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Children's Stories
by Margo Fallis
Periwinkle Longtoes

At precisely 11:55 p.m. Nigel Cuttlefish closed the door to his house and headed for Angelsbury Cathedral. Raindrops clung to his worn leather shoes as he trudge through the ankle high grass growing wild and unkempt between his house and the nearby cathedral. Out of habit, he dug into his pocket for the circular wire band that held a multitude of keys. He plodded on, tugging them with his hand. An owl's hoot echoed through the darkness of the night, luring his eyes to look at the ancient oak. The full moon bathed the grounds in its pale glow, enough to see the outline of the tree, but not the owl.

With bundle in hand, Nigel moved onto a dirt path, lined with the perfectly manicured lawns of the cathedral. Small stones crunched beneath both feet, his step in rhythm to the swaying branches dancing in the autumn wind. The Gothic building loomed ahead, its twisting spires and windowed turrets reached for the twinkling stars. Nigel stopped in front of a high wooden door, sturdy, yet weathered and timeworn; built centuries before by labored hands, the scratches and indentations a reminder of years gone by.

The bundle he carried so carefully in his arms, dropped near his feet. He twisted the elongated key in the lock, turning the creaking door open. With a bored sigh, he picked up his newspaper-wrapped parcel and slipped the ring of keys back into his pocket. Stepping inside, he turned and closed the door.

“Where should I go tonight? Into the nave, or back to my cubby for a snooze?”

Nigel sauntered across the polished stone floor, hearing himself breathe in the silence of the empty sanctuary. “I think I'll head for my cubby.” He turned and walked down a long hallway, passing under the vaulted ceilings, the sacellum and the oldest and only original part of the cathedral, the abbey. “Here we are.” A dark, dingy room welcomed Nigel.

“You're small, but you're mine and mine alone.” The caretaker lit the candle stub, nearly burning his fingertips with the match. “It's about time I replaced you,” he said, talking to the waxen luminosity.

The loaf of hot bread, wrapped in his wife Ella's dishtowel, tempted his hunger. He sat on the edge of his cot, careful to not slip into the sagging middle, and removed the contents of the parcel. Butter, fragrant with the aroma of fresh cream, caught the flickering of the candle. The jar of marmalade, his wife's secret recipe, was placed on a rickety pine nightstand. “Ah, Ella. Nobody makes marmalade like you do.” He unscrewed the lid and sniffed the lemons, oranges and grapefruits mingled with a sugary gel. From his other pocket he pulled out a small butter knife, as his wife called it.
Scraping the dull knife across the top of the cube of butter, he noticed how smoothly it glided and spread on the slices of bread. When each piece was buttered, he scooped out the thick marmalade and plopped it on top. “I've been waiting for this all night.” Lifting the bread to his mouth, he chomped down. Drops of sticky marmalade clung to his chin and globs of butter stuck to the tip of his nose, unnoticed by the hungry middle-aged Nigel.

As he greedily devoured his supper, he looked around the room. “If the priests or Bishop found out all I did was sleep, they'd have me drawn and quartered for wasting church money. If my dear Ella was to learn that every night I come to work and sleep, she'd give me such a row. I suppose I should feel guilty.”

Creamy milk washed down a few more bites. It was the same thing night after night. He'd come to work to clean the cathedral, only to find the place spotless. Not once had he lifted a broom, polished a pew, or wiped the keys to the organ. The windows always shone with a radiant cleanliness. No rubbish littered the floors. Occasionally he'd have to rub dirty smudges off the doorknobs, but never had he genuinely had to work.

Aside from doing a nightly check of the grounds and the building, to make sure it was locked up securely, Nigel made little effort. “Nobody's got it as good as you do, Nigel Cuttlefish! Cushy job, your own cubby, a wife that can cook, a house, meager as it is, next door to the cathedral, and still I can claim eight hours of work each night.”

The empty milk bottle, marmalade jar and the knife went back into his pocket. He hung the coat on the doorknob and lay down in the cot, pulling the blanket over him. Within moments he heard the squeaks of hungry long-tailed rats, appearing each night on queue, eager to nibble the bread crumbs he left for them in a corner of his room.

No sooner had he dozed off when a noise woke him. He sat up and stared at the wall, straining to hear better. “Who be that out there? Is someone in the cathedral?” His feet slipped from the cot to the floor. Aches and pains of age slowed his walk to the door, where he pressed his ear against. “How odd!” With a hesitancy, he turned the knob and peeked into the hall. “It sounded like it came from near the nave.”

