In the Vulcano
Silently they walked through the night. They passed a small church and left the town.
“We will be there in a moment”, milord croaked when they crossed a narrow river. Three miles later they still had not reached their goal.
“Like the back of your hand, Sir?” McClown grumped. His Lordship did not answer but stared to the right side.
“Here we are, McClown, I knew all right. An old scout like me finds his way in the middle of the night. Or in the fog. Or in a nightly fog. Follow me, McClown!”
The path became arduous, they had to walk uphill.
“Are you sure that we have to climb a mountain?”
“Nonsense, McClown, we will find no fountain. This isn’t a park after all.”
“No, McClown, in the mountains is no fountain either. But Mingary Castle is behind a small mound, so we are certainly on the right path.”
While the butler pushed the wheelchair with the suitcases the hamsters woke up from the loud talking. Cautiously they peered out of the trunk into the dark night. Ahead of them was a high mountain which seemed to touch the sky. They hid between the underwear again anxiously. Lord and butler climbed on and panted.
“Sir, might it be that we lost our way?”
“By no means, McClown, I know this terrain like the back of my hand. We will be there in a moment.”
After another hour of steep climbing the ground suddenly became plain. The sky was clouded, no moon or stars could show them the way. There were no lights or houses, not to talk of Mingary Castle. Lord and butler both held to the wheelchair and cautiously put one foot in front of the other.
“Sir, is it far to Mingary Castle?” It took some time until milord replied.
“My dear McClown, you’re lacking patience. Perhaps within the last years the course of the road has changed at little. - However, if I did not know the terrain so well I would assume that we are on Ben Hiant.”
“Ben Hiant, Sir?”
“An old volcano, McClown. Those who plunge down into its crater never see daylight again.”
Suddenly lord and butler came to a shocked standstill and looked at each other in the darkness. Then the wheelchair toppled over and with a loud shriek the two of them followed. A soft “Yarooh!” could be heard from one of the suitcases, then silence fell. It took some time until out of the dark came a furious voice:
“Like the back of your hand, Sir? Like the back of your hand? Was that your wording?”
“We all make mistakes! Stop kicking me, McClown, it is rude to kick old people.”
The butler tried to calm down and to think clearly. They had crashed down, so first of all damages and injuries had to be checked. After groping around for a while he found the suitcase with the hamsters and ascertained that they all were well. Then he helped up Lord McShredder.
“Where might we be?” he wondered.
“We are inside the Ben Hiant volcano”, His Lordship crowed. “I know this like the back… What I mean is: I’m quite certain.”
“Then we are lost”, the butler mumbled and sat down on the cold ground. He turned things over in his mind for quite a while, then he stood up again and began to sniff at the rocks.
“McClown, you must be stark raving mad!”
“No, Sir, I’m looking for fumaroles.”
“I’m sitting here in the cold and you can think of nothing but your dinner?”
“Sir, fumaroles are openings through which volcanic gases come to the surface. I read that in a book. My idea is as follows, Sir: If we fire such a gas source it will be seen widely perhaps. Somebody will find us. In the darkness even a single match can be seen over long distances, so we have to hurry.”
Milord got out his pipe, cleaned it out laboriously, filled it again and lit it. He listened to the wailing squeaking of the hamsters who were hungry again. Now his butler made a find.
“Gas, decidedly gas”, he exclaimed, ran to the trunks and ransacked them. He searched his pocket trousers, then the suitcases again and gave up.
“We left the matches on board, Sir.” He looked at Lord McShredder hopefully. “Or have you got the matches, Sir.”
“No, McClown, I do not have any matches.”
This answer made the butler desperate. He began to search the ground, lifted stones, knocked and grinded them and gave up in frustration.
“If we at least had flint stones, Sir, then we could strike a spark and ignite the gas.”
His Lordship gave a sympathetic nod and sucked at his pipe. There was deep silence now, interrupted by the scratching of the hamsters who looked for nourishment. About half an hour later a croaking voice said:
“I don’t know anything about these formulas or what’s their name, McClown, but might we take my lighter? Eh, McClown, why are you bumping your head against the rocks?”
When the butler had calmed down he searched the wall a second time. The he fetched an old newspaper from one of the suitcases, crumpled it and pondered.
“Sir, it will be better if you and the hamsters hide in the back part of the cave. It might get quite hot.”
As matter of fact the funnel of the volcano looked like a round cave. It was like sitting in an upside down bucket with an upside opening. Now and then a blinking star could be seen. Obviously a wind had sprung up and drifted away the clouds. But at one spot there was a big niche in the wall and the hamsters had made themselves comfortable there already.
McClown took a look at the wheelchair. Luckily it was only scratched and not broken. Cautiously the butler took the hamsters and placed them into their overnight trunk. Then he put the suitcases back onto the wheelchair, pushed it into the niche and went back to the crumpled newspaper. He lit it with the lighter, laid it down where the gas was coming out of the rocks and hastily retreated into the niche to sit down beside His Lordship. Anxiously they watched the flames rising. With a hiss the gas ignited and the cave became as bright as daylight. It was a fantastic sight and the butler’s plan seemed to work when something happened none of them had expected. Another hiss and a second fire column shot out of the wall, a third and fourth one until the whole cave was aflame
“Quite hot, McClown?” sounded the frightened voice of milord.
“We will be boiled like porridge!”
“Sir, there are more fumaroles than I expected. We have to get out here!”
Desperately the butler banged his fists against the wall behind him. That wall sounded hollow and seemed not to be very thick. Even McShredder heard this and helped the butler to kick and hit the wall. The air became hotter and thinner, chunks of stone came down from the edge of the volcano. Milord and his butler were sweating and gasping and desperately worked at the wall. Then suddenly it gave way and a black hole was yawning at them. McClown took His Lordship and shoved him onto the suitcases. Then he gave the wheelchair a kick and jumped into the darkness. Behind him he heard the roaring of the flames and the collapsing of the volcano. And that was the last thing he heard..