Author’s Note: I feel that for this story I should be extra clear that I know absolutely nothing about police procedure or breaking-and-entering, save for what I’ve read and seen in fiction. In case the ghost wandering around the story didn’t tip you off, this series has no basis whatsoever in fact, and isn’t based on any kind of real events!
In the entirely confident opinion of Professor Horace Richards, one never really appreciated the true length of night-time until one had absolutely no ability to sleep through it. It was just the sort of thing, in his view, which doubtless caused so many members of the Spectral Community (should it exist, although Richards was leaning heavily in favour of this likelihood in the light of his own Situation) to resort to Childish Pranks and Irresponsible Nonsense.
Not that Richards could really comment. Why, only last week he had spent a Highly Enjoyable Time carefully moving all of the furniture in the SCR exactly one inch to the left. The number of bruised shins and scattered papers had kept him entertained for hours, along with the general concern of the Fellowship that they were collectively losing their grip on the reality as they had known it. Fortunately the Steward had found the experience just as entertaining as Richards, and though she had attempted to scold him, she had kindly not breathed a word of the matter to Margaret, who may have Had her Suspicions but had therefore been able to prove nothing!
Although Richards had thankfully not been banned from the libraries of the city, provided that he replace anything he used to its correct location, he had also taken up a habit of nightly Constitutional Walks, very healthy and whatnot for a conscientious Person of Alternative Health. It allowed him to really Come to Grips with the city which had been his home for over fifty years and yet was so often a mystery to him. It presented an opportunity to join, if only in a silent and intangible way, with the life and vitality of a population which was both so strange and so similar to that of the days of Horace Richards’ own student-years.
He had not cared for the Tone of the Bursar’s laughter when he had exposited on the Benefits of Regular Exercise for Spectral Persons to the Fellows over luncheon, but Margaret had assured him afterwards that the Bursar was likely suffering from envy at Richards’ dedication to the Appropriate Use of Free Time and New-Found Opportunities.
This evening, Richards was taking his Constitutional Exercise closer to home than usual. It had been a hectic week and he was glad to be on more familiar ground, not exploring new secrets in the dark. Devon College had been home for so long, at one time or another in his life, and the stones all but spoke to him as he floated around, of students and colleagues old and new, of balls and drinks and dinners, of fights and arguments and debates.
He was so caught up in the whisperings of the walls, Richards almost didn’t notice the opened window, until a stray breeze floated through it and ruffled his… whatever it was he was made of. Richards wasn’t thinking about it, and he certainly wasn’t going to let the FitzMatthew Medical Fellow take a look into the matter either!
He looked a bit closer. The window had certainly been forced open, now that one was looking. Richards was a Man of the World after all; he knew what a break-in looked like. Well! Now here was something different and exciting! After all, as the Master of the College and a Good Citizen, Richards would have to track down the Miscreants and See Justice Served!
He put his shoulders back and breathed deeply. Onwards to Glory!
After a short search, Richards came upon a small group of young men Advancing Purposefully through the shadows towards the Chapel. Aha! Richards took up the pursuit, silent and invisible – One couldn’t be Too Careful at his Time of Life after all!
As he drew nearer, he was able to make out the whispered conversation taking place.
“- know where the strong room is?”
“Well, no, not-“
“Exactly! But I’ve seen the Chaplain here, he’s got all this ‘Faith in Humanity’ stuff going on. He’ll never have the good stuff locked up. There’ll be something worth taking – and what the hell? Did anyone else feel that?”
“Feel what, Mike?”
“Like an icicle dripped on your spine?”
The silence Mike’s statement was met with suggested that his companions had not felt the icy blast of Richards’ cold rage, but that was of no matter so long as the focus of the rage was on the receiving end. How dare this- this- this brigand go around insulting the Reverend Lawrence Hargreaves? Richards himself may have considered the Chaplain to be a touch … well, trusting would have been a moderate phrase if not untrue. But that certainly did not mean that other people were permitted to cast aspersions upon the Chaplain like this!
