Haunted Manor

byoggbashan©

We all had enamel mugs of tea. As Judy gave Tim a mug his hands shook so much he nearly spilled it. Simon put his mug down very carefully.

I started the ghost story I intended to use to test Tim and Simon.

"This story is about the old Manor house and the attached church. Until about 1870 the church was still in use sometimes. But very few people would attend midnight mass on Christmas Eve. Why?

Any midnight if anyone was close to the church they would hear women's voices singing. During midnight mass on Christmas Eve the small choir would suddenly find their rendition of the carols augmented by a half a dozen or so soprano and alto voices, far more than the women in the small congregation. Those additional voices sung beautifully but the effect was frightening. The singers were unseen but also joined in the congregation's responses in the prayers, and in the Lord's Prayer.

Gradually the congregation decided to celebrate the Christmas Eve mass in the village church away from ghostly voices. They weren't threatening but unnerving. However there is an older tradition about those women's voices. The residents of the Manor would NOT walk to any church service through the covered way. Why not?

What we are told used to happen was that the residents would find themselves walking with a visible group of nuns..."

"NUNS! It would be nuns," Simon said very loudly.

Tim put his hand on Simon's arm.

"Don't worry, Simon. It's just a silly ghost story, not real nuns."

Simon didn't look convinced. Despite Tim's reassurance both of them seemed concerned. Tim visibly swallowed before saying:

"Carry on, Penelope. I think we can stand it."

Stand it? What did Tim mean?

"As I was saying, the nuns were visible. Not only were they visible, they seemed solid as if they were real nuns, not ghosts. The locals who were told about the nuns' appearance were puzzled. As far as they knew there had been no nunnery at the Manor at any time in its history. So why were there ghosts of nuns in a place that had never had nuns? Or was the history incomplete and there had been nuns?

For most church services the nuns vanished at the end of the passageway. But NOT for the Christmas Eve service. If the Manor residents had walked down the passageway, the nuns who were usually heard and not seen stayed visible during the service, standing along the side walls of the church. The nuns would leave with the Manor residents and disappear at the end of the passageway. The nuns participated fully in the service, again odd because it was a Church of England service, not a Catholic service in Latin as it would have been when there were nuns.

There's another part of the traditional account. Whenever the nuns appeared in the passageway they would interact with the humans present. The nuns would greet them politely by their names and talk to them; even more than real nuns would be likely to do. Sometimes the nuns would talk about problems the humans had. The nuns were never critical but suggested ways out of dilemmas or solutions to human difficulties. They were like ghostly social workers. Whatever the nuns said, if the person addressed followed their advice, the results were good.

Even so, the contact with ghostly nuns was more than most of the Manor's residents could endure, particularly if it happened EVERY Sunday. There were very few people who were prepared to meet ghosts on a regular basis even if the ghosts, unlike some at the Manor, were benign and helpful.

Eventually the doors at both ends of the passageway were locked. People went to church across the open, even if it was raining hard. Over the years the keys were lost and the doors stayed locked.

Until a couple of months ago...

We Land Girls wanted somewhere to meet as a group, as we are now. The habitable parts of the Manor were occupied by the Americans. I thought we could use the church, or at least the Vestry to which the covered passageway led. The church itself isn't completely weatherproof. The Vestry is but getting to it through the derelict church could be dangerous. One of the Americans was a locksmith. I asked him nicely. He picked the locks at both ends of the passageway, removed them, cleaned and oiled them and made new keys."

I walked over to the fireplace, took down a vase from the mantelpiece, and tipped out a pair of large keys.

"These are the keys to the passageway doors. I've never used them. The Americans left for Normandy a couple of days after the locksmith gave me the keys. An electrician had provided lighting down the passageway and in the Vestry. We didn't need the Vestry because we had almost all of the habitable rooms in the Manor. So here they are. What I suggest is that just before midnight we open the door of the passageway..."

