Weekend Wind Down – Ghosts

Why did you want to see me?’
She reached over quite steadily and took her cup of tea from my outstretched hand, but her face lost quite a bit of its usual high colour.
‘Oh. That lot. What do you want to know?’
‘That could take a while…’
‘Précis then.’
She stared into her tea for a long minute then started to talk, I switched on the voice recorder on my phone, and sat back to listen.
‘My granny was born and raised in this pub, though it was called The Bell in them days. She always said there was a ghost. Sad but not dangerous. Was supposed to be a fine lady whose husband came back from the wars to find her pregnant. Legend has it that he kept the child but killed the woman after she had given birth. Her bones are supposed to be in the walls somewhere. Anyway. After great grandpa sold up the place ticked along quite normal. Until the middle of the nineteen sixties when there was a fire. Insurance job was what the local rumour mill said. Whatever. About half the pub was burned to the ground. They rebuilt, and when they was doing it they found a picture, in the roof someplace. The fair maid and falcon. Like the pub sign. The picture was sold to the New Forest Museum, but they had it copied for the pub sign and changed the name. The museum got some clever people in to look at the painting, and they reckoned the woman in the picture was somebody called Rosalind Acres, who is recorded as having died in childbirth, along with her child, in the nineteenth century. Her husband is supposed to have mourned her till the day he died, and buried her in the garden with her baby, because the church refused to allow an unbaptised child to be buried in consecrated ground. Whatever is the truth of it, after they rebuilt there was said to be a second, gentle ghost. Maybe the fair maid herself. And that’s all I really know…’
‘But’ I prompted gently.
‘But there seems to be at more than them. I think at least two more. One something followed Philip wherever he went, it was black and bad. There was an atmosphere of hatred. It frightened me. And when he killed himself I could feel its anger. Then there was a quieter something singing in my head when Philip died, it seemed to feel some sort of justice had been done. Then it all went quiet. But I don’t think anything has gone.’
‘Me neither.’ I said. ‘Me neither. But thank you for being frank with me. Did you ever hear a name for the first ghost?’
‘My granny said she was called Aline.’
‘Thanks. Now drink your tea and have a chocolate biscuit before Ben comes back and snaffles the lot.’
She relaxed in her chair and accepted a milk chocolate digestive. ‘I’m dying of curiosity’ she said.
‘Well. I’m sorry, but I can’t help now. Maybe later.’
She grinned.

After a few minutes’ chat, she got up and went back to her work. I decided to run some internet searches. Rosalind Acres was fairly well documented and I printed off some fifty sheets of information. Aline seemed to be a relatively common name in the Middle Ages, but inputting the rest of Mrs A’s story brought up two references in learned tomes. I printed both of them. It was a start, I thought.

I began reading the story of Rosalind Acres’ life. She was the beloved only child of a very rich American, who had married (for love the reports said) a thirty-year-old Englishman called Christopher Acres, when she was just seventeen. Her husband was a country gentleman and their home was Midwinter Manor, which seemed, by the old map I had printed out, to have been more or less precisely where the Fair Maid was now located. Her death, at the age of twenty-one, was well documented, and there was more than one mention of a rumour that the lady and her child had been interred in the gardens of the manor. So far, Mrs A’s story seemed to concur with the known facts. I wasn’t sure if that was a good thing, or not.

Rosalind caught my imagination, but the pub sign purporting to be her was rather ineptly painted, and I found I wanted a look at the original from which it was copied, so I hit the museum’s web site. The picture was exquisite, and according to the museum catalogue, the portrait (found in the roof of a local pub during rebuilding), was the young Rosalind Acres nee Barclay, and it was attributed the pre-raphaelite John Everett Millais. Rosalind had, if the portrait didn’t lie, been as lovely as she was young. I printed out a colour copy to show Ben.

I shivered, then pulled myself together, and put ghostly business to one side in favour of pub business.

From Who Put Her In? a thriller with supernatural overtones by JaneJago.

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