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The Nutcombe Tales


A Woman of Spirit

Judy Jenkins and Audrey Bishop were two level-headed young ladies. They had determined, while yet in their early teens, not to waste their youthful charms upon callow lads, but to marry older men who had already made something of themselves. Not only would their future prosperity be more certain, but their husbands would be less likely to be led astray by a younger woman. Their mothers assured them, too, that older men were not so bothersome in the bedroom. Moreover, the disparity in age would all but guarantee them a well-provided-for widowhood while they were still young enough to enjoy it.

The first stage of their plans proceeded smoothly. Both were married before they were twenty, Judy to Alf Wagstaff the butcher, and Audrey to Stanley Gold the draper. They were to learn, however, that the plans of young ladies were no less susceptible to the whims of chance than those of mice and men. Audrey was the first to be disappointed. When Stanley passed on, after seventeen years of marriage that neither had regretted, Audrey found that his financial position was not sound. The business had to be sold, and after the mortgage and other debts had been settled she was left no better off than if she had married a clerk.

Soon after Audrey's setback, Judy's plans came to a more tragic end. While yet in her prime, the poor woman succumbed to a ruptured appendix. Before she died she confided a secret to Audrey and extracted a promise from her. Judy had been an unfaithful wife. The father of a baby she had lost in childbirth had not been Alf's. The details of her affair were contained in letters and a diary which she had secreted in a hiding place which, while safe from casual discovery, would certainly come to light in a good spring clean. Not wishing Alf to find them, she told Audrey where they were and made her promise to recover and destroy them.

Accordingly, at Judy's funeral breakfast Audrey lingered after the other guests had gone, and when Alf went upstairs to take off his boots and stiff collar she slipped into the kitchen. Following Judy's instructions she took the bottom drawer out of the dresser, reached in to the cavity behind, and removed a small bundle of papers. They comprised a few letters tied with string, a fat diary, and a bank pass book. This last had not been mentioned by Judy, so Audrey examined it more closely. It was for a savings account in the joint names of Mr and Mrs Wagstaff, and the credit balance was a very tidy sum indeed. Audrey slipped the bank book back into its hiding place, put the letters and diary into her bag, and replaced the drawer. She called goodbye to Alf upstairs and went home.

The next day a worried looking Alf called on Audrey and asked her whether Judy had ever told her where she kept important documents. Startled, Audrey instinctively replied in the negative. Alf went on to say that Judy used to take care of money matters for him, but he could not find where she had put their savings account book. Audrey realised that her too swift denial had created a moral dilemma for her. Clearly Alf deserved to be told where the bank book was, but she had now left herself no means of explaining how she knew its location. She told him that Judy had never spoken to her of any bank book. Well, at least that is no lie, she thought, but was unhappy to see how disappointed Alf was.

Pondering the matter before falling asleep that night, she thought of a solution. The next day she called on Alf and told him that she and Judy had made a pact. If there was an afterlife, whichever of them passed over first would make strenuous efforts to contact the other.

Perhaps, she suggested to Alf, if we were to have a sort of séance, Judy might be able to reveal where she kept the bank book. Alf agreed, and they sat down facing each other across the kitchen table. Audrey had been worried that she might not be able to keep a straight face during this charade, but in the event the gravity of Alf's predicament prevailed, and she had no difficulty in proceeding with her intention. She sat for half a minute or so with unfocussed eyes staring through Alf, then she rose and moved to the dresser as if in a trance. Silently she removed the drawer, reached in, and extracted the account book. Moving like a robot, she placed the book on the table in front of Alf, slid the drawer back into place, and resumed her seat. A delighted Alf was meanwhile babbling his thanks, but Audrey made no reply, affecting not to hear.

After a while she shook herself and said, as if waking up, Oh, did anything happen then?

Happen? said Alf, You only found the pass book, that's all.

I didn't do anything, said Audrey. If anything happened, it was done by Judy.

Be that as it may, said Alf, I don't know how I shall ever be able to thank you.

Remembering the size of his bank balance, Audrey silently thought to herself, Don't worry, I've thought of a way. She was in need of a rich husband, and Alf was now unattached.

In the weeks that followed, their relationship grew apace, but when the moment came for it to assume a more committed physical form, Alf proved incapable of consummation. With much embarrassment, he explained to Audrey that at the critical moment visions of Judy dampened his ardour. It's as though she can see me being unfaithful, he wept. Audrey reassured him as best she could, and went home to ponder the problem. That night a solution occurred to her. Judy's fictitious spirit had come to her aid in the matter of the bank book. It was time to call upon its services again.

At their next meeting she put a proposal to Alf. If Judy's spirit could use the body of Audrey to recover the bank book, perhaps it could make love to Alf through the same surrogacy. They repaired to the bedroom to test the theory. Audrey undressed and lay back on the bed. She stared blankly at the ceiling and went into her open-eyed trance. A naked Alf leaned over her with some misgiving. He would not dream of molesting a lady who was drunk or unconscious. Would he be taking an ungentlemanly advantage to proceed further? Before he could retreat, a soft arm snaked around his neck, and certain words of lewd endearment were whispered in his ear, words that were peculiar to him and Judy. Memories of past occasions rose in his mind, and his body responded. A hand was now caressing his buttocks in a well-remembered manner, while another was fondling him underneath in a such a way as only Judy, he thought, could. When a probing finger reached to scratch him teasingly in a very private place, as Judy had been wont to do, he could contain his ardour no longer. Gasping Oh, Judy! Judy! he eagerly surrendered himself to a passionate encounter. When, exhausted, he finally sank his head onto her shoulder, Audrey smiled at the ceiling in contentment. Her study of Judy's diary had not been a waste of time.

