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Bertie’s Double

 The Lovely Princess Beatrice has stayed true to her long lost prince Bertie for many a long day. But there was a time when she was seen walking in the Palace Gardens with another prince! Still worse, the Wicked Queen was determined to hold a Royal Wedding to boost the popularity ratings of the Royal Family. Bertie the Frog’s hopes of being turned back into a prince and marrying Beatrice were almost dashed into a million tiny pieces.
It all started like this. Bertie was sitting on his lily leaf in the sun thinking that life as a frog wasn’t all that bad, when he saw Princess Beatrice walking in the palace garden with - another man !
Right away, he recognised the scoundrel as the smarmy Prince Boris. He liked to call himself Boris the Brave, and now Bertie heard his smarmy voice saying:
“And did you ever hear about the time I fought a seven-headed sea-monster?”
“Er, no.’ said Beatrice. “But I’m suspect that I’m going to now..”
Boris started to tell a story which Bertie was certain was untrue, because anyone who has really fought a sea monster would know that they have nine heads, not seven – unless somebody had already cut two of then off, which seemed a bit unlikely.
“Oh dear,” said Bertie. “If the lovely Beatrice marries Boris, I won’t have any reason to go on living. I might as well just hop off and die.”
His only comfort came from Colin he Carp who was swimming by.
“I shouldn’t worry,” said Colin. “Beatrice looks bored silly by that Prince Boris the Boaster.”
A couple of weeks went by, and one evening Bertie saw Beatrice walking in the garden with yet another man. This time it was Prince Freddie from the next-door Kingdom. Freddie was terribly brainy at maths, and he had known Beatrice since they were both little. In fact, he used to help Beatrice with her maths homework. Bertie knew this, and he was just a tiny bit jealous that another prince had been her friend for so long.
“Freddie dear” said Beatrice.
“Ah-oh” thought Bertie. “She called him ‘dear’”. Beatrice went on:
“Do you see that frog sitting on a Lilly leaf? It’s very strange, but sometimes when I see his funny little face, I can’t help thinking of my long lost Prince Bertie”.
Freddie chuckled when he heard this: “Indeed my dear, “ he replied. “How right you are. Bertie always was a bit froggy in the face.”
Bertie was outraged when he heard this. “See here!” he called out. “When I was a prince. I didn’t look in the least bit like a frog.”
But Beatrice and Freddie couldn’t understand what he was saying. All they could hear was “croak! Croak!”, and Freddie remarked:
“Now look– you’ve hurt the little frog’s feelings because you said he looked like Prince Bertie!”
Beatrice smiled for a moment, and then said, “Oh Freddie, don’t be so cruel. You know how dear Prince Bertie is to my heart.” And they both ambled back to the palace.
For the next couple of weeks or so, Bertie didn’t see any princes stepping out into the gardens with Beatrice, and he stopped worrying about Freddie and Boris. But up in the Palace, the Wicked Queen was plotting a Royal Wedding for her step-daughter. As usual, she had her own devious reasons. The King had recently put up taxes, and the Royal Family was becoming rather unpopular. The wicked Queen thought that a Royal Romance followed by a fairy tale wedding would be just the trick to boost the royal ratings and make them popular with the people again.
“Now dear,” she said to the lovely princess Beatrice as she was brushing her hair one morning. “It’s high time you found a nice rich young prince and got married.
“But your Majesty,” cried Beatrice “Prince Bertie has disappeared and nobody knows where he is.”
“Prince Bertie!” spluttered the Queen. “You’re not still hankering after that old flame are you? Since the day he vanished, he hasn’t so much as sent you a postcard. Don’t you see that he’s forgotten all about you!”
“Forgotten me?” said Beatrice with tears in her eyes. “Oh, no he can’t have. My dear Bertie would never do that.. He’s on a top secret mission to save the country. He can’t let anyone know a thing about it. That’s what think, and I won’t believe anything different.”
“Poppycock!” cried the Queen. “Why don’t you just marry Prince Freddie. He’s got lots of money.”
“But, but Freddy’s boring.”
“Well what about Prince Boris.? He’s handsome and rich”
“But Boris boasts and tells fibs ! No, I won’t marry anyone but my dear Bertie. Not ever. I’ll wait a hundred years for him if needs be. “ And with that, Beatrice got up and ran out into the garden.
The queen was furious, because she hated Bertie, and she certainly did not have any plans to turn him back into a prince and suffer him as her son-in-law.
“He’ll be telling those unfunny jokes of his over breakfast, oh no no no, we can’t have that. And riding around on that awful skateboard. Ugh! Its so unroyal ! And besides, he doesn’t approve of my wicked spells. Bertie… He’s out of the question… But Beatrice won’t let him out her thoughts. Poor deluded girl.”
