Home > Curse of the Bane (Wardstone Chronicles #2)(16)

Curse of the Bane (Wardstone Chronicles #2)(16)
Author: Joseph Delaney

Father Cairns

I felt a sickening unease. How had Father Cairns found out where I was staying? Had someone been following me? Father Gregory’s housekeeper? Or the innkeeper? I hadn’t liked the look of him at all.

Had he sent a message to the cathedral? Or the Bane? Did that creature know my every movement?

Had it told Father Cairns where to find me? Whatever had happened, the priests knew where I was staying and if they told the Quisitor he could come for me at any moment.

I hurriedly opened my bedroom door and locked it behind me. Then I closed the shutters, hoping desperately to keep out the prying eyes of Priestown. I checked that the Spook’s bag was where I’d left it then sat on my bed, not knowing what to do. The Spook had told me to stay in my room until morning.

I knew he wouldn’t really want me to go and see his cousin. He’d said he was a priest who meddled.

Was he just going to meddle again? On the other hand he’d told me that Father Cairns meant well. But what if the priest really did know something that threatened the Spook? If I stayed, my master might end up in the hands of the Quisitor. Yet if I went to the cathedral, I was walking right into the lair of the Quisitor and the Bane! The funeral had been dangerous enough. Could I really push my luck again?

What I really should have done was tell the Spook about the message. But I couldn’t. For one thing he hadn’t told me where he was staying.

‘Trust your instincts,’ the Spook had always taught me, so at last I made up my mind. I decided to go and speak to Father Cairns.



Giving myself plenty of time, I walked slowly through the damp, cobbled streets. My palms were clammy with nerves and my feet seemed reluctant to move towards the cathedral. It was as if they were wiser than I was and I had to keep forcing one foot in front of the other. But the evening was chilly, and luckily there weren’t many people about. I didn’t pass even one priest.

I arrived at the cathedral at about ten minutes to seven and as I walked through the gate into the big flagged forecourt, I couldn’t help glancing up at the gargoyle over the main door. The ugly head seemed bigger than ever and the eyes still seemed wick with life; they followed me as I walked towards the door.

The long chin curved upwards so much that it almost met the nose, making it unlike any creature I’d ever seen. As well as the dog-like ears and a long tongue protruding from its mouth, two short horns curved upwards from its skull and it suddenly reminded me of a goat.

I looked away and entered the cathedral, shivering at the sheer strangeness of the creature. Inside the building it took a few moments for my eyes to adjust to the gloom, and to my relief I saw that the place was almost empty.

I was afraid though for two reasons. Firstly I didn’t like being in the cathedral, where priests could appear at any moment. If Father Cairns was tricking me then I had just walked straight into his trap.

Secondly I was now in the Bane’s territory. Soon the day would draw in, and once the sun went down the Bane, like all creatures of the dark, would be at its most dangerous. Perhaps then its mind might reach up from the catacombs and seek me out. I had to get this business over with as quickly as possible.

Where was the confessional? There were just a couple of old ladies at the back of the cathedral, but an old man was kneeling near the front, close to the small door of a wooden box that stood with its back to the stone wall.

That told me what I wanted to know. There was an identical box a bit further along. The confessional boxes. Each had a candle fixed above it set within a blue glass holder. But only the one near the kneeling man was lit.

I walked down the right-hand aisle and knelt in the pew behind him. After a few moments the door to the confessional box opened and a woman wearing a black veil came out. She crossed the aisle and knelt in a pew further back while the old man went inside.

After a few moments I could hear him muttering. I’d never been to confession in my life but I had a pretty good idea of what went on. One of Dad’s brothers had become very religious before he’d died.

Dad always called him ‘Holy Joe’ but his real name was Matthew. He went to confession twice a week and after hearing his sins the priest gave him a big penance. That meant that afterwards he had to say lots of prayers over and over again. I supposed the old man was telling the priest about his sins.

The door stayed closed for what seemed an age and I started to grow impatient. Another thought struck me: what if it wasn’t Father Cairns inside but some other priest? I really would have to make a confession then or it would seem very suspicious. I tried to think of a few sins that might sound convincing. Was greed a sin? Or did you call it gluttony? Well, I certainly liked my food but I’d had nothing to eat all day and my belly was starting to rumble. Suddenly it seemed madness to be doing this.

In moments I could end up a prisoner.

I panicked and stood up to leave. It was only then that I noticed with relief a small card slotted into a holder on the door. A name was written on it: Father CAIRNS.

At that moment the door opened and the old man came out, so I took his place in the confessional and closed the door behind me. It was small and gloomy inside, and when I knelt down, my face was very close to a metal grille. Behind the grille was a brown curtain and, somewhere beyond that, a flickering candle. I couldn’t see a face through the grille, just the shadowy outline of a head.

‘Would you like me to hear your confession?’ The priest’s voice had a strong County accent and he breathed loudly.

I just shrugged. Then I realized that he couldn’t see me properly through the grille. ‘No, Father,’ I said, ‘but thank you for asking. I’m Tom, Mr Gregory’s apprentice. You wanted to see me.’

There was a slight pause before Father Cairns spoke. ‘Ah, Thomas, I’m glad you came. I asked you here because I need to talk to you. I need to tell you something very important, so I want you to stay here until I’ve finished. Will you promise me that you won’t leave until I’ve said what I have to say?’

‘I’ll listen,’ I replied doubtfully. I was wary of making promises now. In the spring I’d made a promise to Alice and it had got me in a whole lot of trouble.

‘That’s a good lad,’ he said. ‘We’ve made a good start to an important task. And do you know what that task is?’

I wondered whether he was talking about the Bane but thought it best not to mention that creature so close to the catacombs, so I said, ‘No, Father.’

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