Writing Greenwood Tree – and more

Posts tagged “ghost tale

A Night at the Theatre ….

(‘Tis that time of year again …. and I am late. And it is late. And this is a little long. Still, I hope it pleases ….Happy Spooking ! And don’t forget to hop along to all the others taking part in the Coffin Hop (links on the site), the annual Halloween blog hop with over 60 authors & artists participating, each with something to offer, whether giveaways or contests as well as some fun tales of terror … in a few days I’ll be offering my tale Ungentle Sleep and there will also be a chance via giveaway to receive Cass McMain’s unusual take on vampirism in Watch, from Holland House Books (30-31 October, post coming soon…)

Pad, pad, pad, pant, pant, pant, pad, pad, pad, pant, pant. Woof.

‘Good boy, sit. All right, don’t sit, but stop wandering around, there’s a good fellow. Where were we?’ Felix Hartley, proprietor of the Rose Theatre, turned back to the theatre’s director, Daniel Wells. ‘Props, wasn’t it?’

It wasn’t props (Felix had a terrible habit of not paying attention) but it didn’t make much difference. Felix tended to leave everything in Wells’s capable hands, as he worded it. Thereby adding to the general headache of the thing.

‘It’s the footprints,’ repeated Wells, not a little wearily. Added to Felix’s propensity for not listening, he had a seeming inability to grasp the whole question of the reddish footprints appearing unannounced in various parts of the building. They did not make an impact on him, even when pointed out in all their disturbing detail. ‘Oh, ah, yes, those,’ he would say, patting his pockets, followed by ‘Now, about rehearsals for next week …’

Woof, went the overweight Pekinese at his feet, as if in support.

‘A few more have handed in their notice,’ continued Wells, now a little crossly, ‘and I simply do not have the time to be looking for fresh staff at such short notice – there’s the opening night in a week’s time, the scenery still to be sorted, and the lighting.’

‘Dear, dear, no, of course not. What a thing to happen. Cleaners, again ?’

The Pekinese started snuffling at Felix’s trouser hems.

‘Cleaners, call boy and now the prompter. Some of the cast are getting nervy too. Isobel’s threatening to pull out altogether unless something is sorted. What are we to do?’ This was serious. Isobel Courtney was the leading lady and a positive catch for the theatre itself, which had been teetering gently for a while now.

Finally Felix looked quizzical – a sign he might actually be applying himself to the problem in hand. The Pekinese meanwhile started padding around the room again.

‘Well,’ he said, after a long pause which indicated he had been debating with himself on a ticklish issue, ‘you could try … Septimus Brink.’

‘Septimus Brink? Who or what is Septimus Brink?’

‘Old crony of mine.  Knows this place. He’ll also know what to do with, ah, them.’

They were interrupted by muffled pandemonium from below. A red-faced youth in ill-fitting cap and suit appeared breathlessly at the open doorway of Felix’s office. ‘It’s the dresser,’ he gasped,  ‘something nasty in the wardrobe, so she says, threatening to hand in her notice.’ He gazed appealingly at Wells. ‘Will you come?’

‘I’ll be there in a minute – where is she now?’

‘Miss Aikfield’s dressing room, with the smelling salts.’

‘Very well – send for a doctor.’

Felix stared after the departing youth in puzzlement. ‘Isn’t he the understudy for –‘

‘Masefield, yes, he’s now doubling up as call boy until we get a new one. This Septimus Brink –  when can he come?’

Septimus Brink was a large presence; while not overweight, his bearing was of the sort that can fill a room on its own and knock an elephant down at ten paces flat.  He had a tendency to boom at people in a kindly manner until they gave in and let him carry on whole conversations uninterrupted. He was not what you might imagine a ghost-catcher to be, having none of the airs and graces of society mediums nor the mystery of a psychic, yet he proved very efficient at relieving people of unwanted ‘presences’, real or imaginary, with a happy combination of curiosity and common sense.