The Wicked Queen thought and thought about the problem for six whole days – but still no solution came to mind.
On the seventh day, she was having her breakfast with the King when he exclaimed:
“Oh Gosh. Oh Golly. For a moment I thought that was Bertie back from the dead!”
And he tapped his newspaper. The queen looked over his shoulder and saw a picture of Bertie – only it wasn’t actually Bertie – it was somebody else who looked just like him.
His name was Norman Crompton and until recently he lived in a castle. The newspaper reported that he had just sold his ancient home including the beautiful deer park that surrounded it. The company that had bought Crompton Castle planned to knock it down and build a multi-story car-park in its place.
The picture showed Norman cracking open a bottle of Champaign. You see, the property company had paid him a lot of money for his castle.
“His heart seems to be in the right place” remarked the queen.
“Yes, in his wallet !” Laughed the King.
Later that day, the Queen asked her chief spy to find Norman Crompton’s mobile phone number for her. When he reported back with the number, she sent him a text message;
“Hi Norman. How would you like to marry the lovely Princess Beatrice and inherit the Kingdom? All you have to do is pretend to be Prince Bertie. Yours, The Wicked Queen.”
Norman texted back right away:
“No kidding? Of course I would – just so long as Bertie doesn’t turn up.”
And the queen replied
“Don’t worry. He’s with the fishes.”
By which Norman understood that Bertie had met a watery grave – because how could he have guessed that he had been turned into a frog? That was the Queen’s closely guarded secret.
That evening, she took Beatrice into a quiet corner of the palace and whispered some very important news to her. Only it wasn’t true news, it was a pack of fibs that she had made up. She claimed that Bertie was about to come back from his top secret mission. She said that this had been told to her that morning by her chief spy-master. He was due back in exactly a month’s time, and the day after his return Beatrice would marry him.
Beatrice was so excited when she heard the news that she didn’t know what to do with herself. As soon as the Wicked Queen had left her, she ran out into the garden and down to the pond.
“Oh dear little frog!” she exclaimed to Bertie. “All this long while that Bertie has been away, I’ve poured my heart out to you. And now, do you know what? He’s coming back! Yes it’s true ! The Queen told me herself. And in a month’s time we are to be wed ! I’m so excited I just want to laugh and cry, dance and lie down, shout and keep my mouth shut, all at the same time.
And that’s how Bertie felt too. You see, he really believed that the wicked Queen had decided to turn him back into a prince so that he could marry Beatrice After all. You see, sometimes, when you really want something to happen with all your heart, you are ready to believe even the most unlikely fibs that people tell you.
When he told the little tadpoles about Bertie’s news, they swarmed around in circles and shouted
Yippeeeee !
Sadie the swan said, “Oh Bertie ! A true fairy tale ending. What on earth shall I wear ?”
And even Colin the Carp said,
Which is highly unusual, as he’s normally he’s ever so grumpy . Then he added”
“I don’t suppose any fish will be on the invitation list.”
The month went past terribly slowly for both Bertie and Beatrice. The day before the wedding was due to take place, Beatrice was looking out of her window when she saw a gold carriage and six white horses pull up outside the palace. And out of the carriage stepped Prince Bertie:
“Oh dear dear Bertie!” she said to herself “How I long to run and kiss your sweet face, even if it is a bit froggy like Freddie said.”
But Beatrice had been forbidden to speak to Bertie until the moment of her wedding. Both the King and Queen said it was a strict tradition and if she broke it, it would mean terrible bad luck for their future.
And Bertie also saw the golden coach arrive. And although he couldn’t see Norman step out – Elsa the Palace Cat did. She knows all the Palace Gossip and never misses a thing. She ran straight down to the pond with the news.
“Guess what Pond Life,” she murred, “The wicked queen has found somebody called Norman who looks just like Prince Bertie. Beatrice is going to marry him tomorrow and she will never know the difference.”
“I thought that something like that would happen,” said Colin. “If the Wicked Queen went to all the trouble of turning Bertie into a frog, why would she want to turn him back in a prince again? I should think that life up in the palace is much less annoying without Princes Bertie around.”
But Bertie wasn’t listening. He did not know what to do, but he knew he had to do something – so he hitched a lift back up to the Palace on Elsa’s back, and she took him all the way up to Beatrice’s door. She meowed and the Lovely Princess let her in.
