THE RISE AND FALL OF YOUNG FOSTER
By Hugh Paxton.
THE PRINCIPAL’S STUDY:
“The whole thing started when young Foster’s father moved East,” the head master waved the poker in a morose circle. “Of course we all expected that it would have some effect on the boy – any family upheaval does in our experience, especially one involving foreign travel, but I don’t think anyone had any inkling of what was to happen when the lad turned up that first Sunday of term…”
“Monday,” said Phelps from his nest in the sofa.
“I beg your pardon Phelps?”
“It was a Monday,” said the helpful Phelps, “You’re confusing it with the time Prothero Major went mad and…”
“I’m doing nothing of the sort, Phelps. And for Heaven’s sake stop fiddling with your horns. You look perfectly ridiculous.”
“I’m sorry, Principal, “mumbled the abject Phelps,” It’s just that I haven’t got used to them yet and they itch terribly.”
“If you’ve quite finished? I’m sure that the constable doesn’t want to hear about your personal problems.”
“Yes I do.”
“No you don’t constable. Now where was I?”
“It was a Sunday.” said the constable emphatically.
“So it was. Pass the chestnuts, there’s a good fellow. I think that the fire has reached the appropriate stage. My thanks. Yes, it was a Sunday and the Dickens of a wind was blowing from the East. Snow had been forecast and there was even some talk of cancelling the impending Colts match. We’re rather exposed here as no doubt you’ve observed, and snow can play merry hell with the fixtures. There’s only the one road in and, well, I hardly need to remind a local man such as yourself of the problems.”
“No, sir. That you don’t,” confirmed the constable with a somber shake of his head.
“The boys were all here by tea-time save a lad from Rhodesia whose plane had hit a mountain somewhere in France and young Foster, who was delivered a little after six by an aunt. He was rather brown if I remember correctly and had brought two trunks as opposed to the customary one, but other than that nothing seemed amiss. Matron…”
“That would be Mrs. Morden?” interrupted the constable fishing hastily for his notebook.
“The late Mrs. Morden, yes. Matron commented on the second trunk – we have strict rules regarding such matters. Let the little things pass and it isn’t long before the whole shooting match goes up, I always say.” The principal banged the hearth emphatically with the poker, chipping the marble and upsetting the chestnut dish. Impishly the contents skittered into the glowing ash. Ominous sputtering ensued. The principal forged on.
“However in this case there didn’t seem much that we could do about it. Hardly worth sending the thing back to Brazil.”
“Are you sure Phelps?”
“Quite sure, principal. Borneo. Why, I could even find it for you on the map.”
“I should hope so, Phelps. You are after all a geography teacher.”
“Whatever.” With a wave of his hand he dismissed the matter. There was a muted thud as the poker struck Phelps, who then rolled off the sofa. The principal sheepishly replaced the poker in its rack. The bone china tea set followed Phelps to the floor and shattered expensively. The prinicipal eyed the debris with mounting irritation.
“Anyway,” he said rather loudly, “the term got underway and everything proceeded as usual. What little I heard of young Foster was good. Erstwhile he had been a very retiring young man but it seemed that he was finally coming out of his shell. Adolescence is a difficult time for boys. Yes – a difficult time. Some of them find it hard to cope, to-er-adjust if you get my meaning. I had feared young Foster to have been one of this breed. It is with mixed feelings that I now admit to having been wrong.”
“Urgh! My horns!” groaned Phelps struggling back onto the sofa with his tail between his legs.
“I think the first sign of trouble in store was the death of Pendennis,” said the principle vigorously ignoring the pain filled struggle to his left.
“Pendennis?” said the constable. He thoughtfully began to clean his left ear with his pencil.
“The school bully,” explained Phelps bravely. He spat out a tooth, then, abashed, tried to find it in the shattered china.
“Phelps find it later. I’m trying to explain. I return to Pendennis. Our school bully. Bit of a rough I agree, but a promising prop forward. We, that is Mr. Partridge, found him behind the bike sheds. Someone had made off with the head – you know what boys are like – but the rest was in good condition.”
