‘I’ve got a most interesting woman coming,’ said Mrs Norbury, who had been mutely struggling for some chance to turn the conversation into a safe channel; ‘an old acquaintance of mine, Ada Bleek—’

‘What an ugly name,’ said Mrs Hatch-Mallard.

‘She’s descended from the de la Bliques, an old Huguenot family of Touraine, you know.’

‘There weren’t any Huguenots in Touraine,’ said Mrs Hatch-Mallard, who thought she might safely dispute any fact that was three hundred years old.

‘Well anyhow, she’s coming to stay with me,’ continued Mrs Norbury, bringing her story quickly down to the present day; ‘she arrives this evening and she’s highly clairvoyante, a seventh daughter of a seventh daughter, you know, and all that sort of thing.’

‘How very interesting,’ said the chinchilla voice; ‘Exwood is just the right place for her to come to, isn’t it? There are supposed to be several ghosts there.’

‘That is why she was so anxious to come,’ said Mrs Norbury; ‘she put off another engagement in order to accept my invitation. She’s had vision and dreams, and all those sort of things, that have come true in a most marvellous manner, but she’s never actually seen a ghost, and she’s longing to have that experience. She belongs to that Research Society, you know.’

‘I expect she’ll see the unhappy Lady Cullumpton, the most famous of all the Exwood ghosts,’ said Mrs Dole; ‘my ancestor, you know, Sir Gervase Cullumpton, murdered his young bride in a fit of jealousy while they were on a visit to Exwood. He strangled her in the stables with a stirrup leather, just after they had come in from riding, and she is seen sometimes at dusk going about the lawns and the stable yard, in a long green habit, moaning and trying to get the thong from round her throat. I shall be most interested to hear if your friend sees—’

‘I don’t know why she should be expected to see a trashy, traditional apparition like the so-called Cullumpton ghost, that is only vouched for by house-maids and tipsy stable-boys, when my uncle, who was the owner of Exwood, committed suicide there under the most tragical circumstances, and most certainly haunts the place.’

‘Mrs Hatch-Mallard has evidently never read Popple’s County History,’ said Mrs Dole icily, ‘or she would know that the Cullumpton ghost has a wealth of evidence behind it—’

‘Oh, Popple!’ exclaimed Mrs Hatch-Mallard scornfully; ‘any rubbishy old story is good enough for him. Popple, indeed! Now my uncle’s ghost was seen by a Rural Dean, who was also a Justice of the Peace. I should think that would be good enough testimony for any one. Mrs Norbury, I shall take it as a deliberate personal affront if your clairvoyante friend sees any other ghost except that of my uncle.’

‘I dare say she won’t see anything at all; she never has yet, you know,’ said Mrs Norbury hopefully.

‘It was a most unfortunate topic for me to have broached,’ she lamented afterwards to the owner of the chinchilla voice; ‘Exwood belongs to Mrs Hatch-Mallard, and we’ve only got it on a short lease. A nephew of hers has been wanting to live there for some time, and if we offend her in any way she’ll refuse to renew the lease. I sometimes think these garden parties are a mistake.’

The Norburys played bridge for the next three nights till nearly one o’clock; they did not care for the game, but it reduced the time at their guest’s disposal for undesirable ghostly visitations.

‘Miss Bleek is not likely to be in a frame of mind to see ghosts,’ said Hugo Norbury, ‘if she goes to bed with her brain awhirl with royal spades and no trumps and grand slams.’

  By PanEris using Melati.

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