The Lady Of Chesterford Grange

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Will the lady make her appearance tonight?…

I’m so bored stuck here doing the same thing day in, day out.

I wish I could start over somewhere warm and sunny, but in order to do that I need closure. That’s the modern term, I believe. I’m just not sure how one goes about getting it.

In the meantime, I suppose I’ll just have to put up with my lot.

You might have noticed, I like to grumble. Nothing like a good grumble to put you in a happier frame of mind, at least that’s always been the case for me.

Anyway, I shouldn’t let myself get distracted. We have guests and it’s terribly rude to let oneself wander off mentally at a time like this. I must make an effort to smile and concentrate on what’s being said.

I turn towards Mr Hallingbury and adopt an interested air.

“Chesterford Grange was built in Tudor times. It is rumoured that King Henry the Eighth once spent the night here…”

It’s no use. I’m off again. I’ve heard this spiel a hundred times and Henry, bless his soul, never graced our doors.

We have given shelter to several Lords and a couple of Dukes but never a King or Queen of the realm. Not yet, anyway.

Undeterred by this fact however, our guests gather every month in the oak-panelled hallway, a nervous excitement twitching through them as the grandfather clock ticks down to midnight.

The owners make a bundle selling tickets for the Ghost Walk, as it’s so grandly named.

I like Mr and Mrs Hallingbury. They came from Winchester originally. Now that’s a place with a lot of history and more than its fair share of Kings. I visited once in my youth.

I love the south west – I have a lot of ancestors there.

The Hallingburys are a breath of fresh air. She’s into her arts and crafts and likes things done right, which hasn’t always been the case at the Grange.

Truth to tell, I have a bit of a crush on him.

There is always a twinkle in his eye, and he is quick with a joke or a kindly word.

He utterly adores her too which is wonderful to behold. I have seen so many couples come and go, declaring undying love one minute and then breaking each other’s hearts the next.

This time it’s different. These two have staying power.

Chesterford Grange can be a bleak place when it is owned by unhappy people but when it is cared for, as it is now, by such a lovely couple, the house seems to respond to their warmth.

Leaving aside the incident with the ceiling in the east wing, of course. That was such an unfortunate episode.

The ceiling had been teetering on the brink for the last couple of decades, held in place mostly by cobwebs and wishes.

I wouldn’t have minded in the least if it had fallen onto the head of the sour-faced woman who owned the Grange before the Hallingburys. It would have served her right for hacking the old house to pieces and caring not a jot about how any of us felt.

Life doesn’t always work out as you hope, however, and so the ceiling fell during the Hallingburys’ time.

Mrs H cried and Mr H did his best to comfort her. It was such a mess.

But good things came of it. They found the stash of gold coins hidden centuries before under the floorboards of the old master’s bedroom.

They also turned up a smaller watercolour that one of the Victorian builders had surreptitiously wedged into a gap to hide his shoddy workmanship.

The coins and the painting sold for a fair sum, so I was told – enough to reinstate the ceiling and leave them a little left over to go towards the renovations of the public rooms.

Behind the renovated rooms, it’s a leaking old bucket of a house but the Hallingburys spin the fantasy and keep the cash rolling in.

Only last week we had our first wedding. Everyone was rushed off their feet because the wedding party stayed the night before. Minus the groom of course who was banished to the Queen’s Head in the village.

It was so exciting. The bride looked beautiful.

It almost brought a tear to my eye, silly sentimentalist that I am.

No place for sentimentalism tonight, however.

We have the usual crowd in: the earnest university professor with his gaggle of students, the mother and daughter who always bring a flask of tea and a Tupperware box containing lemon curd sandwiches, then the sallow faced boy who was here for the UFO talk on Wednesday – oh, and the priest. How could I forget him?

He is clearly desperate to perform an exorcism, the unquenchable fire of a zealot blazes in his eyes.

I almost wish he’d see a spirit just so he could get the whole thing out of his system and leave us in peace.

Then there are the new people, half a dozen or so, listening with rapt attention.

They’re all here to see the lady in white.

Not the most original name I grant you. The Hallingburys had a brain storming session with the staff to see if anyone could come up with a better nom de guerre. The lady of Chesterford Grange got the most votes but it’s a bit of a mouthful. So, lady in white she remains.

It’s a cliché, I suppose but it could be worse – we could have a horse with a headless rider.

