Augustus Snodbury settled himself into position in the carver chair at
the head of the table. He had only just made it to Bradford-on-Avon,
his prostate appointment having been cancelled and the queue in the
butcher’s having receded. He had battled through floods and gales to
bring-not the bacon, but the poultry- to his erstwhile lover’s cottage.
I’ve cooked your goose! Diana announced.
In more ways than one, he mused. However, he sharpened the knife
and set to, the stupid paper hat falling over his eyes.
Dru held out her plate and it was plenished with succulent breast.
She adjusted her cleavage and leaned back.
That’s plenty! she cautioned.
Diana gave the toast:
Here’s tae us.
Wha’s like us?
an’ they’re a’ deid!
Gus and his daughter pulled the wishbone and he won, but
coyly declined to reveal his deepest desire. Diana observed
privately that it might connote with him having a backbone too.
Wasn’t that the weirdest thing? Dru announced. At the looks of
incomprehension, she clarified: I mean seeing that Poskett chap in
the middle of our trip.
Well, I suppose these cultural breaks self-select, her mother
hypothesised. It’s a niche market.
I wonder how the other poor chap is? continued Dru casually.
Can’t have been much fun being hors-de-combat in the hotel.
Oh, Milford-Haven will be perfectly all right by now, opined Gus.
He’s probably gone off to be looked after by his mother in Cornwall.
Dru inhaled and some sage and onion stuffing went down the wrong
way. She downed some water as a distraction, in the manner of a shy
University Challenge contestant after he or she has finally answered one
Cornwall, she voiced inwardly. She fingered the gold harp on its chain.
So, it had been from Nigel after all. Ding Dong Merrily on High!
The phone interrupted their table talk, ringing insistently.
Typical! said Diana. Ignore it! Let the machine take it.
However, they could hear the rather desperate message, pronounced
by someone who sounded very like the school secretary to Snod, who
happened to be nearest to the handset.
He leapt up, spilling the redcurrant sauce over the antique linen
Oh do be careful! scowled Diana.
Gus pressed re-play and, to his horror, the tale of tragic woe played itself
Apparently the Headmaster had attended the Midnight Service at his local
parish church and he had keeled over before the seventh Lesson.
At first everyone, including his wife, had thought that he had merely been
prematurely carried away by the spirits of the season, but a member of the
St John’s Ambulance Brigade had detected a tell-tale sign of lopsidedness in
his expression and, before the congregation could snatch a subterfuge
and unmusical breath between ‘verily the sky‘ and ‘is riv’n‘, the Head had
been stretchered out between the pews and was on his way to A&E.
Ashen-faced Augustus sat down on the whoopee cushion.
What’s going to happen? Dru asked.
Yes, re-formulated Diana. What’s to be done?
I’m to be Acting Head, replied Gus. That’s what’s happening
and I wish it wasn’t. Oh, joy to the world!
Be careful what you wish for! Diana teased, but she wiped her lips with
her napkin when she saw his expression.
Balancing himself by gripping the edge of the table he recited with an
orotundity that matched the profundity of the occasion:
To die, to sleep-
…and by a sleep to say we end
The Heart-ache, and the thousand Natural shocks
That flesh is heir to…’tis a consummation
Devoutly to be wished.
And thus the Native hue of Resolution
iIs sicklied o’er, with the pale cast of Thought,
And enterprises of great pitch and moment
With regard their currents turn awry,
And lose the name of Action..
Dru found herself appalauding, but he continued:
No, who would fardels bear
[I’d rather}..bear those ills
Than fly to others that [I] know not of..
Here! Diana thrust a glass into his hand.
Have some Madeira, m’dear!
And so the spell was broken, along with his dreams of a
downhill, easy progression towards his retirement.