'I need to talk to you about a matter of some urgency and delicacy,' says Mrs Pumphrey. Well, she doesn't say it. What she actually does is shout it, like she wants everyone within a three mile radius to hear that she has an URGENT and DELICATE problem.
We are sitting head to comb at the sewing table, stitching sequins onto a mermaid's tale (don't ask) in an approximation of fishy scales. Mrs Pumphrey shouts so loudly, the box of sequins is jettisoned across the table and scattered all over the floor.
'Good grief,' I say. 'Was that entirely necessary? We are pushed for time getting these costumes made as it is, without you causing extra mess to clear up.'
'Sorry,' says Mrs Pumphrey, 'but this arrived this morning. It was pushed under my bedroom door.'
And she passes me a sheet of paper which bears a remarkable resemblance to the one shown to me by Mrs Miggins which contained the ominous threat from the Phantomime. Except instead of being edged in funereal black, this is edged in rose bud pink and fair reeks of Old Spicy Brut - the Aftershave for Manly Men Who Do Boxing and Surfing.
'Read it,' says Mrs Pumphrey; she is looking more than a little excited. I open the folded paper and begin to read. (Lord knows why - I mean, it's not like I don't know what it's going to say after all. But then I suppose it does give me an opportunity to check for typos.)
"A Toast to the Natural Talent of a True Star," it begins. Mrs Pumphrey has already underlined the words 'Toast', 'Talent ' and 'Star' with a silver glitter pen.
"Mademoiselle...I can only extend my deep felt apologies for your having been excluded so cruelly from the cast of 'Puss In Boots.' Rest assured, my precious perfume of exotic bloom (again - underlined in silver glitter pen) that I have made direction to Madame Miggins that you are to play the role of Alice Fitzwarren. The shame of hiding your talent in the wardrobe department would be too hard for my heart to bear. I shall watch your progress in reheasals with Interest, who is my cocker spaniel puppy."
And the letter is signed with a flourish and a swirly "P."
'What do you think?' says Mrs Pumphrey, all breathlessness and pinky-cheeked.
'Well,' I say. 'I'd say I think you've got an admirer.'
'I KNEW IT!' shrieks Mrs Pumphrey. 'It's him, isn't it? It's Tolemy! That's his silent 'P!' And she jabs the paper with her wing.
'Possibly,' I say, but a chill is running through me because this missive bears all the signs of the Phantomime. 'But surely he would have signed it 'PP,' for 'Ptolemy Pheasant?'
Mrs Pumphrey looks momentarily confused. 'No,' she shakes her head. 'His initial would be silent P and F. F for feasant.'
I sigh. 'Mrs Pumphrey, there is no eff in pheasant,' I say.
'Yes, there is,' she says. 'He's out there - look. By the willow arch.' And she waves a wing towards the window and indeed, yes, Ptolemy is there, doing theatrical gestures and nibbling at the leftover giant willow aphids. 'Also,' adds Mrs Pumphrey, 'I think you ought to watch your language. This is a family show, you know.'
'Or it might be from Tango Pete,' I suggest, because it is breaking my heart just a little bit to see him moping around the Manor on his Scooter of Rejection, shooting metaphorical daggers in Ptolemy's direction.
'Oh, it won't be him,' scoffs Mrs Pumphrey. 'He's never been this lyrical. He hasn't a romantic bone in his body.'
I think this is rather harsh. But I can also see the stars in Mrs Pumphrey's eyes, blinding her to the steady charms of Tango Pete. I hope that the magic of Christmas will bring them together again.
'What should I do?' says Mrs Pumphrey. 'Should I reciprocate? Should I take on the role of Alice Fitzwarren?'
'If you do you'll have to let out the costume,' I say.
'Charming,' sniffs Mrs Pumphrey.
'Practical,' I say. 'Camilla is just much smaller than you.'
Mrs Pumphrey gives this some thought. 'I suppose,' she says. 'I am rather magnificent in my flamboyance, aren't I?'
'If you want to call it that, then yes,' I say.
'Well, thank you for your advice,' says Mrs Pumphrey, even though advice I have given none. 'I'm off to chat to Mrs Miggins about my new role.'
'Good luck with that,' I say to her tail feathers as she vanishes through the door.
And I am left with a pot of scattered sequins and a growing sense of doom that something very unpleasant and very unChristmassy is about to happen.
'Oh no it isn't!' shouts the Chorus.
'Oh yes it is,' I reply.
'Mwahahahahahahahahaha...HA!' says the phantom tones of the Phantomime.