Posted in Ghosts & Gowns

Duck and Cover

I know that this is a bit late for Halloween, but it seemed appropriate to resurrect not only the dragons, but the ghosts too! Please enjoy the latest joys of the Devon College’s antics. This story has a dedication, but it comes at the end, so as not to spoil anything!

Ch.9 - Duck and Cover

“MARGARET!”

The cry echoed through the wall. It was followed shortly after by the Master of Devon College himself, with the icy blast of his spectral presence sending papers scattering.

“Oh thank heavens,” he continued as he caught sight of his secretary rising from her desk to glare at the slowly settling flurry of paper. “I see you’re in, Margaret, how fortunate.”

“Indeed, Professor?”

In addition to the raised eyebrow and cool glower, Margaret’s arms came to settle crossed severely in an Omen of Certain Doom. The fact that Professor Richards, Master of the College, was in no way put off by this tableau of vengeance gave Margaret pause however.

Perhaps the matter really was Serious, after all?

“Margaret, there is an absolute crisis afoot! Marshal your resources, if you please, for we must at last mount our war of defence!”

“Indeed, Professor?”

Ch.1 - Life is Compulsory - smallWhere before Margaret’s tone had been one of imminent disaster, now there was a note of concern and uncertainty. For a moment she observed the Master pacing a foot above the carpet, clearly too agitated to remember his intention to ‘walk, as is appropriate for a Model of Student Behaviour.’ Horace Richards was a most prosaic man by nature and not at all given to the hysterics of the Bursar or the earnest fumblings of the Chaplain. If the Master felt so strongly that something was seriously wrong that he was prepared to risk her Filing and her ire then perhaps…?

“Indeed, Margaret! Don’t fail me now, I beg of you, we must Do Something immediately!”

Margaret took a deep breath. “And what is specifically the problem, Professor?”

Richards paused in the act of walking through the more comfortable of the office armchairs (for weeping students and especially polite Fellows) and blinked at her for a moment.

“But have I not explained, Margaret?”

“I am afraid not, Professor.”

“Just jumped straight into it mid-sentence, you say?”

“So it would seem, Professor.”

“Good grief! Not like myself at all, am I?” Richards took a deep (unnecessary) breath of his own and visibly Pulled Himself Together. “I do apologise, Margaret. Quite an Unforgivable Lapse for a moment.”

Margaret reached across the desk and patted him comfortingly on the hand. He floated down somewhat to settle into the armchair he’d stopped inside and blinked owlishly.

“I’m sure that it is quite understandable, Professor. Now, what seems to be the problem, and how may I assist you?”

The moment of peace was apparently over and Richards once again burst upwards from the chair to gesture more expansively.

“A veritable coup is underway, Margaret! I have no doubt that you are prepared for just Such An Eventuality, never fear that I doubt you in this-“ He inclined his head respectfully towards his secretary, who inclined hers back in thanks. “No, no I have faith that you shall quash the matter without delay, of course, but the outrage!”

Richards spun to a stop raised he finger to the ceiling to emphasise his point and declared furiously, “The Bursar is Rebelling, Margaret!”

There was a silent pause.

“Indeed, Professor?” This third iteration sounded more resigned than anything which had come before it. “Has he invited more than his allotted number of guests to High table again?”

Richards cast her an Aggrieved Look.

“Margaret! I don’t think you’re taking this seriously at all!”

“Professor. The Bursar is not plotting your imminent downfall. We have had this discussion.” Margaret bent to begin collecting up her scattered papers.

“He most certainly is, I tell you!”

“And what has the poor man done to alert you to his, I have no doubt, nefarious plot?”

The Master of Devon College stomped his foot through the floor with a huff. As his foot only just missed the paper Margaret was in the process of picking up, he earned nothing more for his efforts than a truly poisonous look.

“I am concerned by your sympathy for this, this underhanded deceiver, Margaret! He has been Behaving Uncharacteristically for some time, I will have you know, as if he were hiding something of Value. And naturally I made it my business to discover what it might be”

“Naturally.”

Despite concerted effort from the FitzMitchell Chemistry Fellow, there existed no ice more dry than Margaret’s tone. Richards shot her a glare but was met with nothing but a flat look in return.

“Your plan, Margaret, if you please?”

Whatever Margaret might have said in response to this will be forever unknown, as at the very moment, who else but the Bursar’s PA, Sarah, burst into the room with a brief knock. In a flash, Richards had dived to hide in the filing cabinets, a learned instinct which Margaret made a note to correct at some other, less fraught time.

“Margaret, you’re not busy are you? No? Wonderful; I hate to bother you with uncertainties, but the Bursar’s been behaving more oddly than normal recently.”

“Aha! Proof! From his own office, no less!”

The words burst forth, followed shortly by the ghost who veritably exploded from the draws in a whirl of plastic wallets, post-its and neatly-organised papers.

The two women glared in silence for a moment, while the fluttering sheets slowly settled around them.

“Good morning, Professor,” Sarah sighed.

She didn’t even look startled anymore. Margaret’s advice had clearly been paying off, and equally clearly Richards needed to start thinking of new tricks.

“Sarah, you came to see me with some concerns?” Margaret made a valiant effort to get the conversation back on topic.

