THE TWO TON TALKING TOAD by David Graham

THE TWO TON TALKING TOAD

By David R Graham. 1.06.14

 BIG FAT TOAD - HE'S HEAVY  !
‘Aaah! Now, that, hurt!
What was it?
Wait a minute! I have just had a thought! I mean, just then. I had a thought!
I had a conscious thought.
I have never had one of those before.
I do not have conscious thoughts.
I do not think. I function on pure instinct. At least I think I do, or I did.
There. I’ve done it again!
I have just thought, that I think I used to function by instinct.
That is the second, or is it the third, conscious thought I have had, within the space of a minute.
What is a minute?
I know I know what a minute is. I just cannot explain what it is, at the moment.
But I will. I know that I will.
I feel that I know a lot of things, that I did not know before.
Before what?
Before that big bright light, and that very loud noise. Whatever light and noise are.
I know what they are. But I do not know why I know. Or how I know.
But I know that I will know. I know that I am going to know a great many things.
I know that, because I feel boundless potential coursing through me, animating me, expanding me, enlarging me, growing me, strengthening me.
I almost feel invincible.
I know that very soon I will be invincible. I already know that I am indestructible.
‘Whatever it is that is happening to me will stop. I can feel it diminishing, even as I speak.’
‘What?’
‘I have just spoken!’
‘And again!’
‘I have never utter a single word in my entire life, prior to that bright light, and that very loud bang, and that terrible pain, that, thankfully, has now subsided to a bearable level.’
‘So This is a very interesting situation.’
‘Not only can I think, I can also speak.’
‘These abilities, that I most certainly did not possess before the big bang, and bright light, can only be accounted for by some dramatic alteration in my physical makeup.’
‘I am now doing some impressive thinking. Reasoning, even.’
‘Clearly, my brain, that did not previously amount to much, has been altered to such a degree, that I have become sentient.’
‘Likewise, my vocal chords, that—prior to the big bang and bright light, that, for the sake of expediency, I shall hence forth refer to as the Event—were extremely primitive, are now of such complexity, that I am able to speak, and, I suspect—but will not put it to a test, just yet—sing.’
‘Well. What to do now? That is the question.’
‘Now that I know that I am here. What do I do with this newfound knowledge?’
‘I doubt that I am meant to remain on my back with my limbs splayed like this. It seems rather pointless. There has got to be more to my newfound existence, than this.’
‘I have just used the word ‘meant’. That is an interesting choice of words. ‘Meant’ presupposes purpose. Meant, for some purpose. Meant, to do, something.’
‘Do I have a purpose?’
‘Am I, meant, to do, something?’
‘I sincerely hope so. I do not relish the prospect of remaining in this undignified position, indefinitely.’
‘It is marvellous to observe how my thinking and my vocabulary are growing exponentially with my new brain.’
‘I positively believe that the possibilities are endless.’
‘But what to do?’
‘What to do, next?’
‘What to do, now?’
‘Decision!’
‘There. See how my rapidly developing brain is coping with the unknown! Why it is almost at though it has a mind of its own.’
‘Decisiveness.’
‘Deciding what to do.’
‘Deciphering the situation.’
‘I’m deciphering the situation…No. I am not confident enough to sing, just yet.’
‘Hmm. I am deciphering the situation, though. I am using my brain to decide what to do about my situation. I, and my brain, are working together, to seek a solution to my present predicament.’
‘Which is?’
‘I am unable to move.’
‘I am restrained. I am not…free.’
‘Now. This is not good.’
‘This realisation that I lack freedom, has done something to me. I can feel it. Something inside of me has changed. I do not like this.’
‘I feel…insecure, afraid.’
‘Of what, am I afraid?’
‘Constraint. I am constrained.’
‘This is not a good feeling.’
‘I felt perfectly fine a moment ago. A moment, during which I had no notion of my constrained state.’
‘Now that I have become aware that there is a very unpleasant alternative to being free, I strongly desire to be free.’
‘Also. I strongly desire to feed.’
‘In order to satisfy one desire. I must first accomplish the other.’
‘Motivation.’
‘I am motivated to gain my freedom, in order to feed. My hunger is my motivation to free myself from my constraints.’
‘My present predicament is, that my wrists and my ankles are bound, hence the rather undignified splayed position of my limbs—that, I note, are greatly enlarged, in pleasing proportion to my torso—I am relieved to observe.’
‘Well. I very quickly analysed the nature of my constraints and have now freed my left appendage, at the end of which, I also note, I have a hand, that has four, very flexible and quite dextrous fingers.’
‘My left hand, and arm, both feel immensely strong, and my remaining bonds present but puny resistance to my boundless strength.’
‘I am free!’
‘Unrestrained!’
‘Alive, and alert!’
‘And hungry. Very hungry, in fact. I am unable to recall when I last ate.’
‘What do I eat?’
‘I do not know.’
‘I shall experiment. By trial and error, I shall be able to determine what I can and cannot eat.’
‘Where to find food.’
‘And…water. I must find water.’
‘But, where am I?’
‘I am inside an exceedingly large structure.’
‘It is dark in here.’
‘I am at ease in the dark.’
‘I am not at ease with the smell. It is very bad.’
‘I will move away from it.’
‘Here is an opening.’
‘I have left the dark structure and have entered a tunnel. There is light at the end.’
‘I hear sounds. They are unfamiliar to me.’
