"Well, I never thought Dad's frogs were in the bag anyway, " Wanda said the next morning. "You did. " "No I didn't. It was a stupid idea. " Wanda and I were getting ready to go to the beach. It was a really sunny day and usu- ally I would have been excited because I like the sea now. I never used to go to the beach when I lived with just Aunt Tabby and Uncle Drac.
Aunt Tabby thought the sea was danger- ous and Uncle Drac does not really like day- light, and he especially does not like being out in the sun. But just then I did not want to go to the beach, as I was in a bad mood.
I was in a bad mood because:
1. Yesterday, after her bicycle ambushed me, Nurse Watkins marched us back to Spookie House. She found Uncle Drac knitting in the hedge and made him walk up and down the path twenty times.
2. Which annoyed Uncle Drac.
3. When Barry asked how come we had bro- ken Nurse Watkins's bicycle, Wanda had told him that I had been looking in Nurse Watkins's bag for his frogs.
4. Which annoyed Barry.
5. And Brenda.
6. And Aunt Tabby.
7. And me.
Because it was not true, as I never got the chance. In fact I had been savagely attacked by Nurse Watkins's bag. It was just not fair. But no one cares what I think, so we were going to the beach whether I wanted to or not. Ever since Brenda told Aunt Tabby about lifeboats and rescue helicopters, Aunt Tabby has changed her mind about the sea being dangerous and now she really likes it. In fact, I think she secretly wants to be rescued by a helicopter. Actually, I wouldn't mind being rescued by a helicopter either. But not at the same time as Aunt Tabby. "You will enjoy it when we get there, -48- Araminta, " said Aunt Tabby. Huh. Aunt Tabby always acts like she knows the future, but she doesn't. "How can you know that I will enjoy it?" I asked. "I might get eaten by a shark. I wouldn't enjoy that. " Aunt Tabby raised her eyes up like she was looking for something in her eyebrows and sighed. "I don't suppose the shark would either, " she replied. Which I did not think was very nice. I had been thinking about what Nurse Watkins had said to the little old lady and I realized I had another clue. I was hoping that if I was grumpy enough everyone else would go to the beach and leave me behind because I had a plan–I wanted to sneak off to the mushroom farm.
But it was no good, we were all going to the beach in Barry's van. Except for Uncle Drac, of course. And Barry, as he was still looking for his frogs. I told Barry that we were still looking for them too, and he said it was probably bet- ter that we didn't look anymore, all things considered. But what Barry did not under- stand was that a good detective never gives up. In fact, from what I have seen, the more people tell them to give up, the more deter- mined they are to continue. As soon as the detective's boss tells her that she is being taken off the case, you know that's it–she will go right on and solve it. But if I couldn't go to the mushroom farm, I knew someone who could. So while Brenda, Aunt Tabby, and Wanda were making the picnic and finding the beach towels, I went to find Sir Horace.
Sir Horace is one of the ghosts in Spookie House. The other ghost is a weedy boy called Edmund who likes Wanda very much, but he would be no good at finding frogs because he would be scared of them. But I knew Sir Horace would help. When you first see Sir Horace you do not realize he is a ghost at all; you think he is just an old suit of armor. But inside the armor is the real ghost of Sir Horace Cuthbert Shirley George Harbinger. Sir Horace got to be a ghost after a fight with some nasty people called FitzMaurice who left him (and Edmund) to drown in a horrible grotto and then took over his castle. One of their descen- dants, Old Morris, still lives there, although the castle has almost disappeared, and now it is the mushroom farm.
First of all I had to find Sir Horace. Sometimes he is easy to find, as often he just hangs around the hall. Sir Horace likes com- pany and you can usually find him propped up beside the old clock watching the comings and goings. But that day there was no sign of him anywhere. I really hoped that I was not going to have to go and find him in his secret room, as that takes forever, and I did not want Aunt Tabby coming to look for me. The other place Sir Horace hangs out is up on the landing. He does this when he wants to go to sleep or if he is in a bad mood. I ran up the big staircase from the hall and crept along the landing, which is really wide and has banisters so thick that you can swing from them–if you don't mind hundreds of spiders joining in too.
