The cold, dreary
days of winter faded from Nigel's memory as he watched the robin's neck
bobbing up and down in search of worms. His gaze wandered from the emerald
grasses to the chartreuse leaves bursting forth from buds on the oak
branches. “Spring at last. No more bitter nights, chilled fingers, or
frozen toes.” He strolled down the path towards home, leaving the
cathedral in the hands of the priests. A stifled yawn escaped his mouth as
he turned the doorknob to his house. “Ella! I'm home.”
“Nigel! You must
be exhausted! Come and sit down. I'll have your breakfast out in a moment.
It's a lovely morning, isn't it, luv?” Ella glanced over her shoulder as
she stirred the scrambled eggs.
“I am tired. I'll
eat breakfast, have a shower and then get some sleep. What are your plans
for the day?” Nigel sipped the hot coffee from the rosebud decorated china
“Today I'm going
to Rafflingham with Mildred Totter. Her son lives there and she doesn't
want to take the train by herself. I might be late coming home tonight.
I've fixed you some shepherd's pie. After you wake up, slip it in the oven
for half an hour.” Ella set the hot plate of food down on the table. “I'm
not eating with you. I had a bite to eat earlier. I'm off now.” She kissed
her husband's cheek and slipped out the back door in a hurry.
Nigel sighed. He
looked down at his plate of sausages and eggs and forced himself to eat.
After a hot
shower, he crawled between the covers, the fresh-smelling sheets caressing
his skin. Soon he was sleeping, dreaming amusing imaginations.
Later that day, as
directed, he placed the shepherd's pie in the oven and read the nightly
newspaper while he waited for his supper to warm through. When the buzzer
went off, announcing the food was at an edible temperature, Nigel polished
it off, down to the very last pea. He watched the television for an hour,
read a chapter in a book and then, with nothing better to do, decided to
go to work early. Ella wasn't expected home for another hour or two.
through the refrigerator, dropping a block of English Cheddar into his
paper bag. “There's not much in here to eat.” After opening each cupboard,
he put on his coat and with the full bag in his hand, he headed for the
Even though it was
the dark of night, Nigel could see the pink and white blossoms on the
trees. The scent of the flowers saturated the air with a perfumed
As he did every
evening, Nigel turned the keys, unlocking the side door to the ancient
cathedral. He traipsed down the hall, his step light and chipper, with
anticipation of his nightly duties. After dropping the bag of food in his
room and feeding the rats a crust of bread, he headed for the nave,
knowing it would be spotless. When he turned the corner and saw a sweetie
wrapper lying on the ground, Nigel sensed something was not quite right.
He stopped, picked up the rubbish and stuffed it in his pocket. A
shambled untidiness greeted him as he entered the Gothic-arched room. “Oh
my. Periwinkle! Something must be wrong. He’d never let the place stay
dirty and unkempt.”
hesitation, he raced across the room and down the hall to the stone wall.
Clapping his hands together three times, the block opened and Nigel rushed
inside. “Periwinkle! Periwinkle!” He gulped, stopping at the bottom of the
untidy bed. Rats clambered over the books and stale food lying on the
night table. “Periwinkle, are you all right?” Nigel nudged the hobgoblin's
escaped his dying lips.
look horrible. Your skin is pasty and whey-faced. Are you sick?” Nigel
bent over, lowering his face to the hobgoblin's.
Periwinkle struggled to speak, gasping between each word. His sunken eyes
opened. “I need help. I need a leaf from the lady slipper orchid before
the sun rises, or I shall die. It's rare and most difficult to find.”
slipper orchid? Where will I find one? It's dark outside. I am not sure
what to do!” Nigel rambled on.
“Nigel, listen to
me. The plant has a yellow flower.” Periwinkle closed his eyes and sighed.
“A yellow flower.
What happened to you? Did you eat something bad?” Nigel straightened up.
“I was cleaning
and I came across a box of old and very moldy toadstools. I inhaled some
of the spores. The only thing,” Periwinkle stopped to catch his breath,
“that will help me is the leaf. Please, go and find it.”
“Very well. I'll
go and look. Will you be all right while I'm gone? Oh my, I'm not sure
where I'll find one.” Nigel paced back and forth. One more gaze at the
sick hobgoblin was all he needed. “I'm off. Stay right here. I'll be back
as soon as I can.” He rushed out of the room, closed the block of stone
behind him and ran back to his cubby. “Oh my. How will I find a yellow
lady slipper orchid at this time of night?”