Sarah nodded. She spoke uncertainly of mysterious appointments in which the only voice heard was the Bursar’s. She explained that he was keeping increasingly odd working hours and refusing to allow her inside his office unless pressed very hard, and even then he would hover around and usher Sarah out as soon as he could.

“Perhaps he has documents detailing his plans for conquest and he fears that you would assist our rebellion, Sarah?” Richards was perhaps a little more invested in this notion than was good for him?

 At the very least, Sarah seemed cheered by the idea, and by the confidence he had in her. “Thank you, Professor. I should of course assist as was appropriate.”

Margaret simply sat at her desk, her fingers steepled and listened closely. Whenever Richards looked as if he would interrupt, her grey eyes flashed over the tops of her green-rimmed glasses and he subsided quickly. Finally Sarah was finished and Margaret sat in silence for a long moment, thinking.

“While I do agree that this is strange behaviour – yes, even for the Bursar – I am reluctant to consider it a matter for concern. Like many gentlemen occupied with financial matters, the Bursar is perhaps a little,” she paused, delicately, “highly strung? I may be that he only needs time to settle down again and that our interference would only make things worse.”

Sarah nodded, and even Richards could think of no rejoinder.

“Well then, I thank you both for coming to express your concerns to me, but we shall all have to just keep an eye on the situation and see what developments unfold.”

And that, for a time was that.

Richards certainly did not sulk as Margaret shooed him out of her office with a pointed glare at the detritus he’d caused to be scattered all over everything. Nor at her utter refusal to destroy the Bursar on demand.

He most certainly did not.

*

Ch.4 - A Crisis of Faith - small“Isn’t that the Bursar talking to the Herriot Fellow again?”

“It would appear so, Professor.” Margaret didn’t even look away from her task of affixing conference signs up on the notice board in the Porters’ Lodge. As the Master of the College, Richards was Assisting by holding the rest of the posters in a neat stack.

Richards scowled at her lack of attention, but continued on undaunted. “But they never speak to each other! They haven’t said two words together since The Lobster Incident back in ’13. The Bursar even declared that he’d see the Herriot Fellow trampled by his own research before he’d admit him onto the Charity Board, remember?”

Margaret straightened at last, and frowned, considering. “I do remember, Professor. However, I should like to remind you that the Chaplain has been very keen on the teachings regarding the reconciling of enemies and laying aside of anger this year. Perhaps he has succeeded where the rest of us have failed?”

Richards opened his mouth to decry the idea of the Chaplain (or indeed, of anyone) persuading the Bursar to do anything, but then reconsidered. After his own experience of a meeting with an eager and inspired Chaplain seeking to provide Solace and Succour, he supposed that a similarly beleaguered Bursar might agree to anything to end the suffering too.

“Perhaps that is it, Margaret. Perhaps that is it.”

*

“Margaret, he’s stealing all the bread rolls again!”

“Indeed, Professor?”

“Indeed! This lunchtime alone he made off with four – four, mark you! – with four bread rolls!”

Margaret blinked. “I see.”

The expression Richards bore suggested that rather more had been expected of her, and Margaret preferred to give satisfaction where possible.

“I shall make note of it. Please let me know if there are further developments, Professor.”

Richards puffed himself up slightly and bustled out again. “Indeed I shall, Margaret. Indeed I shall!”

Margaret resumed writing the minutes for tomorrow’s meeting of the Fellowships Committee.

*

Ch.7 - The Ghost in the MachineBeatrice, the College Librarian, rarely left the sacred ground of the stacks for anything save the gravest on emergencies, so her presence at Coffee was a sure cause for concern. Margaret accordingly put the gingernuts back in her desk drawer and withdrew the chocolate-coated Viennese Whirls instead.

If there was a crisis to be dealt with, it could not be managed on the everyday biscuits.

Sarah, arriving late, took in Beatrice’s presence also and ran back to her office for the left-over cake from her daughter’s birthday. Margaret nodded in thanks before Addressing the Issue.

“You have something you would like to talk about, Beatrice?” She asked, kindly.

Beatrice sighed in relief of being asked, and took a second bite of her Whirl.

“You know, I shouldn’t like to mention it, in the usual course of things, and I don’t want to suggest, Sarah, that you might be slipping at all…”

She trailed off for a moment as Margaret and Sarah exchanged grim looks.

Sarah leaned forwards, clutching her coffee cup like a lifeline as her braced herself for the worst. “It’s the Bursar, isn’t it? Has he been behaving… oddly, at all?”

Beatrice nodded, taking one of Sarah’s hands in her own. “You knew?” she whispered.

Sarah nodded and sniffed quietly.

Margaret coughed gently. “May I ask what happened, Beatrice? We must know what we are facing, after all.”

Beatrice took a deep breath. “I’m afraid that the Bursar has been taking a large number of ornithology books out of the library… and not returning them on time.”

Sarah gasped and dropped her cake. “No! But he feels so strongly about the prompt returning of loaned books! He lectures the new students about it every Michaelmas!”

Beatrice looked pained. “I am aware. And yet he has run up – I’m sorry, Sarah, this must be very painful – but he has run up over £15 in fines already and if they are not returned tomorrow then he will owe more than £20!”

There was a pause as the shock was absorbed. Margaret refilled everyone’s cups, and passed cake and biscuits around again. After all, if caffeine and sugar cannot fix a problem then All was Surely Lost.