He swept into the theatre later that day with ample coat tails and a sleek top hat, and on sighting Felix boomed out: ‘It’s you again, is it?’ in avuncular fashion. Felix actually shuffled his feet and looked a trifle sheepish. His Pekinese let out a yelp of welcome and began wagging its tail.

‘Well, what is it this time?’

Felix turned to Wells, who took over with a resigned air: ‘I’d better just show you – and you could try talking to the dresser, the prompter; they haven’t left – yet.’

Wells escorted Brink along the corridor, towards the dressing rooms, whence an increasing volubility could be discerned; notably, the dresser and various members of the cast.

‘’Orrible it were,’ came the nasal tones of the dresser, ‘only saw it for an instance, but my life, never again – you won’t get me inside that room, I tell you – ‘orrible!’

‘There, there, dear, have some more brandy – oh, you have already,’ comforted one of the actors. The dresser, wobbly and sliding fast into mild incoherence, tottered over to a small easy chair and sank into it.

‘Show us the wardrobe, then,’ said Brink, to nobody in particular. Felix escorted him to the end of the corridor; on the left was a recess, with a cracked and peeling door on which was scratched in chalk  the single word ‘WARD’.

‘Ran out of chalk?’ asked Brink.

‘Something like that,’ murmured, Felix, now distinctly ill at ease. ‘We just never got around to adjusting it.  Whole place needs doing up, really …’ His Pekinese started to whimper.

Brink opened the door and fumbled about for the switch.

‘Allow me,’ offered Felix.  ‘Yap,’ went the Pekinese, cringing.

For barely a second as the light switched on, a figure was visible, smack in the middle of the room. Even Brink was visibly shaken. The light flickered and the figure moved towards them – then was gone.  The Pekinese yapped and yelped and had to be picked up.

‘Yes,’ commented Brink, ‘yes, I see. Quite upsetting, I imagine.’

‘Anything you can do?’ asked Felix.

‘Show me where these footprints are.’

‘Wells can do that – where is he…’

‘They turn up in different areas,’ explained Wells, once they had tracked him down to the stage where he had taken refuge behind a leftover precipice from the Tempest or something,  ‘– sometimes outside a dressing room, sometimes in the wings, once they followed one of the cast out of the theatre – at least, it looked like that.’

‘And then vanish?’

‘Yes, yes. Quite annoying, really.’

Brink walked over to face Wells, studying him carefully. ‘Follow people about, do they?’

‘Well, I don’t know about people generally – ‘

‘Which actor was this?’

‘Portland, Dicky Portland; he called in sick today – hope he’s not another one skedaddling off …’ Wells rubbed his head wearily, Felix jingled change in his pocket, whistling silently and the Pekinese, at his heels, woofed in muted sympathy.

Brink studied Wells a little more, then clapped him on the back.

‘Show me, as far as you can remember, the areas where the footprints have been seen. Starting with the first time they were seen.’

‘Oh dear, as far as I can remember … well … as to when, that’s easy enough – two days into rehearsals. At least, that’s when I saw them, just as I was coming up to the stage from the wings.’

‘Anyone on stage already?’

‘Oh yes, most of the cast, in fact. ‘

‘What did you see, exactly?’

‘Just that – footsteps, red ones – going around the stage as if someone were looking for something – or someone. I called for it to be cleaned – but by the time the boy came with mop and bucket, they had faded. Most perplexing. However, they didn’t reappear for a few days and we got on with things.’

‘Where next?’

Wells led them through the wings offstage and back to the dressing rooms. ‘Several times here, stopping outside different doors. Which ones? That I actually can’t remember, sorry, – but gave several people a fright. ’

‘How long would you say it took for them to fade?’

‘They seem to last a little longer each time – most recently, a day.’

