With further apologies to Dickens and fans of Dickens. Ebeneezer Grayling has already had a visitation which can be read here. Stave 3 will appear in due course.
A Christmas Carol
Stave Two – The First Spirit
Grayling awoke with the feeling of a cold hand upon his wrist. His eyes darted wildly around the room but all was well. The memory of his ghostly visit greatly perturbed him. The cold headed politician of him told himself that it was a dream. Just a dream. However the memory of his encounter seemed so real that he was struggling to dismiss it from his mind.
He looked at his watch. Five minutes to midnight. Well this was the way to show it was nothing more than the product of disturbed sleep in a wingback arm chair. In five minutes the clocks would strike the hour and there would be no further strange visitations. He would speak firmly to himself then take himself off to bed.
The moments stretched out. What took three hundred seconds to pass seemed to take three hundred years. He heard the sound of distant clocks striking the hour across the silence of the night. Twelve clear strikes. Midnight.
The Lord Chancellor allowed himself a smile. A self-mocking smile. A smile that acknowledged the foolishness of even beginning to think a silly dream induced by the portraits in his department had been reality. Raising himself from the chair he picked up his supper tray and turned towards the door.
The crockery, cutlery and wineglass hit the floor with a clatter, a crash and a chiming crack as the tray was left dangling in one hand. The other hand was held before his gaping mouth as he stared at the figure of a child stood leaning against his door.
It was a boy, bare chested and in a pair of trousers that were ragged around the ends and tied around the waist with a length of rope. Grayling imagined that his hair had been blond in life but was now grey, only a shade darker than his white skin. The only break in the monotone colour of his flesh was a livid pink mark dashing diagonally along his neck.
“Are you the first spirit as foretold by Simon’s ghost?” Grayling asked.
The boy-apparition did not respond but merely nodded his assent.
“Why are you here? What do you want?” Grayling continued to ask.
The pale figure said nothing as he walked towards the man before him. The ghost took the tray from the hand and slipped his thin fingers around The Lord Chancellor’s open palm. With the slightest of pressure the boy led them to the window, The Lord Chancellor following like a vaguely reluctant dog. As they neared the window Grayling paused to look out but the boy continued as if he intended to jump out.
“Hang on!” The words had barely escaped his lips before The Lord Chancellor realised he was no longer in his house any more but was stood at the back of a hushed crowd in a grand dark oak panelled chamber. Even as a non-lawyer it did not take long for The Lord Chancellor to appreciate that he was in a courtroom. But this was not a courtroom fixed with videolink facilities and digital recording. This was a courtroom from a bygone age.
Grayling looked to the bench. It took him but a moment to recognise another of his predecessors, Judge Jeffreys. Grayling looked around the court and saw a dock packed with at least a dozen men, all manacled. His attention was brought back to the Judge by a sound of him ostentatiously clearing his throat.
“The Prisoners at the Bar can all stand save for the Prisoner Jones. You are all guilty of a variety of felonious crimes. You represent the basest form of mankind. Theft of bread, housebreaking, larceny – the list of misdeeds shames any God-fearing man. I spare you from meeting your maker just yet. In the case if each of you I sentence you to transportation to the West Indies for a period of seven years as an act of mercy upon your souls. Take them down.”
And with that the collection of prisoners, without having any say in the proceedings, were led away leaving one figure in the dock.
“Now Jones you are only twelve,” Jeffreys began to address a boy stood alone in the big wooden dock. Grayling looked from the prisoner to his companion and realised they were one and the same. A flood of relief surprisingly swelled inside Grayling. This may be summary justice but at least it made a certain differentiation for juveniles. Jurisprudence surprisingly ahead of its time.
“Boy,” the Judge continued, “your tender years serves only to make what you have done worse tenfold. That the body of someone of such tender years could be capable of such mendacity. Boy you have been found guilty of clipping the King’s coin. Treason boy! Treason against the Crown. You will be taken from this place and hung from the neck until you are dead. Take him down.”
Grayling looked despairingly at his companion who stood silently with his head bowed. Grayling tried to speak but found that no words would escape his lips. The pronouncement of execution seemed to excite barely a murmur in those around him. He saw lawyers sitting in counsel’s row but none of whom seemingly acted on behalf of the boy.
Once more Grayling felt the coldness of a small hand taking his and once more the scene before him disappeared to be replaced by another, more familiar landscape. His classroom. Grayling’s boyhood classroom. The Royal Grammar School. Out at the front of the class stood his form master and one of his school friends. The Lord Chancellor instantly recalled this very scene, albeit that he not thought of it for many years. He could see his younger self, at his desk, watching the ensuing interrogation and accusation unfold.
Together the child, the older Grayling and the younger version of himself watched the teacher accuse the friend of the theft of some workman’s tool. The tool had been left by the stockroom at mid morning break. The boy at the front of the class had been seen to return to the room during the break. The tool had gone. The teacher had approached the boy to ask if he had seen anything and the tool had reappeared moments later. Now the boy was being accused of the theft. It made sense. Realising he had been caught he had put it back, knowing that it would only have been discovered in his bag once the teacher looked after break.
Except that the majority of the class knew this not to be the case. They knew that another boy had taken it. That the boy now accused had told some others of the theft, including the original thief. That this had led to the item being replaced. However such was the code of the schoolboy that no one would tell now. Such was the power of the accuser that no one would speak against the accusation. The boy was left only to deny the facts. All he earned was a visit to the headmaster’s office.
Grayling could recall a feeling buried inside his younger self. It was, in fact two feelings. Helplessness and injustice. But what could he, the younger Grayling, do? At that time he was powerless. Once more Grayling found himself incapable of making any sound to interrupt the proceedings. He had no way of putting this right.
His ghostly companion joined hands with him again. The boy met his gaze, a surprising note of pity in the deep, dark eyes of the spirit. The classroom dimmed and Grayling found himself in his chair once more. No sign of his executed guide.
Had this been a dream? A broken plate and a shattered glass on the floor told him different. Unbidden, sleep came upon him once more.
TO BE CONTINUED