Tired and slumping, he dragged his feet, inching his way down the hall. “I might have been dreaming again, but it sounded like someone opening a stone tomb. I'm going daft! There was probably something wrong with the marmalade. Ach! I'm back to my cot.” Into the wee hours of the morning he lay awake, listening for other noises and thinking frightening thoughts of hundreds of ghosts of the ancient kings crawling out of their tombs and wandering the cathedral halls.

When the sun rose over the horizon, it cast colors across the tiny room, reflected from the stained glass window high on the wall above him. Nigel's eyes opened and all thoughts of the night before vanished. “I'd better get up and look like I've been working.”

He grabbed his coat and picked the broom out of the closet near the caretaker's entrance. No sooner had he swept the broom across the cold stone floor when the door opened and several priests entered. They marched past without so much as a nod, all except one. “Good morning, Mr. Cuttlefish. Still at work! I commend you for your diligence.” He stopped and put his arm around Nigel's shoulder. “This cathedral has always been a source of pride to the community and most of that is due to your hard work and efforts, Nigel.” With a nod, the priest disappeared down the hall, catching up with the others.

Nigel grinned, stifling a yawn, slipped on his coat and opened the door. A misty morning greeted him. Sunlight filtered through the gray clouds as he inhaled the fresh scent of rain, decaying autumn leaves and sizzling bacon and sausages coming from his house.

“Nigel Cuttlefish! Look at you! I'm sure you're exhausted after a night's work. Why don't you go and wash up and I'll fix you a plate of kippers, sausages, bacon, eggs and baked beans.” Ella Cuttlefish kissed her grubby-faced husband on the cheek. “Go and have yourself a shave, Nigel. You're face is covered with hoary stubble. You look ancient this morning. Rough night, Luv?”

Nigel knew the routine well. Each morning he feigned exhaustion, ate a hearty breakfast and then, with pretense, went to his bed to sleep, only to get up as soon as his wife left for the town. She visited a few of her friends, stopped by the market and did volunteer work at the local primary school, arriving home the same time every day. He didn't mind the few minutes of comfort in his the firm bed, which he always slipped into in case Ella came upstairs for a peek. The fluffy down pillows, scented pillowcases and sheets and a warm duvet snuggled him like a cocoon.

“I'll shave after I eat.” The old man shuffled to his chair near the fire in the kitchen and collapsed into it. “And how are you this morning Mr. Banbury,” he said to the long-haired gray cat perched on the window sill. “Been out catching mice?” He stroked the cat behind the ears and then, as always, he spoke to the summer sky blue budgies in the cage hanging close to the same window. “How's my little budgies doing this morning? Give us a kiss, Brambles. Give us a kiss, Lily.” The two birds scooted along the wooden swing to the bars, stuck their beaks through and nibbled on Nigel's cheek. “That's my girls.” A few tweets filled the room with their melodic resonance.

Ella's oven-mitted hand put the hot plate of food down in front of her husband. “Tell me about your night, Nigel. Did you manage to polish all of the pews?”

He nodded, avoiding a lie.

“You work so hard. Today, while you're sleeping, I'm off to the market with a bundle of my crocheted doilies and embroidered pillowcases. Nancy Hollingsworth said she'd sell them for me in her shop. I made a few extra jars of jam. You've got your choice of blackberry currant, apricot peach, or strawberry gooseberry. There's a few more jars of my marmalade if you prefer. We'll do fine.”

With a full belly, Nigel climbed the stairs to the bedroom. As he undressed and climbed into bed, he heard Ella rattling dishes and tidying up. When the door shut behind her, Nigel sprang out of bed. “I'll go in early tonight. That's what I'll do. If there's someone sneaking around my cathedral at night without talking to me about it, well, I'll put a stop to it immediately.” With a harrumph, he showered, shaved and dressed. After slipping on his heather-blue cardigan, he went down the stairs and out to the tin-roofed shed in his back garden. While his wife chin-wagged with the ladies in town, Nigel kept himself busy with his woodworking. Ella had never stepped a foot inside the dilapidated hut. Their wedding anniversary was just around the corner and he hoped to surprise his wife; his project -- a set of chairs for their kitchen table.

After tea that night, Ella sat in her stuffed chair in front of the fire, crocheting and nibbling on a bar of Belgian chocolate. “I think my doilies will sell. Even though tourist season has died down, there's always someone driving through town to visit the cathedral. We're very lucky, Luv, to have a working 13th century cathedral in our village.” She looked at her husband, who lay sprawled across the couch snoring. “Nigel! Nigel! Wake up. You've not heard a word I've said. It's nearly ten o'clock at night.”

