Public Domain Texts

Public Domain Text: Spinach by E. F. Benson

Author, E. F. Benson
E. F. Benson

“Spinach” was first published in Benson’s Spook Stories anthology (1928). It’s the story of a brother and sister, both of whom are psychic mediums. In the business more for the money than the opportunity to help people, their careers take an interesting turn when they make contact with a young man by the name of Spinach.

About E. F. Benson

Edward Frederic Benson (1867 — 1940) is probably best known for his six Mapp and Lucia books, but he was a very versatile writer who produced a large body of work, including several biographies.

Benson also wrote a number of ghost stories and the author H. P. Lovecraft was impressed enough by Benson’s work to mention him in his essay “Supernatural Horror in Literature.”


by E. F. Benson

(Unabridged Online Text)

Ludovic Byron and his sister Sylvia had adopted these pretty, though quite incredible names because those for which their injudicious parents and god-parents were responsible were not so suitable, though quite as incredible. They rightly felt that there was a lack of spiritual suggestiveness in Thomas and Caroline Carrot which would be a decided handicap in their psychical careers, and would cool rather than kindle the faith of those inquirers who were so eager to have séances with the Byrons.

The change, however, had not been made without earnest thought on their parts, for they were two very scrupulous young people, and wondered whether it would be “acting a lie” thus to profess to be what they were not, and whether, in consequence, the clearness of their psychical sight would be dimmed. But they found to their great joy that their spiritual guides or controls, Asteria and Violetta, communicated quite as freely with the Byrons as with the Carrots, and by now they called each other by their assumed names quite naturally, and had almost themselves forgotten that they had ever been other than what they were styled on their neat professional engagement cards.

While it would be tedious to trace Ludovic’s progress from the time when it was first revealed to him that he had rare mediumistic gifts down to the present day, when he was quite at the head of his interesting profession, it is necessary to explain the manner in which his powers were manifested. When the circle was assembled (fees payable in advance), he composed himself in his chair, and seemed to sink into a sort of trance, in which Asteria took possession of him and communicated through his mouth with the devotees. Asteria, when living on the material plane, had been a Greek maiden of ancient Athens, who had become a Christian and suffered martyrdom in Rome about the same time as St. Peter. She had wonderful things to tell them all about her experiences on this earth, a little vague, perhaps, as was only natural after so long a lapse of time, but she spoke dreamily yet convincingly about the Parthenon and the Forum and the Aegean sea (so blue) and the catacombs (so black), and the beautiful Italian and Greek sunsets, and this was all the more remarkable because Ludovic had never been outside the country of his birth.

But far more interesting to the circle, any of whom could take a ticket for Rome or Athens and see the sunsets and the catacombs for themselves, were the encouraging things she said about her present existence. Everyone was wonderfully happy and busy helping those who had lately passed over to the other side, and they all lived in an industrious ecstasy of spiritual progress. There were refreshments and relaxations as well, quantities of the most beautiful flowers and exquisite fruits and crystal rivers and azure mountains, and flowing robes and delightful habitations. None of these things was precisely material; you “thought” a flower or a robe, and there it was!

Asteria knew many of the friends and relatives, who had passed over, of Ludovic’s circle, and they sent through her loving messages and sweet thoughts. There was George, for instance, did any of the sitters know George? Very often somebody did know George. George was the late husband of one of the sitters, or the father of another, or the little son, who had passed over, of a third, and so George would say how happy he was, and how much love he sent. Then Asteria would tell them that Jane wanted to talk to her dear one, and if nobody knew Jane, it was Mary. And Asteria explained quite satisfactorily how it was that, among all the thousands who were continually passing over, just those who had friends and relations among the ladies and gentlemen who sat with Ludovic Byron were clever enough to “spot” Asteria as being his spiritual guide, who would put them into communication with their loved ones. This was due to currents of sympathy which immediately drew them to her.