Oh, wait a minute, we do have one of those. But not in the house, obviously. That would be silly.

Although the sight of it in the dining room might be enough to scare the priest away permanently.

No, we have the lady in white. Who according to the most recent sighting glides down the curved oak staircase on the stroke of midnight and then walks through the oak-panelled wall and disappears into the library.

I have never understood why ghosts have to walk through walls.

Why can’t they just use doorways like everyone else? I suppose it adds a degree of mystique to the whole thing, but it always makes me smile.

We have more visitors than normal this month because the Hallingburys had a bed and breakfast guest stay two weeks ago who swore that he saw the lady in white make her trip down the stairs.

The gentleman, a bombastic Texan, broadcast his story to all and sundry. The local papers had a field day and the Hallingburys played the story up on social media.

Personally, I think all the Texan saw was the bottom of too many whiskey glasses – or perhaps Mary the maid playing with a sheet again. But it would be a shame to spoil their fun with a dose of reality.

And as I said, I like the Hallingburys.

The university professor and his students have brought recording equipment this month.

Don’t ask me what exactly, but all sorts of gizmos.

They have their cameras trained on the top of the stairs and microphones held aloft. At the slightest provocation they turn and twitch and move together like a sea anemone in a strong current.

I watch the priest ready himself in case he has to leap into action to save all our souls.

Mr Hallingbury clears his throat and we all turn expectantly towards him as he points to the grandfather clock.

“It is almost time, ladies and gentlemen. Should we be blessed with an appearance by the lady in white, I would ask you to treat her with respect and let her go on her way unmolested.”

We all know he’s talking to the priest. The Hallingburys allow him to attend because he adds a sense of theatre to the occasion and the old duffer can’t really do anyone any harm.

They would of course be devastated if he actually succeeded in exorcising any of the ghosts of Chesterford Grange as their income stream would be severely depleted as a result!

But still, Mr Hallingbury plays the part that is expected of him and a hush descends over the group.

The only sound is the stentorian ticking of the old clock.

You can almost feel the drawing in and holding of breath as the hands of the clock reach twelve and it begins its mournful chime.

Everyone looks with hope and fear, excitement and curiosity to the top of the stairs.

The last chime calls out and the sound dies away into the charged atmosphere of the hallway joined by the collective sigh of the gathered audience.

“It seems as though the lady in white has other plans tonight,” Mr Hallingbury says. “Perhaps next month she might grace us with her presence. Could I invite you all into the library for some refreshments by the fire?

“And then we can adjourn to the terrace to see if the horse with the headless rider might make an appearance. We have some fine Chesterford Grange fruit cake for anyone who would like to take some home and our very own homemade Sloe gin is very reasonably priced.”

I shake my head at his audacity and smile.

The food and drink are a little sideline. Mrs H is keen to diversify as much as possible.

I heard tell of themed biscuits and a host of Christmas fancies coming our way. I hope it works out for them, I really do. They deserve to do well.

The crowd takes up residence in the library studying the dusty tomes that line the shelves, dutifully sampling morsels of fruitcake. Mrs H stands ready with her branded Chesterford Grange bags, hoping the visitors will want to take some cake home with them.

I watched her this afternoon – up to her elbows in flour and dried fruit, she was. That woman works so hard.

Mr H is regaling anyone who will listen with tales of his Sloe gin production.

The man’s enthusiasm is indefatigable. I like him even more as a result.

That said, I hope he’s kept the gin away from the stables. Sir Mortimer Chesterford likes a tipple.

He only detaches his head to give the punters a show and the last time he partook of the Sloe gin he got a little carried away, without the impediment of his head to get in the way, and he tipped the whole bottle down his neck and rode poor Pegasus backwards!

The horse quite literally did not know if he was coming or going.

I watch as the group move on towards the terrace. I am pleased to see several of them clutching their Chesterford Grange bags. Mrs H is beaming with pride and delight.

I know Sir Mortimer is going to have his work cut out for him trying to manifest in front of our guests tonight.

People don’t realise the effort that goes into suddenly materialising out of nowhere.

They think it’s easy, but It really can be quite exhausting. Such is our lot.

There are no psychics among the group tonight and only a couple of sensitives which makes the job harder still.

With a sigh, I turn and walk back up the stairs. Maybe next month I will have better sport.

Sadly, this lot wouldn’t be able to see a ghost if she had been standing right behind them the whole time…

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