I was very quiet; I did not want Sir Horace to hear me coming, as he can be quite good at hiding from me. It was almost dark on the landing because Aunt Tabby had closed all the curtains to stop the sun from coming in, and the brown paintwork kind of sucked up any light that was left. I couldn't see Sir Horace anywhere so I stopped and lis- tened, and sure enough, I soon heard a telltale squeak of something that needed oiling. I tiptoed along the dusty old carpet and soon saw what I was looking for–two pointy armored feet sticking out from underneath a long and suspiciously lumpy tapestry that hung on the wall. "Boo!" I said, and pulled back the tapestry. Sir Horace jumped and his armor squeaked like a scared hamster.
Well, like quite a lot of scared hamsters, actually. "Hello, Sir Horace, " I said, as I got the impression Sir Horace was still trying to pre- tend he was not there. "Would you like to come out today?" "No, " said Sir Horace in his low, booming voice, which always gives me goose bumps when I first hear it. "Please, " I said. "I need your help. " I thought I heard Sir Horace sigh. You see, because he is a knight he cannot refuse to help any damsel in distress. I may not look much like a damsel, but as far as the average knight is concerned, that is what I am. Also I was in distress. Well, sort of. On behalf of the frogs. "What can I do to help you, Miss Spookie?" asked Sir Horace. He did -55- not sound as keen as I would have liked but that did not matter. "I want you to come to the mushroom farm. You know–your old castle where Morris FitzMaurice lives. " "Do not mention that name here, Miss Spookie, " Sir Horace boomed. "I want you to search the mushroom farm for frogs and report back to me–got that?" "Frogs?" asked Sir Horace. "That's right. Acrobatic frogs. Five of them. " "Oh. " I waited for Sir Horace to say something more but he didn't. "Come on then, Sir Horace. " "What, now ?" "Yes. In fact we're late as it is. "
"Can't it wait?" "No. " Sir Horace gave a really big sigh. "Very well then. I shall be with you in a moment, Miss Spookie. But if I am to return to my castle there is something I wish to get. " He bowed, then lurched to one side, threw his left leg for- ward, and set off along the corridor doing the weirdest walk I had ever seen him do. Sir Horace has a habit of falling to pieces every now and then. Wanda and I always have the job of putting him back together again, but we never seem to get all the pieces in exactly the same place as before. So every time he gets rebuilt, Sir Horace walks in a dif- ferent way. I guessed his weird walk might have had something to do with the fact that we last put Sir Horace together at the same -57- time we were mending Wanda's bicycle. I had a feeling that some of the parts got mixed up. I found Sir Horace waiting for me in the hall a few minutes later and we got to the van just in time. Wanda, Aunt Tabby, and Brenda had finished loading up with the picnic bas- ket, rugs, beach umbrellas, windbreaks, air matress, snorkels, flippers, and all the hun- dreds of things that Brenda always takes to the beach. Brenda was sitting nervously in the driver's seat–because Aunt Tabby is teaching her to drive–and Wanda was already in the back of the van with all the stuff. Sir Horace was on the doorstep staring at Barry's van. I was not surprised, as most peo- ple stare at Barry's van. It is very embarrass- ing, especially when you are in it. Barry recently painted his van (which used to belong to Uncle Drac) with pictures of his frogs.
They were leapfrogging all over it, they had big scary eyes, and since he had run out of green paint, they were all weird colors. Also the paint had run. It was meant to be an advertisement for his troupe of frogs, which Barry thought would make his fortune, but personally I thought it would put people off. "Hurry up, Sir Horace, " I said. "Brenda's driving and she is likely to take off at any moment. " Brenda does not have what Aunt Tabby calls "good clutch control, " which is a fancy way of saying that when Brenda drives, the van leapfrogs like a giant frog itself. Sir Horace clattered down the steps and I was glad that Aunt Tabby was so busy telling Brenda to remember to let go of the handbrake this time that she did not notice.
Aunt Tabby has a policy of never letting you do anything that you want to, and I was pretty sure this would cover taking Sir Horace to the mush- room farm in the back of the van. Wanda, however, did notice. But luckily, just as she shouted, "No, Araminta, I will not move over for Sir Horace, " her voice was drowned out by the metallic screeching of Brenda crashing the gears and Aunt Tabby yelling, "Clutch, Brenda! Clutch!" I pulled Sir Horace inside and slammed the door just in time. Then we kangaroo-hopped down the drive and out into the lane. It was a lovely sunny day, and as we passed the dan- ger, unexploded mines sign I smiled. Chief Detective Spookie was on the case.