Then, when the séance had gone on for some time, Asteria would say that the power was getting weak, and she would bid them good-bye and fade into silence. Presently Ludovic came out of his trance, and they would all tell him how wonderful it had been. At other séances he would not go into trance at all, but Asteria used his hand and his pencil, and wrote pages of automatic script in quaint, slightly foreign English, with here and there a word in strange and undecipherable characters, which was probably Greek. George and Jane and Mary were then dictating to Asteria, who caused Ludovic to write down what she said, and sometimes they were very playful, and did not like their wife’s hat or their husband’s tie, just by way of showing that they were really there. And then any member of the circle could ask Asteria questions, and she gave them beautiful answers.

Sylvia and her guide, Violetta, were not in so advanced a stage of development as Ludovic and Asteria; indeed, it was only lately that Sylvia had discovered that she had psychical gifts and had got into touch with her guide. Violetta had been a Florentine lady of noble birth, and was born (on the material plane) in the year 1452, which was a very interesting date, as it made her an exact contemporary of Savonarola and Leonardo da Vinci. She had often heard Savonarola preach, and had seen Leonardo at his easel, and it was splendid to know that Savonarola often preached now to enraptured audiences, and that Leonardo was producing pictures vastly superior to anything he had done on earth. They were not material pictures exactly, but thought-pictures. He thought them, and there the pictures were. This corresponded precisely with what Asteria had said about the flowers, and was, therefore, corroborative evidence.

This winter and spring had been a very busy time for Ludovic, and Mrs. Sapson, one of the most regular attendants at his séances, had been trying to persuade him to go for a short holiday. He was very unwilling to do so, for he was giving five full séances every day (which naturally “mounted up,”) and he was loth to abandon, even for a short time, the work that so many people found so enlightening. But then Mrs. Sapson had been very clever, and had asked Asteria at one of the séances whether he ought not to take a rest, and Asteria distinctly said: “Wisdom counsels prudence; be it so.” After the séance was over, therefore, Mrs. Sapson, strong in spiritual support, renewed her arguments with redoubled force. She was a large, emphatic widow, who received no end of messages from her husband, William. He had been a choleric stockbroker on this plane, but his character had marvellously mellowed and improved, and now he knew what a waste of time it had been to make so much money and lose so much temper.

“Dear Mr. Ludovic,” she said, “you must have a rest. You can’t fly in the face of sweet Asteria. Besides, I have just got a lovely plan for you. I own a charming little cottage near Rye, which is vacant. My tenant has—has suddenly quitted it. It is a dear little place, everything quite ready for you. No expense at all, except what you eat and drink, and sea-bathing and golf at your door. Such a place for quiet and meditation, and—who knows—some wonderful visitor (not earthly, of course, for there are no bothering neighbours) might come to you there.”

Of course, this charming offer made a great difference. Ludovic felt that he could give up his spiritual work for a fortnight with less of a wrench than was possible when he thought that he would have to pay for lodgings. He expressed his gratitude in suitable terms, and promised to consult Sylvia, who at the moment was engaged with Violetta. She leaped at the idea when it was referred to her, and the matter was instantly settled.

The two were chatting together on the eve of their departure.

“Wonderfully kind of Mrs. Sapson,” said Ludovic. “But it’s odd that she didn’t offer us the cottage before. She was wanting me to take a holiday a month ago.”

“Perhaps the tenant has only just left,” said Sylvia.

“That may be so. Dear me, the country and sea-breezes! How nice. But I don’t mean to be idle.”

“Golf?” suggested Sylvia. “Isn’t it very difficult?”

He walked across to the table and took up a square parcel, which had just been delivered.

“No, not golf,” he said. “But I am going to take up spirit photography. It pays very—I mean it’s very helpful. So I’ve bought a camera and some rolls of films, and the developing and fixing solutions. I shall do it all myself. I used to photograph when I was a boy.”

“That must have cost a good deal of money,” said Sylvia, who had a great gift for economy.

“Ten pounds, but don’t look pained; I think it’s worth it. Besides, we get our lodging free. And if I have the power of spirit-photography, it will repay us over and over again.”

“Explain the process to me,” said Sylvia.

