The Paris Awakening: Prologue Part 4

Miss Henderson arrived with the next course of food and noted with approval the smile on Marie’s face. She put the used plates onto a trolley she had brought and then laid two plates of meat in front of the Jennings.

“This is a gnu,” she said and promptly left. Sir John looked at the meat with suspicion and took a bite.

“Ah!” he said. “It’s lamb. So … you met a gargoyle?”

“I didn’t know at first,” explained Marie, “I was sitting crying, and this old man’s voice said ‘What is the matter mademoiselle?’ It was a rough voice, but you could hear the kindness underneath. I was distraught, hands over my face and said the first thing that came to mind: ‘I’m a monster.’

“‘Hmm,’ said the voice, ‘there are worse things to be.’

“I looked up in confusion and saw that I was talking to a gargoyle. I could see it moving clearly, in fact all of the gargoyles on the building were moving. No one else seemed to notice. ‘Who are you?’ I said.

“A Monster?”

“‘My name is Albrecht,’ said the gargoyle.

“‘Isn’t that a strange name for a gargoyle?’ I said.

“‘Do you know many gargoyles?’ he said.

“‘No,’ I admitted, ‘I think you are my first.’

“We talked for some time then. I’m sure the people around me thought I was crazy, talking to myself. But many people were crazy then. Albrecht said that he knew I was a witch, that he could tell straight away. Just like the man, the faun, by the river. I asked him what he knew about witches. He told me that of the few he had met, they were nice, friendly, well dressed, and very powerful. I asked him what he meant, and he said they could do powerful magic. When I asked him for more details he shrugged and said, ‘I’m just a gargoyle, Marie. I don’t get around too much.’

“After what he said, that there were more of my kind, that they were good people, I tried to find out all I could. Oh, I went to all sorts of strange things mon cher, to seances and magic shows, trying to find out more. I always went back to Albrecht to tell him what I had learned. It was such a mess of information, some false, some mad, and it was hard to make sense of. I thought I needed some order to this search, so I joined the Société d’Evénements Mystérieux looking for the truth. I heard they had a program of scientific investigation of mysterious events. I hoped they would help me make sense of the patchwork of information I had. Of course, I got little from them. They were charlatans and fools whose theories were fancies made grand by scientific language. The whole thing was a waste but for one thing of course…”

Sir John looked puzzled.

“I met you,” said Marie.

The couple looked warmly at each other as Miss Henderson entered.

“Chef has prepared an ass he et from Marge,” she said and placed some cheese on the table.

The Paris Awakening: Prologue Part 3

Miss Henderson came into the dining room with two covered plates. Sir John and Marie were both looking thoughtful.

“Was the soup satisfactory?” asked the maid warily as she put down the plates and gathered up the dishes.

“Yes, thank you,” said Sir John and managed a weak smile.

“Chef said this is poison,” said the maid and uncovered the plates to show two fish. She noticed that Marie’s eyes were a little red and pushed Sir John’s plate toward him with a glare then left.

“We don’t have to…” started Sir John.

“No, it’s fine, I want to tell you,” said Marie, “On the way to Paris my aunt told me sternly that I must never speak of the events in the village. I didn’t need telling. When we arrived in Paris  it was … encroyable. Never in my life had I dreamed of such a place. The buildings, even then, and the people, hordes and hordes of them. And best of all, none of them knew me or knew about me. I decided to forget about talking to animals, the strange man, and the frozen children, and I think I convinced myself it was a childhood dream.

“So I grew up in Paris, learning the fashions and tastes of the city. My aunt and uncle were … they were not unkind, but they were not warm like my mother had been. I tried so hard to forget that I forgot about her too. Even today I can barely recall her face. When I was sixteen they told me she had died some years before, that they had waited until I was old enough to tell me. That whole other life died on that day, too.

“I went from a being a village child to a Parisian young lady and thought myself very sophisticated at that. It was a nice time, really. And then the Prussians came and the siege. It was terrible. There was no food and we ate … we ate whatever could be found.”

Marie looked at her half-eaten fish. Suddenly she set upon it, tearing the meat from the bones and devouring it.

“I learnt it is good to eat well and to be alive,” she said.

“Paris, 1871”

“This is when your aunt and uncle…” started Sir John. Marie nodded.

“In the shelling, at the end, they perished,” she said. “Then we had the commune and more fighting. It was chaos, my beloved Paris was in ruins, riven by conflict. It seemed like humanity had gone crazy.

