The Parochial Quest
of Upper Pandle
by Kitley Wellington
As the fog settled in like an unwanted guest in what was to become a third day in a row, the village of Upper Pandle now looked as if it didn’t care anymore. In this blinding weather, Muggles, Lady Canaries’ butler, was tootling along the main street with a bag in his hand with some ginger in it to treat her ladyship’s indigestion.
As he caressed his proud muffler and strutted along the main street, Muggles’ casual eyes rested upon a figure with a bowler hat and a long raincoat. Their eyes must have met just momentarily, because such was the speed with which the bowler hat disappeared that Muggles only heard the sound of his swishing raincoat brushing his pants.
If a national award for dashing off with a swishing raincoat brushing pants was ever projected, as far as Upper Pandle was concerned all the bowler hat had to do was enroll as a contender. Muggles wouldn’t have scrupled to support him. Coincidentally, the village pub, The Barman, sat just along a block from where Muggles was, and he decided to make a stop to report the incident.
‘I saw him again,’ he said, grabbing a bar stool, as much of the village warmed itself to a glass of stimulating whiskey for God knew this weather demanded one.
‘Balmy! An absolute sitter, no doubt, my dear Muggles! But, old man, third whiskey, I say, what! Perhaps you could say more,’ Loops said, and shifted back in the deep stool so that people down the line could see Muggles speaking. None of the pubs in England had bar stools with seats as deep as the ones at The Barman.
‘The man in the bowler hat and raincoat. He was running towards the church.’
As it happened, along with the fog, there was someone else who was giving appearances, now three days in a row. A figure clad in black raincoat and bowler hat had been reported the first day by Mrs. Bainbridge, the school teacher, and then again the next day by some boys, who had gone searching for their wandering football in the nearby fields.
‘Maybe just a weary traveler, looking for a place to sleep,’ said Mrs. Toppleton, the landlady of The Barman, as she winked through a glass, checking on its sparkle.
‘But his nocturnal advances look suspicious to me. If he was, as Mrs. Toppleton says, a weary traveler, he must need food and other things, and someone would have seen him in the village in broad daylight,’ Muggles said.
‘Concur. Mrs. Toppleton, hai bole! A sheep in wolf’s clothing, what?’ Loops, having said so, slammed three pence on the counter and readied himself to leave. While a side window gave him glimpses of the damp weather outside, he added another knot to count the number of times a pipe and a hot cup of cocoa had rescued him from considering connubial prospects in such inclement weather. Stork wasn’t his favorite bird anyway.
* * *
On the morrow, as Upper Pandle awoke, the hairy fog had lifted itself and the sun shone like it had never shone before. Children dragged themselves to the village school, undulating along the main street, while the adults got along with their morning tea and biscuits, slowly picking up speed as the entire village gradually rose like a pumped-up tire.
Percy Loops worked in the village library that also catered as a postoffice and usually had slow mornings, as it is only in the afternoon, when life gnaws at your ankle, that one realizes that a light book might just ease the stress. As he put the kettle on for his second round of tea and got back to his paper, he heard the shop bells jingle, and while he wondered who it was, Rev. Chimes came in. His face had managed to pull off an expression that a maid witnessing the breaking down of a vacuum-cleaner usually manages to achieve. He looked squashed, through and through.
‘Reverend, are you all right? You look... umm... ’ Loops said, stirring his soul, looking for the right words, ‘not very fresh.’
‘The thief has struck, Percival,’ Rev. Chimes said.
Rev. Chimes was one of those clergymen, honest men of sermons and toils of the sort, who believed that addressing everyone by their unabridged name brought everyone a point closer to the total needed to get through the doors guarded by white angels, and this thought had been immortalized on the school bulletin board, where some Rabelaisian boy had smartly cancelled out ‘o’ from ‘point’ making it a ‘pint.’
‘Thief? What are you talking about?’
‘The guy in the bowler hat and the raincoat, he has struck.’
‘Ohh... him! What did he steal?’
‘Communion wine. The whole cask! Gone! Sunday is two days from now, and the Dean of Readymade, Reverend Bouchard, arrives here Sunday morning. That’s done it!’
Upper Pandle did not have a parish, as many other villages in Perkshire, and the old school building had been converted into a church. Very recently, the Anglican books had looked stronger than ever, and a few more villages were to be granted a parish upon a quick inspection by the rural dean. Rev. Chimes had every intention of upping Upper Pandle’s grades; and this theft, no wonder, had left a bitter taste in his mouth.
‘We can get some wine from Mrs. Toppleton, if that is what you are worried about.’
‘No, no, you don’t understand. This is communion wine. It is made from special grapes. We can’t just replace it with regular wine. That prowler! The problem is that Reverend Bouchard will inspect everything, and if he sees that the casks are gone, the parish will go to Lower Pandle.’
‘Well, you must have an extra cask, obviously.’
‘No. We don’t. Remember the wedding of Prince Darwin last year? Well, for that huge cake, all the parishes and burning-desire-to-become-a-parish villages were asked for communion wine, and in the hope that we will get a parish, I gave two casks away. What shall we do now, Percival? Should I do a Lord Lucan and just up and disappear?’
