Have there been any notable Denizens who are no longer with us?

One does spring to mind, though not in relation to the last question (tee, hee, were you expecting us to be obvious?). She had nothing to do with the dragons, and they would not have dared to make any move against her. The Squoire's Semi-Great Aunt Dame Dora St Denis was perhaps the most notable Character to terrorise the Village during the past century and a half. Well-known for her philanthropy, Dame Dora used to drive about the area in a dog-cart, administering (without anaesthetic) Nourishing Soup and Calves'-Foot Jelly to any of the inhabitants who didn't see her coming and dive into ditches or up trees fast enough to avoid it.

She also insisted on giving a suit of clothes to each and every one of the Estate Employees every Christmas. This goes a long way towards explaining why the Estate was run down during the latter end of her lifetime, and its condition when the Squoire inherited it: it had proved well-nigh impossible to find anyone who felt that steady employment and a regular wage-packet made up for having to wear the clothes Dame Dora provided.

Other examples of Dame Dora's needlework can be found in St Sebastian's: being well-nigh bullet-proof, the hassocks she made for the pews have resisted the passing of time in a most remarkable way. The only mouse that ever attempted to employ one for nesting-material made dental history and earned a well-deserved place in the annals of dental literature for one of Isambard Kingdom Earwig's many cousins, who branched out into that trade for the occasion and wrote a paper on it.

The vestments she made for a missionary cousin of her maternal nephew-in-law are also still in use: the President of one of the smaller African republics has found them invaluable for protection against the mortar-fire of insurgents whenever his capital is under siege.

It's the layettes (best and, when that one was already in use, second best) that the Villagers remember. Infants were scarred for life, physically and mentally, but still they felt grateful to the old lady for her kindness in clothing their nakedness in the first days of their lives. And, of course, both layettes are still in just as good condition as they were when she first made them, even though between them they have clothed every villager, their parents and their grandparents.

Dame Dora was following a long tradition in England of providing a layette (or even layettes) for the community; as recorded in Flora Thompson's Lark Rise (an account of childhood in an Oxfordshire village during the last two decades of the nineteenth century, well worth reading). The lending of layettes by the Vicar's daughter to any woman newly delivered is described in Lark Rise in the chapter called The Box, though in that case the clothes would cause no harm at all to infants, and have presumably long ceased to exist.

The almshouses endowed by Dame Dora share the indestructible nature of everything she had a hand in.. It is entirely possible that some of her calves'-foot jelly was the material used for the almshouses' foundations, which have withstood the test of time rather more robustly than concrete would have done.

Dame Dora may be gone, but her spirit lingers. The Village Zombie, on the other hand, lingers both in spirit and in the more-or-less held-together flesh.

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Last updated: Sat, 15 Jul 2006 22:11:23 +0100