The Height of Absurdity: Hilda’s Abbey 11.7
5 June, 2018 by katelaity
‘It is a clue!’ Tansy declared with that tremor of excitement which always accompanied the shining eyes that lead me to do things I really ought to have the sense not to do. Even in the presence of such august presences as the abbess and the elderly scholar, I had little hope of remaining clear of ‘adventure’ as my friend always sought it out.
‘It could just be someone musing about the moon for all we know,’ I said a little crossly because it was the time of the afternoon that a little glass of sherry might well lift a man’s spirits but there was none to be found hereabouts in the little church. At least I counted myself lucky to consider there was also little likelihood of paths to fairy lands or underground caverns with strange green men either within this august building with an apparently very long history. A placid, normal sort of history it had.
Hartlepool was a most unlikely place for adventure, surely.
‘Where would “obscure tracks” go from here?’ Tansy asked the abbess.
The abbess Matilda looked most uncharacteristically excited. Well, it was uncharacteristic as far as my experience with abbesses went. True, she had apple cheeks and the kind of soft shape that led one to use words like ‘motherly’ in her description—after all was an abbess a sort of mother superior to her charges?—but the thrill in her tone made me wary. Did religious women have any right to be delving into mysteries?
‘I have often contemplated that very idea in idle moments—not that an abbess has many of those!—but I thought there must be some connection with the rumours about an ossuary beneath the old abbey.’
Tansy’s look of intrigue was unfortunately entirely familiar. ‘An ossuary! But no accessible to modern steps?’
‘Built over, I am certain,’ the abbess said with a palpable sense of regret.
‘What’s an ossuary?’ I asked nonplussed by this peculiar vocabulary.
‘Perhaps there is a hidden entrance,’ Tansy said with hope.
‘It would have to be well hidden,’ the abbess said with a frown. The two of them cast eyes around the darkened corner in which we stood.
‘What is an ossuary?’ I repeated, wondering why they had not answered my question, but the two women busied themselves poking and prying around the stones and paid me no heed.
‘An ossuary is a place to house the bones of the departed,’ Chambers said quietly with a little smile.
If he meant that to reassure me, it did not succeed. ‘Bones? What interest could we have in bones?’
‘Not in bones, silly,’ Tansy said, stepping backwards in a most peculiar way and narrowing her eyes. ‘But with what might arise from them. Hold that lantern aloft, will you?’
‘You mean dust?’ I said with what I hoped was a withering sarcasm, but did as she requested.
Tansy gave a bark of laughter that was most unbecoming in a female. ‘I mean spirits of course, dear fellow. Look, do you not all notice how that grave stone angles away from the wall?’
‘Stones settle a good deal over…what is it? Twelve centuries!’ There was a chill in the air. Perhaps some tea would help. I should suggest it to my friend, but she was dashing back across the dark nave or whatever it was.
‘Gentlemen, help me move this!’ Without concern for her lovely sleeve, Tansy put her shoulder to the stone. It was most indecorous and I could only think she had forgotten her state, but as Chambers and even the abbess joined in the effort, I put my shoulder to the grave as well and we succeeded after a time in moving it a bit off its moorings.
Tansy took the lantern and thrust it into the darkness. ‘Just as I thought!’