“The first sign you say,” said the constable “And what sir, was the second?” He sucked on his pencil cunningly then grimaced. He replaced it in his ear.
“The second was the death of Mr. Partridge. We found most of him in a pear tree but it emerged in the subsequent investigation that this was not the original scene of the crime.”
“I saw the coroner’s report.” said the constable with an official expression. “Some person, or persons, unknown had moved the deceased three or four hours after he deceded.”
“Probably someone’s idea of a joke.” hazarded Phelps. A chestnut exploded in the grate showering the carpet with glowing fragments. Phelps stamped them out with his hoof.
“In a nutshell, constable.” applauded the principal ignoring Phelps. Encouraged, the constable narrowed his eyes. “And what led you to suspect Foster?”
“Nothing at that stage. It was only when I went to break the news to the boys that I began to get wind of what was going on. Death, constable, death is a very distressing subject for the young adolescent mind. It must be dealt with tactfully. Inevitably rumours had begun to spread but I was determined to play things down. I assembled the boys in the chapel and…”
“Attention boys! May I have your attention! You boy! What’s your name?”
“Pillius, sir.” shouted a pimply third year. Too much chocolate no doubt.
“Pillock, sir.” shouted a choir boy. It was nice that someone was prepared to be helpful.
“Well Pillock, I’ve had enough of your nonsense! Sit down and be quiet!” I had decided that it was time to be firm. Paternal, but firm.
“My name’s Pillius!” Would the wretch never desist?
“Pillius..Pillock. Who the devil cares which name is yours. They’re both equally ridiculous! Boys! An unspeakable tragedy has struck us! Mr. Partridge and Godolphin Pendennis will not be in school tomorrow.”
“They weren’t at school today!” shouted an obnoxious boy named Felch.
“That hardly invalidates that which I have just said, now does it Felch?” Defeat them with reason. It never fails. “They will not be here tomorrow,” I resumed quickly, “because they have gone away!” At that the chapel filled with groans. “Yes I sense your dismay and it does you all credit. Now I have a couple of questions for you and I want you all to think very hard before you answer them.” I had them now. Total silence.
“The first question. Has anybody got a head in his locker? It’s very important that you think now. A head.”
“Think ahead!” shouted the loathsome Felch.
“Very droll,” I said pityingly. That always does the trick.
“What does the head look like?” That was Pillock. Maybe I’d misjudged the boy, I thought.
“It looks a little bit like Mr. Partridge but it might not be too dissimilar from Pendennis.”
“It’s Foster!” shrieked Pillock, “He’s shrunk ‘em. And he’s been doing voodoo in the changing rooms!”
“Sneak!” hissed Foster.
“Warlock!” yelled Pillock.
“Well that was that! Chaos. Recriminations. Shouting. I could hardly hear myself ask the second question.”
BACK IN THE STUDY:
“And what was the second question?”
“Oh, I forget now. Something to do with signing up for High Tea. Some of the boys were putting up bogus names – Goliath, Fu Manchu, Atterxerxes – you know the sort of thing. Causing chaos in the kitchens I can tell you. ”
“Hmm.” said the constable and made a number or entries in his notebook. Silence fell, punctuated only by the arthritic ticking of the clock and the muted patter of rain at the casement.
Mrs. Wiggins arrived with a new set of teacups and a scowl.
“When am I to be paid?” she demanded without preamble.
“Tomorrow,” said the principal decisively. “Goodbye Mrs. Wiggins.” With a derisive snort she cruised majestically out of the study slamming the door.
“What happened then?” asked the constable, helping himself to a chocolate finger from the biscuit tin.
“It took about three weeks for all the gossip and the head related jokes to fizzle out. Some stupidities still persisted..”
“Especially that one about the head master.” Phelps repressed a giggle.
“But,” said the principal loudly, “we are an adaptable lot. Resilience is the backbone of old England and we won’t be affected by rumour and gutter humour. Will we Phelps? No, we most certainly won’t! Ahem. Things soon returned to normal.”
“Apart from the Cresswell affair,” added Phelps.
