All good things must come to an end, and so it must be with Aunt Mable. Two and a bit years ago she came shuffling out of the fog and now it is time to say farewell with one final epic chapter and the concluding part of the Sound Of Music arc- At the climax of the penultimate part a German bomb had fallen on the concert and now, amidst the flaming rubble, Sister Seline makes one last bid to kidnap the children.
And oh yeah, Merry Christmas!
(PDF Download if you don’t want to read this now/online: The Chase
AUNT MABLE & THE SOUND OF MUSIC
by James Churchill
“Arthur… You alright?” Edward asked as he helped me to my feet.
“I think so… Did one of those *—* Germans just drop a bomb on us?”
“Yes. But that isn’t the problem. Sister Seline was here… She has the others. Not the girls… Just the boys.”
“What? How?” All haziness left over from the blast left me.
“She must have told them she was getting them away to safety… The idiots went.”
“Where were you?” I accused.
“I was seeing if the girls were all alright… I didn’t know about it until I heard Seamus shouting. He saw them leaving through the other side of the lecture room. Come on… We need to get after them before they escape.”
So we ran, after the nun and our brothers, down a deserted corridor filled with rubble and patches of flame that spewed ash into the air. Edward had just enough time to tell me that Seamus and Mrs Violent were going the opposite way around the main quadrangle to head them off.
Around the next corner we saw them. Sister Seline was evidently having trouble herding them for all five boys were struggling to get away. Fletch was causing her the most grief for he was attempting to kick and bite her. She had hold of him, at arm’s length, by the collars, whilst in the same hand she was also dragging a protesting Seb. Under her other arm was a squealing Erasmus whilst in the hand of that arm she dragged along Ti and Earnest. Earnest’s glasses had been knocked off at some point. We never did find them.
“LET THEM GO!” Edward shouted down the corridor. The nun laughed and carried on with her escape, down this long corridor.
We were faster and by the time we got to the next corner and down the steps into what was the main university corridor we were able to get to her and free our brothers. Edward sprinted the last few metres and crashed into Seline’s back, knocking her into the wall. It gave Fletch a chance to get in a few kicks, Erasmus chance to wriggle free and for Seb to grab hold of her leg and bring her tumbling to the floor. Ti and Earnest got away too. Seline scrambled away, now unburdened from the five struggling children.
“You lot alright?” Edward asked them. There were nods all around.
The nun climbed to her feet and span to face us, pulling a small gun from inside her dress.
“You’re all coming with me,” she snarled. “Anyone who protests will find themselves left as a bloody mess on the floor.”
“Think again *—*,” Seamus shouted from behind her. Mrs Violent was with him and Mable not far behind.
In her surprise Seline turned again and Edward was able to once more charge into her and force the gun from her hand. The nun screamed and tried to scratch him but Edward dodged out of the way and she went careering towards a door in the wall.
“Honestly… Why?” Mable asked, coming forwards. “Why on earth would you want to kidnap this lot?”
“Because,” Seline hissed. “They are the Morfas children.”
“That ain’t got nothing to do with the price of beef *—*,” Earnest clicked in a camp style. It caused us to laugh, though Earnest didn’t see the funny side.
“Oh child,” Seline laughed. “You’re far too young to understand. Everybody knows who you are. The Morfasson children, the Nythaid Morfa, the next generation of one of Snowdonia’s principle families…”
“That doesn’t mean they’re any better than other children,” Mable informed. “In fact, they’re worse. In all my long life I do not think I have come across such an unruly, troublesome gang of brats as these seven… Eight if you include the urchin.” Mrs Violent bit her lip, not daring to correct Mable’s choice of words concerning Seb.
“How they behave doesn’t matter to me, to us. It’s who they are that matters. They might not know it yet, but their family goes back centuries. Their ancestors, their heritage… Do you know how many bed time stories they have inspired? It isn’t just in these parts that people know their family. It’s the world. To have the next generation, taken away, raised by your enemies…”
“Hang on… You want to hand us over to Hitler?” Seamus barfed.
“Not Hitler… Hitler is what you might refer to as a jumped up little *—*. We would have handed you over to our glorious Il Duce, to Mussolini, to be raised in his image. Do you know how much prestige that would give us? To have the next generation of this family on our side? We would be unstoppable!”
“If you think that they would allow you, for one second, to raise them in Mussolini’s image you are sadly mistaken, madam.”
“Children are impressionable,” Seline spat. Mable started to laugh.
“Some children are… But trying to impress anything on them is a thankless task.” She had a point, and she knew it well, from experience.