“And in the midst of this, I remembered who I was. When the government came back into Paris, they rounded up the Communards. Some of my friends were with them. We heard stories … that people were being killed. I shouted at the soldiers who took my friends and they chased after me. They thought I was a Communard too, I think. I ran through the streets with these men after me, terrified. Eventually, I ran into a dead end, with the soldiers at the other. Once again, like years before I shouted ARRETER. And these men stopped too.”

“I stood paused, thinking it was a trick, but they didn’t move. I ran past the stationary men and away from the street. I ran and ran, frightened of the soldiers but more frightened of what I had done. Everything I had tried to forget was coming back into my mind. After just running wild I found myself at the Notre Dame. I thought I should go inside and ask for forgiveness. But I was frightened that I wouldn’t be able to, that I was somehow tainted. I sat down and cried. Then I heard a voice, from above, and he spoke to me.”

Sir John looked puzzled.

“Do you mean God?” he said.

“No, mon cher,” said Marie smiling, “a gargoyle.”


The Paris Awakening: Prologue Part 2

“As you say I grew up in a small village, but my mother hadn’t always lived there. She had grown up with her sister in Paris and moved just before I was born. I don’t know why, but it seemed something bad had happened to her there. That’s not so strange I think in a big city. So I suppose she wanted me to grow up somewhere safer.

“The problem was the place wasn’t safe, but for an unexpected reason. Because of me. When I was young I found I could influence things around me. People a little, but mostly animals. Never anything inanimate, just things that thought. Everyone thought I just had a way with animals, as they would always come to me. They had no idea I was calling them.

“The problem with villages is that there is no escape from people there. Everyone knows everything about you. The other children were jealous that I was considered special, and I had few friends. Then one day, I saw him.”

Marie stopped to have some soup. Sir John was looking at her closely as his soup was all gone.

“Saw who?” he asked.

“I don’t know,” she said, “I mean I don’t know what he was. One day I was walking alone by the river making the ducks swim alongside me when I saw a man fishing. When I got close though I saw he wasn’t a normal man. He was very short with hairy legs and with horns.”

“A faun?” asked Sir John.

“Maybe,” continued Marie, “I stared at him for a while and he turned to look at me and said ‘Oh, a little witch.’ I knew the word was bad, and I was scared of the creature so I ran. I tried to tell my mother but she didn’t listen and said I was making up a silly story. I thought maybe I was myself, so I asked the children in my school if they had seen him. They all said they had and that we should all go and say hello. I was quite surprised. After school we all went together and I felt pleased to have some friends at last. When we got to the spot by the river I saw the strange man, the faun, again. I said hello to him but all the other children just laughed at me. They said – you know children can be cruel – they said I had no friends so had to make up an invisible one. I was so upset pointing to the creature asking if they could see it and they just laughed harder and harder. Eventually, I just shouted ARRETER and they did. They all froze solid.

“Very good!”

“The creature said ‘Very good little one, that will show them,’ and then he turned and disappeared. I didn’t know what to do, surrounded by these frozen children. I ran to my mother and brought her to the children. When she saw them, she screamed. She shook me asking what happened, and I was crying saying I didn’t know. I said I wished the children would move and suddenly they all did again.

“No-one at all spoke to me after that. Within a week my aunt and uncle came. They took me to Paris. The last time I saw my mother was from the back of the carriage. I was never allowed to visit her and she never came to see me.”


The Paris Awakening: Prologue Part 1

“Chef has prepared an amused bush,” said the maid and placed the two small plates in front of Sir John and Marie Jennings. She looked dubiously at the small piece of cheese and sauce on the plate.

“I have taken the liberty of informing chef that in this house it is customary to have bigger portions,” Miss Henderson added, “and that you sometime have seconds even then, Sir John.”

“Thank you Miss Henderson,”  said Sir John. “I’m sure that’s very helpful.”

Amused Bush“Amused Bush”

The maid left, and Sir John looked across the elaborately laid out table to his wife who smiled back at him. Their dining room was lit by candles and the glow of the fire, crackling gently.

“It is so nice to have a taste of ‘ome at Christmas mon cher,” said Marie. “Thank you.”

“My pleasure,” he said, “I’m just glad I managed to keep it a secret.”

Marie’s head dropped. Sir John didn’t see as he was eating the food.

“Hmm, she has a point,” he said. “It’s very tasty but not terribly filling.”

