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Arts & Life

Get In The Christmas Spirit: A Popular Victorian Ghost Story


UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #1: Martha Pym said she had never seen a ghost and that she would very much like to do so, particularly at Christmas, for you can laugh as you like, that is the correct time to see a ghost.



And for the Victorians, it was the right time for ghosts. That's the beginning of a Christmas ghost story from 19th century writer Marjorie Bowen. Let's set the scene. Martha Pym is an antique collector. Years ago, she purchased an incomplete set of china from an auction at Hartleys, an isolated house in the English countryside. It was a perfect set, save for one missing plate, and that's bothered her. Now, Martha is spending Christmas in the country right around the corner from Hartleys, which has, over the years, acquired a reputation for being haunted. Martha decides to pay a visit in case they might have the one missing plate from her Crown Derby set.


WERTHEIMER: An old woman answers the door.


UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #1: Do come in. I get so few people to visit me. I'm really very lonely.

The passage was badly lit, but she was able to get a fair idea of Miss Lefain. Her first impression was that this poor creature was most dreadfully old, older than any human being had the right to be. She was also monstrously fat. Her gross, flacid figure was shapeless, and she wore badly cut full dress of no color at all but stained with earth and damp were Miss Pym supposed she had been doing futile gardening.

Dear me, dear me, she said in her thin, treble voice...

How very kind of you to come. I suppose you prefer the parlor. I generally sit in the garden.

WERTHEIMER: Martha finds the plate that completes her collection.


UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #1: But now that she had got what she had really come for, the plate, Martha Pym wanted to be gone. It was really very dismal and depressing in the house, and she began to notice a fearful smell. The place had been shut up too long. There was something damp rotting somewhere, in this horrid little dark closet no doubt.

I really must be going, she said hurriedly. Miss Lefain turned as if to cling to her, but Martha Pym moved quickly away. She could not stay another moment. Really, that smell


WERTHEIMER: On her way home, Martha runs into a sprightly young woman, a bit of a gossip who tells her Hartleys is empty. But no, says Martha, I was just there. The girl tells her that Miss Lefain couldn't bear the old empty house and abandoned the property, and she developed a funny notion of the prior owner, Sir James Sewell.


UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #1: Old Sir James, well, he couldn't bear to leave Hartleys. He's buried in the garden. She thought he was after her, chasing round them bits of china.

Yes, yes, said Mrs. Pym with a sick look. You don't know what he was like, do you?

No, ma'am, but I've heard tell he was very stout and very old. I wonder who it was you saw up at Hartleys.

Miss Pym took a Crown Derby plate from her bag.

You might take that, she whispered. I shan't want it after all.

Before the astonished young woman could answer, Miss Pym had darted off. That short hair, that earth-stained robe, the white socks...

I generally live in the garden.

Martha shook and shuddered in the damp, trying to get out of her clothes and her nostrils that indescribable smell.

WERTHEIMER: That's a selection from "The Crown Darby Plate" by Marjorie Bowen.

(SOUNDBITE OF "MONSTER HOUSE" FILM) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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