Hugo’s Come-uppance: a short story

Rain began to bang against Miss Davenport’s windows, and she jumped as a flash of lightning forked right across the sky. Pulling back a lace curtain in the front room, she looked down the cobbled street in the direction from which her visitors would soon be coming. Eventually, the thunder rolled.

Stormy evenings like this were always much more inspiring – she performed so much better in the right setting. She was, she reflected, an artiste, and as such was unable to really give herself to a role, to become the part, unless moved to do so. But tonight she would give her all.

She made a few last ritual checks. The tape-recorder was switched on, ready for action. The fan was poised, hidden on top of the wardrobe, operated by a switch let into the floor. Finally, she checked the rubber hammer, a child’s toy, perfect for the purpose, connected by a blackened cord to a loop convenient for her left foot. It see-sawed against the underside of the table with ominous thumps. Now everything was ready for her communication with the spirit world.

Miss Davenport watched as two drenched figures scurried towards her through the pelting rain. By the time they reached her front door, the water in the kettle was already bubbling fiercely.

 

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Miss Daisy Mortimer’s face lit up with a broad, told-you-so smile.

“Now then, Minnie, what d’you say to that? True or not? Tell the truth now!”

Minnie Parsons was amazed. She had never been to see Miss Davenport before. She willingly confessed that she was, indeed, going on a long journey – to Australia, in fact.

“Booked the ticket on Saturday, Miss Davenport. How clever of you! Do the leaves tell you anything else?”

Of course, neither customer was aware of Miss Davenport’s acquaintance with a certain Mr. Duffield in the local travel agency – at one time, he’d been one of her most regular clients.

The tea-cup revealed yet further secrets. Minnie’s journey would take her over water, it appeared, and she would be travelling for about three weeks. She was to be most careful with her stomach.

“That reminds me”, broke in Minnie. “Must get some sea-sick pills. No traveller. Never have been, not even when my Hugo was alive. Never could keep anything down”.

When the tea things had been cleared away, Miss Davenport brought out the Tarot pack.

The wind and rain were lashing around the house now, thunder and lightning playing their full part as a majestic scenario to Miss Davenport’s performance.

tarot1The cards told all. Miss Mortimer’s fate was in her own hands, it transpired. She, and only she, could decide whether she was to be successful in her plans. The lady in question pursed her lips, nodding in mute acquiescence. She could not argue with that.

Mrs. Parson’s future was also undecided. She was about to enter a new phase in her life, and she should willingly seize the opportunity. Miss Davenport explained that she could only relate what the cards told her – it was up to the individual to interpret their meaning.

At last, it was time for the séance. Miss Davenport fetched a bottle of elderberry wine from the dresser and poured three glasses. The cards were put away, the lighting was lowered and the ladies arranged themselves almost at random around the table. Miss Davenport decided to call up Miss Mortimer’s mother first.

“I can feel her trying to get through already, Daisy”, she said, her voice quivering with excitement. “Quiet now, while I call on her to speak to us”.

The two visitors watched and waited, in earnest anticipation, the only sounds coming from the storm outside. Miss Davenport’s voice called out stridently:

“IS THERE ANYBODY THERE? Knock once for yes, twice for no”.

It had never occurred to Miss Davenport that the latter alternative might pose a certain contradiction. One loud thump was heard.

“PLEASE COME UP AND SPEAK TO US”.

Miss Davenport had met old Mrs. Mortimer at the W.I., and well remembered her peculiar way of speaking. Her voice became very squeaky.

“I’m getting along very nice. There are nice people here, Daisy. Don’t worry about me – I’m having a nice time”.

Miss Davenport gave herself a mental pat on the back. Daisy was blowing her nose, tears welling up in her eyes.

“Don’t forget me, dear, will you?”

“I won’t, Mother, I won’t”, pledged a sobbing Daisy.

“There’s a nice girl”, squeaked her mother, finally.

The thunder clapped above, as though unable to contain its admiration of Miss Davenport’s performance. Now it was Minnie’s turn …

“Did you bring the photograph with you, Minnie?”, sniffed Daisy.

“Yes, here we are”, said Minnie, handing the framed picture to Miss Davenport.

Mr. Hugo Parsons had been an impressive looking chap, right up to the time of his death, four years previously: silver hair, large bushy moustache and a marvellous singing voice. Some locals had said that the village choir had never been the same after his departure to the other side.

“It helps if I can see the beloved”, Miss Davenport reminded them. She placed the photograph in the centre of the table.

“IS THERE ANYBODY THERE?” Thump.

“PLEASE COME UP AND SPEAK TO US”.

Sheet lightning crackled and danced around the roof-tops outside, thunder bellowing a raucous accompaniment.

Now Miss Davenport was really living the part. She pressed the switch in the floor and a chill, ghostly breeze began to waft around the room. Another deft movement and the disembodied sound of a man’s voice was heard, singing ‘Onward, Christian Soldiers’, one of Mr. Parson’s favourites. Daisy took another sip of the elderberry wine.

Miss Davenport’s lips moved in perfect synchronisation with the recording – until, suddenly, there was a huge crash of thunder, directly overhead. The singing wavered eerily, just for a second or two, but the solitary light in the room went out for a full ten seconds.

Minnie Parsons marvelled at the miracle of being able to hear her husband’s voice. If only she could hold some sort of conversation with him, though …

The light came on again – and Daisy and Minnie stared in sudden, utter disbelief. No longer was Miss Davenport mouthing the words of ‘Onward, Christian Soldiers’. She had vanished. Instead it was Mr. Hugo Parsons himself who sat in Miss Davenport’s chair. A number of strange thumps were heard. Mr. Parsons was trying to extricate himself from some black cord which had become entangled around his left leg. He raised his eyes – and Minnie, her mouth agape, was able to meet the gaze of her beloved Hugo for the first time in four years.

Now, in the centre of the table, lay a framed photograph of Miss Davenport. It seemed to portray her at a moment of the most intense, fervent passion.

Daisy Mortimer inspected her glass of elderberry wine, holding it up to the electric light.

Meanwhile, outside, the storm was gradually subsiding …

 


 

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Copyright: Richard Fox 1974
All rights reserved

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