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A haunted portrait and souls locked in a centuries long vigil. Until artwork restorer Peter Holloway uncovers a centuries old secret. But what do the ghosts want?

Fantasy / Other
M C Kinsella-Jones
Age Rating:


Part 1

“No, please, for the love of God, no!” A woman screamed before a sudden meaty crunch cut her cry short. A pause loaded with history followed, with the busy silence of a group of people guiltily dispersing. When they were gone the only sound was blood trickling down between massive flagstones, contaminating the earthern soul beneath.

Part 2

A few cobwebs hung dustily up by the ornately carved oak beams, Bob noted as he walked through the medieval carved oak framed doorway. How did anyone dust up there?

“With difficulty.” Lady Hardy’s county accent followed him into the great hall.

“How did you know what I was about to say?” Bob was taken aback.

She gestured up at the offending cobwebs, well above head height. “Because it’s what everyone says when they walk into the room. These old medieval places are solidly built, but they’re a bloody nuisance to clean.” She pointed at the approximate centre of the chapel sized hall. “Family legend says this was where it happened all those years ago.”

“It’s wonderfully preserved.” If anywhere, it would be here. The vibe was almost tangible. He smiled softly to himself.

“Well, make yourself comfortable. Would you like a drink?”

“Tea? Oh yes; white, no sugar.”

“Nothing stronger?”

“No. I’ll be fine.”

“Quite right. Alcohol this early dulls the senses.” Then she swept out in her blue quilted stable coat, well-worn jeans and Royal Hunter Wellington boots. Everything about her, despite her relative youth, screamed ‘old money’.

Bob set his equipment case down on a large oblong fringed carpet partly covering time polished flagstones. He looked up at the two metre high portrait and scratched at his cropped jaw-line beard. His hostess certainly had a number of features in common with the picture. The likeness was striking, even to the exact colour of her eyes.

Kneeling, Bob unpacked his equipment for the night’s work. Digital Recorder, temperature and passive infrared sensors linked by a wireless enabled laptop computer. Oh yes, and a Stephen King paperback to while away the hours for something, or more often nothing to happen. Unravelling the charger cable he plugged it into the nearest power socket. The Cyclops eye of the indicator light glowed reassuringly. No repeat of last February’s fiasco when he spent half the night sitting in candlelight with no electronics.

His hostess materialised at his elbow with a steaming mug. “If you need them the downstairs toilets are this side of the laundry. Through the side door there.” Bob took the proffered mug with a poor impersonation of a smile. Mrs Hardy was paying his fee after all, and a client was a client. No matter what he thought about inherited wealth.

Pausing, Bob looked carefully at the portrait. Not a classic old master but certainly someone who had a very strong grasp of brushmanship and technique. Underneath the crazing and patina was a genuine quality work of art. “The third Countess. Staunch Catholic. Lost her head to a protestant mob from the neighbouring shire, poor woman.” Had been Lady Hardy’s potted history. “Ironic really, as her husband was one of Protestant King James’ most loyal courtiers. When he found out about her murder, the poor man died of a broken heart. Swore he’d never rest until they were reunited. Terrible tragedy.”

“So who do you think your manifestation is?” Bob asked.

“The Count waiting for his lady. That’s our tradition.”

“What do you think?”

“All I know is that my dogs won’t come in here; and only one of the cats will.”

“Oh? Cats?”

“Ah yes, Matty. I meant to tell you about our resident blue-eyed monster. He’s hell on cushions but somehow the house wouldn’t be the same without the fat smelly old thing. Great Aunt Gwen swears blind he’s the reincarnation of someone, but then again she’s always saying ludicrous things.”

“Okay, I’ll watch out for him.” Bob abruptly turned away, leaving the mug of tea to cool. Lady Hardy ignored his veiled rudeness, putting it down to professional eccentricity. For her own part, she had a stables to run. If he wanted to be discourteous, let the nasty little man get on with his experiments. It wasn’t as though he was going to be a regular dinner guest.

From underneath the worn, ancient oak dining table Matty watched her leave and lay listening to the high-pitched electrical whining with vague feline interest. After a moment or two, he stood and arched his white and black back at a familiar touch. He looked upwards to his master’s chair, then at the gently smiling portrait. The master and mistress of the house were waiting patiently as they had for over four hundred patient years.

