When I first came to London thirty years ago, I met a young
man, James Loxley, who worked in the wine business. The company he worked for sold wine to pubs and restaurants, and just after I met him he got a new job in the company with more money. Because of this he was able to get married and I went to his wedding. His wife was a pretty girl with fair hair and blue eyes. It was clear to everyone that they loved each other.
They went to live in a new house outside London and I visited them often. Over the next three years, they had two beautiful children and they were a very happy family. They did not have much money and had only one servant, a rather stupid girl called Susan. One year they asked me to come to their home for Christmas dinner. We had a lovely meal and then sat in their sitting-room, laughing and talking. It was a small but comfortable room. In the corner was a Christmas tree and on the wall was a painting of Loxley s mother and father, who were both dead. Loxley loved this painting. He told me that it was just like his parents and he often felt that they were really in the room with him.
After Christmas Loxley came with me to visit my old uncle for a few days. He seemed very quiet during the trip and I thought perhaps he wanted to be with his wife and children. When the holiday was over, we travelled to London together early in the morning to go to work. He seemed worried during the journey but he did not say why. The next day I could not believe it when I heard that he was in prison for stealing money from his company. I immediately went to see him and on the way I remembered his quietness over the last few days. I also began to think about how expensive it was with two children and how Loxley probably needed money. But, no, it was impossible. I knew that he was an honest man.
At the prison I talked to him and this is the story he told me:
'On December the 24th, Christmas Eve, I went to one of my customers, John Rogers, and asked him to pay his bill. He is often late with payments and I wanted to get the money before the Christmas holiday. He gave me a cheque and I immediately took it to the bank and cashed it, because in the past this customer has written a cheque and then stopped it before we could get the cash. Jt was too late to go to the office, so I decided to keep the money until after the holiday. I put it in my. pocket and went
home. On the day we left my house to visit your uncle, I could not find the money and I became very worried. I looked all over the house, but it was nowhere. I was afraid to go back to work. When I told my boss about it, he did not understand why I didn't come to the office immediately when I couldn't find the money. He did not believe my story and called me a thief.'
At that moment we heard someone crying and screaming outside the door. It was Loxley's wife, Martha. She ran in, held her husband in her arms and cried and cried. It was terrible to see. After some time the prison guard told us to leave, and I took her home, still crying. She became ill and her mother came to stay with her and the children. The servant, Susan, was also there. She seemed to be a good girl and was always ready to help, but she seemed very unhappy about the problem and sometimes cried more than Martha. I visited the little house almost every day and, one day, I found Martha very excited.
'What's happened, Martha?' I asked.
'Well, you probably won't believe this,' she said, 'but last night I saw my husband's ghost.'
'But James isn't dead,' I said,'he's only in prison.'
'I know, I know,' she said, 'but listen to this. Last night at midnight I was in the sitting-room — I couldn't sleep as usual. I was sitting worrying about our problems. Suddenly I looked up and saw James come into the room without a sound. He sat down over there in his favourite chair and looked at the picture of his father for a few minutes without speaking. Then he stood up and looked at me with a face full of love and walked out of the room.'
'Perhaps you were half asleep and dreamed it,' I said, but She was sure about what happened and did not want to listen to me.
Susan, the servant girl, was in the room with us and was listening to the conversation, looking very afraid. 'Did you speak to the ghost, Mrs Loxley? Did it say anything to you?' she asked.
'No, Susan. I've told you everything that happened,' said Martha.
I left the house that day feeling very worried as Martha was looking so white and tired. I thought about calling a doctor, but I decided to wait and see what happened. The next day I visited them again and found Martha even more excited.
'He came again,' she almost shouted. 'This time he stood in front of the painting of his father and pointed at it. Then he turned to me and held out his arms. I ran towards him, but he disappeared and I crashed into the wall. I think he means there is something behind the picture. Please, will you help me to take it down and look?'
The painting was quite high on the wall and I needed a ladder to reach it. I called Susan and asked her to bring one.
'A ladder?' she asked. 'What for?'
When I explained about the painting I was surprised to see her face turn white. 'There isn't a ladder,' she said quickly.
'But I'm sure I saw one,' I said, 'just outside the kitchen door. Oh well, my mistake. Don't worry.'
Susan didn't leave the room but watched as I stood on a chair and began to take the picture of Loxley's father down. Suddenly she screamed,'It was me, Mrs Loxley. I know why the ghost came. The money's behind the picture. I hid it there.' She began to cry and cry, and it was some time before she could tell the story.
'It was on Christmas Eve,' she said. 'Mr Loxley came home a bit late. I was behind him as he was walking upstairs, and he took his handkerchief out of his pocket. As he did so, the money fell out. He didn't notice, but I did and I picked it up. It was more money than I've seen in my life, Mrs Loxley, I couldn't stop myself. Then I was frightened about someone finding it on me or in my room, so I hid it behind that picture. Oh, please Mrs Loxley. Don't send me to prison.'
Well, as soon as Susan told her story to the police, James was a free man, and the family are now living happily in Australia.