tagRomanceHaunted Manor

Haunted Manor

byoggbashan©

Haunted Manor

Copyright Oggbashan September 2014

The author asserts the moral right to be identified as the author of this work.

This is a work of fiction. The events described here are imaginary; the settings and characters are fictitious and are not intended to represent specific places or living persons.


*************************************************

"I wonder how brave Tim and Simon really are?" Helen asked.

We thought it was a question we couldn't answer.

It also wasn't the question we really wanted an answer for. That question was why Tim and Simon were afraid of us. They flinched as if touched by a hot iron if any of us accidently brushed against them. They were such a contrast to the Americans who had recently left.

The question I did ask was 'Why are you here?'.

The answer was unexpected.

My sister Judy and I are Land Girls. We could have joined a Women's uniformed branch such as the Wrens but they might have turned us down because we were so useful to the war effort where we were. We were farmer's daughters and our skills were invaluable to the Land Girls. We could drive tractors, plough using a tractor or a team of horses, milk cows, help sheep at lambing time...

We hadn't been in the Land Girls more than a few months before we became team leaders and were promoted to be officers. Most of the local Land Girls came from the nearby town. They were enthusiastic, hard working, but had to be told and shown what to do and when.

By the summer of 1944 our team of Land Girls were efficient and competent. The dormitory had been in the village hall until the American CB troops left the old Manor to go to Normandy. Now we had moved into a part of the old Manor that had been repaired by the Americans.

In the evenings we used to sit in the common room and talk over cups of weak tea. We were often asked about the Manor and its history.

As the evenings were getting darker towards the latter part of October we were beginning to tell some of the local ghost stories. Helen's question came as I had just finished one of those stories.

Tim and Simon were junior officers in the Royal Engineers. Both had been wounded in Normandy shortly after D-Day. They were recovering from their injuries and had been sent to the Manor to see if any of the heavy equipment the American Engineers had left behind could be made useable. The Americans had left everything that wasn't in perfect condition including arms and ammunition. The Home Guard had taken some machine guns that their armourer was repairing.

Tim and Simon seemed nervous. Although they were staying in a separate part of the Manor House, they seemed worried if one of the Land Girls talked to them. They ate with us, but on a separate table. They tried to be polite but we could see it was an effort. We were curious. Helen had put into words what most of us were thinking.

+++

The Manor is a neglected building on the outskirts of our village. It had belonged to a local family who made their money in the mid 19th Century. Their money had slipped away in the early years of the 20th as their descendants played at being landowners instead of money making.

The Manor was mentioned in the Domesday Book but the buildings had been drastically remodelled many times. Presumably the original structure had been on a promontory almost surrounded by a lake extended for use as a continuous moat. By 1939 the moat had become a depression with a small pond on one side. The whole moat and the area of the former much larger lake flooded most winters.

By 1914 the Manor was in a poor state of repair.

By 1920 the family was broke after three successive heirs had died on the Western Front and death duties took the rest of their money. The Manor had been sold, became a short lived private school and then a convalescent home. It was too large for either purpose and some parts were neglected even more. By 1935 it was abandoned and empty. The local children used the grounds as an unofficial park, and the pond became the locals' swimming pool.

There were legends about the ghosts that haunted the buildings. The school children had been terrified by some of the manifestations. The school managers had to change from a boarding school to a day school because the students wouldn't stay overnight.

The Manor was owned by a small local bank who had tried to sell it. At the start of the war it was requisitioned by the War Office. They did nothing with it until early in 1944. The Manor and its grounds became a base for American troops assembling for D-Day. The estate was covered with tents with a few block built shower and toilet blocks. Most of the usable parts of the house became the Officers' Mess and offices. The Americans looked after the building as best they could, but the shortage of building materials meant that they could only patch some of the worst bits.