‘Most satisfactory,’ said Brink comfortably. Wells stared at him. ‘Well, I’m glad to hear someone thinks so,’ he exclaimed, somewhat bitterly. ‘The question remains, what are you able to do about it?’

‘It might not rest with me, however,’ replied Brink, still completely at ease. ‘I would say however, that things are reaching a climax.’

‘I should say they are,’ complained Wells. ‘I have a cast in shreds, and notices being handed in left right and centre.’

‘It will require a late night at the theatre – let me see …’ Brink rummaged around in his pockets and drew out a small almanac. ‘Yes, I would say, in two night’s time.  Full cast present. No excuses. I meanwhile shall attend to a little research.  You can perhaps show me a list of all performances given here in the last, ooh, shall we say, twenty to forty years?’ Wells was quite nonplussed at this; Felix stepped forward. ‘I have records in my office. Follow me.’

Two nights and many, many complaints later, the full cast was assembled on stage: pale, wary and nervous. Wells, Felix (followed by Pekinese) and Brink joined them, bearing respectively an object strongly reminiscent of a gramophone player, a round folding table and a tripod and camera.

The table was set up, the object strongly reminiscent of a gramophone player placed upon it, and Brink proceeded to set up the tripod and camera. The cast, with expressions varying from mild incredulity to outrage, gazed on speechless. Which, as Wells said afterwards, was something of a miracle in itself and passing all matters supernatural.

Brink took centre stage and began.

‘How does the ditty go – I have a little list, I have a little list,’ he chanted, pulling out a folded paper from his pocket. He proceeded to unfold it, as he went on: ‘After a little hunting about in the history of this place, and a little puzzle-solving, I rather think I have found a solution. By midnight or a little after, this theatre should be freed of its uninvited occupants and the show can, as they say, go on … The fact that there is to be a full moon should assist in the energizing of the elements involved.’ He ignored the derisive snort or two from his audience and continued, while consulting his notes: ‘From the records kept here at the theatre, I have discovered the following facts: one, that a performance of Macbeth was held in this very theatre in 1900 – no more than ten years ago.’

A slight stiffening of the cast here. Several members resolutely avoided looking at each other.

‘Said performance ran for one week only, owing to a fatal accident, depriving one of the actors of their life.’

Various intakes of breath; a collective, muted hissing. The Pekinese sniffed. Brink paused, looking around. ‘Indeed. I see some of you recall the episode well. But to proceed: the name of the hapless thespian was one Edward Vaughan.’

‘Really!’ expostulated Isobel, wrapped up in a mink stole and very irate, ‘is this necessary? Leave the poor man’s memory alone!’

‘I would, if he would – but his memory, it appears, lives on regardless. On the night of the performance, he was acting the part of Banquo – and, on cue, was indeed found dead; rather messily with a genuine claymore rather than the prop one. It appears he did not die immediately, but attempted to make his way backstage towards the dressing rooms before collapsing and expiring. Foul play was naturally not ruled out – but his assailant was never found.’

The Pekinese, still at its master’s feet, crouched down and whined a little.

‘’Those of you with longer acquaintance with this theatre might be able to recall the names of the cast of that final performance.’ He paused for dramatic effect. Nobody replied. ‘No? Then allow me to refresh your memories. Lady Macbeth, Miss Isobel Courtney, Macbeth, Roland Masefield, Macduff …’ Brink paused again.  Was there a sharp movement from within the group huddled together on the stage? ‘Macduff,’ repeated Brink – ‘Richard Por-’ he was interrupted at this point however by Mr Portland who, cursing and swearing, knocked over Brink and dashed from the stage. The Pekinese set up a wild barking and bounded about in paroxysms of hysteria.

‘Stop him!’ called out Wells but there was no need. The lights flickered and went out. There was a flash, followed by the sound of feet as Portland stumbled his way down the wings, then, unmistakably, the sound of other feet behind him – cut short soon after by a hideous scream.

