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The Ghost of a Liverpool Christmas Past


There is a certain old house in Liverpool's Clarence Street that is the scene of supernatural unrest every time the festive season is upon us. Strange rappings are heard on doors and the sounds of a disgruntled voice cursing a long-dead man named Charles reach a crescendo around Christmas Eve, when the ruffled ghost puts in an appearance. He is a man of around 50 years of age who wears a long purple velveteen coat, a grey waistcoat, and a pair of long narrow trousers. So many people have seen him over the years, from the year 1910 to the present day, and from the accounts given by terrified witnesses, we know that the Christmas spectre of Clarence Street smokes a pipe, and wears a pair of wire-framed spectacles which he peers over as he paces backwards and forwards before a cast-iron fireplace in the sitting room of the house. The phantom goes through his paces in his personal limbo at the same time every Christmas Eve - at precisely ten to eleven at night. The spectre always ends his ghostly performance by resting his head on the mantelpiece and sobbing. He then fades away, leaving an aromatic mist of pipe tobacco hanging in the air. Five years ago, the ghost put in his seasonal appearance and the poor tomcat of the family who were staying there was so terrified it leapt out the first floor window and almost ended its ninth life. For years, generations of residents at the haunted house have pondered on the ghost's identity, but a couple of years ago, a certain ghost researcher finally solved the mystery of this ghost of Christmas past. Here's the tale he uncovered.
The ghost of the Christmas past, by Dicken

At the aforementioned address in Clarence Street in the Victorian age, there lived a middle-aged bachelor, a doctor named Humphrey Brooke, who became infatuated with a girl less than half his age. She was the daughter of a Duke Street shipping magnate named Felicia Clayton. Felicia was 20 years old with flaxen blonde hair and a stunning curvaceous figure. Every hot-blooded male seemed to be in love with the girl and she was constantly receiving scores of love letters and invitations to every dance ball and soiree in the city. Humphrey Brooke was around 50 years of age, and knew he could never be remotely regarded as attractive to the opposite sex. He had a hook nose, failing eyesight, a stoop from hunching over his medical books, and an asthmatic cough because of his incessant pipe-smoking. On top of all that he suffered from long bouts of debilitating rheumatism in his joints. And yet, he was completely infatuated with the seemingly untouchable beautiful Felicia. It had all started in the autumn of that year when Brooke attended the funeral of Jesse Hartley, the eminent engineer who had transformed the Liverpool waterfront with his magnificent docks and warehouses. Felicia and her father attended the funeral too, and Dr Brooke was briefly introduced to the young beauty. He kissed her hand and she smiled at him several times during that sombre afternoon.

And since then, he had seen Miss Clayton twice. Once in Rodney Street, alighting from a hansom cab in Abercromby Square, and on the second occasion, she had waved to the doctor in Bold Street while walking hand in hand with a rich suitor, a young Colonel Burns. Dr Brooke was flabbergasted at the way Felicia had acknowledged him with that wave of her gloved hand. The girl and her beau walked on down Bold Street, but she turned twice and smiled at Dr Brooke, and this naturally turned the Colonel crimson with jealousy. The bachelor Brooke returned to his house with a spring in his step and wrote of his encounters with Felicia in a little black book. Brooke also scribbled down his outrageous plans to win Felicia's heart. The most realistic plan was quite straightforward. A Christmas Eve ball was to take place at a prestigious address of a Rodney Street magistrate. Humphrey Brooke had already received an invitation to the ball. The invitation card said the doctor was entitled to bring a lady friend to the ball, and so, Mr Brooke lovingly wrote the name Felicia Clayton on the invite and studied how the ornate card looked with his name next to the woman who was the light of his life in the short gloomy days of December. Upon the following morning, Dr Brooke's friend, a cotton merchant named Charles Wilson visited his friend at the surgery in Clarence Street. Wilson was five years younger than his doctor friend, and had a legendary reputation for chasing the opposite sex. Wilson asked Brooke if he had anything planned for Christmas, as he hadn't, and wanted a bit of company in the taverns of Liverpool over the festive season. Dr Brooke said he had plans for Christmas Eve which involved a beautiful young woman. Wilson said, 'This isn't another of your fantasies involving a certain Miss Clayton, who is young enough to be your daughter is it?'

Before he could answer, a woman rushed into the surgery and pleaded with Dr Brooke to come at once to treat her father, who had collapsed and was having a seizure. Brooke knew the woman's father, and he grabbed his medical bag and rushed out the surgery, leaving Wilson behind. Wilson was a nosey fellow, and he opened a drawer in the doctor's desk and read the little black book. Wilson grinned and sniggered as he read the book's entries about Felicia. 'Ah, there's no fool like an old fool.' Wilson whispered to himself, and he saw the invitation card with his friend's name on with Felicia's name next to it. Wilson also came across a copy of a letter asking Miss Clayton to come to the ball.

Wilson was intrigued at his friend's crush on the sensuous young woman, and he paid a visit to Dr Brooke on the following day in the late afternoon. Wilson chuckled and asked the doctor if Felicia had accepted his invitation. Brooke was outraged and realised that Wilson had read his secret journal. 'How dare you pry into my personal life!' But Brooke had a suprise for his nosey friend. He produced a letter and handed it to him.

'What's this? A writ for prying?' Wilson joked, but when he read the letter, its contents wiped the smile off his face. It was from Felicia Clayton. She had accepted Dr Brooke's invitation to the Christmas Eve dance ball. Wilson was consumed with jealousy. He threw the letter on the desk and left, saying, 'Ha! It will all come to nothing. Age and youth are like oil and water, they can never mix.'

And so, on that Christmas Eve, Dr Brooke wore a fine purple velveteen jacket and his best embroidered grey silken waistcoat. He stood before the fireplace, pacing up and down, with butterflies in his stomach. A feeling he hadn't experienced since the courting days of his youth, so many decades ago. There was a heavy jangling of the front door bell which startled the doctor. He answered, thinking that perhaps Felicia had decided to call upon him. The caller was a shivering red-nosed youth; a messenger boy who handed Dr Brooke a sealed envelope. Brooke tipped the messenger and read the letter. His heart broke on the spot. Felicia had had a dramatic change of heart, and no longer wished to go to the ball with the doctor. She was now going to the ball with her long-time admirer Colonel Burns. And the letter, written by Felicia's father, warned Brooke to keep away from his daughter in future and to act his age. Unknown to Brooke, his so-called friend Charles Wilson had sent an anonymous letter to Felicia's father, warning him of Dr Brooke's outrageous and obnoxious plans to have romantic involvements with Felicia. Ironically, Felicia was a strong-headed girl, and she disobeyed her father's instructions and went to the Christmas Eve ball, where she looked everywhere for Dr Brooke, but he was nowhere to be seen. Felicia knew the doctor wasn't much to look at, but his romantic letters to her had moved the girl so much, and Felicia was determined to meet Humphrey. In the end, Felicia Clayton went home, much to the disappointment of the males at the ball.

But Dr Brooke was devastated by the letter, and on that Christmas Eve, he died from what seems to have been a heart attack, no doubt brought on by the emotional turmoil of the apparent rejection from the girl who made his life worth living. Brooke knocked the clock from the mantelpiece as he fell dead on the hearth rug, and the clock broke; its dial recorded that the death had occurred at precisely ten to eleven.

And that's the sad history of the Christmas spectre.



This story reproduced with permission from Tom Slemen

© Copyright 2004 by Tom Slemen. All Rights Reserved.

Last modification: November 19, 2007


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