by Marjorie Bowen
Linley was fond of collecting what he called “raw material” and, as a fairly successful barrister, he had good opportunity for doing so. He despised novelists and romancists, yet one day he hoped to become one of these gentry himself, hence his collection of the raw material…however, after some years he became disgusted and overwhelmed by the amount of “stuff” (as he termed it) which he had gathered together—scenes, episodes, characters, dialogues, descriptions and decorations for all or any possible type of tale; he remained, he declared, surprised at the poverty of invention of the professional story-tellers who gave so little for the public’s money in the way of good, strong, rousing drama, such as he, Robert Linley, had come across, well, more times than he cared to count…
“There isn’t anything,” he declared with some vehemence, “of which I haven’t had experience.”
“Ghosts?” I asked, and he smiled contemptuously.
“Yes, of course, I’ve had any amount of experiences with ghosts, with people who’ve seen ’em, and people who think they’ve seen ’em, and with the ghosts themselves…”
“Well,” I asked, “have you come across a real Christmas ghost story—what we used to call the old-fashioned kind? They’re getting a bit threadbare now, you know; they’ve been told over and over again, year after year; have you got a novelty in that direction?” Linley, after a moment’s pause, said that he had.
“There’s some raw material for you,” he cried, waxing enthusiastic, “the story of the Catchpoles and Aunt Ursula Beane, there’s some raw material—why, there’s everything in it—comedy, tragedy, drama, satire, farce—”
“Hold on!” I cried, “and just tell us as briefly as possible what your ‘raw material’ consists of. I’m out for a Christmas ghost story, you know, and I shall be disappointed if you don’t give us something of that kind.”
Linley made himself extremely comfortable and, with a lawyer’s relish of the right phrase and the correct turn of sentence, gave us the history of Aunt Ursula Beane, with the usual proviso, of course, that the names and places had been altered. Before he began his narration Linley insisted on the novelty of the story, and before he had finished we all of us (those select few who were privileged to hear him hold forth) agreed that it was very novel indeed.
The case of Aunt Ursula Beane, as he called her, had come under his notice in a professional way and in the following manner, commonplace enough from a lawyer’s point of view, although the subsequent case was one which the papers endeavored to work up into what is described by that overworked word “sensational.” As far as the lawyers and the public were concerned it began with an inquest on Mrs. Ursula Beane. In Linley’s carefully selected phrases the case was this:
“Mrs. Ursula Beane had died suddenly at the age of seventy-five. The doctor who had been intermittently attending her—she was an extremely robust and healthy old woman—had not been altogether satisfied with her symptoms. He had refused a death certificate, there had been an autopsy, and it was discovered that Mrs. Ursula Beane had died from arsenical poisoning. The fact established, an enquiry followed, eliciting the following circumstances. Mrs. Ursula Beane had lived for forty years in a small house at Peckham Rye which had belonged to her father and his father before him. The house had been built in the days when Peckham Rye—well, was not quite like it is now. She resided with a nephew and niece—James and Louisa Catchpole. Neither of them had ever married, neither of them had ever left Peckham Rye for more than a few weeks at a time, and the most minute investigation did not discover that either of them had had the least adventure or out-of-the-way event in their lives. They enjoyed a small annuity from a father who had been a worthy and fairly prosperous tradesman. James was, at the time of the inquest, a man over sixty and had been for many years a clerk—’confidential clerk’ as he emphasized it—with a large firm of tea merchants. He received a sufficient, if not a substantial salary and was within a year or two of a pension. His sister, Miss Louisa Catchpole, was younger—fifty or so; she also had a substantial, if not a brilliant, position as a journalist on one of those few surviving monthlies which rather shun publicity and cater for the secluded and the virtuous. She wrote occasional short stories in which the hero was always a clergyman and the heroine sans peur et sans reproche. She also wrote little weekly causeries—as I believe they are called—’Meditations in a Garden’; they were headed and adorned with a little cut of an invalid in a basket-chair gazing at a robin. In these same causeries Miss Louisa Catchpole affected month after month, year after year, with unfaltering fortitude, a vein of Christian cheerfulness, and encouraged her readers with such maxims as ‘Character is stronger than Destiny,’ ‘A man is only as strong as his faith in himself,’ and chirpings about the recurring miracle of spring, together with quotations from the more minor poets—you know the type of thing.