But the American CBs made a drastic change. As part of their training they dug out the old moat to make it suitable for holding flood water. They worked with the elderly County Archaeologist who recorded the few finds, none particularly interesting. They also cleared ditches and built roads. They built gun pits for riflemen and light artillery. They had so much earthmoving equipment that the amount of work they achieved in a few short weeks seemed incredible.

The moat was full of clear, clean water. The old drawbridge had been replaced in the 18th Century by a stone causeway. In 1944 that causeway was collapsing. The Americans had installed a very sturdy wooden bridge. The parts of the farmland that we had cursed because they were so sodden now had effective land drains leading to the cleared ditches. Our crops for 1945 would be much better thanks to the Americans' work.

+++

We had enjoyed working close to the Americans. They had organised dances at which the Land Girls had been outnumbered by polite, well dressed soldiers. We had been very popular for a few short months. Judy and I had liaised with the American officers and had persuaded them to arrange for improvements around the area. The troops and their heavy machinery had made a real difference to the quality of the farm land.

They had also shown us many things that they shouldn't. All the Land Girls had been given rifle training. Some of us had trained on heavier weapons. It might have been an excuse for the sergeants to get very close to women, but they didn't get much more than a few hugs and kisses in exchange. We knew the Americans would soon be gone and most of them had shown us pictures of their wives and girlfriends back home. We had flirted with them, enjoyed their company, but most relationships hadn't gone further than a particular soldier being a preferred dance partner -- and their dancing was much better than the local lads' efforts.

Judy and I, as Land Girl officers, socialised with the American officers. My favourite had been Henry. Judy had attached herself to Jess. Both men had received 'Dear John' letters a few weeks before their unit was posted to the Manor so we weren't threatening existing relationships.

Henry and Jess had been great company but all four of us knew that the invasion of Europe was imminent. We expected our mild flirtations to end when they left. None of the Americans had been in battle yet. They were excited by the prospect; unlike most British officers we knew who had been fighting in North Africa for years.

Although the Americans had repaired many parts of the Manor, after the first few nights none of them would sleep in it. The ghosts worried them. Most adult locals accepted the Manor's ghosts as part of the scenery. Who cared if a shadowy figure glided silently down the stairs? We might wait for the figure to pass. It would have been impolite to walk through them. As for noises at night? Were they just natural noises from adjustments to the old building's structure changing from the warmth of the day to the cool of night? Or ghosts making their presence heard? We didn't care. The Americans did.

Tim and Simon, although of similar ages to the American officers were much more mature in some respects. Why not? They had been in battle many times and were recovering from injuries at the battle for Caen in Normandy. But their attitude to us seemed wrong. They were scared of all the Land Girls, polite to us, but reluctant to get close even though Judy and I wanted them to.

+++

By the end of June 1944 the Manor was deserted again except for the Land Girls who occupied a very small part of the buildings. The War Office declared it surplus. It was put up for sale again by the bank. There were some suggestions that it could be taken over by the National Trust. They came, they looked, and they shook their heads. The parts that were old and interesting had been cut about in the Victorian restoration and expansion; the later additions had no architectural merit, and the repairs necessary would be too expensive and impossible in wartime.

We had moved in while the discussions were continuing. The equipment and furniture the Americans had left made us far more comfortable than in the Village Hall. The hall had been hot in summer, bitterly cold in winter, and overcrowded. Now we had a proper kitchen, bathrooms, small dormitories for four people in each, and a comfortable common room that had been the American Officer's bar.

The Americans had also left us a massive supply of coal in the outbuildings. We wouldn't be cold next winter. Early in October we lit the first fire in the common room. It was so warm and comforting that we decided to put out the hurricane lamps that were our only lighting. We sat in comfortable armchairs facing the fire. It was an ideal setting for telling ghost stories, and the team implored Judy and I to tell some about the Manor.

"Penelope," Judy said, "Can you start with the oldest one? We can take turns each evening. There are enough stories about the Manor to keep us going to Halloween."

That startled some of them. There were twenty evenings before Halloween.

"OK, Judy. I will. Are you all sitting comfortably? Then I'll begin."