Sir John looked up and saw a tear running down Marie’s face.

“I’m sure we can get some more,” he said.

“No,” she said, “it’s not that … it’s when you mentioned secrets I thought of…”

“Oh, I’m sorry,” said Sir John. “I didn’t mean…”

“No, I know, but we ‘ave to ‘ave a conversation,” she said, “I ‘ave to tell you about my past.”

“My dear, it’s Christmas Eve,” said Sir John. “It’s a special day, perhaps some other time.”

“No,” said Marie, “now is perfect. No-one can bother us, and we have this nice food. Please, let me tell you about my life.”

“All right,” said Sir John. “If you like.”

“I do,” she said. “Can you remind me what you know?”

“Well,” said Sir John, “you grew up in a small village where you lived with your mother. Then you moved in with an aunt and uncle in Paris when you were about nine. You lived there but lost them in the chaos of 71 … taught in schools after that … joined the Société d’Evénements Mystérieux where we met, and the rest, as they say, is history.”

Marie looked thoughtful.

Just then, Miss Henderson arrived with two covered bowls. She was looking rather pleased as she put them on the table.

“I believe that chef has taken my suggestions seriously,” she said as she took lids off the bowls which were quite full of clear soup. “Chef said this a bowl of consumption.”

The maid looked at Marie’s uneaten food and took the plate.

“I didn’t like it much either, Mrs Jennings,” she whispered to Marie and left.

“Well, the facts are all true,” she said, “but that story has some gaps. Let me start at the beginning…”

How to Avoid Spoilers

Image-1“Wibbly-wobbly, timey-wimey”

Dear Reader

Since we have played fast and loose with time most indecently this last year, we felt we should present for you a chronology of the stories published thus far as well as the story about to be published. This is especially true for those of you who have just started reading the adventures of Sir John and Marie in the Howarth Haunting and whose appetites are whetted by the news that we are shortly to serialise our novel set in Paris. (This after the shameful failure of Mr Michael to produce a manuscript in a timely manner.) Well, dear newcomer, we have, as they say, good news and bad news. The good news is that there are a further three adventures for you to read before the Paris Awakening, lest you suffer from a terrible dose of the spoilers. The bad news is… actually perhaps there is no bad news.

The eagle-eyed will have noticed though that there are in total six stories on this “website”. Too true, for indeed some of those occur after the novel we are now intending to serialise. We can only imagine the reader now pulling out their heir and asking him what “what balderdash is this!?”. For the general edification of all, and for the avoidance of spoiler related misery we present here a clear chronology of the Jennings and Jennings stories. Thus, all may read without fear of confusion and without further disturbing their heirs.

1898 Spring The Howarth Haunting

1898 Summer The Mancunian Mesmerist (This explains why it rains so much.)

1898 Autumn The Fulham Fiend

1898 Winter The Auld Alchemist (There was in fact a lunar eclipse on Dec 27 – a few days late.)

These four adventures should ideally be read before the Paris Awakening. They can be found on this site or by purchasing the collection from Amazon.

1899 The Paris Awakening (to be serialised this coming year)

1900 Winter The Cornish Curse

1900 Spring The Sunnyport Shadow

The latter two are already available on the site and can be read without in any way revealing the dark, terrible and shocking secrets that will be contained in the Paris Awakening.

We trust this avoids any further confusion and the reader may enjoy our modest literary efforts with a sense of progressing in the correct linearity of time (albeit in the past).

Yours &c

The Benthic Times

Interview With A Vaper

vaper copy

The following is reprinted from the Fernando Po Literary Review, published Dec 23, 2017. It is an interview with Roberto de Guillermo, editor of that journal and Paul Michael, author. Mr de Guillermo was lucky enough to catch up with Mr Michael at the Tequila y Mota International Airport and was able to conduct the interview in the departure lounge and capture it on his minidisc recorder.

RdG: Oh I’m sorry, are you alright? Let me get your bag.

PM: No, that’s quite alright, just an accident. I can get that.

RdG: Ay! That’s heavy! What do you have in there, gold bricks?

PM: Haha! No, no … er may I take that?

RdG: Wait. Aren’t you Paul Michael, the famous author of the Jennings and Jennings series?

PM: You’ve heard of me?

RdG: Of course, you are famous on this island! Are you in a hurry? I’d love to do a an interview!

PM: Well, my flight to Panama is…

Voiceover (in background): We regret to inform you that the Aeroflot flight AFL123 to Panama City has been delayed by 6 hours.