“It is irrelevant to our story to go into why Aunt Ursula Beane lived with those two; they seemed to be the only surviving members of their very unimportant family, and they had lived together in the house at Peckham Rye for forty years, ever since Louisa was quite a small child and had gone there to live with Aunt Ursula who, on her husband’s death, had retired to this paternal abode. Nobody could think of them as apart one from the other. During those forty years James had gone to and fro his work, Louisa had written her articles and stories, and at first had been looked after by, and afterwards had looked after, Aunt Ursula Beane. Their joint earnings kept the tiny establishment going; they were considerably helped by the fact that there was no rent to pay and they lived in modest comfort, almost with (what James would have called) ‘every luxury.’ Besides giving them the house to live in, Mrs. Beane paid them at first thirty shillings, then, as the cost of living went up, two pounds a week for what she called ‘her keep.’ What, you will say, could have been more deadly commonplace than this? But there was just one touch of mystery and romance. Aunt Ursula was reputed to be of vast wealth and a miser—this was one of those family traditions that swell and grow on human credulity from one generation to another. The late Mr. Beane was spoken of with vague awe as a very wealthy man, and it appeared that the Catchpoles believed that he had left his widow a considerable fortune which she, a true miser, had concealed all those years, but which they might reasonably hope to inherit on her death, as a reward for all their faithful kindness. Investigation proved that what had seemed rather a fantastic delusion had some startling foundation. Mrs. Ursula Beane employed a lawyer and his evidence was that her late husband, who had been a tobacconist, had left her a tidy sum of money when he had died forty years ago, amounting to fifteen thousand pounds, which had been safely invested and not touched till about five years before. What Mrs. Beane lived on came from another source—a small capital left by her father that brought her in about a hundred and fifty pounds a year; therefore this main sum had been, as I have said, untouched and had accrued during those thirty-five years into a handsome sum of nearly fifty thousand pounds. The lawyer agreed that the old lady was a miser, nothing would induce her to draw out any of this money, to mention its existence to a soul, or to make a will as to its final disposal. The lawyer, of course, was pledged to secrecy. He knew that the Catchpoles guessed at the existence of the hoard, he also knew that they were not sure about it and that they had no idea as to its magnitude. Five years before her death the old lady had drawn out all her capital—forty-eight thousand pounds—without any explanation whatever to the lawyer, and had taken it away in a black bag, going off in a taxicab from the lawyer’s office in Lincoln’s Inn. It might have been the Nibelung hoard flung into the Rhine for all the mystery that was attached to it, for nobody saw or heard of it again. Both the Catchpoles swore that they had no knowledge whatever of the old woman realizing her capital; she had certainly not banked it anywhere, she must have taken that very large sum of money in notes and, I believe, a few bonds, to that small house at Peckham Rye and in some way disposed of it. A most exhaustive search revealed not so much as a five-pound note. In the bank was just the last quarterly installment of her annuity—barely enough, as Louisa Catchpole remarked with some passion, ‘to pay the doctor and the funeral expenses.’
