Breerston Manor's Ghosts
When James Wagoner inherited Breerston Manor, he also inherited more ghosts. He and Josephine had flown over to visit us and brought pictures of their "new home".
"Absolutely unbelievable, Madame Mama." James assured me, grinning wryly at my aghast expression as I viewed several pictures of the manor, each more horrible than the last. It seemed to me to be undoubtedly the ugliest pile of masonry in all of England.
"But," James said, "it is unique and splended as an example of what too much money and too little taste can do in the line of architecture, begging pardon for calling it architecture."
"You should see the inside, Mama." Josephine laughed. "Heaven only knows how many rooms there are. We got lost three times exploring it. James had to lean out of the windows, which are two feet deep, to get oriented. And one of them opened on a court that had been built on top of the first floor roof somehow so we were still inside the structure. You simply can not imagine what it is like!"
"The walls are crowded with portraits of ancestors, at least I can see no other reason for hanging such a rogues-gallery, though I says it as shouldn't." James continued. "Every corner holds some colossal object d'art, suits of armor over-run the place, and the stairwells absolutely drip cross-bows, maces, shields, swords and battle flags. Quite an armory."
"The beds are fantastic! There is one I'm sure Queen Elizabeth I must have slept in, if not King Henry himself. Of course the hangings are musty, fusty, and falling apart with age and the wood is full of dry rot. What a place to celebrate Halloween." Josephine teased her husband who tried to look properly outraged at this defaming of his family seat, but surcumbed to amusement, admitting she was quite right.
All of this naturally made me want to know more about the history of this house. And since James' hobby, if you can call it that, is ghost hunting, were there spectral residents in Breerston Manor?
"Please tell me more about the Manor, James," I begged one evening. "Is it by any chance haunted?"
"Shame on you, Mama." Josephine gasped in mock horror. "You know James would not own a house that hadn't a ghost or two in it."
"Quite right, old girl, and none of your cheek."said her husband. "According to family tradition....."
"Would anyone like to watch telly? I'm sure there's something special on this evening." Josephine interrupted but was firmly quashed by her hoped-for allies.
"According to family tradition," James resumed calmly, "there are two principal ghosts at Breerston Manor, three actually, but one is that of a workman who was accidentally walled up during some alteration or other and can't be counted since he's not a member of the family. He just wanders around looking for a way out, so to speak.
"The principal ghost is old Aethelstan. He founded the family back in the Dark Ages and built a great hall with all the usual adjuncts."
"Having done so, looking upon it and finding it fair," Josephine chimed in, "Aethelstan on his death-bed swore to haunt any successor who dared change one stone."
"Quite so." James agreed with unruffled calm. "Since many generations of his descendants dared brave his wrath and wraith, tearing down and building up with fine disregard for curses or architecture, he has been a most active ghost. His manifestations degenerated over the centuries from ferociously raging through the halls to a weary hand-wringing hopelessness. Quite pitiful, really. One can't help feeling sorry for the old boy.
"Another spirit is said to be that of a Saracen slave girl brought back from the Crusades by a younger son who had little hopes of inheriting. He had three elder brothers, one already having stepped into their father's shoes, the second a monk, and the third a member of King Richard's forces.
"At any rate, their mother was a French-woman, and this younger son had been brought up on the continent by her family. She was one of three daughters and, in loving pity for her father's son-less state, sent her younger lad to be his grandfather's heir. The boy took his grandfather's name and joined the French crusaders, traveling and fighting happily for several years.
"When he returned to France, he found that Granpere had taken unto himself a young wife, Granmere having conveniently passed on to her reward because of bad drains in the castle, no doubt. Not only had this new wife brightened the old man's declining years but she had produced two extremely healthy brats, both male, who quite cut our chap out of the picture.
"Upon making this nasty discovery, he bundled his foreign wife, slave girl, whatever, along with the not inconsiderable boodle of pillage he'd liberated, off to Breerston Manor. There he found all was not lost. His next older brother, Richard's man, had died under the blade in Jerusalem, and the monk was also in his grave. The elder brother, having made quite a name for himself by the number of illegitimate progeny he scattered about the vacinity, had fatally fallen off his horse one day while out hunting, mostly because of an unidentifiable arrow through his throat."
"Ugg! James, you really shouldn't," Josephine shuddered not altogether seriously.
"But I must, my dear, it is all quite true," James solemnly assured her. "So, our chap became the lord of the manor and cut quite a dash with his war record and all that lovely treasure. He found it unnecessary to introduce his Saracen to the local gentry, who probably wouldn't have accepted her anyway. She spoke no English and little French and then there was a quite attractive widow whose lands bordered Breerston Manor.
"Their nuptials were celebrated with all the pomp of the times and the poor little Saracen soon sickened in the unfriendly air, relieving him of any pangs of conscience, however faint. Whether she loved him too much to leave him, or had come to hate him for his duplicity, or simply couldn't find her way from that foreign shore to the Paradise she had been brought up to believe in, I don't know. She lingers in the manor, drifting about in her exotic oriental draperies, with ankle bracelets jingling and leaving the scent of sandlewood in odd places. It is said that whenever the Lord of Breerston Manor marries, she comes to greet the bride. If the marriage is to be happy, the room is filled with the scent of her perfume and if it is not, the bride hears sobs and sighs."
"Well, thank goodness we have been married long enough for me to escape that visitation, not that I' care to spend a night in that place." Josephine said. "Though I would have the perfume because no one has ever been happier with nor married to a sillier man!"
"Thank you, my dear. I shall show you the record in the papers at the Manor when next we go up." James laughed as he bowed to his bride.
"Not only the papers, Mama," Josephine said to me later, "but he'll show me the ghosts too. What an extraordinary man. He really does feel them and I do too when I'm with him. I'm quite used to the ghosts at the abbey and we'll not be living in the manor so I shan't have to cope with Aethelstan and the Saracen girl, nor the poor workman either. And to think that only a few years ago I was a spinster school librarian without a worry but the budget and who was scribbling in the books."
It is just possible that, between the two of them, Josephine and James were, as the English say, 'having the honored parents on'. This tale at least was light hearted despite the Saracen girl's sad ending.