‘Movement.’
‘Many small creatures. They are upright, and have four limbs, and forward looking eyes.’
‘Prey, perhaps?’
‘I will try one and see.’
‘They have seen me.’
‘Aaah! Gross Gott in himmel! What is that?!’
‘Oh mien Gott! It is a monstrous toad! Run! Save yourselves!’
They are fleeing from me.
They are very slow moving.
They are definitely prey.
I have one! It is crying and beating my face.
‘Oh Gott! Oh, bitte Gott! Save me. Bitte!’
I feel nothing.
The creature is soft with a hard centre. It crushes easily in my jaws.
There. It has stopped wriggling and making its noise. That makes it much easier to eat.
It tastes good, and is very juicy. But clearly one is not enough. I will lick this warm, dark liquid from my lips, then catch another.
‘It’s a monster from hell! Get away from here! Save yourselves!’
They are all fleeing from me.
‘No! Do not run! It is too fast! Arm yourselves! We must kill it!’
Wait! They are coming back.
They are making a lot of noise.
They are going to try to defend themselves. But I know that they are terrified of me. I can smell their fear.
They are throwing things at me. I feel the puny impact of these things. But my hide is impervious to pain and injury.
‘It’s hide is bubbles of iron! It is too tough! The tigns of my fork have ben…!’
There! I have caught another one.
‘Jørgen! Oh Gott! It’s eating him! It’s eating my ehemann! It is eating my Jørgen!’
Two of these creatures may well be sufficient food for the moment.
‘Get back! We cannot hurt it! Keep away from it!’
What shall I do when I have finished feeding?
‘Burn it!’
‘Ja! Get pitch, and a firebrand!
Rest, I suppose…
‘Get behind it and throw the pitch on its back! We will distract it from the front!
What are these creature doing? They seem to want me to eat them.
‘Ready! Now!
…Or explore this place I have found myself in.
What was that? I felt something on my back.
How did I get here…?
What are these creatures doing! I can feel myself getting angry, hostile even.
They’re throwing things at me again. Bright things.
…How did, I get here?
There’s something moving on my back.
‘It’s burning! Look the pitch is burning! It is engulfed in the flames! It will not survive that!’ Well done!’
Now its on my left arm and hand. It’s that bright stuff they were throwing. It is lively stuff. I wonder why they threw it at me?
Ah. It must be part of their defence mechanism. If it is, it is totally ineffective. I wonder what it tastes like.
Hmm. It has an odd flavour, not unpleasant. Very little substance, though. I need more solid food.
‘Oh no! It’s eating the fire! It’s not burning! It’s indestructible!’
‘Let’s stone it!
‘Ja! Let’s stone it! Get big rocks! We will crush it to death!’
Now what are they doing?
Oh. I see. They are going to throw things at me again. Why don’t they just go away.
These things they are throwing are larger than the previous things. I know that they are striking my skin. But they do not hurt in the least.
‘They’re not hurting it in the least!’ It’s indestructible, I tell you!’
‘The Militia are here! Out of the way! They will shoot it with their muskets! It is done for now! Stand aside and let them fire a volley into the creature’s head!’
Well, these creatures are very colourful. They seem somewhat different. I wonder what purpose they serve?
They are pointing long things at me.
Perhaps this is another of their defence mechanisms.
This should be interesting.
Was that it?
I saw a large cloud of white vapour. Then some small things peppered my face. Interesting.
‘Did you see that?! The shot just bounced off its head!’
‘It is indestructible I’m telling you!’
‘Try another volley, korporal! Aim right between its eyes!’
These colourful creatures are going to do it, whatever it, was, again.
There it is. Well, as a defence mechanism, it is next to useless.
‘Fetch a kanone!’
‘Ja! Fetch a kanone, korporal! A kanonenkugel will blow its head off!’
Well, this is all very interesting. But I think I will explore this place and try to determine where I am. I know what food to eat now, and where to find it. Now, I need to find water.
‘Hurry! Its getting away!’
‘Get in front of it, and throw things at it! Make it turn back! The kanone is on its way!’
Now what are they doing?
They appear to be trying to prevent me from leaving.
Do they want me to eat another one of them?
Very well, I shall oblige.
‘Oh mein Gott! Did you see that leap! It must have leapt ten metres!
Its got someone!
‘Oh Gott! That is gruesome!’
‘Its squashing his body in its jaws!’
‘Oh Gott! Look at all the blood and guts!’
‘What a terrible way to die! Poor Bruni! Gott rest his soul!’
‘Here’s the kanone! Stand aside! Let the Bombardiers get a shot at it!’
Right, entertaining as this situation might be, I am now full up and in need of somewhere to rest.
Preferably somewhere away from these bothersome creatures.
‘Feuer!’
What was that?! Something just bounced off of my lower back! Now, that, made me jump!
‘That’s got its attention! Its turning round! Quickly, korporal! Get a shot into its head!’
What have they got there, now. Another type of defence mechanism?
Ah! Now that, made me blink! They’re defence mechanisms seem to be getting more effective.
‘I don’t believe it! It barely shook its head! It took a four pound kanonenkugel to the head and barely blinked!’
‘Try one more shot!’
‘Please don’t.’
‘What?!’
‘I said, please don’t, try one more shot. It doesn’t hurt. But it is beginning to irritate.’
Hmm. That is interesting. I spoke, and they have all gone quiet. I wonder why?
‘Someone please tell me that I have not just heard a two ton toad, talking. Please.’
‘I…eh. I think I heard it too, Herr Burgermeister.’
‘And me.’
‘So did I.’