“Cresswell affair?” asked the constable, reaching for another chocolate finger.
“Nothing to it we thought at the time.”
“Could you be a bit more specific sir?”
“Well, there was some sort of dispute between Cresswell and young Foster regarding the ownership of a pair of fellwalking boots. I got wind of it and gave them both a dressing down. Told them to sort it out like gentlemen.”
“And did they?” asked the constable, licking his thumb.
“Didn’t have time. Cresswell was struck by a meteorite shortly after leaving my study. Anyway, there were a few other odd occurrences over the following weeks but it wasn’t until the History department began to turn into goats that I really began to pay attention to the stories.”
“Understandable, under the circumstances, sarr.”
“Baa,” bleated the constable, He soughed. “Sorry. Frog in my throat.”
The principal regarded the constable suspiciously for a moment then resumed speaking.
“Thereafter things snowballed somewhat. There was a very welcome lull for about a week and then matron spontaneously combusted during morning surgery. Apparently where had been strong words exchanged pertaining to the large amount of distasteful paraphernalia that was accumulating in young Foster’s locker. Then the clocks began to run backwards and to cap it all the Colts were defeated 84 – 0 by Preswick. It was then that I decided to speak to Pillock. I called him into my study and..”
“Sit down, Pillock. Have a scone boy. Relax. I said have a scone. Good. I want to ask you a few questions. I take it that by now it is common knowledge that Mrs. Morden will not be in school tomorrow?”
“Well, everything seemed to be progressing nicely and then I noticed that he was wearing jewelry. This is one thing that I will not tolerate and I told him so. “Come on boy. All of it..and the crucifixes, You’re not a papist are you?” I joked. A joke usually does the trick but in this case it fell among thieves. Caterwauling frightfully he fled from the room. I must confess that I was somewhere at a loss. Two hours later Pillock was found glued to the library ceiling. It took us half an hour to find ladders long enough to reach him. Even then we had to send for crowbars to prise the wretch loose. Ron Todd, the Physics master said it was as if Pillock was an iron filling and the ceiling a magnet and though I can’t claim matters scientific as my field, I do believe that the analogy stands up to scrutiny. We had to replaster the ceiling too, but that is by the by. By the time we got the boy down he was hysterical wreck and we had to send him home.
BACK IN THE STUDY:
“Most of the staff left the very next day apart from Ron Todd who had managed to contract bubonic plague during the night. And of course the history department who couldn’t operate their cars with hooves. Couldn’t pick up their car keys for one thing and gear changes were quite out of the question. Not surprisingly no one was too keen to offer them a lift.
“Why just the History staff?” asked the constable brightly.
“It was all Phelps’ fault. He refused to give young Foster a merit mark after a dissertation on the Norman Conquest.”
“I wasn’t satisfied with his synopsis.” said Phelps defensively.
“Well I hope that you are satisfied now!” said the principal cuttingly.
“If we could stick to the matter in hand?” suggested the constable. He hazarded a joke. “Or in hoof?”
The principal laughed heartily. Phelps laughed too.
“What happened then?”
“Well, I was about to send all the boys home when the first demand arrived.”
“Demand, constable. A scrap of malodorous parchment – written if I am not mistaken, in blood.”
“Aha! What was the demand?”
“I have no idea. It was written in some obscure language. The Divinity master took it away for analysis but he has been unable to decipher it. Though he has been able to develop a small trunk. Quite involuntarily apparently.”
“He looks like a tapir.” giggled Phelps.
“You aren’t in a particular strong position to start criticizing your colleagues’ physiogamies,” interjected the principal, “But to return to business. The second demand arrived late yesterday.”
“Now we’re getting somewhere,” exclaimed the constable looking excited, “How did it arrive?”
“It had been slipped between two muffins and Mrs. Wiggins brought it, and them, in for tea.”
“Do you have this second note?” pursued the constable.
“Unfortunately…” began Phelps, nervously rubbing his hooves together.
“Phelps ate most of it.”
“I didn’t realize..” stuttered the miserable Phelps.