The time registered in his subconscious, waking him. “Ten? I've got to go to work.” He jumped up and reached for his coat.

“Nigel? What's going on? You don't leave for work until 11:55. Not once, in the thirty years since you've been caretaker, have you ever left this house one minute before then.”

“I've got some extra work to do tonight, Ella. I must go. They've started taking tours through the cathedral and I'm always finding rubbish tossed between the pews.”

Before Ella could say another word, he went into the kitchen, grabbed a jar of apricot and peach jam, a butter knife, butter, and half a loaf of bread. Quietly opening the refrigerator, he slipped a bottle of milk into his pocket, careful not to peel back the foil lid. “I'm off.”

Ella heard the back door shut. “What was that all about? How unusual! I'll never understand that man.” She shrugged her shoulders and went back to her crocheting.

Nigel rushed down the path to the cathedral, his keys in hand. He opened the door and dashed down the long hall to his cubby and then directly to the nave. “I'll find out who the culprit is tonight. I don't believe in ghosts. Someone's trying to trick me.” With lit candle blazing in the candleholder, he made his way from the back of the nave, past the pews until he came to the choir, with its intricately carved, Norwegian oak stalls.

Chantry chapels and altars lined one side of the nave. The long central arcaded and colonnaded room, a marvel of Gothic architecture, stood silent. It's ribbed vaults and pointed arches, were set in such a manner as to bring your eye directly to the rose windows. In midday the stained glass caused a light, lacy spider web effect on the high altar, as the rainbow colors illuminated with the sun's rays. At night, when darkness hung thick under cloud-covered skies, they reminded Nigel of glassy eyes, peering into his soul.

“If these walls could talk, what stories they'd tell,” he whispered, slouching behind the slabs of a tomb. His eyes went straight to the golden image lying on top. The remains of a former nobleman of the area, Sir Ranulf Biggington of Marshdale, lay inside. “If it's you r ghost wandering my halls, Sir Ranulf, don't do it tonight. I don't think my old heart could take it.”

From where Nigel sat, he could see the pedal organ, decorated with Carrera marble angels, with over 4,000 polished tin pipes and three rows of keys and pedals. The organ, when properly played, filled the cathedral with heavenly music. He smiled, thinking of the hundreds of times he'd sat in the back of the cross-shaped cathedral listening to one of the organists playing.

Bored, with nothing to pass the time, Nigel devoured his bread, butter, jam, and milk. One eyelid fell shut as he struggled to stay awake. When the other eyelid closed, he dropped the near-empty bottle of milk, the leftover spilling its whiteness onto the ground.
A snore burst from his mouth just as the organ music began, frightening and confusing him. His eyes swung to his wrist for a look at an old leather-strapped watch. “11 p.m.?

What's going on?” Music erupted from the organ, filling the cathedral with an echoing resonance. “The culprit is playing the organ!” Sliding onto his stomach, he slithered around the tomb for a better view. “My goodness,” he gulped in disbelief, “what have we here?”

Perched on the organ bench, with hands expertly playing the ivory keys, was a small man. Wispy gray hair stuck out from his head in disarray, pointed ears poking through the long strands. A worn grayish-brown suit hung from the scrawny man's body, over a tight fitting gray and black striped vest. A matching stained and faded tie dangled down the front of what was once a white shirt. Nigel gasped, but continued to gawk.

A candle stub, flickering in a puddle of melted wax, gave off a subdued light, its glow surrounding the man in a halo of soft luminescence. His pudgy bare feet, with wiry hairs poking from the top of each toe, pushed the organ peddles up and down.

“That's no ghost and he's not using any music. Why, of course, it's a hobgoblin. I remember as a boy hearing stories of a hobgoblin inhabiting the cathedral. So, it's true.
Angelsbury Cathedral has its very own hobgoblin.” Entranced by the powerful music, Nigel had no choice but to lie flat on his belly and listen.

When the recital for one stopped, the tiny man slid off the organ bench, his padded feet plodding across the cold stone floor. He pulled a cloth out of his pocket and polished each and every organ key. After he finished with those, he proceeded to wipe the wooden instrument from top to bottom.

Nigel slid further back into the dark recess to watch.

A gold pocket watch chain stretched from the button on the hobgoblin's vest to a pocket on the suit coat. It sparkled and glittered in the candlelight's flickering flames, catching Nigel's attention.

"How very strange,” he whispered. “He's moving so quickly, less than an hour; it's no wonder the cathedral is always clean and there's never any work left for me to do.”