“Besides which,” Edward pointed out, “Mussolini is toast. He’s yesterday’s muesli.” I caught Erasmus testing the word ‘Muesolini’ under his breath.
“YOU ARE MISTAKEN CHILD… IL DUCE WILL RISE AGAIN!” Seline cackled.
“No. He won’t.” Seline screamed back at Edward in anger and pounced on Seb, who was nearest.
Before we knew what was happening she was breaking through the nearby door with him squealing and struggling in her arms. We all stared, gobsmacked.
“Well don’t just stand there,” Mable ordered. ‘Get after the deluded… Woman!”
Once more the chase began. The other side of the door was a stairwell, a steep and winding one that went up and up and up through the building, right to the tallest point, right to the top of the university tower. The bomb, having fallen in the corner of the quadrangle closest to Powis hall, had hardly damaged here. We were at the centre of the building, the most protected part. The only danger came once we passed the second floor and came into the tower proper. The bomb had blown out the glass in the windows and it was all over the staircase. We had to tread carefully, but at least there was a little bit of time. From the top of the tower there was nowhere that Seline could go and our only worry was for Seb and what might happen to him.
At the top, exhausted, we burst out onto Seline and the still struggling Seb. She pushed him towards the edge of the tower.
“Stay back,” she warned. “If I can get away with at least one of the Nythaid Morfa this charade will all have been worthwhile.”
“Get away? How? You’re at the top of a tall tower with no way out but through us. Even if you managed to do that, Mable and Mrs Violent are waiting at the bottom.”
“Another thing,” Seamus said, pointing towards Seb. “He’s not one of us, not officially. Tell her Seb.”
“I’m not Morfa, let me go,” Seb protested. A look of disgust on her face, Seline pushed him away, at last recognizing complete defeat when she saw it.
“Fine… Take the horrible little thing…”
“There’s still no way out.” Seline laughed at us and wagged her finger. Draped against the parapet of the tower, torn down by the blast, there was a Welsh flag. Seline pulled it away and waved it at us.
“There’s always a way out. Goodbye children… By the time you reach the bottom of this tower I and my sisters will be long gone.”
Cackling, Seline grabbed one end of the flag with each of her hands and ran straight for the edge of the tower, leaping into the night. The flag caught the wind and, briefly, Seline floated out into the sky.
Then gravity remembered its job.
There was a sickening thud as Seline hit the roof, rolled down it, and then another, more distant crack as she landed face down in the middle of the flaming quadrangle.
“Deluded old *—*,” Seamus sighed. The three of us agreed with him.
“If she thought that she and her sisters would be long gone they can’t be far,” Mable suggested when we explained what had occurred at the top of the tower. “If they were going to take you to Italy then they must have had a way to spirit you out of the country. Usually in cases such as these they have a submarine waiting out at sea.”
“This is becoming absurd,” Mrs Violent protested. “Enemy submarines hiding out at sea? Mad nuns attempting to kidnap children and throwing themselves off buildings? This is the stuff of the pictures, not of real life.”
“This is war and the normal rules do not apply, Mrs Fuller. Subterfuge and skulduggery are quite usual. Enemy agents will do whatever they can to undermine us, no matter how absurd it might seem. Besides which, I think we have already established that these women are clinically deranged. Using a flag as a parachute proves as much, I think.” She looked at all of us, an offensive smell under her nose. “Now children… If you were hiding a submarine out at sea how would you get to it?”
“Swim,” Erasmus thought.
“Use a boat,” Seb said, more intelligently.
“Use two,” Fletch came out with.
“Two? Fletch… Why would they want two?”
“All of us plus five nuns? We’re not all going to fit in one boat, are we?” He had a point, but as Edward was quick to add it would depend on how big the boat was.
“That’s quite enough of that,” Mable scorned. “One boat or two… It doesn’t matter. The question should be where they intend to make their getaway from.”
“The harbour?” Mrs Violent thought.
“No. Too well guarded. They’ll be on the banks of the Menai somewhere I expect.”
“Shall we go get them then?” I cheered. Mable was horrified.
“Heaven’s no! The authorities can deal with them. What were you planning on doing anyway?”
“Chasing them… In the second boat,” Fletch jumped in.
“Chasing them? Down the Menai Strait?”
“Please… Can we?” Erasmus begged.
“Haven’t you had enough excitements for one day? There’s no need to add a boat chase as well! Come along, all of you. We must to inform the relevant people where those nuns might be.”
She clacked away down the corridor towards the university entrance, we boys reluctantly following, moribund that we wouldn’t get to finish off our kidnappers.