“Oh Elsa, “ she said. “You’ve brought me my lucky frog. He probably wants some water. I’ll run a cold bath for him”
But Bertie didn’t fancy a cold bath. Instead, he hopped onto her dressing table and croacked his heart out. Beatrice was quite puzzled. He had seemed to glad when she had first spoken of the wedding, and now that her happiness was almost fulfilled, her frog was upset about something. If only she could understand what all his croaking was about?
That night, she could hardly sleep with excitement. In the morning the maids came in and helped her get into her wedding dress and look at her most radiant and lovely for the wedding. One of them took a broom and tried to shoe Bertie out of the bathroom, but Beatrice just managed to stop her in time before she really hurt the poor little frog. In fact, when she went down to her carriage, she ordered the maid to bring him to the wedding.
“Eee – Yuck ! “ she said as she picked him up.
Bertie had never felt so low in all his life. He felt even sadder than on the day he had been turned into a frog.
Here he was travelling in a golden carriage to his own wedding – only it wasn’t going to be HIS wedding – he was only going to watch his dear princess marry somebody called Norman who happened to look rather like him – and all because of the Wicked Queen !
As Beatrice entered the Church, the orchestra played “Here Comes the Bride”. Her Great-Uncle Prince Evan took her arm and led her down the isle to where Norman and the arch Bishop were already waiting for her. As she stood side by side with Norman in front of the alter she said ever so softly into his ear:
“Darling Bertie: It’s so wonderful that you are back. All the time you’ve been away, I’ve been wondering one thing:”
“And what was that my dear” whispered Norman, trying as best as possible to sound like Bertie. And princess Beatrice whispered
“Why didn’t the skeleton go to the party?”
“I don’t know. Why didn’t the skeleton go to the party?”
“Don’t you know? Because he had no body to go with. … alright then, which ghost has the best hearing?”
“I don’t know my dear. Which ghost does has the best hearing?”
“Why, it’s the eeriest of course!”
Just then, the Achbishop cleared his throat to get their attention. And he began the ceremenony. He asked Norman
“Do you, Bertie, take Betrice to be your lawful wedded wife.”
“And do you, Beatrice, take Bertie to love, honour and Obey”
And Beatrice replied.
“No Way!”
Why ever not? Asked the Bishop
“Because he’s not my Bertie. He’s an imposter! Guards Seize him!”
The wicked Queen jumped up and screamed”
“Guards. Do no such thing. My step-daughter’s gone out of her sweet tiny mind!
But the King said,
“No, No No. Guards Do Seize Him. ! She’s right you know – that isn’t Bertie. Whoever he is, he’s an imposter!”
And then speaking to the Queen he said,
“You See my dear: I had an inkling last night over dinner that there was something not quite right with that young man. I couldn’t put my finger on it – but now Beatrice has said he’s not Bertie – I see that she’s spot on. Do you recall him over dinner? I asked him what he had been up to while he was away, and he replied “Father, I wish I could tell you but it’s a secret.”
Well that’ was pretty strange because if there was one thing Bertie could never keep, it was a secret. And then later on, he only ate one helping of Chocolate Pudding. That was most unlike himself. I thought he must be off colour – nerves about the big day – but no, now I see that it’s because he’s not Bertie.”
And the wicked Queen was afraid that her secret would be found out. So she let the guards drag poor Norman off the palace dungeons. Later on, he escaped – but only after she turned him into a mouse.
When the guards had hauled the imposter out of the cathedral, there was a huge uproar and loads of confusion among the people. The King made a long speech to calm everyone down – in fact lots of them became very bored and either left or nodded off. While he was doing this, Beatrice spoke to her luck frog:
“Dearest little frog,” she said.
“I knew you were trying to tell me something – only I could not quite understand what it was. It was only when I stood side by side with the supposed “Prince Bertie” that I felt troubled. I sort of felt it wasn’t him. And so to make sure, I asked him two of Bertie’s favourite riddles. He didn’t know the answers – even though Bertie had told them to me thousands of times. Then I knew for sure that he was an imposter.
But it was you, dear frog, who first put me on my guard. I’m so grateful I could kiss you:
And with those works, she began to raise Bertie , sitting on the palm of her hand, to her lips.
Bertie closed his eyes and thought:
“Yes! The Lovely Princess Beatrice is about to kiss me at long last, and I will be turned back into a prince.”
But unfortunately, the Wicked Queen saw what was about to happen and
Kerpow !
She pointed her wand at Bertie and shouted
“Eat Slime” at the very second that Beatrice’s lips touched Bertie’s head.
And that was enough to prevent the kiss working, and poor Bertie didn’t turn back into a Prince – he remained a frog and had to hop off back to his pond.
