A Ghostly Tale

This is a letter received many years ago by Aunt Katy from her daughter Josephine who, after she retired from teaching, had gone to England and married there.

Dear Mama and Papa,

This house of James' is enormous. The oldest wing was part of an ancient abbey, other wings were built at various times. We live in the Victorian wing which was "brought up to date" long before WWII. Many country houses were used by the Government for "Red-Tape-and-Sealing-wax" offices during that past unpleasantness but James' place was just too impossible. How do you run electricity and plumbing through four foot thick stone walls? Besides, the older parts are actively haunted.

The main reason for building the Victorian section was that the family wished to remove itself from its spectral ancestors but not from the home grounds. The paterfamilias at that time had sired a large brood of offspring the eldest daughter of which was Susanna, a sensible girl who was a passionate diarist. From her lavender satin bound books I have learned the story of the Haunting at the Abbey.

The spirits, for there were/are more than one, seem mostly benign but so fond of their living descendants that they continually forced themselves into the family's daily life. Each of the chldren had his or her own particular ghostly companion of whom they evidenced no fear, having been familiar with them since the cradle. Guests were occasionally disturbed by invisably occupied chairs, missing property, and cold chills. One even reported waking in the night to find a ghostly bedfellow who rolled up in the bedclothes to snore loudly until dawn.

To any except the children, visable manifestations were few. Susanna tells of being provoked with her kind Mama for refusing to bow to the elegant Cavalier who frequented the Long Gallery. There was also a Lady in Blue who played blindman's buff with the children in the maze and the brown robed Abbot who paced the halls of the oldest wing, telling his beads with the most lovely jeweled rosary imaginable.

A rosary which I have seen!!

As the children grew older the atmosphere became more and more disturbed. The schoolroom, once the most pleasant room in the house, changed perceptibly, becoming chill, dank, and cheerless. The children begged for a different schoolroom but their parents, not wanting to spoil them, steadfastly refused. Finally Susanna had an experience which led to many changes.

Possibly because of the atmosphere of the schoolroom, the family was at the moment without a governess, and Susanna was hearing the children's lessons until another could be found. Late one evening, finding herself unable to sleep, she decided to read for a bit and went to the schoolroom to get her book. She wrote:

"The hall seemed cold in spite of the mildness of the weather. As I mounted the stair to the third floor the steps became ever more icy beneath my thin slippers. For once I wished for the companionship of the gay Cavalier or better, my favorite, the hooded Abbot with his holy rosary.

"The schoolroom door was closed and at first resisted my attempts to open it. I persisted in my efforts till it burst inward, crashing against the wall. Instantly I was assailed by blood chilling cold and a most unpleasant smell. The fireplace glowed dully under a kettle slung from a long crane. The smell came from that and I went closer to see what the boys, as I thought, were up to.

"As I neared the fireplace a figure detached itself from the shadows. 'William, is that you?' I whispered, thinking it to be my tall elder brother. Hearing not the familiar voice, I held my candle high and saw --- what did I see? Not William, surely. Some horrible nothingness, full of evil intent directed now toward me.

"I can still feel the pounding in my head and fear tearing at my heart as I stood unable to move or speak. How I screamed inwardly for Papa or Brother William, whom I had so shortly before suspected of pranks, to no avail. Then I bethought me of my Abbot. Surely he could exort this evil thing. Mustering all the will power at my command, my eyes still fastened on that THING of which I shall never cease to dream, I forced my frozen lips to form the words,'Reverend Father, come to my aid'.

"Then I fainted so I know not what happened. Papa was awakened by a great wind that swept through the house, slamming doors and breaking two priceless cloisonne vases which stood in the Long Gallery. The children were awakened by the ringing of the abbey's bell, though its rope had rotted away a century ago. It was William who discovered my absence and led the household to the schoolroom. They had to force the door to gain entrance and found me lying in a swoon on the floor.

"The room swirled with acrid smoke from the logs in the fireplace where we burned only coal. Darkness hung over the room like a pall and my dear ones candles guttered and spit as they stood aghast in the doorway. I lay crumpled under a brown robe and the floor around me was char'd and pitted. Papa carried me to my room, leaving William to close and bar the door as best he could. Indeed, no one cared to enter it but it was feared ONE might attempt to leave.

"When I regained my senses in Mama's soft arms, with all the dear faces around me, it all seemed like a bad dream. But in my hand, clenched so tightly that Papa had to loose my fingers, was twined my Abbot's rosary.

"We are leaving for the Sea tomorrow. Papa will have a new wing built and the third floor will be locked away from the rest of the house forever, I pray."

Now, precious Mama and Papa, you'll say I've been teasing you with this tale, but James assures me it is true. The abbot's robe and rosary are folded away in a chest in the library to prove it. As we made our way to the locked-off third floor, for of course I had to see the schoolroom, James told me that though the other ghosts, spirits if you prefer, continued to be seen, the abbot never walked the halls again.

It was near noon when James unlocked the door to that ill-fated room but the bitter cold that poured from its dusty sunlit depths was unbearable. There was, even for me, a feeling of something very unpleasant there. James turned absolutley ashen and slammed the door to, locking it with the huge ancient key.

"Jove, I haven't tried it in years, not since Martin and Jamie teased me into it one hols.(holidays) It is just as bad as ever. Come on, old girl, lets have our lunch. I could do with a cup of hot tea just now. What ancestors I must have."

Who or what this horrible visitor from another world may have been has never been ascertained. Several times in intervening years societies and individuals interested in such things have tried to solve the riddle. A complete search of the family archives has turned up no scandal or occurence which might have triggered such a manifestation. But it did occur and lingers to the spine chilling delight of the younger generation.

I shall tell you more of James' other-worldly adventures another time.

With much love,

I am not just sure about this letter of Josephine's. She has read a great deal and occasionally indulges in "snipe flights" into fantasy. This may be one of those times. Read on for the conclusion of the tale.