‘Good Lord, no! The only thing I can think of right now is to go back to the cellar and check. I will go and talk to Lady Canaries and see if she has any wine she can spare. The rural dean might not really check it, and we might get off by just showing him a full cask without revealing the contents.’
‘That gives me strength. A cathedral might not be built in a day, but it only takes a candle to light up a church.’
‘I say, that’s the right spirit. Or is it? Anyway, c’mon now. Probably be best if you can fix your facial geography and get your Anglican contours back before people realize that your “Baby Jesus” face is only for happier times.’
Percy Loops and Rev. Chimes came out of the postoffice and hurried through the main street, paying greetings to all the familiar faces. As they passed The Barman, they saw an itinerant, who had set all his belongings on a side, and was about to begin his begging act.
Rev. Chimes said, in passing, ‘If you don’t get anything by lunchtime, come to the church. There is some bread and cheese.’ The itinerant scratched his beard and thought for a second or two about his plans for lunch and, realizing he had none, waved a handful thanks.
Apparently, the church cellar had been used for not just storing wine but all sorts of things owing to the spatial limitations enforced by the school building. As a result, there was a healthy selection of pastoral robes shedding some light on the fashion of the day, a judicious collection of crosses, goblets, and rings occupied a corner, wooden racks filled with old manuscripts rested against the wall, while Rev. Chimes’s old golf clubs and drivers made the sidelines and rested with caution against any potential rust.
As their eyes finished accounting for all the things that were meant to occupy this space and had actually occupied it, their glances returned to the rack where the casks were placed. Loops was sure he was seeing one.
Rev. Chimes’s eyes couldn’t believe what they were seeing: someone had brought the cask back. His face regained its glow. Now, the only problem he faced was how to convince Percy Loops that the cask had been really gone for the whole night.
‘Quite a sight, eh, Reverend? The cask is here.’
‘I know, I know. But it was gone good part of the night. Someone obviously realized the sin in their act and has brought it back.’
‘I want to believe you, Reverend, but the circumstances aren’t allowing me to. Maybe your eyes played tricks on you. You know you have been worried about the rural dean’s visit and all that. These things take a toll on one’s psychological balance, don’t you know. I was just reading yesterday in The Herald about how a girl was convinced that a pendant in a jewelry store looked exactly like what had been nicked from her home and she just decided to walk out with it.
‘The police, of course, couldn’t see from her psychological angle and didn’t take it that mildly. I mean to say, crazy, what? She was charged. But the correspondent seemed to think she should have been pardoned. Anyway, the cask is back, and your worries are over. I will go and have a word with Lady Canaries for that wine just in case.’
‘Yes, that is true. All’s well that ends well, eh? Thank you, Percival. I can get on with arranging the other things for the Dean’s visit now.’
That evening, Loops visited Fulton House, Lady Canaries’ residence, and explained the situation to her. Muggles was dispatched later to deposit eight bottles of wine in the church’s cellar.
* * *
Next day, the skies opened up and an ardent, card-carrying sun welcomed the villagers of Upper Pandle as they kicked off their days.
Percy Loops had just finished sifting through old receipts when the outside bell gave away the secret of a visitor about to trample on his peaceful solitude.
It was Rev. Chimes again.
‘Oh, dear Lord!’ he said, crossing his hands in a most Christian fashion as was possible.
‘I say, Reverend, what is it?’
‘Oh, Percival! What is happening to our village?’
‘My dear Reverend! Deduce, you say, but how can I? Haven’t had my second cup of tea yet! More words, please!’
‘The cask has gone again, my man. I don’t understand what is happening. Is this an omen of some kind? Should we give up and let Lower Pandle have the parish?’
‘I say, calm down. Have a cup of tea. I am sure there is an explanation. Come, let’s go visit the cellar again.’
They hurried through the main street and reached the cellar. But the cask had somehow managed to get itself back in the cellar.
Rev. Chimes crossed his heart again but then, in an act of bravery, went closer to the cask, and exclaimed, ‘It’s not the same cask.’
‘It’s... it’s not the same, Percival. Hold on,’ he said, and proceeded to open its top only to reveal that it was filled with plain water.
‘It’s just water,’ he said, the furrows on his brow going up and down in a rhythm.
Loops let his eyes wander around for any queer business, and realized that the golf clubs and drivers were missing. He also realized that a bottle of wine from Lady Canaries’ collection had been opened and a cork, now aimless, lay on the ground. He mentioned thusly to Rev. Chimes.
‘What time did you come here this morning, Reverend?’
‘Uh, around 6, really. But I was in such a shock, I didn’t notice the absence of the golf clubs and the opened wine bottle.’
‘So, someone must have brought the cask back sometime between 6 and 8 this morning.’
‘What shall we do, Percival?’
‘If I have been successful at drinking it all in, and I think that I have, I suggest one thing: a surprise attack. I will go and talk to Dr. Wimpole. We shall need his medical expertise. I have a task for you too. Today, after midnight, come down here and check on things. Keep one of your golf clubs to see if the thief steals it again tonight. Then do your routine check in the morning again.’
‘As you say. But do you think we will be able to leash the villains by Saturday?’
‘Oh, we will, Reverend, we will. But we will have to be snappy and be on our feet. Some wonky villainy is in the offing.’
* * *
Copyright © 2016 by Kitley Wellington