"No!" It was Tim that shouted this time. "No. We're not meeting nuns."

"Not again," Simon added quietly.

"Not again?" I queried.

"Anything but nuns," Simon said. "We don't mind the noises in the night. The naked lady who walks through our bathroom is interesting..."

"Naked lady? I didn't know there was a naked lady ghost, Simon," I said.

"Unless it's one of the Land Girls who can make herself transparent and able to walk through walls, she's a ghost. Maybe she only appears to men. She was a bit disconcerting at first because she stops to check our assets before going through the other wall..."

"I can see that could be awkward," Judy said.

"The Americans left a note in a bedroom. According to them their officers preferred to sleep in tents because of the ghosts in the Manor. They asked a Roman Catholic Army Chaplain if he could exorcise the ghosts but the Chaplain refused because the ghosts didn't harm anyone. Don't you have ghosts in your part of the Manor?"

"Yes," I answered, "we do. Like your naked lady they don't DO anything. They just are. Every evening the Grey Lady glides down the main staircase in a long dress. I'm jealous of that dress. There's enough material in it to make me a dozen skirts and I don't have that many clothing coupons. Even the ghostly servant girls' uniforms would make blackout curtains. We can't use some rooms after dark because we can't make the windows light proof. But you haven't answered my question. What is it about nuns? Are you frightened of ghostly nuns?"

"Ghosts of nuns? Probably not," Tim said. "Real live nuns, or people dressed as nuns? Yes."

"But you are soldiers who have been in battle," Helen protested. "Surely you're not afraid of nuns?"

"We'd rather not explain," Tim said. "We don't want to relive an unfortunate part of our war."

"But if you women are with us," Simon said carefully, "I think I could face ghosts of nuns..."

Tim looked at Simon. Tim obviously wasn't sure but after a few seconds he said:

"We'll need your reassurance but I suppose we'll have to meet real nuns sometime. Ghostly nuns might be a start, I suppose."

"Before I continue with the story, and we possibly go into the passage there is a question I'd like to ask you two."

"And what question is that, Penelope?" Simon asked.

"It's simple. Why are you two officers here?"

"To look at the equipment the Americans left," Simon replied.

"That might be the excuse, but I don't think it's the real reason. Is it?"

"Why shouldn't it be?" Tim said.

"Because. Firstly, you two are Royal Engineers not REME or Transport. Secondly, artificers or mechanics would be better qualified than you. Thirdly, the Americans took so much equipment to Normandy and more is arriving daily. Some of that would have been damaged while being landed or in battle. There must be far more salvageable equipment in Normandy than the few items left here. So -- again I ask Why are you here?"

"You're too clever for your own good, Penelope," Simon said.

He looked at Tim who shrugged his shoulders.

"OK. I'll answer. Yes, you are right. REME or Transport and other ranks would be better qualified than Tim and me. Yes, there is a mass of equipment covering acres of land near Bayeux in Normandy, many thousands of items. Some of them might be repaired but the Americans are supplying so much that we probably don't need the damaged stuff.

Why are we here? Both of us were injured in Normandy. We're convalescing and should be physically fit for duty in a couple of weeks. But we're also trying to recover from shock. I suppose you might call it battle stress. It isn't. We have been through so many battles in North Africa and Sicily that if we were liable to that we would have encountered it earlier. It was a different kind of shock. Tim and I were attacked from an unexpected enemy. We didn't react as quickly as we should. That's why we were injured and why we lost so many of our men."

Simon stopped. He looked at Tim again.

"You might as well come clean, Simon," Tim said. "It might help."

"You tell them, Tim," Simon said.

"OK. Ladies, Simon and I were educated at boarding schools, different ones and the names don't matter. Of course they were schools for boys only. We don't have sisters, only brothers. We went into the Army straight from school in 1939 and have been through the Dunkirk evacuation, North Africa and Sicily. We've done a lot but what we have missed is..."

Tim paused. He swallowed before continuing.