“Well, it’s very mysterious, but there’s no doubt that if a medium who has got the gift takes a photograph, there sometimes appears on the negative what is called an ‘extra.’ In other words, if I took a photograph of you, there might appear on the film not only your photograph, but that of some spirit, connected with you or the place, standing by you, or perhaps its face floating in the air near you. It would make another branch of our work, it would bring in fresh clients. The old ones too; I think they want something new. Mrs. Sapson would love a photograph of herself with her William leaning over her shoulder. Anyhow, it’s worth trying. I shall practise down at the cottage.”

He put the parcel containing the photographic apparatus with other property for packing, and made himself comfortable in his chair.

“I want you to work, too,” he said. “I want you to develop your rapport with Violetta. There’s nothing like practice. Mediumistic power is just as much a gift as music. But you must practice on the piano to be able to play.”

The two were alone, and the utmost confidence existed between them. They talked to each other with a frankness which would have appalled their sitters.

“Sometimes I wonder whether I have any mediumistic power at all,” she said. “I get in a dreamy sort of state when I am writing automatic script, but is Violetta really communicating, or am I only putting down the thoughts of my sub-conscious self? Or when Asteria speaks through you is she really an independent intelligence, or is she part of your own?”

Ludovic was in a very candid mood.

“I don’t know, and I don’t care,” he said. “But my conscious self certainly can’t invent all the things Asteria says, so they come from outside my normal perceptions. And then, after all, Asteria tells things about George and Jane, and so on, concerning their life on earth, which I never knew at all.”

“But their relations who are sitting with you know them,” said Sylvia. “Isn’t it possible that you may get at those facts through telepathy?”

“Yes, but then that’s extremely clever of me if I do,” said Ludovic. “And it’s just as reasonable to say that it’s Asteria. Besides, if it’s all me, how do you account for it that Asteria sometimes says something which goes against all my intentions and inclinations? For instance, when she said ‘Wisdom counsels prudence: be it so,’ in answer to Mrs. Sapson’s asking if I was not overworked and wanted a holiday, that quite contradicted my own wishes. I didn’t want to go for a holiday at all. Therefore it looks as if Asteria was an external intelligence controlling me.”

“Sub-consciously you might have known you wanted a holiday,” said the ingenious Sylvia.

“That’s far-fetched. Better stick to Asteria. Besides, I sincerely believe that sometimes things come to me from outside my consciousness. And I don’t know—not always, that’s to say—what Asteria has been telling them while I’m in trance. Sometimes it really astonishes me.”

He poured out a moderate whisky-and-soda.

“I’m looking forward to a holiday from séances,” he said, “now that it’s settled, for, frankly, Asteria has been a little thin and feeble lately. And I’m not sure that Mrs. Sapson doesn’t think so, too. I think she feels that she’s heard about all that Asteria has got to say, and it would never do to lose her as a sitter. That’s why I should very much like to find that I can produce spirit photographs. It—it would vary the menu.”

They took with them a grim and capable general servant called Gramsby, and arrived next afternoon at Mrs. Sapson’s cottage. It was romantically situated near a range of great sand-dunes which ran along the coast, and was only a few minutes’ walk from the sea. The place was very remote; a minute village with a shop or two and a cluster of fishermen’s huts stood half a mile away, and inland there stretched the empty levels of the Romney marsh away to Rye, which smouldered distantly in the afternoon sunlight. The cottage itself was an enchanting abode, built of timber and rough-cast, with a broad verandah facing south, and a gay little garden in front. Inside, on the ground floor, there were kitchen and dining-room, and a large living-room with access to the verandah. This was well and plainly furnished and had an open fireplace with a wide hearth for a wood fire and an immense chimney. Logs were ready laid there and, indeed, the whole house had the aspect of having been lately tenanted. Upstairs there were sunny bedrooms facing south, which, overlooking the sand-dunes, gave a restful view of the sea beyond; it was impossible to conceive a more tranquil haven for an overworked medium.

They had a hasty cup of tea, and hurried out to enjoy the last hours of daylight in exploration among the sand-dunes and along the beach, and came back soon after sunset. Though the day had been warm, the evening air had a nip in it, and Sylvia gave a little shiver as they stepped in from the verandah to the sitting-room.

“It’s rather cold,” she said. “I think I’ll light the fire.”

Ludovic shared her sensations.