PM: Apparently I have time.

RdG: So we are all looking forward to the release of The Paris Awakening, your forthcoming novel. We’ve been hearing news of that a lot this year. It must be due for release soon?

PM: Yes, yes it’s due soon.

RdG: How soon exactly? I think I heard it would be out by now.

PM: Well, you know, publishers and so on, and, and marketing schedules, etc, etc. Bit tricky to say right now.

RdG: Of course, of course, but it’s finished now at least?

PM: Well, there is a little editing to do, maybe a bit more writing.

RdG: A few words, I’m sure.

PM: Well, maybe a few at the end. And maybe some in the middle. And possibly one or two at the start.

RdG: One or two words at the start?

PM: One or two thousand at the start.

RdG: Oh.

PM: You see, it’s probably more accurate to say it’s not really completed. And even more accurate to say it’s not even written. It’s the literary equivalent of vapourware. It’s a vapelit romance.

RdG: So this is why you are fleeing to Panama with a sack full of gold bullion?

PM (dejectedly): Yes.

RdG: Mr Michael! Don’t lose heart so quickly! Why you are the mighty author that has written six most exciting serials. Why not treat this the same!

PM: What, you mean serialise the novel?

RdG: Charles Dickens! Arthur Conan Doyle! Alexandre Dumas! What do they teach you about writing?

PM: That I should change my surname to start with D?

RdG: No sir, that the serialised novel can be a classic of literature! Return to your home sir, serialise your novel! Tell your story to the world.

PM: My God, man you’re right! I shall, I shall! (Voice fades)

RdG: Mr Michael, you forgot your bag!

(Sound of zip opening, then exhalation and a clinking sound.)

RdG: Oh well, finders keepers…



The Howarth Haunting: Epilogue

“You’re calling from what? The Manchester Guardian? No, thank you. I have no interest in talking to a provincial paper,” said Sir John and put down the telephonic device.

“These people are like seagulls,” said Sir John to Marie. “They make a racket and pick away at you.”

“Still, it is nice to have you home,” said Marie. “I missed you.”

“And me, you,” said Sir John. “The constabulary had lots of questions, not a few I couldn’t answer. And none seemingly that Lady… that Miss Scrote could answer.”

Marie coughed. “That is her real name?” she said.

“Yes, it seems it is. It’s generally agreed now that her father was Robert Scrote so she’s no longer Lady Howarth and instead is plain Miss Violet Scrote. The newspapers started to get interested, as well, and they had even more questions than the police.”

The telephone rang again.

“Hello? You’re from where? The Washington Post? But the events didn’t occur anywhere near Sussex!” said Sir John, and put the phone down angrily.

“It’s a shame they don’t pay money for these conversations,” said Sir John. “I don’t think Lady… I mean Miss Scrote is likely, or even able to pay us.”

“Oh, that would be monstrous,” said Marie. “People would just make up stories for money…  What will happen to her anyway?”

“To Miss Scrote? Well, it seems Lord Edward had a cousin, Margaret,  who is delighted to take ownership of Grimley Hall. She has an estate already so probably won’t move there. She has said that Miss Scrote may stay there for a while, perhaps work in the kitchens or something, and have a small room. They’ll pay her a reasonable wage, even though she has no employable skills as such.”

“So she won’t move to Cheapside?” said Marie with a smile. “It must be the cousin who sent this,” she continued, indicating a large object on a table in the room.

They both walked over to the table and looked at a bulky object tied under a large piece of tarpaulin tied by string. There was a note that read, “Awfully grateful, Margaret.”

“I didn’t look,” said Marie, “in case it was one of your experiments.”

Sir John untied the tarpaulin and they both peered inside.

“How interesting,” said Sir John and replaced the tarpaulin. Marie did not stop him. “Must be the Howarth naval connection, I suppose.”

Octopus 2“How Interesting!”

“But tell me, how was your trip to the village?” said Sir John. “Did you find Alice Copsey?”

“I did,” said Marie, “and I read her her letters. She was so old and frail. I think this is why the ghost was so active. He didn’t want her to die not knowing the truth. She listened quietly to the letters and at the end she smiled like an angel. And a single tear ran down her face.”

“You may well be right. There hasn’t been a single haunting since you uncovered the skeleton,” said Sir John, when the telephone rang again.