“But we do at least have part of the second parchment, this time thankfully, written in English. It demands that we cease teaching the doctrines of Christianity and convert the chapel in a shrine for the reverence of, and I quote, “the Great Papa Delplunkett. All tremble at the mention of His Name.””
“And what does the Divinity master make of that?”
“Oh, he’s all for it. Thinks it sounds rather fun. The man’s a fool of course.”
“Of course,” agreed Phelps hastily, “A fool.”
“Anything else?” asked the constable scribbling frantically in his notebook.
“Yes. Two annual scholarships to be made available to the tribe pygmies of the Yagod swamp. In acknowledgement of services rendered.”
“Ask young Foster!”
“Hmm. No demands for money? That’s usual in these cases,” guessed the constable.
“Not directly but 250 ologs are to be paid annually to the scholars from the Yagod swamp as part of the programme.”
“What’s an olog?”
“A polished cuttle fish beak according to the Divinity master.”
“It’s probably in Borneo.” said Phelps making a bee-line for the bookcase.
“What is?” asked the principal waspishly.
“The Yagod swamp.”
“The location is immaterial, Phelps. Swamp people are swamp people, whether they’re from the lower Yangtsee or the Norfolk Broads.”
“Ah, there’s truth in that,” asserted the constable picking up a decanter from the coffee table. “Beer?” he enquired mildly.
“Port. Help yourself and pour me a glass while you’re about it.”
“I don’t normally partake of port on duty,” said the constable filling his teacup, “But as this is something of an unusual case I’ll make an exception to the rule.”
“Yes, yes,” snapped the principal, “Phelps, bring me the crystals from the cabinet. Oh, and bring a tankard for the constable..and ring Mrs. Wiggins. We’ll need some beer.”
“Oh, don’t mind the beer,” said the constable expansively, “I’m rather partial to this. A local brew?”
“Thought not. You can tell from the bottle you know.”
“Really? How fascinating. Now constable, if we might return to the matter in hand?”
“I take it that this has a grape base,” said the constable refilling his teacup, “Not barley or berry? The color is..how can I say…”
“Red would do. Yes, red would do very nicely,” he gave a cunning smile, “for the time being.” He tapped his notebook.
“Since receiving the second demand I have been sent three more. Each more extravagant that the last.”
“Hmm,” said the constable refilling his cup and reaching for the last chocolate finger.
“I spoke to the head of house and asked his opinion but unfortunately he seemed unable to open his mouth for the duration of the interview.”
“Should have told him to write his answers,” said the constable through a mouthful of crumbs.
“I thought of that,” lied the principal.
“I’d a done that straight off,” asserted the constable, renewing his assault on the dwindling decanter.
“Got it.” cried Phelps triumphantly from the bookcase. “Yagod swamp – on an island twenty miles south of Borneo – home to er pygmy mystics and er Fabrilis Tambrilaya.”
“What the devil’s that?”
“It’s er a kind of wood wasp.. found only in the Yagod swamp and Bogota.. it has a lifespan of 28 minutes – that could be months – there’s a stain..”
“Are you being useful, Phelps? Or are you deliberately wasting my time?”
“He’s wasting time in my opinion.” said the constable, “the way I see it you ought to talk to Fobster.”
“Him too. Find out where he is, what he’s doing and why he’s doing it.”
“How he’s doing it might be rather interesting too,” said Phelps with a speculative gleam in his eye.
“Phelps, we need moral support,” barked the principal “Where is the rest of the History department ?”
“Er.. frolicking in Ashmeadow. They seem to have lost interest in things since they lost the power of speech.”
“Understandable I suppose,” conceded the principal “Why is it that only your head and legs have gone goat, Phelps?”
“Late developer,” said the constable with a wink.
“Well come along then,” said the principal briskly, rising to his feet, “We talk to Foster. Coming Phelps? Constable?”
The constable evinced reluctance when it came to parting with the decanter and compromised by bringing it along as evidence.
The trio arrived to find the door to Big Dorm daubed with a sticky black substance, reminiscent of tar and shot with white fatty specks.
