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Authors: Edmund Crispin

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At last the Rector spoke. ‘Hagberd,' he said.

‘Is not at all a happy man,' said Fen. ‘Or so Widger tells me. They don't quite know what to do about him.'

‘Why isn't he happy?'

Fen explained. For fear of an outbreak of books and articles by Ludovic Kennedy and Paul Foot, the authorities had hastened, when the news from Devon came through, to shift Hagberd from Rampton to some less penal, more analeptic, institution. But like so many well-meaning human endeavours, this change had failed to meet with its deserved success. Briefly, Hagberd loathed his new ambient and wanted to go back to Rampton again, where the warders were proper warders, and you could issue a bonzer hop out and mix it till you were dragged off. But lobbing in here had been quite different. Here, the warders weren't warders, they were long-haired, pebble-lensed cissies dolled up in white coats who gave you a chit to see the doc if you offered to punch them on the snout, and all the doc did was ask you if you hated your Mam. Also, here he wasn't allowed to do any work - not what you'd call
work.
Also, here they objected to him keeping a fowl-run. The whole place stank, and if this was going to be the alternative, he'd far rather they strung him up like any decent horse-thief.

‘Yes, well, one sees his point of view,' said the Rector, interested. ‘Still, I dare say they'll let him out altogether quite soon.' (They did; he went back to work for Clarence Tully, and when getting on in years married an Aller girl who bore him a child regularly every ten months for nine years. He doted on
this brood, and though still passionate about cruelty to animals, showed no further disposition to chop people up into pieces.)

‘And you're leaving us tomorrow,' the Major said to Fen. ‘Sad.'

‘The Dickinsons come back from Canada the day afterwards, and I've got to give Mrs Bragg the chance to clean up after me. Don't you get on with the Dickinsons?'

‘Oh yes, quite well, but he's not a pubber, and nor is the Rector, come to that, because people feel they oughtn't to drink much when he's there, and he stays away out of - out of' - here the Major dubiously studied the Rector's simian countenance –'well, out of delicacy, I suppose you'd have to say. Still, there are always books, and the dogs, and the telly, and showing visitors round Aller House, so I'll find plenty to keep me busy.'

‘Military Cross, Albert Medal, D.S.O., Conspicuous Gallantry,' Fen murmured.

The Major flushed slightly. ‘Oh, I was very young and silly in those days,' he said. ‘Besides, we were still on horses, and whenever you tried to turn tail and run, the half-witted creatures plunged on regardless, and one had to fight so as to get away. Besides, it's all ancient history now. Just hearing the Rector announce a hymn gives me a cauld grue nowadays … Oh, and by the way, did you know? The Rector's going over to Rome.'

Fen stared. ‘I beg your pardon?'

‘Woppie wrote and invited me,' said the Rector complacently, as if this accounted for everything. ‘So I felt I had to accept. Woppie's my
amicus Curiae.'

‘Excuse me, my dear fellow, but I don't think you're using that phrase quite correctly. It means “a friend at court”.'

‘Not when it has a capital “C”, it doesn't,' said the Rector contentiously. ‘When it has a capital “C”, it means a friend at some nasty popish court or other. Still, Woppie's on it, so it can't be all bad, I suppose.'

‘If you'd kindly explain,' said Fen,' who Woppie is - '

‘Woppie's a boy I was at school with,' said the Rector. ‘He's a Cardinal now, of course, but he used to be great fun. His real name was Vittorio Nono, but he was called Woppie because he was a Wop, see? I can never understand,' said the Rector, divagating, ‘why people object to being called Wops and Frogs and
Huns and so on, when that's what they
are. F'
rinstance, when I was in the States, people used to call me an effing Limey sky-pilot to my face, but I never objected. Why should I? “No, I'm just a humble navigator,” I'd say. “It's Jesus who's the pilot, and the engines are powered by the Holy Ghost, and the fuselage - the fuselage - “'

‘Yes, what's the fuselage?' the Major wanted to know.

‘It doesn't do to press these analogies too far,' said the Rector rather coldly. ‘And in any case, by the time I reached that point, my audience had always somehow managed to disappear. Anyway, Woppie didn't mind being called Woppie in the least; he just laughed. Fine little chap - and the best three-quarter the school had had for generations. He could still teach Jarrett a trick or two, I'll bet.'

‘Woppie's going to show the Rector round the Vatican,' said the Major. ‘And he's even arranged for him to have an audience of the Pope.'

‘No, he hasn't,' the Rector said.

‘But, my dear chap, you distinctly told me -'

‘ “Have an audience of the Pope” implies that the Pope's going to do all the talking and I'm going to do all the listening. Well, that's not going to be so at all.'

‘No,' said the Major meditatively. ‘Come to think of it, I dare say it isn't.'

‘I'm not going to kiss His Holiness's ring, either,' said the Rector, ‘(a) because it's idolatrous, and (b) because it's unhygienic - you never can tell who kissed it last - might have had yellow fever or something. But Woppie says the Pope won't mind, so considering all the circumstances, I shall go.'

(In practice, as the Major wrote gleefully to Fen several weeks later, the interview had developed unexpectedly well, both men of God spending most of their time bemoaning not so much the Laodiceanism of their laymen as the follies of their clergy. ‘Not a bad chap at all,' was the Rector's verdict on his return, ‘if only you could hammer some sense about Christian doctrine into his noddle.')

Now he said, ‘And your book, Fen: will you be going on with it when you get back to Oxford?'

‘No, I shan't,' said Fen, and explained about his publishers'
voluntary liquidation. ‘Now that there's not likely to be any money, nothing would induce me to go on with it.'

‘But wouldn't some other publisher take it?'

‘I dare say. But it's not really my line, you know. I was only doing it to fill in time.'

‘All those books that you've been reading,' said the Major. That must have been fun, anyway.'

‘Up to a point, Lord Copper.'

‘What
will
you do, then?'

‘I shall write my own novel.”

‘Oh, good.'

‘It will be called
A Manx Ca'

‘A what?'

‘A Manx Ca.
And once I get back to Oxford,' said Fen, ‘I shall really be able to get down to it - in, as you might say, detail.'

1
I include this fragment of dialogue only at Fen's personal insistence. — E.C.

For Ann

This electronic edition published in 2011 by Bloomsbury Reader

Bloomsbury Reader is a division of Bloomsbury Publishing Plc, 50 Bedford Square, London WC1B 3DP

Copyright © Edmund Crispin, 1977

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eISBN: 9781448206902

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