Christmas at Scarhelldeath Hall Part 5


Chapter 5

I was awoken the following morning by a rat-a-tat-tat on my door. I bid the knocker enter, and a small boy peered nervously around the door. He informed me that my secretary was on the blower. I hastily broke the frozen crust on the surface of my water jug, and splashed myself with molten ice to waken myself. I then hauled on the old togs. Daylight seemed particularly dazzling through the windows, and when I quickly glanced outside, I discovered that a thick coating of snow had covered the ground overnight. It made the bleak locale seem almost cheery.
I took my telephone call in Noddy’s office. Matron was hovering, but I shooed her away with the excuse that the call may require foul language on my part. She snorted and left, presumably to torture a child somewhere.
What Cilla revealed was very interesting. The tone in which she told me was frostier than the weather outside, but the content thrilled me greatly. I thanked her, and promised her I’d slip her a big bonus for her trouble. She threatened to report me to for sexual harassment. I will never understand women.

I eschewed breakfast, donned my coat and steeped outside. The snow crunched delightfully underfoot, while the freezing air stung my eyes and caused the old bladder to constrict sharply. I could see that the virgin of the snow had already been sullied yellow by boys attempting to write their name, so I decided to do the same. I unfurled the old John Thomas and had barely got to the end of ‘Sir’ when I became aware I was being watched. I spun a round. A curious chap, middle-aged but youthful in a suspicious way, with big bouffant hair and a pink kilt was standing a few feet away, clutching a hoe.
‘You must be McPortillo,’ I said. I tucked myself away and held out my hand. He wrinkled his nose and gingerly held out his own.
‘Yon must be this author fellow?’ he asked.
‘That’s right,’ I said. ‘How long have you worked here?’
‘All my life, man and boy. But not necessarily in that order.’ He giggled humourlessly.
‘There are a lot of grounds for you to work on.’
‘Aye,’ he agreed. ‘But nothing grows in this soil except weeds, and I get the wee boys to tug them up when they’re sent to me for punishment.’
I decided to cut to the chase. I produced the dolly from my pocket. ‘Did you make this?’
He took the doll from me, put on the glasses which were hanging from his neck via a chain, and examined it. ‘Och, well, it’s one of mine alright, but I didn’t do all the fripperies. They’re very poor. I take far greater care with my frocks and accessories for my wee dolls.’
‘Do you make many?’
‘Quite a few. I sell them at the Sunday market each week. My auld granny taught me. Sometimes I make them to order of specific people. But this…’ He handed it back to me disdainfully.
‘Who do you think bought this one?
He shrugged with his hands, rather pansily, I thought. ‘Nae idea.’
‘Do you ever get asked to make one with…’ I struggled, ‘ For example, something of the person whom it represents? Such as.. a strand of hair? Or a fingernail’
He frowned. ‘Gross! Why on earth would I do that?’
‘Voodoo!’ I exclaimed.
He gave me a look, the same look I have seen BBC costume staff give me when I ask them if they can iron my cravat.
‘Are you Sassenachs all this soft in the head?’ he picked up his hoe. ‘Some of us have work to do. Excuse me.’
Before I could point that with a name like Stirling I could hardly be a Sassenach, he had flounced off, moving with a curious upright gait as though he had a broom-handle inserted up his Khyber.
Once he had left, I restarted my micturations and contemplated the encounter. Was he telling the truth? Had the amendments to the doll of Noddy been done after it had left his hands – or was McPortillo the mastermind behind the uncanny proceedings at Scarhelldeath Hall?

I sat at the Head Table in the Dining Hall pondering the events of the past 24 hours while Noddy gave a frankly dull speech. Boys don’t want that motivational nonsense; they want the prizes to be given out so they can cheer the winner and sneer at the losers, then start the journey home for the hols. Kilcarcass is in the arse-end of nowhere so they all had a long trek to make. I recall it would take me 2 days just to lug my trunk to the nearest station. Boys were known to die of exposure before they had even bought their train ticket – which at least meant their parents didn’t have to claim for a refund.
I heard my name and realised it was the turn of yours truly to take centre-stage. I bounded to my feet. I had prepared a few words, but nothing too interminable.
‘First of all, gentlemen,’ I said, ‘May I congratulate you all on surviving another term. They say what doesn’t kill us makes us stronger – and nowhere is this truer than Scarhelldeath Hall. In my day, many boys popped their clogs during each term, but frankly, they wouldn’t have lasted two minutes at Big School so it was all for the best in the end.’
I could see Noddy Junior in the front row, watching me wide-eyed. I had obviously become his hero, and, frankly, he couldn’t have chosen a better role model, particularly if he wanted to be a top-notch Bully.
‘I won’t lecture you on the importance of prizes. You know that already. If you don’t win then it’s a blot on your life which it will take many years of compensation to erase. Would Monty have been such a great Field Marshall if he’d actually won that Prize for Best-handwriting? Could Churchill have cause such inspiration and loyalty if he hadn’t failed his Latin exams? Would Freddie ‘Parrot-Face’ Davies have striven to bring so much light and laughter to our lives if he’d not failed his Eleven Plus?’
I had no idea if any if my examples had indeed committed such educational faux-pas, but they all seemed a good choice of coves to inspire young boys.
I was about to announce the first prize – which was for Best Tweet in Latin – when I felt something light land on my shoulders. I brushed it off, and there was a viscous substance on my fingers. Before I could look upwards, my eyes met those of Noddy Junior who was looking above my head in horror. He glanced at me and frantically waved at me to move forward.
My old soldier’s reflexes haven’t been dulled over the years, and so I leaped to one side, my legs leapfrogging over the table. I heard a gasp from the boys. I landed with the dexterity of a parachutist – albeit with some clicks and crunches from the knees that hadn’t been there before – and spun around to see what had happened.
The spot on which I had been standing was now drenched in the most disgusting heap of muck. I glanced up, and hanging from the ceiling had been the most enormous – and presumably raw – Haggis which had obviously burst open, disgorging its intestinal contents on to the poor mugs below. Not me, obviously, thanks to the quick-wittedness of Noddy Junior, but the rest of the teaching staff, including Noddy Senior were now engulfed in uncooked entrails. I soon became aware that Matron had not been sitting with us at Head Table, but standing at the back of the Hall.
Noddy Senior wiped the tripes from his eyes and spluttered, ‘Don’t panic, boys!’
The boys, far from panicking, looked as though they were struggling not to openly guffaw at this sight.
One would’ve have expected Matron to thud to the rescue of her brother, or even to enjoy admonishing the boys, but when I glanced at her again she was no longer to be seen.
Unexpectedly, one of the boys screamed. The candles all flickered out again. Although it was daylight still, the Hall was gloomy, the only light now that which was reflected from the snow outside, giving the room an eerie glow. I heard a rattle of chains from above me. I looked up, and there perched on one of the chandeliers was the spectral figure of the Rev Jethro Maestri!

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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