"What we have missed is any contact, even minimal, with women. There have been no women in our lives, except our mothers, since we started school and none since we have been in the Army. We don't know how to behave around women. That cost us our injuries and dead soldiers. How? I'd rather not say. But we were sent here because you Land Girls are here. We were told to try to learn how to react properly to women."

I did something daring. I walked over to Tim's chair, leant over and kissed him briefly on the forehead.

"I'll look after you, Tim," I said.

His first reaction seemed to be shock that I had kissed him. What he did next was a surprise. He grabbed me and pulled me on to his lap. I had wanted something like that from Tim for weeks. I snuggled up to him. I could see that Judy hadn't waited for Simon. She had put herself on Simon's lap and was kissing him.

"We'll ALL look after you," Helen said as she stood behind Tim's chair. She stroked his hair with a hand. Tim tilted his head back to look at her. Helen bent forward and kissed his forehead. Within seconds Tim and Simon were surrounded by the other women who took turns to kiss cheeks. I could feel Tim relax. From the time I sat on his lap his body had been really tense as if he couldn't accept what was happening.

"If you had said earlier," Judy said, "we could have helped you sooner. For novices you have been reasonable. You treated us with respect, too much respect. We're hard working girls who like to relax when off duty. But we are willing to help you learn what you have been missing. All of us. Any of us."

I could see the others nodding.

"For a start," I said, "we are going to meet the ghostly nuns. But you two will have three female protectors each. We'll look after you. The nuns aren't supposed to be frightening but if nuns are part of your problem perhaps you should meet them."

I kissed Tim. Judy kissed Simon.

"It's quarter to midnight. We need to be in the passageway in five minutes. Come on!" I ordered.

Tim and Simon were surrounded. My arm was around Tim's waist. Judy had pulled Simon's arm across her shoulder.

I unlocked the door to the passageway. I turned on the lights. We went in, leaving the door open behind us. I passed the keys to Helen who unlocked the other door leading into the church. We watched as she opened that door.

"Good evening, ladies and gentlemen,"

We swung around. A nun was standing in the doorway leading from the Manor. She looked as solid as we did. There were several nuns behind her. All of them were wearing the old-fashioned nuns' habits with elaborate white headdresses.

"There's no need to be frightened of us, gentlemen. If you will precede us into the church I will explain."

I pushed Tim with my arm. All eight of us walked into the church. It was lit by candles. How?

The six nuns bowed to the altar before turning around to face us.

"Please sit on the first pew," the nun said.

She was standing with her back to the steps leading to the altar. There were five nuns standing behind her on the lowest step.

"I'm Sister Mary. We six nuns were originally Catholic nuns but became Church of England nuns when King Henry the Eighth changed the Church. We had been unhappy with the local priest before the change but worked well with his replacement.

Unfortunately we didn't change again when Queen Mary came to the throne. Our priest and we six became Protestant Martyrs. That is why we are ghosts. We've forgiven those who executed us years ago. Our role now is to provide help and comfort for those who live at the Manor. Now? That is you."

Sister Mary took a couple of steps towards us. I could feel Tim's body becoming tense. I stroked his arm gently.

"Tim and Simon? These Land Girls will help you. They won't hurt you, embarrass you, or do anything that might be awkward for you. All of them, including those who aren't here, will do their best for you. But they need to know why. You don't want to tell them so I will."

Tim tried to stand up. It wasn't a serious attempt. My arm held him.

"Ladies, Tim and Simon were attacked and injured by nuns in Normandy. They weren't nuns. They were baby-faced SS Hitler Youth soldiers dressed in nuns' habits. If that was all, Tim and Simon wouldn't be so upset by that battle. The Germans had hidden behind real French nuns. The Royal Engineers knew there was a nunnery, a closed and silent order, close to where they were repairing a bridge. They weren't surprised to see a group of nuns approaching them and stood up to let them pass. The real nuns had their hands tied under their tunic..."