But that evening he wasn’t too sad – because at least he had prevented a lovely princess marrying the wrong person. And there was still chance that one day he would turn back into the True Bertie and Marry his Princess.

A tidy ghost

A tidy ghost
by Peter Viney



1 Looking for a house

'It's all right, Rick. It's only the post,' she called.
Six or seven thick brown envelopes lay on the doormat. Marilyn picked them up and took them into the kitchen. Rick was sitting at the table. He was finishing his breakfast.
'Is there anything for me?' he asked.
'They're all from estate agents,' she said. 'I hope there's something this time.'
She put three envelopes down in front of Rick, and began to open the others herself. They had been looking for a house for three months. They were tired of the small flat, and they were tired of paying rent every week. They had been saving to buy their own house for nearly two years. They began looking through the letters from estate agents.
Rick looked up. 'Here's one,' he said. 'Listen. Perfect first home. Two bedrooms, large living room, modern kitchen, bathroom, garage, small garden. And it's in Balmoral Avenue, on the new housing estate. £68,000. What do you think?'
'What number is it?' she asked.
'Er ... let me see. Thirty-five. Yes, thirty-five Balmoral Avenue.'
'That's funny,' she said. 'I've just been reading about the same house. Look, here's an advert from Norman and Naylor. I phoned them yesterday.'
'Ah, my advert's from Burchill and Bradley. Yes, it's the same house. Well, that's normal. They've put the house with two estate agents. Which one shall we phone?'
'It doesn't really matter,' said Marilyn. 'Give me the adverts. I'll phone when I get to work.'
'Work ... yes, what time is it?' said Rick.
'Oh, no! It's nearly half past eight. Come on, we should hurry ... if you don't want to be late again.'
Rick and Marilyn hurried out to the car. On the way to work they talked about the house. A lot of their friends lived on the new housing estate, and they'd been looking for a house in Balmoral Avenue, or in one of the roads near it, Sandringham Drive or Osborne Way. Marilyn stopped the car outside Rick's office.
'I'll call the estate agent, and I'll call you later,' she said. Marilyn worked in an office near Rick's. She usually had the car because there was more parking space at her office, and because she finished work half an hour earlier than Rick.

Burchill and Bradley ESTATE AGENTS
189, Turnberry Road, Sandbourne, Wessex Telephone: Sandbourne (01702) 461594
35 Balmoral Avenue, High Trees Estate, Sandbourne
Detached house, built about two years ago. It has gas central heating, superb modern kitchen, and a nice garden.
LIVING ROOM: (3.8m x5.55m) Two radiators, 6 electric points, TV point, fitted carpet. Nice view from window.
KITCHEN/DINING ROOM: (4m x3,42m) Modern cooker and fridge, washing machine point, 4 electric points, tiled  
  floor and walls. Excellent fitted units. Radiator.
HALL: (1.72m x4.1m) Electric point, telephone point, fitted carpet. Large storage cupboard under the stairs. Radiator.
GARAGE: 1 electric point. Window.
BEDROOM 1: (3.51 m x 3.76m) Radiator, 2 electric points, fitted carpet. Fitted wardrobe.
BEDROOM 2: (3.19m x 3.27m) Radiator, 2 electric points, fitted carpet.
BATHROOM: (2.5m x 2.75m) Modern bath, sink, shower. Small radiator. TOILET.
35 Balmoral Avenue is in the middle of the High Trees Estate, three miles from the town centre. The High Trees Shopping Centre is a short distance away, and so is the High Trees First School.
PRICE: £68,000

Norman & Naylor
ESTATE AGENTS 54 High Street, Sandbourne, Wessex Tel: Sandbourne 513216

35 Balmoral Avenue, High Trees Estate, Sandbourne

A modern detached house, built two years ago, with full gas central heating, excellent modern kitchen, and attractive garden.
Living Room (3.8m x 5.5m) Large picture window, 2 radiators, 6 electric points, TV point, fitted carpet.
Kitchen/Dining Room (4m x 3.5m) AEG cooker, Indesit fridge, point for washing machine, 4 electric points, tiled floor and walls. Fitted units. Radiator.
Hall (1.7m x 4m) Electric point, telephone point, fitted carpet. Large cupboard under the stairs. Radiator.
Garage 1 electric point
Bedroom 1 (3.5m x 3.75m) Radiator, 2 electric points, fitted carpet. Fitted wardrobes.
Bedroom 2 (3.2m x 3.27m) Radiator, 2 electric points, fitted carpet.
Bathroom (2.5m x 2.75m) Modern bath, sink, separate shower. Small radiator. Point for electric shaver.