The hobgoblin hobbled through the aisle between the pews, stopping at each row, and one by one, polished them until they shone with a glowing luster.

“So this is how it happens.” Nigel marveled at the little man holding a broom.

“The hobgoblin sweeps up the rubbish. Little man, I owe you a great debt of gratitude.”

The hobgoblin dusted the tables and swept the floor, dragged a ladder from a back room into the nave and cleaned every colored glass window, section by section, until Nigel could see the moon and stars shining through them.

At precisely 11:54 p.m., the hobgoblin put the cloth back in his pocket and waddled down the hall.

Nigel tiptoed after him, anxious to see where he went.

When the hobgoblin stopped, he clapped his hands three times. One of the limestone slabs opened, grating against the floor, exposing a dark tunnel. With candle in hand, he disappeared and the stone closed.

Nigel glided down the hall, stopping in front of the slab. A grin spread from ear to ear and his heart gave a flutter of admiration for this creature. Unable to budge the stone, he gave up and went to his cubby, pulled the blanket up to his neck and fell asleep.

He awakened to a pair of larks singing outside the cathedral window. After stretching his body as though he were a cat, he put on his coat and headed for home.

Ella stood at the stove cooking sausages once again. “You look horrible, Nigel. The cathedral must have been filthy to keep you up all night. Well now, don't you worry about a thing. I've got a nice breakfast ready for you and I did the washing late last night after you left for work, so the sheets on the bed are April fresh.”

Nigel sat at the table, stroked Mr. Banbury and got his morning kisses from Brambles and Lily.

Ella puttered around the kitchen, fixing a pot of tea and scrambling eggs.

“Ella, what do you know about hobgoblins?”

She wiped her chubby fingers on her apron and carried over a plate of food.

“Hobgoblins? Why do you ask such a thing? Did you hear strange noises in the nave?”
A chuckle escaped her mouth as she patted his hand. “You're not afraid of ghosts now, are you, Luv?”

"No, don't be silly, Ella. It was just a question.” He decided to change the subject and picked up his cup of tea. “Ella, what will you be doing today while I sleep? Are you heading into town?”

“I thought I'd take a jar of blackberry currant jam over to Mrs. Dottingham. She's been a bit under the weather. I'm glad I made extra. I'll be stopping by the primary school, of course. If you wake up and I'm not home, help yourself to a biscuit. There's some chocolate-covered caramel wafers and a few raisin scones. Now eat your breakfast and off to bed with you.”

As instructed, Nigel went upstairs to bed and once again, after hearing Ella leave for town, he got up and made the bed. After a shower and shave he sat in front of the television, though his mind was elsewhere. “I've got to find out more about this hobgoblin.”

Ella came home in the early afternoon. “You're up. I trust you slept well, Luv. I'll fix supper shortly. I picked up some sliced ham. We'll have eggs, beans, and chips with it. Does that sound good to you? I picked up a fruit tart at the bakers. It's full of kiwi, blueberries, strawberries and bits of pear.”

Nigel grunted and turned off the television. “Sounds delightful. I'll help you peel the potatoes.” At the table, he announced, “Ella, I've got to leave early again tonight. There's been a few problems and I might have to go in early to work from now on. I hope you don't mind.”

“Not at all, Luv. You are working harder though. Maybe you should take some extra bread. I'll start making two loaves for you.” She leaned over and kissed him on the cheek. Her rosy cheeks flushed from cooking over a hot stove warmed his face.

The rain pelted down through the night sky, drumming against the roof of the house. Ella handed him the bread, butter, butter knife, a jar of jam and a bottle of milk.

“You'll need this to get through the long night. Walk quickly or you'll catch the death of cold.”

He nodded, pulled his coat over his head and after grabbing the bundle from his wife, darted to the cathedral. Nigel heard water splattering on the ground, falling from the gargoyle's mouths high above. Droplets ran along the flying buttresses and arches that supported the vaulted ceilings before trickling into the drain and out through the gargoyle's mouth. Ignoring the noise, he slipped the key into the lock and turned it quickly, opening and closing the door.

His coat slipped off his shoulders while he hurried down the empty hall towards his cubby. The bread, milk, butter and jam jiggled against each other as he placed them on the table. Grabbing a match, he lit the candle and glanced at his watch. “I've just enough time.” He closed the door behind him and scrambled to the nave. “That's where the hobgoblin disappeared last night.” He made haste towards the spot and passed by, hiding behind a marble pillar. And then he waited.