Finally Margaret gently took up the conversation again.

“Sarah, I assume that you have not seen any of these books in the Bursar’s office? Perhaps they may have been buried by the preparations for the Investments Committee tomorrow?”

Sarah threw her hands up in distress and frustration.

“And how should I know?! He still won’t let me in there and when I think of the mess he’ll have made of the ring bonders I set up for him-!” She broke off with an inarticulate noise of rage.

Margaret nodded again. “Quite so. Naturally when all of this is resolved, Sarah, I shall be happy to lend any assistance you require to set the room back to rights.”

Sarah calmed slightly, and nodded her thanks while accepting more cake.

Beatrice looked somehow even more aghast. “He won’t let you in his office? It must be worse than I thought!”

Margaret patted her arm while passing the biscuits over again. “Let us not lose hope at this stage. I’m sure it can only be a temporary lapse in judgement and he will be properly ashamed when he recovers himself. Beatrice, might you see your way clear to not mentioning the matter to the Master or the Dean? I shall see what can be discovered.”

Beatrice and Sarah both relaxed slighted and sipped their coffee.

“Thank you, Margaret.” Beatrice sighed, “I knew I could rely on you to set my mind at ease.”

Margaret smiled slightly, but internally, she was worried. Perhaps Professor Richards had not been over-reacting at all?

*

The final straw came two days later, when Sarah called Margaret in tones of such distress that witnesses reported seeing Margaret actually run out of her office and towards the Bursary, with Richards floating along rapidly behind her.

Before they had reached the building, however, they stopped dead (if you will pardon the expression) in their tracks, shocked at the scene they had arrived at.

Arrayed in front of them was a preposterous scene the likes of which had not been seen since the Gaudy Night of three years before.

The week prior to the return of the students was habitually the occasion for ten sturdy young men armed with an array of sharp and strong weapons to do battle with the college ivy. Although the war was an ongoing matter, after three or four days the green enemy was beaten back once more to its accepted boundaries and windows could once again let in light.

However, right now the fine men of the gardens department were being held at ransom, it seemed, by an irate Bursar.

Primordial eagle faced off against tree shepherds with such ferocity that Richards afterwards swore that he could actually see the feathers being ruffled. Surely at any moment the thin man would actually take flight and swoop for the men’s eyes?

Ch.14 Making Men of Myths - Part 1Although too far away to make out the Bursar’s actual words, it could be interpreted by careful examination of various hand-gestures that the gentlemen of the forest wished very much to give the ivy covering the Bursar’s office windows a good trimming, and that the Bursar was at least equally keen that they should kindly bugger off and take their sheers and pruning equipment with them.

Richards wandered over to the amassed crowd of fellows, graduate students and various staff members to absolutely not snigger into the Dean’s shoulder at the scene, while Margaret attempted to catch Sarah’s attention through her window and signal for more details.

Through some carefully-used facial expressions and the barest hint of hand signals, Margaret and Sarah were able to ascertain that there seemed to be something hidden within the ivy, and as the Chaplain had now been summoned to bring Peace, Order and Forgiveness to the standoff, Margaret carefully slipped off her shoes, hitched up her skirt, and clambered across the ivy-provided climbing frame to discover what the source of the dispute may be.

“Oh!”

At her cry of surprise and possible delight (was Margaret ever delighted? Scholars would spend years debating the very thing) all noise in the West Quadrangle ceased abruptly.

“Margaret, get down from there this instant!” The Bursar turned his fury onto a new target, but any further expostulations were prevented by the Master of the College unceremoniously clobbering him with a nearby bicycle.

“Bursar, if you cause Margaret to fall from fright, I shall personally ensure that you are banned from every single Benefactors’ event for the rest of time!”

 “Miss, can we help you down from there?”

“Shall I bring you a ladder, Margaret?” Richards looked around for the very thing.

“Margaret, watch where you’re stepping for goodness’ sake!” Even Beatrice had been coaxed out by the racket, it seemed.

“Margaret, are you alright up there?” Sarah leaned out of her window, preparing to help her friend however she could.

Margaret turned slightly, waved a reassuring hand to her anxious would-be rescuers, and slowly began her descent back to solid ground.

“Is it treasure?” called one of the more excitable students. There was a general rumbling of excitement from the crowd. What had been found indeed?

Smiling, Margaret shook her head at the disappointed crowd, and gently asked the gardeners if they might possibly come back to finish the West Quadrangle next week? With much grumbling and some rather uncomplimentary language cast in the Bursar’s direction, this was agreed to.

Ch.5 - The Problem with Ghosts - small“Oh, don’t mind the Bursar!” Richards, now that his Margaret had ceased dangling from unstable foliage over the deep drop into the cellar-area, was in high spirits in the face of such a good morning’s entertainment. “He’s always like this when we haven’t aired his coffin out properly!”

The icy glare he received at this last would have felled another man, but Richards had not become the head of a college by being susceptible to affronted glares from academics, and he in no way meant to start becoming so now.

Instead he loftily called to Sarah to pull out “fresh supplies of the old AB negative, if you’d be so good, the poor chap’s had quite a morning of it!” And watched with great satisfaction as some of the more impressionable graduates ran from the back of the crowd to spread the word that the generally long-held belief had finally received confirmation.

