First published 1938. Illustrations by Mr Kees Van Loon.
nce, not so long ago and not so far away, there lived a good little girl named Weezie. Actually, she was not so little as all that any more and perhaps not so good either. Her Mama and Papa said that since she had so shot up the summer before she should be called by her proper name, which was not Weezie but something horrid.
When people used her proper name, she would pretend not to hear. She had been pretending for so long that now she really did not hear, and would go on humming to herself and ignoring her parents until they finally abandoned the effort and called out 'Weezie, my Weeze, please not to tease!' Then she would look up and come indoors at a run.
Weezie liked to wear her blue pinafore, though its hem was well above her knees and Papa said she looked like a heron in it. She was still having lessons from Miss Emily Ginn, her governess, though she had been told she would have to go away to a school when the leaves started to fall from the trees.
She lived with her Mama and Papa -- and Miss Emily Ginn, Peter the Man, Katie the Cook and the goats Frisky and Whiskey -- at Hilltop Heights, a big old house in the countryside far away from the city. Only Weezie knew, for she was clever in a way grown-ups had forgotten, that others lived with them. She knew that Hilltop Heights was a Haunted House.
Everyone who ever lived at Hilltop, even when there was just a hill there without a house, had stayed on.
Oldest among the ghosts was Club, a Piltdown Man. He was not very bright and had little forehead to speak of, but was Weezie's best friend in all the world. His special place was in the hay-loft, which had once been his cave. Weezie and Club made drawings together, of the strange animals that had lived on the hilltop in his time and the strange people who lived there now. Club was a highly talented artist and would certainly be as wealthy and respected as Mr Van Loon if he were alive today.
The other ghosts were her friends too.
Sidney the Saxon and Guillaume the Norman, who had fought with thick, brittle swords. Goodie the milkmaid and Crispin the Fey, who had eloped together to spite Proud Queen Titania and shared a love that was still sung of. Rupert the Cavalier and Noll the Roundhead, who had fought with thin, tempered swords. Adventurous Captain Jack Persimmon, who had sailed the seven seas and had a leg eaten by cannibals and an arm eaten by a shark; and his stay-at-home brother Old Jarge Percy, who had lived to a hundred and twelve without ever walking beyond sight of Hilltop Heights. Sometimes, the ghosts played jokes. When a psychical investigator came from London to look over Hilltop Heights, they perpetrated such fearful pranks on him that Weezie had to become very grown-up and tell them all off. It was not nice to turn a man's hat inside-out in mid-air in front of him, even if he did lisp so that when he mentioned 'ectoplasmic manifestations' it came out as 'ectoplaththmic manifeththtationthth' and half a gallon of spit.
Hilltop Heights was an enchanted place. Every cupboard and carpet had its special qualities. In Weezie's room was a magic chest of drawers. The top drawer always had the same thing in and the bottom drawer never had the same thing twice and the middle drawer was always a jumble of surprises. Weezie loved surprises
The ghosts were Weezie's best friends.
One ghost, however, was not Weezie's friend. The Gloomy Ghost.
She didn't know his real name and none of the others did either. He didn't show himself as he had looked when he was alive but instead lingered about a dreary part of the hilltop as a thick black cloud or a pool of murky slime. He clung low to the ground and seeped into the house like damp. Whenever the Gloomy Ghost was about, even on the sunniest and happiest of days, it felt like a long rainy Wednesday afternoon. Weezie thought of him when she had toothache, and imagined his shadow gathering under the eaves when Miss Emily Ginn made her recite the seven times table.
Whenever china was dropped or a toe stubbed, the Gloomy Ghost was there. Whenever jam spoiled or a window broke, the Gloomy Ghost was sensed leaving the scene of the crime. But the worst habit of the Gloomy Ghost was that when he was most up to mischief, he would arrange matters so that Weezie, and not he, would take the blame.
She had lost count of the suppers she had missed and the times she had been sent to her room to learn her lesson. When that happened, the other ghosts would keep her company and endeavour to cheer her up.
They meant well and kept trying to help with her history lessons, but whenever Sidney and Guillaume or Rupert and Noll tried to tell her about the days in which they had lived they got into arguments and forgot all about her.