Above him Bob Wallis, ghost hunter by profession, College lecturer by necessity; positioned sensors, took readings then made himself comfortable, opening his book. Every so often he would peer at his laptop computer over fussy little rimless glasses, occasionally switching devices.

Around eleven that evening he looked up and listened carefully. Yes, just on the edge of hearing was a crackling, jabbering noise. Nothing coherent, but definitely there. He slipped on his headphones and turned up the volume. Classic; exactly what he had suspected. Shortly afterwards he cocked an ear to the wind complaining around the eaves, nodded with a slight air of smugness and went back to his reading. Around two in the morning, he opened his case again and took out a stethoscope. Getting to his feet he took two steps over to the walled off chimney breast, just under the ornate stone mantel and placed the stethoscope against the wall, listening with a slight smile. Matty lay under the table and blinked, purring gently. Humans never really paid attention did they? Not the live ones anyway.

Just after three he repositioned his digital camera, looking into the viewfinder with interest. “Ah.” He said as he switched to low light, exclaiming. “Oh. So that’s it.” He looked over the top of the viewfinder and a smug grin became triumphant. So that was it! Cameras couldn’t lie, at least not in infra red.

While Bob was distracted, Matty rose and in one fluid motion leapt silently onto the tabletop, where he sat purring like a minor earthquake in front of his master’s chair. Bob jerked round then stopped himself, mildly annoyed by being caught off guard. Oh, this must be the cat he'd been warned about. Extending a cautious left hand he said “Hello you.” Matty rubbed his white furred ruff against it. With his right hand Bob turned the camera onto Matty, nodding in a self-satisfied manner. In infrared, the image was clear. All flesh and blood and most certainly a cat. Nothing untoward. So much for eccentric Great Aunts and their stories.

At eight the next morning he detailed his findings to Lady Hardy over a steaming mug of strong freshly brewed coffee. “Well, as far as I can tell there’s no manifestation. An iron oxide and lime reaction in the outside walls causes the chattering effect in damp weather. The clanking is a bit of old chain hanging in that blocked off chimneybreast. Spirit orbs, refraction via bits of dust on sub standard lens coatings. Those ghostly forms your last investigator reported were just condensation and a draught from your cellar. As for your blue eyed cat with the unusual markings…Well, he’s just a cat.” Bob reported. “Some insulation, central heating and your ghost will disappear.”

“So no family spectre stalking the hall? Well it’s nice to know it’s not going to cause me any more sleepless nights.” Lady Hardy said with a bright brittle smile. Finding out your family phantom was a result of damp; a lime reaction and some rusty chain seemed rather disappointing. After a thoughtful pause she signed her name with a flourish before handing over his cheque. “Thank you for your efforts Mr Wallis.” From her brusque tone, it was clear he was being dismissed. Bob allowed himself to be ushered out of the front door, slightly bemused by the size of his fee. He hadn’t expected such generosity.

Up in the great hall Matty watched him leave; then looked upwards to the sad, patient eyes of his mistresses portrait, then across to his masters brooding presence waiting in the chair. There would be others.

Part 3

Peter wheezed a little, pushing harder on the pedals as he struggled up the hill. Of course he knew he carried too much weight, but that was why he’d bought this old rattletrap of an ex post office bicycle. “No gain without a little pain” as Paula, his fitness freak friend often told him.

No matter, he had a job to do, and on a moderately sunny day like this the old rattletrap was the nicest way of getting there. His battered antique of a Citroen 2CV could stay in its rust speckled little nest behind his framing gallery and workshop today. No sense in wasting petrol.

The job had come right out of the blue as these things often did. A Lady Hardy had telephoned and asked him what sort of picture restoring he did. “All sorts madam. We restore everything from frame to canvas.” Had been his halfway honest response. It had always been his dream to be one of those restorers who spent years on projects like the great masters, but somehow life and a failed marriage had deposited him in a small English market town scratching a living as a part time picture framer and Art Gallery owner.

“Excellent.” The cut glass voice on the phone had said. “I have a painting I’d like you to have a look at.”

With a slight tremble in his normally rock steady hands, he had taken down the address and telephone number. The Hardy’s were well known as the last of the landed gentry in these parts. A family firmly rooted in the landscape, and supposedly very wealthy indeed.

As he cycled towards the big half timber and stone built mansion along a long, Poplar lined drive, he had to swerve as a hatchback sped out towards the main road, a small man with a fussy academic little beard at the wheel. “Road Hog!” Peter wheezed, then stopped and took a puff on his asthma inhaler to ease his labouring throat and chest.

