An African Adventure: Mrs DeVries Part 7

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This is the first time that the Knolly Estate has allowed the great man's memoirs to be published. What follows is the seventh chapter of 'The African Adventure'.

Mrs DeVries Part 7

A noise in the hallway shook me from such frightening thoughts. I picked up a handful of small jars from the chest, thrust them into my pockets and turned to face the door.

'Knolly, come to bed with me', slurred Elspeth.

'Elspeth, how did you get...' — and then I saw the keys dangling from her hand.

My goodness — fully dressed she was a sight to behold, but now in her undergarments framed in the doorway she was a angel. I, however, am an officer and a gentleman and would never be so bold as to take advantage of a woman clearly not in possession of all her senses.

I walked towards her, skirting around the bed and watching her closely as she puckered he lips and half-closed her eyes, ready for a kiss. That was when I landed her a punch across the side of the head.

'Sorry', I whispered, shaking my hand.

She looked bemused and then collapsed to the floor. Had Bertie been there he would have been quick to point out that, while striking her was the correct course of action to take, a real gent would have caught her before she hit the floor. With no time to waste I stepped over her body, took both her arms and dragged her back to my room and plonked her once more on the bed. I checked the concoctions I had picked up: nothing specific to counteract the drug coursing through her system, but at least Hobbes had shipped us something to help the after-effects. I mixed up the dosage in a tooth mug and placed it on the bedside table. Much as I wanted to stay, I had Bertie to attend to and the evening was pressing on. I locked the door once more, having taking Elspeth's keys from her hand as well as mine, and set off to find her maid and Bertie in any order.

As I strode off down the hallway in search of the servants' quarters, I could hear shrieks of laughter coming from downstairs. So, I thought, the entertainment has moved on from the confines of the outbuilding and into the house itself. Peering over the balustrade, I was not surprised to see many of the Light Horse officers riding around on each other's shoulders in mock joust. It was difficult to tell if this was the effect of nitrous oxide, drink or just high spirits. Elsewhere, other dinner guests had collapsed in their own vomit. One of these looked like Bertie and I hastened down the stairs and turned the poor soul face-up... it wasn't him.

As I made my way from the stairs I adopted what I hoped was a drunken gait and as I was peering at those who had already fallen, a shout went up.

'Look, there's Knolly!'

A cry of charge split the air though the general hullaballo and Monty, mounted upon Domino, came thundering across the reception area towards me. Chums as they were, I was in no mood for horseplay and their combined weight, if it connected, would do me no good at all. But I was trapped in a doorway. I felt behind for the door handle. Aha!. Suddenly the door was pulled from my grasp.

'In here, sir. Quick', whispered a female voice.

A hand grabbed me by the collar and pulled me sharply though the narrow opening. The door was then slammed firmly shut and locked. The hand that had pulled me through belonged to Elspeth's maid. What luck. I regained my balance and as much composure as I could and took stock of my surroundings. There was an almighty crash behind me; I grinned at the maid.

'Ah, that will be the cavalry coming to an abrupt stop, I fear.'

The maid smiled up at me and then burst into tears.

'Oh, Mr Knolly, sir', she sobbed. 'It was horrible, horrible, I didn't know where to turn. The mistress had told me to make myself scarce once she'd taken to her bed, but I just had to have a look and see what she wanted to keep from me.'

I took her in my arms and guided her to a dilapidated chair. It seemed to take up most of the space in this servants' bolt hole, which whiffed a fair bit of tobacco.

'There, there, calm yourself and try to forget what you've seen this evening. Your mistress needs you now more than ever and I'm glad to have found you.'

I wiped her eyes with my pocket handkerchief.

'But look, before I help you past those idiots outside, I need to know whether Mr Harrison-Harrison has found his way back into the house.'

She looked at me with wide eyes, now looking rather red, and nodded.

'I first saw him with Mr Rhodes and Mr Jameson taking part in a three-legged hopping race on the stage inside the outbuilding. Such a nice, kind man too, I do hope no harm has befallen him.'

I looked aghast. 'You managed to see inside?!'

She nodded again and continued. 'Seeing all the folk in there, rolling around, performing silly walks and all, fair put the wind up me and the noise of the laughter was too much. As I was making my way back to the house they all started coming out and one of the officers' — she stopped at this point as if to highlight her disgust. 'One of the officers saw me and they all gave chase. Lucky for me, none of them was too quick on their feet and I managed to lock myself in here.'

I gave her a pat on the hand. 'Well you're safe with me, my dear, but I must find my friend and get you upstairs. I assume that the only way out is the way I came in?'

She gave a thin smile.

'Well, we shall have to brazen it out.' I put my ear to the door, which had now stopped shaking.

'Seems to have quietened down out there and I suspect that many of the guests are now very tired and emotional and that in the morning those having breakfast will be few and far between.'

I tugged the door open and peered through. I was correct in my surmise; there were bodies everywhere on the floor and stairs, the majority snoring heavily. I opened the door wider and stepped through.

'Safe to come out, my dear', I called behind me. The maid followed on out. 'Now listen to me. Here is the key to my room. Inside on my bed, you will find your mistress.'

The maid looked up at me, her mouth starting to form a wide 'O' of shock.

'Don't look at me like that! Quick about you, there is a medicinal compound mixed up in the tooth mug on the bedside cabinet. I need you to get her to sip it very slowly. She is not well and has been hallucinating, but together we can bring her round. Now off you go, chop–chop. I'll be with you as soon as I've found Mr Harrison-Harrison.'

She hitched up her skirts and went bounding up the stairs. Two thoughts crossed my mind. 'Was she aware of Elspeth's latest fad?' and 'What was her name?' — for I hadn't even been polite enough to ask. I inspected the bodies and none of the sleeping forms belonged to my companion, which meant he'd not made it inside during the chase for the maid. Come to that, there was no sign of the Rhodes or Jameson.

I hastened outside, but my fear that he was still with those two schemers was soon dashed, for there skipping around the courtyard fountain in nothing but his combinations and what I assumed was a Light Horse dress helmet was Bertie. Every now and again he would stop, examine his feet, turn around and skip back the other way.

I strode up to him and pulled him up short.

'Bertie, it's me, Knolly.'

He looked at me through bleary eyes.

'I forgot my tablets Knolly, and now, and now I'm going to be very, very sick.'

I turned him swiftly away from me and heaved him into the fountain. I'm truly thankful that at this point in my life no one has successfully been able to capture a colour image other than by daguerreotype.

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