“Black pudding,” asserted the constable testing it with a finger “School black pudding,” he amended hastily after sampling a fragment.
“Black pudding,” gasped the Principal, still recovering from the four floor climb.
Without warning the door swang open. It revealed the sort of scene that the Divinity master would have described as “ethnic”.
“Come in,” giggled young Foster from behind his altar. “Come to talk terms?”
“You giggle like a girl,” observed the principal diplomatically “Stop this nonsense now and.. um.. Phelps will give you your merit mark.”
“Cor, that’s decent of you, Phelps,” smirked young Foster.
“Phelps is a very decent chap,” declared the principal grandly sensing victory. “And that is why he has agreed to give you two… no, three merit marks!”
“Oh for Delplunkett’s sake,” shrilled young Foster, “I don’t want merit marks.”
“What do you want then?” pursued the principal “Toast privileges? Exemption from the Cross country? A school cap?”
“Power.” said young Foster.
“Power.” said the constable “Do you think that I could borrow a pencil? I think I’ve left mine in the study.”
“Why do you want power?” demanded the principal “When I was your age I hadn’t a thought for things like power. All I wanted was to play for the first XV.”
“There is one big difference between your case and mine,” observed young Foster loftily.
“And what is that?”
“I am not a moron.”
There was a pause.
“I beg your pardon, Foster?” bellowed the principal “This has gone far enough. I’m going to write a very stiff letter to your parents about this.”
“Save yourself a stamp. They’re not in Borneo anymore.”
“Where are they, son?” asked the constable.
“In the pickle jar, over there by the lizard skin gong,” said young Foster airily. “You may find it hard to believe but they objected quite strenuously to my developing relationships with Papa Delplunkett so in the end I decided to bring them with me. I do so dislike loose ends, don’t you?”
“It’s not a very big pickle jar,” observed Phelps.
“I had to shrink them first of course.”
“This isn’t getting us anywhere. Let’s go back to my study. Perhaps when young Foster has calmed down we will be able to resume this discussion,” raged the principal.
“Don’t be too long. Your deadline runs out at midnight.”
“Deadline?” squawked the principal. “You made no mention of a deadline in your preposterous catalogue of demands.”
“Au contraire,” smiled the demonic Foster “It was in my second letter.”
“The one that Phelps ate. Typical.” exploded the principal. With Herculaen effort he controlled himself. “You know you won’t get away with this Foster. You’re not in Bonga Bonga..”
“Borneo.” clarified Phelps.
“.. now. We have laws here – mortality – justice – standards. We have…”
“You have until midnight. Now run along – I’m rather busy” said young Foster. He smiled kindly and went back to the study of a thick tome that rested on his knees.
“It’s books that done it,” observed the constable, stifling a belch, “Never touch ‘em myself.”
“Idiot,” explained the principal storming from the room.
BACK IN THE STUDY:
It was ten o’clock and the study was thick with smoke. It had been drifting out of the constable’s ears for the better part of an hour in slow curls that looped greasily downwards and settled about eighteen inches from the carpet. The steady flow was punctuated occasionally by a more vigorous puff. The smell was acrid and faintly reminiscent of burning seaweed.
“If young Foster hopes to force our hand be means of this ridiculous display he is wasting his time,” said the principal from his chair “I will not be intimidated. I am resolved on that.”
“A smoke ring,” bleated Phelps excitedly.
“Are you listening to me Phelps?”
“Yes, often,” said Phelps.
“Powerful good grog, this,” slurred the constable, “Not beer if you get my meaning.”
“Brandy,” said the principal “It’s Brandy. And don’t you think you’ve had enough?”
“It reminds me of a song I used to know,” smirked the constable.
“What intrigues me,” said Phelps, folding his hooves under him to avoid the rising fogbank, “What intrigues me is how young Foster learned to do all this. If I remember correctly his father was a quite a mild sort of chap. A gerkhin importer or something.”
“Impossible,” said the constable belligerently. “Can’t grow ‘em in Borneo. Too much sand.”
