By Martin Pearson
“It is quite past a joke,” declared Lady Margaret D’Avening, haughtily. “I have been putting up with the indignity for the best part of a hundred years, and I cannot stand it anymore!”
“I can talk to Mr Middlestreet,” said Philomena Bucket, “But, to be honest, I am by no means sure what can be done.”
Lady Margaret scowled, popped her head beneath her arm and disappeared into the wall.
“I do feel for her,” said Father Ignatius Stamage. “It is difficult enough for me, but at least I don’t have to haunt the privy all the time. I can go wherever you choose to put my hat.”
It was true. It was Father Stamage’s lot to haunt his beloved black, battered Capello Romano, so wherever that particular item of apparel was placed, became home to the ghostly Jesuit. Lady Margaret, on the other hand, was forever doomed to haunt the wall of the flushing privy of The Squid and Teapot, which had once been part of her bed-chamber. This was obviously a lot less portable than a hat and, after nearly a century, was causing her a certain amount of distress.
“If she doesn’t want to be in the privy, she could always haunt the other side of the wall,” said Bartholomew Middlestreet. “There’s only a cobbled path out there, but she could wander around a bit.”
“I suggested that,” said Philomena, “but she said that no one ever uses the path, so she would get lonely. She likes some company.”
“But not necessarily the company of people using the privy,” said Bartholomew. “I can understand that, I suppose. Couldn’t we put Father Stamage’s hat out there?”
“It would blow into the sea,” replied Philomena. “Besides, he enjoys the atmosphere of being in the bar of The Squid. He really wouldn’t want to be outside.”
“I’ll have a look in Sebastian Lypiatt’s old journal. It’s a mine of information for anyone interested in the history of The Squid,” said Bartholomew. “He was the one who built the privy, after all. There might be a clue in there as to what can be done.”
Following a period of neglect and mismanagement of the inn by one Tobias Thrupp, a shipwrecked English sailor, Sebastian Lypiatt, took charge and became the saviour of The Squid and Teapot, making it the welcoming hostelry that it is today. According to an entry in his journal, Sebastian, and his son, Isaac, had salvaged a quantity of dressed stone blocks, and also a fully functioning flushing lavatory, from the wreckage of a merchant steamer, the ‘Daneway’. Sebastian had written that the ship’s log revealed that her captain had ‘liberated’ the stones from the port of Newhaven, Connecticut (the full story of how they came to be there can be found in the tales ‘The Jacobean Manor House’ and ‘The Headless Lady’).
There was little in Sebastian’s journal that was not already known, but he made a reference to the Hopeless Annual Rock Race. Although interest in the race had waned in recent years, it had, traditionally, been held on the day preceding the first full moon following the vernal equinox. This sounds unnecessarily complicated, but the logic of the race’s founder, Reverend Crackstone, was that those islanders who could never remember when Easter was likely to fall in any given year, could use this event as a reminder (for as you probably know, Easter is celebrated on the first Sunday following this particular moon). It appears that one year, in order to give Lady Margaret a change of scenery, one of the stones of the privy was prised out and moved to a different part of the island. Unfortunately, someone decided that the smooth, dressed stone would be perfect for the rock-race and, to cut a long story short, it ended up in the shadow of Chapel Rock, famously haunted by the Mad Parson, Obadiah Hyde. By pure coincidence, during the English Civil War, Hyde had been the puritan cleric responsible for beheading Lady Margaret. She had, unfortunately, ticked the boxes of almost everything that he despised; she was an adulteress, a Royalist and a Catholic. Good enough reasons, in Hyde’s mind, to be killed on the spot. To put it mildly, neither ghost was thrilled to discover that they were sharing the same island and Lady Margaret was swiftly returned to the comfort of the privy, where she has been ever since.
“In those days,” observed Bartholomew, “she feared that she was fading away, so only manifested when there was a full moon. Now she is bolder, and comes out whenever she feels like it.”
“I think that’s Miss Calder’s fault,” said Philomena, “filling her head with ideas that ghosts should be free to haunt whenever they want, and not being bound to phases of the moon and suchlike. That’s why she’s getting fed-up with people going in and out of the privy all the time. When it was for just for the full moon, it was bearable; people made a point of avoiding the place.”
“Well, we can’t make the privy out of bounds to customers, just because it upsets the resident ghost,” said Bartholomew, reasonably. “What if we prise a block out, like they did in the old days? We could put it somewhere else on the island.”
“We can ask her,” said Philomena, doubtfully.
“That sounds marvellous,” said Lady Margaret, when she heard the suggestion. “And Father Stamage… my dear Ignatius… you’ll join me, won’t you?”
Stamage paused for a second before he spoke.
“But I like it here, Lady Margaret. I don’t really want to be anywhere else. Besides, while I’m in the inn, Bartholomew can keep an eye on my hat and make sure no one moves it.”
“But I’ll be lonely without you,” she wailed. “Pleeeeaasse come with me.”
“No, I’m sorry,” said Father Stamage firmly. “As I said, I’m very happy where I am. I’m not moving.”
“You can always go and live up into the attics,” suggested Philomena, but Lady Margaret shook her head. This involved holding it in front of her with both hands and wobbling it about.
They toyed with taking a block from the privy to the Orphanage, but when asked, Miss Calder expressed the opinion that the appearance of a headless lady wandering the corridors would frighten some of the children. Knowing what the orphanage children are like, this, quite honestly, is unlikely. I can only think that the appearance of Lady Margaret, headless or no and wearing only the diaphanous nightgown that she was slaughtered in, would not be in the best interests of some of the more impressionable boys.
When she found that no one had any real solution to her problem, Lady Margaret stamped a ghostly foot, went into a sulk and disappeared into the wall, vowing that she had no intention of coming out again, ever.
“She’ll get over it,” said Philomena, philosophically.
“If Sebastian had not bothered to salvage those blocks, the steamer would have sunk and she would have had nothing to haunt but cephalopods and fishes,” said Bartholomew. “He gave her a home! Why can’t she be grateful for that, at least?”
“Don’t be too hard on her, she’s very young,” broke in Father Stamage.
While the others had been talking, Stamage had allowed himself to fade unobtrusively into the coat stand, where his hat was hanging. They had quite forgotten that he was there.
“No she’s not young, she was killed hundreds of years ago,” protested Bartholomew.
“That’s as may be, but she told me that she was forced into an early – and ultimately unhappy – marriage, and was no more than a girl of nineteen, at the time of her death,” said the ghostly priest, manifesting fully before them. “That was an awfully young age for her to lose her life, whatever her sins were. The tragedy is, she will always be nineteen.”
The others were silent for a while as they mentally digested this thought.
“Just give her time,” added Father Stamage, disappearing once more into the coat stand. “She’ll get over it.”
“I hope so,” said Philomena. “I really hope so.”