We were concerned that advanced age had at last struck us, given that later today we’ll be off to join an indoor bowls club, but we’ve been told that it’s an upcoming thing to do and that many a trendsetter is getting out their jack and bowls. So perhaps we’re young and trendy for once in our lives!
I mentioned Wilfred Owen a couple of newsletters ago, and was extremely moved to visit Netley, where he was hospitalised. Very little remains on the site, but there’s still a distinct atmosphere. And it must have been a beautiful location in its heyday, despite all the horrors the place must have witnessed.
Am cracking on with Cambridge Fellows book 12, which has to be in by end of November, but at least the lads have deigned to tell me who did it (and how, and why!) which they haven’t always by this point in the procedure. Need to get this done as have piles of edits on the horizon (CF 11 and a short story called Don’t Kiss the Vicar), and the blog tour for “Best Corpse for the Job” to get together. Anybody got another four hours in the day to lend me?
Appropriate to the month, I thought I’d feature a snippet from Shade on a Fine Day which features a lovestruck Regency curate and a ridiculously polite ghost who has just manifested himself at a dinner party.
Those present couldn’t have been more astonished if a fully grown cherub had made itself visible, wings and all. Both the young ladies screamed, Sir Clarence leapt up then sat straight down again, and most of the others around the table turned deathly pale. Alone of all those present, Lady Finsbury acted as if nothing out of the ordinary had occurred. “We are eight gathered at dinner. Are you here to give us a salutary communication?” Her ladyship, breaking their stunned silence, expressed what was on everyone’s mind.
“I am indeed. As you might have guessed, from Mrs. Newington’s excellent introduction, I am someone who no longer walks this earth in carnal form. Several of us have been given employ as ethereal messengers. Some of us have specific names, such as your Toomhai Gamali, although I must admit we interchange our roles. It might become rather tedious only to be allowed to travel to the islands or be confined to the castles of Scotland.” The thing polished its spectral spectacles. “I am here because it is felt that several of you should be beneficiaries of some prudent advice.” He even spoke like a solicitor.
“And how,” Canon Newington wished to assert his rightful place as master of the house and the situation, “is this to be done?” The last thing he wanted was for anyone’s dirty linen to be washed at his dinner table. He knew Toomhai’s reputation for bluntness; even if this wasn’t actually him, perhaps all spectral messengers would be just as forthright.
“I thought I would take as my model one of your excellent sermons, Mr. Newington. It has been noted that you have a most effective way of taking the particular faults of members of your congregation and making them the subject of one of your homilies, then relying on their consciences and the influence of my master to do the rest. It has proved surprisingly and most subtly effective.” The ghost, if ghost it really was and not someone playing an impressive practical joke, found a spare chair, placed it in the position he required to best address the company, then sat primly, hands folded in his lap.
Hardly a breath could be heard around the table. Eventually Lady Finsbury could bear it no longer. “Well, can we be getting on with it?”
“I’m sorry, at this point people usually bombard me with questions. I did not realise you would all be so polite and patient.” The ghost beamed. “Now, I have some general things to say to start.” He produced a document from his pocket and looked rather like he was about to read a will. “Several of you have secrets but I will not be referring to them, please be assured of that. It is not within my remit.”
There were sighs from various parts of the table, although no-one afterwards could quite say who had displayed such audible relief.
“I am to congratulate three of you, however, on having made a brave decision – the correct decision – in the past, one that set you at odds with your family and society. It is not always wrong to follow one’s heart; what pleases God is not always what pleases Lady O’Neill of Jarosite Mansion.”
Benjamin, who’d heard her ladyship lauded often at his own hearth, stifled a snigger.
“I hasten to add,” the ghost briefly fixed Sir Clarence with a lancet glance, “that not all rebellions against what is considered correct behaviour are legitimate. The abuse of power or privilege, the ruining of other people’s lives, whether at the gaming tables or in the bedroom, is abhorrent. When I applaud the courage of this trio, I refer simply to swimming against a tide of mores that have been built up by men, and made to resemble holy writ. Society is to serve man, not man to serve society.”
Has to be these lanterns, carved chez Cochrane but not by me!