“There you have the situation. This old woman dead in what was almost poverty, the disappearance of this large sum of money she had realized five years previously, and the fact that she had died from arsenical poisoning. To explain this there were the usual symptoms, or excuses, whatever you like to call them; she had been having medicine with arsenic in it, and she might have taken an overdose. There had been arsenic in the house in the shape of powders for an overgrown and aged dog, and in the shape of packets of weed-killer, James had always taken an industrious interest in the patch of garden that sloped to the Common. The old lady might have committed suicide, she might have taken some of the stuff in mistake, or the Catchpoles might have been murderers. The only possible reason for suspecting foul play would have been that the Catchpoles knew of her hoard and wished to get hold of it. But this it was impossible to prove. I was briefed to watch the case for the Catchpoles. There was, of course, a certain sensation and excitement over the fact of the large sum of money, the only startling and brilliant fact about the whole commonplace, drab and rather depressing story. I myself thought it rather absurd that any question of suspicion should attach to the Catchpoles. After forty years of placid uninspired devotion to Aunt Ursula Beane, why should they suddenly decide to put her out of the way when, in the nature of things, she could not have had more than a few years to live? Their demeanor, too, impressed me very favorably. There was none of the flaunting vanity, posing or vehement talk of the real criminal, they seemed slightly bewildered, not very much disturbed, and to trust wholly in their undeniable innocence, they almost found the whole thing grotesque and I could understand their point of view. The verdict, however, was rather surprising. It was confidently expected that it would be Death from misadventure,’ but instead, the verdict was ‘Death from arsenical poisoning not self-administered.’ This is really about as near as we can get in England to the Scottish verdict ‘Not proven,’ and I was rather indignant, for it seemed to me to attach a great deal of wholly unmerited suspicion to the two Catchpoles. Still, of course, they were quite free and no direct blame was laid on them. In fact, the coroner had remarked on their devoted care of an old lady who must have been, from the various facts proved by the doctors, ‘very trying and difficult,’ as the saying goes. They conducted themselves very well after the inquest, still with that slightly bewildered patient air of resignation. It seemed to me that they did not realize the ghastly position in which they stood and, as I knew when I heard the verdict, the very narrow escape they had had from being arrested on a charge of murder. They paid all the expenses connected with the inquest at once and without any trouble. They had, as James explained with a certain mild pride, ‘savings.’ I was interested in them, they were so meek and drab, so ordinary and repressed; there was something kindly and amiable about them and they were very attached to each other. I questioned them about this mysterious hoard, the existence of which would have been difficult to believe but for the evidence of the lawyer. They did not seem very concerned, they had always known that Aunt Ursula Beane had money and, said Louisa without passion, they had always guessed that she had tried to do them out of it—she had been an extraordinarily malicious old woman, they complained, and it was quite likely that the money was buried somewhere, or had been destroyed. She was capable of feeding the fire with it, of sticking it in a hole in the ground, of throwing it into the water in a bag weighed down with stones, in fact of doing anything in the world with it except putting it to some profitable use. She was undoubtedly not right in her head.
“‘She ought to have been certified years ago,’ I declared.
“James Catchpole shook his head. ‘She was never bad enough for that,’ he announced with resignation.
“They had really been slaving and ‘bearing’ things for forty years for that money, and they took the loss of it, I thought, with extreme gallantry.
“They returned to the little house in Peckham Rye which came to them as next-of-kin. The little annuity, which was all that Aunt Ursula had left of her worldly goods after she had disposed of her main fortune, perished with her. James and Louisa would have to live on his clerkship and her journalism.”
At this point Linley stopped to ask me if we did not perceive a real strong drama in what he had told us—”A whole novel, in fact,” he added triumphantly.
“Well,” I replied, “one might make it into a whole novel by inserting incidents and imagining this and that and the other. As you have given it, it seems a dreary stretch of nothingness with a rather damp squib at the end. After all, there was no murder, I suppose the old woman took an overdose of medicine by mistake. Where,” I asked, “does the Christmas ghost story come in?”
“I will tell you if you will have just a little more patience. Well, I have said that I was interested in the Catchpoles, I even went to see them once or twice. They seemed to me to be what used to be called ‘human documents’—the very fact that they had such blank faces made me want to study them. I know there must be some repression somewhere, some desire, some hope, something beside what there appeared on the surface—this blank negation. They did not betray themselves. Louisa said she missed the old lady and that she was having quite a handsome headstone put on her grave in the vast London cemetery where she had been laid to rest. James spoke of the old lady with a certain deference, as if the fact of her being dead had made a saint of Aunt Ursula Beane.
“I continually asked them if they had had any news of the money. They shook their heads with a compassionate smile at my hopefulness. They were convinced that during those five years Aunt Ursula Beane had completely destroyed the forty-eight thousand pounds—easily destroyed, for most of it had been in hundred- and thousand-pound notes. Of course the garden had been dug over and every brick and plank in the house disturbed, with no result.
“‘And if she never left the house and garden?’ I asked.