“An excellent idea,” he said. “And we’ll draw the curtains and be cosy. What a charming room! I shall take some interiors to-morrow. Time exposure, I think they told me, for an interior.”

Their supper was soon ready, and presently they came back to the sitting-room and laid out a hectic Patience. But they were both strangely absent-minded, neglecting the most glaring opportunities for getting spaces and putting up kings.

“I can’t concentrate on it to-night,” said Ludovic. “I feel as if someone was trying to attract my attention. I wonder if Asteria wants to communicate.”

Sylvia looked up at him.

“Now it’s very odd that you should say that,” she observed. “I feel exactly as if Violetta was wanting to come through, and yet it doesn’t seem quite like Violetta.”

He gave an uneasy glance round the room.

“A curious sensation,” he said. “I have the consciousness of some presence here, which isn’t quite Asteria. But it may be she. Tiresome of her, if it is, for she ought to know I came down here for a holiday, considering that she recommended it herself. I think I’ll get a pencil and paper, and see if she wants to say anything.”

He composed himself in a chair, with the stationery for Asteria on his knee.

“Ask her a question or two, Sylvia,” he said, “when I go off.”

Sylvia waited till her brother’s eyelids fluttered and fell.

“Is that you, Asteria?” she asked.

His hand twitched and quivered. Then the pencil scribbled “Certainly not” in large, firm letters, quite unlike Asteria’s pretty writing.

Sylvia asked if it was Violetta, but got an emphatic denial.

“Who is it, then?” she said.

And then a very absurd thing happened. The pencil spelt out “Thomas Spinach.”

Sylvia was puzzled for a moment. Then the explanation occurred to her, and she laughed.

“Wake up, dear,” she said to Ludovic. “It says it is Thomas Spinach. Of course, that’s your sub-conscious self trying to remember Carrot.”

But Ludovic did not stir, and to her surprise the pencil began writing again.

“I don’t know who you are,” wrote the unknown control. “But I’m Spinach, young Spinach. And”—there was a long pause—”I want you to help me. I can’t remember … I’m very unhappy.”

As she followed the words, there suddenly came a very loud rap on the wall just above her, which considerably startled her, for why, if “Spinach” was an attempt on the part of Ludovic’s sub-consciousness to write “Carrot,” should he announce his presence? She sprang up, and shook Ludovic by the shoulder.

“Wake up,” she said. “There’s a strange spirit here, and I don’t like it. Wake up, Ludovic.”

He came drowsily to himself.

“Hullo!” he said. “Anything been happening? was it Asteria?”

His eye fell on the paper.

“What’s all this?” he said. “Thomas Spinach? That’s only me. My sub-consciousness said it was Asparagus once.”

“But look what it has been writing,” said Sylvia.

He read it.

“That’s queer,” he said. “That can’t be me. I’m not very unhappy. I don’t want my own help. I know who I am.”

He jumped up.

“Most interesting,” he said. “It looks like a new control. Young Spinach must be powerful, too; he came through the first time he tried. We’ll investigate this, Sylvia. It would be fine to get a new control for our séances.”

“But not to-night, Ludovic,” said she. “I really shouldn’t sleep if you went on now. And he’s violent. He made the loudest rap I ever heard.”

“Did he, indeed?” said Ludovic. “I must have been in deep trance then, for I never heard it. We’ll certainly try to snap him with the camera to-morrow.”

The morning was bright and sunny, and directly after breakfast Ludovic set to work with his photography. The first three or four films showed nothing but impenetrable blackness, and a consultation of his handbook convinced him that they must have been over-exposed. He corrected this, and after a few errors on the other side, produced a negative which quite clearly showed Sylvia sitting by the long window into the verandah. This, though it revealed no “extra,” was an encouraging achievement, and he took half a dozen more exposures with which he hurried away into the small dark cupboard under the stairs, where he had installed his developing and fixing baths. Shortly afterwards Sylvia heard her name called in crowing, exultant tones, and ran to see what had happened.

“Don’t open the door,” he called, “or you’ll spoil it. But I’ve got a picture of you with a magnificent extra—a face hanging in the air by your shoulder.”

“How lovely!” shouted Sylvia. “Do be quick and fix it.”

