The only peril in this story is to read it whilst you're drinking a cup of tea.
'Do you believe in ghosts?' asked Mr Mulliner abruptly.
I weighed the question thoughtfully. I was a little surprised, for nothing in our previous conversation had suggested the topic.
'Well,' I replied, 'I don't like them, if that's what you mean. I was once butted by one as a child.'
'Ghosts. Not goats.'
The narrator tells Mr Mulliner about his distant cousin, James Rodman, who lived for a brief time in a haunted cottage. It was bequeathed to him by his aunt, the author Leila J Pinckney, who writes literature that he describes as 'Squashily Sentimental'. James writes sensational mystery stories with nasty men and weapons. Aunt Leila was keen on having James out of London as she was a great believer in the influence of environment.
She often asked him if he thought it quite nice to harp so much on sudden death and blackmailers with squints.
Coincidence has it that James was in the market for a country property when Aunt Leila dies so he quickly settles in at Honeysuckle Cottage. But when he tries to get back to his writing he keeps having the urge to write a beautiful lady into the story! Sinister landladies in a detective story have their place but what was this? Could James possibly be becoming soft?
A pretty, young girl, carrying a fluffy white dog, shows up at the cottage and there's an accident. The chivalrous James saves Rose Maynard from worse injury and on doctor's orders she is left to recuperate at the cottage. Suddenly, the doctor is describing his patient as 'an elfin child; a tender, fairy creature.' It's all frothy whip whenever anyone has anything to say! This all becomes very worrying to James as he is a confirmed bachelor and doesn't like where this is heading. Even the apple-cheeked housekeeper thinks this recent guest is 'like a blessed angel sitting there with her dear eyes all a-shining.'
But then, dashing Colonel Carteret, shows up looking for Rose. He held her father in his arms while he died during the war, promising to marry the angelic creature. James is off the hook...but wait! He saves Rose's fluffy dog from drowning which is an irresistible act to any woman. Dashing Colonel Carteret '0', James '1'. Unable to control himself, James has hold of Rose's hand as he tells her...
'Let me tell you a story. Once upon a time there was a lonely man who lived in a cottage all by himself...'
He stopped. Was it James Rodman who was talking this bilge?
'Yes?' whispered the girl.
Just then, William, James big lug of a dog jumps all over him breaking the spell! James leaves the cottage, never to return, but it has left an ineradicable mark on him.
His eyes to-day have that unmistakable look which is to be seen only in the eyes of confirmed bachelors whose feet have been dragged to the very brink of the pit and who have gazed at close range into the naked face of matrimony.
As a married woman I could be offended, but I'm not...just very amused. Deacon liked it too! He was whimpering while I was reading so I started to read out loud. Next thing I knew, he laid down and rolled on his side, listening contentedly, good boy. Perhaps for a little while we had Aunt Leila's ghost in our house!