Sister Mary put her hands inside her tunic. They were completely hidden.

"...and fastened to the rope around their waist. They couldn't move their hands. I said they were a silent order. As part of their dress they wore a loose mask over the lower face to remind them, and anyone seeing them, that they should not speak. Under that mask the real nuns had been cruelly gagged. They were prevented from speaking. The Germans had taken ten of the younger nuns as a human shield, telling them that if they didn't cooperate the older nuns would be shot. They had stripped the older nuns and tied them up, leaving some wounded troops to watch that those nuns didn't escape.

The nuns walked towards Tim and Simon and their troops. Tim and Simon were standing behind a jeep looking at a map. As the real nuns passed the Germans dressed as nuns pulled submachine guns from under their tunics and opened fire. They killed twenty British troops before Tim and Simon reacted, opening fire with their own sten guns. Even though they had both been shot in their upper bodies they and others killed all the nuns, real and fake. They couldn't tell the difference and if they were going to save the rest of their men they had to stop the Germans.

Of course, the SS troops in the nunnery didn't keep their promise. As soon as they heard their comrades open fire they shot all the older nuns before retreating."

Tim was crying beside me. I pulled his head down to my shoulder.

"What I have to say to both men is this. The nuns who died have forgiven them. They have forgiven the Germans too. They are remembered and will be remembered as martyrs for the Liberation of France. They understand why Tim and Simon had to open fire. War is cruel. It has been cruel to you two. But although you should remember, you should know that what you did was necessary and you have been forgiven by those who died at your hands."

Tim lifted his head and looked straight at Sister Mary.

"Thank you," he said very softly.

Sister Mary walked forward and placed her hand lightly on his head. She did the same to Simon.

"And now? Now it is time for the midnight service. We will pray for you, and for those brave French nuns."

+++

A priest appeared in front of the altar. We went through the service almost in a daze. I had to help Tim kneel and stand at the appropriate places. It seemed unreal to be taking part in a service led by ghostly nuns and their priest even though they looked so solid. The priest said prayers for forgiveness and blessing for Tim and Simon. The Land Girls' 'amen' was loud and clear.

At the end of the service Sister Mary signalled for us to leave. We walked back down the passageway. The nuns followed. At the end of the passageway Tim turned around. I still had my arm around his waist.

"Thank you, Sister Mary," he said.

"Tim, Simon," Sister Mary said, "Learn to dance. You'll enjoy it."

They did -- learn to dance. One evening a week we got out the wind up gramophone. We taught both men first how to waltz.

+++

Two weeks later both men were visited by an Army doctor and certified as fit to resume duty with their unit. We Land Girls were sorry to see them go but all of us had been dancing in their arms.

We were grateful to Sister Mary and her nuns. All of us had been to evening services in the Church on Sundays. It seemed normal that the services were led by a ghost of a priest and ghostly nuns.

As for the answer to our original question?

Before they left for France Tim and Simon had to go to Buckingham Palace to be awarded the Military Cross. They hadn't expanded on their experiences in Normandy beyond what Sister Mary had told us. Their encounter with the SS Hitler Youth dressed as nuns had just been one incident in their activities in Normandy, destroying occupied German bunkers and building several bridges under artillery fire.

Judy and I kept in touch by letter with Tim and Simon. When the war is over, assuming we and they survive, they will come back to the haunted Manor to meet us again. What will happen then? Perhaps Sister Mary knows.

-

The idea for this story came from: The Haunted Manor (Straszny dwór) an opera in four acts composed by Polish composer Stanislaw Moniuszko in 1861--1864)

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by Anonymous

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by WilCox4902/22/18

I really enjoyed this one.

The ending is kind of a deus ex machina, everything explained and wrapped up by supernatural forces. None the less, it's fun and interesting, too. Thank you.

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by JJMemaw062311/19/17

Incredible!

Great story. Please keep writing!!

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