‘And me.’
‘And…’
‘Stop!…hold your hand up if you think you heard the toad speak. Almost everyone. Right. Well. In that case. I will speak to it. Can you hear me, toad?!’
I do believe this creature is trying to communicate with me. ‘Yes. I can heard you very well. You don’t have to shout. I have exceptionally good hearing.’
‘Where have you come from? How did you get here?’
‘I’m afraid I don’t have answers to those questions.’
‘It came out of that alleyway, there!’
‘You came out of that alleyway. Where were you, before that?’
‘I was inside a very large structure. It was dark in there. It smelt very bad.’
‘Oh my Gott! Herr Burgermeister!’
‘Ja. What is it?’
‘I think it might have come out of Doctor Frankenstein’s laboratory!’
‘Doctor Frankenstein, eh. Where is he?’
‘He has disappeared. He was seen raving like a madman. He may have caught the cholera!’
‘Toad?’
‘Are you speaking to me?’
‘Ja. Do you know, Doctor Frankenstein? Do you know where he is?’
‘The answer is no, to both of your questions. I don’t know any of your kind.’
‘No! But you’ve eaten three of us!’
‘Yes, Herr Burgermeister! It ate my Franz! What are you going to do about that!’
‘And it ate my Jorgen!’
‘And my Bruni!’
‘Did you hear that, toad?’
‘I have already told you. I have excellent hearing.’
‘What are you going to do about those poor people you ate?’
‘I’m not sure I follow you. What do you expect me to do about them?’
‘It is against our laws to kill and eat people. The penalty, for such a heinous crime, is death.’
‘Ja! Death to the toad!’
‘Death to the toad! Death to the toad! Death to the toad! Death to the toad! Death to the…!’
‘Quiet! You have all seen how difficult it is to hurt this, this creature. How do you propose we put it to death?!’
‘I am indestructible. By the way, what does toad mean?’
‘That is what you are. A toad.’
‘I am? And what, exactly, is a toad?’
‘A toad is a small, four legged, amphibian. At least it was, until now.’
‘What do you mean. ‘Until now’?’
‘I mean, that until now, toads were small creatures you…we, could hold in the palm of our hand. Not two ton creatures, like you. That’s what I mean.’
‘I am an exceptionally large toad?’
‘Exceptionally.’
‘This is Frankenstein’s doing! We all know that he was up to something, in that laboratory of his!’
‘Ja! What was Herr Frankenstein doing in there?’
‘I have already told you that I do not know such a person.’
‘Well, if you did come out of his laboratory, he might well have done something to you, that transformed you from an ordinary toad, into an extraordinary one. He may well have experimented on you, when you were normal, and made you abnormal. Do you remember anything at all about your time in the laboratory?’
‘I remember that there was a very bright light, and a very loud bang. It, they…woke me up. I was tied down to a large table. I freed myself. I was hungry. So I came out here to find food. That is…’
‘And swallowed my Jørgen! My poor Jørgen is inside your big fat belly. You grosse ausgeburt!’
…as much as I know about my existence.’
‘Hmm, that’s not much to go on. What are we going to do with you?’
‘You, are not going to do anything with me. I have told you that I freed myself from my bonds. I shall remain free. I will never be confined, or constrained, again.’
‘It’s getting away!’
‘Where are you going, toad?!’
I am going to find water!’
‘Your not going to let it get away, are you Herr Burgermeister?’
‘And what, exactly, do you suggest I do to prevent it from getting away? Wrestle it to the ground, perhaps?’
‘Well. I don’t know. It just doesn’t seem fair, letting it hop off like that.’
‘Well, we have tried burning it, we have tried stoning it, we have tried shooting musket balls at it, we have even shot it in the head with a four pound kanonenkugel, all to no avail. So, you tell me, how you think we can stop it from getting away. Umm?’
‘Eh.’
‘Umm.’
‘Ah.’
‘Ja, Just as I thought.’
‘But what if it tries to eat more of us, Herr Burgermeister?’
‘In that event, we shall have to try and reason with it. Perhaps we can persuade it to eat livestock, instead.’
‘Whose livestock?’
‘I don’t know. We may have to take it in turns, providing it with food.’
‘Perhaps we could persuade it to go away, Herr Burgermeister. It hops fast enough. I doubt it would take many of those hops, to get it to Munich.’
‘My parents live in Munich.’
‘Augsburg, then.’
‘My sister lives in Augsburg.’
Well. I don’t know! Nuremburg! Yes! We could try and persuade it to go to Nuremburg.’
‘It’s getting away, Herr Burgermeister!’
‘Wait, toad!’
‘No. I can smell water! I am going there.’
‘It means the Danube. It’s going to the Danube. Perhaps he will go downstream, and leave us alone.’
‘Nein! It’s moving away from the river. Where is it going?’
‘The Hetschenweiher! It must be making for the Hetschenweiher.’
‘Are you going to the Hetschenweiher, toad?’
‘I can smell water. It is very close. I am going to it.’
‘Gott in himmel! Did you see that! It bound right over the top of Brunhilda’s bäckerei!’
‘Lets follow it!’
‘Ja. But keep a safe distance!’
‘There it is, Burgermeister! It is in das Hetschenweiher! I can see its bulging eyes!’
‘Alright! Everyone stay well back! Toad!’
‘What?’
‘How long are you going to stay here?’
‘I don’t know. I am content. Why do you ask?’
‘You will get hungry again. We are worry that you might eat more of us.’
‘I might. You taste good.’
‘What about beef, or lamb? Would you eat those?’
‘What are they?’
‘That big brown thing, in the field there, is a beef cow. The small, white, fluffy one, is a lamb.’
‘I will be happy to try either of those, when I am hungry again. Now, I want to sleep.’
‘Herr Burgermeister.’
‘What?’
‘Why don’t we drown it, while its asleep?’
‘Dummkopf.’