Toilet With modern WC.
The house is in the very popular High Trees Estate, about 3 miles from the town centre, with an excellent bus service. It is about 1/2 mile from the nearest shops at the High Trees Shopping Centre and 3/4 mile from High Trees First School.

2 Appointment to view

Marilyn hurried into her office, and put the two adverts down on her desk.
She telephoned Burchill and Bradley at five past nine. The phone rang several times, then she heard a voice. 'Hello, this is Burchill and Bradley Estate Agents. This is a recording. I'm sorry, there isn't anyone here at the moment. The office is open from nine thirty until five thirty. If you would like to leave a message, we'll call you back.'
Marilyn put the phone down. She didn't like telephone answering machines. It was easier to call the other estate agent. She looked at the advert again. There it was, Norman and Naylor, 513216. She called the number.
'Good morning. Norman and Naylor. This is Mrs Adams speaking.'
'Oh, good morning,' said Marilyn. 'I've been looking through your adverts. I'm interested in 35 Balmoral Avenue. I wonder if I could see it?'
'Ah, yes,' said Mrs Adams. That's easy. The owners of 35 Balmoral Avenue are both out at work all day. They've given us a set of keys. I can take you round the house at any time. Today, if you like.'
'Could you show us at lunchtime?' asked Marilyn. 'My husband and I both work too. But we're free from twelve thirty until one forty-five.'
'That's all right. I'll meet you outside the house at ... one o'clock. Will that be all right?'
'That's OK, yes. We'll see you then.'
'Do you know where Balmoral Avenue is?' said Mrs Adams.
'Oh, yes. We've been looking for a house on the High Trees Estate.'
'Right. I'll be outside the house in a blue Ford Mondeo at one o'clock, then.'
'Thank you,' said Marilyn. "We'll be in a white Volkswagen. See you at one.'
Marilyn felt very excited. They had seen a lot of houses in the last few weeks, but she felt really interested in this one. She phoned Rick at work, and told him about the appointment. They agreed to meet outside Rick's office at twenty to one.
3 Their first house
Rick was waiting when Marilyn arrived at the office. He jumped into the car, and they drove to Balmoral Avenue. They parked behind the blue Ford Mondeo. Mrs Adams got out, and came to meet them.
'You know, it's much nicer when the owners aren't at home,' she said. 'Yоu can ask as many questions as you want.'
'Yes,' said Rick, 'and you don't have to agree when they tell you how nice the green and orange paint is.'
Mrs Adams laughed. That's true ... now let me find the right keys. I've got so many sets of keys in my bag.'
Mrs Adams found the keys, and opened the door. Marilyn and Rick had been looking for a house just like it.
'It was built just over two years ago,' said Mrs Adams, 'and it has everything you'll need ... central heating, a modern kitchen, and it's been decorated very well. The carpets were put in two years ago, and the cooker and fridge are included in the price. The kitchen's beautiful. Come on, I'll show you.'
They went into the kitchen. 'Have you got any children?' said Mrs Adams.
Marilyn and Rick looked at each other. 'No ... not yet,' said Marilyn.
'Well, there's an excellent school just down the road, and you can see the garden from the kitchen window ...'
Everything was easy. That evening Mrs Adams took them to see Mr and Mrs Barclay, the owners of the house. They were very nice people. They were moving to a bigger house. Marilyn and Rick agreed to buy the house. Two months later it was theirs! They moved in during September. They spent a lot of time painting and decorating. The house didn't really need decorating but they enjoyed doing it. They had been living in rented flats for years, and this was their first house. The weekends were wonderful. They painted, cleaned, decorated and worked in the garden. By Christmas the house really seemed like home.
4 A ghost in the house?
The first of the little surprises came early in January. Marilyn and Rick arrived home, as usual, just after six o'clock one Tuesday evening. Rick opened the door, and went into the kitchen to make some tea. Marilyn followed him in.
'Rick,' she said, 'did you pick up the letters in the hall?'
'No,' he said, 'you know I didn't. You were just behind me.'
'Well, that's funny. Look, the post arrived after we'd left for work. It always does at this house. So, usually it's lying on the doormat when we get home. Right?'
'Yes,' said Rick. 'Why?'
'The post isn't on the floor now. It's in a neat pile on the table, next to the telephone.'
Rick followed her into the hall. There were four or five letters in a pile on the hall table.
'Maybe ... maybe the post arrived earlier than usual today. Perhaps it arrived before we left for work. Maybe we picked it up, put it there, and forgot,' he said.
'No, I'm sure not,' said Marilyn. 'You see, I was waiting for this letter. It's from Wendy. I was thinking about it on the way home.'