As he was waiting for the tightness to subside, a tall woman in her late twentiies, hair pulled back in a tight neat ponytail strode across the gravel drive to greet him. She was wearing a sun faded navy blue quilted stable coat, jeans and riding boots, four Spaniels bounding enthusiastically at her heels “Are you all right?” She called out. He recognised Lady Hardy’s distinctive voice immediately.

“Yes, Thank you. Just a touch of asthma.”

“You must be Mister Holloway.”

“Yes, of Holloway’s picture restorers. About your painting.” He wheezed.

“Sorry about him.” She indicated the dust cloud still hanging in the air from Bob’s exit. “Some people have no manners.”

“Who was he?”

“Just someone else who came to see the painting I mentioned.” She averred.

Without further introduction, she led Peter up the rest of the driveway to the huge medieval front door which swung open with the lightest of touches. He carefully laid his bicycle by the front entrance, furtively wishing that he’d dressed a little more smartly for the occasion.

As she showed him into a large chapel like space the excitable dogs stopped and would come no further, whining softly. Lady Hardy pointedly ignored them. “Here it is.” She gestured at the end of the room. Hanging over a huge, ornately carved stone mantel was a picture of a slightly smiling lady elegantly dressed in the height of early 17th century English fashion.

“It certainly needs cleaning,” he commented. To Peter’s trained eye there were several things wrong about the picture. The subject was certainly too far to the bottom left and the two metre high canvas much too large. He ran a hand through his thinning mousy hair and stepped sideways for a better look.

“Can you do it?” Lady Hardy enquired as Peter stepped forward and critically examined the frame. “To my knowledge it’s never been cleaned properly in the past four hundred years. None of the staff ever dared go near it.”

“Not a problem.” Peter’s mind was already dancing, imagining what four centuries of greasy brown patina might hide.

“Tea?” Lady Hardy saw the glint in his eyes and decided to let him get on with it, they could talk about money later.

“Oh yes please. Thank you.” Peter turned and flashed a brief, distracted smile. Lady Hardy relaxed a little, at least this one had some manners.

He took out a small packet of tissues from his many pocketed photographers jacket and tentatively dabbed at the bottom right hand corner of the picture. A thick smear of greasy dust wiped off, with still more to come.

“Here you are.” A few minutes later a hot steaming mug of tea was presented to him. Peter stepped back from his examination. “Who was she?”

“Ah, bit of a family legend there. The third countess, murdered by a Protestant mob just after the Gunpowder plot because she was a Catholic. Ironic really, as her husband was one of Protestant King James’s most loyal courtiers.” She sniffed. “Poor man died of a broken heart not long afterwards, supposedly just sitting and staring at that portrait of his wife. Very sad.” She gave him a sidelong glance. “The story goes that the portrait itself is haunted.”

“Don’t really believe in ghosts myself.” Peter sipped his tea while still staring at the painting. “What does your husband think?” He did not see the flicker of pain that crossed her elegant features. “Oh, James; my late husband. He never thought much of it, but the closest you’ll get to a phantom round here is Matty.”

“Sorry.” Peter inwardly winced at his inadvertent faux pas. He had not known she was a widow. "Who's Matty?"

“The cat? He’s been with us so long he’s almost an heirloom. Great Aunt Gwen swears he’s the reincarnation of the countesses chief steward.” She diplomatically ignored his embarrassment. Lady Hardy indicated the portrait. “Poor man was murdered trying to defend his mistress from the mob.”

“Quite a story.” Peter commented a little lamely.

“Isn’t it? Well, can you do it?"

"Er yes of course. There's a lot of patina, but...."

"Then I’ll leave everything to you.” Lady Hardy smiled brightly, turned and left, blue boots slapping on the stone flagged floor. As she passed through the carved oak doorway, her Spaniels got up and followed, jostling for pride of place at their mistresses heels.

So he had the job. How to start? It was all too easy to plunge in with detergents and perhaps mar an important historical document. Best to begin with something soft. This job was going to take some time and a large set of borrowed stepladders. Peter nodded softly to himself. Perhaps he should borrow a mobile scaffold for this job, maybe a van as well.