“They told me she had. She was a robust old woman, as I said before, and she used to take long walks and every year during those five years she went away for a fortnight—sometimes with Louisa, sometimes with James, sometimes to the seaside and sometimes to lodgings in a farmhouse, and on all these different occasions she had had plenty of opportunity of getting rid of her money. Of course these five several lodgings had been searched and the country round about them, but always with no result.
“‘You see, sir,’ said James, with his meek and placid smile, his pale faded eyes gleaming at me behind the glasses, ‘she was far too cunning for all of us.’
“One winter evening about a year after the inquest the mood took me to go and visit these two curious specimens. I found them with a planchette, their eyes goggling at the sprawling writing that appeared on the piece of paper beneath. James informed me without excitement that they had ‘taken up’ spiritualism, and Miss Louisa chirped in that they were getting ‘the most wonderful results.’
“Aunt Ursula Beane had ‘come through,’ as they put it, almost at once, and was now in constant communication with them. “‘Well, I hope she can tell you what she did with the money.’ “They answered me quite seriously that that was what they were trying to find out, but that the old lady was just as tricky and malicious on the other side, as they termed it, as she had been on this, luring them on with false scents and wayward suggestions. At the same time, they declared, placidly but with intense conviction, they believed that sooner or later she would disclose to them her secret.
“I soon began to lose interest in them after this. When people of the type of the Catchpoles get mixed up with this spiritualistic business they cease to be—well, almost cease to be ‘human documents.’ I thought I’d leave ’em to it, when I received a rather urgent invitation from Miss Louisa Catchpole, begging me to be present at a ‘demonstration’ at which Aunt Ursula Beane would undoubtedly appear in person.
“I went to the little house in Peckham where the furniture, the wallpaper, even the atmosphere did not appear to have been changed all those monotonous forty years—forty-one now to be exact. There was a medium present and no one else save myself and the brother and sister. We sat round the table. The medium who beamed with a rather fussy kindness went off with surprising celerity into a trance, and soon the ‘demonstration’ took place.
“At first I was cynical, secondly I was disgusted, and thirdly, I was rather disturbed, finding myself first in the midst of farce, low charlatanry and chicanery, then suddenly in the presence of something which I could not understand. The ‘demonstration’ began by groans and squeaks issuing from the lips of the medium, greetings to Louisa and James (presumably in the voice of the defunct Aunt Ursula), various jovial references to a bottle containing poison, a few other crude remarks of that nature, and then several knocks from different parts of the room—rappings loud and quick, and then beating time, as if to a piece of music, then a sudden clatter on the table in the middle of us as if the old lady were dancing there with heavy boots on. James and Louisa sat side by side, their hands clasped, listening to all this without a shade of expression on their blank faded faces. The hideous little room was the last resort of the antimacassar, and presently these began to fly about, scraps of the horrible white crocheted tatting gliding through the air in a way which would have been very funny if it hadn’t been rather dreadful. Of course I knew that many mediums have these powers and there is nothing much in them—I mean, it can all be explained in a perfectly practical and satisfactory fashion. At the same time I did not greatly care about the exposition, and I begged the Catchpoles to bring it to an end, particularly as the old lady had nothing definite to say. James whispered that the medium must not be disturbed while she was in trance. Aunt Ursula Beane then began to sing a hymn, but with a very unpleasant inflection, worse than any outspoken mockery. While the hymn was being sung I gained the impression far more vividly than I had ever received before that Aunt Ursula Beane had been a rather terrible person. When she had finished the hymn she began in an old half-broken voice softly to curse them all in a language that was not at all agreeable to listen to, coming as it did in those querulous, ancient feminine tones. This was rather too much for me, and I shook the medium violently. She came out of her trance. Louisa and James did not seem in the least affected, drank tea, ate biscuits, and discussed in banal terms the doings of those on ‘the other side.’