Too excited to sleep, he stood with his back leaning against the column. The creaking of rock against rock alerted him to the hobgoblin's exit. He glanced at his watch.

“Precisely 11 p.m. I must wait. I must wait. Patience Nigel.” Not until he heard the organ playing did he dare to venture from his place of concealment. “Slowly, Nigel. Take your time.”

He stopped in front of the slab of stone and clapped his hands three times. Much to his surprise, as he didn't think it would truly work, the stone opened.

A damp, musty smell wafted from within. Crouching to fit, as he was a tall, slim man, he made his way down a narrow tunnel, which seemed to get smaller and smaller with each step. He lit a candle and though it added some relief, a deliverance from fear washed over him when he stepped into a room. “My, oh my, look at this mess.”

A rusted metal bed frame stood against one of the walls. On top of it lay a straw mattress, old and stale and smelling of years of use. A pillow, filthy and flea-ridden, sat on top, feathers sticking out through tears in the moth-eaten fabric. The blanket, which Nigel hesitated to go to close to, was stiff with foulness. Fighting back an overpowering urge to be sick to his stomach, he covered his mouth and stepped to the other side of the room. From there he could see rats running around under the bed, nibbling on crumbs that had fallen from a rickety wooden table. Bread crust, stale and moldy looked as though it could sprout legs and walk away on its own. A bronze candleholder, the sort with a loop for carrying, sat next to the crust. Only a stub of taper was left, perhaps enough to light the room one more night, but only to a soft glow.

An open book lay next to the candleholder. Nigel picked it up. Holding his candle closer, he read the title, Dragon Lore and Fantasmic Facts. Below the title it read, This Book Belongs to Periwinkle Longtoes.

“So that's your name. Periwinkle Longtoes. Well, Mr. Longtoes, you've broken my heart. You're so kind and work so hard and here I am taking credit for your efforts. You live in squalor and total poverty while I reap the rewards. Well, not for long, Periwinkle.” Nigel sighed. “You spend so much time cleaning the cathedral, doing my job, that you're too exhausted to clean your own room. I'm about to change that.”

As he turned to leave, Nigel bumped into a wooden shelf. On it sat many other books. He ran the candle in front of them, struggling to read the titles. The Canterbury Tales; Knights, Knaves and Nobles; The Third Crusade; Greenwich England – When Time Stood Still; The Magna Carta – Fact or Fiction. “A fine collection of medieval books.” Nigel rummaged through them, fascinated by the detailed illustrations and unique styles of printing.

The organ music stopped. Nigel's chin dropped. “What if he comes back and catches me? I've no idea what sort of magic a hobgoblin does and I've no desire to find out.” On his way out, he noticed a stained glass window, covered with muck and grime.

He made a mental note and left. When the slab of stone slid shut, Nigel doused his candle and hurried back to his hiding place before Periwinkle returned.

After the hobgoblin went into his room, Nigel made his way back to his cubby. Devouring his bread and jam, a wave of guilt ran through him, thinking of the hungry hobgoblin in his miserable, wretched abode. The last of the cream dripped from his chin as he packed the leftovers into the parcel Ella had sent with him. With plans for the following night going through his mind, he lay awake, giggling with delight thinking of the changes he was about to bring about in the cathedral.

The next morning, he headed home as usual, but today he thought about putting the plan into action. A feast of plump sizzling sausages smothered in fried onions sat on his plate next to two scrambled eggs and buttered wheat toast. Mr. Banbury jumped on Nigel's lap, eager for a morning pet and a nibble of eggs. Nigel kissed his budgies and his wife and then went up to bed. He lay down, climbing in between the sheets, sniffing them. “They do smell April fresh.” Patiently waiting for his wife to head into town, his mind wandered to the hobgoblin once again.

When he heard the door shut, he arose and went down to the kitchen. He rummaged through the pantry, picking up a box of plastic rubbish bags. Pulling one out, he carried it with him to the linen closet. Sheets stacked high on the top shelf, neatly folded and pressed, nearly fell when he pushed things aside, searching for a spare blanket. Under the towels hid three blankets. The softest one slipped into the bag. “Now, where does she keep the pillow cases. Ah, there they are.” A blue one with tiny pink and yellow flowers caught his attention. Pushing the blanket aside, he stuffed the pillowcase into the bag. He headed back up the stairs, took one of the extra pillows off his bed and added it to the bag, along with a small throw rug from his bathroom floor and a handful of candles. “There now! Tonight before I leave, I shall get one jar of jam and one jar of marmalade, two butter knives, two loaves or bread and two bottles of fresh milk.”