There was no sort of doubt about it. There she sat by the window, and close by her was a strange, inexplicable face. So much could be seen from the negative, and when a print was taken of it, the details were wonderfully clear. It was the face of a young man; his handsome features wore an expression of agonized entreaty.

“Poor boy!” said Sylvia, sympathetically. “So good looking, too, but somehow I don’t like him.”

Then a brilliant idea struck her.

“Oh, Ludovic!” she said. “Is it young Spinach?”

He snatched the print from her.

“I must fix it,” he said, “or it will be ruined. Of course it’s young Spinach. Who else could it be, I should like to know? We’ll find out more about him this evening. Fancy obtaining that the very first morning!”

They spent the afternoon on the beach, in order to get in an elevated frame of mind by contemplating the beauties of nature, and after a light supper, prepared for a double séance. Two hooks, so to speak, were baited for Spinach, for in one chair sat Sylvia, with pencil and paper, ready to take down his slightest word, and in another Ludovic, similarly equipped. They both let themselves sink into that drowsy and vacant condition which they knew to be favourable to communications from the unseen, but for a long time they neither of them got a bite. Then Ludovic heard the dash and clatter of his sister’s pencil, suddenly beginning to write very rapidly, and this aroused in him disturbing feelings of envy and jealousy, for something was coming through to Sylvia and not to him.

This inharmonious emotion quite dissipated the tranquillity which was a sine qua non of the receptive state, and he got up to see what was coming through to her. Probably some mawkish rubbish from Violetta about Savonarola’s sermons. But the moment he saw her paper he was thrilled to the marrow.

“Yes, I’m Thomas Spinach,” he read, “and I’m very unhappy. I came and stood by you this morning when the man was photographing. I want you to help me. Oh, do help me! It’s something I’ve forgotten, though it is so important. I want you to look everywhere and see if you can’t find something very unusual, and tell them. It is somewhere here. It must be, because I put it there, and I hardly like to tell you what it is, because it’s terrible …”

The pencil stopped. Ludovic was wildly excited, and his jealousy of Sylvia was almost forgotten. After all, it was he who had taken Spinach’s photograph.

Sylvia’s hand continued idle so long that Ludovic, in order to stir it into activity again, began to ask questions.

“Have you passed over, Spinach?” he said.

Her hand began to write in a swift and irritated manner. “Of course I have,” it scribbled. “Otherwise I should know where it was.”

“Used you to live here?” asked Ludovic. “And when did you pass over?”

“Yes, I lived here,” came the answer. “I passed over a week ago. Very suddenly. There was a thunderstorm that night, and I had just finished it all, and was in the garden cooling down, when lightning struck me, and when I came to—on this side, you understand—I couldn’t remember where it was.”

“Where what was?” asked Ludovic. “Do you mean the thing you had finished? What was it you had finished?”

The pencil seemed to give a loud squeak, as if it was a slate pencil.

“Oh, here it is again,” it wrote in trembling characters. “I can’t go on now. It’s terrible. I’m so frightened. Please, please find it.”

Just as on the previous evening, there came an appalling rap somewhere on the wall close to him, and, seriously startled, Ludovic sprang up, and shook Sylvia into consciousness. Whoever this spirit was, it was not a good, kind, mild one like Asteria, who, whenever she rapped, did so very softly and pleasantly.

Sylvia yawned and stretched herself.

“Spinach?” she said, drowsily. “Any Spinach?”

“Yes, dear, quantities,” said Ludovic.

“And what did he say? Oh, I went off deep then, Ludovic. I don’t know what’s been happening. Violetta isn’t nearly so powerful. Such an odd feeling! Did I write all that?”

“Yes, in answer to some pretty good questions of mine,” he said. “It’s really wonderful. We’re on the track of young Spinach, or, rather, he’s on ours.”

Sylvia was reading her manuscript.

“‘I passed over a week ago,'” she said. “‘Very suddenly—there was a thunderstorm that night——’ Why, Ludovic, there was! That’s quite true. You slept through it, but I didn’t, and I remember reading in the paper that it had been very violent in the Rye district. How strange!”

Ludovic clicked his fingers.