The next morning at breakfast there were howls of anguish throughout the castle. There had indeed been a chase up the strait, and it was, according to those who saw it, a great spectacle. I have been forever miffed that I missed it.
The Bangor Home Guard ran down to the shores of the Menai and caught sight of the four remaining nuns. Unfortunately the nuns also saw them coming and knowing that the jig was up they attempted to make their getaway. There was only the one motorboat anyway so even if Mable had allowed us to go down and confront them we wouldn’t have been able to give chase.
The nuns raced out into the middle of the water and turned towards the bridge. They had almost reached it when three motorboats from the navy training school further up the straits came charging under the span to confront them. The nuns circled their boat around and headed in the other direction, towards Bangor pier. Armed, they fired at the navy boats but the navy retaliated. One of the men there that night swore he saw one nun go down, though nobody knows for certain.
The nuns were able to pass the pier and were headed for the open ocean but the navy had the faster boats and were already closing in. By now the army coastal patrol were joining in as well. Two large vessels from the harbour at Bangor came speeding into the entrance of the strait and the nuns were forced towards the Mon side, the gap between themselves and their pursuers closing all the time. Megaphones from the coastal patrol called out orders for them to stop, to give in, but those nuns were desperate to escape and ignored the calls
They did indeed get as far as the open ocean but the boats that were chasing them were forever forcing them to the left. In one last attempt to reach freedom they diverted for the gap between Ynys Seiriol and Penmon Point, only to find themselves confronted by a fleet of motor torpedo boats which had been out by Benllech and had heard the alarm call concerning the fleeing kidnappers.
The nuns screeched right and attempted to round Ynys Seiriol by way of the open ocean. They had reached the tip, the navy close behind, when all of a sudden there was a terrific explosion. Lurking under the surface, there at the tip of Ynys Seiriol, was a sea mine and the nuns went right into it.
So ended the affair of the Italian nuns of Bodesi.
I should add, however, a couple more things. The song of death was never broadcast. Unbeknownst to all of us in the hall at the time, the transmitter which was sending the concert out across the nation was knocked out by a separate German bomb. The last thing anybody heard from Bangor, that evening, was Seamus and I singing about Hitler’s single goolie. We made the national news for it.
As to the bomb blast folks were lucky. There were only a few injuries and some folks had to be escorted to the infirmary but all were well in the end. There were no fatalities, with the exception of Sister Seline who in a state of dubious sanity had attempted to parachute from the university tower with a flag.
So much of what happened in the final years of the war could hardly hold a candle to either that first year or to the affair of the Italian nuns of Bodesi. There were adventures and there were mischiefs, of course, but looking back they do not seem to be worthy of the telling. They were such trifling incidents and of such insignificance that I cannot even be bothered to recall them, let alone relate them.
The affair of the Italian nuns, and the quiet, near unremarked upon death of Grandfer Llithrig, which occurred a month later, marked a sea-change in my life. I no longer felt like a child. The games I had once played no longer held the same interest they once did. My younger brothers were now more nuisances than they were allies in the fight against the world and its hindrances. Their mischiefs irritated rather than amused me. They were just childish, pathetic, not worth bothering with. I began to sympathise more with Mable. I started to see where she was coming from with all her rules and regulations, though I still did not agree with her methods of enforcing those rules.
The lessons I had learnt from Grandfer Llithrig faded into the back of my mind. The whole idea of something existing beyond the world, beyond that which we can see, now seemed more fanciful than real. This, I started to think, was the only world we had and it was one which we had to protect. Fairies and goblins and elves, as Edward had been saying all along, did not exist. They were merely an explanation for things that could not be explained, from a time when people did not have the knowledge to explain things adequately. Maybe it was because of the war, but I felt that there was no place for them anymore. We needed rationality, clear thinking, especially once the war was over. That would be the way forward, a fundamentally rational world. Nazism and fascism had been fuelled by outrageous fantasies, after all. Goblins and fairies were considerably less harmful, but they were still irrational and what we needed, to prevent the likes of the Nazi’s from ever rising again, was rationality. A rational society would never have fallen for the likes of Hitler or Mussolini.
Tippsy vanished. We have no clue what happened to her. In the middle of one night she simply disappeared, leaving all her possessions behind. There was never any trace of her, never any more sign, and my younger brothers came up with all sorts of theories. She had been murdered by savages, eaten by rabid dogs, abducted by the bandits of Nantgwynant and forced to marry their leader, Mr I.R.I Jones. The truth, which is likely to have been more mundane, shall never be known, I expect.
