The Skeleton and The Child
By Clinton Morgan
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Stanshall Hall looked out on a river. The grounds spread many acres and were populated with peacocks and pheasants with their beautiful plumages. In Stanshall Hall lived a noble aristocratic family of strong standing. One member, sadly, was unable to go outside as he was for the most part particularly ill but that did not matter to him because when he was left alone more often than not a skeleton came to pay him a visit. Despite his old age the skeleton had more vigour than any youth one would care to mention. He would bring the bedridden boy, whose name was Rupert, games such as snakes and ladders, backgammon and ludo. Sometimes he would tell him stories of knights and dragons and to help him sleep the skeleton would play classical lullabies on the clavier in Rupert’s bedroom. This cheered Rupert up no end but he felt that the skeleton was holding out on him. The skeleton was a prime storyteller but what was his own story? Rupert was supremely curious. Then one day whilst Rupert and the skeleton were making up limericks about the places mentioned in the young aristocrat’s atlas there was a knock on the bedroom door. The skeleton immediately hid behind the curtain and froze absolutely still so as not to make a sound. “Come in.” Ordered Rupert and his door opened to reveal his father. “Hello my dear boy. I have someone very lovely to introduce to you. Her name is Miss Baxendale and she is going to be your new governess.”
“But I don’t want a governess,” protested Rupert, “I’ve already got my friend! Tell the governess to go away.”
“Now that’s not a nice thing to say, we haven’t even met.” Said Governess Baxendale as she walked in the room. She nodded at Rupert’s father to give him the message that everything was okay and that her hands were safe for everything to be left in. Rupert’s father henceforth left his son’s bedroom trusting his latest employee.
“So, how are you young Rupert?” Asked Governess Baxendale stood at the end of the bed. Rupert sulked with folded arms and did not answer. Standing behind the curtain the skeleton was intrigued to see this new person that Rupert was not keen to share his bedroom with. So he poked his head round gingerly and was struck by the governess’s attractive figure and in particular her curvy posterior. He had a big grin on his face.
“Oh don’t be like that young man. How are you going to win the hearts of fair young maiden’s then?” The Governess then sat down on the end of the bed noticing that Rupert began to break out into a smile, “Now that’s better. I like to see a smile. So tell me about this friend of yours.”
“He’s looking at me.” Chuckled Rupert.
“Ohh. He’s in the same room as us.”
The skeleton immediately hid behind the curtain as Rupert pointed towards it. The governess raised a quizzical eyebrow and got up from the edge of Rupert’s bed. She stepped towards the curtains, pointed to one drape and looked at Rupert who immediately nodded his head whilst smiling. The governess carefully looked behind the curtain and then pulled away with a surprised, perplexed and disappointed look upon her face. “Oh dear, your friend seems to have gone.”
“But that’s impossible.” Protested Rupert. “He was stood behind that curtain.”
“What was he doing behind the curtain, Rupert?”
Rupert blushed, “He was looking at your bottom.”
“What a naughty friend!” And then she blushed. “Shame he’s not here anymore, I would have told him off.”
“He must be here somewhere. He can’t disappear like a ghost.” A worried Rupert informed her.
“Well don’t worry,” the governess sat down beside him, “Don’t worry Rupert I’m sure he’ll return. What is his name?”
“He doesn’t have a name.”
“He doesn’t have a name? What do you say when he comes to greet you?”
“I just say ‘Good’ followed by whatever period of the day it is. Unless he comes at midnight then I say ‘Hello’ because you only say ‘Goodnight’ when going to sleep.”
“Midnight! You should be dreaming of owls, pussycats, piggy-wigs and turkeys.” The governess paused then asked Rupert a question that was very foolish indeed. “Haven’t you given him a name?” This annoyed the young aristocrat who snapped at the governess stating, “He isn’t a pet and he isn’t an imaginary friend!” The governess soothed Rupert into the calming process by assuring him with the words, “I believe you.” Soon the conversation changed to his atlas. Was he interested in geography? Are there any countries he’d like to visit? Or would he like to be a cartographer? It didn’t take long for the young aristocrat and his governess to bond with great fondness. Time passed too quickly for Rupert and Miss Baxendale and soon his new governess had to leave. “Goodbye my sweet Rupert. I hope the kitchens cook you a meal fit for someone as handsome and charming as you.” And she planted a kiss on his left cheek.
“Goodbye Miss Baxendale.”
When the governess left Rupert’s bedroom the skeleton re-appeared by climbing down the curtain. He had being hiding above the curtain rail. “There you’ve been!” Shouted Rupert.
“Isn’t she a beauty?” Contemplated the skeleton.
“You could have come down. She told me she believed me.”
“She was only humouring you.” At that point Rupert’s face fell and his complexion turned grey.
Continued the skeleton, “She is charming though. I would like to pass time with her.”
“You could have said ‘Hello’.”
“And how do you think she’d react if she saw me like this?”
