This is a short story, in 1135 words.
It was prompted by the above photo, sent to me by Lorraine Lewis.
Sir Gilbert Pomeroy could not believe the news. Parliament had gone too far this time, and the gracious King Charles had raised his standard. That meant only one thing, war. Tucking in his bulging belly, he stood up from the dining table, and proclaimed loudly to the room, “If there is to be Civil War, then my good King can count on the loyalty of Pomeroy. I shall prepare to join his army!” It didn’t seem to matter to him that the only other people in the room were his footman, and the butler who had just delivered the letter.
The Pomeroy Estate may not have been what it once was, but there were sufficient funds to raise some troops from the estate workers, and some willing local men. By the end of the month, Sir Gilbert was able to equip a decent company of infantry, and reviewed them wearing his old sword, and new a pistol in a fine leather holster. Adjusting the wide red sash to hide his corpulence, he looked along the row of thirty-seven men. “Lads, we shall defend the town in the name of King Charles. Now set-to, and let us commence building our defences”.
That bitter war raged around them over the years. Early victories for the Royalists cheered him greatly, but they were soon forgotten as the new army led by Cromwell began to win battle after battle. Sir Gilbert noticed his finances draining away as he continued to feed and pay his idle company for patrolling the nearby town, which was little more than a glorified village. News of the conflict became harder to come by, and they depended on conversations with stragglers from the retreating army to get the latest gossip on the progress of the war.
It didn’t sound good. But Sir Gilbert refused to be shaken in his loyalty and resolve.
Less than six months later, it appeared that all was lost. The Ironsides were in the county, and it couldn’t be too long before they arrived at Pomeroy Hall. Most of Sir Gilbert’s supposedly brave company vanished overnight, leaving him in command of the Bewlay brothers, and Nathaniel Goodhew. He decided they should go to the church of St Jude, to offer prayers for the salvation of the town, and the return of his deserters. They had hardly entered when Old Roderick the gravedigger called from the door. “Look sharp, Sir Gilbert, enemy dragoons be here”. The Bewlays and Nathaniel needed no second bidding to throw down their muskets and walk out with their hands up, avoiding the gimlet eye of their master.
But the nobleman was made of sterner stuff, and was afraid of no man. He drew his sword with some difficulty, and strode out through the door, waving the blade around his head. “Come on then, rebel scum, see how you fare with a knight of the realm”. The dragoon sergeant shot him without even bothering to dismount. Sir Gilbert fell backwards into the doorway, a neat hole in his chest, and his sightless eyes staring at the ceiling. The sergeant nodded at Roderick, who was leaning on his spade. “Best dig a hole, and bury him in it”.
Haunting a church was not something Sir Gilbert had ever expected to happen. If he had to be a ghost, he would have preferred the familiar setting of his ancestral home, Pomeroy Hall. But as far as he could make out, he was cursed with having to appear at the place where he had been killed.
And his companions were not to his taste. The church had stood there for a good long while. The others doomed to haunt the place for eternity included an Anglo-Saxon warrior with one arm who spoke in some incomprehensible language, and the headless corpse of of a Nun, who obviously didn’t speak at all. At least he could get some intelligent conversation in the Crypt, where he would find Bishop Rogerson most evenings, sitting comfortably on top of his lead coffin.
They would have interesting debates about the time of King Henry, he of the six wives. The Bishop had fallen foul of the King during his reign, and been cast out from London to the remote parish of St Jude, where he died one Sunday during evening service. They had some minor disagreements, mostly about haunting. The Bishop thought it to be in bad taste, but Sir Gilbert found it to be great fun, and a wonderful way to ease the boredom of his soul’s plight.
The centuries passed slowly, and Sir Gilbert watched the changes in society with great interest. There was a terrible war in Europe, one that claimed the lives of so many, at least as far as he could tell from the many funeral services and commemorations. In deference to the bereaved, he left off his haunting antics for a while. When another world war befell his blighted nation, it provided some great japes. Foreign soldiers came to town, and some made their way to St Jude’s to pray. Even those military-trained and presumably brave men ran out through that door in terror, at the sight of him appearing with his bloodstained chest, waving his sword, and yelling “For the rightful King!”
One frustration was that he didn’t seem to be able to haunt any of the various ministers who served the church during those hundreds of years. They just didn’t see him. He complained about this to the Bishop, and they discussed it. The wise Bishop pondered a while before answering. “They have faith, Sir Gilbert. They do not believe in ghosts, only the Holy Ghost”. The nobleman found this to be admirably witty, and they both guffawed long and loud.
Churches had changed a lot too. As well as religious services, there was now an adjacent hall, used by members of the community for events and meetings of all kinds. Sir Gilbert found he could easily slip through the back wall into this new building, and watched in fascination, without revealing himself. There were card games popular with old people, as well as wrinkled crones arriving to knit wool, seated in circles as they gossiped. On one occasion, he saw people arriving to cast ballots, and wondered if they had now allowed all the riff-raff to elect members of parliament.
On a sunny afternoon, he was about to make his way to that hall, when he was accosted by the Anglo-Saxon, who appeared to want to talk to him about something. Sir Gilbert couldn’t be bothered to try to translate the man’s gibberish, and walked straight through him.
“It is the over-seventies Zumba class this afternoon, and I am not going to miss that. You will never see anything funnier, mark my words!”