“I received no more invitations from the Catchpoles and did not go near them for a considerable time. In fact, I think I had rather forgotten about them, as I had had a great many other interesting cases and a good many other interesting specimens had come my way. I had heard a vast number of stories as good as the story of Aunt Ursula Beane, but it did happen one day that I had to pass through Peckham and could not resist the passing impulse of curiosity that urged me to go and look at the house on the Common. It was ‘To Let’ or ‘To be Sold,’ according to two or three estate agents’ blatant boards on the front railing. I called next door and was received with the inevitable suspicion with which the stranger is usually regarded in small places. I did, however, discover what I had set out to discover, namely, that the Catchpoles had left the neighborhood about six months ago, and no one knew where they were. I took the trouble to go to one of the estate agents whose address was given on the board, to make further enquiries. The house was to be let or sold, it did not seem to have been considered a great prize, and it certainly had not gone off very quickly, though it was cheap enough; the neighborhood, even the estate agent admitted, ‘was not what it had been.’ Then, of course, one couldn’t deny that the Ursula Beane case and the fact that the old lady had died there, and of poison, had given a slightly sinister air to the modest stucco building. As to the Catch-poles, the estate agent did not know where they had gone; all he had was the address of a bank, nor was it any of my business, so I decided to dismiss the whole thing from my mind.
“Good raw material, no doubt, but none of it worked up sufficiently to be of much interest.”
Linley glanced round at us all triumphantly as he said this.
“But it was all rounded off as neatly as any novelist could do it. Let me tell you,” he added with unction.
“Five years afterwards I ran over to Venice for Christmas—I don’t know why, except just the perverse desire to see the wrong place at the wrong time, instead of forever the right place at the right time. I like Venice in the winter fogs, with a thin coat of ice on the canals, and if you can get a snowstorm—well, so much the better—St. Marco, to me, looks preferable with the snowflakes in front of the blue and the bronze instead of that eternal sunshine…Well, there I was in Venice, and I’m not going to bore you with any more local color or picturesque details. I was in Venice, very well satisfied with myself, very comfortable and alone. I was tolerably familiar with the city and I always stay at the same hotel. One of the first things I noticed was that a large and very pretentious palace near by had recently been handsomely and expensively ‘done up’; I soon elicited the fact that the place which I had always envied had been bought by the usual rich American who had spent a great deal of money in restoring and furnishing it, but who did not very often live there, he only came and went after the fashion of all Americans, and was supposed to travel considerably in great luxury. Once or twice I saw this American going past in a gondola, wrapped in a foreign, rather theatrical-looking cloak, lounging with a sort of ostentation of ease on the cushions. He was an elderly man with a full grey beard, and wore, even now in the winter, blue sunglasses. On two separate occasions when I was sitting on the hotel balcony in the mild winter sunlight and he was being rowed past underneath I had the impression that he was looking at me sharply and keenly behind those colored spectacles, and also the impression, which was likely enough to be correct, that I had seen him before. I meet, of course, a great many people, but even with a memory on which I rather pride myself, cannot immediately place everyone. The hotel at which I was staying—and this was one of the reasons I always selected it—did not have any of those ghastly organized gaieties at Christmas; we were left to ourselves in a poetic gloom best suited to the season and the city. I was seated by myself enjoying a delicious kind of mournful repose, piquantly in contrast with my usual life, when I received a message and a very odd one: the gentleman, Signor Hayden, the American from next door, would very much like to see me. He had observed me on the balcony, knew my name and my profession, and requested the honor of my company. Attracted by anything queer or the least out of the way, I at once accepted, and in ten minutes or so found myself in the newly-restored palace which I had so often admired and envied. The place was furnished with a good deal of taste, but rather, I suspected, the orthodox taste of the professional decorator. Mr. Hayden was not immediately visible, but, I understood, in bed ill; I expressed my willingness to go to his bedside and was shortly conducted there. The room was very handsome, the servants very well trained, and I was impressed by the fact that this rich American must be very rich indeed. One knows, of course, what these out-of-the-way little caprices of newly-restored palaces in Venice cost. The owner of this up-to-date luxury was in bed, propped up with pillows and shaded by old-fashioned mauve velvet curtains. He still wore the colored glasses, and I concluded that he had some defect in his sight. He appeared to see me perfectly well, however, and beckoned to me to approach his bedside. As I did so he removed his glasses; there was an electric standard lamp on an antique table by the bedside and the light of it was turned full on to the sick man’s face, which I immediately recognized. I was looking down into the faded, mild, light-blue eyes of James Catchpole.