One has to take one’s victories where one can, after all.

Eventually – the spectacle apparently being over – the crowd dispersed, the gardeners moved onto other, less fraught, walls in need of trimming and the Bursar was escorted firmly into his office by the Chaplain and the Dean with Richards following after a stern talking-to by Margaret on the Evils of False Rumour-mongering. Once assembled, with Sarah and Margaret ensconced in the available armchairs, all was revealed at last.

Ducklings, Bursar. Really?”

Perhaps it was his avian ancestry, Richards would later speculate which had led to the bursar adopting the mallards nesting in the leaves above his window? That he had done his best to keep the family a secret from all was only natural – Bursars after all not being a personality-type easily lent towards sharing in joys and wonders.

“I suppose that explains the stolen bread and the such interest in birds, eh?” Richards clapped the Bursar firmly on the shoulder, nearly sending the taller man into a gigantic and unstable looking pile of papers. “And there I was thinking that you’d been talking to the Herriot Fellow after the Chaplain’s influence towards reconciliation!”

Although the Bursar looked like the very idea pained him, the Chaplain’s smile was an incandescent thing to behold. Long years of practice ensured that all present had raised their hands to their eyes to shield them from the glow.

“Why, Professor, your continued faith in my influence is a constant comfort to me!”

“Think nothing of it, Lawrence!” Richards waved a hand, apparently not finished causing mischief today. “Now tell me, do you think the ducklings ought to be baptised? I’m afraid I’m not up on my feathered-faithfulness, and I’d hate to think that we might be caught out in providing appropriate pastoral care!”

Sarah made a noise which suggested either sudden and intense pain or smothered laughter, while Margaret mentally scheduled three extra and totally unnecessary meetings with the Vice-Chancellor in the coming week.

It wouldn’t do to allow the professor to have everything his own way, after all.

*

Dedicated to the many adorable ducks that nest in and around Oxford’s Colleges. You sometimes have really weird ideas about suitable nesting places, and you have no idea at all about how traffic works, but you bring joy to me every single year without fail!

Dedicated also to the Twitter of  may you forever keep quacking on!

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Posted in Ghosts & Gowns, Short Stories

Just Checking In

No, you’re not imagining it, readers who have patiently waited for this new chapter for months on end! It’s finally here!

If you’re coming to the Ghosts&Gowns series for the first time, there’s a summery page for everything that’s come before it here. Enjoy!

Ch.8 - Just Checking In

If one works in an office in a college for long enough, one acquires The Admin Face.

It is entirely blank and devoid of all expression. It has no cracks in its defences, no chink in the armour.

It neither bends nor breaks, no matter the Force of Nature that assails it. The Admin Face must endure all.

It comes very much in handy when explaining to the most well-read persons that if they were to perhaps read the third line of their committee papers again, they might come to the conclusion that their meeting is – and has always been – in another location.

It is invaluable when suggesting to the greatest minds in generations that, like most doors, this one will open should one turn the handle and push (or failing this, pull.) That there is no Key of Legend necessary, merely hand-eye coordination.

It is the expression firmly affixed to Margaret’s face as she silently surveys the figure before her.

“I think you will understand if I do not offer you tea?”

Thank you but no, Margaret Cl- Pink-rimmed glasses do not soften the flash in grey eyes as they narrow dangerously. The figure stumbles of its words for a moment before rallying slightly. No thank you, Margaret.

Margaret waits in silence for a moment further. The figure remains motionless too, but it is a studied stillness, that of one trying not to fidget.

Ch.1 - Life is Compulsory - smallFinally Margaret lifts one unimpressed eyebrow. “Is there something I can help you with this evening?”

I should like to meet with Horace Richards, Margaret.

Margaret’s crossed arms do not budge, but the fingers of one hand begin to tap out an irregular rhythm. The figure twitches slightly as if wishing to make her stop, but stays in place.

“I’m afraid that you do not have an appointment. I am sorry to disappoint you.”

Death does not require an appointment.

Margaret’s lips quirk upwards on one side. Cats did the same thing before they bit you, in Death’s experience.

“My understanding was that everyone has an appointment with Death, do they not? But only one such appointment. Yours was two months ago; not today.”

Death gave the distinct impression of eyeing the office wall. No lock, bolt nor key can keep Death away after all. Death could simply walk past her, perhaps?

“I’m afraid I must repeat myself. You do not have an appointment with Professor Richards.”

The standoff settled properly for a moment before a head poked through the wall.

“Who don’t I have an appointment with, Margaret?”

Professor Horace Richards, Master of Devon College maintained that his timing was one of the best-honed in the Known World.

He took in the figure standing opposite his Personal Assistant, and beamed a cheery greeting.

“Oh, hello there! Dropping in to see everyone are you, or is it business?”

The figure slowly nodded a cautious greeting, although it appeared to be keeping a wary eye on Margaret still, perhaps in case of attack.

“I regret that this is not a social call, Horace Richards. I have business in this place.”

Margaret made a stifled noise which in another woman could have been almost a snarl. Richards froze for a moment, a thoroughly stricken look on his pale face.

“Oh dear, I mean to say – Margaret, this is awful! Surely not?”

“Professor?”