The next surprise was two weeks later. They had been out to dinner with friends on Wednesday evening, and they hadn't woken up when the alarm clock rang. Rick woke up at twenty to nine. They both got dressed quickly and left home without breakfast.
They didn't make the bed, and they left their nightclothes on the floor. They were usually very tidy people, but there wasn't enough time. When they got home, Rick went upstairs first.
'Marilyn,' he said, 'come up here.'
Marilyn walked into the bedroom. The bed was made.
Everything looked neat and tidy. She pulled back the bed covers. Rick's pyjamas and her nightdress were folded neatly on the pillows.
'I'm sure we didn't make the bed,' she said.
'Did you come home at lunchtime?' asked Rick.
'No, of course not. I never do. There isn't enough time.'
'Well, you had the car,' he said.
'No, I worked through the lunch hour today. We were busy,' she said. 'Rick, is this a joke? Did you ... ?'
'I didn't come home either,' he said.
'Then, we forgot,' said Marilyn. We made the bed and forgot we'd done it. We drank a lot last night. I mean, we forgot those letters a couple of weeks ago.'
There were a few more surprises in the next few weeks. Once they found the letters on the hall table again. Another time the bathroom light was on. Rick was annoyed. He always worried about the electricity bills.
'Did you leave the bathroom light on?' he said angrily.
'No,' said Marilyn. 'Anyway, you were in the bathroom after me this morning. Rick, you're beginning to forget everything.'
Another time they were late for work, and they left their coffee cups on the table. When they got home, the coffee cups had been washed up, and were standing on the table.
Rick laughed. 'Maybe there's a ghost in the house,' he said. 'A very tidy ghost.'
'Don't be silly,' she said, 'it's a new house, not an old castle. There's no ghost.'
Suddenly there was a flash of lightning, and the noise of thunder. It started raining. She looked out of the window.
'Rick,' she said, 'there isn't a ghost, is there?'
They both laughed then.
They didn't laugh at the next surprise. They had been out to dinner, and they got home late. They were both tired. They went into the living room.
'I'll make some tea, Rick,' said Marilyn. "You look in the newspaper and see what's on television.'
She went into the kitchen.
'Marilyn,' called Rick, 'where's the newspaper? I can't find it.'
She came back into the living room. 'It was on the coffee table. I put it there this morning.'
'It isn't here now,' said Rick.
They looked everywhere for the newspaper, but they couldn't find it anywhere.
'I'm tired of this,' said Rick. 'Let's have a drink.'
He went to the cupboard to get the bottle of whisky they had brought back from holiday two years before. They didn't usually drink whisky, and the bottle was nearly full. Rick opened the cupboard, and there was the newspaper! It was folded neatly, and it was lying next to the bottle.
'Why did you put it in here?' he said.
'I didn't. I was reading it before we left for work, and I put it on the coffee table,' said Marilyn.
'I haven't opened this cupboard for weeks,' said Rick. 'Anyway, neither of us would put the newspaper in here. What's happening?'
Marilyn sat down. 'Rick,' she said, 'you don't think there is a ghost here, do you?'
'What? A tidy ghost? I've never heard of a tidy ghost.'
'Why not?'
Rick sat down too. 'But it's a new house.'
'Maybe someone died here. Maybe one of the Barclays' parents lived with them. Maybe they died here,' said Marilyn.
'Or maybe there were houses here before . . . before the High Trees Estate was built.'
'I don't know,' said Marilyn. 'Maybe we should ask Mr and Mrs Barclay. We've got their new address.'
'We can't,' said Rick, 'it sounds so silly. "Excuse me, Mr Barclay. Did you leave a ghost here? Did you forget to take it with your furniture?" I can't ask them.'
'Well,' said Marilyn, 'I'm going to the library tomorrow lunchtime. I'm going to discover what was here before this house was built.'
5 A visit to the library
The next day, at twelve thirty, Marilyn hurried to the Sandbourne Central Library. She went over to the man at the desk.
'Excuse me,' she said, 'have you got any books about the history of Sandbourne ... old maps, anything like that?'
'Oh, yes,' he said. 'What do you want to know?'
'Er, I'm interested in the High Trees Estate area. I live there, and I've always been interested in history.'
'Well, come over here, we'll have a look.'
Marilyn followed the man to a shelf of books about the history of the area.
'I'm very interested in old stories ... ghost stories ... things like that,' she said.
'Ghost stories?' he said. There won't be many ghost stories about that area. It's all new.'
'Er ... what was there before the housing estate?' asked Marilyn.
'Well, that's easy. It used to be High Trees Farm. They knocked down the farm five, maybe six years ago.'
