Simon Parke  
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Dragged down the street

PART 3

O Misty Longings, how still we see thee lie! Yet do we see all?

We see lane and field, chimney stack and village well. We see rural life getting up and getting on, cows lowing and crows crowing. We see clopping horse and thatcher’s tools; we see hopping toad and village school. We see distant hills, meandering dales and frosted grass in morning sun. But do we truly see thee?

Ahh! Like a magician, you hide a trick beneath your rural swirl; you make of us blind folk – seeing the entire, yet seeing nought! The eagle’s eyes may pierce the cloud; revealing outlined truth. Yet what discerning waits beyond the quick and busy glance?

Let us dress warm and walk with our village friends, incognito; let us stay at their shoulders, listening in and missing nothing.

Perhaps they will lead us home.

Or perhaps they will lead us to hell.

Think well before travelling further.


*

CHAPTER 31

In the last episode, Patricia and Lord Jo got historical and discussed King Charles, David spent the night at the Abbey ruins, and Dr Hafiz watched the Road Cobbling Company at work, before rushing on to The Ridings. Cadbury found a door in the floor of David’s ex-house, and Alky decided he must kill David. It was for the best.

The Kid had first met the ghost of Cromwell just after the hole was filled in. He was standing by the carriage when she turned back inside the cavern. ‘I never did find the carriage!’ he said, as though they had talked for some time. ‘It must have sunk through the earth! Well, well, well! Gold is a heavy metal, I suppose.’

‘I have never handled it,’ said the Kid.

‘Oh yes – gold is the heaviest of metals. And as it turned out, though, I had no need.’

‘No need of the gold?’

‘None whatsoever! Gold never won a battle, anyway. Courage, training, discipline, equipment and faith – these are the things that win battles!’

‘You were a good soldier?’

‘I was a pretty good soldier, yes. But always God’s soldier, of course – it helps to have God on your side! I was his avenging angel!’

The Kid considered the figure in front of her; solid and plain. ‘Why are you here?’ asked the Kid.

‘Why am I here? Is that a question you are entitled to ask, child?!’

‘I can ask any question.’

‘Then the answer is quite simple: I can go where I want!’

The Kid watched him, as he walked to and fro round the carriage, pacing and restless. Sometimes, he would look behind him, or across the cavern, to see if anyone was approaching.

‘Are you unhappy?’

‘Unhappy? Now why would the godly ever be unhappy?’

‘I don’t know; only you know.’

‘Zion’s children are bequeathed lasting happiness!’

‘How about you?’

Cromwell sat down and put his head in his hands. Why was he talking to this girl? She knew so little. ‘Do you know what they did to me?’ he asked.

‘I know only the present.’

‘Then let me fill you in on the past.’

‘Why?’

‘I was buried in Westminster Abbey in 1658, when my son Richard took over the Protectorate. But with the return of the monarchy in 1660, Parliament had my body exhumed and posthumously executed! I was hanged for a day from a gibbet at Tyburn, and my head – my head! – became a collector’s piece, would you warrant? It was passed around from buyer to buyer, from crook to collector, until it was returned to my old Cambridge College, Sydney Sussex. Is that any way to be treated? Is that respect?’

‘What is respect?’

‘Respect is the appropriate applause of other people.’

‘Other people are just other people; their applause means nothing.’

‘I haven’t forgotten the way they treated me.’

‘We make ourselves unhappy.’

‘You think so?’

‘It is so,’ she said with a smile.

‘Then how little you know of the world, my girl! Believe me – other people were always my problem.’

The Kid was beginning to tire, and needed to sleep.

‘You look tired,’ said the ghost. ‘I’m wearing you out with sustained and complex political and theological discourse. I’m teaching you too much, too soon!’

‘You’re teaching me nothing,’ said the Kid. ‘But it is true – I am tired.’

The ghost paused.

‘Are you trapped down here?’ he asked.

‘In a manner of speaking.’

‘But that is most terrible!’

The ghost was suddenly concerned.

‘But perhaps not as trapped as you, Mr Cromwell.’

Cromwell laughed loudly.

‘Trapped? Me? How can I be trapped? I can go hither and thither. I can wander the world!’

‘Are you looking for the king, by any chance?’

*

‘Who was that?’ asked Inky.

‘It was Alky,’ said David, as he put his phone back in his pocket, and sat pondering in the rubble of his old kitchen. ‘He wants me to go over and see him – to continue a conversation we were having yesterday in the pub.’

‘What was the conversation about?’ asked Cadbury.

‘I don’t know if I can say, really.’

Of course he couldn’t say! It had been all about Alky’s assault on Cadbury – about keeping the whole thing quiet and under wraps.

‘But you can tell us,’ said Inky. ‘After all, we’re your new friends, aren’t we?’

‘Alky’s a friend in a way,’ said David.

‘Is he?’ asked Cadbury.

‘Well, he’s a sort of friend.’

‘He’s not my friend.’

‘No,’ said David, for what else could he say? Alky had treated her appallingly; and that was a fact. Yet now, the same man was in need himself. The one who refused to hear Cadbury’s cry now cried to be heard himself.

‘He’s been very good over the bird boxes,’ continued David. ‘He’s got four in his garden, and a bird bath. Credit where credit is due, I suppose.’

‘Whatever puts cream on your crumble,’ said Cadbury.

‘See you later, Judas,’ said Inky, totally pissed off.

‘I’m not Judas!’

‘I’m more interested in this door in the floor,’ said Cadbury, looking down at the stone trap door.

‘Well, you may be,’ said David, stung by the Judas jibe. ‘But you’re not opening it now.’