“Now look here, I don’t care who you are or where you are from, but I have no wish talk to you so please GO AWAY!” He paused and turned white. Then his head bobbed down quickly. “Your Majesty!” he said weakly.

The Howarth Haunting: Chapters 13 & 14

Lady Howarth, SIr John and the Bishop were in the haunted room. There were some dull thumping sounds as the Bishop began to speak, waving his crozier. Small objects occasionally flew across the room. Lady Howarth stood imperiously in the middle of the room, defying the spirits, whilst Sir John was wearing the Ectoscopic glasses and looking around wildly. His hair was nearly on end, although it was hard to tell if that was ghostly forces or just terror.

The Bishop was intoning something slowly, when there was a commotion at the door and Marie burst in.

“What is the meaning of this?” said Lady Howarth.

“You must stop this at once!” said Marie. “There is no need for this, I know what has happened.”

Just then the butler came into the room. “Now then, madam, you can’t go in there,” he said and looked puzzled.

“I thought I told you to stop anyone coming in?” Said Lady Howarth to the butler.

“I meant to, your Ladyship,” said the butler, “I don’t know what happened.”

Marie addressed the Bishop, “Monseigneur, you must stop.”

“I don’t know who you are, but I am in the middle of a sacred rite. It is highly dangerous to stop now whilst the spirits are arisen.”

“But it is wrong to continue, I can show you.” Marie turned to her husband. “Mon cher, make ‘im stop, things are not what they seem. I ‘ave it all figured out.”

“What is it, Marie?” said Sir John, “What have you figured out?”

“Sir John, you will remove yourself and your wife from this room,” said Lady Howarth sternly.

Mon cher, please listen to me,” said Marie.

“Sir John, did you hear me?” bellowed Lady Howarth.

Sir John looked at Lady Howarth, then at Marie, and then back between the two, his face looking anxious. The Bishop had paused his litany.

“Sir John!” said Lady Howarth at fever pitch.

“Lady Howarth, I am talking to my wife!” said Sir John loudly, then gentler to Marie, “What is it?”

“It’s what you said at the start,” said Marie, “how we should not be biased by stories and just use fact. What you saw in the portrait in the hall, what you saw the first time you used the glasses, what you saw in the corridor… something is wrong and I can prove it.”

“How?” said Sir John.

“We need to go back to the corridor,” said Marie.

“Out of the question!” said Lady Howarth. “Smyth, remove these two!”

Arrêter,” whispered Marie then ran for the corridor to the west of the room.

“Smyth!” bellowed Lady Howarth, but the man seemed rooted to the spot.

Chapter 14“Pardon, Monseigneur”

Marie ran down the corridor and stopped in front of the portrait of the two boys. Lady Howarth, the Bishop, and Sir John arrived at the end of the corridor, with a bemused looking Smyth behind them. All the paintings and the ornaments were moving and rattling now, creating a racket. The ghostly voice that came out of the Thanatograph could be heard behind the walls.

“What in blazes is that voice?” said the bishop. “What’s it saying? Usurper?”

“I will show you!” said Marie and pulled the boys’ portrait off the wall and threw it to one side. She started banging on the wall with her fists. There was a sound like a drum as she did.

“She’s gone mad!” said Lady Howarth. “Smyth, stop her!”

Smyth muttered something, although it was hard to tell what over the din. It may have just been a cough.

“She is possessed by a demon!” said the Bishop and made towards Marie. He put his hand on her forehead and muttered something in Latin. Marie turned around to face him, looking wild and confused. Then as he continued, her features softened and she smiled.

Pardon, Monseigneur,” she said, and snatched his crozier. She stood away from the Bishop and the wall and held the crozier behind her head. She swung it round with a grunt and hit the wall. A crack started to appear.

“Stop it! Stop it now! Have you forgotten who I am!” shouted Lady Howarth. Marie brought the crozier down a second time and the crack widened.

“I have not forgotten who you are,” said Marie, “but I’m not so sure you know.” With a final swing the crozier smashed into the wall. Plaster fell everywhere to reveal an alcove. And in the alcove, were the bones of a young man. The rattling and chaos and voices stopped instantly.

“I present,” said Marie, breathless, “Lord Edward Howarth.”

“What rot!” said Lady Howarth.”My father is buried in the Howarth mausoleum.”

“Your father may be,” said Marie, “but your father wasn’t Lord Howarth. He was the boy, Robert: Lord Howarth’s childhood companion, and his murderer.”

