Excerpt for Dancing Della Finds Her Hat by , available in its entirety at Smashwords

Dancing Della Finds Her Hat

Published at Smashwords by Maxwell Grantly

Copyright 2018 by Maxwell Grantly

Table of Contents

Chapter One


About the Author

Chapter One

My name is Della and I live with my mother. Perhaps you already know about me. Life is hard for the two of us and I try to earn as much as I can, to help pay for the rent and food.

During the day, I stand at the entrance of the harbour and sell matches to the workers, who walk in and out of the docks. However, in the evening, I love to dance for pennies in the harbour pub: ‘The Smuggler’s Head.’ That is why the regulars call me ‘Dancing Della, The Match Girl.’

There is a band that plays in the Smuggler’s Head. It is made up from three sea-faring men: Singing Samuel, Freddy the Fiddler and Billy the Bottle.

My favourite is Billy the Bottle. Billy blows across the top of an empty whiskey bottle and it produces a lovely beat. Freddy accompanies on the fiddle, while Samuel sings old sea shanties. It’s amazing how something as simple as an old bottle can produce a sound so enchanting and haunting. At the same time, I dance the jig and earn pennies to help my mother pay the rent.

Perhaps you may know how a gang of boys stole my hat and threw it into the town’s sewers. If you don’t, you ought to read my last story ‘Dancing Della and the Empty Gin Bottles.’

If you have read my last story, you will know that I didn’t find my old boater hat, the last time I searched the sewers. However, I did leave a lot of empty gin bottles laying around instead! I really miss my old hat: it was one of the few things that I actually owned. I decided that I should return to the sewers and search for it again.

The boys told me stories about the sewers and how they were haunted by the Rat Man: a mudlark who was killed by the bite of a diseased rat. They often teased me about this.

(In case you didn’t know, a mudlark is someone who wades through the mud, looking for discarded scraps or useful items. It’s a dreadful job but you must understand that times are hard for everyone!)

However, you may remember that I have already been down the sewers once trying to find my boater. Therefore, the thought of returning for a second time didn’t seem quite so scary.

I wandered down to the riverside, where I knew that there was an entrance pipe into the sewer complex. I knew that it shouldn’t take too long and that I would soon be out if I could find my hat.

I quickly located the entrance and then I wandered into the complex of tunnels. I had been here before and so it didn’t seem quite so scary the second time.

The breeze blew into the sewers and, in the far distance, I could hear a gentle howling. “That is bound to be the sound of the wind blowing over some bottles,” I whispered aloud to myself.

The last time I had been in the sewers, I had left a load of empty gin bottles laying around. I also knew, by listening to ‘Billy the Bottle,’ how the breeze blowing across the top of an empty bottle sounded.

“There’s nothing to be scared of,” I repeated again and again, as I ventured deeper into the sewer complex.

Thoughts of seeing the ghostly Rat Man left my head, as I focused on finding my boater hat. I knew that I would soon be out and back onto the city streets again.

As I ventured deeper into the complex of tunnels, the wailing sound grew louder and louder. I felt sure that I would soon find my hat.

To my surprise, as I reached a dead end in one of the tunnels, I saw my hat laying against the wall. That didn’t take long at all! Behind me, the wailing grew louder and louder. As I bent down to pick my hat up I suddenly realised that the wailing noise was right next to me. Also, it didn’t sound quite as familiar as Billy the Bottle’s puffing on the whiskey bottles!

I straighten up and turned around to see a sight that chilled me to the bone: the ghostly form of the Rat Man was standing behind me, blocking my exit to safety.

I was terrified and frozen to the spot. There was no way that I could escape now. The ghostly form drifted slowly towards me, wailing as it approached.

“Oh woe is me!” I heard it exclaim. “Woe is me. You are the only one who has not run away from my approach!” I couldn’t explain how I wanted to escape and how the ghoul was blocking my exit.

“Oh woe is me!” the Rat Man repeated. “My prior life (and now my existence in the afterlife beyond) is such a misery! How will I ever escape from this awful fate?”

I looked up into the face of the Rat Man and I stared into his eyes. He seemed so dreadfully miserable. Even a ghost shouldn’t have to have an existence that was full of such woe!

I tried to overcome my fear and spoke the first words that came into my head. “Are you really a gh … gh … ghost?” I stammered.

“I am indeed.” The Rat Man moaned. “In my prior life, I used to search the sewers for lost items of value. Sadly, I was taken from your world by the poisoned bite of a rat.”

“But, if you’re a ghost,” I murmured, “How come there aren’t more of your sort! After all, there must be millions of people who lived in this world (and then died) before now.”