Rupert replied to that question with a quiet, tiny, whispering, “Oh.” Both friends had to hatch a plan. How to get the governess to meet and spend time with the skeleton without him putting the willies up her? Rupert immediately came up with the idea of a disguise. If he wore a lot of clothes then Governess Baxendale would not know that he was a skeleton. The skeleton thought it was a very good idea, “I know where there are some appropriate clothes. Thank you for proposing such an excellent notion my good friend. Now I better leave before your dinner is served.” And with that the skeleton peered out of the door to make sure nobody was heading down the corridor before taking his bones away into the darkness.
It was raining the following day and the governess commented to Rupert about awful it was. “It’s much better to stay indoors, Rupert.” Rupert explained to the governess that he would very much like to feel the rain. Miss Baxendale raised a quizzical eyebrow and walked over to the window. After opening it she stuck a hand out to catch the raindrops in her palm. She then closed the window and with a mischievous smirk she moved closer to the aristocrat Rupert and poured the contents of her palm onto his head. This made him giggle. “Now Master Rupert let us proceed with your education.”
That particular day Rupert learnt about the Ancient Greeks and in particular their great writers such as Aristophanes, Sophocles, Euripides and…
“Who could that be that dares to interrupt us?” Miss Baxendale said in a mock-annoyed tone. The door knocked again, “Is it okay if I come in?”
Rupert’s face lit up when he recognised the voice, “Let him in! Let him in!” The governess got up, went to the door and said, “No. I shall tell him to go away. We cannot have your schooling interrupted like this.”
“Don’t be like that!” Complained Rupert. “Let him in. He’s my friend. The friend who has no name.” His governess became confused by this and so she opened Rupert’s bedroom door. Rupert had to stifle his laughter when he saw what came in. The skeleton had dressed himself in tweed with a yellow waistcoat, a long thick trench coat, muddy wellington boots and to really disguise himself a pair of gloves, a thick woollen scarf and a thick woollen hat. Miss Baxendale could see the happy look on Rupert’s face so she thought it best to be polite to the strange figure.
“I gather that you are Rupert’s friend.” Miss Baxendale stated.
“Ah, yes. That’s right Miss Baxendale. He and I are very good friends. Aren’t we Rupert?” Rupert nodded with a broad smile.
“How do you know my name sir?” Asked Miss Baxendale.
The skeleton struggled to look for an answer, “Oh, uhm. Ah! He told me all about you.” The governess turned round to look at Rupert, “Did he now?” Rupert quickly nodded, he didn’t want to get his friend into trouble by saying that he was hiding on top of a curtain rail. “Do you mind if I sit in Miss Baxendale?”
“Very well then sir, but do behave.”
“May I ask what it is you’re teaching Master Rupert?”
“To keep you informed, sir, we are about to study the epic Greek poem, ‘The Odyssey’ by Homer.”
“Oh good. ‘No one is hurting me!’.”
After schooling Rupert his governess strolled with the skeleton down the corridor. “That was very sporting of you sir to pretend to be young Master Rupert’s imaginary friend.”
“Oh well, one tries to help.” Lied the skeleton.
“He was certainly convinced. The sweet little one really wants to believe in magic. Growing up really breaks a child’s heart.” The skeleton nodded. As they walked they passed a portrait of a gentleman wearing tweed with a yellow waistcoat. The governess continued the conversation. “I must say. I’m very impressed by your knowledge of Homer.”
“It’s my favourite story,” said the skeleton affectionately, “I’ve re-read it so many times.”
“So what do you do here?” Miss Baxendale asked.
“I bet you think I’m a friendly gardener or one of the servants.”
“What are you then?”
The skeleton returned to Rupert’s bedroom in the middle of the night in his natural state and he was panicking. Rupert was informed that his governess wanted to see behind the skeleton’s hat and scarf, in short to see his face. When she tried to move the scarf the skeleton ran away. “You’ve met Miss Baxendale once. I can say you’ve gone very far away.” Suggested Rupert. A very sad skeleton sat down at the end of the bed and explained to Rupert that he would like to get to know the governess a little better and spend more time with her. Rupert put his thinking cap on. “Hmmm,” he said, “how about a mask?” The skeleton got up from the bed and patted Rupert on the head. “You’re full of good ideas young Rupert. That brain of yours is valuable.”
The following day the governess decided to take the young aristocrat around Stanshall Hall in his wheeling chair. As she was teaching him French verbs coming from the other direction was the skeleton wearing a rather crude papier-mâché mask. “Hello young Rupert! Hello Miss Baxendale!” The skeleton looked ridiculous and unconvincing to Rupert and to his governess as well but she went along with it thinking it was all a big joke.
All three of them walked together, the skeleton also helping Rupert with his French verbs. Along the way Rupert noticed the painting of the man wearing the exact same clothes as the skeleton. Not only that, the man’s face corresponded slightly with the face of the crude mask. Soon it became time for Miss Baxendale to retire from educating young Rupert. Rupert was wheeled back to his bedroom, lifted back into his bed by the governess and the skeleton who in turn bade him goodbye and left him alone with his atlas. As the skeleton and the governess, both in cordial spirits, walked along the corridors and down the stairs the governess had a proposition to make, “I wonder dear sir, if I maybe as so bold to be unconventional and ask you to accompany me to the dinner dance tomorrow night here in Stanshall Hall?”
