The golden dust swimming in the light of a warm March morning suddenly parted, as a presence entered the library and coughed.
‘Oh,’ said the Duke, gently laying the Caxton he held upon the table. ‘Death, as the psalmist says, is certain to all, but I was hoping to have a bit longer. That is,’ he added, turning white as if suddenly frightened by something inside his own head, an impressive feat for a man confronted by a seven foot skeleton, ‘it is me you’ve come for?’
‘Well, that’s something. It’s not been a bad innings. A lot longer than I thought it might be, at times. That spot near Caudry was dashed tight.’
‘I suppose that you would.’ The Duke straightened. ‘Have I time to say goodbye? Or doesn’t it work like that?’
PERHAPS YOU COULD LEAVE A NOTE.
‘That might be – ’
AFTER ALL, YOU WILL BE BACK IN A FEW DAYS.
‘No. No, I’ve never fancied being a ghost, not even for seeing Harriet. I rather thought I’d make it the outward voyage only.’
I THINK, said Death, looking as embarrassed as an expressionless skull can manage, THERE IS SOME MISUNDERSTANDING, YOU HAVE A GOOD DEAL OF TIME LEFT. THAT IS – a spectral hourglass materialised in a skeletal hand – AS LONG AS YOU KEEP TO THE SPEED LIMIT.
‘I shall certainly do so in future. But if I’m not to die, and you’re not here for anyone else, what is, if you don’t mind my asking, your business in my library?’
I REQUIRE YOUR SERVICES. SOMEONE HAS STOLEN MY HORSE.