Theo Gift was not, in fact, a man, but a pseudonym of Dorothy Havers, a great personal friend of the acclaimed children’s fiction author, Edith Nesbit. Havers occasionally collaborated with Nesbit on her juvenile fiction, though Nesbit also had a taste for the fiction of the ghostly and other worldly and wrote some well-regarded supernatural stories. Although Havers was born in the English county of Norfolk, she moved to the Falkland Islands with her parents in 1854 and in later life wrote fiction for girls set in the South Atlantic islands, which brilliantly describe the local landscape and flora. In 1879 she married George Boulger, a botanist. Her output of supernatural fiction was, though excellent, not large, being principally confined to a small volume entitled, ‘Not for the Night Time’ published in 1889 which contains four substantial tales. Ghost stories are ideally suited to shorter length and in these tales are no exception, though they are perhaps longer than the norm. Havers died in England in 1923.
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July 17th.—Lily has had a nasty fright this evening, for which I hope she won’t be any the worse. She was lying on a couch out in the veranda for the first time since her convalescence, and I had been reading to her till she fell asleep, when I closed the book, and, leaving the bell beside her in case she should want anything, went into my study to write letters.
I hadn’t been there for half an hour, however, when I was startled by a cry from Lily’s voice and a sharp ringing of the bell, which made me fling open the study window and dart round to the veranda at the back of the house. It was empty, but in the drawing-room within Lily was standing upright, trembling with terror and clinging to her maid, while she tried to explain to her that there was someone hidden in the veranda or close by, though so incoherently, owing to the state of agitation she was in, that it was not till I and the man-servant had searched veranda, garden, and outbuildings, and found nothing, that I was even able to understand what had frightened her.
It appeared then that she had been suddenly awakened from sleep by the pressure of a heavy hand on her shoulder, and a hot breath—so close, it seemed as if someone were about to whisper in her ear—upon her cheek. She started up, crying out, ‘Who’s that? What is it?’ but was only answered by a hasty withdrawal of the pressure, and the pit-pat of heavy but shoeless feet retreating through the dusk to the further end of the veranda. In a sudden access of ungovernable terror she screamed out, sprang to her feet, ringing the bell as she did so, and rushed into the drawing-room, where she was fortunately joined by her maid, who had been passing through the hall when the bell rang.
Well, as I said, we searched high and low, and not a trace of any intruder could we find; nay, not even a stray cat or dog, and we have none of our own. The garden isn’t large, and there is neither tree nor shrub in it big enough to conceal a boy. The gate leading into the road was fastened inside, and the wall is too high for easy climbing; while the maid, having been in the hall, could certify that no one had passed out through the drawing-room.
Finally I came to the conclusion that the whole affair was the outcome of one of those very vivid dreams which sometimes come to us in the semi-conscious moment between sleep and waking; and though Lily, of course, wouldn’t hear of such an idea for a long while, I think even she began to give in to it after the doctor had been sent for, and had pronounced it the only rational one, and given her a composing draught before sending her off to bed. At present she is sleeping soundly, but it has been a disturbing evening, and I’m glad it’s over.
September 20th.—Have seen Dr. C—— today, and he agrees with —— that there is nothing for it but change and bracing air. He declares that the fright Lily had in July must have been much more serious than we imagined, and that she has never got over it. She seemed to do so. She was out and about after her confinement as soon as other people; but I remember now her nerves seemed gone from the first. She was always starting, listening, and trembling without any cause, except that she appeared in constant alarm lest something should happen to the baby; and as I took that to be a common weakness with young mothers over their first child, I’m afraid I paid no attention to it.
We’ve a very nice nurse for the boy, a young Irishwoman named Bridget McBean (not that she’s ever seen Ireland herself, but her parents came from there, driven by poverty to earn their living elsewhere, and after faithfully sending over every farthing they could screw out of their own necessities to ‘the ould folks at home,’ died in the same poverty here). Bridget is devoted to the child, and as long as he is in her care Lily generally seems easy and peaceful. Otherwise (and some strange instinct seems to tell her when this is the case) she gets nervous at once, and is always restless and uneasy.
Once she awoke with a scream in the middle of the night, declaring, ‘Something was wrong with baby. Nurse had gone away and left it; she was sure of it!’ To pacify her I threw on my dressing-gown and ran up to the nursery to see; and, true enough, though the boy was all right and sound asleep, nurse was absent, having gone up to the cook’s room to get something for her toothache. She came back the next moment, and I returned to satisfy Lily, but she would scarcely listen to me.
‘Is it gone?’ she asked. ‘Was the nursery door open? Oh, if it had been! Thank God, you were in time to drive the thing down. But how—how could it have got into the house?’
‘It? What?’ I repeated, staring.
‘The dog you passed on the stairs. I saw it as it ran past the door—a big black dog!’
‘My dear, you’re dreaming. I passed no dog; nothing at all.’
‘Oh, Harry, didn’t you see it then? I did, though it went by so quietly. Oh, is it in the house still?’
I seized the candle, went up and downstairs and searched the whole house thoroughly; but again, found nothing. The fancied dog must have been a shadow on the wall only, and I told her so pretty sharply; yet on two subsequent occasions when, for some reason or another, she had the child’s cot put beside her own bed at night, I was woke by finding her sitting up and shaking with fright, while she assured me that something—some animal—had been trying to get into the room. She could hear its breathing distinctly as it scratched at the door to open it! Dr. C—— is right. Her nerves are clearly all wrong, and a thorough change is the only thing for her. How glad I am that the builder writes me my Kerry shooting-box is finished! We’ll run over there next week.