The lights flickered back on. A general gasp broke out as everyone observed the trail of wet, red, half footprints now visible on the boards of the stage, leading off into the wings in the direction Portland had taken.

‘Banquo’s ghost has found his murderer,’ murmured Brink, who proceeded to examine the camera.

There was a cautious dash down the corridor to where Portland’s body could now be seen, lying mute and frozen on the floor. Felix’s Pekinese slunk at his heels giving out small whimpers.

Felix patted at his pockets. ‘Should we not call for assistance?’

‘Most definitely.’

The doctor was called first – who pronounced a case of heart failure. No external wounds, no visible signs of attack. The footprints, as previously, had by now disappeared once again. The doctor was perfectly happy to write out a straightforward certificate, and there really seemed little point in trying to explain otherwise.

The camera plate, once developed, proved most illuminating. The moment at which Brink, with characteristic presence of mind, had taken it showed Portland in the act of running from the stage – and behind him, a figure dressed in the costume of an ancient Scottish warrior bearing a very efficient looking weapon, in hot pursuit. The relatively distinct, if horribly bloodied, features of this individual were considered, after due consultation of a few old photographs, to be unquestionably those of former dramatic actor Edward Vaughan, deceased. The dresser, on seeing it, went back into hysterics and more than half a bottle of brandy was consumed in less than half an hour. Brink and Felix both confirmed this was the figure they too had seen. The Pekinese fully recovered its former equanimity and padded about the place as if nothing remotely untoward had happened at all.

As for the object strongly reminiscent of a gramophone player – well, it was, in a sense. Rather, it was a recording device, of peculiar sensitivity. Its discs, once played on a less unorthodox machine, proved to contain not only the voice of Brink expounding on the death of Vaughan, but also that of another, fainter yet still clear, repeating at intervals : ‘Murderer – I’ll have you yet.’ It was even possible to hear in the background soft thumps, which might or might not have been footsteps.

These, along with the plate containing the spectral image of Vaughan, returned with Septimus Brink to his home, to be added to his collection of phantom memorabilia: invaluable material for his ‘Theory of Manifestation’, he said, which he would one day write up.

The red footprints, as far as anyone knows, have never since been seen at the theatre.


The Winter Visit

I decided I wanted to write a short story in time for the festivities . .. well, in time for the New Year . . . well, all right then, it’s still just inside of winter, although now the nights are going to be shortening rather than drawing in . . . so I got caught up in a few things. I scribbled it down, then got rid of bits here and there, and it took a couple of different directions. But it is a still quite short, and there is a ghost. And Julia is in the thick of it, as it were, held up by snow with some very hospitable people – although they do seem rather apologetic about the room they have put her in . . .(as ever, the whole thing is a trifle tongue in cheek, to be taken lightly).

Oh, and there is a gong. Which you can listen to here

(Click on the cover below for more comfortable reading via Issuu):

December, 1927

 ‘I do hope you don’t mind,’ apologized Mrs Barrett, ‘but I’ve put you in the Print Room.’

Penny made a small grimace. ‘Oh Mummy, can’t Julia stay in the Nookery ?’

‘I would have suggested it, my dear, but the heating . . . and until those pipes are sorted . . .’

‘I’m sure the Print Room will be lovely,’ said Julia as brightly as she could. At least it sounded as though the room would be vaguely warm. Secretly she just longed to curl up in bed and go to sleep. There had been a long journey, followed by last minute changes and delays, unforeseen obstacles – and now weather had dictated that she stay a night, or more, with the Barrets before finally reaching Aunt Iz for Christmas.

‘Don’t worry about it darling, we’ll keep plenty of mince pies for you,’ said Bunty in her usual relaxed way over a crackly line before handing the receiver over to Aunt Iz, who was more worried about whether Julia had enough warm clothes with her.

Julia actually found the Print Room rather charming and wondered at the Barretts’ concern. It had pale yellow walls, the original prints from a hundred years before still adhering to them, with new-ish looking buttercup curtains which had evidently been chosen to match the background colour.