“The Rat Man howled once more and waved his arms upwards. His eyes seemed to dampen with an awful air of despair.”

“You world is just one of many,” he explained. “There are worlds beyond yours, both before your birth and after your death. When you pass from one world, you may enter another.”

However,” he continued, “you cannot pass from one to another if you have lived a life of trauma or absolute despair: just one tiny glint of happiness is all that it takes to ease your passage between worlds. This is why, whenever you see a ghost in your world, it is always as a result of some great tragedy or why it is in a state of perpetual misery. I never knew the warmth of compassion in the whole of my life. I spent my childhood as an abandoned orphan and then, in my adulthood, I searched these sewers in loneliness.”

I held the rim of my straw boater tightly and looked into the face of the Rat Man with compassion. No one deserved to be miserable: either living or dead. As I grasped the rim of my hat, I thought of the friends I knew and the happiness that I experienced. Even though my life was tough, I still knew the friendship and love of others.

“Couldn’t I break your spell of misery,” I suggested as I held my hands forward, “by offering you a token of friendship?”

The ghost looked down at my straw boater and sighed deeply. This was going to be harder than I thought.

“I am trapped between your world and the life beyond,” he sighed, “ I am nothing but an apparition. How could I ever accept a gift that I cannot touch or hold?”

The Rat Man swayed his hands before me and they passed straight through my straw boater. I realised that I must seem to him as he must seem to me: ghostly and ethereal.

“You are no longer in my world,” I suggested, “because you have passed from it. Suppose this hat were to pass from my world too, then you could accept it.”

The Rat Man sighed and wailed again. His despair wrenched at my heart and I desperately wanted to help him.

Then I suddenly remembered that I was Dancing Della, the Match Girl. I had spent my working life, standing at the harbour, selling boxes of matches to those who passed by.

I took one of my boxes and slid it open, removing a match. Then I struck the match and held it against the rim of my straw boater. Despite being slightly damp, the hat was soon ablaze. The Rat Man shielded his eyes from the glare of the light, as the hat erupted into a mass of flames. Soon there was nothing left of the boater but smouldering pile of ash.

‘Take it,” I said, “It’s a present for you. I hope that you will love my hat as much I once did.”

The Rat Man smiled as he reached his hands into the ash. He withdrew an ethereal boater from the remains of the fire and he placed the hat upon his head.

“Why thank you,” the Rat Man exclaimed. “This is the first act of kindness I have ever experienced. How can I ever repay you?”

With that, the Rat Man shimmered and faded out of sight. I knew that he had finally managed to transition between worlds and complete the journey into the next life.

I wandered out of the sewers and back into the glaring daytime light of my life in the city. The sunshine streamed through the branches of the trees and I could hear the notes of birdsong from within. As I glanced back into the shadowy darkness of the sewers, I caught the glimpse of a rat scampering through the gloom. I could swear that it winked at me, as it departed from my view!

I walked back up through the streets, towards the site of the Smuggler’s Head.

I ran my fingers through my hair and felt the absence of my hat. Although I no longer owned my old straw boater, I knew that I had something more special than that.

I’m Dancing Della and, although I know that my life is hard, I am surrounded by friends and people that I love (and those who love me) and how I love to dance too!


All credit to the creators, merchants and residents of Second Life: without their help, this publication would have not been possible.

About the Author

Maxwell Grantly is the nom de plume of a schoolteacher, living in a small seaside town on the east coast of Great Britain. Although he has written many short stories, he does not think of himself as an author. Maxwell is, first and foremost, merely a mathematics teacher. He simply writes just because he enjoys doing so and for no other reason.

Being a schoolteacher, Maxwell Grantly enjoys reading children’s literature as part of his work as well as for recreation. However, as a writer, he does not always write books that could be described as typically suitable for the younger reader: his work is incredibly varied in both syntax and style. Maxwell produces short stories that he enjoys writing and that he enjoys reading. Sometimes he uses vocabulary and imagery that is more suited to adults. At other times, he writes directly for a younger audience. This means that some of his books may only be suitable for accomplished young readers (or for adults who might like a break from their regular reading agenda) while others may be suitable for younger readers who are still developing their literacy skills.

By not targeting his work to one particular audience and by not being a professional author, it does mean that Maxwell has an incredible freedom to branch out and simply write recreationally for his own artistic satisfaction. If you enjoy reading his stories then he is pleased that you were able to briefly enter his fantasy world too, if only for a brief ten or fifteen minutes.

You can find out more about Maxwell, by visiting his website at

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