High up in the great hall, a pair of alert blue eyes watched Peter intently. Who was this? Matty slunk fluidly down the back stairs from the minstrels gallery just in time to watch the newcomer leave. Jumping up onto the big oaken table he looked desperately from the brooding presence in the masters chair to the portrait. What was this? As ever there was no answer. A smudge of paler brown in the bottom right hand corner of the huge canvas was the only indication of the strangers actions. The cat jumped lithely up onto the mantel, sniffing delicately at the oily cocktail of smells this new stranger had left hanging in the air. A painter? To profane the sacred image? His ears laid back against his head and he trembled slightly. Not with anger, but fear of failure. No, not again.

The following morning, Peter rattled up the long drive in a borrowed white box van. Lady Hardy opened the door to him and stood to one side as he carried in a huge white sheet and several cases of materials before going back out to the battered old van and returning with two supermarket bags full of soft sliced white bread. She arched an eyebrow at the bags contents but said nothing; she supposed the man knew what he was doing.

Upon entering the great hall, Peter was confronted by a white and black study in feline fury. Matty, white and black fur standing on end, teeth bared and snarling in front of the blocked up fireplace barred his way. He stepped back in surprise at the cats ferocity. Dropping the supermarket bags he backed further away. The cat, spitting and snarling, stalked him ferociously. Lady Hardy broke the brief impasse by striding forward, grabbing Matty by the scruff of his neck and forcibly throwing him into open cupboard and slamming it closed. “No more of your nonsense.” She said brusquely. The howl of feline outrage was clearly audible through two inches of centuries old wood. “Sorry about that.” Lady Hardy apologised. “That’s the first time I’ve ever seen Matty rear up like that.” Four deep scratch marks welled red across the back of her left hand, and several drops fell onto the stone flags in the centre of the hall. Her Spaniels whined and jostled anxiously in the main doorway, smelling a sudden change in the hall’s atmosphere, but dared come no further.

“Are you all right?” Peter enquired, startled by the blood.

“Oh that’s nothing to being kicked by a Foxhunter.” She said dismissively. “Whatever has got into him?” She seemed more perplexed about the cats behaviour. “He doesn’t like you at all.”

“I’ve got a first aid kit in the van.”

“No need. Excuse me.” Lady Hardy delved into the supermarket bag Peter had dropped and took out a thick crust of bread before slapping it over the claw marks to stop the bleeding. “I think this calls for a large cup of tea.” She said.

Peter was torn between his concern for his hostess and an eagerness to resume work on the portrait. He waited for a moment before tentatively making his way through to the kitchen. Lady Hardy had put the kettle to boil and was washing the blood off her hand with water from the tap over a deep white Butlers sink. “Bloody cat.” She said, sniffing an involuntary tear away.

“Anything I can do?” Peter asked hesitantly, his shadow occluding the doorway.

“No, no. It's only a scratch. You carry on.”

Peter retreated down the stone flagged corridor to the main hall, carefully skirting the blood spots in the middle of the hall. Laying out the sheet in front of the fireplace he brought in the borrowed scaffold from the van. Once everything was assembled he scaled the aluminium tubing to its platform and began to wipe years of grease and dust away from a three inch square in the bottom of the portrait, first with the soft doughy white bread, then with a little brush and some turpentine soap.

After two hours careful dabbing he could make out the artists name. His heart sank a little, he had been hoping for a Lely, Kneller, Soest, Huysmans or Wissing. Instead it was some unknown provincial talent. Very good work, but not the name he had been hoping for.

Working his way along the bottom edge of the portrait he noticed something unusual. A crude brown wash had been applied over the original varnish. Heart beating a little bit faster, he reached for the rarely touched solvent bottle and began to clean down to the original top layer of varnish.

A few strokes later his heart leapt with joy. A find, a real find! The bottom of a letter, picked out in gold leaf was taking shape under his cleaning brush. Peter stopped and called out “Lady Hardy!” There was no response. He called out again, this time Lady Hardy; left hand now bound with a light dressing arrived. “What is it?” She had caught the excited tremor in Peters voice.

“Look, look!” Peter could barely contain himself. “Gold leaf! Lettering!”

“Good lord.” Lady Hardy peered up at the recently uncovered writing. “What does it say?”

“I don’t know. I think it might be Latin.” Peter cleaned off some more of the brown paint. Another two letters took shape under the carefully thinned brown layer.