Mrs Barrett and Penny still looked a little  uneasy, however, as they left her to change for dinner, and both told her to let them know the minute she needed anything.

There was a bathroom. Hot water. Encouraging amounts of steam. Even bath salts, so kindly pointed out by Penny. Julia soaked gratefully.

It had all started with Penny’s invitation to lunch, as a break on the long journey up from London – her mother was an avid reader of Julia’s novels and was only too delighted to meet her. A blizzard had set in unexpectedly, all attempts to start the admittedly uncertain motor engine had failed and here she was, an added extra to an already full house. Hence the lack of choice as to bedrooms. It was only for a night or two. She felt quite at home already and wondered again at the Barretts’ solicitude.

She threw her dressing gown on and hurried back through to the bedroom; any minute now the gong would surely go or there would be a tap at the door . . .

‘Oh!’ she exclaimed softly.

The woman sitting at the dressing table appeared not to hear her. Dressed in cream white, with a rather daring neckline and a bouffant hairstyle, she was smiling slightly, at some distant thought.

Perhaps Julia was expected to share the room? Although surely they might have mentioned that. More likely the woman had simply mistaken her room.

Now the gong sounded in the distance, giving off a soft, golden chime.

Julia glanced over to where she had laid out her evening dress; it had slipped to the floor. She darted over, picked it up and dashed back into the bathroom.

The woman had gone by the time Julia returned to the bedroom. The gong would no doubt be sounded a second time any minute now . . . she hurried through the rest of her toilette and fairly ran downstairs – only to find she was actually the first.

‘Gong?’ said Penny as they went in for dinner, ‘but we don’t use a gong – haven’t done for centuries; it’s cracked so it doesn’t sound.’

‘Penny!’ Another guest descended on them, arms outstretched. Penny was briefly enveloped in chiffon and perfume, and conversation moved necessarily onto other topics, such as the latest designs from Paris, the appalling weather and what to do with unwanted presents.

‘Bit of a turn-up, all this snow, eh?’ began one of the male guests amiably, at Julia’s elbow.

‘Yes, it is rather. Mrs Barrett has kindly put me up in the Print Room.’

‘Oh yes? Been a while since they used that room. Hope it’s warm enough. These old buildings can take quite a lot of heating.’

‘It certainly feels very comfortable. I rather like it.’

‘Yes? How long are you staying?’

‘It depends on the weather. I was on my way home.’

‘Oh well, that should be . . .all right then.’

‘Ah, you’ve met our resident novelist, I see,’ Mrs Barrett caught up with her duties and introduced Julia properly. ‘This is Mr Frobisher, one of our oldest friends – does quite a bit in the way of writing himself, don’t you? Local historical research and customs.’

‘All published a little while ago now, though. Now looking into the archaeology side of things. Was on a dig the other day, they’d just unearthed a stash of Roman rubbish hah! – old boots and letters on wax, amazin’ stuff, really.’

Conversation went swimmingly enough, and it was a while before Julia remembered to look around to see if her unexpected intruder was at table. Nobody remotely resembling the woman in cream appeared to be present, however. Perhaps on realizing her faux pas, she had elected to stay in her room from sheer embarrassment. Julia briefly noted a couple of empty seats at table and put it out of her mind.

‘Are you sure Ethel wouldn’t care for something sent up? It’s no problem at all, really, Mrs White,’ she overheard Mrs Barrett saying to a faded female in peach silks.

‘That is most kind, in fact I was thinking of going up to see how she is – it’s most unlike her to be taken badly.’

As Julia passed the library on her way upstairs, she noticed the door ajar, and caught a glimpse of the woman in cream, standing at a bookcase, gazing up at the shelves.

It was a little odd, she thought, for Miss Ethel to feign indisposition and then sneak downstairs to the library after. But then she recalled the other empty chair. Still, equally strange. But people could be quite unexpected in behaviour.

