…there was no question of diabolical possession. The unfortunate
girl was clearly suffering from Wilson’s disease. As a Clinical Neurologist,
I would be a fool if I hadn’t picked up on the symptoms you described.
The muscle twitches, postural abnormalities and spontaneous laughter
are classic signs. Even the extraordinary colour of her eyes was owing
to the copper deposits in her irises- Kayser-Fleischer rings, to be technical.
You amaze me, Dr Lawes. No wonder the poor child is so restless. We
have all misjudged her and, like Legion, she has roamed among the
tombs. We must try to placate her. Perhaps she would rest in peace if
her character could be vindicated in our Parish Magazine? We could hold
a graveside service and apply to the Bishop for permission to reconsecrate
The vicar’s enthusiasm was beginning to run away with him.
He persisted: Actually there are still some Nortons living in the tied
cottages in Steeple Bayford. Some of them work in the Wilton factory
nearby. We could invite them, though they are not C of E. I used to
think that some of them were rather hostile- Methodists and suchlike.
Maybe they reckoned their ancestor hadn’t been treated too well in
the Established Church? suggested Dr Lawes. I don’t think their
perceived unorthodoxy has anything to do with manifestations of the
disease per se, though they will all be carriers. But even should
they marry another carrier, which is very unlikely, the chance of any
child developing the disease would be 200:1.
Oddly enough, now I come to think of it, reflected the vicar, I
spoke to a Mr Norton in the local infirmary, on one of my visitation
rounds, only two weeks ago. He was suffering from cirrhosis of the
liver. Alcohol abuse, I’d put it down to. As I explained, he wasn’t in
too talkative a mood when he saw my dog collar.
Wilson’s disease affects the liver, Lawes pointed out. It would
be extremely helpful and valuable for research purposes if I could
meet with his consultant. Perhaps we could collaborate on a paper.
If you are going to be in the vicinity on Thursday, we could go
to the hospital together. I’ll phone Mr Milton, his consultant. He’s
a member of our congregation. A greater awareness of the condition
might help to lay the ghost, as it were. Give me your contact details
and I’ll see what I can do….
The smile relaxed its sneer and faded to a slight smirk and then the
greenish eyes closed their pale eyelids.
Mr Norton, may I introduce you to Dr Howard Lawes from Alabama?
He has a special interest in Wilson’s Disease.
Mr Milton was more effusive than he had been on a ward round for
Pleased to meet you, sir. I will try to give you any information, but I
think it’s too late for me. My liver seems to have packed in. I’m tired
of explaining that my family is teetotal and has been for a couple of
generations. Primitive Methodists, we are. Never touch the stuff.
It seems that your family has borne moral misapprehension and
disapprobation for long enough, Dr Lawes smiled sympathetically.
We thought the illnesses were God visiting us with judgement unto
the fourth generation, Mr Norton grimaced. Payback for Mary
Nonsense. Your liver problems are entirely linked to your disease
and so were those of your forebear.
I never thought a God of Love... interjected the Rev Dodgson, a trifle
hastily, but no one paid him the slightest attention.
Mr Norton shifted on his pillows: Hmmm, I don’t know that she wasn’t
a bad case, anyhow. The family were disgusted by her behaviour, by
What do you mean? asked Dr Lawes.
The patient’s voice dropped to a hoarse whisper: All those carrying-ons
in the woods with her elder brother, Francis. Of course, when the
bastard was born, they hushed it up, but everyone knew that Abraham
Norton was not her younger brother, but her son.
So, what do you reckon is the significance of this hearsay, Mr Norton?
enquired the Rev Dodgson.
Simply this. Mary Norton may not have been possessed by the devil,
but she might as well have been, judging by the family’s reaction and
community prejudice and gossip. We Nortons are said to have the sins
of our forefathers visited upon us to the nth generation.
Superstitious nonsense! the Rev Dodgson exhaled. But I suppose we
can’t lay sleeping ghosts if they don’t wish to remain supine. I can’t really
sanction incest, anyway. Maybe it’s better not to resurrect the past
and its scandals.
Yes, it’s a pity that the lady did not adopt ‘the serious study of virginity’,
as recommended in my namesake’s masque. Otherwise she might have
known ‘the transport of a thousand liveried angels’ and have been
reposing in quietude.
How poetical! exclaimed the Rev Dodgson, who appreciated these
archaic words and was no stranger to purple prose, himself.
Mr Milton, the physician broke in: I am very glad that we have started
Mr Norton on Penicillamine. We had a very useful session, Dr Lawes
and I promise to keep you in touch with my patient’s progress.
Great. I look forward to meeting up with you at the next ‘Gut’ meeting
in Texas. I’ll certainly acknowledge you in our paper.
Goodby, Mr Norton. All three moved on.
Above the graveyard the mouth smiled grimly. It tried to utter something,
but only the chattering of a magpie filled the surrounding trees. Some tears
fell as droplets of rain on the flat gravestone of Abraham Norton, aged
seventeen, who was buried with Mary’s parents and his ‘siblings’, including
Francis, his wife and three children.
Thyrsis Langford, Verderer and self-appointed local Lothario, did not even
turn over in his corner plot.