“A ball!” shouted Patience. “Really, a ball! A real one! In Bennet House?”
“That is what Lord du Bois said,” said Sir John, standing, with Marie, just in the doorway to the Mallum’s front room. The announcement he had just made had had a profound impact on the family which was gathered there along with Phlebotomous.
“I shall not go,” said Joy firmly.
“Everyone shall go!” said Mr Mallum, “We shall show our appreciation for Lord du Bois’ generosity.”
Joy started to open her mouth, but her mother patted her gently on the hand and smiled at her.
“Will there be music? Maybe I can play!” said Prudence.
“Oh, no! Oh, no!” wailed Patience.
“I don’t play so poorly,” said Prudence, looking distraught.
“No sister, it’s not your piano playing. Oh Father, our clothes are seasons out of date. We shall be laughing stocks. Tell them, Mrs Jennings,” said Patience.
Mr Mallum looked panicked.
“Is this true?” he said to Marie. She hesitated to speak.
“It is true, see!” said Patience. “It’s a disaster.”
“We must make for Plymouth at once!” said Mr Mallum. He opened the door and shouted,
“Marsh! Marsh! Prepare the carriage. Girls, Mrs Mallum, we must leave at once.”
With much noise, dissention and excitement, the Mallums left the room. A quiet descended.
“So,” said Phlebotomous, “I gather there is to be a ball.”
“Yes,” said Sir John, “and it’s a bit of luck for us. Lord du Bois has set it deliberately so we may meet the villagers. But I rather hope we can use it to find our werewolf.”
“At the ball?” said Phlebotomous.
“Indeed,” said Sir John. “Blast, if only we had our books on magical creatures. There must be some tell-tale signs of lycanthropy.”
“That we can check at the ball?” said Phlebotomous.
“Yes, I wonder if we can get Miss Henderson to send the relevant volumes,” mused Sir John.
“Oh, no need,” said Phlebotomous. “I know a surprising amount about them. But I may need some help from you first.”
“What is it?” said Sir John.
“What exactly happens at a ball?” asked Phlebotomus. Sir John and Marie looked at him.
“I know people go there to dance, but I haven’t been to one myself,” said Phlebotomus.
“Well, as you say, people gather there to dance and er … Marie?” said Sir John.
“I will explain after, Mr Bosch,” said Marie, “and I will teach you a few dance steps. I ‘ave a feeling you will need them.”
Phlebotomous looked puzzled at that.
“Well, for the werewolf, we’ll need silver, vinegar, or wolfsbane. Werewolves can be killed by silver weapons, vinegar can be used, rather gruesomely, as a cure, and wolfsbane forces them to assume their human state. So, as a general rule, a werewolf will avoid these things.”
“Well, I imagine they’ll be some silverware and vinegar at the ball,” said Sir John, “but where can we get wolfsbane?”
“What is the name in French?” said Marie. “I may have seen some.”
“I don’t know, but it’s also called monkshood or aconite,” said Phlebotomous.
“Ah, aconite!” said Marie. “There is some around the garden, I think. I can find it.”
“Tell me where it is and I can pick it by moonlight,” said Phlebotomous. “It’s more efficacious if picked then, and I often take a walk at night. Close to the house, of course.”
“Of course,” said Sir John, as you’re afraid of the dark.”
Marie found it necessary to place a handkerchief in front of her mouth.
“Then it’s settled,” said Sir John. “We shall unmask the lycanthrope at the ball.”