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Hunsford Tales. Bats in One's Belfry

March 13, 2015 08:07PM
The second short tale of life in Hunsford, a place not always quite as dull as may be imagined.

Chapter One.

The summons came just as Mr Collins was sitting down to breakfast. It was early May and a beautiful sunny morning as he hummed a few bars of some ditty or other he could not quite name. Charlotte placed a large plate of grilled bacon, two fried eggs, two large pork sausages and sliced, fried tomatoes in front of him and received an adoring look as he picked up a knife and fork. He had no sooner sliced a sausage in half than a loud rap on his door-knocker caused him to look up in startled surprise.

“Who can this be so early in the day?” he asked Charlotte, who was already on her way to the door. He heard voices, hesitated then decided his sausages called for priority attention. It would be no one of importance at this early hour, he decided, possibly the baker. Charlotte returned alone in a few seconds. “ Her Ladyship requires you presence at the house at your earliest convenience dear” she began, “but finish your breakfast surely” she said as he began to rise from his chair, an alarmed look on his face. “No, no, I must make haste” he mumbled trying to gulp down a mouthful of food. “ It may be an emergency that calls for my attention, I must make haste!” Charlotte sighed softly, well used to “making haste” whenever Lady Catherine was mentioned, and prepared to cover the almost untouched breakfast. If her husband was to be detained for some time, lunch would not be a problem as she would warm up the breakfast. It was somewhat frustrating to her that whenever her Ladyship summoned, her William jumped like a frog poked with a willow twig. She shrugged and sighed again, but the morning was far too beautiful for low spirits and she smiled as she picked up the plates.

“Mr Collins, we seem to have some little annoyance. Are you aware that there is a broken window pane in the church bell tower”. Lady Catherine’s eyebrows rose in enquiry as she addressed her pastor. Mr Collins’s, face already red from his hurried stroll across the park, took on a deeper hue of embarrassment as he was forced to replay negatively. “Indeed no,your Ladyship. I haven’t yet been to the church this morning, but all was well when I locked up last night”
“Hmm” Lady Catherine sniffed and waved a dismissive hand . “It needs attention as soon as possible. It is but a smallish pane, but a lower one, and the gamekeeper has reported seeing Gypsy children in the woods. No doubt throwing stones is considered amusing to them. Attend to it please,Mr Collins. There is a glazier in the village and I don’t want just anyone wandering around a sacred place!” She turned, her mind already occupied with other matters as Mr Collins bowed and exited backwards, smiling his delight to be entrusted with something so important as a church window pane replacement. He would, he decided, measure it up himself to speed up the job instead of the glazier having to do it. Lady Catherine expected efficiency, and there is no one quite as efficient as one’s self after all. He hurried off to get Dawkins to ready his curricle whilst he went for his measuring stick.

“It seems you may have miscalculated Sir; I'm afraid it’s too small!” Rowlandson, the glazier looked enquiringly at Mr Collins as he held up the pane he had cut to the reverend’s measurements. It was an inch too small in width and height, the glazier realising immediately Mr Collins had forgotten the glass extended beyond the leading on the edges. “ Never mind Sir, I can go back and cut another one, but it may be the day after tomorrow as I’m out of that particular glass.” A stab of panic seized Mr Collins as he heard the words, then he relaxed a little. Perhaps, he thought, it being Monday, he may not see Lady Catherine in the next couple of days till the job was done. “ Very well, make haste and do it as soon as possible. I shall pay you for this glass now and then Lady Catherine will only receive the bill for one pane!” Mr Rowlandson nodded in agreement and took his leave. Mr Collins was about to do likewise when the bell above him gave a succession of solemn, but exceedingly muted clangs. Mr Collins gave a puzzled frown that changed to a worried expression as he realise he was alone in the tower. Indeed, there was no one in sight anywhere near the church. He began to wonder if he had imagined the noise, when another couple of tolls sounded. It was then that he realised the bell rope was moving gently. He moved hesitantly in the direction of the steps that led upwards in the corner of the room.
“Hello, is someone up there? Mr Collin’s voice emerged as a squeak and he coughed hurriedly before repeating his question in a stronger tone. Only silence and the echo of his own voice was heard in reply. Hesitantly he climbed a couple of steps and called out again. “ I know someone is there. Show yourself or I’ll call for the gamekeeper. He has a gun and….” His voice tailed away in the silence and some dust motes drifting lazily down in a shaft of sunlight were the only movement beside the gently swinging bell rope. Somewhere, he heard a cuckoo call and let out a sigh of relief. Of course, a bird, that’s all it was. He gazed upwards at the clapper on the bell above him and his apprehension returned. It would have to be a mighty large bird to move the bronze weight of the old bell. And who had made the rope move…? His thoughts took an alarming turn and he felt himself go hot, then cold in turn as he considered them. No, in a holy place such things surely could not happen. No, indeed not! Summoning a courage that was half from terror of the unknown and half a mortal fear of what he would tell Lady Catherine, he took the last few steps with trembling legs and peered hesitantly into the bell room. Apart from a hammer and some lunch wrappers, obviously left behind by the workmen who had just completed a repair on the roof, the twelve-foot square area was completely empty. Mr Collins let out a shuddering breath and leant weakly against the ladder. Unless whoever had caused the bell to move was invisible…Hurriedly pushing aside that thought, Mr Collins made a rapid descent back to terra firma. “Just imagination” he told himself firmly, and went to lock the tower door and return to his unfinished eating.

