A Ghost Story, Or Is It?
I have to say, before you read on, that I believe neither in miracles nor ghosts. They belong to those days of blind faith when we had little scientific knowledge of the universe yet….
Our house supposedly dates from 1636. I say supposedly because my husband wants to read the date up on the chimney stack one way but I think it says 1736. “Whatever,” as the young say. It’s all “real old.”
The first intimation I had that there was something afoot in the house was the to do with the cleaner. The house got gradually bigger and more difficult to handle over the years as renovations progressed and had its fair share of huge spiders and bats so that I eventually needed a cleaning lady to help me.
The woman who came was local and the wife of the plumber’s mate. She was short and stocky, round-faced, rosy cheeked and seemed very capable. She could even do the ironing. I showed her around and she said she would start the next Tuesday.
She came on time and I reminded her where the vacuum cleaner and dusters were and left her to it while I went grocery shopping. When I came back two hours later, I expected a veritable hive of activity. Instead there was complete silence.
The vacuum cleaner and dusters were all back in the cupboard as if she had never even been there. I tried to phone her but the phone rang into the unanswering silence.
I waited until early evening when I thought her husband would be back from work and phoned to ask him where she was. He sounded really embarrassed as he explained to me that his wife had heard all sorts of noises and thought the house was haunted. She had got scared and left.
I suppressed my snort of disbelief. These people accepted the existence of ghosts in my house as a fact of life. I should have realised that this is the land of Guy de Maupassant’s ‘Horla’ and Barbey D’Aurevilly’s weird tales and that many older country people still believe in the supernatural and pass these beliefs down to their children. I would have to find someone else who lived in the 20th century.
When the house was adequately furnished and had a couple of bathrooms and a shower room, I was able to let it out. I rented it for a month to a family from England. The husband was something big in the aircraft industry, had a quizzical smile and a very business-like manner. His wife, a large boned, jolly woman dressed in her Laura Ashley smock, looked as if she coped admirably with all the vicissitudes of life and I was more that happy to leave my house in her motherly care. The two teenage daughters were as tall as their parents and had smatterings of French with which they invaded the village shops to explain what Mum needed.
That summer the family had gazillions of visiting friends and dozens of barbecues and enthusiastically drank innumerable bottles of Champagne according to the neighbours. When I arrived back to check out the property and see them off the premises, the wife asked me if we had ever had any supernatural manifestations in the house. I laughed politely and said I hadn’t noticed. She told me then that one of the girls who had come to stay was convinced that when she walked across the landing a presence brushed past her and she felt a drop in temperature. I said we hadn’t noticed anything and that it must have been a draught from the uninsulated attics.
It was when we went to dinner a few months later at a friend’s that I seriously began to wonder about my house. After a few tongue-loosening brandies, the men got on to the subject of superstitions and ghostly manifestations To my great surprise my husband said he had seen a ghost in our bedroom. It seemed to be dressed like a Cavalier or Musketeer with a huge brimmed hat hiding its face and a large lace collar resting on its shoulders; it was wearing a long velvety coat which is unbuttoned and it stood looking at him at the end of the bed. He could see through it to the window and the moon in the sky outside. I was astonished — what is this bull he was recounting? I went along with it for the sake of a good after-dinner story.
On our way home I challenged him. He admitted that he didn’t tell me before because I spend so much time there on my own when he is working away that he didn’t want me to be nervous. “Yeah, yeah,” I said. “How about cutting down on the booze before you go to bed — then maybe you wouldn’t see so many ghosts. It’ll be pink elephants next, like M Capon.” Our farmer neighbour had recently died of alcoholism and was rumoured to have seen things coming out of his bedroom walls. I must say that remark didn’t improve his temper but I heard no more about ghosts.
We had three collies at this time and I was pretty sure that, had there been any manifestations, the classic symptoms of hackles rising and low growling would have apprised me of the fact. Some time during the winter the eldest dog, Lassie, began to fail. She had a horrible cancer which the vet misdiagnosed at first, leaving us little time to help the dog. She would follow me everywhere, wearing out her little remaining strength, to be with me. I fed her small amounts of easily digestible food every four hours to maintain her strength while we waited for an appointment at the veterinary hospital in Caen. Suffice it to say, she died before I could get her there. I didn’t dare tell my husband who had a five-hour drive home that night because I knew he would be upset.
The next day, we managed to get the gardener to bury her in the garden beneath the cherry tree and I went up to bed for the afternoon as I was physically and emotionally exhausted. My husband took the other two dogs with him as he worked in the orchard and I asked him not to let them back in the house as they would inevitably run upstairs and leap on the bed.
As I came to my senses a few hours later I felt a dog curled around my backside and kicked out my legs to get it off the bed. When I got up later to make a cup of tea, I said to my husband in a grumpy tone, “I thought I asked you to keep the dogs out of the house. One of them was curled up on the bed.”
‘That’s not possible, they are still chained up in the yard,” he said. So, another manifestation of the fevered mind, my dear Watson.
So much for ghosts.
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