“This is nonsense,” said Lady Howarth. “What proof do you have for these allegations? You will leave my house at once!”

“Something strange has happened here,” said the Bishop. “It cannot just be swept under the carpet, Lady Howarth. Madame Jennings, you make a bold claim, what evidence do you have?”

“Here,” said Marie, “are letters from Lord Howarth. They explain most of what happened. The rest is…” Marie went silent as she realised she could not explain what she had seen. Sir John went to his wife, seeing her confusion.

“The rest is conjecture at best and hogwash in reality. In any event, there is an easy way to disprove it. Lord Edward had a fall from a horse as young boy. His leg was fractured and never quite recovered. That was kept secret of course to maintain his manly reputation. I don’t know what this macabre find is, or who it was, but unless it has a…”

“…Severe fracture on the upper left femur?” interrupted Sir John, who had been staring intently at the bones, “not made at the time of death, years earlier I would say. Looks like he lost a tooth as well.”

Marie glanced down at the portrait she had thrown from the wall. The picture of Lord Edward looked like it was smiling in a lopsided way, self conscious of his smile.

“I’m afraid, “Lady” Howarth, that it seems there is something to this allegation. As I said, this cannot simply be swept away. The constabulary should be called. There are… implications,” said the Bishop.

“But it can’t be,” said Lady Howarth, turning white. “I would be penniless, a commoner. I’d be forced to live somewhere like Cheapside!”

“Oh,” said Marie. “I’ve been there once.” She put her handkerchief over her nose.


The Howarth Haunting: Chapters 11 & 12

Marie sat in the chair in the bedroom and tried to calm her mind with some crochet. Sir John was with Lady Howarth and the Bishop and they were getting ready to start the third attempt to rid Grimley Hall of its unwanted guest. Marie was thinking of the crying boy, trying to solve the puzzle before it was too late. There was a knock at the door and she went over.

“Tea, Madam,” said a quavering voice outside the door.

“But I didn’t…” started Marie then opened the door. Outside was the maid from the day before. She held a silver tray with a pot of tea and a cup. It was shaking so much the tea things were rattling. Also on the tray was a set of letters, tied with ribbon.

“I’m sorry Madam,” said the maid, “but I couldn’t help overhearing you yesterday. About AC and EH and… and some letters. Alice Copsey. She’s my aunt, see. Well my great aunt. There were rumours of her and… and the old master…”

“Rumours?” said Marie.

“Well, more sort of facts. They were sweet on each other ‘parently.  She told me about these letters what he wrote, showed me in secret. But she couldn’t read nor write, and she was embarrassed to say, Madam.”

“You’ve read them?” asked Marie.

The girl hung her head. “I can’t read nor write neither. She said, my aunt, I mean, she said when he left, he never said a word of goodbye to her and when he come back, he wouldn’t go anywhere near her. He were like a different man. I thought maybe you could find out what happened. And maybe it’s something to do with all this business, like what you and Sir Jenkins was saying.  She said it broke her heart Madam, when he left. She’s never looked at another man all her life, not even now in her dotage.”

And with that the girl, turned and practically ran away.

“The letters spell it out,” said Marie. She sat back down and looked at them all. The first few were love letters from an Edward Howarth to Alice Copsey. He regaled her with fine words and regretted the circumstances that kept them apart. Marie snorted. She looked at latter letters and he was worrying about his forthcoming enlistment to the navy, how he would miss her, how he feared she’d find someone else. Marie went to the last letter and started to read.

letters 2“Tea, Madam”

“I have a made a plan, a wild plan, maybe, but one I will carry out. I have spoken with Robert and everything is arranged. On the day we leave for Portsmouth, I’ll stop the carriage by the woods, and will go deep inside. Meet me where we went last summer and sheltered from the rain. Robert will disguise himself as me and will join the Navy on my behalf. His friend Cuthbert will go disguised as him.  It will be a good life for Robert, being a naval officer, better than he could have hoped for. As for us, I shall bring a little money and we can elope and start a new life. We will be poor Alice, but we will be together. I gladly, madly throw this manor, title, and fortune away to be with you. I choose you Alice. I choose you.”

“It’s beautiful,” said Marie, “but it’s not what happened. What happened to you?”  She said it idly to herself then looked up and, with no surprise, she saw the apparition looking at her. The ghost boy pointed at the Thanatograph, which began to spin without assistance…

“Where is she? I don’t understand,” said a voice. “You gave her the letter, Robert?”