That settled it. As if the indignity of having one’s college ransacked were not enough, one thought of how Lawrence’s faith in humanity and the sanctity of his chapel being both broken in one thoughtless act was too much for Richards to take. Just because one’s heart had stopped did not mean that it was made of stone, after all! These young men would not be the ones to build the poor Chaplain back up again, to comfort him when his optimism was challenged, to (Richards shivered for a moment) share in cups of tea and provide Emotional Support. That lot would fall to Richards after all, as Master of the College he could not in Good Conscience shirk his duty.
The Chaplain had been nothing but kind to Richards since his death, and indeed had been nothing but universally caring towards any human or animal who so much as paused when in his eyesight and someone needed to step up and defend the man in return!
Richards watched as the lead figure bent, picking the lock with what, even to Richards’ amateur-eye, seemed to be expert ease. Richards was at least glad that experienced hands were trying to ransack his college. He wasn’t sure he could stand it if his college were being besieged by amateurs on a lucky break…
“Didn’t they have those candlesticks? In silver?”
Richards suppressed a snort and he followed them inside the vestry, and tried not to knock over the racks of vestments and other oddments the Chaplain insisted were necessary. The Bursar should be so lucky; solid silver candlesticks indeed…
“I dunno ‘bout no candlesticks, but I definitely saw a golden glass once.”
“A golden glass? Really?”
No, Richards thought to himself, as his eye twitched in annoyance. Not really. He tried to think of what they might be referencing, coming up only with –
Everyone froze, Richards silently berating himself for losing his composure and speaking up at last, and the burglars presumably in response to a voice apparently coming from nowhere.
Richards had no sympathy.
“Stan, was that you?”
“No. Hey, what’s a chalice, Bob?”
“I dunno, do I?”
Still irate and invisible, Richards decided that covert operations were for people with pulses and blithely talked over whatever Mike thought he was going to say next.
“That, gentlemen, is painfully obvious to us all. Golden glass indeed. I recognise that there is little use in the modern world for the term ‘chalice’ outside of religious circles, but I would hope that when one resorts to the sale of other people’s property, one would have the gumption to know what that property was called,” as the beam of one torch flashed past him, Richards allowed his face to become visible in the weak light, disembodied and floating. “Would you not agree, gentlemen?”
One of the men – Stanley, Richards thought – squeaked. The other torches came up, frantically searching the wall behind Richards, but he had hidden himself again. They may not be able to see anything, but they clearly had better instincts than knowledge of ecclesiastic equipment, since they still huddled together and backed out into the main chapel space.
Richards followed, stretching out to find some small and easily replaced items to float around them. Now, it isn’t easy to make The New Edition of Psalms and Hymns look threatening and Richards had a feeling that he was not going to get sufficient credit for this later. No one appreciated his genius…
Attempting to be Vaguely Dramatic (Richards hadn’t really put much thought or practice into a really frightening haunting and now he regretted that oversight, what sort of Spectral Being was he?) Richards allowed himself to come once again into focus in the soft multi-coloured moonlight streaming through the stained glass.
Bob, or rather Robert, who now that Richards could see him properly illuminated, was clearly the youngest of the group, quite suddenly burst into tears.
“Me Ma al’ays tol’ me there’d be no good from robbin’ a church! Mike, I tol’ you this was a bad idea! Now there’s an angel of the Lor’!”
Richards had a sudden moment in which he was blindingly grateful that none of the Fellows had heard such a speech. The theologians would never stop laughing. Then he huffed.
“Really now, young man! A church indeed! Why, this is manifestly a chapel! Have you no notion of the Important Ecclesiastical Difference between them?”
Robert just shrugged, sniffed and wiped his eyes on his sleeve, looking very young indeed. Margaret, Richards promised himself there and then, could never be allowed to discover that he had made a young boy cry. She had Ways and Means to make him suffer. Eternally. He tried to look less threatening, hoping to give the boy heart and look less like a vengeful celestial being.
It must have been more effective than he imagined because one of the men, possibly Mike as the leader had clearly reached the end of his rope and grabbed the lectern. He swung it wildly, still a feat because that thing weighed a ton, and Richards certainly hadn’t thought to try and lift it, bringing it around to smash into Richards’ ribs.
