Christmas at Scarhelldeath Hall Part 4


Chapter 4

Out of the shadows came not the expected spook, but a small boy. It was Nodworth-Holder Minor.

‘Hello, lad,’ I said, ‘ What on earth are you doing up that this hour? Kitchen raid?’

He shook his head. ‘Have you come to save us, sir?’ he asked.

I sat down on one of the stairs and gestured to him to perch next to me. I would have offered him a toffee, but didn’t have any so I proffered the whisky bottle. He looked at it nervously and then took a swig. I sat back and awaited the inevitable spluttering. But no, he swallowed, smacked his lips, then took another. Hmm, this boy wasn’t quite the softie I had erroneously presumed him to be.

‘Looking forward to Christmas?’ I asked him.

He shrugged. ‘We’ve got to spend it here. Apparently, we can’t afford to go anywhere else.’

I commiserated. ‘And what are you hoping Father Christmas will bring you?’

He gave me that look of disdain children give to grown-ups when they have to humour them about still believing in the old gift-deliverer. ‘Record token probably. Father never has a clue about presents.’

‘’So what do you need saving from, Noddy Junior?’

‘The ghost,’ he whispered.

‘Oh, pish,’ I told him. ‘If that ghost is genuine, that I am the Empress of India. The monarch, not the pub,’ I clarified.

The boy didn’t look convinced.

‘Tell me about Auntie Dorcas,’ I asked him.

Noddy Minor pulled a face. ‘When did she show up?’

‘Just before the beginning of this term,’ he told me.

‘As recently as that?’ Interesting.

‘Everyone hates her,’ he whispered, having looked around to ensure no-one else was listening. ‘The boys like Pater, and some of the other masters are ok, but since she’s been here, everything’s gone down the dumper.’ He looked at me quickly to see if I was going to admonish him for talking dirty. I simply offered him another swig.

‘So where have all the missing boys gone?’ I asked.

‘Home, some of them? Other have gone off to find their fortune.’

‘Where, for heaven’s sake?’

Noddy Minor shrugged. ‘The sea, King’s Cross station, anywhere there’s a seminary…’

Noddy Minor then said something very interesting. ‘The Buster-Jet twins claimed that Matron had actually lent them the money to get a train down south.’

‘Did she indeed?’ I pondered. I rummaged in my pocket and produced the item I had found earlier.

‘Ever seen anything like this?’

Noddy Junior took what I proffered him. It was a small featureless doll, made of some crude material, probably Plasticine. Despite its rudimentary nature, it was obviously intended to be a representation of the boy’s father, comb-over and all.

‘Oh yes,’ he said, ‘McPortillo the Groundsman makes these and sells them at the Sunday fair. But they’re usually of animals, not people. I don’t think many people would buy a dolly of Pater.’ He giggled, the first glimpse of any joy I’d seen on a boy since I had arrived.

I slipped the doll back in my pocket.

‘Well, I think it’s bedtime for you now, young man.’

He licked his lips and looked thirstily at the whisky bottle. ‘Can I have another..?’

‘Certainly not! You’ve had more than enough. Can’t have a hangover on Prize-Giving Day.’ Besides, there wouldn’t be any left for my nightcap.

Noddy Minor stood up. We shook hands. ‘Good night, sir.’

‘And perhaps tomorrow we’ll have another chance to chat and I can give you some top notch bullying tips.’

His eyes lit up. ‘I’d like that.’ He looked at me shyly. ‘I’ve read all your books, you know.

‘What? All 279 of them?’

‘Well, the spooky ones at least. I read out the dirty bits to the other boys’

My heart so swelled with pride that I almost thought I would weep. Surely to furnish young lads with their masturbatory fantasies is the pinnacle for all writers?

I was abruptly woken from a jumbled dream about Bexhill and illegitimate children. At first I couldn’t tell what had broken my slumber, but I felt cold, even colder than when I had first undressed for bed (and, I’m ashamed to admit, broke the unassailable Gentleman’s Code by keeping my socks on).

I then became aware of a light emanating from somewhere. My candle had long flickered out of existence (not a euphemism, I hasten to add, I am more than proficient still in that department). I sat up and examined my surroundings, The glow was seeping from underneath the door. It got brighter and brighter until I was quite dazzled. I shielded my eyes until I felt they had become accustomed to the illumination.

But I already knew what I was going to see.

The incandescent apparition of the Rev Jethro Maestri stood before me, his face clenched in an evil grimace, his cane held aloft.

‘Stirling Major!’ he howled.

‘Oh, do be quiet, old chap,’ I retorted. ‘Don’t you realise what bloody time it is?’ I was unconsciously echoing what Cilla had said to me earlier.

‘Language, boy!’ Maestri snarled.

‘Oh go away,’ I wittily retorted.

‘I have come to inflict your long overdue punishment!’

‘Come back in the morning, there’s a good fellow,’ I said, yawning.

‘Take your chastisement like a man now, or suffer eternal torment in the After-life!’

‘Eternal Torment?’ I replied. ‘Yours truly? Hardly. My war record alone has guaranteed me a place in the Elysian Fields, if not centre-row stalls alongside the Almighty Himself.’

The glowing spectre pointed a very bony finger at me. ‘I will show you all the points where you went wrong in your feeble excuse for a life, and if – only if – you repent, you will be spared the perpetual anguish of Hell!’

I sighed, grabbed my dressing gown and got out of bed. ‘If you’d read my memoirs – The Devil Talks the Hindmost, available for Kindle here – you’d realise what twaddle you are talking.’

The radiant ghost sliced the air in half with its cane and let out a frightfully Scottish shriek.

I opened the door and gestured for the ghost to leave. ‘I’m being polite, old chap. I could expect you to walk through the wall, but I’m not that mean.’

The gleaming phantom was silent for a moment. ‘Tomorrow I will return, and woe betide this wretched school. The only prize given will be that of ceaseless anguish. And you, Stirling Minor… be prepared to face the thrashing of your pointless life.’

‘Now look here, Maestri,’ I’d had enough of this belly-aching phantasm. ‘Your canings weren’t all that, you know. You didn’t have the bicep power and your angle of trajectory was all wrong. I’ve paid good money over the years to have spankings administered to me by the best whores in the world, and frankly, even the most petite of Korean lasses pack a more effective wallop than you.’

That shut him up. He floated to the doorway, turned, looked as though he were about to say something, changed his mind, then started to leave…

Just as the shiny banshee was about to depart, I said, ‘By the way, congratulations on the right arm growing back in the after-life.’ No reaction. ‘I’ve noticed all the countless paintings of you show you in profile, so one doesn’t easily spot that both arms were actually mislaid. Still, no ‘arm done, eh?’

And on that top-notch joke, the burnishing fiend buggered off. The door slammed shut after him, and I was left in darkness.

Continued here….

To hear Sir Desmond at work go to http://www.whatnoise.co.uk

Read my memoirs THE DEVIL TALKS THE HINDMOST

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