For today’s Daily Prompt, “Entertain,” Wallie and I offer another snippet from a work-in-progress–a story in which a little girl is helped solving a crime by the ghost of a detective. The ghost is summoned to help her when Maddie plays a harp she found in the attic room. This is a scene in which he explains the harp to her.
A Harp and a Ghost
‘Do you want to know the story of my harp?’ he asked.
I couldn’t care less. But it was his delicate asking, and the way he pulled the chair to my bedside, that interested me.
“It was during a case,” said Mr. Ingham. “I was murdered. Death is fearful enough on its own, but I’ll tell you what made it worse was my wife. She sat at the bedside long after the doctors had given me over and held my hands and warmed them, never asking if she could ease me for she knew she couldn’t. We said our words, we two, and it made me cry to see her there and feel so poorly. I didn’t want to leave her. But she kissed me like a parent would see, like this”—he kissed his hand and put it to his forehead—”and told me it would come out right. I was dying, but I’ll tell you the way she said that put a chill in me like living again.”
I raised my head from the pillow. “Did she save you?”
“You could call it that.” He nodded over his knees. “There was a thrill and a sound, and here I was. No one was more astonished than myself. That woman made an instrument of me, handsome finish too. I never imagined such handsomeness. This harp, Maddie, is me—my bone in the frame, the pegs. I shivered to think she’d used my hair for the strings, but she called me a silly and asked when had my hair ever been long enough for that?
“‘Let’s find the devil who’s done ye,’ she said. ‘What do you say, Paddie? It’s our best mystery yet.’
“I was for that. It was the joy of seeing her again, and then, it was a fine case. We solved it together and it was old times. She got to asking me about the afterlife and I’ll be honest as I was to her, I couldn’t remember beyond a feeling. It was a beautiful feeling, I said, and she laughed and told me to get on because I was going to cry again and what business did a good ghost have with crying? I told her it was sweet to remember and my grief was leaving her again.
“‘I was alright, Bet,’ I said. ‘And now it’s killing me I’ll be leaving you.’
“‘Leaving me?’ she said. ‘What put that in your head?’
“Well there I was blinking at her, stupid, and she goes to me and puts her hand on my face so I can just feel the warmth of her.
“‘Don’t talk of leaving, Paddie,’ she said. ‘You’re with me here and that’s a blessing.’
“‘But Bet,’ says I.
“‘Now,’ says she, ‘don’t you be thinking I’ll keep you against your will. Say the word, man, and I’ll let you go.’ But there was a look on her face like she was trying to be brave and couldn’t, and it broke my heart to see her so.
“‘No, no,’ I say, ‘it’s not in me to part us. I’m yours, sweet heart’—see I say it like two words, not one, for it’s the truth with me and not a pretty thing—‘sweet heart, I am yours, and it pleases me to please you. But there is one thing I ask, no, beg of you, it nags me so.’ Do you get that, Maddie? One thing?”
I nod at him, eyes wide.
“‘What is it?’ asks my wife. ‘Anything, Paddie, and it’s yours.’
“‘When it gets to your time,’ I says, ‘you must destroy this harp. I can bear to be played by you but none else.’
“Well she promised. We had rare times together. I’ll not bore you with those games that’ll only embarrass wise and sensible children—the way she smiled at me when a case was done or when we sat together at the fire, quiet, with all the love in the world between us. Her time came but I was there to comfort her as she’d been a comfort to me. And when she passed, by grace I joined in the passing.”
“Are you happy?” I asked.
He looked at me, surprised. Then his features softened. “Aye, Maddie,” he said. “We are very happy.”
I looked away.
“One thing remains,” he said. “The harp was not broken. She could not bear to break it. From what you’ve told me, I’ve enough sense to know I won’t visit everyone who plays a chord. Not everyone, but someone. You have a mystery. That is what bound me to my wife. Mystery is the soul of being, and it is mystery that calls me. Sure you have no skill playing, so it can’t be that.”
I made a noise but I smiled too.
“We will find Cicero, Maddie,” said Mr. Ingham. “We will solve this case. That I promise you.”
I looked up at him. “What if we can’t?”
“What? Have I not inspired ye?” He shook his head and drew the covers solicitously to my chin. “Sleep, girl. Sleep. And tomorrow we’ll look at this case with clearer eyes.”