It has often been noted in these tales, and, indeed, in various other articles appearing in ‘The Vendetta’, that the climate enjoyed by the islanders of Hopeless, Maine, is not particularly agreeable. In fact, the words Awful, Atrocious and Abysmal spring to the tongue unbidden when conversing about the weather. As a rule, there is little to choose between the seasons; habitual fog, steady drizzle and cold winds are standard fare, whatever the time of year. Occasionally, however, these relatively minor inconveniences are totally eclipsed by a weather-front so foul that islanders have little choice other than to hole-up in their respective homes, and pine for those halcyon days of habitual fog, steady drizzle and cold winds.
November must have been in a particularly bad frame of mind when it descended upon the rocky shores of Hopeless. The days of late fall and winter are short enough at the best of times, but the glowering skies, heavy with dark clouds, kept all hope of reasonable daylight firmly at bay, until night fell, starless and bible-black, as Dylan Thomas might have said. And then the deluge came. Rain as heavy and unremitting as any on the island could remember, carried on a bitter wind and thrown down in torrents.
Reverend Davies peered out of his study window and watched the rain bouncing off the roof of the Pallid Rock Orphanage.
“This is divine retribution,” he muttered to himself. “We are being punished, that’s for sure. I should have seen it coming when the blasted Bucket woman brought that heretical alchemist fellow here. No good was ever going to come of that.”
It was true that Philomena Bucket had brought Doctor John Dee to the island some time before, and, for reasons known best to himself, Reverend Davies was never slow to blame ‘the blasted Bucket Woman’ for any mishap that might occur.
Suddenly a figure flickered past the window. It was the wraith of Miss Calder, impervious to the rain, doing her nightly rounds. The Reverend instinctively jumped as she slid effortlessly through the wall and into the study.
“I do wish that you wouldn’t do that, Miss Calder,” he said, anxiously gripping his chest.
“Sorry Reverend, but you need to know that the rain has flooded the old stone privy and damaged the wall. Luckily none of the children were in there at the time. I’ve made sure that they are alright, but it will need attending to as soon as possible.”
“There’s nothing we can do until this infernal rain eases up,” said the Reverend, gloomily.
“Well, nothing lasts forever,” said Miss Calder, brightly, “and we both know things can change.”
“Maybe someone or other can repair it when the weather brightens up a bit,” said the Reverend. “Although, it has been pitch black out there for days, and it’s hard to hold a candle in the cold November rain.”
“I think you’ll find that if they have a lantern it shouldn’t be an issue,” said Miss Calder. “I’ll see what can be done in the morning,”
“Thank you,” said the Reverend. “Oh, and Miss Calder…” he added, a little awkwardly.
“When you go to ask, try not to worry people too much. You know… The Face thing…”
Miss Calder nodded her ghostly head. She was aware that when she became excited or agitated her usually pleasant features dissolved into a grinning skull, which tended to put even her closest friends on edge.
It was almost midnight when Miss Calder set out to visit Rhys Cranham, the Night-Soil Man, guessing that the inclement weather would prevent him from going on his rounds. She was by no means certain that Rhys would be able to help, but she never missed the slightest pretext to visit him.
Rhys was standing in his doorway, staring glumly at the rain and worrying about overflowing cess-pits, when the phantom administrator of the orphanage fluttered into view. A Night-Soil Man’s life can be lonely, so Rhys was more than happy to have some company, as long as she managed not to do The Face thing. Unfortunately, Miss Calder frequently experienced feelings of excitement and agitation in Rhys’ presence, so keeping her features under control required a great effort of will.
“Good evening, Miss Calder,” said Rhys, ever the gentleman. “It’s good to see that someone is able to get out in this lousy weather.”
“Well, I’m not really a someone anymore,” she replied sadly, then added, brightening up, “but being a ghost can have its advantages.”
Rhys knew exactly what she meant. An ordinary mortal would not have been able to stand within yards of him without retching. The smell went with the job.
“So what can I do for you?” he asked.
Miss Calder’s pallid countenance passed from pale-green to a delicate shade of red.
She composed herself and told him about the problem with the privy at the orphanage.
Rhys pondered a while.
“I’m fairly sure that Reverend Davies would not want me there during daylight hours,” he said, “but I’m not going to be able to do any of my own work until the rain has stopped for a couple of days and the water levels go down.”
“It would be wonderful if you could help,” said Miss Calder.
“One snag, though,” said Rhys. “I am going to need some light, and I can’t imagine that anyone is going to be able to get close enough to me to hold up a lantern.”
“I could,” said Miss Calder excitedly, almost forgetting herself and making ‘The Face’. Then she realised that being a ghost, she was no more capable of holding a lantern than she was of hugging the Night-Soil Man.
Dejected, her glimmer became little more than that of a fire-fly.
“Do you always fade when you are sad?” asked Rhys.
“Yes,” her voice was little more than a whisper.
“And glow when you’re happy?”
“Well, yes, I suppose I do.”
“Then maybe I can work by the light of your happiness,” said Rhys.
“So you will mend the privy roof?”
“Only if you are there and feeling happy,” he replied with a smile.
“Oh, I will be happier than you will ever know” thought Miss Calder, and her phantom form shone like a beacon in the darkness.