 

Paddy Doran’s Box. Chapter 2 by David Graham

Sunday 1st October 1747

07:30>11:00

Dungragh House: twentythree miles outside the hamlet of Dungragh in Wicklow, southern Ireland

 

From the hands of the dead

 

Lord Frederick was lounging abstractedly in a high-backed, green leather, George 11 chair behind the desk in his father’s wainscoted office. Despite the early hour of the day he was nursing a glass of claret in his right hand. The air in the cold, spacious, high-ceilinged room was heavy with the smell of waxed wood and old books. On entering the room, Lord Frederick had dropped his cane, his gloves, his hat and his cloak onto an ornately brocaded Meridienne and helped himself to the wine.

Now, lost in thought, he sat staring into the purple contents of the crystal glass. He was hungry, thirsty and tired; but he knew he would not stop to address his physical needs until he had taken care of his monetary ones. With that thought in mind he raised his eyes and looked about the room that had always been out of bounds to him as a child. Now, seated in his father’s chair, at his father’s desk, drinking his father’s wine, he felt a cold and hollow sense of defeat. His father was beyond ridicule now: beyond derision and hurting.

Lord Frederick felt an unfamiliar cold shaft of abandonment and loneliness, which roused again a very familiar and very potent urge to run: to get as far away from the house and all else that reminded him of his childhood days within its forbidding walls. His mind flashed back in an instant and he found himself on the swaying foredeck of the Harbinger as she entered the deep-water harbour of Port Royal laden with plundered English and Spanish cargo and he experienced an almost overwhelming sense of freedom and longing. With an effort he wrenched his mind from a past that he knew mean certain death to resurrect. ‘What other staff are here’? he asked reluctantly dragging his mind back to the present and couching his question in an offensive tone in order to vent his inner feelings on the old servant. With whom he did not deign to make eye contact. But instead busied himself adjusting the ruffs of his voluminous blouse.

When he did lift his gaze, Lord Frederick found his mother, the late Lady Geraldine Amelia Cairncross, smiling down at him from her gilt-framed portrait above the room’s imposing marble fireplace. The gentle expression in mother’s eyes and the soft smile on her full lips, rendered perfectly by the young Joshua Reynolds, hit his senses like an unexpected blast of cold air. He was keenly aware that when his parents had been alive he had given little thought to them other than as a source of money. Now that they were both dead he felt their loss like a mortal wound that he instinctively knew would never heal.

Unable to hold his mother’s lifeless gaze, Lord Frederick surreptitiously averted his eyes and looked instead at a giant Kodiak bear standing to his left in the far corner of the room. The inert beast’s crimson painted maw was agape and its painted wooden eyes stared lifelessly up at the ornately gilded cornice on the opposite side of the room as though perpetually mortified by the ignominy of bearing a variegated Wandering Jew in a Spode tureen on a papier mache breakfast tray balanced across its huge forearms.

Standing in front of the desk with his hat tucked beneath his right arm Patrick was in too much physical discomfort to be offended by Lord Frederick’s tone of voice. To which he had become inured during the many years he had served as butler to his late father. He drew his eyes away from the view of the library garden he could see through one of the tall windows either side of a large bookcase behind Lord Frederick.

