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Virginia Fisher-Giles, The School Secretary and PA to Acting Head,

Augustus Snodbury, was reluctant to sign for the rather shabby parcel.

It was postmarked ‘Caracas‘ and she didn’t recognise the name on the

sender label: Hugo De Sousa.  There was an Ipostel label still hanging onto

it.  Clearly addressed to Mr Augustus Snodbury, St Birinus School, Suttonford

etc., she decided that she had better take it in and check the list of new

boys’ guardians.

The postman said that he had rattled it and smelt it and it seemed all right.

Nevertheless, Virginia had read, only the previous week, about a nineteen year

old diplomat’s son in South London, who had innocently and altruistically signed

for a neighbour’s parcel, and who had ended up being arrested and his parents’

home and garden being turned over for several days by police in bio-hazard

suits, before being issued an apology.

The Head, who was on sick leave, never received odd mail such as this.  She

wondered what on earth Snodbury was up to.  Unless, of course, it was some

kind of jape organised by that pest, John Boothroyd-Smythe.  He had once

offered her a nut from his cylindrical tin and when she removed the lid, a cloth

snake on a spring had leapt out at her and had given her the shock of her life.

As for ‘Caracas’..wasn’t that the ultimate destination those two teenage idiots

had misspelled on their placard, when they were trying to hitch a

lift from rainy Cumbernauld, or wherever, to an exotic land of allegedly

compliant girls, in the opening sequence of that coming-of-age classic

Scottish film, Gregory’s Girl?

Virginia simply had to know everything that was going on in St Birinus.  After

all, she was the PA and this whole episode was too, too intriguing.

Gus had a free period and was opening his Telegraph, ready to dunk

his Bourbon biscuit into his tea, when he noticed the package in his in-tray.

His first emotion was pleasurable, as he realised that the stamps would be

educational for his lunchtime Philately Club.  But this was followed by

puzzlement.  He didn’t know anyone of the surname on the label, except for a

composer of brass music, which was not really in line with his preferences.

He held the box up to his rather hairy ear.  No, there was no ticking.  Gingerly,

he tore off a corner of the brown paper and shook the parcel over his tray.

No white powder came out.

He decided to live dangerously and ripped it open, in the way one deals

with an Elastoplast that simply has to come off.

A small box fell out onto his desk.  He opened it.  It contained a gold

signet ring with a strange crest.

Snod might as well have dipped a Madeleine into some lime tea, rather than

a Bourbon into his builders’ variety, for, all at once, the years rolled away

and he could remember things past.  The mythical winged creature depicted

a dragony-type beast with a barbed tail.

A wyvern! he exclaimed.  And he could see the hand that had worn the ring

in his infant memory.  A stab of emotion that he thought he had suppressed

for over fifty years clutched at his entrails.

There was an accompanying letter.  As he read its contents, his tea turned

cold and he forgot to eat the second Bourbon.  This, in itself, would have

enlightened any observer as to the significance of the impact he had


However, there was no voyeur, except for Virginia, who, unable to contain

her curiosity, barged into the study, without the usual courtesy of a knock,

and interrupted with:

I say, Mr Snodbury, you haven’t drunk your tea!  Did you get your parcel? 

Was it anything of interest?

But Gus was sitting expressionless and scarcely seemed to hear her.

Virginia, brought up short, revised her behaviour and, apologising, merely

took the cup away, along with the first uneaten biscuit that she had ever

had to retrieve and prepare for disposal.

How very strange! And, like Mary, she pondered all these things in her heart,

as she bent down and followed the trail of rubber bands from the school foyer

to the spot where the mail van parked every day.

Really!  She was tired of picking up the detritus scattered by that buffoon

whose ridiculous semi-uniform of baseball cap and unseasonable shorts

was a disgrace to civilised society.  As for that trolley thing that he pushed,

it was completely wimpish.  How she longed for a real man that she could

respect.  But what was the chance of her meeting one in this limited scenario?

The seamed stockings that she wore were a cri-de-coeur.  If the true princess

could spot a pea, then, surely, a real prince would notice her stockings!  And,

oh, how she longed that one day he would come!

Vintage Stockings