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Reflections of a working writer and reader

 

 

Out-takes XV

About two weeks later Isabella got out of bed in the middle of the night. There was a storm raging. She went to the wood shed and got a spade and began digging up the flower beds.

Edith was woken by the ghost. She watched her mother for some time from the bedroom window before tiptoeing to Capt’n Cornwall’s room. She blew on his face until he opened his eyes. “Mother’s at it again,” she said.

The Capt’n went out to his wife and brought her into the house. She was dripping wet. “Better light the fire,” he said to Edith. “She’ll die of cold otherwise. Get Jack to help you.”
Edith did not bother to wake Jack. He would not be much help. He would wear his hurt face for days afterwards. She busied herself with the fire while Capt’n Cornwall stripped the sodden nightgown off her mother. Then she found a towel and a clean nightgown and helped the Capt’n dress Isabella while the roaring fire brought a glow back to the woman’s skin.

“You’ve dug up all the flowers, girl,” Capt’n Cornwall said to his wife. “Made a right mess.”

“Flowers,” said Isabella in her far-away voice. “There’s no flowers in the saw-pit.”

After he’d put her back to bed Capt’n Cornwall returned to Edith, who was sitting by the fire. “This’ll have to be our secret,” he said. “You realise that?”

Edith nodded. “Yes,” she said. “I won’t say a word.”

*

Edith and Mary cleaned up the flower beds the next day. No one could say how the mess had happened. Isabella thought it was the storm, but Great Grandmother Agnes said it was probably the ghost. Little Willy blamed Jack’s dog. Mary was not convinced by any of these explanations. None of them accounted for the spade.

After lunch Grandmother Lucy walked round the house trailing Isabella’s wet nightgown. She laughed herself so silly that Isabella had to put her to bed.

*

The following year there was a scare in the neighbourhood when two fishermen who had been drinking at the Inn at Paul saw a “woman in white” wandering round the cemetery of St. Pol de Leon.

Jamie Ladner and old Hugh Quick had, it is true, been drinking for several hours. In fact they were the last men to leave the Inn that night, but they left on their legs, and quietly so as not to wake good folk who were already abed. Jamie’s legs were not as good as he thought, however, and after leaving the Inn he staggered across the lane and leant himself up against the church wall. Old Hugh walked over to join his friend, and it was then, while they were both looking over into the church yard, that they saw her.

And they saw her “as plain as day”. She walked calmly round the corner of the church, past the main entrance, and disappeared into the back of the church yard. Neither of the men spoke, but Jamie grabbed hold of old Hugh’s arm, and the two of them watched the apparition pass by them not more than ten paces away. “It was dressed in a shroud,” old Hugh reported later. “If we hadn’t ‘ave knowd better it was all the world like a long nightgown. But she’d raised herself out of the grave and was taking a walk.”

Old Hugh was for going into the church yard to take another look at the thing, but Jamie was shaking all over and couldn’t be persuaded to accompany his friend. So old Hugh went alone through the gate and followed the ghost round the back of the church. When he rounded the corner, however, the ghost was on its way back, and in his fright old Hugh froze to the spot, close up against the side of the church. “It was coming towards me,” he
said, “and I was more scared and frightened than any time in me life. But I couldn’t move a muscle. I shat in me pants I was that scared.” The ghost didn’t touch him, didn’t even look at him. “I could ‘ave put me ‘and out and touched it as it went past,” he said. “I felt the shroud brush against me It had long white hair and a white face, and bare feet sticking out the bottom.”

Jamie saw his friend disappear round the corner of the church, and a moment later he saw the “woman in white” come back round the self-same corner. “I thought she’d had old Hugh for sure,” he said. “And there she was coming for the gate and me as well. So I didn’t wait to see what happened, but I got me wits together and legged it up the hill into the village.”

After a hundred yards or so Jamie looked round to see if the thing was following him, but it was not. Instead she was going down the hill towards Mousehole. “Shining, she was,” he reported. “Shining white.”

By the time the two friends were reunited and had knocked up the priest, the ghost had disappeared altogether. The priest and the landlord of the Inn, accompanied by Jamie and old Hugh then walked down the lane to Mousehole together, but the apparition was not seen again that night. They met up with Capt’n Cornwall down by the harbour, who was looking for his boy’s dog, and they asked him to help them look for the “woman in white”. But he “took fear” when he heard of it, and was in a hurry to return to his own house.

*

Capt’n Cornwall began keeping himself awake until Isabella fell asleep, then he tied a piece of string around her wrist and his own, so that if she raised herself in the night she would wake him also.

It worked more often than not. But sometimes he fell asleep before Isabella, and other times she slipped through the loop without waking him.

There were several further sightings of the “woman in white”, and folk in the neighbourhood thought she was the ghost of Dolly Pentreath, trying to get back to her house in Mousehole, out of the cemetery at Paul.

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