“I nearly forgot!” Nigel went into the spare bedroom and picked a book of the shelf. “An Alchemist's Guide to 13th Century Herbs. This is a good one. I've not a clue as to where it came from, but looking at the dust on it, it's been sitting here for many years. Ella won't miss it.” He dropped it in the bag with the other items and sat on his bed.

“Socks! I nearly forgot the socks!” The top drawer, where Ella usually put his socks, slid open; nicely folded and together in pairs brought a smile of appreciation to Nigel's face. After searching for the thickest, warmest pair, he pulled them out of the drawer and held them up. “The little fellow's got awfully large feet. I hope these fit.” He dropped them in the with book. “That should do it.” Satisfied that everything was in place and that Ella would never find out, he headed for his workshop.

As the afternoon sun lowered in the sky, the school children headed home after a busy day of learning mathematics, geography, history and spelling. The fact that they walked past Nigel's house every weekday never seemed a problem, but today they were extremely boisterous. Nigel put a tin of wood stain down next to the pile of rags he used for polishing and opened the shed window. “Foolish children!” Shaking his head back and forth with disgust at their childish behavior and remembering that he never acted like a scallywag, he locked the door and went into the house to shower. Before opening the bedroom door, he spotted the bag. “I shall have to be sneaky with this. Ella would take the micky out of me if she knew I was taking pillows and blankets to a hobgoblin.” With no other choice, he waited until the rowdy children passed and opened the bedroom window. Peering over the hedges and seeing nobody around, he dropped the bag behind Ella's still flowering rose bushes. “There, that should do it. Just in time too. Ella's back.”

With a guilty grin on his face, Nigel went down the stairs to see what delicious concoction his wife would prepare for tea.

“There you are, Nigel. I trust you had a good sleep. The school children didn't wake you, did they? They're a noisy lot, they are.” Ella stood at the kitchen sink washing the dirt off a few Ayrshire potatoes.

“Hooligans, Ella. Today's children have no idea what discipline is. Why, when I was a boy in school...”

“Yes, Nigel. I've heard it a hundred times. If you've got nothing better to do than complain, you can mash the plaice. I'm fixing Welsh rarebit, toad in the hole, and fishcakes. I made a trifle earlier. It's chilling in the refrigerator. Did you eat the tarts?”

“No Ella. Are you trying to make me fat? That's enough food to feed the entire British RAF!” He nibbled on his wife's ear.

“Stop that, Nigel. I can't concentrate on my potatoes. Never mind the fish. Why don't you set the table instead.” Ella's blushing cheeks, rosy and warm, matched the joy she felt in her heart for her husband.

An hour later, supper finished and both retired to the living room, Nigel watched his wife crocheting. “Ella, do you know how to crochet a pair of socks?”

She pooh-poohed him, waving her arm downward. “Nigel, don't be daft. You don't crochet socks, you knit them.”

“How silly of me, Ella. Do you know how to knit woolen socks, the good, warm kind?”

“I suppose I could, if I wanted to, but I much prefer my doilies. Are you needing a new pair of socks, Nigel?”

“No, dear. It's fine. I was just curious.” With no more questions to ask, Nigel lay down on the settee to watch television.

After a cup of tea and the customary two bits of a chocolate bar, Nigel checked his watch. “Time to go to work.” He stood and stretched, yawning with emphasis. “I'll be off now, Ella. You've made me some bread?” His eyebrows arched with questioning.

“Oh course, Luv. Two loaves. Would you like some pickle and cheese with them tonight instead of the jam? I picked up some Stilton Blue and Red Leicester cheeses this afternoon at the market.”

“Cheese? That would be lovely. Why not some of both cheeses and a jar of marmalade. I've got a long night ahead of me. Don't forget the butter too.”

“I don't know how you can think of eating after that huge tea you had. Very well, I'll pack you a parcel. I suppose you want two bottles of milk this time?” Ella put her crocheting down on the end table and went into the kitchen, not waiting for his answer.

A kiss on the cheek, followed by a squeezed hand, sent Nigel on his way. “It's ten o'clock...right on time. Once the front door closed behind him, he darted around to the back garden and picked the bag up from behind the rose bushes. “Ouch!” He snagged his arm on a thorn, ripping a hole in his jumper. “Ella will notice this hole. I know she will.”

With bag slung over his shoulder and the parcel of food in his arm, Nigel sauntered to the cathedral. The clouds, lower than usual, draped the highest spires with a blanket of fog. Silvery rays from a mostly-full moon were masked, allowing only the palest light through. Putting the bag down to retrieve the keys from his pocket, he opened the antiquated door. Somehow the heavy clouds made the squeaks and creaks seem louder than usual.