“‘Very odd that you should be here,’ he smiled at me, ‘very odd indeed. You’ve always been interested in us and I thought perhaps you’d like to hear the end of the story, that is, if any story ever does end; there’s a pause in ours at this point, anyway.’
“I expressed due surprise and gratification at seeing him. In truth, I was considerably amazed. I was startled, too, to see how ill he was. He asked me to help him up in bed. He declared, without emotion, that he knew himself to be dying.
“‘Where’s Miss Louisa?’ I asked; ‘where is your sister?’
“‘She died last year,’ he answered placidly. ‘She had a thoroughly good time for four years and I suppose it killed her, you know; but, of course, it was worth it, she always said so.’
“The inevitable conclusion had jumped to my mind.
“‘You found Miss Ursula Beane’s hoard?’ I suggested.
“James Catchpole, passing his hand over the full grey beard which had so changed his face, replied simply:
“‘We never lost it—we had it all the time.’
“‘You mean you?’ I asked dubiously, and he nodded and replied:
“‘That you—?’ I suggested, and this time he nodded and said:
“‘Louisa persuaded her to realize her capital,’ he continued with childish calm. ‘She was a proper miser and she rather fretted not having the actual stuff in her hands. It wasn’t difficult to make her get it—she liked a real hoard, a thing you can put under the hearthstone or in the mattress, you know. We thought we should get hold of it easier that way when she came to die. You never knew with anyone like that what she might do in the way of a will, she was keen on lost cats and Christians. We thought she would enjoy herself playing with it, and then we’d get it if we were patient enough.’
“He blinked up at me and added, with the faintest of ironic smiles—We’d been patient for forty years, don’t you suppose we spent some part of that time planning what we would do with the money? We were both engaged, to start with, but her young man and my young woman couldn’t wait all those years…We read a good deal, we made lists of things we wanted, and places we wanted to go to…We had quite a little library of guide-books, you may have noticed them on the bookshelf—one of them was a guide to Venice. Louisa, writing her piffling articles, and I at my piffling job, to and fro—well, you don’t suppose we didn’t have our ideas?’
“‘I see,’ I said doubtfully, ‘and then, when there was that little misfortune about the arsenic, I suppose you didn’t care to mention the hoard?’
“‘It wouldn’t have been altogether wise, sir, would it?’ smiled James Catchpole simply. It would have thrown a lot of suspicion on us, and we’d been very careful. There wasn’t any proof, not a shred. We had to wait until the case had blown over a bit, and then we—well, we did the best we could with the time that was left us. We lived at the rate of ten thousand a year. We had the best of everything…Of course it was the pace—don’t you call it?—that killed. We were neither of us young, and we knew we couldn’t stand it for long, so we enjoyed ourselves thoroughly, believe me, sir, thoroughly.’
“He paused and added reflectively:
“‘But it’s a good thing we made a move when we did, we shouldn’t have been able to get about at seventy; she—she might have gone on to a hundred and ten.’
“‘Do you mean that you—?’ I suggested quietly.
“‘It was the easiest thing in the world,’ he smiled, ‘to drop a couple of those dog powders into her milk…’
“I’d always been intensely interested in murderers. I tried to question James Catchpole as to his motives, his sensations, his possible remorse; he appeared to have had none of any of these…
“‘You didn’t regret it afterwards, you haven’t felt the Furies behind you, or anything of that sort?’
“He replied, as far as his feeble strength would permit:
“‘I have enjoyed myself thoroughly. I wish we hadn’t waited so long.’
“I was puzzled. They had always seemed such very nice people.
“‘I am dying now,’ said James Catchpole, ‘and it’s about time, for I’ve spent all the money. The doctor said my next heart attack would be fatal, and I’ve done my best to bring one on. I couldn’t go back to lack of money.’
“‘Who are you going to leave all this to?’ I asked with professional interest. I glanced round the handsome room.
“He smiled at me with what I thought was compassion.