Our evacuees, the girls, disappeared one by one back to Manchester until only Elizabeth was left. She told Flip-Flop of the war office, who in forty four eloped to Llanelwy with the goatherd, that she would rather stay until the end of the war, if that were permissible. We all saw no problem with it, not even Mable, and Edward was particularly pleased. In secret, in hidden moments and snatches of time, something had brewed between them, though the rest of us didn’t find this out until the day upon which the war ended.
The first we knew about it, the end of the war I mean, was the sound of someone ringing a bell. It sounded like it was coming from Bodesi but when we went outside to check we found it was joined by another ringing from the other direction, from Capel Curig.
“What’s going on? It’s not an invasion is it?” Seamus wondered.
“I hardly think so,” Mable said, rolling her eyes. “The only reason those bells might be ringing is because this blasted war is over at last.” The only sound for a moment was the bells of Bodesi and Capel Curig. We could hardly believe it. The war? Over?
We all erupted into cheers and celebrations and there were hoots and squawks and mews from Ti’s growing menagerie of animals, which had also made its way to the door to see what was going on.
“Get inside the lot of you and stop dancing about the drive,” Mable scowled. “There’s no need to devolve into a troop of baboons just because the war is over.”
Mrs Violent came running through the gate, all excited.
“Have you heard?” she cried. “The war is over!” She leapt across the drive and threw her arms around Mable. Mable was not pleased and pushed Mrs Violent away.
“That’s quite enough of that. As I told the children, there is no need to go wild simply because the war is over.”
“But it’s been ever so long,” Mrs Violent protested. “We must celebrate in some way.”
“There’s a bottle of cognac in the drinks cabinet,” I burst. “We could open that.”
“Edward opened it three weeks ago,” Mable chastised. “He thinks I haven’t noticed, though I have.” She caught Seamus and I giving each other nervous glances. “And don’t think I haven’t noticed you two sneaking the rum out of there either. I may be old but I’m not senile.”
“Where is Edward?” Mrs Violent asked.
“And Elizabeth… Elizabeth isn’t here either,” Mable worried.
Erasmus volunteered to go and find them and came back, flouncing into the hall, a few minutes later. We were all so busy trying to celebrate the end of the war, pouring out drinks for all of us (alcoholic, though only a little alcohol was added to some orange juice for Fletch, Seb, Ti, Erasmus and Earnest) and finding music to play, that we didn’t notice him sat on the stairs, pouting. Mrs Violent was the one who eventually noticed.
“What’s the matter?” she asked, sitting down on the stairs next to him.
“Edward,” Erasmus pouted. “He was in the garage smooching Elizabeth.”
“Is that all?” Mrs Violent smiled.
“He shouldn’t be doing it. It’s disgusting!” Mrs Violent laughed.
“Your brother is getting older. He’s probably going to be kissing a lot of girls in the years to come. Your other brothers are probably going to start soon as well.” Erasmus huffed, hating the idea. I didn’t have the heart to tell them that I had already kissed a girl from Capel Curig, several times in fact.
As well as the end of the war that day brought with it several more surprises and shocks. That evening, as we were all starting to flag from the celebrations, Father came through the front door, suitcase in hand. He was home to stay. There was to be no more flitting between London and Cythry, no more long periods without him. We had been telegrammed the day before to expect his coming, so the actual shock was the lady who came in through the door behind him. She was a straight laced sort, dirty blonde hair tied back in a ponytail. She was at least ten or fifteen years younger than Father.
We all rushed into the hall to greet Father and at first we ignored her.
“Seamus… Are you drunk?” was the first thing Father said when we had all calmed down. Seamus had drank so much that he could hardly stand, though he denied being drunk. He was still better than Edward, who had been falling asleep on the drawing room sofa before Father arrived.
“There’s somebody I’d like you children to meet,” he said, beckoning the lady, who had been observing us all, forward. “This is Marian. She’s… Well… We were married just after Christmas. She’s your new stepmother.”
“Are you a wicked stepmother or a good stepmother?” Earnest questioned once our jaws raised themselves.
“Good. I hope,” Marian blushed. She turned to Father and clutched his hand. “Monty darling, I know you said there were seven of them… But it didn’t seem such a large number until now. They won’t be much of a handful will they?’
“We’ll see about that,” Fletch threatened, folding his arms. Father gave him a stare that dared him to continue along this line at his own peril.
“Shall I introduce you to everyone?” Father started pointing. “The youngest there is Earnest. He with the duck on his shoulder is Ti… That one was Finnegan the last I was aware…”
“Filbert,” Erasmus smiled. Father rolled his eyes.