“It was all in the third message,” sighed the principal wearily “The house servant seemed mainly responsible. Oh, the whole thing is too irksome. Phelps, time is running out. Midnight will be on us in a matter of hours. We must do something.”
“Mother Mangle.” bellowed the constable leaping to his feet and upsetting the coffee table. “She’s the one.”
“And who, or what is mother Mangle?” queried the principal with a disdainful glance at the lambent red nose that wobbled unsteadily in front of him.
“The village midwife,” offered Phelps.
“She has the Power. Fight fire with fire as my mother used to say. She’ll sort Fobster out an’ no mistake.”
“It might be worth a shot,” said Phelps, “after all there doesn’t seem much else that we can do.”
“It’s absurd,” said the principal, “If the governers ever got wind of it I’d be out of a job I can tell you.”
“But principal, it is at least a chance. And to cite the old adage, beggars can’t be choosers”
“Alright, Phelps. We’ll try it. Where does this mother Mangle live?”
“Belchmeadow – out on t’ moors.”
“Ridiculous,” said the principal, fishing in his pocket for the car keys.
The hovel sagged atmospherically on the lip of an abandoned slate quarry and swayed perceptibly with every gust of wind. A wooden sign was nailed to the door.
“‘Tresspassers will be turned into puddys’,” read Phelps as the principal began to belabour the door with the handle of his umbrella. After a minute of this treatment the door swung open creaking hideously and a wizened face peered out suspiciously. It had forgotten to put in its teeth.
“Mother Mangle, I presume,” said the principal grandly.
“You’re right there. You do presume – it’s nearly midnight. Be off with you afore I turn you into a puddy!”
“Madame, I have no time to waste on these tedious border formalities.”
“Ello Ma Mangle!”
“Oh it’s you Josh Potter. What do you mean by this?”
“There’s trouble at school. Witch doctor trouble,” he added happily.
“Well in that case you’d better come in and tell me all about it.” The Mangle cackled briefly and ushered them into a small warm room pungent with the smell of onions. She scurried off to unearth a kettle.
“You sit by the chimbley, Josh Potter and here are two toadstools for your ears.”
“What do I do with them?”
“Use ‘em as plugs – I’m not having you smoke up my living room. Here’s your tea gentlemen.”
“It’s a rather funny colour,” remarked the principal politely.
“There wouldn’t be a nip of something to go with it?” enquired the constable hopefully.
“No there wouldn’t,” asserted the principal.
“Well?” demanded the Mangle lowering her creaking physique into a decrepit rocking chair. “What’s what?”
“It all started when young Foster’s father moved East….”
“…. laughed at me,” concluded the principal “Oh, and Phelps here is turning into a goat.”
“So I see. Hush up now, I’m thinking.”
Ten minutes passed. Phelps stared morosely at his hooves and the principal fiddled savagely with his umbrella. The constable went out to get some air and returned with a small black flask. The old crone sat hunched in her chair, eyes closed, an expression of serene calm on her desiccated face.
“What the devil is she doing?” muttered the principal.
“Contemplatin’.” asserted the constable after removing a toadstool from one ear.
“Things is what she’s contemplatin’,” said the constable darkly.
Time passed. A low snore came from the rocking chair.
“She’s asleep!” exploded the principal. The Mangle erupted from her roost with an alarming shout.
“Come on,” she cried, “There’s no time to be lost! You must drive me to Toad Hollow at once!”
“Why?” demanded the principal truculently.
“To pick stenchberry,” explained Mother Mangle with an unbecoming leer.
BACK IN THE STUDY:
It was a quarter to twelve. The principal, Mother Mangle the Constable and Phelps were assembled back in the study regarding a large pile of “hingredients” that sat on the bureau. Phelps was standing by with a checklist.
“Hog moss…spudfurrow…hennis root..a sprig of gimlet…..hagwither..five newts..and a green pepper. Yes it’s all here.”
“Good boy,” chuckled Mother Mangle rubbing her twig thin fingers with ferocious glee “Now to show the young monkey we mean business.”