Locked in the cupboard, Matty felt the change and stopped scratching pointlessly at age hardened wood. His masters presence had taken on a new aspect, not the flatness of centuries old brooding but one of bright anger. Matty had spilled blood in this sacred place and now this stranger was defying his final wish! Matty slunk to the back of the ancient cupboard with a hiss and hid behind the shoe rack.

Six solid hours of work later, Peter had cleaned a strip three inches high along the entire bottom edge of the picture. Part of the inscription shone brightly in the late afternoon light slanting through high windows. He had no idea what it meant.

Two more days of gentle cleaning the brown wash were needed until he had uncovered the whole inscription which ran around the edge of the picture in two inch high letters. As he worked, Lady Hardy would sometimes sit and watch from her place at the right hand of the masters chair sipping tea, deep in her own thoughts. Matty, latterly released from imprisonment, would no longer enter the great hall but sit on a window ledge just inside the corridor, tail twitching, glowering down at the nervous Spaniels.

“You know, I think there’s another figure in this portrait.” Peter said at the end of the third day. He looked around in sudden embarrassment as no one was there to hear him. The only witness was the cat, cold blue eyes staring from the corridor. Peter suddenly shivered, as though a freezing wind had brushed past his soul, but screwed up his courage and wet his cleaning brush with the diluted mix of detergent and turpentine soap he favoured. Working with short even strokes he began to clean the coarse brown off the old layer of varnish. As the dark mess came off, new colours could be seen emerging as he thinned the obscuring top coat. Brush strokes and shapes not seen for nearly four hundred years began to come to light. With a recklessness born of enthusiasm he wetted a cloth in his bowl of cleaning mix and wiped a broad swath across the pictures surface. Standing upon tiptoe on the scaffold platform he wiped frantically, gradually exposing the figure of a man in the robes of a Count, smiling with pride, eyes not looking out at the world but adoringly at the figure of his wife.

Carefully dabbing the last traces of the cleaning mix off the delicate surface, Peter clambered down and stood back to examine his handiwork. “Oh my goodness.” He breathed. “Truly gorgeous.” He was still there twenty minutes later when Lady Hardy entered the hall and stood behind him, too awestruck to speak.

At length she broke the silence. “Oh Mister Holloway, that is truly wonderful.”

Peter jumped, nearly falling back onto the table in surprise. “We must have an official unveiling. When will you have it ready?”

“Er, um, next week.” Peter burbled, suddenly panic stricken at having to set his own deadline. “Perhaps two. I’ll have to revarnish.”

“No, too early. Never mind, I would like you to come to an official unveilling, there are people you have simply got to meet.” She clapped Peter heartily on the shoulder. From the shadows in the corridor, Matty’s blue eyes burned.

Two months later, on a warm late August evening, a Taxi deposited Peter outside the Hall where Lady Hardy greeted him wearing a shimmering off the shoulder blue evening dress. With make up delicately applied she looked more like a nineteen year old rather than her real age of nearly thirty. By contrast, Peter felt awkward and overdressed in his hired tuxedo. “Mister Holloway, Peter. So good of you to come.” Peter coloured gently as she took his arm and waltzed him through the front door into a crowded great hall, buzzing with conversation.

Up above the great mantel his handiwork was shielded from view by a large sheet of dark green silk with the Hardy family’s huge heraldic crest emblazoned upon it. A part of him felt elated that he was meeting all these possible new clients, another part of him was nervously running through a checklist of things he should have done to make the painting look its absolute best. Feeling a little awkward, he was gently steered to a position on the right of the shaded portrait. Here were all the people he dreamed would come to his studio to bring him work; The Lord Lieutenant, three of the local millionaires, several Councillors, the local Member of Parliament was in evidence with two of his entourage and a whole host of other moneyed people. Several men in ecclesiastical dress were grouped to one side of the room. Students disguised as waiters inexpertly weaved through the crowd keeping the drinks and canapés circulating. Peter felt redness creeping up his neck. This was his big make or break moment. On this single social occasion rested all his ambitions of becoming a high class restorer of expensive artwork.

At length Lady Hardy clapped her hands sharply, twice. “Friends, Ladies, Gentlemen and Politicians.” That last provoked a rumble of laughter from the crowd. “Thank you so much for coming. It’s wonderful to see all my late husbands old friends – and a few of his political enemies.” Another laugh. “For the unveiling of a restored work of art I never thought I’d see in all its glory.” Murmurs of approval rippled across the hall. “My very greatest thanks are due in no small part to a man who has done a first rate job of cleaning and restoration. Without his expertise this party would not be happening.” Several members of the crowd applauded. Peter coloured. Lady Hardy raised her voice. “So without further ado, I would like Mr Peter Holloway to perform the unveiling.” Out of the corner of her mouth she said; “Just pull the Green cord.”