He headed down the hallway to his cubby as usual. “Which do I give him, the cheese and pickle, or the marmalade? I think he'll like the marmalade better. Ella's surpasses any other marmalade I've ever tasted. I'm sure Periwinkle will enjoy it.” The items were separated into piles. Nigel wrapped the hobgoblin's in the paper parcel, grabbed the bag and scampered to the pillar down the hall from Periwinkle's door.

Time passed quickly and soon the familiar sound of scraping stone erupted from the hallway. Nigel watched as the hobgoblin pushed the slab shut and slumped away. When the organ music began, he lit a candle, clapped his hands three times and dragged the bag down the entryway into the room. “I'll have to do this quickly.”

He dumped the bag out on the ground. “The pillow.” Holding it by the corner, he lifted the dirty pillow off Periwinkle's bed and dropped it in the empty bag. After putting the clean pillowcase on the new pillow, he lay it down on the mattress. The blanket, reeking of odd odors, joined the old pillow. “He'll like this blanket. It's one of my favorites. I hope Ella doesn't notice it missing. Ah well, if she does, I'll deal with it then.”

With great effort, he removed the stub of candle from the candleholder and put a new, longer taper in its place. He moved the book from the wobbly table on the shelf with the others and a put a new book down in its place. “Where's my pen?” His hands felt inside his pockets. “Ah, here's one,” he said, pulling it from his shirt. He scribbled, This book belongs to Periwinkle Longtoes. Nigel smiled as he fanned through the crisp clean pages. “I think he'll like this book.”

The bundle of food fell on the clean blanket. The stale crumbs, swept from the table into his hands, were tossed under the bed for the rats. Nigel put the loaf of hot bread down, along with the jar of marmalade, a butter knife, a block of butter, and a bottle of fresh milk. He lay the pair of heavy woolen socks on the edge of the bed, so the hobgoblin would be sure to find them. A damp cloth wiped the grime from the stained glass window. “Lovely! It's an oak tree, acorns, and a red deer. Good choice for a hobgoblin.” Stuffing the rag in the bag, he picked it up and turned to leave. “Enjoy your new things, Periwinkle Longtoes.”

The organ music stopped just as he closed the stone behind him. Loping through the maze of hallways, Nigel flung himself into his room and shut the door. “I did it. Now to watch.” He dropped the bag in the corner and sat on the edge of the bed to eat his cheese and bread. Glancing at his watch Nigel knew Periwinkle was busy sweeping and polishing the windows. “I'll give him a few more minutes and then I'll go outside.”

A dozen or so rats made their way along the floor, searching for their nightly feast of breadcrumbs. Nigel scraped the leftovers into his hand and tossed them to the rats.

“Far too many rats in this castle. I must do something about that. It's time to go.”

The door leading outside was nowhere near the nave, so Nigel felt confident he'd not be discovered. Not wanting to forget his keys so he could get back in, he slipped them into his coat pocket and shut the door behind him.

An icy chill hung in the air and the pea soup fog clung to his skin, coating it with dampness. Wishing he'd worn his gloves, he hugged the cathedral walls and made his way around to the back. “Now, which room is his? Ah, there it is, the oak tree and acorns.” The wet grass clung to his pants and shoes and soaked through to his bare skin when he knelt down outside the window to wait for Periwinkle.

At last he saw the dim glow of the hobgoblin's candle, making his way into the room. He drew closer to the window so he could peer inside. The urge to giggle surged through his body as he anticipated Periwinkle's surprised look.

Periwinkle didn't seem to notice anything at first. He plodded into his room and put the candleholder down on the table next to the other. When he saw the new candle, his chin dropped and couldn't take his eyes off it.

“He's seen it! Look at his scrunched up face.” Nigel clapped his hands together and rubbed them back and forth.

The hobgoblin noticed the book and picked it up. Confused, yet delighted, Periwinkle turned the pages, scratching his head with wonder. He picked up the candle and held it closer to the title page to read his name. A grin spread from one pointed ear to the other as he ran his gaunt fingers across the words.

Nigel wiped a tear from his cheek. “He likes it. Good. I knew he would.”

When his nose started twitching from hunger, the hobgoblin spotted the bread and butter. He reached for it, picking it up and sniffing it. When he saw the knife, he looked at his reflection in it, showing his brown, stain-crusted teeth. Carefully he spread some on the first slice, making sure the creamy yellow butter went to the edge of the crust.