“Well, I mean really – it’s one thing when it’s oneself of course, but to see it happen to one’s friends! Awful is what I call it.” Horace fixed Death with a stern look. “You know I don’t like to tell a chap – or supernatural being in your case, I suppose – how to do their job, you know I don’t, but I really do think you ought to reconsider this a little.”

I should reconsider doing my job, you say?

Horace puffed himself up slightly before waving a finger in a reproving manner at the Grim Reaper.

Ch.5 - The Problem with Ghosts - small“Indeed, I do! I mean, I’m sure that Margaret would be a veritable asset to whatever plain of existence she took up residence on, but the College is rather indebted to her and all, you know? Quote irreplaceable, our Margaret. I cannot, as the Master of the College, in good conscience allow you to take her from us without protest, you understand.”

For a moment which, had Richards been paying attention, would have seemed surreal in the extreme, Death and Margaret seemed to share a bewildered look, untied from conflict in the face of Horace Richards in full-flow.

“Professor,” Margaret attempted to intercede, before Richards patted her kindly on the shoulder and boldly forged onwards without a pause.

“No, no Margaret, you need never fear! I shall be quite prepared to fight for you! Such long and devoted service shall not be in vain! Why, I have half a mind to call the Bursar in on the matter, indeed I do!”

Horace turned on Death once more, and shook his head in a fatherly manner.

“I know that you came prepared to do battle for Margaret’s life, and I have no doubt that you have a great deal of experience in Such Matters, but I promise you, my dear fellow, that you are most certainly not equipped to do battle with the Bursar! There are, I suspect, few if any who can out-match him for persistence and technicality-wrangling…”

Richards spun and bustled out through the wall for a moment, before returning to call, “And no sneaking off with Margaret’s immortal soul until we get back, you hear?”

The two former-opponents looked at each other for a beat of silence. Margaret broke it with a resigned sigh.

“Would you care for that cup of tea now?”

Death sighed deeply for a moment, its shoulders slumped a little in the wake of the tempest known to some as Professor Richards.

Some tea would be most… reviving at the moment. Thank you, Margaret.

Margaret poured and passed Death a cup. The saucer clinked as bone fingers clasped it. After another beat of silence, Death spoke again.

I feel that this interview has been far less of a success than the last one I undertook with Horace Richards.

Margaret smiled at the slumped figure in a motherly way.

“It’s quite alright, my dear; the Professor often gets like this. You could not have been expected to explain once he properly got himself going.”

He is… very determined.

Ch.7 - The Ghost in the Machine“In absolutely every matter he undertakes, I’m afraid. You may feel free to step out now if you feel it would be easier. I’m quite certain that there are many other things that you could be more profitably engaged in.”

Death considered it for a moment.

Thank you for the offer, but I feel that I must see the point through.

Whatever Margaret might have said in return was lost as the door flinging itself open and Richards bodily dragging the Bursar into the office, speaking all the while.

“-why you simply must explain to them that Death may well be inevitable but that’s no reason to take Margaret away.”

The Bursar did not look at all thrilled to be in the presence of his inevitable fate but – presumably emboldened by the prospect of having to replace a long-term staff member and the loss of experience along with them – took a deep breath, adjusted his glasses with firm and concise motions and fixed Death with a Level Look.

“Am I to understand that you are here on business, er, Death?” He paused to flick a glance at Margaret, before asking, “Death? Mort? Grim Reaper? Sir?”

“I understand those are more titles than names, Bursar.”

The Bursar nodded, now on firmer ground. “Indeed.”

He cleared his throat again.

“Am I to understand that you are here on a matter of business?”

I am.

“I don’t suppose that we might, on behalf of the College, be able to negotiate some form of exception?”

Has this College not already done such a thing?

There was an embarrassed pause, which the Bursar broke with Customary Tact.

Ch.9 - Duck and Cover“Oh, you mean Richards? Well there’s no accounting for the madness of Horace, after all! Many fine men and women have tried to their downfall you know!”

“Bursar!” Margaret’s tone would have etched glass.

Richards simply adopted an expression of Mild Confusion and Curiosity, an omen which promised far-greater suffering at a time of his choosing.

The Bursar may have winced a little. Just a little. It may have been a trick of the light. Then he Gathered Himself.

“My larger point in this discussion, regardless of other matters, is that Margaret-“

But I have not come with a view to collecting the lady’s soul, gentlemen.

Death’s tone was infused with just a touch of desperation as the conversation threatened to run away from it again. The Bursar’s involvement in a matter tended to have that effect.

“You haven’t?”

In a historic moment for the College and Oxford in general, the Head of the College and the Bursar were in Complete Agreement.

No! I merely wished to-

Richards clapped his hands in triumph. “Well that’s a relief then! Most gratifying, I should say, is it not, Bursar?”

He clapped the Bursar heartily on the shoulder and cheerfully continued as the poor man shivered in the cold sensation and Margaret passed him a Warming Beverage.

“Yes indeed, quite a weight off one’s mind and all that. Thank heaven and whatnot. I shudder to think what we should all do without Margaret’s Extensive Experience.”

Margaret gently cleared her throat, bringing Richard’s attention back to his visitor.

“Thank you for your concern, Professor, but the Grim Reaper wished to ascertain if you were still satisfied with your current position.”

Death shifted a little, as if uncomfortable. It started to speak and Margaret shot the figure a truly poisonous look, and it fell silent.