“That I did, Edward. Same as all the others,” said another voice.

“Then why isn’t she here,” said Edward. “Your friend Cuthbert manage to make it.”

“Maybe because it’s cos she can’t read,” said Robert.

“She can’t… then how did she read the others?” asked Edward.

“She didn’t, but she was too embarrassed to say, and you was too arrogant to ask,” said Robert.

“Well, if she hasn’t read it, she doesn’t know I’m here,” said Edward.

“No. No-one knows you’re here,” said Robert. “…‘cept me and Cuthbert.”

“What’s that, what do you have there?” said Edward. “Is that a knife? What are you? My God!”

There was a nasty sound, wet and harsh, and Edward made a gurgling sound.

“But, I gave you everything,” moaned the dying Edward.

“Let’s just say I wants to make sure you ain’t coming back, if you changes your mind.”

The Thanatograph stopped, and Marie leaned back. “Mon Dieu,” she said. The boy with the tear pointed at the Thanatograph again and it spun some more.

“Why are we stopping here?” said Cuthbert, but it was a new voice, a man’s voice.

“I want the staff to go ahead, make sure that all the old faces have left in case they recognise me, and make our bedrooms nice and warm.” said Robert’s voice, sounding rougher, older, and more assured.

“But why here, Bobby, of all places. It gives me the creeps, you know, when I think about it.”

“Oh grow up, Cuthbert. And it’s Lord Edward to you. Here, get digging, we’re going to take him, or what’s left of him back to the Mansion so no-one ever finds out.”

“Why me, though?” wailed Cuthbert.

“Well for one, I’m Lord of the Manor now, and for another, because you done him in the first place.”

“Don’t remind me,” moaned Cuthbert. “I sees him in my mind every day.”

“Oh cheer up – look here’s ten pounds, you can take that to the tavern afterwards and see if you can’t forget your worries.”

The Thanatograph ground to a halt and Marie ran out of the room, heading to the exorcism.


The Howarth Haunting: Chapter 10

Marie and Sir John sat in a small sitting room and were preparing to take afternoon tea. A collection of dainty sandwiches and small cakes were already on a tiered tray next to a line drawing of the HMS Dreadnought, signed ‘E Howarth’. 

“So I spoke again to Lady Howarth, and she explained her latest initiative,” said Sir John to his wife. “She has sent for the Bishop. Apparently he can perform an exorcism which is guaranteed to work, no matter how diabolical or malevolent the haunting. He should arrive tomorrow.”

Sir John sat back and looked at the small pile of sandwiches and cakes in front of him, without touching one.

“I’m invited to attend to observe, and in Lady Howarth’s words, ‘learn’.”

He continued to look at the pile in front of him without moving.

“You are not ‘ungry?” said Marie. “You are waiting for the tea?”

“More the former,” admitted Sir John. “It’s our first case, and we don’t have an answer to our mystery. I’m not even sure if the ghost is this peasant boy or the gambling ancestor… or somebody else”

The maid came into the room carrying a tray with a teapot, cups, and sugar and walked carefully over to the couple.

Butter Fingers 2“Butter Fingers!”

“I know what you mean,” said Marie. “I am sure there is more to this than it seems. But we are not completely lost. We ‘ave some clues. For example, we ‘ave ‘EH + AC’.”

A loud crash interrupted the two, and they saw the maid had dropped the tray a few feet away from them. She looked white with shock at the act.

“I’m so sorry, sir,” she said and started to gather up the pot and things. “Really, really sorry.”

“Never mind,” said Marie. “No one is ‘urt.”

She took the tray out, and the Jennings continued their gloomy reverie.

“Of course, we don’t know who AC is … and it ends tomorrow for sure?” said Marie, thinking of the mournful boy she had seen.

“It seems that way. The Thanatograph is not to come to the exorcism, either. Apparently Lady Howarth did not appreciate its presence. I’m paraphrasing; what she said was a bit more direct than that.”

“We ‘ave so little time,” said Marie, as the maid brought another tray. “If only we knew what it meant, ‘the letters spell it out’.”

There was another crash, and the Jennings both looked at the maid. She had dropped the second tray and the tea things were scattered on the floor.

“Butter fingers!” she said absently and began picking up the things, flushing red.

“No problem,” said Sir John with a forced jollity. “Er, perhaps we’ll leave the tea for today, just the, er, sandwiches and cake will be fine.”