“A Poltergeist” said Charlotte. “Good grief, what on earth makes you think that? I mean, if someone, something, had been breaking things in the Church or throwing hymn books around or something….well, that’s what they do isn’t it?” She gazed at her husband, eyebrows raised and an uncertain smile on her lips. “You haven’t mentioned that to her Ladyship have you dear?
“Oh, Lord no. No need to mention anything at all. She’d have the Archbishop of Canterbury here before the day was out. No indeed, I shall deal with this myself. I must indulge in some serious prayer for a couple of days and also there may be other explanations, I mean, the wind for instance…” He hesitated as Charlotte raised a hand with a finger extended.
“Pardon my interruption dear, but the trees are covered in blossom and there is none at all on the ground. There is not enough wind right now to even turn the weathercock. I never heard you mention such before” She smiled and Mr Collins, albeit a trifle unwillingly, had to agree with her observation. He was obviously worried and Charlotte took pains to try to take his mind off the topic. She suggested a stroll in the sunshine and Mr Collins smiled his agreement. Dear Charlotte could always relied on to put things in proportion. They set off together across the path way and were just about to cross into the grounds of Rosings Park when a sound made them both halt. The church bell was tolling quietly. As they listened, Charlotte in real surprise, the sound occurred again then stopped. Mr Collins went quite pale. The Church was locked and the key was in his pocket. They looked at each other uncertainly, then Charlotte said, “We must go in there. There just has to be a logical explanation. I do not believe in unexplained spiritual happenings. Come, let us go and find out what it is”. She strode determinedly towards the door of the tower and, faced with such courage, Mr Collins followed, but with a little less bravado. Charlotte paused outside the door and looked enquiringly at the missing window pane.
“ I know what you may be thinking dear, but nine inches square is a little small, even for the smallest Gypsy child”. Mr Collins smiled, albeit nervously, at his own observation, then stepped forward and hesitantly turned the large key in the old oak door.

Chapter Two.

“There is just nothing or no one here, yet I confess I did hear the bell toll. How very strange!” Charlotte looked around, poking at the sandwich wrapper with her foot. She had followed her husband’s less than happy passage up into the bell tower and now stood gazing around with a completely puzzled expression on her face. The only light came from a couple of narrow openings on each wall, but it was perfectly sufficient to see that the room was absolutely devoid of anything. It did unnerve Charlotte more than slightly remembering that when they had entered the tower, the bell rope had been swinging gently in the silence. She also may have imagined a flash of red near a window slit, but when she looked out all that was to be seen was countryside. Her mind was considering her feelings when..
“Bats” Mr Collins snapped his fingers and looked at his wife with a smile that might be described as triumphant. Charlotte looked at him disbelievingly.
“There may have been bats in here that flew off through the slits when they heard us coming” Bats are not uncommon in Church towers you know, quite common in fact. Bats and belfrys are well associated with each other.!”
Charlotte didn’t mean to snap but her nerves were a little taut as she almost glared at her husband. “I hardly think bats appear much on sunny afternoons dear, or can move a large bell or swing a rope…..I’m sorry dear, I don’t think bats are quite….” Her voice tailed off as she realised her tone had been over sharp. Her husband was too deep in his own thoughts to have taken much notice. He did however, nod in agreement. Not bats then. They descended the steps in silence and Mr Collins went through into the Church nave and knelt in prayer at one of the pews. Charlotte considered for a moment, then joined him. They left the church and bell tower, now silent and exuding an air of peace, Mr Collins locking the door behind them. The rest of the day passed uneventfully, Charlotte even accompanying her husband when he checked and locked the church up that evening.

