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The Ghost House

Steve's description of the woman who had brought him the tea certainly reflected the fashion and customs of a much earlier period. The furniture which had been purchased with the house dated back to the beginning of the twentieth century, an era when domestic service was a common occupation; and the presence of bell-pushes in every room endorsed the likelihood that some servants would have been employed there in the past. So, if one was to believe in such things, the ghost could have been the lingering spirit of a deceased maid, or perhaps a nurse who had attended the needs of patients when the house was used as a clinic. But why linger at all? Did the spectre have unfinished business, a message to impart, a task which it required someone still living to perform? On a more sinister note, might that task be exposure of, even revenge for an injustice which had been covered up? The sealing-off of the room hinted at something unmentionable, perhaps untoward having taken place there.

We played around with theories of this nature for a while, but were never particularly concerned that our house might be haunted. After all, as far as we knew only two of the guests had received visitations, little harm had been done, and when there were no further occurrences, the topic died its own death. Some years later, my interest was renewed by a television documentary about a local unsolved mystery that had been enacted in 1876 at a property known as The Priory. It was located in the same street as our home and, being at the edge of the park where I used to play, I had often walked past it in ignorance of the dark secrets fermenting within its walls. According to the documentary, the affluent head of the household had died in suspicious circumstances, yet a coroner's inquest had failed to conclude whether it was the result of an accident, suicide, or murder. The case was only mildly intriguing as crime mysteries are, but some of the facts struck a familiar chord. With the help of an old friend who was staying with us at the time, I began delving into the details more thoroughly. We eventually concluded that the death at The Priory might be linked in some way to the bizarre incidents at our guest house.

Our presumptions were based on the property's former use as a clinic and the added fact that the doctor running it had family ties to France. Although he would not have featured in the case, being far too young, it was likely there was an earlier connection. Perhaps he had bought an existing, viable practice from a colleague who was French; and that person could have been involved. I deduced this for a number of reasons. For one, the victim's wife, who was also a possible suspect, frequently spent time at a French health spa. For another, when her husband was discovered to be severely ill, the regular family doctor was not called, but rather a medical person who lived, apparently, much closer. Remembering that in those days the suburb was in its infancy with fewer residences - even the inquest had to be held at the local pub because the area had nothing more suitable - it was unlikely that there would have been more than one general practitioner in a location with so few prospective patients. Could a doctor living in our house have been the one called to the emergency? It is possible.

None of this, of course, helped explain the ghost of a maid serving a cup of tea in the middle of the night. Nor her compulsion to throw an ashtray at a woman she could not have known. Maybe she just liked men and had something against women in general. But what if she had been in service at the time and had learned something which implicated the perpetrator of the crime to be a woman, possibly the wife? And what if that woman had found out and silenced her, permanently? Living just down the road, she may even have had a relationship with the victim, giving her access to intimate family secrets that might have helped change the coroner's verdict. Perhaps the wife was having an affair with the local doctor? Such assignations weren't unheard of. And a medical person would know the best ways to dispose of an unwanted spouse. As for Steve and the cup of tea, what was the message there? Could it have been that the poison wasn't in the victim's sherry as was assumed at the time, but rather in some tea he had been served earlier?

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