Then, when even the nice ghosts were ignoring her, Weezie felt in her bones an icy shudder that she knew was the Gloomy Ghost's chuckle. He could only be happy if she was not. When she was unhappy she leaked tears and screwed up her face until she became what Papa called 'a Sneezy Weezie'. She hated to be called 'a Sneezy Weezie' more than she hated spinach and wasps, which were the worst things in the world. The only thing she hated more was her horrid, horrid real name.
The only times the Gloomy Ghost laughed out loud was when someone called Weezie 'a Sneezy Weezie'. At those times, it was all Weezie could do not to blub like a baby.
All the ghosts had special places in Hilltop Heights, like Club's cave or Goodie and Crispin's herb garden. The Gloomy Ghost's special place was a sad copse down by a stagnant stream. When not making mischief for Weezie, the Gloomy Ghost lay on the rocks like a pool of black slime or hovered low about stunted roots like a thick mist. More than anything, he liked it when Weezie got some of him on her blue pinafore and she had to wear something else until it was laundered.
One morning, as a glorious summer morning was dawning and the ghosts were calling to Weezie to play outside in the sunshine, black ink was spilled over Papa's ledgers and trailed across Mama's best carpet by Weezie's shoes. It was useless for her to protest that she had not been wearing the shoes, had in fact outgrown them months ago. There was blame to be had and she would have to take it.
In her room, jailed for a whole day, she was a Sneezy Weezie. There was nothing else for it.
Why was the Gloomy Ghost so gloomy?
None of the others could tell her. He just was what he was.
She wished now that the ghosts had been nicer to the psychical investigator. He might have been able to tell her what to do about the Gloomy Ghost.
When finally let out of her room for supper, which she was to take today without dessert as a punishment, she was determined to sort the Gloomy Ghost out.
Things could not go on like this.
After supper, when it was almost dark and the summer day was gone forever, she went out to the Gloomy Ghost's copse and stood over his black pool of slime.
'Why are you so horrid to me?' she asked, out loud. 'I've never hurt you, and nor has anyone else.'
The black pool rippled.
She thought the Gloomy Ghost was laughing and stamped her foot. A loose stone splashed into the pool.
Suddenly, she felt awful inside.
The Gloomy Ghost was not laughing. He was crying, harder than she had in her room.
She forgot that she was very angry.
For the first time, between sobs, the ghost spoke.
'You gave me your toothache,' he said. 'And that hideous multiplication table. Ghosts feel only what people near them feel, and whenever I came near you, you felt only nasty things. Seven Times Seven'
She was surprised. She had not understood.
'And why do you call me Gloomy? I don't like it at all. No more than you like to be called Sneezy or ...'
He used her real name, her horrid name. Hearing it was like a slap across her face.
Weezie's heart ached. She thought back and couldn't remember when the Gloomy Ghost started to be gloomy. It seemed to be ever since she had known of him. But, she realised, she had been the one who gave him his name. The others had picked it up from her.
To him, it was as bad as her real name was to her. He hadn't chosen it and he hated it. If he was called Gloomy, he became gloomy. Worse than gloomy, cruel and mean. But, underneath, he wasn't like that. He wasn't like anything. He was a ghost.
She wanted to comfort him.
'There, there,' she said, letting her hand lie close to the pool but not touching the slime. 'What would you like to be called?'
'I ... I don't know. I've forgotten my name.'
A tear leaked from her eye and dropped into the pool. Where it fell, the black became clear as water but thinner than liquid like pure light.
'I think I'd like to be called Merry,' said the Gloomy Ghost.
'The Merry Ghost?'
The pool rippled. Some slime accidentally got on Weezie's hand and before she could think not to she had wiped it on her pinafore, leaving a black streak. She frowned, but made herself not get angry.
As she watched, controlling herself, the streak faded to nothing.
The black pool rose up and became white, taking shape.
The Merry Ghost was a little boy, younger than Weezie but about her height. She could see through him, but he had a definite form. He was smiling but his eyes had no practice at not looking sad so they gave him away.
Her tear coursed through him, through the ghost-stuff of his body, until it touched his still-beating heart.
He smiled and reached out to hug Weezie.
His arms were clean but cold, and she shivered in his hug. It was a comforting shiver, a happy chill descending after a hot, stuffy day indoors.
From then on, the ghost was no longer gloomy.
Until she went away to school, Weezie was best friends with the Merry Ghost and Hilltop Heights was the happiest of haunted houses.
They had many other adventures, and perhaps you'll hear about some of them one day.
* finis *