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The Texts - John Constable

Exit Strategy

Tonight I record my report among the Roman arches, all that remains of the old Chapter House. On the stroke of ten, I hear footsteps like rapid rifle-shots: the young Verger completing his rounds.



'Hello. Do you need letting out?'



I think: No. I need letting in.



I say: 'I thought I could get out through the passage into Colebroke Street.'



'Ah, no? I've just locked the gate.'



'Oh, I'm sorry. I didn't realise there was a gate there.'



'Yes, I'm afraid we have to lock the Close at night.'



'I see, so there's no other way out.'



'I'm afraid not. But I'll be happy to let you out.'



We head back down the passage between the churchyard and the flint wall. He has the manner of an indulgent gentleman, politely escorting a guest who has overstayed his welcome. I explain that I'd wanted to spend as long as I could in the grounds, soaking up the atmosphere. He grunts: 'Bit spooky!'



'You might say I'm in the business of spooking myself professionally. I was hoping to be able to spend the night in the Cathedral.'



'Yes, I'm sorry we're not able to help.'



'Canon Flora was trying to arrange it, before she was taken ill. I suppose, in medieval times, you'd have had people staying in the Cathedral at night.'



'Oh, undoubtedly. Sometimes they'd have held vigils there.'



'I was in there tonight until eight, while Sarah was practising the organ. Do you think it might be possible for me to stay all night, if I was locked in the south transept?'



'Well, no, I'm afraid, these days, Health and Safety? If there was a fire?'



He unlocks the gate, holds it open for me.



'Anyway, thank you - sorry, what's your name?'



'Benedict.'



'Ah, yes. Well, you've got the name! Good night, Benedict.'



I hear the gate shut behind me, the locks drop. Hear my own footsteps ring on the moist flagstones, then the sound of rushing water. I stop to take in the water garden: the walled-in pond and on the far side, half-hidden in the foliage, a marble bust of Christ. The sound of water comes from underground; only a lazy spiral motion stirs the pond-weed on the surface. I stand there, alone beneath the stars, seeing, hearing, smelling it all through the eyes and ears and senses of another Benedict, the medieval novice.

 
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