We lit a fire in the library annex and improvised a lantern in an ancient helmet. Miss Feathers played a suite of spectral music on her clavichord. Shortly before midnight, the ghost appeared. The Reverend stepped forward and asked if we could be of service. The ghost began a long, impassioned monologue, apparently in English, but so archaic and accented as to be incomprehensible. We nodded politely and pretended to note salient points in our jotters. As dawn broke over the poplars, the ghost concluded, bowed stiffly and walked out through the wall. We watched it fade into the rain.
Outpaced by mist on the marshes, I was struck down by fever. Dr Squab prescribed a period of confinement. Miss Feathers attended daily, spoon feeding me poached pears, twirling a ringlet around her index finger in a manner either charmingly artless or infuriatingly coquettish. She entertained me with arias or the shipping news, lingering over wrecks. After a few weeks, I managed some consommé and a turn around the elms and slowly resumed my usual activities. I lost considerable weight, Miss Feathers running her long fingernail over my ribs and likening me approvingly to a ravenous fox. Now I take my porridge without syrup and give my cream to the wrens.
Amongst my great-uncle’s effects was a curious map, marked with a cross. I followed it into the forest, to the base of a blasted oak. I began to dig and presently uncovered a strongbox. A brass key I had long carried but not known the provenance of unlocked it. Inside was a copy of Mr Nelson’s Etiquette for Parvenus, a pair of small scissors and a silver ring with strange, runic inscriptions, glowing green and eerie on my palm. The book has guided me through innumerable dances and dinners. I use the scissors to manicure my herbs. I have yet to find a purpose for the ring.
The Reverend’s magic lantern show, held in a garret after evensong, was best understood on a symbolic or conceptual level. Image followed image, seemingly unconnected: a raven perched on a skull; a serpent swallowing its tail; a dowager surprised by a highwayman on the turnpike. It concluded with a pure white square in which the Reverend said we could see our destinies, if we looked hard enough. I made my excuses and headed for the hothouse. The Venus flytraps wouldn’t feed themselves.
Suddenly, a deep green glow lit up the sky. The jacaranda burst into blossom. The peacocks fanned their tails and strutted along the balustrade. The bees droned loud in the glade, like a dragonfly under a goblet. The Reverend took out his gazette and astrolabe and pronounced a phenomenon. A strange heat passed over me. I asked Miss Feathers if she felt it too. She continued with her needlepoint and asked if I might run and fetch her gilet, the one with the ermine trim.
Once a year, the town becomes a vast musical instrument. Icicles crystallise along the eaves according to the chromatic scale. The rooks at the manse arrange themselves spontaneously on the chimneys by tone and pitch. The apothecary’s jars are filled to carefully calibrated depths and the Reverend’s secret son bangs his forehead rhythmically on the cold water pipes. At last, all is ready. Monsieur Antoine steps out of his barouche, onto the bandstand and raises his baton. No recording or score exists, but Monsieur Antoine assures us we are known to connoisseurs, even royalty.
Tom Jenks' most recent book is Sublunar, published by Oystercatcher Press. He co-organises The Other Room reading series in Manchester, UK and edits the avant object imprint zimZalla. More details at http://zshboo.org.