A little startled, Peter reached up and pulled gently with suddenly fumbling fingers at a hanging green tasselled cord. Silk slid to the floor in a slurring whisper of fine cloth. The following long gasps of approval caused Peter to anxiously look upwards at the restored portrait. Noises of admiration ran round the room and he found himself absently wondering if he had brought enough business cards to go round. Someone dropped their glass of champagne where it smashed on the floor. Lady Hardy stepped forward and picked up the broken glass before the catering staff could react, taking the shards towards the kitchen herself.

“That’s an interesting inscription.” Commented one of the men in ecclesiastical garb. “I think it means; in the name of Christ our most holy master our love will last for eternity. Love may be delayed but not destroyed, If we have sinned in love the sin has an excuse, Love conquers everything, we are free.”

Another remarked. “It’s a bit of a fraud, a mish-mash of quotations from Horace, Ovid, and Propertius.”

“No, no. Ex Aeternis in this context means far more. Besides, all you’ve done is paraphrase it” Chimed in an older voice. “You Anglicans really need to study your Latin a little more closely.”

“Trust a Jesuit to know that.” Peter heard the mocking aside from another churchman as the Jesuit, a lean, middle aged man in black robes, read out the inscription properly, intoning it like a Gregorian chant.

As the tonal, almost sing-song rendition ended, Peter felt suddenly light headed. In a voice only he could hear, a woman’s voice whispered. “Thank you.” And there was a brief cool kiss of air upon his cheek. Then a mans voice said “Thank you.” A heavy sensation of cold pressure wrapped briefly but firmly around his right hand as though it were being shaken by an ice giant. He blinked, shaking his head as these sensations were gone to be replaced by warmer, human pressure. “Excellent work Mister Holloway. I might have a similar size piece for you.” It was the MP, smiling his smooth white politicians smile, pumping his hand with practiced familiarity.

“Thank you.” Peters sensation of light headedness departed. There was the sense of an unseen door opening and closing.

“No, thank you.” This voice seemed to come from around ground level as warm fur rubbed his ankles and departed. Lady Hardy’s four Spaniels came bounding into the room, fussing and chasing after dropped crumbs and scraps. “What on earth?” Lady Hardy returned from the caterer staffed kitchen to see the dogs snuffling around, now completely unafraid of entering once forbidden territory. She was so amazed to see them inside she forgot to scold her overenthusiastic pets for begging titbits from her highly amused guests.

The rest of the evening, so everyone later declared, was a huge success. Old friendships renewed, invitations shared, deals struck and oil poured on troubled waters. Everyone was unanimous on what a great social hostess Lady Hardy was, and wasn’t the picture marvellous.

In the cold light of the following day, Lady Hardy sat in the great hall alone over a mug of tea, watching the portrait carefully. Somehow the old place seemed less gloomy this morning. Something about the portraits light she couldn’t quite put her finger on. It was quite pleasant. No longer a brooding layer of somehow threatening shadows, but a brilliant testament to unsung genius, and perhaps something more. Not to mention the memory of several quite intriguing conversations with two of the shires more eligible bachelors. The future looked brighter today than it had done since James’s passing. The house needed a new master. Maybe children. Yes, that would be nice, before she passed thirty five. This old place needed new life, a family and a beating heart to justify its existence.

A mile away in a half forgotten corner of the local churchyard, a white cat with odd black markings sat purring in the sunshine on a sun warmed tombstone. It was a very old and weathered piece of stone, but in the right light its inscription could just about be deciphered. It read; ’Matthew Hobbs, Born in the love of Christ 12th March 1575, cruelly murdered in the defence of his mistress 19th December 1605 – God rest ye, most faithful steward’. A close observer might have been roundly astonished as bright blue eyes faded softly to a more natural feline yellow-green.

The cat purred on, enjoying the radiant warmth of the weathered stone for a while before a rustling in the undergrowth took his interest. His gaze swung round, ears erect. A mouse? Squirrel? Perhaps the Rectory gardens obnoxious little Yorkshire Terrier. What sport. He gracefully rolled to his feet and slunk off after the source.

The End

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