“Yes… Was Finnegan, now Filbert and will probably have some other name in a few days. The mischievous looking one is Fletcher. That’s Arthur. The drunk one is Seamus and the one falling asleep against the newel post, who I suspect may also be drunk, is Edward. The good lady here is Mrs Fuller and that is her son Seb. The girl is Elizabeth who has been staying here during the war. The bird on the clock behind you is Merlin. The cat sneaking around your legs is For-God’s-Sake, the duck is Clackers and…’ He stopped, noticing a squirrel who was sat on top of the newel post of the staircase, nibbling an acorn.
“That’s *—*,” Seamus informed.
“*—*?” Father puzzled. “Of course it is. Now… What have you done with Mable?”
We looked around, but she wasn’t there. In all the celebrations we had not noticed that she was no longer amongst us. She ought to have been prowling around Marian, prodding her, intimidating her, as she did all newcomers to the castle, but there was a distinct lack of elderly presence in the hall.
We checked through every room of the castle, but she wasn’t there either. We checked her bedroom last and found that all her possessions, her gong and carpet bag and witchy Welsh dress, had vanished alongside her. As swiftly as she had emerged out of the fog on the day after the war began, she had gone again on the day that it ended.
“I’ve just been down to the file room,” Father remarked coldly when we all re-gathered in the drawing room. “There are files missing… Important ones.” He looked at Mrs Violent. “Charlie’s file… It’s not there. Neither is the file for the Compostela expedition.”
“Do you think Mable took it?” Mrs Violent asked.
“I suspect so. There’s little in there that wasn’t made public knowledge by the inquiry so we don’t need to fret that they’re gone… But why on earth would Mable want to take those files? What interest was it to her?” That was a question which we have never answered.
Edward, Seamus and I found ourselves locked in a sweltering room overlooking a Cairo market during last summer, fifty eight. It was a routine observation affair and so achingly dull that Seamus and I preferred to let Edward do all the watching whilst we lounged in chairs drinking gin, reading, or smoking. Edward liked watching anyway. He liked observing the way the market moved and shifted throughout the day. He liked to see the mundane, the ordinary, the everyday life. It gave him a sort of satisfaction.
“Do you remember the war?” Seamus slurred at me, lighting a cigarette.
“Of course I remember the war. There were six years of it,” I said, looking up from my book.
“I was just thinking about it,” Seamus remarked. “All those adventures we had, like the night we tried to escape from Mable over the mountains.”
“You realize that was bloody silly? Crossing those mountains in the dead of a winter night could well have gotten us killed. We might have fallen over a precipice… Like how that nun fell over the edge of Aber Falls.”
“Ah… But she survived. At least until her motorboat collided with a mine. Then there was that business with the horse… I went to see Ti over at Cedryn before we left. He still hasn’t forgiven Edward shooting it in the rump.” Seamus threw a scrumpled up bit of paper at Edward to get his attention, but he did not respond. It was as if he wasn’t listening to our conversation.
“We had a fair few troubles from Mable, didn’t we?” I sighed.
“Yes. We did. It wouldn’t have been the war without them though. You know, I’ve still got the scar from where she cracked my head open.” Seamus peeled back his hairline to show me the now much faded scar tissue, almost indistinguishable from the rest of his dark skin.
“I wonder where she went, in the end… Back to wherever she came from, you reckon?”
“Hell? Satan? I suppose you’re right. Considering how old she was, I suppose she’s dead now though.”
“Yes. I suppose she must be.”
“You’re both wrong,” Edward said, not turning from the window. “Mable is alive, somewhere.”
“How do you know? She’s not shuffling out of the throngs of Cairo market is she?”
“What would you do if she was?”
“I’d be on the next flight back to Wales.”
“No. She’s not shuffling out of the throngs of Cairo market. But consider this, dearest brothers mine, Mable was undoubtedly a witch.”
“You don’t believe in such *—*,” Seamus groused at him.
“No. I don’t believe. But if there was ever a witch in all the world, it was Mable, and the one indisputable fact about witches,” he turned from the window, smiling at us, “is that witches never die!”
THE AUNT MABLE STORIES
(In Chronolgical Order)
The Coming Of Aunt Mable | Aunt Mable Takes Over | Aunt Mable & The School Mistress | Escape From Aunt Mable | Aunt Mable & The Evacuees | Aunt Mable & The Dogs Of War | Aunt Mable & The Sin Of The Chauffeur | Aunt Mable Beside The Seaside
Aunt Mable & The Sound Of Music