What’ll become a d’gardin’s now, he thought sadly and shifted his weight off his right hip. Bloody bowels, he exclaimed in silent exasperation and clenched his buttocks tighter. ‘Can’t even hold a drop a porridge for five bloody minutes!

The knowledge that but for the unexpected arrival of his lordship he would have been warming his old bones by the cooking range in Missis Moody’s kitchen did little to improve Patrick’s present disposition. He had discovered over the years that heat was the only sure remedy against the discomfort of his old war wound. ‘Eh, well’, he said pulling his thoughts back to the present, ‘d’ere’s Missis Moody, d’cook, is here. She’s got one a d’girls with her, me’lord. Then there’s d’one housemaid here, me’lord’, he said leaning further to his left in an attempt to relieve the pain in his right hip which had degenerated from niggling to nagging, whilst at the same time contracting his lower abdominal muscles in his effort to prevent his bladder from attempting to empty itself.

Having to list the members of staff reminded Patrick that none of them had been paid for several weeks. Even as he sought to maintain his balance and his sphincter control he pondered whether or not to mention the matter.

Observing Lord Fredrick’s cold unfriendly countenance, he decided against it. His clothes have seen better days, he thought critically reassessing the slightly frayed and worn condition of Lord Frederick’s attire, ‘eh, then…there’s d’gardener Mich…Mr Cullen’, Patrick said quickly refocusing on the question, ‘He has…had six men when yer father was… now he has two a d’stableboys comes in if he needs them. Then there’s meself, me’lord’, he added almost as an afterthought.

‘Oddly enough, I was aware of your presence’, Lord Fredrick said coldly. ‘Where is the housekeeper, Mrs’? After over two years of absence from the estate Lord Frederick was unable to recall the name of his late father’s housekeeper.

‘Missis Cass…idy, me’lord’, Patrick said relieved now that he had not mentioned the staffs pay. ‘I’m af…raid Berna…eh Missis Cassidy left…, me’lord. Soon…after yer fah’der…eh…past…’.

‘Yes’, Lord Frederick interjected brusquely. He took a sip of wine, placed the glass carefully on the desk, shifted the heavy chair and placed his forearms on the desk. He wanted to remove his wig. But he would not do so whilst a servant was present. Instead, he reached across the desk, picked up a Georgian silver inkwell from its silver tray and noted the JR over SJ hallmark of Judah Rosenthal and Samuel Jacob’s of London. He was acquainted with the company. ‘Listen to me’, he said carefully replacing the inkwell back on its tray. ‘I shall be returning to London at the earliest possible convenience. Before I do however, I intend to make a complete inventory of everything of value on this estate. Starting this very morning. You will assist me. Nothing will be left out. Do you understand’?

‘Yes, me’lord’, Patrick replied his tone of voice concealing his urgent need to get to the privy and his twofold sense of dread at the painful prospect of having to walk the entire estate with his bad hip and having to do so in the company of his new master. ‘Would ye like…me…t’get…Mr Cullen’s lad’s t’go with ye, me’lord’? he suggested hopefully, ‘They’re…very goo…’.

‘No I would not’! Lord Frederick snapped irritably and sat back in the chair. ‘You will follow me and you will not speak of this to any of the staff. Is that understood’?

‘Yes, me’lord’, Patrick said awkwardly. Whilst he derived a crumb of comfort from the news that Lord Frederick wished to return to London as soon as possible and resolved there and then to do everything he could to hasten such a welcome event; he was nonetheless anxious to know what plans if any Lord Frederick had for the future of the estate and, more importantly, the future of the remaining staff.

What’s t’become of us all? Patrick wondered anxiously. Our lives are in d’hands a this godless man, he thought pursing his thin bloodless lips and clenching his buttocks to deny release to his bladder and bowel. The unpredictability of which dictated much of his daily routine.

‘Yes, me’lord, yes, me’lord’, Lord Frederick mimicked somewhat churlishly. ‘Can you not think of anything else to say’?

‘No…me’lord. I’m sorry, me’lord’, Patrick answered narrowing his rheumy eyes and clenching his buttocks a bit tighter.

Lord Frederick picked up his glass, drank the remainder of his wine with evident relish and placed the glass on the desk. ‘Go and tell the cook to prepare luncheon for my return’, he ordered in a moderate tone that was calculated to throw others off guard. ‘Meet me at the front of the house as soon as you have done so’.

‘I’m… sorry, me’lord’, Patrick said with a trace of embarrassment on his pallid features. ‘I’m af…raid there’s very little in d’way a…food, me’lord’, he added as though it was his fault that the estate had fallen into disorder. ‘We’ve been livin’ off…d’stuff Mr Cull…en’s been…’.

‘Just do it’! Lord Frederick shouted with an angry and dismissive wave of his left hand. The old man oppressed him. The room oppressed him. The house oppressed him. Ireland oppressed him.

