“Look Mr Sissons, I’m sorry, that part of the graveyard’s no longer used, on account of subsidence caused by badgers. Please see Fred, the sexton. He’ll show you where new graves can be dug and sort out the availability, bearing in mind the … ah … timeframe.” The Reverend Samuel Everson got up from the pew, feeling a certain trepidation and hoping the matter was now closed.
Edgar Sissons was a big man and leader of the local council. He wore a long black coat of thick woollen material and barred the reverend’s way. “Look, Reverend, my Auntie Nellie’s buried in that far corner, as you know. It’s my desire that my sister Dolly be buried next to her, God rest her soul.”
Samuel Everson felt his hands growing sweaty. “Look, Mr. Sissons, we all have the greatest respect for Dolly, but when all’s said and done, she wasn’t a regular churchgoer here, and as I say –”
“Listen, Reverend, it’s my wish that Dolly be buried next to her kith and kin and from where I’m standing I see no good reason she can’t be. The collapsing bit is more over to the other side.”
The Reverend Everson felt emboldened. “I’m sorry, Mr. Sissons, I’m afraid it’s out of my hands. Now, if you would kindly get out of the way please.”
But Edgar Sissons didn’t get out of the way. “Look, Reverend, you’ve put in a planning application for a new conservatory at the rectory. It’s none of my business but it seems a pretty big one, huge you might even say. Look, if you could … ah … bend the rules a bit, then maybe the council will look more favourably on your application –”
The reverend was thankful to see Mavis Westerby, the postwoman, clutching a lengthy rectangular package. She made her way down the aisle to the two men. “Good morning, Reverend, good morning, Mr. Sissons. I’ve a package for the reverend to be signed for. By the way, did you hear about Fanny Sammons’s trouble down at the hairdressers? Shocking it was!”
Before she could start on another of her interminable stories, Edgar Sissons made good his escape. “Good day, Reverend, I have to head over to the undertakers at Calthorpe now, please think over what we discussed. Good day, Miss Westerby.”
The Reverend Samuel Everson breathed a sigh of relief. “Look, I have to go out presently, could you give me the short version please?”
Churches and cathedrals are replete with ancient, locked and bolted doors, full of mystery. St. Margaret’s was no different and now The Reverend Everson felt a thrill of anticipation as, carrying the long parcel, he descended the stone steps to the crypt Inside, he flicked on a dull orange lamp, passing stone shelves housing dusty coffins to a further, even more ancient doorway, hidden behind a black curtain. He unlocked the door with a large iron key from his cumbersome keyring, turned on another, even dimmer, light and proceeded down a cold, clammy tunnel that smelt of earth and mould. Somewhere above, how far he wasn’t sure, but possibly too close for comfort, lay Auntie Nellie’s bones.
Houses have their secrets too, and the Manor House was a notable example. A trapdoor opened in the cellar, displacing a carefully-positioned rug, and the reverend emerged, a little grubbier, with the box. Once in the house itself, he rang a small bell on a table. A woman in her fifties, blonde-haired, plump but well-proportioned, and clad in riding gear, appeared at the head of the stairs. She smiled and beckoned him up. “Edgar just phoned. He’s going to Calthorpe, sorting out Dolly’s funeral arrangements. We’ll have a good hour or so.”
The Reverend Samuel Everson climbed the stairs to the landing and proffered the parcel. “For you, Eunice.” He felt breathless, though whether from the exertion he couldn’t be sure.
“Don’t worry about Dolly’s grave, Sammy,” said Eunice Sissons, pecking him on the cheek and proceeding to open the package with an ornate paper knife. “Edgar gets these silly ideas in his head. I’ll talk him out of it, don’t worry. And get him to approve your conservatory too. I have my methods.”
“I’m sure you do,” said the reverend.
“Oh, Sammy, how lovely, thank you so much!” Eunice brandished a shiny riding crop, cracking it loudly. “Come on, let’s play horse and rider. Get on your hands and knees.”
“What, right now?”
“Don’t be silly,” laughed Eunice, “get your clothes off first.”
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