Tell A Tale — Gothic Fiction

Cornelius By David Salter


As the name might suggest, Cornelius was indeed an MP of impeccable manners: an atavism in pinstripes whose star rose steadily the more he played the bespectacled Victorian pedant. He took the inevitable ridicule gracefully which endeared him to a demographic broad enough to land Cornelius a senior cabinet position or a potential term as London mayor, despite the misgivings of colleagues. Because he navigated the rough and the smooth with Kiplingesque courtesy for the most part, he was afforded the privilege of outraging the politically correct and getting away with it and perhaps provided the necessary conduit through which the steaming bile of public bigotry could politely depressurise. He also had the infuriating habit of referring to parliamentarian opponents as the honourable whoever even when conferring outside of chamber protocol, or simply as sir or madam, and he scrubbed his hands with a vengeance after a day’s canvassing.

As he strode purposely along the mostly empty corridors after an unusually late session, one such ‘madam’ trotted after him. They’d just engaged in a particularly cutting exchange which resulted in the Speaker ticking them both off; but she wasn’t quite done. “Cornelius... Cornelius?”

“What is it, madam? The hour is late. Does one not have a home, a hearth or a husband to attend to… a feline of some description?”

At this she snatched his hand. This made his blood freeze just as she knew it would.

“I urgently request the Honourable lady let go at once.” He awkwardly broke her grasp and headed for the lavatories, but walked straight into the ladies. Her mistake rather than his after a moment’s pause, although of course she didn’t think so, was to march after him trembling with indignation and looking to capitalise triumphantly at his discomfiture. She found him ferociously scrubbing.

“For f—’s sake, Cornelius—“

“No, madam! We are so very tired of your insolence, with your thrusting bosom and your brassy tongue.” He was drying his hands and rubbing his eyes under his spectacles in front of the mirror. He reached into his top pocket and produced a pair of thick latex gloves. “Aren’t we, nanny?”

She stood staring, hands on her hips, in astonishment. Then he was upon her like a carnivore bringing down its prey; he forced the wet towel about her face and clamped it with shocking strength for a slender man. They fell, locked together and writhed on the floor in a death struggle. As her eyes bulged and reddened he wrapped his legs around her like a constrictor and hissed something guttural in her ear.

Eventually it was done. He got up, smoothed himself down and carefully returned the towel. He glanced at the mirror, “Yes, nanny.” And bent down to retrieve something from her jacket—an inhaler. Cornelius emptied the contents completely, carefully placed it in her hand, listened at the door to check if anyone was coming, and assuredly made his way down the corridor to the exit.

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