“‘I haven’t been so silly as all that,’ he replied. ‘Everything that I possess wouldn’t pay half of my debts. I have had full value, I can assure you. After all, I had a right to it, hadn’t I? I’d waited long enough.’
“‘What about the planchette and the demonstrations?’ I asked. ‘I suppose all that was a fake to throw us off the scent?’
“‘Not at all,’ he declared, in what seemed to be hurt surprise, ‘that was perfectly genuine. We made up our minds to get in touch with Aunt Ursula Beane, to find out what she thought about it all.’
“‘And what did she think?’ I asked, startled.
“‘She said we were a couple of fools not to have done it sooner.’
“‘Come, come, Mr. Catchpole,’ I cried, something shocked, ‘this is unseemly jesting.’
“‘No jesting at all,’ he assured me. ‘Aren’t I dying myself? I shall be in the old girl’s company in a few minutes, I daresay. You heard her yourself, sir, dancing on the table that evening. She said she’d been a perfect fool herself, and now that she’d “got over” she realized it. She said if we didn’t have a good time, or someone didn’t have a good time with that damn money, she’d never forgive us. You see, sir, at first we began to have that miserly feeling too and didn’t want to spend it. We thought we’d go on hoarding it, living just the same and knowing it was there. She used to scribble out on the planchette saying what idiots we were. That’s why she used all that strong language. “You’ve got it—now use it!” That was what she always said. “I’ll go with you and share in your good time”—and so she has, sir, believe me. We’ve often seen her sitting at the table with us, nodding over the champagne; she’d have been fond of champagne if she’d allowed herself…We’ve seen her dancing in some of those jazz-halls, we’ve seen her in boxes listening to opera, we’ve seen her sitting in the Rolls-Royce revelling in the cushions and the speed…Remorse? Why, I tell you we’ve given the old girl the good time she ought to have had years ago.’
“‘Come, come, James Catchpole,’ I said, ‘you’re delirious. I’d better fetch the doctor.’
“He smiled at me with compassion and some contempt.
“‘You’re a clever lawyer,’ he said, ‘but there are a lot of things you don’t understand.’
“Even as he spoke he seemed to fall into a peaceful sleep and I thought it was my responsibility to fetch a doctor. Of course I believed hardly anything he said—I thought it was quite likely that he hadn’t poisoned Aunt Ursula Beane, but that he had invented the story. At the same time there was the hard concrete evidence of the palace, the servants, the furniture—he had got money from somewhere.
“‘Good raw material, eh? Think what you could make of it if you wrote it up!’
“I went downstairs, telephoned on my own responsibility to the address of one of the English doctors. It was Christmas Eve and I could not find him at home. I was quite uncertain what to do. I stood hesitant at the foot of the wide magnificent staircase, when I observed a dreadful old woman creeping up the stairs with a look of intense enjoyment on her face—Mrs. Ursula Beane—not a doubt of it—Aunt Ursula Beane! I saw her so clearly that I could have counted the stitches in the darns at the elbows of her black sleeves. I ran up after her, but of course she was there before I was. When I came up to the bedside James Catchpole was dead, with an extremely self-satisfied smug smile on his face.
“There’s my Christmas Eve ghost! An hallucination, of course, but you can give it all the usual explanation. There’s the story, you can put it together as you will. There’s plenty of stuff in it—good raw material, eh, take it how you will?”
We all agreed with Linley.
Kecksies and Other Twilight Tales, Marjorie Bowen
Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: While one sympathises with the Catchpoles in their long wait for the terrible and malicious Aunt Ursula’s hoard, Mrs Daffodil has particular animus for Miss Louisa Catchpole. The image of “a little cut of an invalid in a basket-chair gazing at a robin” and those “chirpings about the recurring miracle of spring” are particularly damning. One wonders that some literary critic did not slip a couple of dog powders into her milk.
Mrs Daffodil invites you to join her on the curiously named “Face-book,” where you will find a feast of fashion hints, fads and fancies, and historical anecdotes
You may read about a sentimental succubus, a vengeful seamstress’s ghost, Victorian mourning gone horribly wrong, and, of course, Mrs Daffodil’s efficient tidying up after a distasteful decapitation in A Spot of Bother: Four Macabre Tales.