“And what in God’s name do we do with all this revolting stuff now that we’ve got it?” asked the principal with a sniff.
“Do with it?” chuckled the irrepressible Mangle, “We eat it of course. It’s to strengthen our fluences.”
With a sigh the principal motioned to Phelps. “Ring for Mrs. Wiggins. Instruct her to bring Tabasco.”
“Here’s your newt,” smiled Mother Mangle.
The door to Big Dorm was still besmeared with black pudding.
“Clever little monkey,” cackled the Mangle.
“I don’t see that spreading breakfast over school property is particularly clever,” began the principal.
“Blood!” boomed the midwife “It’s the main hingredient. It strengthens his fluence!”
“I stand corrected,” sighed the principal and opened the door.
“Welcome.” called a figure sporting a loincloth and an immense wooden mask. It bowed theatrically.
“Is that you in there, young Foster?” demanded the principal.
“Of course. Who were you expecting? Plato?” the figure capered and twirled.
“We are here to offer you terms of surrender,” declared the principal magnanimously. “They are unconditional.”
“A comedian to the last,” sighed young Foster reaching for his wand.
“The joke’s on you this time, young Foster. Meet Mother Mangle!”
“Delighted I’m sure,” sneered young Foster “Who is this decrepit coffin-dodger?”
“Mother Mangle is a witch,” explained Phelps.
“Power,” asserted the constable with drunken solemnity, “Power, Fobster, is the word.”
“Do you surrender?” demanded the principal.
“Then let battle commence,” cackled Mother Mangle advancing on the altar, arms raised, eyes blazing.
“Now we’ll see somat,” grinned the constable “Belchmeadow takes on Borneo. Watch yersel’ Fobster.”
“Barsa nagh speckl speckl tang,” intoned the Mangle. Smoke began to pour from her ears.
“Toadle Woadle grak.” chanted Mother Mangle as she began to rise from the floor and drift towards the window.
“Heg peg SLEBBERY GROO!” she shouted as the window obligingly opened to let her pass.
“Slebbery groo,” she repeated defiantly as the window closed behind her with a snap. A faint shriek echoed around old quad as the Mangle began her descent.
“Borneo has it,” remarked the constable subsiding into a chair.
“Alright, Foster, a joke’s a joke. There was no need for that.” snapped the principal. “That was just spiteful.”
“English witchcraft,” remarked the masked figure conversationally. “Rather overrated I’ve always thought. Anyway I’m glad we’ve got the formalities out of the way. Are you prepared to accede to my demands?”
“Under the circumstances it might perhaps be wise to,” began Phelps.
“Never.” said the principal “I’d sooner hang!”
“I aim to please” said young Foster ambling over to the window to inspect his handiwork. He gestured briefly.
“Gruurgh.” said the principal from the end of his rope. The constable regarded the kicking feet for a moment and then began to snore loudly.
“What a mess,” said young Foster as he peered through the glass.
Phelps decide that it was time for action. With fluid, goaty grace he lowered his horns and charged. Young Foster, alerted to his nemesis by the pounding of hooves, turned from the window and scrabbled for his engraved thighbone. Alas, too late. The impact of the charge flung the boy backwards and with a despairing wail young Foster sailed off in the direct direction of the window. There was a lively crash as the glass bowed to the inevitable. Young Foster’s feet flashed whitely in the moonlight then plunged from sight.
The constable applauded briefly in a desultory fashion then resumed snoring. A satisfyingly final thud curtailed the downward journey of young Foster and then there was silence.
Phelps, rather pleased with his performance and smiling, approached the altar. Ignoring the faint croaking from the end of the rope he fingered the big black book. It was open at page thirteen so he read a little bit. Smoke began to trickle from the headmaster’s ears.
“Get me down from here,” managed the dangling figure “I’m choking.”
“All in good time,” murmured Phelps tucking the book under his jacket and pocketing the thighbone.
“Perhaps this might be an appropriate time to discuss my salary?” suggested Phelps mildly.
“Guurgh” said the figure from its rope.
“And a few more little things, hmmm?”