“I know what I’ll do,” he said. “I shall send a telegram to Mrs. Sapson. Give me a piece of paper. She said that wonderful visitors might perhaps come to me here.”

Sylvia grasped his thoughts.

“I see!” she cried. “You mean to tell her that her late tenant, young Thomas Spinach, who was killed by lightning last week, has communicated with us. That will impress her tremendously, if you think she’s had enough of Asteria. Indeed, I shouldn’t wonder if she lent us this cottage just in order to test us, and see if we really received messages from the other side. What a score!”

She hastily scribbled on a leaf of her writing-block, counting up the words on her fingers. Her economical mind exerted itself to contrive the message in exactly twelve words.

“There!” she read out triumphantly. “Listen! ‘Sapson, 29, Brompton Avenue, London. Tenant Spinach killed last week, thunderstorm, communicated.’ Just twelve. You needn’t sign it, as it will have the Rye postmark.”

“My dear,” said he, “it’s no time for such petty economies. Better spend a few pence more and make it impressive and rather more intelligible. Give me some paper; I asked you before. And we must make it clear that it’s not a chance word of local gossip that has inspired it. I shall tell her about the photograph, too.”

Before they went to bed, Ludovic composed a more explicit telegram, and in the course of the next morning he received an enthusiastic reply from Mrs. Sapson.

“All quite correct and most wonderful,” she wrote. “Delighted you have got into communication. Find out more, and ask him about his uncle. Wire again if fresh revelations occur.”

In order to secure themselves from the possibility of interruption, Sylvia gave Gramsby an afternoon out, which she proposed to spend in the excitements of Rye, and as soon as she was gone the mediums prepared for a séance. As Spinach seemed to fancy Sylvia, she composed herself for the trance-condition, with pencil and paper handy, and Ludovic sat by to ask questions. Very soon Sylvia’s eyes closed, her head fell forward, and the pencil she held began to tremble violently, like a motor-car ready to start.

“Are you Spinach?” asked Ludovic, observing these signs of possession. Instantly the pencil began to write.

“Yes; have you found it?”

“We don’t know what it is,” said Ludovic. Then he remembered Mrs. Sapson’s telegram. “Has it anything to do with your uncle?” he asked.

There was a long pause. Then the pencil began to move again.

“Please find him,” it wrote.

“But how are we to find your uncle?” asked Ludovic. “We don’t know where to look or what he’s like. Tell us where to look.”

The pencil moved in a most agitated fashion.

“I don’t know,” it wrote. “If I knew I would tell you. But it’s somewhere about. I had just put it somewhere, when the lightning came and killed me, and I can’t remember. My memory’s gone like—like after concussion of the brain.”

An uneasy thought struck Ludovic. Why did young Spinach allude to his uncle as “it”?

“Is your uncle dead?” he asked. “Is it his body that you mean by ‘it’?”

Sylvia’s fingers writhed as if in mortal agony. Then the pencil jerked out, “Yes.”

Ludovic, accustomed as he was to spirits, felt an icy shudder run through him. But he waited in silence, for the pencil looked as if it had something more to write. Then, great heavens! it came.

“I will tell you all,” it wrote. “I killed him, and I can’t remember where I put him.”

A spasm of moral indignation seized Ludovic.

“That was very wrong of you,” he justly observed. “But we’ll try to help you if you will tell us all about it. Come; you’re dead. Nobody can hang you.”

Shocked as Ludovic was, and extremely uneasy also at the thought of the proximity not only of the spirit of a murderer, but the corpse of young Spinach’s uncle, it was only natural that he should feel an overwhelming professional interest in the revelations that appeared to be imminent. It would be a glorious thing for his career to receive from a departed spirit the first-hand account of this undetected crime, and to be able to corroborate it by the discovery of the corpse. Though he had come down here for a holiday, the chance of such a unique piece of work made him feel quite rested already, for it was impossible to conceive a more magnificent advertisement. What a wonderful confirmation it would be also to Mrs. Sapson’s wavering faith in his psychical powers. She would publish the news of it far and wide, and the séances would be more popular than ever. Moreover, there was the chance of learning all sorts of fresh information about the conditions that prevailed on the other side, of a far more sensational and exciting quality than the method of the production of thought-flowers and flowing robes and general love and helpfulness. He waited with the intensest expectation for anything that Spinach might vouchsafe.

