Berkeley woke up with a thumping headache and pins and needles in his left arm. He felt as if someone had pushed him through a combine harvester.
His alarm clock told him that it was near 2.30am. What time had he passed out? His argument with Marcheline had been at around 10pm so he couldn’t have slept for more than three or four hours. The decanter, which he knew had been three quarters full, was empty. And, more worryingly, he couldn't move his left arm. Panic gripped him. Was this the prelude to another heart attack? He rolled over onto his side and found that someone was in his bed and lying on his arm. That was why he had pins and needles. But who could it be? And how had they got into his bed? As far as he was aware only he and Marcheline had been in the house and it was hardly likely to be his sister. The only other person who had keys was Mrs Shandcreek and for one awful moment he imagined her naked under the bed clothes. Had Meg taken advantage of his inebriation to seduce him? He didn’t feel like he’d been seduced. To start with he was still fully clothed and nothing seemed to be unzipped or unbuttoned. And besides, Meg rarely came to the house after 7pm as she ‘knew her place’ and respected their privacy. No, she’d be tucked up in bed in her home in one of the estate’s twin gate houses. So, who was in his bed? Surely not someone from the village? The choice of possible bedfellows in Shapcott Bassett was somewhat limited and mostly septuagenarian and he hoped to God he wasn’t being stalked by some predatory older woman. Cougars, they called themselves. Tentatively, he reached over and pulled the sheet back from the head of his unexpected guest and found himself face to face not with a cougar, but with a sleeping Bengal tiger.
His first reaction was to scream, but he bit his lower lip hard and squeakily broke wind instead. Screaming might upset the big cat. And what a big cat it was lying there on its side, the skin around its mouth pulled back into a grimace revealing three-inch long yellowed and dagger-like teeth. The tiger twitched and snarled in its sleep, presumably dreaming primæval dreams of hunting down some soft, fleshy prey to despatch with those terrible jaws.
Very, very gently, Berkeley pulled his arm out from under the tiger and stepped carefully and quietly out of bed. It took a second for him to gain his balance - he really had drunk an enormous quantity of alcohol - but then his foot brushed against something warm and furry. Knowing that he didn't own a pair of furry slippers, he looked down and bit his lower lip again. Another tiger was asleep on his bedroom floor and snoring gently. If it was possible, this beast was even bigger than the one in his bed. He tiptoed past the sleeping feline and tried desperately to form any kind of coherent explanation for why there should be two tigers in his bedroom.
His insistent bladder was telling him that it needed emptying and, if he was honest, his bowels weren’t feeling too happy either. There was no way that he was going to risk using his en suite so the Hall’s main bathroom would have to do. He made a quick inspection of the hallway and, finding it clear of large predatory cats, began creeping silently along it. Or as silently as he could manage; despite the instant sobering effect of finding tigers in his bedroom, he was still very drunk and uncoordinated. Gingerly, he pushed open the bathroom door and found his sister glaring at him from the bathtub.
‘Berkeley! What in God’s name have you done!’ she hissed, covering herself strategically with flannels.
‘What have I done?’ said Berkeley, swaying gently.
‘Shhhh!’ said Marcheline, pointing to the tiled floor where a third tiger lay asleep. It issued a low rumbling growl. ‘You’ve gone too far this time, Berkeley.’
‘I’ve gone too far?’ hissed Berkeley. ‘You let the bloody things in here to kill me!’
‘What? I did no such thing,’ hissed Marcheline. ‘You let them in to kill me.’
‘I did not!’
‘Then who did?’ said Marcheline. ‘Pass me a towel and help me out of this bath. I’ve been in here for over an hour and the water has gone stone cold.’