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The Death Certificates

The Dailys invited me to stay with them for a few days. I agreed thankfully. After a few days, I would go straight back to London. Not to Eel Marsh House. I would never go back there again.

But I was angry. I had not finished my work. The woman in black had stopped me.

Then I remembered the papers I had brought with me from Eel Marsh House. The letters told a sad story. I wanted to know how the story ended.

I read the letters again. Poor Jennet! She had loved her child so much. But she was unmarried. She could not keep her boy. She had to give him to her sister, Mrs Drablow. The child had lived at Eel Marsh House. What had happened to him?

I picked up the other papers and looked at them. They were death certificates.

The first was for a boy.

Name: Nathaniel Drablow. Age: six years. Cause of death: drowning.

I looked at the second certificate.

Rosa Judd - nursemaid. Cause of death: drowning.

On both certificates, the date of death was the same.

I held the death certificates tightly in my hand. I felt myself grow cold. I got up and walked about the room.

Then I looked at the last piece of paper. It was another death certificate. This time, the date was twelve years later.

The certificate was for Jennet Humfrye, unmarried. Age: thirty-six years. Cause of death: heart failure.

I sat down in my chair. One thing was clear - the woman in black was jennet Humfrye or her ghost I did not believe in ghosts, but I had seen her.

And now I knew something else. Long, long ago, a pony and trap had left the causeway. It had sunk down in the mud of the marshes. A child and a nursemaid had been drowned.

Jennet, the boy's mother, had died twelve years after her son. I knew where they were buried. They were buried in the old graveyard behind Eel Marsh House.

Nathaniel had slept in that bedroom. For sixty years the bedroom had stayed the same. Those clothes, those toys, were his.

Jennet Humfrye was the woman in black. Her hatred had never left her. Her ghost followed anyone who went near Eel Marsh House.

What power did Jennet Humfrye have? Could the dead harm the living? I did not know the answer. I wanted to find out the answer.

13. `Nothing Can Happen Now...

That evening, after dinner, I had a long talk with Mr Daily. Spider was asleep in front of the bright fire.

Daily gave me a drink and I began my story. I told him everything 1 had seen and heard.

When I had finished, there was silence. My story was told. I was at peace.

`Well, young man,' Samuel Daily said at last, `you've had an unhappy time here.'

`Yes,' I said. But it's finished. Those things can't harm me now, can they?'

Daily said nothing. But he looked unhappy.

`Nothing can happen now,' I said with a smile. `I'm never going back there. All is well.'

Daily said nothing. I began to feel worried.

`Can there be anything else?' I asked. 'Nothing will harm me now, will it?,

'Not you, perhaps,' Daily said slowly. `You can leave. But the rest of us must stay here. We have to live with it.'



`With what? Live with what?' I asked.

`This town has lived in fear for a long time,' Daily said.

`For more than fifty years. Terrible things have happened. But people don't talk about them.'

My heart beat faster. I did not want to know any more. But Mr Daily went on talking.

`You know most of the story. But not a11 of it,' he said. `Jennet Humfrye sent her boy to Eel Marsh House. To her sister, Mrs Drablow. At first, Jennet went away to another part of the country. But she had to be near her son. She came hack to Crythin.'

`She got work in the town. But Alice Drablow refused to see her. She refused to let Jennet see the child. Jennet's anger was terrible. So Alice Drablow allowed her to visit the house. But she must never tell the boy who she was.'

But the boy looked like his mother. And he loved her. He loved his mother more than Alice Drablow. Jennet wanted her son back. She planned to take him away from Eel Marsh House.'

`Then the accident happened. The sea-mist came down suddenly. The boy and the nursemaid were drowned. The driver of the trap too - he was Keckwick's father. And the boy's little dog. They were all drowned,' Daily said.

`All drowned,' I said slowly.

`Yes. And Jennet saw everything. She saw everything from the bedroom window.'

`Oh, my God!' I said quietly.

`Jennet Humfrye began to go mad,' Samuel Daily said. `She was mad with sorrow and anger. She said her sister had killed her son.'

`Then poor Jennet became ill. She became thin and pale. Children were frightened of her. When she died, people began to see her ghost.'

`There is something more terrible. Each time she is seen, something else happens.'

`What?' I asked.

`A child has died. Either by illness, or in a terrible accident.'

`Any child? A child in the town?'

`Any child,' said Daily. `Once, it was Jerome's child. You may find this hard to believe, Arthur,' Daily added. `But it is true.'

I looked into his eyes.

`I believe it, Mr Daily,' I said. `I believe it.'

 

That night, I slept badly. I woke up again and again. I had terrible dreams. When morning came, I felt weak and ill.

I was very ill for five days. In my illness, I had terrible dreams. In my dreams, the woman in black pushed her terrible face near mine. She sat on my bed, watching, watching.

I heard the cry of her dying child, again and again. I heard the bump, bump, of the rocking-chair.

Slowly, I got better. At the end of twelve days, I was well again.

It was a day of winter sunshine. I was sitting downstairs by the open window. Spider lay at my feet. A bird was singing in the garden. I listened to it with peace in my heart.

I heard the sound of a car and voices. I heard footsteps. The door behind me opened.

`Arthur?' a voice said quietly. It was a voice I knew. I turned quickly. My dear Stella was walking towards me. She had come to take me home!

The next morning, Stella and I left together. We did not go back into the town. We went straight to the railway station in Mr Daily's car.

The Dailys had looked after me well. I was sad to say goodbye to them. They agreed to visit us in London. And I was sad to say goodbye to Spider.

There was a question I had to ask Mr Daily. I waited until

Stella was saying goodbye to Mrs Daily.

`There is something I must know,' I said to Mr Daily. `You told me that a child always died ..'

`Yes, always.'

`Then has a child ... ?'

`No, nothing has happened,' Daily said. `A child hasn't died - yet.'

`Then pray God, the woman in black has gone for ever,' I said. `Pray God her power is at an end.'

`Yes, yes,' Daily said. `We all hope that.'

I began to feel sorry for poor Jennet Humfrye. She had lost her son. Her sorrow and anger had made her mad. Now Mrs Drablow was dead. Eel Marsh House was empty. Wasn't that the end? Could Jennet Humfrye rest in peace now?

The train was waiting. I said goodbye to the Dailys.

Thank God, my business in Crythin Gifford was finished.

 


Date: 2015-02-03; view: 625


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