Victoria waited for the buzz of the swarm to fade before placing the bellows on the garden table. She took a sandwich off the plate and lifted it to her mouth, looked up at her guest and put the sandwich back down. She pushed the plate towards him; the Chameleon took off his top hat and shook his head. Victoria smiled, picked up the sandwich again and began eating.
‘As you can see, we have a swarm problem,’ she said as crumbs fell onto her lap. The Chameleon cycled its skin through bright greens and reds, causing Victoria’s vision to blur. With one eye he looked at Victoria while the other looked around the garden. A roving bowling ball sized wasp hovered by an oak tree a hundred yards away. Victoria watched as it headed their way, she reached for the bellows, and it was gone.
Victoria looked back at the Chameleon who was now chewing away, a wing hanging out of his mouth. ‘The lawn for our tents, and my weight in woollen jumpers: This country is cold.’
The Chameleon stood up and reached out his foot, Victoria rose quickly, knocking the chair to the floor. Flustered she picked it up and went to shake his big toe. ‘Oh, and two bags of silver,’ he added.
Victoria blushed, ‘That’s a little more than I had hoped,’ she replied as her hand dropped.
The Chameleon scratched under his chin. ‘One and half bags,’ he said, thrusting out his foot again. She nodded and shook his toe. He grabbed his hat, spun around and ran across the lawn on all fours- he was gone over the wall before she could reach for another sandwich.
Behind her, Victoria heard a quiet buzzing. She looked over at the great lawn and noticed two smaller swarms had joined together and were slowly moving her way. She quickly picked up the plate of sandwiches and briskly headed back inside.
The next morning sunlight streamed into her bedroom as the drone drowned out the birdsong. She climbed out of bed, wrapped her nightgown around her and walked over to the window – below her the garden was a seething mass of wasps.
She opened the window to smell the fresh flowers and she noticed a low rumbling in the distance. A train of wagons was making its way down the lane leading to the house. Their vibrantly coloured cabins were being pulled in fits and starts by troops of ring-tailed lemurs.
As they approached, the wasps quickly dispersed into the fauna around the garden. The wagon train stopped on the great lawn. Chameleons got down from the wagons and let the lemurs loose, who immediately bounded off into the forest surrounding the property.
Victoria raised her hand to her mouth as she watched the chameleons unfurl and erect the giant tents. Great metal furnaces were lifted down from the wagons and huge wooden barrels of water were laid next to them with their lids off. Within a few minutes, fires were lit, and steam was emanating from the tents.
There was a knock at the door and Victoria descended the stairs and opened the door.
‘I wasn’t expecting you so soon’ she said, clutching the robe closed at her neck.
‘Half now, half later,’ he said holding out his foot. She nodded and smartly walked off into the study. A minute or two later she returned with a bag and placed the draw string over his toe. ‘Jumpers’ he said after depositing the coins under his top hat.
Victoria held up her index finger and scurried off again, returning a few minutes later dragging a bag of jumpers with her. The Chameleon reached over the threshold and took the bag from her, he dipped his hat and left.
Throughout the day Victoria stayed inside the house and watched from the windows as the chameleons dashed around the garden, bright flares of colour peeking out from the drab woollen jumpers. The lemurs shook the leaves in the trees as the wasps were driven out of their nests.
As the sun began to set there was another knock at the door, she hurried to answer it to find the Chameleon standing there. ‘Good first day’ he said, before turning and walking back to the tents, leaving her standing there alone.
The next morning as she opened the window, she heard more low rumbling. On the horizon, she could see another stream of wagons approaching and watched as they filled in the small gaps left between the first set of wagons. The chameleons unleashed the lemurs and were gone into the tents.
The next few days followed the same pattern of further chameleons and lemurs, the wagons now encroaching into the flower beds. That evening the Chameleon visited Victoria again. ‘More wasps, more chameleons, more silver,’ he said gruffly, with legs and wings hanging off the woollen jumper. Victoria took a step back in shock.
‘I don’t have any more,’ she replied holding her hand to her chest. The chameleon leaned through the doorway and looked at the paintings hanging on the wall and the antique furniture.
‘That,’ he said pointing at a large wooden antique chest, ‘to store jumpers,’ he added. Before she had a chance to react, he strode in, took the chest and left. She stood opened mouthed as the door slowly closed behind him.
The next morning, she lay in bed pondering why there were so many wasps still to be rid of. She climbed the stairs into the attic and after hunting around for her telescope, she looked out of the central window to the garden. To her dismay, she found her answer. On the border of the property, half hidden by trees a wagon of wasp nests was being unloaded.
She sat down on the floor with her mind racing. The sun dropped again and with it, another knock on the door. She slowly made her way downstairs as another knock struck the door. She opened it a fraction to see the Chameleon standing there again, hat in hand. ‘Longer than thought’ he said, as he barged his way inside, grabbing a painting off the wall and leaving without another word.
Victoria couldn’t sleep that night and as the sun rose, she went up to the attic and just watched them. Every morning they emerged from their tents, opened the chest, donned their jumpers, then began hurtling around the garden at break-neck speed.
Swarms of wasps were driven out of the trees by the lemurs, only to be annihilated by the chameleons. Occasionally one of the chameleons would trip or snag the jumpers on something, which seemed to cause them all sorts of despair to which they swiftly retreated to the tents until the tear was repaired.
That night Victoria quietly walked around the garden as a frenzied hissing came from within the tents. The air had started to cool as the summer began to fade. Outside the tents stood the chest of jumpers. She opened the lid, slowly lifted up the side of one of the tents and quietly pushed it into the steam.
The next morning Victoria stayed away from the windows, hoping that her plan had worked, but too afraid to check. Then came the knock at the door and she hurried over and flung it open, there stood the Chameleon in a shrunken woollen jumper, a scowl on his face.
‘More jumpers,’ he demanded with a subtle hiss of irritation.
Victoria shook her head, ‘I have no more.’ The Chameleon spun around on the spot, his tail slamming the door closed sending Victoria reeling.
She quickly ran up to the attic and watched as wasp nests were loaded onto wagons, the tents were packed, and within minutes the lemurs had been harnessed and they were off, leaving an empty, wasp free lawn.