If Only…. #writephoto
Hieronymus Hampton settled behind the ancient desk and rubbed a cautious finger across the much scored beading. So many great men and a few women had sat here, he mused, and now him. Prime Minister. It had a ring, didn’t it? Not bad for an Old Wykehamist who took a ropey third in Land Economy and only avoided jail because they couldn’t spell his name properly.
A cough made him turn. Leopold Raddle stood in the doorway, unctuously rubbing his hands. The dry rasping made Hieronymus wonder if he ever triggered an accidental conflagration.
Hieronymus shut his eyes and smiled. Yes, he was going to enjoy this.
‘…it is time.’
Time? Catchpole, his supercilious SPAD had mentioned something, hadn’t he? Raddle was the longest serving member of the Cabinet Office’s permanent secretariat and, by reputation the oldest civil servant, appointed before decimalisation and the decriminalisation of single sex golf clubs. How he survived was a mystery…
‘Remind me, Raddle.’
Raddle turned. ‘Oh there’s no need to pretend you know what this is about, Prime Minister. No one but me knows what I’m about to tell you.’
Hieronymus stood, hesitating somewhere between being intrigued and shit scared and finally followed the wrinkled old retainer. The old boy kept talking as he led the country’s new leader through a sequence of increasingly ancient, thick and secure doors, locking each as they passed.
‘Each PM takes this walk, sir. It’s to explain why, in the words of that old saw ‘all political careers end in failure’.
Make me welcome, mumbled Hieronymus.
Raddle stopped and did something with his lips that may have been a smile or, just possibly the preparatory exercises undertaken by a carnivore as it assesses its prey. ‘You are most welcome, Prime Minister. Here we are.’
The permanent sub-undersecretary carefully eased the chain that hung round his neck out of his tatty shirt. It held a small and shiny key which he swung in front of Hieronymus. ‘When Guy Fawkes entered Parliament supposedly to blow it up, he had, in fact a different plan. Before he was caught he and his co-conspirators buried a small vial deep in the foundations. In it a sanctified curse had been placed. The import was to confine to purgatory on earth those who purported to govern this country while a Protestant Usurper sat on the throne.’
Hieronymus blinked and narrowed his eyes. ‘This is a jape, right? Mucky Martindale put you up to this, didn’t he? It smacks of that duplicitous little fibbertigibbet’s twisted sense of fun.’
Raddle looked down and shook his head. ‘You are the fourteenth Premier to assume a joke, sir. Only three have taken this really seriously.’ He lifted his gaze and looked on Hieronymus with an infinite sadness. ‘When Parliament burnt down, in 1834, the curse was unfortunately released and but for the swift actions of a group of dedicated exorcists and the secret assistance of the Pope in offering an ecucommunicantanation…’
‘A papal suppressant. It held the curse at bay while they built this room. But by the time they did so some of the curse had taken hold. See…’
Raddle turned and opened the door, standing back to let the very reluctant prime minister past. He stared at the tableau that faced him through a glass screen. ‘The room is a controlled environment with each corner housing a true relic of the Cross and the glass is frequently doused in holy water blessed by the Bishop of London. While those controls remain the angel you see, which represents that papal anaesthetic holds the dove of peace above the donkey and so controls the curse. Meanwhile this country will continue on its bumbling but largely successful course while only one person will suffer the consequences…’
Hieronymus nodded. Weird but harmless, he thought. The old boy needs pensioning off if this is his idea of a bit of fun. ‘Right Ho. I’d better get back. Red boxes to read, you know.’
‘Before you go, sir you’ll need to rub the donkey’s head. It’s tradition and ensures that the curse remains dormant apart from your role.’
But Raddle had already used the key to open a small panel next to the donkey that allowed a hand to be inserted. ‘Sir?’ Raddle stood back, his expression inscrutable.
Oh bollocks, Hieronymus muttered, if I have to… he reached in and touched the donkey. As he did so he slumped to the floor. Some sort of tentacle appeared from the shadow and dragged the inert body away. Moments later an exact replica of Hieronymus Hampton stepped forward. Raddle smiled, a proper smile. He stood in front of the frankly bemused doppelgänger. ‘The donkey represents all Prime Ministers. You come into office with these plans and projects and before you know it you’ll make a right bugger’s muddle, won’t you? But someone has to pay…’
The man nodded. Something like dawning understanding was filling his features.
‘So what you won’t do is interfere with these basements or do anything that might make you universally popular. You’ll see to that, won’t you?’
The new Hieronymus nodded enthusiastically.
‘The sniggerers, of which you are one, get a term, at best. Those who take this seriously but don’t actually believe in it, might be allowed two terms. Only those who at least try to believe get to win three elections on the trot. And they will forever be excoriated for their presumption, be a poll tax obsession or a dusty war. All of you will be humiliated. Failure. And when you leave office, you’ll get your original body back, though not your memory, to enjoy a much loathed retirement. Meanwhile..’
They both turned and looked at the donkey, that looked back at them through the glass. There was definitely something of a shaggy haired blond Wykehamist about it.
This was written in response to the latest #writephoto prompt and in despair at the state of British politics…