I must get away from here! Quickly, he thought to himself his cold expression unaltered by his weakening resolve.

Confound this place. It was a mistake to come back here!

I should not have allowed myself to be swayed!

But I need money!

I shall gather whatever items of value I can find today, preferably portable and I shall leave for London as soon as possible, he thought looking into the empty wine glass.

What will I do in London? he thought in a moment of uncharacteristically honest self appraisal.

What will I do when my money is spent?

What life is there for me in London?

Perhaps I might go to the Americas.

To do what, exactly? I am Eton educated; but I know only piracy. I dare not return to that occupation.

The Americas are a hellhole.

The East Indies perhaps.

‘Yes, me’lord’, Patrick said hesitantly and, in spite of his pressing predicament, made no move to leave the room.

Lord Frederick paused in the act of getting to his feet. ‘Well’? he asked dismissing his familiar thoughts and glaring at Patrick with barely contained distain. For the first time since his arrival he made very brief eye contact with the old servant.

‘I’m sorry, me’lord. I’m af…raid I was not…able t’pay d’driver… me’lord. D’fare was…twenty…four shillin’s an’ sixpence, me’lord’, Patrick explained with evident embarrassment. ‘D’cabby says he’ll not leav…’.

Lord Frederick stood upright. He was acutely aware that his present worldly wealth amounted to the fifty eight guineas remaining in his purse. His passage, which has included a cabin, across the Irish Sea had cost him a guinea. The departure of the Grenville from Holyhead had been delayed by foul weather, forcing him to pay a further two guineas for board and lodgings at Welsh’s and, on his arrival in Dun Laoghaire, he had boarded the coach that now stood on the forecourt.

He was loathed to hand over the fare. But he reasoned that if he did not, the cabby would undoubtedly return with the County Constable. ‘Pay the fellow’, he said tossing his purse on the desk in a manner designed to convey the impression that the sum was too trifling to warrant mentioning. ‘Whilst you are about it, you might suggest to the fellow that he devote some time and energy to cleaning the interior of his uncomfortable conveyance. I shudder to think what manner of creature his previous passenger was. Now get out’.

Patrick picked up the purse. ‘Very good, me’lord’, he said and left the room as quickly as his old war wound would allow. Sucking and puffing in response to the ache in his hip, he made his way out to the forecourt and, omitted any mention of the state of his cab, wordlessly paid off the belligerent cabby and limped back into the house.

Fully aware that he was going to need some sustenance to get him through the next few hours, Patrick had every intension of taking advantage of this opportunity to get a cup of tea and a large piece of Missis Moody’s fruitcake. Before he did so however, he had to eliminate waste. So, moving at a most ungainly gait through the old house, he mentally mapped out his quickest route to the servants privy.

A little over three hours later Patrick and Lord Frederick stopped by a wrought iron gate at the head of a wide, cobblestoned laneway formed by a high, buttressed, red-brick wall that ran parallel with the entire breadth of the east gable of the house and provided access to the stable yard where they had just completed an inventory. Far off to their left, a flight of balustraded steps led down from the north terrace onto the east lawn.

Warmed by the wintery midday sun, Lord Frederick turned from the gate, handed his cane to Patrick, removed his gloves and cloak, handed the garments to Patrick, retrieved his cane and unhurriedly adjusted his hat and frock coat.

Uncomfortably hot under his own winter coat, Patrick folded the heavy cloak across his right arm and placed the gloves in his coat pocket. He was heartily hoping that Lord Frederick was about to return to the house.

‘Are there any other buildings’? Lord Frederick asked in a preoccupied tone as he recalled the several items his ‘inventory’ had unearthed in the house. Foremost among which were two cartoons by the younger Holbein and a portrait of Elspeth, the artist’s wife. A sixteen fifteen edition of Cervantes original Spanish Don Quixote, an original Dante’s Divine Comedy; two thirteenth century Italian icons of the Virgin Mary, a sixteenth century English timepiece and the sterling silver inkwell and tray on his father’s desk. These items, along with some lesser finds, he felt certain he could conveniently transport to London.

His excitement at the prospect of putting his plan into operation was exceeded only by the prospect of acquiring a respectable sum of money for his efforts and he felt better in himself. The last few hours however, had convinced him beyond all doubt that he had not one jot of desire to remain on the estate a moment longer than was absolutely necessary. None of these thoughts however, were revealed on his gamblers stony face.

‘I think that’s all, me’lord’, Patrick answered lethargically. His thin, ashen, features were etched with

pain and fatigue after having accompanied Lord Frederick around the estate for the best part of three hours.

They had been through the house from top to bottom, spent nearly an hour in the basement, during which time he had had to hold a lantern aloft in order that Lord Frederick could conduct a very quick and thorough inventory of all of the cavernous room’s contents. From there they had moved on to the kitchen garden, where Lord Frederick almost reduced poor old Mr Cullen to tears by demanding a detailed inventory of all the garden’s annual produce and, more particularly, its meagre income. They had then moved on to the empty coach house and from there to the equally empty stable yard, by which time the sustenance Patrick had gotten from Missis Moody’s pantry had long since been dissipated and he was very hungry, very hot, very discomfited and very tired.