“Margaret,” Richards sounded as though he were trying for reprimanding but unable to follow through on the concept. “Kindly stop intimidating our guest, if you please.”

Margaret’s eyes widened into a picture of perfect innocence. The Bursar snorted and was elbowed into silence by the spectre at his side.

Ch.6 - The Hero of the Hour - Part 1 - small“The Grim Reaper wished to see you, Professor. I was simply explaining that you were about to Chair the Finance Committee at two.”

The Bursar started. “Oh my goodness, yes! We’ll be late starting at this rate! Come along, Master, there’s no time to waste!”

He waved imperiously at Richards and bustled out of the room.

“There’s still ten minutes until the meeting begins, Bursar, will you please settle down?” Muttered Richards after the man as he watched him depart.

No response came back, and he sighed.

“You shouldn’t excite him like that, Margaret.”

“Yes, Professor.” Perfect innocence.

“Quite.” Richards returned his attentions to Death. “So I gather that you are here for me once more, eh? Seems a bit redundant, doesn’t it?”

Death looked remarkably exhausted for an Eternal Force of nature.

I was concerned that leaving you here may have been… a mistake. I try not to leave, what is the term? Loose ends?

Richards’ expression as he regarded the personification of Death hovering in his secretary’s office was remarkably fond.

“Oh is that what was worrying you, old thing? Feeling like you’d left me behind or some such? Well worry no more! I’m perfectly content to keep bustling about the place, just as I expected. Aren’t I, Margaret?”

“You do seem to be quite satisfied by your situation, Professor. It appears to be presenting you with interesting opportunities and experiences.”

“Quite! No second thoughts to be found here, indeed no!”

Death appeared unconvinced.

It is untidy. Incompleteness is unsatisfactory. There may be consequences.

Richards did not appear to be swayed. “Nonsense, my dear chap! That’s life, after all! Or not, as the case may be. We must all resign ourselves to the decisions of others after all. Even the Bursar does, and he’s almost as inescapable as yourself!”

He is a man of considerable energy.

“Nicest thing anyone’s ever said about the man, isn’t it Margaret? Did you make a note of that?”

“I did, Professor.”

“Excellent! Anyway, you stop worrying yourself on my account, eh? Can’t be good for the health, even for you! I take full responsibly for the results of my own actions, you know?”

Death paused in the process of making another remonstration. You do?

Margaret’s head whipped around to stare at it, and her eyes narrowed dangerously. “I beg your pardon?”

Death ignored her. You will take responsibility for the consequences of this irregularity.

Richards held his head up high. “Indeed I do! I dare say between Margaret, the College and myself, we can manage any effects, whatever they may be.”

I see. Death gathered itself together. In that case, I shall leave you, Horace Richards and Margaret.

And with that the figure was gone.

The Master of Devon College exchanged a look with his secretary.

“Well then.”

“Indeed, Professor.”

“Odd sort of person, Death. Seems a bit of a natural worrier, if you ask me.” He shrugged. “Mind you, I suppose when one is essentially the embodiment of The Worst Thing That Could Happen, it may be inevitable.”

“Perhaps, Professor.”

Richards shook his head. “Ah well, not time to ponder such things now. Must be off to Chair that meeting before the Bursar goes Mad with Power.”

“That would be very unfortunate, Professor.”

“Indeed it would! Hold down the fort until I get back, won’t you, Margaret?”

“Very well, Professor.”

And that was, as they say, that.

Posted in Ghosts & Gowns, Short Stories

The Ghosts Are Resurrected!

I write with good news!

After a heck of a break from the series, and bolstered by a lovely shoutout from The Orangutan Librarian, I’m happy to say that I will shortly be posting some new episodes of the Ghosts & Gowns series!

For those who haven’t read it yet, or for whom it was all so long ago you can’t remember it, I’ve set up links to all the various chapters below. I definitely recommend reading the first two chapters if you’d like to know what on earth’s going on in the next installment!

The basic premise of a ghost ending up running a (sadly fictional) Oxford College was just too much fun to let die, and I hope that you’ll have fun in sharing it with me!

Chapter 1: Life is Compulsory, Death is Optional – Professor Richards, Master of Devon College, knew he was dead when he woke up and found Death sitting by his bedside.

Chapter 2: Reactions  Reactions to the news that Professor Richards would not be allowing mere death to interfere with him living a full life were… mixed.

Chapter 3: The Joys and Hardships of Life After Death – Professor Richards, Master of Devon College despite having ceased to breathe some three days ago, had found that there were several benefits for life after death.

Chapter 4: A Crisis of Faith – Everyone expected the Chaplain to be the greatest issue about Professor Richards’ refusal to accept Death as a good excuse to stop working. They were correct in this belief, but not perhaps in the form events happened to take effect.

Chapter 5: The Problem with Ghosts… – Nobody wanted to admit it for the longest time, not even to themselves. Nobody wanted to speak of the problem, for of course once you have given a worry words, you give it a shape to see it by. But in the end, there it was; somebody had to admit it – the Master may have gotten out of hand.

Chapter 6: The Hero of the Hour – Part 1 – Something’s afoot in Devon College and it’s up to Professor Richards to save the day!