There was some shuffling as the women settled themselves down.

"The site of the Manor has been almost continuously occupied since records began," I said. "It was first recorded in the Domesday Book in the years after 1066, but Victorian archaeologists have found items from the Stone Age, the Bronze Age and the Iron Age. Over there,"

I pointed Eastwards to where the land rose behind the Manor. Actually I was pointing above the fireplace, but my audience seemed to get the idea.

"Over there they found the remains of a Stone Age barrow. In the entrance they found the skeletons of a man and woman with their arms wrapped around each other. Her head was resting on his shoulder, her face, but she didn't have a face, only a skull, looking at his face. He was looking at her. The archaeologists named them 'The Lovers'. They were carefully excavated and now are on display in the town museum, or they would be, except that the museum is closed for the duration of the war."

"That's interesting," someone said in the darkness, "but it isn't a ghost story."

"I've barely started. Patience, please."

"Penelope has just set the scene," Judy said. "She will start with the known ghosts. Remember that she is telling the memories of hundreds of years of local knowledge. Not every ghost appears frequently. Some have seasonal apparitions, some are there every night but only seen when conditions are right. OK, Penelope. Carry on."

"We assume that 'The Lovers' weren't happy at being disturbed. Within a year of their exhumation two people, arm in arm, were seen in the area of the barrow. That wouldn't have been unusual, except that their feet and legs were underground, below the modern soil level. They walked normally and were sometimes heard singing, if it could be described as singing. It was, and is, a happy sound as if of two people much in love with each other. How they died, and why, the archaeologists didn't know. There were no signs of injury on the bones of either of them. They appeared to be healthy individuals in their early 20s, short by modern standards. She would have been about four feet and eight inches tall, and he about five feet and two inches. Since Victorian times their appearance has been frequently recorded. They don't seem threatening or frightening. They are just there. But..."

I paused for effect.

"On sunset of Midsummer Eve they are seen coupling on the barrow. They are lying on top. He is riding her at first. They roll over and she face sits him for about a quarter of an hour before moving her hips down and impaling herself on his erection. Silhouetted against the setting sun, even though translucent, his erection is impressive. They are very noisy lovers and it is a local tradition that engaged people should watch The Lovers on Midsummer Eve. Seeing The Lovers in action is supposed to guarantee a long and happy sexual career with your partner -- if you marry. If you don't? The legend is that you will never achieve the sexual ecstasy that you could have done with the person you rejected. How do you know? You can't.

Like many traditional legends, it is nonsense, but engaged couples still like to watch The Lovers. They are obviously enjoying themselves and each other.

They aren't the only ghosts associated with the barrow. There's the dog. It is a three legged dog with one front leg missing. It hops around the outline of the barrow and stops to howl piteously. That is a horrible sound."

"Have you heard it?" a voice asked.

"Yes. I don't want to hear it again. It is very sad. When the other ghost appears on top of the barrow the dog stops howling and barks. That ghost stands holding a spear and carrying a round shield. He, presumably a he, has long hair across his shoulders and bare legs. But if anyone gets too near he rushes down the side of the barrow towards them. He has scared several locals but if you stand your ground he disappears at the edge of the barrow.

There are traces of a Bronze Age village with half a dozen round houses the other side of the barrow from here. Sometimes, during a full moon, the shapes of those round houses appear as faint outlines with smoke coming from the apex of each house. If you are downwind there is a strong smell of wood smoke sometimes mixed with roast pork. There can be a sound of many people talking but the words are unintelligible. No one has ever seen any ghost with that village. All that happens is the houses appear, the sound of voices, and the smell.

Which reminds me. If the wind is from the North East, mixed with the smell of wood smoke and cooking is the stink of sewage. The midden for the village was to the North East. At their time the stench must have been revolting in hot weather. Even the phantom of the midden is enough to turn a modern stomach.