Lord Frederick turned his head to his right without making eye contact with Patrick, ‘What do you mean, You think that is all’? he mimicked cruelly, ‘Is it all. Or is it not all’?

Patrick ignored the mimicry. ‘There’s a little chap’il in d’birch wood down by d’river meadow, me’lord’, he answered in a decidedly sombre tone. ‘But no one’s been in there for years, me’lord’, he added quietly.

Although the prospect of walking down to the chapel was not a pleasant one. It in itself, was only partially responsible for the sudden and unnoticed change in Patrick’s demeanour. During the past eleven years, since the death of Lady Cairncross, neither Lord Cairncross nor any other member of the household had ventured to return to her private chapel.

‘Show me’, Lord Frederick ordered determined not to miss anything on the estate that might yield further saleable items.

‘Yes, me’lord’, Patrick said stoically masking his disappointment and silently braced himself for the long walk down to the point where the Slaney entered the estate.

Walking at his laboured pace and with the cumbersome cloak slowing him even further, it took Patrick and. Lord Frederick nearly twenty minutes to reach their destination. This far from the house the close proximity of the cesspit was unpleasantly evident on the temperate air.

Several minutes later Patrick led Lord Frederick slowly through a silver birch wood and stopped on the edge of a green glade. Several adolescent rabbits feeding on the meagre winter grass bolted for cover at their sudden appearance.

In the centre of the glade—with its sagging, terracotta-tiled roof carpeted in green folios and orange crustose lichen—stood an abandoned and neglected chapel.

‘Here we are…me’lord’, Patrick said breathlessly. His pulse was racing and his heart was pounding but he was relieved that here among the trees they were effectively shielded from the worst of the effluvium from the cesspit.

Lord Frederick stopped just ahead of Patrick, placed the ferrule of his cane on the ground, placed his hands on the head of the cane and stood looking at the small building.

A pair of blackbirds called briefly to each other and then the glade fell silent.

Lord Frederick’s head was hot and itchy beneath his wig and his feet were damp and uncomfortable in his court shoes. But, other than a rivulet of perspiration that ran down behind his right ear, he gave no outward sign that he was in any way discomfited by the exertions of his ‘inventory’ of the estate, or by the faint odour that wafted on the air. His mind was on other things.

As a consequence of his chosen way of life Lord Frederick had cultivated and honed his powers of observation and recall. Wherever he found himself, whether it be court or common; or whomsoever he found himself with, whether it be count or commoner; he noted everything about the person the place and the time and was able to recall such details at a later date should the need arise. His ability to do so had saved his life on more than one occasion.

He observed that the granite stone chapel had been quite cleverly constructed as a scaled down model. He gauged its height to be no more than twenty feet to its sagging ridge tiles and its length and breadth to be thirty feet by fifteen feet respectively. There were four small Gothic style recto arched windows on the visible elevation. He assumed that its apse pointed east. The granite walls were clothed with the powdery patina of age and the small building showed every sign of having fallen into disuse. Over the entrance a spire topped with a golden crucifix, rose ten feet above the roof.

‘Who used this place’? he asked his baritone voice breaking the silence of the glade and rousing Patrick from his semi-somnambulant state.

Patrick shifted the burdensome cloak to his left arm and made a concerted effort to remove the tiredness from his voice. Every muscle and bone in his old body ached with fatigue and he longed to rest. ‘It was yer dear…it was yer mother’s, me’lord, God res…’, Patrick said with a barely discernible catch in his voice. He missed his mistress terribly and recalled her like a warm spring day in the depth of a bitter winter.   ‘Me’lady’, he said in a barely audible whisper as he recalled the peaceful summer afternoons when tables and chairs had been brought to the glade and his mistress and her friends had sat drinking chilled fruit juices beneath the dappled shade of the birch trees.

‘I want to see inside’, Lord Frederick said abruptly cutting off any further mention of his mother. ‘Then I shall return to the house. I shall bath for thirty minutes and then I shall take luncheon’.

‘Very good, me’lord’, Patrick responded in a barely audible tone. Although he was somewhat relieved that they would shortly be returning to the house, he was dreading the thought of the labour required to prepare a hot bath. I’ll see if Michael can get his lad’s t’help me. I hope t’God they’re not all gone home before we get back, he thought anxiously as he shifted the cloak back to his aching right arm, crossed the glade as quickly as he could and slowly pushed open the chapel door.

The sounds of the door latch and rusted hinges brought to Patrick’s mind the many times he had accompanied Lord and Lady Cairncross to this private sanctuary. He lowered his head and clenched his grizzly jaw to cut off the tears that welled in his red-rimmed eyes. Those had been the golden years of life on the estate. The years when the young Sir Fredrick had been out of sight and out of mind. Grateful for a brief moment to compose himself Patrick stepped aside.

