“I cannot, in all conscience, remain here any longer, Philomena.”
Marjorie Toadsmoor looked uncomfortably at her friend. She had been resident in The Squid and Teapot for several weeks, and was beginning to feel that she had outstayed her welcome.
Philomena smiled, squeezing Marjorie’s hand reassuringly.
“Why ever not?” she asked. “I’ve lived here for ages and have no intention of moving.”
Marjorie’s face flushed.
“But you’re useful. You can cook, you clean, you do the washing and wait at table; The Squid would fall apart without you, Philomena dear, whereas I… for some reason I seem to have no aptitude for any of those things.”
Philomena had to admit to herself that this was absolutely true. Although neither woman knew it, before Marjorie arrived on the island, she had lived the existence of a privileged, upper middle-class Victorian lady, with servants to do her every bidding. As you may recall from the tale ‘Lapsus Linguae’, only a minute prior to finding herself standing beneath the lighthouse on Hopeless, she had been wandering among the Dreaming Spires of Oxford, excited at being one of the first female students to be accepted by that venerable university. She had been mysteriously plucked from space and time and robbed of all memory of her previous life. It was probably a blessing; there was little in the way of privilege on Hopeless.
“You can learn, it’s easy, “ said Philomena. “You’ve already rid yourself of them stuffy crinolines and corsets that you wore to begin with, to say nothing of that daft parasol…”
“It blew away,” said Marjorie, regretfully. “And yes, I can’t think why I was in that ridiculous get-up in the first place. The clothes you found in the attic for me is far more practical. But with regard to staying at The Squid and Teapot, I honestly don’t think I can be of any worthwhile use at all.”
“Well, if you’re certain,” said Philomena. “Let me see what I can find for you, but please, don’t think that the Middlestreets want you to go. You add a bit of class to the place.”
It was the truth. Ariadne Middlestreet had commented on more than one occasion that Miss Toadsmoor’s cut-glass English accent, fierce intelligence and impeccable manners had certainly done the reputation of the inn no harm. Everyone adored her, with the possible exception of Doc Willoughby, who did not like anyone who was perceived to be cleverer than he was.
A day or two later Philomena delivered the news that she had found an ideal home and job for Marjorie.
“Miss Calder, at the orphanage, she could really do with some help,” Philomena said. “The children would benefit from having someone like you around, Marjorie, and there’s room enough for you to live there, too.”
“But surely, Miss Calder is more than up to the task of catering for her young charges,” protested Marjorie.
Philomena looked uncomfortable.
“There’s something about Miss Calder you should know,” she said. “She isn’t… she isn’t… well… quite alive.”
“You mean the poor woman has passed away?”
“Not in so many words,” replied Philomena, carefully “It’s just that she’s dead, but that doesn’t stop her looking after the children as best as she can. Oh, no.”
“I’m not sure I could bear to stay there if Miss Calder is as you say she is,” said Marjorie, a slight tremor in her voice.
“Ah, sure, you’ll soon be fine with it,” replied Philomena, adding after a thoughtful pause, “maybe it will help if you meet someone to get you used to the idea. I know just the person. Come down to the bar at midnight.”
Marjorie looked intrigued. She had no idea what her friend was planning but was happy enough to go along with it.
“Very well. I’ll see you then.”
A full moon was shining wanly through the windows of the inn when Marjorie made her way down the stairs, the yellow light of her candle throwing huge shadows against the walls. Philomena was waiting for her.
“Promise me you’re not going to be too frightened,” she said, ominously. “If she sees that you’re scared, you’ll offend her?”
“She? Who are we meeting?”
“You’ll see,” said Philomena. “Now we need to go to the toilet.”
“I don’t,” said Marjorie, not a little taken aback. “I went before I came downstairs.”
“No, no,” said Philomena, “I mean, we need to go into the toilet – to the flushing privy next to the bar. Come on.”
By the flickering light of the candle, the pair slipped into the privy.
“Lady Margaret, are you there?” called Philomena, softly.
The room grew suddenly much chillier and, to Marjorie’s amazement, the figure of a woman suddenly appeared before them. To all intents and purposes she looked to be as much a creature of flesh and blood as they were, but there was something about her that suggested that she was somehow on the very edge of becoming slightly transparent. This impression was not reduced by the fact that she appeared to be clothed in little more than a fairly revealing night-gown.
“Lady Margaret D’Avening, allow me to introduce you to my good friend, Miss Marjorie Toadsmoor,” said Philomena, respectfully.
Despite having forgotten her roots, there was some deeply inbred obsequiousness lurking in the make-up of Marjorie, when exposed to the aristocracy.
“My Lady,” she said, performing a deep curtsey, “I am honoured indeed.”
Lady Margaret nodded imperiously. She had not been treated like this for centuries.
“You’re not here to be honoured,” said Philomena, “You are here to meet a real-live… um… a real-dead ghost. Lady Margaret came here with the stones that built the privy, and won’t mind me saying that if you can get used to her, then Miss Calder will be a pushover.”
“But Lady Margaret is young and beautiful…” protested Marjorie. “If she is truly a ghost, then I surely have no need to fear.”
Although she had lived on the island for some weeks, except for an initial encounter with a spoonwalker, Marjorie had not experienced any of the more exotic inhabitants of Hopeless, including ghosts.
Philomena gave Lady Margaret a wink.
“Time to do what you do best. M’Lady” she said, upon which the ghost raised her hands and lifted her head from her body, letting it float in the air beside her.
If the light in the privy had been better, one would have witnessed Marjorie’s complexion suddenly becoming an interesting shade of green.
“That’s my party trick,” said Lady Margaret’s head, “thanks to a mad puritan parson who disapproved of my religion and, more to the point, my love-life. Now… tell me all about yourself, young lady…”
It soon became clear to Marjorie that, despite being an aristocrat and a ghost with a severed head, Lady Margaret D’Avening was delightful, easy-going company and not at all scary, unless of course, she had other tricks up her sleeve.
She left the privy that night feeling far more comfortable about the prospect of living under the same roof as Miss Calder, a well-meaning ghost, if ever there was one.
To be continued…