For the background to this story, see 'Never Say Die!'
Josiah Oakshott and Archibald Thurble, of Oakshott and Underwood, Funeral Directors of discretion and distinction, traipsed into Josiah’s gloomy office, a trail of water denoted their path across the parquet flooring, as it dripped from their mackintoshes. They stood for a moment and looked, sullenly, at each other. Presently, Archibald broke the silence,
“Well, that was a co…” He began.
“…that didn’t go as well as it could have done!” Archibald corrected himself.
“You may recall, Archibald, that I counselled against our involvement from the very start! It was only because you said ‘Oh, Mr. O., we can’t let her do it on her own’” Josiah’s impression of Archibald was surprisingly accurate. Even Archibald appeared to be impressed, “that we are where we are”
“Well, we couldn’t” Archibald stated, grumpily.
“I rather wish we had. I think a brandy is called for, under these unusual and trying circumstances. Would you care to join me?”
“Oh, right-ho!” Archibald grinned broadly as Josiah made his way to the, permanently locked and bolted, drinks cabinet.
“I had rather hoped that the compromise I suggested to Mrs. Murgatroyd might ensure that she (a) achieved her objectives and (b) felt somewhat better disposed toward Oakshott and Underwood. I fear that this may not be the case, now” He remarked, gloomily, as he poured two sensible measures of brandy into the cut-glass tumblers.
“Well, I don’t see why, Mr. O. I reckon we’ve done the right thing all along” Archibald replied, stoutly.
“I suspect that the events of today may well cloud her judgement, with regard to the other services we have performed for her” Josiah sighed as he slumped into his office chair.
“I thought it was quite neat, that what you thought up” Archibald settled himself opposite his employer.
“I was somewhat pleased with the options myself, Archibald. I felt that it ensured that the late Mr. Murgatroyd’s wishes were, for the most part, met whilst still working within acceptable boundaries.”
“Yeah, it was a neat idea to have the coffin in the shape of a Viking longboat” Archibald nodded, “she seemed really chuffed with that”
“It was, of course, quite costly, given that it was a bespoke design but nowhere near as expensive, or, for that matter, as traumatic as the incineration of their narrowboat would have been. Not to mention that Mr. Murgatroyd’s original plan would have had the effect of leaving his widow homeless!” Josiah pointed out.
“And it got burnt, like he wanted” Archibald grinned.
“Well, perhaps not quite in the way he imagined, but the end result was much the same” Josiah agreed. “I fear that it was in the second part of my compromise package that I, perhaps, overreached myself”
“Oh, I don’t know, Mr. O. I thought that was the best bit”
“My thought process was that Mrs. Murgatroyd might feel cheated that her late husband’s ashes had not been sent to a watery grave in quite the way that he intended.” Josiah sipped his brandy and rubbed his forehead, contemplatively. “Although they could have been simply strewn across a body of water, I suspected that the drama of the ritual would be missing”
“You mean, this business of him being seen to like a Viking chieftain?”
“Precisely, Archibald. Mr. Murgatroyd clearly fancied himself in that role, despite his propensity for mal-de-mer”
“Isn’t that them mussels in a sauce? They’re quite tasty but there isn’t really enough to make a good dinner, I don’t reckon. You need a couple of rounds of bread and butter to make it worth your while”
Josiah stared at his employee, who was cheerfully sipping his brandy, for a little while.
“No, Archibald. Mal-de-mer is the French term for seasickness. You may recall that Mr. Murgatroyd was a martyr to that illness. Hence his decision to opt for a narrowboat on the canal as opposed to a longboat on the high seas, as had been his original proposal”
“Oh yeah. I remember” Archibald surprised himself by suddenly giggling, which he realised was probably down to drinking brandy on an empty stomach.
“My suggestion that his ashes could be encased in a simple model boat, which could then be commended to the waves, seemed to me to encompass the ritual elements of the Viking tradition in a manageable form.” Josiah remarked, bitterly. “I volunteered to source the boat for Mrs. Murgatroyd, should she wish me to do so, but that was to be the end of our involvement, until your interjection”
“Well, it didn’t seem right for her to have to do it all on her own” Archibald muttered.
“A noble thought, on your part, Archibald, but I fear it may have had far-reaching and negative consequences” Josiah sighed.
“At least we got a day at the seaside!” Archibald was determined to see the bright side, if possible.
“Well, hardly a day! A simple run up to the coast, this afternoon, so that we could be there for dusk and the changing of the tide, does not quite encompass an excursion.” Josiah pointed out.