Lord Frederick was forced to bow his head in order to enter the chapel. Inside the small building, the heels of his shoes and the silver ferrule of his cane rang loud on the bare, flagstoned floor. He stopped several paces beyond the threshold, placed the ferrule of his cane on the floor, placed his hands on the head of the cane and silently surveyed his surroundings. The air was cold and musty and heavy with the cloying commingled smells of old damp stone and decaying wood.

Lord Frederick observed that, as with the south facing wall he had looked at from outside, there were four small, arched windows in the north wall and, in the apse, a larger version, above a very plain, rectangular, granite altar. There was much evidence that generations of spiders had colonized the safe and secluded habitat.

Behind the altar a low stone seat curved around the wall of the apse.

Apart from the altar, the room was empty.

Lord Frederick’s keen eyes saw the crucifix half hidden behind thick cobwebs on the windowsill above the altar. Even from where he stood he knew with a certainty borne of experience that the object was solid gold. He maintained his outward composure as avaricious excitement flushed through his veins.

The noise of his shoes and cane punctuated the silence as he strode the length of the room with practiced casualness, moved behind the altar and looked up at the crucifix. ‘Close the door’, he commanded without turning

‘Yes, me’lord’, Patrick said gratefully.

When he heard the door latch drop, Lord Frederick, without taking his eyes off the crucifix, laid his cane on the thick slab of the altar, placed his left foot on the edge of the stone seat, pushed off with his right foot and reached up with his right hand in one fluid movement. The moment his fingers closed about the golden legs of the crucified Christ, the flagstone under his left foot tipped forward and cantilevered on the riser of the seat.

Lord Frederick’s hat and wig flew off and his mouth flew opened in shock as he fell backwards. In the blink of an eye, his duelists’ reflexes reacted instinctively. He dropped the crucifix, twisted his torso to the left and stuck his hands out in front of him to prevent himself falling against the sharp edge of the altar. His hands caught the over-lapping edge of the altar slab a hard blow that sent a shockwave of pain through his arms and into his shoulder blades. Under the impetus of his body weight, the slab jerked sharply away from him. His cane rolled off the slab and clattered onto the floor.

Lord Frederick cried out in pain as the sharp edge of the alter base pushed the sleeves of his coat and the cuffs of his blouse up his arms and cut into the soft flesh of his wrists. The tension went out of his arms and his cry was cut off abruptly when his jaw impacted with the top of the slab. The blow jarred his teeth and his eyeballs. His face contorted in pain as he collapsed to the floor and stared in slack-jawed disbelief at the deep, bloodied, abrasions on his wrists. He heard the sound of the door latch and the shrill squeal of the rusted hinges as the door was slowly pushed open.

‘Forgive me, me’lord’, Patrick called tentatively from beyond the door. ‘Is every…thing al…right, me’lord’?

‘Out’! Lord Frederick managed to grunt loudly through a haze of pain that pulsated through his skull and coursed like quicklime through his lacerated wrists.

‘Very good, me’lord’.

The door squeaked shut.

Barely conscious of the ice-cold stone beneath him, Lord Frederick shifted his back against the altar, carefully laid the backs of his hands on his thighs, rested his head gently against the altar and closed his eyes.

When after several minutes the red hot pain in his wrists and the throbbing in his head had subsided to a bearable level Lord Frederick opened his eyes, rolled gingerly onto his knees, got to his feet without the aid of his hands and glared angrily at the altar.

The thick slab had shifted several inches under the impact of his bodyweight and Lord Frederick realized that it had formed a lid over the interior of the altar base. With his mouth hanging open and his teeth exposed, he glanced with fleeting curiosity at the dark, tapering gap created by the shifted slab. Then he turned away, carefully replaced his wig and hat and retrieved the crucifix and his cane.

He was about to leave the chapel when his curiosity won out over his pain and anger. He placed the crucifix on the floor with his cane, moved round to the back of the altar, braced his hands on the edge of the slab, let his jaw go slack in anticipation of the pain and pushed with all his anger-fuelled strength. The slab shifted several more inches.

He stood back and tried to blow cool air on his wounded wrists, but was unable to purse his lips. He gave up and turned his attention to the tantalizing dark interior of the altar. The slab was now an obstruction now: an opponent. He always met opponents head on. He placed his hands on the slab, set his face like a flint and pushed with all his strength and weight. The slab shifted again.

Pain induced tears ran down his cheeks, but he kept up the momentum until finally the slab teetered on the outer edge of the altar. Ignoring the pain in his wrists and his jaw, he placed his hands beneath the edge of the slab and heaved it upward. His face contorted in pain, he released a loud triumphant grunt as the slab toppled over the side of the altar and crashed to the floor.

Bent across the altar; with his hands braced on the outer edge, Lord Frederick barely registered the thunderous noise. He was staring at the face of a corpse.

He recoiled in disbelief.

The altar contained a human skeleton.

The altar was a sarcophagus.