Mrs White had already gone upstairs to see how her daughter was; a matter of minutes later, the whole house was in uproar; Miss Ethel had vanished, and in her place on the pillow lay a note begging pardon, but that she had eloped with young Mr Edwards. Mrs White had to be put to bed, in an extreme state of mortification. Brandy and hot water and smelling salts were duly applied.

Snow had fallen again during dinner meanwhile, removing all traces of footprints.

‘She’ll catch her death,’ moaned Mrs White burying her face into a lavender-scented handkerchief, ‘I know she will.’

‘My dear Julia, do you think you could give us any ideas?’ Mrs Barrett was quite helpless in the face of this domestic incident. Her training in etiquette had not quite equipped her for vanishing daughters in the middle of dinner.

‘Well, I am not a real-life detective, but . . . if I were writing this in a book . . . I think I would add the snow as a convenient last-minute distraction.’

‘My dear, what do you mean?’

‘I mean that it looks like the elopement was a spur of the moment thing – nobody could have predicted the snow would fall to such a degree; whatever the original arrangement, it rather looks like the couple decided to take advantage of the weather to cover their tracks. Surely Mrs White had her suspicions?’

‘She’s always been intent on marrying poor Ethel off to money and property,’ snorted Penny.

‘My dear, if it turns out you knew anything –’ began Mrs Barrett ominously.

‘Oh nonsense Mummy, even you could tell it was going to happen sooner or later. Good luck to the pair of them, I say.’

‘Well, I think they could have considered Mrs White’s feelings a little more.’

‘She’ll be all right after a night’s sleep.’

‘Really, my dear, how can you be so callous!’

Penny shrugged. ‘Well, I don’t see quite what we can do. And I’m sure Ethel will be all right. Tommy Edwards is a good enough chap.’

Later, after things had quietened down a bit, Julia asked Penny ‘I suppose Mr Edwards was waiting for her nearby?’

‘Probably on skies. He’s quite an expert.’

‘Would they have been in disguise, do you think?’

‘Disguise? Goodness, I don’t know. That would be . . . fun. Wouldn’t have said Ethel was that imaginative, though.’

Despite the nonchalance, Penny had a strained air. She asked Julia again if the room was ‘all right’.

‘Of course – it is lovely.’

Penny looked slightly relieved. ‘Well, if there’s anything at all – let me know.’

The night passed uneventfully and a blue sky over a crisp snowscape greeted the inhabitants the next morning.

Mrs White remained in bed in a state of continued mortification and the doctor was sent for.

Julia, at the combined requests of Mrs White and Mrs Barrett, went into Ethel’s room to ‘look for clues.’ More to humour them than out of any illusion of discovering anything. The wardrobe, half open, suggested the girl had indeed packed in a hurry. Only a very few dresses had been taken – and little of any real use in cold weather. The chest of drawers was tidy enough – hardly any underwear or stockings. No slippers – and the nightdress was gone.

There was a writing desk in the corner. A quick inspection revealed a blotter. Julia held it up to the mirror for a while, then went down to the kitchen.

‘Susan ?’ replied the cook. ‘Why, she’d be Miss Ethel’s maid, miss. You’ve just missed her though – went out a few minutes ago.

‘Really ? I don’t suppose you know where ?’

‘Not me, miss, it’s all I can do to keep an eye on the meals. But she was quite nervous, – dropping things.’

‘What sort of things ?’

‘She had a brush in her hand, and she dropped that, then it was a pen or something, and after she’d gone, I found a small bag on the floor, I put it on that table over there for when she comes back . . . though what she wants with walks in all this snow I’ll never know, all wrapped up like an esquimaux she was, hardly recognized her . . .’

‘Well, the sun is out after all. I rather think I’ll do the same. Perhaps I can give her the bag if I see her.’ And so saying, Julia took the bag and fetched her coat.