There was a moment of truly horrified silence from the men when the lectern passed right through Richards. This probably wasn’t going to help Young Robert and his fear of damnation, now that Richards really considered the matter…
Mike’s grip on the lectern slackened and Richards reached out with a frantic burst of adrenalin (or the spectral equivalent, he still wasn’t going to ask the Medicine Fellow about that) and caught the antique before it could smash into the medieval tiles.
“Careful now, young man, that’s not easy to repair if you break it, you know.”
Richards shook his head, “That lectern, young man, was presented to the college in 1783 by the widow of Sir Paul Mildews, a most distinguished professor and a valued member of the college in his day. Very pious man, or so I hear, not that I knew him personally of course… Regardless! I will not have you desecrating his memory by breaking it in such a careless manner, you hear?”
The men were still standing in stunned silence, but Richards had a feeling this wouldn’t last for long. He sighed.
“And now what am I to do with you all, hmm?” Young Michael opened his mouth as if to answer, but shut it with a snap at Richard’s irate eyebrow. “I was not opening the floor to suggestions, young Vandal. Do you know what I shall suffer if the Bursar discovers this? He will flap, gentlemen. He will flap around until he’s made a security system so sound that none who work for the college will be able to get in.”
Speaking of security though…
The night porters were fine men with admirable dedication to the college, however they were well-known to nap through the darkest hours, not that Richards did not understand and envy them for this. Richards was uncomfortable with the notion of leaving the three men in the chapel unattended while he went to alert the duty-porter of the need for help. There was no telling what they could get up to! But what was Richards to do with them?
Horace Richards was not a family man, and he may have spent the last few years of his natural life negotiating with men and women as powerful, mature and argumentative as himself but he has started off teaching crowds of what he had been continually assured were bright young minds (in flagrant contradiction of the available evidence, if you asked him.)
The result was that when Richards gestured imperiously at a row of pews and barked, “Now sit!” there was an instant and obedient response. Richards fixed them with a gimlet-eyed gaze before moving his hands to grip the lapels of his jacket in what any of Richards’ past students would have identified as his lecturing pose.
Unseen by the men, Richards reached for the curtain ropes even as he steamrollered on into a Distracting Yet Stern Lecture. Someone ought to explain to these men the travesty that they were about to subject the college and its heritage to, after all. He had until dawn and there was no reason to allow this chance to educate the masses (or even a small portion of them) to go to waste after all!
“Now then, gentlemen,” he clapped his hands – he was actually looking forward to this, he hadn’t given a proper lecture in years, “this chapel which you were intent on plundering like so many Viking raiders, though originally founded in the 1450s, was extensively remodelled into the form you see today during the mid-nineteenth century under the instruction of Sir William Hinchfield. Now this replaced an earlier remodelling occurring in the early eighteenth century, and largely seems to have been motivated by fashion, although it is also possible that the college wished to make a statement regarding…“
By the time Young Michael and his companions thought to try and run, the curtain ropes had wound themselves around all available limbs and torsos and needed only to pull tight to keep them immobilised. Richards didn’t even pause in his account of the events leading to the installation of new glass in the South Window.
“- in accordance with his wishes the design was based around the surviving glass from Pre-Reformation French Late-Gothic fashion. Not, in my opinion, really in keeping with the style of the rest of the chapel, but very fine in its craftsmanship nevertheless. Kindly cease and desist from struggling like that, Young Robert; if you injure yourself while in my custody I’m quite sure that I shall never hear the end of it from the Chaplain. Now you will note, I hope, since the sun is helpfully rising in the right direction, the inclusion of the lemon tree in the far-left corner there? By the mules’ – ahem – rear-portion? Yes? Do pay attention Young Stanley, you are Learning Something of Interest here. Now, this inclusion has been speculated to be allusion to –“
I’m trying something a bit different this week, with a two part story. Let me know if you like the extra plot and intrigue? If there’s enough enthusiasm I’ll try and do more of them.
New to the Ghosts & Gowns series? Catch up on all the fun here.