Chapter 6: The Hero of the Hour – Part 2 – It’s the morning after the excitement of the night before. How do you explain that your resident ghost now fights crime?

Chapter 7: The Ghost in the Machine – There’s something going on with the College’s photocopier, but is it really what the Fellows think it is?

Chapter 8: Just Checking In – In which Richards sallies forth to the rescue, and Death would just like this conversation to be over with…

Posted in Ghosts & Gowns, Short Stories

The Hero of the Hour, Part 2

Happy Halloween Everybody! In celebration of this spookiest day of the year, I thought it would be fun to publish the conclusion of The Hero of The Hour a whole day early! Don’t worry – there’ll be a post on Wednesday as usual, but I just couldn’t resist a chance to let our favourite ghost be the star of the day!

This story is the second of two parts; it will not make any sense without reading Part 1…

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Richards wasn’t sure if he was proud or insulted that the night-porter, Stephen-no-really-sir-call-me-Steve, appeared not in the least shocked to find the Master of the College striding back and forth in the chapel while lecturing on college history (with brief tangents in the general ecclesiastical trends and their efforts on socio-economic norms) to three bound and gagged young men.

“Interesting night for you, was it, Professor?”

Richards tried not to be too obviously embarrassed at being caught in such … unusual circumstances. He was suddenly aware that even by the standards of Devon College this was not a Normal Start to the Day.

Fortunately, the Stiff Upper Lip asserted itself, as it always ought to in Trying Situations.

“Ah, good morning Stephen! And how do you fare this dawn?”

Stephen-no-honestly-sir-please-call-me-Steve was still staring at Richards’ captive audience, but he was grinning as he responded that the dawn was especially picturesque today and that Richards would be pleased to know that the weather forecast was due to be fine and dry throughout the day.

“I’m sorry, Professor, but I really feel like we need to get back to the – ah – the visitors you seem to be entertaining?”

The poor man was giving every sign of a man who was not at all sure that he wanted the explanation, but the resignation in his tone was displaying fully their mutual knowledge that he was going to be asked for such an explanation very soon. He looked no happier when Richards provided the explanation, although they shared an instinctive feeling that it was Undoubtedly Best to attempt to get the matter cleared up before the senior fellows were up and about.

“I know, Stephen, that these may be the feelings of an old man, but I understand that the police-force is getting younger every year. There’s really no call to subject them to the Bursar before it is absolutely necessary. Some faith in humanity is doubtless an important aspect in young officers of the law?”

Stephen’s wife had been in the police force in the past, Richards’ recalled, and he hoped that this valuable experience would aid him in crafting whatever semblance of the night’s events would be socially acceptable…

*

The saying goes that the best-laid plans go often awry and sadly so it proved this morning.

It had begun smoothly enough; the Chaplain had been summoned and, when menacing Richards with an Outburst of Gratitude, was swiftly diverted onto providing the three would-be vandals with tea, biscuits and Encouraging Words. No harm’s been done after all, Horace, and I’m sure that these young men have simply lost the True Path. They just need someone to believe in them! I’ll just sit with them and have a nice chat…

Richards swiftly got out of sight as the police arrived, no reason to cause more awkward questions. Last time he saw the Chaplain, he’d pulled out the pamphlets. You almost had to feel sorry for the boys – this night was doubtless one they would long regret.

Richards tried very hard not to sigh from his perch on the chapel roof, when the Trunbridge and Farthingbury Fellows strolled nonchalantly into the quad, took one look at the uniformed officers leading Richards’ erstwhile new acquaintances out of the chapel, and all-but flew back into their shared office. He supposed it was too much to ask that the alarm might remain silent until it was all over?

Richards had the highest respect for the intellectual pursuits and talents of his colleagues, but sadly he was also well-aware of their ‘general life-skills’ as one of the summer helpers had called them. Sarah, the Bursar’s PA, would often say (in his hearing no less – she knew perfectly well that he had hidden from the Chaplain inside that cleaning cupboard!) that Richards was too hard on the Fellows. Their behaviour this morning proved his case beyond dispute.

“Sirs, I’m sorry to bother you with this, especially since there’s no question of this going to trial – the men have all admitted to breaking-and-entering. But they all agree that they were held prisoner by a ghost?”

The Detective-Sergeant was clearly eager to get the last of the questions over and done with. Stephen-no-sir-I-promise-you-everyone-calls-me-Steve had volunteered to assert that he had stumbled across the men on his rounds and had subdued them more by luck than skill (Richards’ had been impressed by the man’s humility, if not his honesty). The evidence had been plain, the culprits caught, there was surely little remaining, and yet…

“What?!” Three of the gathered academics cried, jumping like schoolboys caught with illicit cookies.

Richards groaned and buried his face in his hands, as the Bursar took it upon himself to gallantly make everything worse.

“What nonsense! The college has no ghosts on its staff!” At this point, the Bursar’s brain clearly attempted to regain control of his mouth for a brief shining instant. “Not that ghosts are real of course. Because they are not. Clearly the ravings of sleep-deprivation, I should say, poor chaps.” Before sadly his habitual inability to cease and desist while ahead broke through. “And even if ghosts were real, I make a point of not employing them in the college under any circumstances!”

