Jazz Age students - Ralph, Daphne, Jenny, and Algae - visit Daphne's ancestral home in the Cambridgeshire countryside on the eve of Hallowe'en and the bicentenary of a curse hanging over Wulfmarsh Hall.
The Wulfmarsh Weekend is a darkly-humoured novel set in a secluded stately home in the Cambridgeshire fens of the 1920s. The youthful protagonists, having survived the traumas of the Great War; challenge the strict mores of their society, and question the judgment of its political and spiritual leaders; whilst becoming entangled in a cliche-ridden mystery.
Midnight - the witching hour - when Satan’s minions emerge to seize the desperate, the foolish, and the unwary. Travellers who venture out on foot along tenebrous country lanes, without so much as the moon to light their pathway, have long since Creation fallen prey to those familiars which would spirit them away by force or favour and imprison their wretched souls in broad oak boughs - where the laments of muffled screams are often mistaken for the rustle of twigs in a breeze. But then, Christianity hit back with the advent of the motor car, as the animist sects of the Church will testify, seeing each squashed cat or toad as an imp set packing back to hell. By 1920, the blessed combination of bright headlights and swift pneumatic tyres were squashing the imps out of cats and toads everywhere.
On a lonely winding track, flanked by hedgerows and fields, just off the same Great North Road on which Dick Turpin made his apocryphal ride on Black Bess, a cute little bunny rabbit hopped past an amiable old hedgehog in search of greener pasture on the other side. The rabbit was in no particular hurry and paused some way short of cover, whiskers twitching as its keen senses detected the approach of a strange creature hunting on the road.
A distant hum sang through the still night air, and a faint vibration played through the tarmac beneath its furry feet, just before the growling beast began to emerge from the acoustic shadow of a bend. The quick-witted rabbit closed its eyes and dashed blindly for sanctuary in the hedgerow, knowing that the gorgon would petrify all those caught in its deadly glare.
The hedgehog also took note of the portent, warning of an extraordinary danger, but its shorter legs were less adept at running. Salvation lay a mere six feet away as the screeching tyres held the bend and the mesmerising headlamps burst into view; searing the eyes of the prospective victim with blinding white light. The predatory beast rent the air with its unmistakable roar as it charged towards its helpless prey. The hedge-hog froze, transfixed by the godly apparition, and prayed as a modest life in the hedgerow flashed before its mind’s eye.
“Slow down or we’ll end up in a field!” the front-seat passenger in the open top saloon car counselled the female driver. His cheeks and brow were distinctly pale despite the warm night air of an Indian summer. “You’re going too fast!” he warned. “The roads are always greasy this time of year!”
“Be quiet, Algae, you’re worse than my mother,” the driver chided him. “And just as bloodless. If you’re cold, put your jacket on.”
Both the passenger and driver wore short-sleeved shirts. The fair-haired driver had opted for an attractive tangerine blouse and a delicate silk neck scarf. The passenger wore a Lincoln green polo shirt - a colour historically favoured by tree-huggers - with a small wing-collar; though he failed to see how the simple act of adopting an extra layer of clothing would ease his present predicament.
“A lot of good that’ll do if you wrap us round a tree,” he gasped, abandoning all his life’s ambitions and reconciling himself to an early grave. This morbid thought gave rise to another question. “I thought your mother was dead?”
“She is - but even she knows better than to talk to someone behind the wheel of a car. You asked me to drive - so shut up and let me drive!”
“I didn’t ask, you insisted. Look out, there’s a hedgehog!” he yelled, desperately seizing the steering wheel in a brave attempt to spare the living creature on the road.
on the mud at the side of the road. The dark underside of the chassis past over the spiky ball, blotting out the moon, like the shadow of a destroying angel. But for Algae’s humane outlook and fast reflexes, hedgehog and tarmac would have fused into a squidgy, spiky, red molasses, resembling the result of a dreadful experiment in cross-molecular fusion.
“That wasn’t very clever,” a second young woman, dressed in a light tweed jacket and a chic-looking beige cloth-cap, remonstrated loudly from the back-seat where she hung on to the arm of a fourth travelling companion - an extremely hand-some young man with fair hair and a floppy fringe. The man wore riding boots and breeches like an equestrian, with the sleeves of his shirt rolled up to reveal well-developed biceps.
“Too right, it wasn’t very clever,” Algae concurred. “There was a hedgehog trying to cross the road. Daphne should have more respect for our wildlife.”
“Jenny meant you grabbing the wheel like that,” the male back-seat passenger interjected suavely, as he casually slipped a muscular tentacle around the narrow waist of his fellow traveller. “It’s against the highway code to swerve for animals.”
“It’s after midnight, there are no other cars on the road, and hedgehogs are fast becoming an endangered species,” Algae ventured sternly. “And since when did you start reading the highway code?”
“Why don’t you get a life, Algae? A Country Life!” Daphne chortled. “You might learn a thing or two about your furry friends. Nature is red in tooth and claw!”