At last it began, and now there was no need for further questions, for the pencil streamed across the page. Sheet after sheet of the writing-block was filled, and twice Ludovic had to sharpen Sylvia’s pencil, for the point was quite worn down with these remarkable disclosures, and only made illegible scratches on the paper. For half an hour it careered over the sheets; then finally it made a great scrawl, and Sylvia’s hand dropped inert. She stretched and yawned, and came to herself.

The next hour was the most absorbing that Ludovic had ever spent in his professional work. Together they read the account of the crime. Alexander Spinach, the uncle, was the most wicked of elderly gentlemen, who made his nephew’s life an intolerable burden to him. He had found out that the orphan boy had committed a petty forgery with regard to a cheque which he had signed with his uncle’s name, and, holding exposure and arrest over his head, had made him work for him day and night, fishing and farming and doing the work of the house without a penny-piece of wages, while he himself boozed his days away in the chimney-corner.

Long brooding over his wrongs and the misery of his life made young Spinach (very properly, as he still thought) determine to kill the odious old wretch, and he adroitly poisoned his whisky with weed-killer. He went out to his work next morning as usual, leaving the corpse in the locked-up house, and casually mentioned to the folk he came across that his uncle had gone up to London and would probably not be back for some time. When he returned in the evening he hid the body somewhere, meaning to dig a handsome excavation in the garden, and having buried it, plant some useful vegetables above it. But hardly had he made this temporary disposition of the corpse, than he was struck by lightning in the terrific storm that visited the district a week ago, and killed. When he came to himself on the spiritual plane, he could not remember what he had done with the body.

So far the story was ordinary enough, apart from the interest in the manner of its communication, but now came that part of the confession which these ardent young psychicists saw would be a veritable gold mine to them. For on emerging on the other side, young Spinach found himself terrifyingly haunted not by the spirit, but by the body of his uncle. Just as on the material plane, so he explained, murderers are sometimes haunted by the spirit of their victim, so on the spiritual plane, quite logically, they may be haunted by the body of their victim. His uncle’s bodily and palpable presence grimly pursued him wherever he went; even as he gathered sweet thought-flowers or thought-fruits, the terrible body appeared. If he woke at night he found it watching by his bed, if he bathed in the crystal rivers it swam beside him, and he had learned that he could never find peace till it was given proper burial. No doubt, he said, Ludovic had heard of the skeletons of murdered folk being walled up in secret chambers, and how their spirits haunted the place till their bones were discovered and interred. The converse was true on the other side, and while murdered corpses lay about unburied in the material world, their bodies haunted the perpetrator of the crime.

It was here that poor young Spinach’s difficulty came in. The sudden lightning-stroke had bereft him of all memory of what he was doing just before, and, puzzle as he might, he could not recollect where he had put the corpse. Then he broke out into passionate entreaties: “Help me, help me, kind mediums,” he wrote. “I know it is somewhere about, so search for it and get it buried. He was an awful old man and I can’t describe the agony of being haunted by his beastly body. Find it and have it buried, and then I shall be free from its dreadful presence.”

They read this unique document together by the fading light, strung up to the highest pitch of professional interest, and yet peering awfully round from time to time in vague apprehension of what might happen next. During the séance the wind had got up, and now it was moaning round the corners of the house, and dusk was falling rapidly, with prospects of a wild night to follow. The curtains bulged and bellied in the draught, hollow voices sounded in the chimney, and Sylvia clung to her brother.

“I don’t like it,” she wailed. “I don’t like this spirit of Spinach; Violetta and Asteria are far preferable. And then there’s ‘It.’ It is somewhere about, and it may be anywhere.”

Ludovic made an attempt at gaiety.

“It may be anywhere, as you say,” he remarked, “but it actually is somewhere. And we’ve got to find it, dear. Better find it before it gets dark. And think of the sensation there will be when we publish the account of how, in answer to the entreaty of a remorseful spirit—”

“But he isn’t remorseful,” said Sylvia. “There’s not a word of remorse, but only terror at being haunted. There’s not only a corpse about, but the spirit of an unrepentant murderer. It isn’t pleasant. I would sooner be in expensive lodgings than here.”