Richards sighed and made a note to ask Sarah if she could find the Bursar a nice unaudited ledger, or some small change to count. Something to settle the poor man’s nerves after the ordeal of having to speak to people he could not bluster into submission…

“Yes sir,” and too his credit, the Sergeant’s face barely even twitched. If being faced with a flustered Bursar first-thing in the morning couldn’t shake the man, Richards really had no wish to envision what comprised his usual duty. “Sir, do you think we might be able to speak to the Master of the College before we leave?”

There was a long, horrified pause.

“No!” “Totally impossible!” “Utterly out of the question, terribly sorry-“

Dependably, the Bursar continued to Provide Assistance. “And not because the man’s a ghost of course! Because he isn’t!”

“He’s in meeting!” The Clevebury Fellow jumped in.

“He’s at a conference,” The Meterston Lecturer spoke at the same time.

“He’s not been feeling very well lately!” Everyone fell silent to look disparagingly at the Trunbridge Fellow; it seemed that imagination was not the poor chap’s strong point.

It was hardly surprising that the police were starting to look suspicious. Richards was thankful that acting was not a key requirement across academia; he would, on this showing, be left with an empty college…

The Bursar tried to salvage everything.

“But he is, with any shadow of a doubt, alive, wherever he is! You can rest assured on that count.”

Richards wondered if Margaret had a way to send anonymous tokens of gratitude to the police force of Oxford? Something to compensate them for dealing with his fellows like this. Not one single officer laughed and no one was arrested for insanity. He wasn’t sure if this said something of the generosity of their hearts or the poor impression of academics generally? Either way, he was going to have to Speak To his fellows Most Strongly about The Importance of Interacting with Society Properly. This was obviously well-overdue.

Just as the gathering had reached its peak of utter preposterousness, a cry came from the back like the rallying-call of a beleaguered army when rescued by angels.

“Margaret! You’re here!”

Richards watched as the police, the fellows and the staff all turned in perfect synchrony, like a field of sunflowers, towards their saviour, sent as if by prayer to redeem them from the pit of their own making. Richards was momentarily afraid that the Fernbury Fellow was about to propose marriage he looked so relieved to see salvation approaching in a woolly jumper and sensible mackintosh.

*

That Margaret did not turn on her sensible heel, duck past Stephen-even-my-wife-calls-me-Steve as he tried to usher her towards the disaster that was Devon’s fellows Interacting with Society faster, and walk straight back out of Devon College heading for the safety of home was yet another sign that she was a Treasure the likes of which whole wars had once been fought over.

She smiled politely at the officers in greeting, requested their patience for a few moments longer, soothed the fellows back to some semblance of sense and coherency before shooing them off to their breakfast, and even diverted the Bursar’s attention from causing further disaster by casually mentioning that the strong-room doubtless needed to be checked for signs of a forced entry.

One officer – younger than the rest and still overly keen – tried to explain that the porters had gone with the police already to check but had cowered under the sharp glare he had received over behind the Bursar’s back. Even his colleagues had shot him reproving looks at his near-scuppering of any scheme to send the overwrought man away with some busy-work.

At last, however the crowd had been disbursed with the calm authority of an empress in her own court and Margaret was free to favour the police with a benevolent smile.

“Now how may I help you, gentlemen? My understanding is that the matter is all but cleared up, is that not correct?”

“No, Ma’am, that’s correct,” the sergeant mumbled after being pushed forward by the others, “we only wanted to speak with the Master of the College, ma’am, before heading out.”

“Ah,” Margaret’s smile was so kindly that even Richards blushed and shuffled his feet. “I see now. Well, I’m terribly sorry, gentlemen but Professor Richards is away on a research trip this week, but I shall brief him on all that has occurred and I expect that you will receive a note of thanks in the next few days.”

Richards wondered idly if he was going to see this note he was writing before it was sent…

*

The sound of fluttering tweeds signalled the return of the Bursar as the last police car drove away.

“Margaret, you were wonderful!” Steady on, thought Richards, don’t go overboard there, Bursar, you can’t go around stealing my secretary just like that! He needn’t have worried though; the Bursar could always be relied upon to sink his own fleet. “I solemnly apologise for all those times I changed my papers for the Governing Body meetings the night before to make you re-do the photocopying.”

There was a considered pause, in which Richards silently promised himself that when Margaret killed the Bursar in the main quad, he would not stand for the man coming back to share his afterlife. No, not even if Sarah threatened to cry at him.

However Margaret only smiled fondly, as though the Bursar were a ridiculous but cherished nephew and patted his forearm gently.

“Yes well, Bursar, just so long as you try to refrain from such nonsense in the future.”

As the Bursar bustled off again, Margaret turned and, presumably with the magic powers she swore she didn’t have, looked directly at the invisible Richards. She said nothing and nothing needed to be said. Richards floated meekly to her side and shimmered back into view.

“I see that you have already accomplished impossible feats before breakfast, Professor.”

“Yes, Margaret.”

She smiled at him then, warm and fond and even (a little) respectful. “Well done, Professor.”

“Thank you, Margaret.”

They went into the office together. The day had only just started, after all.

Missed Part 1 of Hero of the Hour? Need to catch up? Follow the link here.

Posted in Ghosts & Gowns, Short Stories

The Hero of the Hour, Part 1

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!

Ch.6 - The Hero of the Hour - Part 1 - small

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 –

“Chalice.”

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.”

“What?”

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.