The tracks left by Ethel’s maid were not hard to find and led in a nice clear line down the drive and turned a definite right in the direction of the village.

‘But how on earth did you find us here ?’ blurted out Ethel, still holding her wedding bouquet. Julia noted the narrow gold band on her ring finger.

‘You left the blotter on the writing desk. Only a couple of words, but they were enough. The name Susan and the Old Feathers. On inquiry downstairs, Susan was your faithful maid, who I imagined was bringing you extra little items you had forgotten, and on following her tracks down to the village, I had only to look for the Old Feathers Inn – and there you were. Of course, the poor girl was so nervous, she can be forgiven for dropping  a few things . . . here is your bag, by the way. Motor still won’t start ?’

‘Frozen solid, I’m afraid,’ admitted Tommy Edwards ruefully, unwrapping his scarf.

‘Still, you got married in the meantime.’

‘Yes, but you won’t give us away, will you? Not until after we’ve got away?’ Ethel, pleading.

‘You make it sound like we’ve committed a bank robbery,’ chuckled Tommy. He had a wide smile and good eyes, and didn’t look too worried about anything. Julia could see why Penny had said he was a good enough chap. Ethel, though not as faded as her mother, was of a similar nervous disposition, already terrified at what she had done.

‘It’s not for me to do anything,’ replied Julia reassuringly, ‘but I feel I should mention your mother has remained in bed, and that they have sent for the doctor.’

‘Just what Susan said – she’s close to revealing all anyway,’ said Tommy. He turned to Ethel. ‘Well, old thing, what do you say ? Shouldn’t we at least say hello before trundling off into the sunset ?’

It was now lunch time, and Mrs White was able to sit up and take tea and dry toast. The curtains had been drawn back, letting in the brilliant sunshine, and offering a view of the front garden and driveway.

Penny was looking through the long windows of the morning room, brow puckered again. Her face suddenly cleared and she waved. The trio of figures advancing across the white blanket waved back.

Mrs White could hardly believe her eyes.

‘What was she doing ?’ she kept saying, even after all the fuss and explanations and greetings had subsided. ‘Going out in the cold like that – must have been terribly chilly.’

‘Who do you mean ?’

‘That woman – in a white dress, very revealing, no coat on . . . walked right across the lawn, straight past you. Didn’t you see her ?’

Julia thought for a bit then asked : ‘Was her hair done up ?’

‘Well, yes, it was – quite extravagant, I thought. Who on earth could it have been ?’

Julia looked at Mrs Barrett and Penny, who both looked discomfited.

‘Oh dear,’ began Mrs Barrett. ‘I fear that may have been Georgina.’

‘And who is Georgina ?’ asked Mrs White in astonishment. Julia continued to look at the Barretts.

‘Georgina  . . .was . .  a distant relative. Stayed here for a while. Her favourite room was the Print Room. I hope she didn’t disturb you.’ Here Mrs Barrett looked apologetically at Julia.

‘What happened ?’ asked Julia gently.

‘The story is, she had arranged to run away with a young man, who was also a visitor at the house. The arranged signal was the sounding of the gong for the evening meal. After the young couple had escaped, her father took the gong and threw it at my grandfather. Luckily he missed, but he cracked the gong, which has never sounded since.’

‘And  . . Georgina ?’

‘She died a few years later. Diphtheria, I think. All very sad. But I believe she was very content here, which is perhaps why she tends to appear before a happy event.’

‘She was smiling, when I saw her,’ said Julia.

Mrs White gave a mild squawk and fell back against the pillows.

Later again, Julia was standing in the library, looking up at a portrait. The sitter was female, dressed in cream white with a daring neckline and her hair in a bouffant style. The artist had painted the year 1860 in the bottom right corner.

Neatly engraved on the frame was the name ‘Lady Georgina Cardew-Barrett.’

(©B.Lloyd)