*Beware possible spoiler below*
THE CROWN DERBY PLATE by Marjorie Bowen
“Talking of ghosts,” said Mabel, “I wonder how that old woman at ‘Hartleys’ is getting on, for ‘Hartleys,’ you know, is supposed to be haunted.”
Well, it had to be called Hartleys after L.P., with all the latter’s slow logjam in progression of graves, now here in the Essex marshes close to where I myself live and the Wendigo wafts of odour and flights above sluggish flooded fields, and Hodgson’s grey gruey lichen etc, most of these elements pre-betokened by all the stories above, as carefully chosen by Aickman, maybe even the ghostly square-rigger…’stagnant dyke’ et al…and “a colony of tall trees”…”and straggling bushes matted together above the dead grass”…and…
“Under the wintry sky, which looked as grey and hard as metal, the marshes stretched bleakly to the horizon, the olive-brown broken reeds were harsh as scars on the saffron-tinted bogs, where the sluggish waters that rose so high in winter were filmed over with the first stillness of a frost; the air was cold but not keen, everything was damp; faintest of mists blurred the black outlines of trees that rose stark from the ridges above the stagnant dykes; the flooded fields were haunted by black birds and white birds, gulls and crows, whining above the long ditch grass and wintry wastes.”
“The house sprang up suddenly on a knoll ringed with rotting trees, encompassed by an old brick wall that the perpetual damp had overrun with lichen, blue, green, white colours of decay. […] …the sea damp which rusted and rotted everything. It was a square-built, substantial house…”
Then there is the “cracky” woman at this Hartley house with “gross, flaccid figure… doing futile gardening …. waddling.”
The first story ever with a transvestite or transgender character?… who knows, but this Bowen writer must not be confused with my favourite Bowen one. And it was surely not a coincidence that I recently studied the poem ‘China Plate’ by Robert Graves… A cockney expression, that, too.
Finally, what are “horrible health huts”? Who knows, but I do know that this is one of those truly great ghost stories of all time. To know the ending ahead of time is no drawback to its shuddery effect. The empty plate with no toast, nor even Hartleys jam.
“…as there seemed no sign of tea or anything pleasant and comfortable she had really better go.”