Durham was very good for history; it’s where I had my first pizza. Other things, too, of course but it’s the pizza that stands out. And fog, would you believe, one morning inside the cathedral. I loved it.
- Mrs. Lintott, The History Boys - Alan Bennett
“Tea?” Mrs Lintott asked. “ Or coffee perhaps?”
“Tea, thank you.”
“Good to see someone still flying the flag for Britain. Everything seems to be American these days. So modern heroines?”
“A whole magazine devoted to them,” Scripps told her with a sense of mild amusement, “I thought you’d like that – thousands of years of subservience, but finally a Sunday pull out. Each of us is supposed to pick someone.”
“Very droll, it’s the recognition we’ve all been waiting for, so how many people did you ask before I said yes?”
“No one, you were top of the list.” One of her eyebrows rose. “You never did give much away about yourself at school and I’ve always been curious.”
“It was one of your better qualities; I could have done without the dry wit.”
Scripps didn’t think she looked much different from how he remembered her, though maybe it was just that she was so ingrained in his mind that he was incapable of seeing her any other way.
“Are there any photos I could use with the article?” He asked as she turned towards the kitchen. “Old ones I mean, I’ve brought my camera.”
It was the same one he’d dragged along to every field trip, everyone told him he should replace it, but he’d accepted years ago that he was a sentimentalist. Mrs. Lintott’s eyes settled on the camera and she smiled at him, paused in the doorway, and nodded towards one of the book shelves. “Bottom shelf, the Cadbury’s tin.”
Her office was cluttered, assorted memories crammed onto shelves with books and notes and the occasional, mostly dead, potted plant. It reminded him of his own unorganised chaos. He had to push two books and an unlikely looking ornamental shepherdess, probably a gift, aside to get to the tin.
Cracking it open he found a pile of yellowing photos and Scripps began to sift through them until one caught his eye. It was a black and white photo of Tot when she must have still been a student, 19 or maybe 20, an almost profile. She was in a cathedral, the stone columns covered in carved diamonds, and wasn’t looking at the camera but was gazing upwards. It had a smoky mysterious quality. The distance distorted. Misty.
It was the sort of photo that you looked at and knew the person behind the camera was utterly lost in love. He had taken photos like that when he was younger. Sometimes it felt now like he has lost the art of photography, his photos were fine, but they’d lost passion.
He headed after her into the kitchen and handed her the photo. She laughed.
“Durham Cathedral, I was at university when this was taken. The cathedral had filled with mist. Trust you to choose this one.”
“Who took it?” Scripps asked.
“Oh... one of my lecturers.”
“Anyone you talk to will tell you it’s a Norman cathedral,” Stephen told her, “But there’s been a church here long before that. It was called the White Church, the final resting place of Saint Cuthbert. Once the Vikings started raiding Lindisfarne, the monks there started moving from place to place, like a travelling circus, dragging Saint Cuthbert’s coffin across the North. The story goes that the coffin finally stuck fast here, so they built the church around it. So you could say that Durham was founded by Vikings, better than monks I think.
“The Vikings didn’t care about the church on Lindisfarne, they were just looking for anything they could take – the Norman’s were the same. People think of an invasion, a settling down, as being about changing things, the rapid movement from Saxon to Norman – but it’s always about what you can take.”
He was watching her, though Dorothy was doing her best not to look back at him no matter how much she wanted to. The first thing she had thought about him as he walked into the dusty sunlight of the lecture theatre was how handsome he was. The second had been how interesting. He was married, of course.
Still, it was nice to be watched so closely. She raised a hand slowly, to brush against the cold stonework, conscious of the image she was creating. The line of her body. Knowing that Stephen was aware of it too.
“Of course the Norman’s made it their own, it was one of William the Conqueror’s First Bishop-Prince’s that built it and you can see he did an impressive job of it. Though it’s changed, it’s still defiantly Norman – not many traces of the Gothic have worked there way in.”
Holly wreathes had been hung on the walls and garlands, though no mistletoe, not for the house of God. Fog had crept into the building, softening everything and with the candlelight it felt like she’d been transported. The other worshippers were merely shadowy presences, distant and remote, only Stephen was clear as she finally turned to look at him again.
He stepped in closer, fingers wrapping gently around her arm, they had been circling each other for weeks. Now shrouded in fog, breath mingling in icy clouds between them, they could finally stand together.
“Even Henry VIII couldn’t destroy it,” he told her. “Though he tried. He ripped Saint Cuthbert out of his grave, but the monks exhumed the body. Uncorrupted.”
He kissed her, deep and passionate, and she wrapped her arms around his neck, pulling him closer, holding him in their own secret piece of history. Just a hidden shadow to the rest of the world.
“Oh, one of my lecturers.”
“Nothing ever changes, does it?” Scripps said with a far too knowing look, though she supposes she forgets that he’s not one of her boys anymore.
She handed the photo back to him. “Milk? Sugar?”
“No, thank you.”
“This isn’t where you tell me you take it with a slice of lemon, is it?”
He laughed. “No, but I’m under strict Doctor’s orders. Dull, as Irwin would say.”
“I had almost forgotten Irwin; it sometimes feels like very long ago.”
Scripps nodded in agreement and took a sip of tea, wincing slightly at the heat. “Though sometimes it feels like yesterday. Lockwood died last year. Friendly fire.”
“I heard. I am sorry.”
“You don’t have to be, we hadn’t seen each other since school, but it does bring the memories rushing back. Irwin and Hector and you.”
“Were you one of Hector’s boys?” She mused.
“Well, he did once get his hands on my Tudor Economic Documents.”
“No I didn’t mean that,” it was strange how easy it was to slip back into the tone of a teacher. “I meant that half of you belonged to Hector and half of you belonged to Irwin, I don’t think you were Irwin’s. So Hector’s? Sometimes we forget once we get older exactly how it was.”
“I’m hurt, miss,” Scripps told her with a rueful grin, “I always thought I was yours. Facts and truth above all.”
She can’t stop the smile. “It’s an unlikely outlook in a journalist.”
“That’s been noted.”
“It’s why you’re a good journalist,” she told him and he accepted the compliment without comment.
“No, I wasn’t Hector’s” he told her. “Dakin was Irwin’s, Posner was always Hector’s, and I was yours. Even if you didn’t notice it. Everyone has their shadow.”
“So we do.”