“My dear! I would be honoured to accompany such a fair maiden to the ball.”
“Please do and you can bring your mask with you. It’ll give all good cheer.” And with that she left Stanshall Hall. “Mask?” Worried the skeleton.
From his servant quarters Portobello was bringing up young Master Rupert’s evening meal. He was the oldest of the servants and the one who Rupert trusted the most. Before coming into Rupert’s bedroom he nodded respectfully at the painting of the gentleman in the yellow waistcoat. He knocked at Rupert’s floral carved mahogany door. After Rupert responded Portobello let himself in. “Portobello, could you inform me as to who was that gentleman in the yellow waistcoat in the painting above Mama’s private room?”
“I’m afraid I’m not at liberty to disclose that particular piece of information.” Portobello informed.
“Portobello, that is an order.”
“With the greatest respect young sir, I do believe that such a grim story is unsuitable for young ears.”
Portobello sighed, “Very well but I beg of you not to have me dismissed if you have nightmares.” That evening Rupert became informed about his friend the skeleton. Over a hundred years ago he was Lord Stanshall. A well educated man with progressive ideas. Such an attitude made him a dangerous figure. So dangerous he came to an unfortunate end when he was walled up in the mansion’s wine cellar by an ambitious butler. Everybody thought he had gone missing and it was only a quarter of a century ago when his skeleton was discovered wearing a yellow waistcoat and dressed in tweed. Rupert expressed astonishment in his face. Portobello sat down at the edge of the young aristocrat’s bed. “He’s visited you too?”
The time for the dinner dance had arrived and all manner of the great, the good, the aristocratic and the royal had arrived. The skeleton, henceforth in this tale to be known as Lord Stanshall, waited for the governess Miss Baxendale and they both walked arm in arm into the ballroom where the tables were laid around the edge save for two gaps one by the doors and one for the musicians leaving the central area as a dancing space. Now there was a problem, how was Lord Stanshall going to eat since he was a skeleton? His solution was to pretend. This of course was fooling nobody. Portobello watched from his position feeling a little uncomfortable as he knew he couldn’t say or do anything. Miss Baxendale suggested to Lord Stanshall, “Why don’t you take off your mask to eat?” And she began to remove his papier-mâché effort.
Rupert felt very upset and worried. He couldn’t get to sleep that night despite his nice hot mug of cocoa. For he and his friend had a blazing row over how Portobello should not have told him who he really was and that he won’t cause a calamity when accompanying Governess Baxendale to the dinner dance. “She won’t find out!”
“But she will Lord Stanshall!”
“Don’t you ever, ever call me that!” And with a slam of the door he was gone adding in a loud bellow, “That’s the last you’ll ever see of me!” Rupert felt so sad and low as he lost his very best friend. He also felt sad for the skeleton as he knew that if everybody saw him in his natural state they would tear him apart for being some kind of spectre spewed forth from the guts of Hades. Suddenly he could hear the guests making a loud noise out in the grounds of Stanshall Hall. What were they doing to his beloved friend? The heart weighed heavy in Rupert’s body that night.
Rupert’s bedroom door burst open. “Do you mind knocking first?” Chastised Rupert and his governess, Miss Baxendale made an appearance full of roses, sunshine and larks ascending. “Miss Baxendale?”
“Sorry to barge in like that, but I’ve got to tell you how wonderful my evening has been. Lord Stanshall has been a perfect gentleman. Full of good humour and splendidly charming. His dancing and wit certainly entertained us all especially when he led the conga through the river. That’s why the bottom of my dress is wet and filthy.” Now at this point in the tale young master Rupert went from upset to completely baffled. Miss Baxendale continued, “Speaking of Lord Stanshall I have a friend of yours who wants to see you.” And of course in walked Lord Stanshall in his natural state looking down at his bony feet with a square wooden box in his hand. “I’m very sorry Rupert. I don’t want our friendship to end. You and Portobello mean so very much to me.” The governess coughed. “As does Miss Baxendale.” She coughed again. “Albeit a little more.”
Miss Baxendale pushed, “Go on.”
“Oh, certainly. Master Rupert this is a little something from me to you. It took me a long time to make but I had to be accurate.” Lord Stanshall handed over the wooden box, Rupert removed the lid and lifted out a wooden globe that had been carved, engraved and varnished by a skeleton that was much more than a century old. “Oh thank you very much. I love you Lord Stanshall.”
“And I love you too, Master Rupert.”
Then the governess spoke, “Now as your governess I feel I should ask your opinion on a certain romantic matter. Would you like me to remain as Miss Baxendale or may I become Lady Stanshall?” This question delighted the skeleton.
“Ummm. I’d like you to remain Miss Baxendale.”
“I quite agree. It has a more youthful ring to it.”
“Spoilsport.” Said Lord Stanshall. And with that he chucked Rupert’s globe against the wall smashing it into tiny irreparable bits.
© 2009 Clinton Morgan
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