“Open the marmalade, Periwinkle. Open the marmalade.” Nigel squirmed around, waiting for the hobgoblin to notice it. When he picked the jar up, Nigel jiggled his legs up and down, scraping them on the grass with excitement. “He's seen it. That's a good hobgoblin. Open the lid and smell the delicious aroma. Good.”

Periwinkle held the open jar to his nose. Fruity waves of joy flowed into his wide nostrils. He stuck a bony finger in and scooped some out, shoving it in his mouth.

“Use the butter knife, Periwinkle. That's bad manners to use your fingers.” Relief washed through Nigel when the hobgoblin finally used the knife and spread the marmalade as he had the butter.

When Periwinkle took the first bite, his marble-sized eyes closed and the hobgoblin patted and stroked his tummy as he swallowed. His long maroon tongue licked the extra from his lips and chin before taking the next bite.

“He likes it. Ella will be so pleased.” For the next few minutes, Nigel rocked back and forth, watching the hungry creature relish every morsel, every crumb.

Periwinkle lit the candle and sat on his bed, but jumped up as though he'd sat on a pin.

Nigel fell backwards with a fright, thinking the hobgoblin had seen him through the stained glass. Inching his way back to the window, he saw Periwinkle cradling the pillow, rubbing his cheek against it. “Is that a tear I see puddling in his eye?” Nigel strained to see. “Why yes, I think it is. He likes the pillow and blanket.” Nigel pulled a handkerchief out of his pocket and wiped his own tears away.

The rug on the floor poked up through Periwinkle's gangly, lean toes. He slid off the bed, standing on it and walked around from one end to the other, enjoying the feel of the soft fibers.

A memory flashed through Nigel's mind of the first time he'd gone to the beach as a child and had done the same thing and had the same look on his face after feeling the warm sand. “Now all you have to do is find the socks. You're sitting on them. Stand up, Periwinkle. Stand up!”

The hobgoblin ran to the window.

“Oh no! He's seen me. I'm done for.” Nigel rolled to the side. He'll probably turn me into a toad or something horrible like that.” Daring to creep on his hands and knees to the window he had a quick peek.

Periwinkle stood gazing, running his fingers across it and then examining them for dirt.

Nigel saw the hobgoblin's decaying toothy grin as he caressed the colored glass.

Tears streamed down both of their faces.

As Periwinkle turned away from the window, he saw the woolen socks on the bed. Stepping with a hesitancy and disbelief, he reached the bed and picked up the socks.

Nigel moved in for a closer view.

The hobgoblin collapsed on the rug. His body heaved with tears as he wept with gratitude.

“Try the socks on,” he whispered, his lower lip quivering.

Rolling onto his bottom, Periwinkle slipped the socks on his wide feet, his long toes reaching to the end. He rubbed them, enjoying the softness of the lambs wool and a warmth his sorry feet had never known before.

Periwinkle lit the candle, climbed under the blanket and lay his head down on the pillow. With new book in hand, the hobgoblin read, turning the pages and ogling the illustrations.

Nigel slipped away, returning to his own cubby to do the same.

From that day forth, life was never the same for Periwinkle, Nigel, nor for Angelsbury Cathedral. Each night, when the organ music began, Nigel slipped into the hobgoblin's room, fluffed up his pillow and blanket, took clean socks when needed and replaced the drippy candles when they'd burned down to a stubble. Eventually he found a new straw mattress and disposed of the filthy old one. New books turned up just as the hobgoblin finished the last page of the one before. Never again did Periwinkle eat stale bread. Each night Nigel left him a hot loaf, a crock of rich creamy butter, and a jar of Ella's homemade jam. Some nights he left a block of cheddar cheese; other nights a slice of roast beef, a bowl of bubble and squeak, or a dish of toad-in-the-hole, Yorkshire pudding and sausages.

One morning, as Nigel was leaving for home, the Bishop stopped him. “Mr. Cuttlefish, I don't know what you've been doing different lately, but I must commend you on the excellent job you're doing keeping the cathedral clean. The windows shine and the pews sparkle with polish; I could eat off the floor, it's so well swept. There's a new joyfulness and reverence in our cathedral and I owe it all to you.”

Nigel nodded with gratitude for the kind words and left the Bishop standing at the door. Deep inside of him, his heart fluttered like dancing butterflies. “Thank you, Mr. Periwinkle Longtoes. I'll be back tonight with a new book for you.” He opened the door to his house and bounded inside. “Ella, I'm home!”

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