‘Why not?’

‘Not until I get back. This is still my home, and my property.’

‘You’ve turned like milk,’ said Cadbury.

‘Don’t be ridiculous!’

‘Just because I called you ‘Judas’,’ said Inky.

‘Not at all! I just don’t want you doing anything stupid while I am away. Do you understand?’

‘It’s only an adventure,’ said Inky. ‘It’s nothing serious. We’d just open the door, go down inside, have a look around and come back!’

‘Not until I return. Is that understood?’

There was a heavy silence amid the rubble. ‘It’s understood,’ said Cadbury.

‘Inky?’

‘Understood’ said Inky.

‘Fine. I should be back around 2.00pm,’ said David, adding weakly: ‘I’ll see you later, then.’

‘Maybe’ said Cadbury.

Her tone exasperated David:

‘Look, Alky just needs a shoulder to cry on, all right?’

He was no Judas – he was just helping a friend!

Inky and Cadbury watched him go, and then consulted with each other.

‘Shall we open the door, then?’ said Inky excitedly.

‘We agreed we wouldn’t.’

‘That was five minutes ago,’ said Inky. ‘Doesn’t mean we can’t do it now.’

‘What does it mean, then?’

‘I just say things to get people off my back. When they’re off my back, what I said means nothing!’

‘I’m going back to the ruins, Inky,’ said Cadbury, with some determination. ‘I’m getting bored of this village.’

‘OK. I’ll come with you.’

‘We should make some plans of our own; plans to get away from here.’

‘Nice one! I love plans! But shall we visit the well first? We could go there on the way. It’s got good memories.’

‘No, it hasn’t.’

‘What do you mean? It’s where you used to sit and look out for the armies.’

‘No more. I don’t need either that bench or that well any more. Come on, let’s go.’

*

Hafiz walked carefully, for here was an underground corridor unwalked for many years. His second question to Mrs Pump had concerned the fake door in her wall, which turned out to be anything but. ‘Where does it lead to?’ he had asked.

‘I have no idea,’ she had said decisively. ‘Any other questions? Preferably on a different topic.’

‘You mean you have a doorway in your home which does not interest you?’

‘Precisely.’

‘I am amazed.’

‘Well, don’t be.’

‘I cannot walk past any doorway with out wondering what is behind.’

‘Then we are different. And I must go now.’

‘Quite, quite. But, er – do you mind if I stay? I have a small investigation to pursue.’

‘If you must.’

‘Thank you.’

Mrs Pump put on her coat, picked up a large bag, and made for the door. ‘But remember this,’ she said, turning round. ‘I don’t want to hear anything about your findings. Understood?’

‘You are a most odd woman, Mrs Pump; not to want to know what lies beneath your own home! But so be it.’

The door in the wall had taken Hafiz down into a cellar. Aided by Mrs Pump’s torch, he had then started along a corridor in the rock, sloping deeper into the earth, which soon became a myriad of odd-shaped ways. These were natural paths, caused by the seismic shifts; water dripped from the stone, and the echo spoke of other caverns. But which way to take in this maze of crevice and hole?

‘Choices in life are usually made blind,’ he reminded himself, as he opted for one path, and then a little later, another.

His increasingly damp clothes amplified the cold on his skin; he began to shiver, like a man on the scaffold. And it was then that he first considered how he might get back. He realised too late that even now, he was probably in too far to return.

*

‘Yes, my father died at home,’ said Mrs Post to Jane, as she made the tea. ‘And suddenly, I’m left with all the arrangements!’

Was this a lie? Not technically. After all, he did die at home – it was just her home, and not his. And while she didn’t actually say he had died nine months ago, she didn’t deny it either. So really, on the surface at least, it was all quite legal, honest and decent – which was important. She hadn’t mentioned that she then dragged her father’s dead body down the street and dumped him in the old Post Office sorting room – because, frankly, that had nothing to do with anything!

‘It’s very kind of you to let me stay at Cromwell’s amid your bereavement,’ said Jane. ‘Was his death a shock?’

Should Mrs Post reveal all? It would be a relief in a way.

‘But that’s enough questions from me,’ said Jane, seeing Mrs Post’s hesitation. She was clearly upset, and it would perhaps be kind to change the subject. ‘I’ve been brushing up on my Oliver Cromwell, since your kind invitation.’

‘Oh really?’

‘Yes. I thought that if I am to live for a while, where he lived, then I must know something about him.’

‘‘Our Chief of Men’, as Milton called him.’

‘I must say, it’s rather grisly, but I had forgotten they actually dug up his body two years after his death and dragged it all the way to Tyburn, before hanging him there on a gibbet. I mean, imagine it! Imagine dragging a dead body through the streets! Is there nothing people will not stoop to?’

The momentary desire to reveal all to Jane passed quickly from Mrs Post’s mind.

*

‘David, how good to see you!’

Alky was at his welcoming best, as he stood in the doorway of The Palace – which was very welcoming indeed. He had watched David walk up the path, and swung the door open to greet him.

‘Well, it’s good to be here,’ said David.

‘I have called you out like a doctor!’

‘It’s no bother – I was just sorting through the rubble of my former home.’

‘Well, of course we must get that cleared up very quickly indeed. I will make it my personal priority. But, mea culpa, this morning I just needed someone to talk to.’

‘I understand. Life is hard.’

‘Hard? Hard isn’t the word! So much on my mind, and you are the best listener I know; quite without equal.’

‘I do my best,’ said David, warming to the task.

‘You are balm to a troubled soul, truly. Now come in, and let me open a rather special bottle of wine.’

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