Hmm. Is it me, L.P. Hartley, or you? Now given our past history together, that being that your novel The Go-Between is one of my all-time favorites, I'd say it's probably me. I read your ghost story "A Visitor from Down Under" over the course of the weekend and I admit my mind was elsewhere for parts of it. I did go back and skim to make sure I had the general jist of things. But, well, I find it slightly perplexing still. I think I missed something along the way. Of course maybe my problem is that I am trying to read more into it than there is there?
So, maybe with a little help from kind readers here, we can work out just what is going on? Let me give you the outline of the story--the various creepy elements that seem as though they must add up to something more than meets the eye (I have this feeling that there is some symbolic meaning to things, but maybe I'm just in an especially thoughtful mood right now). And I won't spoil the ending, just in case you become so curious you must read it for yourself.
The story begins with this quote, which is in italics and set off by itself at the beginning.
"And who will you need to fetch him away!"
It's a wet March evening and a very loquacious bus conductor is chatting with the passengers getting on and off his double decker bus. It's the last bus traveling through the heart of London for the evening and there is but one passenger left up top. He's an odd duck--very quiet and makes no reply to the conductor's chatty overtures. He must ask him more than once "where he's for" when the man finally replies in a taciturn voice that his stop is Carrick Street. The man holds the penny fare between two fingers and the conductor must replace the ticket back, which makes for an unwieldy transaction. The conductor assumes it's all due to an infirmity. Carrick Street comes and goes, yet no one seems to disembark, but by now the conductor has put it from his mind.
Five hours earlier in the day a Mr. Rumbold has arrived at a hotel in Carrick Street, a return visitor from Australia. He's friendly with the staff and recollects some from prior stays at the hotel. He decides to relax with a drink in the lounge and listens in on what he assumes is a children's party in another room. He hears them talking about the treats they have to eat and the games they play. Listening in, however, Mr. Rumbold hears some disturbing things--namely a tiny click, but then they switch to playing games so he thinks no more about it. The rhymes that the children chant during their play are a little macabre.
"Here is a candle to light you to bed, And here comes a choppers to chop off your head! Chop-chop-chop."
Mr. Rumbold finds it upsetting and it's probably thanks to what he overhears that gives him nightmares later in the evening when he sleeps. Or maybe it's due to the conversation he has with one of the staff about fishing, and the occurrence of poaching back in Australia. The conversation takes on a different spin when the staff asks him about what happens to a murderer in Australia. When you go against the law the waiter says (and by you, he tells Mr. Rumbold, he means only as an illustration to his point during the conversation) you're punished. But maybe the murderer gets off, under some special circumstance, then what? The waiter goes on and says then it's up to the lot of any other man to take care of the murderer. And if there is no one, no family, then it might just be up to the dead man himself to bring the murderer to justice.
And oh, here we go. An epiphany. The light just blinked on for me.
It's a filthy night as I mentioned. It's raining and not fit for anyone outside. It would be a pity for someone to go without a bed on a night like this, and as the hotel is all full up, there is no more room to spare for any other latecomers. Mr. Rumbold, however, remarks that there is an extra bed in his room and if needs be, his room could be shared.
I won't, as I said, give the ending away, but having thought it out like this, it is making much more sense. Let me just say that a visitor arrives at the hotel looking for a room for the night. The stranger is the strange man from the bus. And now the blood stains on the pillow, the melting icicle on the windowsill and the empty bed make much more sense!
I'm not sure you, kind reader, are going to get much out today's post, but I must say it has helped me immensely! Sort of gives new meaning to a 'chilling' story.
Next week: R.H. Malden's "The Thirteenth Tree" and I hope to get my hands on Elizabeth Taylor's "Poor Girl" that Anbolyn recommended.