'Have you got an old map?' she asked.
'Yes, I'll find it for you,' said the man.
When Rick came out of the office, Marilyn was waiting in the car. She opened the door.
'Rick,' she said, 'I went to the library today.'
'Why?' he said. Той don't believe there really is a ghost, do you?'
'I found an old map of the area,' she said. There used to be a farm. The estate is built on an old farm.'
'So?' said Rick.
'I looked at the map. The farmhouse used to be where Balmoral Avenue is now. It used to be right in the middle of Balmoral Avenue.'
'Well, our house, number thirty-five, is right in the middle of the Avenue. Perhaps our house is just where the farmhouse used to be. I looked in another book. The farmhouse was built about two hundred years ago.'
That doesn't mean there's a ghost! There are thousands of old houses with no ghost stories. Anyway, I don't believe in ghosts. And neither do you.'
'Until today,' said Marilyn. 'Can you explain about the newspaper in the cupboard? The letters? The bed that was made? The clean coffee cups? The light in the bathroom?'
'We've been very busy,' said Rick. We've been busy at work, and we've been working hard in our free time on the house. We're forgetting things, that's all.'
'I hope so, Rick,' she said. 'I hope so.'
They arrived home. Marilyn opened the door and turned on the light. There, on the hall table, was a neat pile of letters.
6 Murder at the old farm
A week later there was another surprise, and this time they had a row. It was the worst row since they had got married. They got home, as usual, at six o'clock. Rick went into the living room. 'Marilyn,' he said, 'what's this?'
The ashtray, which was usually on the shelf near the radio, was on the coffee table. A cigarette end was in the ashtray.
'Who's been here?' said Rick.
Marilyn picked up the ashtray. 'Look, Rick,' she said, 'you told me that you had stopped smoking. You know that I don't like smoking.'
'It's not mine,' he said. 'I haven't had a cigarette for more than two years. Have you been home today?'
'No, I haven't,' she said. 'But somebody has. I've never smoked. You know that.'
She picked up the cigarette end. There was red lipstick on it. She showed it to Rick.
'A woman's been here,' she said. 'What's happening, Rick? Who is she?'
'A woman ghost that smokes Marlboro cigarettes,' he said.
'It isn't funny, Rick,' she said. She went to the door. 'I'm going out for a walk. Don't come with me. I want to think.'
Marilyn walked along Balmoral Avenue. All the houses were the same. They had all been built two years before. She walked round the corner into Osborne Way. There was one older house at the end of Osborne Way. It had been there before the estate was built. An old man was working in the garden.
'Good evening,' said Marilyn.
'Good evening,' he replied. 'It's a lovely evening, isn't it?'
'Yes,' she said. 'Er ... have you lived here for a long time?'
'Oh, yes, my dear,' he said. 'I've been living here for thirty years.'
'Do you remember the old farm ... the one that used to be here before the estate was built?'
'High Trees Farm? Of course I do. I used to work there.' The old man walked over to her.
'Who lived there?' said Marilyn.
'Why are you interested in High Trees Farm?' he said. You're from one of the new houses, aren't you?'
'Er, yes,' said Marilyn. 'I'm very interested in history ... the history of this area.'
'Well, the farm belonged to old Giles Varley. He lived there by himself - since his wife died, that is. He was a strange man. Nobody liked him very much. I didn't. He used to be a very difficult boss, you see. Everything had to be in the right place. "Don't put that on the shelf!" he used to say to me. "Put it in the cupboard!" And the house . . . I've never seen a place as clean and tidy as that house. His wife had always been a very tidy woman, and he wanted to keep the house the same. Yes, poor old Varley.'
'What happened to him?' said Marilyn.
'Don't you remember?' said the old man. 'It was in all the newspapers six or seven years ago.'
'We didn't live in Sandbourne then,' said Marilyn.
'It was sad,' he said, 'very sad. They never found the murderer, either.'
'The murderer?' said Marilyn.
'That's right. He was murdered in the old farmhouse. A robber, that's what the police thought. I found the body, you know.'
Marilyn felt suddenly cold. 'I see,' she said. Well, thank you. It's been very interesting.'
'Good night, then,' said the old man. Marilyn turned round and walked home very slowly.
When she got home, Rick was in the garden. They had bought a small tree at the weekend, and Rick was putting it in the front garden. He called to her.
'Marilyn! Come here. Look at this!'
She walked over to him. There was a hole in the ground for the tree. There were a lot of old bricks in the hole.
'So,' he said, 'there was a building here before they built this house. Do you think it was the old farmhouse?'