“I thought that boat was really neat. Seemed a shame to set fire to it”
“I must admit, I was favourably impressed with the end result. Egbert, your sometime partner-in-crime, made it you know? Albeit, to my specifications” Josiah smiled, thinly, at the memory. “There was just sufficient space in the hold for the late Mr. Murgatroyd’s remains and a simple fuse, strapped to the mast that held the sail, would ensure that the boat would be ablaze a minute of so after launch. It seemed so simple and, if I may dare to say so, elegant”
They sat and contemplated the memory as they stared into the remnants of their respective brandies.
“It worked pretty well, really. What with the tide going out, and the wind just being enough to fill the sail and take it out to sea. I thought it looked the business when it caught fire” Archibald observed.
“I, too, was immensely pleased with the initial impression. You may not have noticed, but Mrs. Murgatroyd was sufficiently moved that she took my hand!”
“Yeah, I saw that. I thought, ‘well, it just shows that, even though she’s a right battle-axe most of the time, she’s only human when all’s said and done’” Archibald grinned.
“My thoughts were along similar lines, I must own” Josiah agreed, “although I would not have couched the matter in quite your terms”
They contemplated their brandies again, for a while.
“You wouldn’t have thought someone would have called out the Coastguard, would you?” Archibald said, eventually.
“No, that possibility had not entered my thoughts, Archibald.” There was a hint of a sob in Josiah’s voice, “When I spoke to them subsequently, or, to be more accurate, when they spoke, at some length, to me, they explained that, whilst it was obvious to us that it was a model boat that was aflame, to someone else on the shoreline it might well have looked like a full-size vessel that was on fire”
“It all got a bit silly after that, didn’t it?”
“That would be something of an understatement, Archibald.” Josiah agreed, sadly.
“What with that damn great helicopter turning up overhead. They don’t half whip up a breeze, don’t they?”
“The rotors generate something of a vortex, that is true” Josiah nodded.
“We never did find Mrs. Murgatroyd’s hat, did we?”
“I had no real hope that we ever would, Archibald. It was despatched with such force, it could be miles away by now”
“Just like being sandblasted, wasn’t it?”
“I doubt that my glasses will ever be the same” Josiah agreed.
“Then that lifeboat turned up!” Archibald shook his head in disbelief.
“I had not anticipated such an outcome, I must concur.”
“At least Mr. Murgatroyd’s ashes went to the bottom of the sea, smartish, when they put that high-pressure hose on it” Archibald tried to take an optimistic view.
“I don’t think that was quite the end result that either Mr. or Mrs. Murgatroyd had in mind! Being consigned to the bottom of the sea by a high-pressure hose does not have quite the ceremonial effect one would wish to accord a Viking chieftain”
“I don’t see why they had to turn the hose on us, though!” Archibald complained, bitterly.
“Neither did I, Archibald. The explanation I was given, that the hose slipped out of the grasp of the operator, did not entirely accord with my recollection of events”
“I didn’t think Mrs. Murgatroyd was best pleased, did you?”
“I think the fact that she did not speak once on the journey home, rather told its own tale, Archibald. I fear we may hear more from her in the coming days” Josiah said, gloomily.
“I was telling Electra about it when I texted…”
Josiah frowned at Archibald, who corrected himself,
“…when I SENT her a text, just now. Do you know what she said?”
“I have no idea, Archibald.”
“She said, he might not have got the right send-off for a Viking chieftain but it seemed about right for a traffic warden!” Archibald giggled, uncontrollably.
“Whatever else you do, Archibald, please do not convey that sentiment to Mrs. Murgatroyd! I doubt that our finances would survive the inevitable legal action” Josiah snapped, “however, your fiancée clearly has an incisive mind. Now, you had better go and see if you can dry out the car’s interior as far as possible. We have others to convey to their final, and thankfully more conventional, resting place tomorrow, and their families will not welcome sitting on damp upholstery”
“Be like that Great British Bake-Off thing wouldn’t it?” Archibald giggled again.
“I am not aware of that. Is it a form of entertainment?”
“Yeah, it’s a cookery reality thingy.”
“And how is that relevant?”
“Well,” Archibald snorted, “they’re always going on about ‘soggy bottoms’!” At which sally he doubled up with laughter.
“Thank you, Archibald. I think you should be about your duties without further delay” Josiah said, firmly, but he couldn’t help smiling as his employee made his way out of the office, still giggling.
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