There are cold places that make you shiver if you walk close to the barrow at night so most locals avoid them. But the Roman era ghosts are more worrying. Surrounding the barrow is the outline of a marching camp that was reused for a couple of centuries. There isn't much visible archaeology above ground but there is a chamber that would have been under the Commanding Officer's building. The skeletons of two babies were found crushed under the foundations. They were girl babies, less than a week old, and possibly twins. It is assumed that they are associated with the woman ghost.

She walks around what would have been the roadway inside the camp's walls. She has her arms held as if she had two babies suckling on her breasts. She cries and howls in anguish as she walks. If anyone approaches she rushes up to them, trying to show the babies that aren't there. She screams at you, desperately. She seems to be saying "What have you done with my babies?" She will keep screaming until you move away beyond the now vanished camp perimeter. Then she will continue walking, tracing the outline of the camp."

That was when Helen asked her unanswerable question.

+++

The nearby town council wanted a site for Prefab Houses to replace bombed out houses. Within a week of the Americans leaving they suggested that the Manor and its grounds would be suitable, if the Manor was demolished.

That didn't suit the village at all. The reason the Manor estate had been undeveloped was that most of it was a flood plain. The US Army had improved some of the drainage, but hundreds of prefabs, with associated roads and pavements could mean not just the Manor lands but our village would flood too.

We set up a committee to fight the town council's plans. My sister Judy and I became the joint Secretary. We were 'joint' because we were both working as Land Girls and were short of spare time. Most of the committee were elderly but they included important landowners who didn't want their property blighted by floods. Some of them would happily have accepted prefabs on their land, but not at the Manor. We were raising money to buy the property for the village but the Council officers were trying to foil our efforts.

We heard that the Council was intending to send bulldozers to demolish The Manor. We couldn't allow that. We formed a human chain around The Manor as a demonstration to publicise our concerns.

A local farmer's contribution was much more effective. He put his massive bull George in the field across which any machinery would have to come. George would charge across the field at high speed if he saw anyone approaching. The bull deterred not only the contractors but the Council's officers. As Land Girls we knew that George, the bull, was a softy who liked having his back scratched. He was rushing to get another back scratch. If you didn't know that, he was terrifying. Tim and Simon treated George exactly as we did, even though at first they didn't know that George was harmless. That confused us. Why did they react when any of us spoke to them?

+++

I had a thought. Part of the Manor that had not been repaired was the church. It hadn't been used for at least fifty years because the village's own larger church was more convenient. But the manorial church had its own ghost stories. There was a covered passageway from the Manor to a side door of the church so the owners didn't have to walk through the rain.

"Why don't we ask Tim and Simon to join us for Friday evening's ghost stories?" I said.

"Why not?" Helen said, "They seem more scared of us than anything. We could ask. Whether they'll accept? Who knows?"

We decided to make more of an event of it. The rain had been incessant for the last few days. We couldn't work outside and all the inside work had been done. Our officers had decided that we could take a few days leave to visit our homes from Saturday morning to Tuesday evening. Some could leave on Friday evening

We would invite Tim and Simon to join us for our evening meal and then have an extended ghost story session afterwards. We wouldn't have to get up before dawn as we would do on a working day. Those who wanted to go away would have to wait for the 10.30 am bus, the first of the day. We could sit up late with no consequences.

+++

I did ask the two officers next morning. They were obviously reluctant until Tim shrugged his shoulders. He said something odd.

"I suppose it can't do any harm if they're all there."

He looked at Simon. Simon nodded but seemed reluctant.

"Thank you, Penelope," Tim said. "We accept your invitation with pleasure."

But his attitude and tone weren't right. Both of them seemed even more worried about accepting my invitation than they had been whenever a Land Girl spoke to them.

+++

That evening after the meal there were six Land Girls left at the Manor. Judy and I had put two comfortable chairs by the side of the fireplace where Tim and Simon could see us all. We could see them but none of us were too close. They were obviously nervous. They had relaxed slightly during the meal but had still been very wary of us. Now they were sitting in a fire and candlelit room they seemed worried again. Why?

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