, or from the fiction of my fellow enthusiasts - and I hope that that has not upset anyone either.
Finally, the usual thanks are due to Chris Bishop – and the admission that any mistakes within the story are all my fault!
I hope you enjoyed reading it.
Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.