Alf and Audrey were married within the month. Audrey had just as good a head for figures as Judy, which further persuaded Alf that his first wife's spirit lived on in her, and he was more than willing to leave the management of his money to her. The fact that her new mortal form was somewhat plumper than her former was an added bonus. Like any good butcher, he preferred well-covered bones. She was popular with his employees, and often shared a tea break and a gossip with them. She was amused to find how many domestic secrets passed across a butcher's counter. Even the delivery boy had tales to tell - who might be found in her dressing gown in the afternoon, for example, and whose car would be parked around the corner. Audrey was well satisfied with her new marriage. Not only had her plan brought Alf up to the mark, but his performance had surpassed her expectations. There was only one cloud to mar her domestic bliss: Alf was too ready to boast that his new wife had the gift, and Audrey would be asked to perform supernatural services for their friends and acquaintances. She resisted these embarrassing invitations as best she could, until an occasion arose when Alf would brook no refusal.

Henry Lambton was a man of influence in the Guild of Master Butchers - he even had branches in Nottingham - so Alf was flattered and eager to please when Henry turned to him, or rather to Audrey, for help. Henry's daughter Sally had been expecting her first child, but it was stillborn. Sally was distraught. Her husband, Terry Spottiswood, was, according to Henry, a bit of a wastrel and no help in a crisis. Could Audrey bring solace to the grieving mother by contacting her lost baby, Little Bobby, on the other side?

Audrey prevailed upon Alf to stay at home, and went alone to the unavoidable séance. The assembled family was made up of Sally, her parents, and her husband. Terry was good looking in a gigolesque manner, a rat who oozed charm and a patent conviction that he was irresistible. Audrey took an instant dislike to him, not least because he tried to paw her at the earliest opportunity, notwithstanding the fact that she was there to help his unhappy wife. She could tell that his in-laws shared her opinion of him. The preliminary exchange of small-talk revealed that Terry had known Judy, and it dawned upon Audrey that he had been her secret lover, the begetter of her stillborn child, and the T of her love letters and diary. The fact that his wife's perinatal loss was a repetition of an earlier extramarital tragedy had left his withers remarkably unwrung. Audrey began to see a direction which her pretence might take.

She had wondered what sort of voice to affect as Little Bobby. Realising that any voice for a newly born baby stretched credulity to its limits, she settled for a breathy whisper. First she tried to comfort Sally, with platitudes such as Mummy, I love you and I am happy here. Sally was a simple soul, and her early sobs soon subsided as she eagerly absorbed these assurances. As soon as she could see that Sally was appeased, Audrey started another tack. Little Bobby revealed that in his spirit form he was known as Bobby SpyForest.

Initial puzzlement around the table was settled when Henry hissed SpyForest, Spottiswood, don't you see?

Little Bobby then announced that he had met his sister on the other side. The table was now quite bewildered.

Sister? What does he mean, sister? bewailed Sally.

Little Bobby elaborated - she was only a half sister really. Sally remained puzzled, but Mr and Mrs Lambton exchanged a meaningful glance and looked daggers towards Terry, who stirred uncomfortably in his seat.

Audrey moved in for the coup de grace - Little Bobby revealed his half sister's name to be Sandra WavePole. The Lambtons knew very well that Judy's lost baby was to have been named Sandra.

Henry whispered loudly to his wife WavePole, Wagstaff. They glanced fearfully at Audrey to see if she had heard, but she seemed still to be in a stone-faced trance. Terry was pulling at his collar as if it had suddenly become two sizes too small.

I still don't understand, Sally complained querulously.

Never mind, dear, said Mrs Lambton, Daddy and I understand. That's all that matters.

When Little Bobby offered to fetch Sandra to give more details, Terry swiftly exclaimed There's no need for that! adding unconvincingly, Well, she's nothing to do with us, is she? Mrs Lambton gave a grunt of undisguised disbelief.

Audrey came out of her trance, and asked if anything had happened.

Yes, thank you, dear, replied Mrs Lambton. You've been a great help. Things are going to go a lot better from now on, aren't they, Terry?

Yes, Mother, I'm sure they are, Terry assured her.

They'd better, said Mrs Lambton forcefully, otherwise it might be necessary to get Mrs Wagstaff back so we can have a little chat with Sandra.

That won't be necessary, Mother, honest it won't.

Terry was as good as his word. Thenceforward he became a model husband and an upright citizen, his conduct governed by the belief that supernatural entities not only knew his every move, but had the power to communicate their knowledge to Audrey Wagstaff. His reformation did not go unnoticed in the community, and the general consensus was that Audrey's powers were mocked at one's peril.

*****


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