Miles Kington: Murder in the cathedral: a seasonal ghost story

The Japanese visitors were martial arts experts, and they killed the axe-man in self-defence
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Time for a seasonal ghost story today, I think.

If you stood still in an apparently silent cathedral, thought Sir Arthur, as he did exactly that, you realised the place was actually a hive of activity. Tourists were shuffling round the place. Chairs were being moved somewhere. Someone was practising the organ, not very well.

A small group of men near the door were chatting and laughing, as if they did not take the place as reverently as other people did. Clergymen, probably.

"Can I help you at all?" said a soft voice at Sir Arthur's shoulder. It came from a tall man in a cloak or a gown, one of those costumes worn by church attendants to make them look like clergymen even though they are only churchwardens or volunteers or something. "Or do you know the place already?" said the cloaked man. "Are you perhaps a Friend of the Cathedral?"

Sir Arthur smiled faintly. "Not exactly," he said. "Actually, for a while I almost thought of myself as an Enemy of the Cathedral."

The cloaked man frowned. Clearly he felt a slight change of subject was called for. "I often think," he said, "that of all places a big church should be more haunted than most. All these tombs. All these memorials. All these effigies ..." He gestured vaguely at the gleaming tablets on the walls, the tattered war standards, the stone knights reclining in their stone armour. "But how often do you hear of a haunted church? Why haven't their spirits returned?"

"I think," said Sir Arthur, "the idea is that spirits like to haunt the place they were attached to, or where they were killed. Not the place they were buried. And how many people do you get being killed in a church? Apart from St Thomas à Becket, of course."

"Believe it or not," said the man, "there has been one murder in this cathedral. It happened just over there, about 30 years ago."

"Really?" said Sir Arthur. "I don't remember that."

"Oh, a churchwarden was showing some Japanese people round when a deranged man burst in brandishing an axe. He charged at the group, and the churchwarden decided he should try to deal with him. He stepped forward and was instantly killed by the maniac."

"That's sad," said Sir Arthur.

"What he didn't know was that all the Japanese visitors were martial arts experts, and when he turned on them, they killed him in self-defence, without any fuss or bother."

"That's even sadder," said Sir Arthur. "How do you know all this?"

"I was that churchwarden," the cloaked figure said softly.

"Right," said Sir Arthur.

There was a silence.

"You don't seem excessively terrified," said the figure.

"You are wrong," said Sir Arthur. "Not about my terror. But you are wrong when you say there was only one murder in this place. There was another. Two hundred and fifty years ago. When a knight sought sanctuary during the Civil War, but was cut down by a detachment of Cromwell's men. Six to one, it was."

He paused.

"But I did at least take three of them with me."

"You?" said the figure. "So you are ... "

"Sir Arthur Crompton, 1623-1648," said Sir Arthur. "That's my memorial over there." He nodded at a white work of art.

"Not much compensation for being murdered, though," said Sir Arthur.

"I only got a plaque," said the figure. " 'On this spot was tragically murdered Cecil Brightman, a cathedral guide ... .' My one pleasure now is showing people round after my death."

"Pity you picked on me today," said Sir Arthur. "Not much point haunting a ghost, after all. ... Uh oh. I think I have to push on."

"Why?"

"See those three shapes over there? Coming this way?"

"Yes."

"They are the shades of three Cromwellian soldiers. I don't think they have ever quite forgiven me."

"I'll come with you," said the spirit of Cecil Brightman. "There's a certain deceased axe-maniac I'm still trying to avoid."

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