Another short chapter today. I estimate that there are eight more to come…
As ever, all previous chapters can be read here.
Wednesday 13th November 1985: 19.30 – 19.50
‘You were wonderful, darling.’
Clarissa felt Frank’s hand on her knee, and she stared into his eyes, which, even in the gloom surrounding them, she could see were shining brightly, as was his smile. ‘And so were you, Clarissa my dear. As you always are.’
They were still in the church, together in the chairs they’d occupied earlier in the evening. The other seats were empty, and the building was as quiet as the proverbial grave. Which, in a manner of speaking, she supposed it now literally was, since Mabel Cartwright was occupying a spare coffin they’d found in the crypt, in pride of place on the altar table.
(The coffin, Frank told her when he uncovered it, was one that the Right Honourable Eustace Patterson, fifth Duke of Camtown, had had put together in 1873 for his beloved wife, Myrtle. The coffin-maker of the time had quite happily accepted the commission, and the considerable payment that went with it, not bothering to tell the Right Honourable — who was as mad as an elephant with earache — that Myrtle was no more than a figment of the ducal imagination. As it was, Eustace had died before his non-existent wife anyway, so the coffin had lain, unused, for one hundred-odd years in the crypt, nicely preserved by the several extra coats of varnish the maker had plastered it with and presumably charged for.
Not surprisingly, her husband also told her, there’d never been a sixth Duke of Camtown.)
‘Are you certain you wish to do this?’ Frank continued, indicating the church with his other hand. They’d switched off most of the lights, leaving on only as many of the back ones as would make sure that if they moved, they wouldn’t come croppers over the organ detritus that still lay around them.
‘I do, darling,’ she said. She nodded towards the altar. ‘I want to sit vigil for Mabel. And —’ she moved her own hand to cover the one he had on her knee ‘— I am so, so happy you’re here with me.’
‘As am I.’
They sat silently for a long time. Clarissa’s mind, though, was far from quiet. ‘Frank…’ she eventually began, speaking softly as much in uncertainty about starting the conversation she wanted to have, as in order not to disturb the dead old lady.
‘You know you were talking about maybe retiring…?’
She heard him chuckle. ‘I have been thinking on that, Clarissa, and I’ve decided that it would, indeed, be the best thing to do. I plan on telephoning the bishop tomorrow to give him my notice, as it were; and once that is done, and a replacement is assigned — which I’m sure won’t take long — then we shall be free to do whatever and go wherever we wish. I hope that that meets with your approval?’
She leaned over and gave his cheek a full-hearted smacker with her lips. ‘Oh, it most certainly does, my darling. Thank you!’
They stared at each other for long moments. There was a strange look on Frank’s face, and Clarissa’s heart gave an alarmed flutter. ‘What is it? Is something wrong?’
Even in the less-than-half-light, she saw him colour. ‘Well — as it happens, there is something else. But nothing wrong, I assure you.’
Glancing around as if checking to see whether any stray congregants might have happened to wander in while they were otherwise engaged, he gave a short, urgent nod towards the floor. She followed the gesture; there was nothing there, so far as she could see.
She stared back up into his face again. His expression took on a thin-lipped urgency and, eyes wide, he nodded downwards again. Once more, her gaze descended.
Not as far as the floor this time. Her own eyes widened, and her mouth shaped an ‘O’ of shock.
‘It must be the excitement of all that’s happened,’ he said. ‘Or possibly relief that all the stress I’ve felt for so long will be finished with soon.’
She threw her chair back so hard it bounced. ‘Down on the floor!’ she hissed, dropping to her knees. ‘Now!’
‘But Clarissa!’ His eyes were wide again, and his voice registered shock of his own. ‘That wouldn’t be right. Not in God’s house…’
‘Not right be damned! You are getting down here right now or I’m going to drag you down!’
He hesitated a fraction of a second too long. So she did, indeed, drag him down.
And you can shut up as well! she snapped at her blasted conscience.
But her conscience seemed quite content with the situation, and never uttered a word.