the heron island mystery (part seven)

This story started here.

At that moment, Mrs. Jessup came in with a tray with four big mugs of hot chocolate. She distributed them, and Mary and I took a sip as Mrs. Jessup sat down on the sofa.

My employer noted that our landlady had joined us, but she didn’t comment. After all, it was Mrs. Jessup’s house, and she had opened her parlor for our use outside of the regularly scheduled hours.

“Did the Loomis family stay in the house during last summer?” my employer asked. She sipped her hot chocolate, to be polite (she didn’t like hot chocolate), and then she put the mug on the table.

Mary frowned. “I don’t think so. I applied over the summer, and they were very relaxed about when I could move in.”

“So, you’re new in the house?”

“Yes. I didn’t like the dorms last year, and now I’m a sophomore and I can live off-campus, so it looked like a good deal. My parents… they were okay with it when I told them it was all girls. The other girls–“

My employer held up a hand. “Before we get too far into the details, we should make sure that this is actually going to be worth my time and attention. Why are you here?”

Now she hesitated, “We’re afraid the house is haunted.”

“And you’re hoping I’ll come in and lay the ghost?” She shrugged. “The idea of being a ghost hunter sounds amusing — mildly amusing — but I have actual, serious work to do. I have an article I’m writing, and a book that I need to get back to.”

“We already have a ghost hunter, actually, a guy named Manfred, and I don’t trust him.”

That got my employer’s attention, though she tried to conceal her reaction.

“Manfred?” she said slowly. “I’ve heard of him. He was… something of a sensation when I was a student. He had written a book — which I confess I never read — about spirits and hauntings and whatnot, and he made some specific claims about some of the buildings at the college. Which were never proved, as far as I can remember. The oldest buildings were part of a family estate, before it was a college — those may have been the ones he was investigating.”

She made a face.

“Is he still hanging around — Manfred? He was not a student, or a professor (though I got the idea that he wanted to be some sort of teacher or something like that — but he lacked qualifications, to say the least), so I rather assumed that he would move on at some point, when he’d exhausted the supply of ready suckers in this area.

“He was still around when I left college, but people were starting to get sick of him — or maybe that was just wishful thinking on my part. So, why is he… what purpose is he serving now?”

“He’s hunting ghosts. And it looks like we have them, on the island.”

“Evidence? Is there actual evidence?”

She shrugged. It was hard to tell if she was about to defend a theory that she knew my employer wouldn’t take seriously, or a theory that she didn’t believe herself. I had the impression that she believed it more than she would be willing to admit in front of this particular audience.

“There are things that we can’t explain. Not a lot, but regular, on a regular basis. Things vanish, in the house, and we search all over, decide somebody walked off with them, and later they show up, in unexpected places. Creepy writing appears on the blackboard in the kitchen, where we make shopping lists, but then it vanishes right away.”

My employer made a face, as if she was disappointed that this “evidence” was so paltry.

“There have also been odd noises at night, from time to time, and then we find icky, slimy footprints in the morning. And one girl who lived there last semester saw a ghost, or said she did.”

My employer’s mood seemed to perk up.

To be continued…

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