from They Return at Evening
by H.R. Wakefield
They Return at Evening is a collection of ghost stories by H.R.
Wakefield. It's his first such collection, published in 1928. I'll be
posting reactions to stories individually.
I don't think I remember this one, at all. Let's see... Oh yes! Now I remember...
A man who has long had (and repeatedly demonstrated) a very strong psychic ability has another of his "spells". On a walk, he happens upon a spot that has a psychic "recording" ready and waiting for a someone able to sense it. He sees a murder replayed before his eyes, but he's so used to this sort of thing, it's almost a yawn. Afterwards, he mentions the episode to a friend, who finds it very interesting, indeed. "Why, confound it, old chap!" he says (or in words to the same effect), "you've just gone and solved the Infamous Whosit Trial!" The psychic dude's all like, "What's the Whosit Trial? I've never heard of that," upon which the TrueCrime-fanatic-friend says, "Then I shall tell you about it in painstaking detail, because I apparently have nothing better to do, and by-gosh, I'm going to inflict my obsession on someone!" A long, boring retelling of the circumstances of a trial ensues. The upshot is that they now have proof that Evil Gold-Digger did kill Hapless Aristocrat-- as everyone pretty much knew all along, though they could never prove it-- but because everyone involved has been dead for years, it doesn't really matter much, anyway. The End.
Oh, I loved it! I hung over every last word with bated breath! Couldn't you tell, from my glowing, starry-eyed synopsis? Well, it could've been worse, I suppose-- but it hardly even counts as a ghost story. It felt more like a legal thriller with ghostly elements than a genuine ghostly tale. To make things worse, it's made even more boring by the fact that we know all along who the guilty party is/was/whatever.
-- The only remotely interesting tidbit I could come up with (assuming you don't want to read about more misogyny?) is this:
"The Jury were out for three and a half hours. It was known afterwards that two of them held out for a verdict of guilty, but in the end gave way, and in a quivering silence the foreman pronounced 'Not guilty', which would undoubtedly have been 'Not proven' in Scotland."
I'm not familiar with Scotland's legal system, but that's an interesting distinction. I wonder if "not proven" is only for high-stakes trials-- like murder trials-- or for all trials. I once served on a jury in which I would've been happy to have had a "not proven" option. Some of us had a gut feeling that he was guilty-- and based on what we learned afterwards, I'm nearly positive, now-- but because of the way the evidence was presented and the weakness of the witness, we didn't feel capable of pronouncing a "guilty" verdict. I doubt that the practical difference between "not proven" and "not guilty" is much, but at least it would feel more accurate. It was frustrating to have to say he wasn't guilty, when some of us didn't feel he was innocent. Saying he wasn't proven guilty would've been marginally more satisfactory. (I hope at least that the idiot learned his lesson and stopped drinking and driving. If we'd found him guilty, it would've been a felony, because of his number of previous convictions. Of course, we weren't allowed to hear about those until after the trial...)