Marilyn felt cold. 'Rick,' she said, 'come inside. We'll have a cup of tea. I've got something to tell you.'
7 The ghost appears
A few days later, both Marilyn and Rick caught flu. They felt terrible all weekend. On Monday neither of them felt well enough to go to work. They telephoned their offices, and decided to spend the day at home. It was a boring day. They both had headaches, and they spent the day in the living room. Rick watched videos, Marilyn read a book from the library, Ghosts of Sandbourne and East Wessex. At half past two Marilyn suddenly looked up.
'What's that?' she said.
They heard voices outside the front door. Then they heard the sound of a key in the lock. Rick jumped up. 'What ...?'
They heard footsteps in the hall.
'It's a very nice hall.' It was a man's voice. Rick and Marilyn looked at each other. Then the living room door began to open. Marilyn took Rick's hand. Two men and a woman walked into the room. They stopped in surprise.
'What are you doing here?' said Rick angrily. 'Oh, I'm terribly sorry,' said one of the men. 'I thought you were out.'
He turned to the man and woman behind him. 'Oh, this is Mr and Mrs Patterson. They're very interested in your house.'
'And who are you?' said Marilyn.
'Oh, I'm sorry. Of couse we haven't met. I'm Michael Webb. From Burchill and Bradley. I'm very pleased to meet you, Mrs Barclay.'
'I'm not Mrs Barclay!' said Marilyn. The Barclays moved months ago. Last September.'
Rick was laughing. 'Ah! I understand! You're the tidy ghost.'
Mr Webb looked worried. 'The tidy ghost? I don't understand ...'
'Yes, the tidy ghost,' said Rick. He turned to Marilyn. The letters, the nightclothes, the newspaper ...'
Marilyn was laughing too. '... the lipstick on the cigarette, the coffee cups, the bathroom light,' she said.
'I'm sorry,' said Mr Webb, 'I really don't understand.'
'We bought the house from the Barclays. We bought it through Norman and Naylor ... and you're from Burchill and Bradley, the other estate agents!' said Marilyn.
'Oh, I see!' said Mr Webb. The Barclays never told us that the house had been sold. I've been showing the house to people for six months. I am sorry. The Barclays gave us a set of keys, and told us to show people the house when they were at work.'
Marilyn smiled. 'And you've been tidying the house for us, haven't you?' she said.
Mr Webb looked uncomfortable and embarrassed. His face was going redder and redder.
'Er, yes,' he said. 'You see, I usually arrive before the people that want to see the house. So ... I've been coming in and ... er, tidying things.'
'And the cigarette with lipstick?' said Marilyn.
'Yes, I'm sorry about that. I brought a lady to see the house, Mrs Green. She wanted a cigarette while we were talking about the house. I forgot to throw it away. I remembered later in the evening. Didn't you know that it was someone looking at the house?'
'Well, no ... we didn't,' said Marilyn.
'Oh, dear,' said Mr Webb. 'I hope there wasn't any trouble about it.'
'I thought ...' Marilyn looked at Rick. 'I thought my husband ...' Then she felt sorry for Mr Webb, who was very embarrassed. 'I thought my husband had started smoking again,' she said.
Mr Webb remembered that Marilyn had said 'the cigarette with lipstick'. He went redder again.
'I'm very, very sorry,' he said.
Marilyn smiled. She looked at Mr and Mrs Patterson, who were looking embarrassed too.
'It's a pity,' said Mrs Patterson. 'It's a lovely house, and it's a lovely area.'
'Yes, well, it's my fault. I'm sorry I've wasted your time,' said Mr Webb.
'It isn't your fault,' Marilyn said. The Barclays didn't tell you they had moved. Look, can I get you all a cup of tea?'
'Yes, please take a seat,' said Rick. 'I know that Mr and Mrs Collins at number twenty-nine are trying to sell their house. It's just the same as this one. Perhaps we're going to be neighbours!'
Mr and Mrs Patterson sat down. Mr Patterson picked up Marilyn's book which was lying on the coffee table.
'Hmm,' he said, 'Ghosts of Sandbourne and East Wessex. I hope there aren't any ghosts round here.'
'Oh, no,' said Marilyn, 'there aren't any ghosts round here. They're all new houses.'
She went into the kitchen to make the tea. They had had a cup of tea and a sandwich an hour earlier, and she hadn't washed up. There, on the kitchen table was the teapot, and a neat pile of plates and cups. She opened the teapot. It was clean!
'But...' she said. Then she heard a laugh behind her. It was Rick. 'Don't worry,' he said, 'it was me. I came out and washed up half an hour ago. Don't you remember?'