“Welcome to Castle Elsinore,” Gertrude announced, a fixed smile on her face. “Do come into the great hall and I will tell you something of the history of the building and the family who lived here.”
Castle Elsinore was open to the general public from 12 to 4 every day, but coach tours, booked in advance, were admitted at 10.30 for what was termed an exclusive viewing. Which basically meant a higher rate was applied and the guides delivered the same speech to the whole group, rather than just those visitors who were particularly interested.
As so often happened with coach tours, this was a mixed group. Gertrude often wondered how such disparate people came to be spending the time together, but hers not to reason why. Hers was just to take the money and provide the introduction, before thankfully passing them onto the guide in the next room.
“The family are first mentioned in official records around the year 1040,” Gertrude began, once the whole group were finally assembled. It was never worth beginning as soon as the first arrivals entered, at least a third of the coach would have made a beeline for the toilets as soon as they got off. “And they lived in the castle from the middle of the twelfth century.” She stopped, as one of the party appeared to be backing away from a corner of the hall, looking alarmed. A woman, presumably his wife, put her arm out and told him to pull himself together.
“They were at the height of their powers during the Elizabethan age,” Gertrude continued. She wondered whether to mention the rumours that this was in part due to supernatural presence but glancing round the group decided it would lead to too many questions which she really couldn’t be bothered to deal with. She continued until she was satisfied the majority of the group were suitably bored, before saying, “And now I shall hand you over to Polonius, who will show you the library.”
She watched as they all dutifully headed into the library and made the obligatory, “Such a lot of books, I wonder if anyone’s read them,” remarks. She was interested to note that there were two teenagers on the tour, presumably dragged along with their parents. The teenagers seemed to be trying to keep together, although their parents apparently had different ideas.
As the door of the library closed behind the group, Gertrude gave a sigh of relief. She could now go and grab a cup of coffee before checking there were sufficient leaflets to give one to each tour member as they departed, and then prepare for the arrival of the general public at noon.
Polonius welcomed the group into the library and launched into a series of anecdotes about the books which were shelved there. The library contained a number of volumes from the seventeenth and eighteenth century which were of great interest to researchers, but to anyone who didn’t have a specialist knowledge of the times they had very little interest, and Polonius’ anecdotes were about people they would never have heard of. Therefore, Polonius’ talk failed to hold anyone’s attention. The group proceeded to wander around the room.
Suddenly, the teenage boy’s father said, “How much is this book worth?”
“It’s priceless,” Polonius said. “The material within it cannot be found elsewhere.”
“So how much would it sell for if it came to market?”
“I’m sorry, one doesn’t sell books!”
The man snorted.
Then Polonius spotted three of the old women gathered around one of the bookcases, apparently trying to open it.
“Stop! What do you think you’re doing?” Polonius demanded.
The trio whipped round and Polonius took a step backwards. “I’m sorry. Please leave the books where they are. They’re not for looking at.”
“Funny sort of library then,” the girl’s father commented.
“Yes, well.” Polonius put on his most pompous voice. “And now you have experienced the wonders of our library, let me pass you onto Claudius who will show you the armoury.”
He flung the door open and watched with relief as the group exited into the long room which housed the weapons and suits of armour.
“Right,” Claudius said, as soon as the group were all through. “Do not touch anything! And that includes you, young man. Especially you.”
The teenager pulled a face and went to stand next to his father. A few seconds later he moved next to his mother, and therefore close to the girl. Her mother, realising what had happened, took the girl’s arm and walked her firmly to the other side of her husband.
Claudius began his talk, which was slanted heavily towards valiant knights and away from the gory details of medieval warfare. He became aware that one of the men was staring fixedly at one of the suits of armour. Claudius called to him but was ignored.
Suddenly, the man said, “No, no, you’re dead. I had you killed. How are you back here? Go away, leave me in peace.”
His wife tried to tug at his arm, but he pushed her away with such violence that she fell to the ground.
“Sir, sir,” Claudius said. “Oh for fuck’s sake. You, yes, you girl,” he spoke to the teenage girl. “Open that door over there and shout for Ophelia.”
The girl ran over and pulled the door open. “Are you Ophelia?” she asked. “You’d better come in.”
Ophelia came into the room and Claudius said, “Get them out of here!”
“Yes, of course,” Ophelia said with a bright smile. “Come this way, ladies and gentlemen.”
To give Ophelia credit, she quickly recovered her composure and launched into her talk about the knotted garden. She then suggested that, as they had a little extra time, they might like to walk down to the fountain and back. After which she went to tell the three old ladies that they were not allowed to take cuttings of any of the plants.
Inevitably, Guildenstern was late coming to collect the group for the next part of the tour. Ophelia glared at him and ushered the group into the corridor which led to the stairs and the nursery. Rosencrantz was waiting there and immediately launched into his patter about all the fun things which the children of the house had been able to do.
After which, the two tried to get the group to take part in their little play using a theatre which had been set up at one end of the room. It wasn’t very successful when they did this with school groups, and their attempts to involve a coach party were even worse. The only positive thing was the two fathers were united in the derogatory comments they made towards the hapless pair.
After which, to everyone’s relief, the group was shown into the passage which led to the main bedrooms and Horatio took over. Horatio spoke well, and held the attention of most of the group, even the three old women were dissuaded from their attempts to peer underneath the beds.
Finally, Horatio said, “Thank you, all, for your kind attention. If you would follow me, I shall show you to the top of the main staircase. As you descend the staircase you will see portraits of some of the principal inhabitants of the castle down the centuries. The staircase leads you back into the main hall, where Gertrude will meet you again.”
He led the group to the top of the stairs and watched them head downwards. At that point he realised two of the group, who he had certainly seen a few minutes earlier, were no longer with them. He sighed and went to hunt them out.
It didn’t take him long. Opening a bathroom door, which he definitely recalled shouldn’t be closed, he found the two teenagers mid-embrace.
“Come on!” he said. “Your parents will be waiting for you.”
The pair glared at him but left the bathroom. He escorted them down the stairs, not wishing to find they’d disappeared again before they reached their parents.
“Here’s the rest of your party,” he said to Gertrude.
Gertrude nodded her thanks, opened the front door and took the group outside. “Thank you for coming,” she said. “If you follow the path to the left, you will find the gift shop, and don’t forget to visit our second-hand book stall.”
Horatio was still in the main hall when Gertrude returned, followed shortly by Hamlet.
“I’ve called an ambulance,” Hamlet said, “and told them to take the route marked ‘Deliveries’. That way hopefully none of the visitors will see it. And it’s the quicker way so they won’t object.”
“Ambulance?” Horatio asked. “What happened?”
“It’s a long story,” Hamlet said. “I’ll explain later.”