“Oh, nonsense,” said Ludovic. “Besides, young Spinach is friendly enough to us. We’re his one hope. And if we find it, he will certainly be very grateful. I shouldn’t wonder if he sent us many more revelations. Even as it is, how deeply interesting. Nobody ever guessed that there were material ghosts in the spiritual world. But now we must get busy and search for Alexander. Fix your mind on what a tremendously paying experience this will be. Now, where shall we begin? There’s the house and the garden—”

“Oh, I hope it will be in the garden,” said Sylvia. “But there’s no chance of that, for he meant to bury it in the garden afterwards.”

“True. We’ll begin with the house, then. Now most murderers bury the body under the floor of the kitchen, cover it with quicklime, and fill in with cement.”

“But he wouldn’t have had time for that,” said Sylvia. “Besides, this was to be only a temporary resting-place.”

“Perhaps he cut it up,” said Ludovic, “and we shall find a piece here and a piece there.”

The search began. In the growing dusk, with the wild wind increasing to a gale, they annealed themselves for the gruesome business. They investigated the coal cellar, they peered into housemaids’ cupboards, and with quaking hearts examined the woodshed. Here there were signs that its contents had been disturbed, and the sight of an old boot peeping out from behind some logs nearly caused Sylvia to collapse. Then Ludovic got a ladder, and, climbing up to the roof, interrogated the water-tank, from the contents of which they had already drunk. But all their explorations were in vain; there was no sign of the corpse. For a nerve-racking hour they persevered, and a dismal idea occurred to Ludovic.

“It can’t be a practical joke on the part of Spinach, can it?” he said “That would be in the worst possible taste. Good gracious, what’s that?”

There came a loud tapping at the front door, and Sylvia hid her face on his shoulder.

“That’s Spinach,” she whispered. “That terrible Spinach!”

They tottered to the door and opened it. On the threshold was a man, who told them he was the carrier from Rye, and brought a note for Miss Byron.

“I’m going back in half an hour, miss,” he said, “if there’s any answer. A box, I understood.”

The note was from Gramsby, who, though unwilling to “upset” them, declined to come back to the cottage. She had heard things, and she didn’t like it, and she would be obliged if they would pack her box and send it in.

“The coward!” said Sylvia, trembling violently. “She shan’t have her box unless she comes to fetch it.”

They went back into the sitting-room, lit the fire, and made it as cheerful as they could with many candles. Their flames wagged ominously in the eddying draughts, and the two drew their chairs close to the hearth. By now the full fury of the gale was unloosed, the whole house shuddered at the blasts, doors creaked, curtains whispered, flurries of rain were flung against the windows, and strange noises and stirrings muttered in the chimney.

“I shall just get warm,” said Ludovic, “and then go on with the search. I shan’t know a moment’s peace till I find it.”

“I shan’t know a moment’s peace when you do!” wailed Sylvia.

They were sitting in the fire almost, and suddenly something up the chimney caught Ludovic’s eye.

“What’s that?” he said.

He got a candle and held it up the chimney.

“It’s a rope,” he said, “tied round a staple in the wall.”

His look met hers, and read the answering horror there.

“I’m going to undo it,” he said. “Step back, Sylvia.”

There was no need to say that, for she had already retreated to the farthest corner of the room. He pulled the rope off the staple and let it go.

There was a scrambling, shuffling noise from high up in the chimney, and in a cloud of soot It fell, with a heavy thud, sprawling across the hearth.

They fled into the night; the carrier had only just got to the garden gate.

“Take us into Rye,” cried Ludovic. “Take us to the police-station. Murder has been done—”

The account of these amazing events duly appeared in all the psychical papers and many others. Long queues of would-be sitters formed up for the Byron séances, in the hopes of getting fresh revelations from young Spinach. But from association with Asteria and Violetta he gradually became quite commonplace, and only told them about thought-flowers and white robes.

Edward Frederic Benson (1867 — 1940)