The following morning brought no sign of Mr Rowlandson the glazier and Mr Collins was hoping against hope that Lady Catherine would neither visit the Church or summon him for progress reports. After breakfast he left the house determined not to be troubled by the previous days events. He unlocked the bell tower, smiled in satisfaction at the silence and proceeded through to the Church itself. Tuesday was the day a woman from the village brought flowers for the church and she arrived and departed whilst Mr Collins was inside. Charlotte would come later and arrange the flowers and polish some brass as part of their duties. Mr Collins left the building and walked towards his home. He had hardly got to the end of the Church path when…..the Church bell gave several soft clangs.
Mr Collins groaned in silent agony and his heart started to pound. He returned to the bell tower and looked inside from the doorway. The bell rope was swinging gently back and forth. There was not even a breath of a breeze. Above him, the bronze bell gave two more muted tolls and was silent. Hardly daring to breathe Mr Collins walked shakily through the tower into the nave. He made the sign of the cross and almost collapsed to his knees. With a hoarse croak he mumbled a prayer then stumbled to his feet and faced the bell tower. His voice quavering in fear, he began“ Begone from here thou demon. This is a house of God and thou shalt not torment the faithful with thy mischief. Leave this place, I command thee. Go forth from it now…!”.He gained confidence and then a bright shaft of morning sunlight lit the ground before him. Suddenly, he felt better and took a deep breath. Nothing but the peaceful distant sounds of the countryside disturbed the quiet. He heard the cuckoo again and a bee buzzing somewhere near. “Raising his voice to a commanding shout he roared, “Depart thou foul presence. Depart and never more darken the door of my Church, Begone, begone forever!” A feeling of immense power flowed through his veins and he laughed aloud. With a last look around he took a deep breath and marched out of the building locking the door firmly behind him. He hurried home and related his actions to Charlotte, acting them out with great gusto. Still sceptical about it all, she contented herself by congratulating him and continuing to wonder what really had happened. She still had a slight unease about the whole thing. That afternoon Mr Rowlandson arrived and had acquired the glass for the window. In a short time he had cleaned out the old glass and the window was as good as new. Mr Collins paid him and with Charlotte in tow, reported to Lady Catherine that the matter was attended to. Lady Catherine was satisfied enough to invite them to stay for afternoon tea. They walked home in companionable silence and retired to their respective evening activities. The Church bell remained silent.

Wednesday morning dawned bright and early and Mr Collins was off after breakfast to practise his musical activity deep in the woods. Charlotte cleared away the breakfast dishes and decided to take a walk. Curiosity more than anything else took her past the bell tower with its newly repaired window. She stopped, looked, then looked again, her eyes opening widely. Memories of a flash of red jumped to the front of her mind as she saw a large red squirrel climb up the door lintel and pause beside the new pane. An inquisitive paw reached out and tapped the glass softly, then harder, before suddenly sensing it had a watcher and scampering hurriedly down and away. Charlotte looked after it for long seconds then raised a hand to cover her mouth. A vision of her husband’s relating of his exorcism of the demonic bell ringer filled her mind as she realised that, whilst bats may not be able to ring bells or climb ropes, a large red squirrel climbing in through a broken window could do both. She remembered the remains of a sandwich left on the tower platform and a wide smile lit up her face. Her eyes sparkled and she actually giggled. Again she used a hand to suppress her laughter, but it was just too much. A loud laugh exploded from her lips and suddenly tears were running down her cheeks as the absurdity of it all unfolded before her. In seconds she was screaming with laughter and it was several minutes before she was composed enough to dry her eyes. She could never tell her husband the truth, that would be too cruel, nor could she share it with anyone, but suddenly she hoped the expression “Bats in the belfry” would never, ever be uttered in her presence.


Hunsford Tales. Bats in One's Belfry

Jim G.MMarch 13, 2015 08:07PM

Re: Hunsford Tales. Bats in One's Belfry

Lucy J.March 20, 2015 04:00AM

Re: Hunsford Tales. Bats in One's Belfry

terrycgMarch 14, 2015 04:39AM

Re: Hunsford Tales. Bats in One's Belfry

LucieMarch 14, 2015 01:59AM


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