As he darted
through the cathedral he saw the mess. “I don’t have time to clean this
place right now.” He grabbed his coat and rushed outside. “Where do I
begin looking for a plant that I’ve never seen before?” Crickets chirped,
hidden in the thick undergrowth. Bracken, just beginning to green again,
surrounded the tree trunks, wrapping around them as if to hold them to the
“Ah ha! I see some
violets. No good. That’ll not do. I need a yellow lady slipper orchid.” He
pushed wild rose branches to the side, parting them. “Buttercups, daisies.
There’s every sort of flower here but what Periwinkle described to me.”
Nigel pulled a pocketwatch from his coat. “I’m wasting too much time. Ella
would know, but Ella’s not here.”
Nigel paced back
and forth in front of his house. “I could check some of the neighbor’s
flower gardens.” With a nod, he darted from house to house, finding
clematis, Victorian roses, ivy, nasturtium and pansies, but no ladyslipper
orchid. An hour later Nigel leaned against the stone fence of the
cathedral grounds. “I might as well give up. Poor old Periwinkle. He’s
going to die and there’s nothing I can do to stop it. There isn’t one of
those blasted flowers growing in this part of England and I don’t have
time to go into town to the florist.” He sighed and stared at the stained
glass window high on the cathedral wall. “Dear Periwinkle, give me a clue.
Help me know where to find one.” He stood silent for a few minutes and
then in defeat, slouched his shoulders and walked towards the wooden door.
reluctantly up and down the halls, Nigel took a deep breath. “I might as
well go and tell him, though I don’t want to. I wish Ella was home. Some
of her chicken soup would have helped the poor hobgoblin. It cures
everything else.” He shuffled his feet as he walked through the empty
“Look up, Nigel.”
Someone whispered to him.
“Who said that? Who’s there?”
“Look up, Nigel.”
The voice spoke again.
Nigel raised his
head and saw a sign. “Angelsbury Cathedral Gift Shop. What’s so important
about that?” He leaned closer, pressing his head against the window,
peering inside. “I see post cards, books, pencils, sweeties and flowers.
Flowers? I see yellow flowers.” He pulled his keys out of his pocket and
unlocked the door. “Are any of you ladyslipper orchids?” Nigel moved from
plant to plant, reading the tags. “Ladyslipper orchid. Right you are.” He
plucked a few leaves off and without bothering to close the door to the
shop; he rushed to Periwinkle’s room. “Periwinkle! Periwinkle! I’ve found
one. Oh, please be alive.”
Nigel glanced out
the window. “Dawn’s almost here. Periwinkle, what should I do? I’ve got
your leaf.” The hobgoblin opened his bloodshot eyes. His skin, pale and
gray, felt leathery to Nigel’s touch. Nigel pressed the leaf into
Periwinkle’s mouth. The hobgoblin sucked on it as the sun’s rays burst
through the window, kissing Nigel’s face with warmth. “Periwinkle, did I
make it in time?”
No change crossed
the hobgoblin’s face. It remained pasty and reeked of death. Nigel
collapsed on the bed. “I was too late. Poor Periwinkle Longbottom. If
sorry for yourself. I’m fine.” The hobgoblin leapt off the bed, his skin
back to its original healthy color. His eyes sparkled with life and his
limbs danced across the room.
You’re alive!” Nigel took the hobgoblin by the hands and danced around
with him. “You’re alive! You’re alive!” He laughed out loud as joy swept
through his body.
because of you.
What a wonderful thing to do.
Found the leaf, oh yes you did,
Now I’m happy, happy as a gid.
Dance with me oh Nigel do,
We’re a team, we are, we two,
Now the sun is up and we
Can celebrate because now I’m free.”
and danced around.
“I need to get rid
of that box of toadstools and clean this place up before the priests come.
They’ll be here any moment and there is rubbish all over the place.” Nigel
fretted and glanced at his pocket watch.
“I’ll help you, my
friend. You go and clean up the rubbish and I’ll polish the windows.”
Periwinkle rushed out of the tiny room and went to work.
Nigel closed the
door to the gift shop and locked it up tight. He collected the rubbish,
stuffing it into a bag. He picked up the box of moldy toadstools and threw
them outside in the woods. With shovel in hand he buried them in the
ground, covering them with a thick layer of dirt. When he opened the door
and went inside the organ started playing. A grin spread across Nigel’s
face. He stowed the bag of rubbish outside the back door and went to find
Periwinkle. The hobgoblin sat at the organ playing with nimble fingers.
The pews shone with polish and the windows sparkled like crystal. Nigel
didn’t say a word. He went back to his cubby, slipped on his coat and
Nigel,” the priest said. “I trust you had an uneventful night?” The priest
nodded and went inside without waiting for an answer.
Nigel skipped his
way home with a click of his heels.