Last year I was challenged to write a Regency ghost story, and this is the result. My brother kindly posted it on his blog (I wasn’t blogging then) and has just re-blogged it here. I have decided to publish it here as well, so read on.
The Snowman (Robert Johnson circa 1790) later engraved by Thomas Bewick
Thursday December 22nd 1814
That morning the Rev Edward Grainger scraped the ice off his study window and looked across his garden towards the village. His garden, in which he spent a great deal of time in more clement weather, dipped down towards the road, on the other side of which was the wide village green, and beyond that the church. This morning however something was different, he looked closer and realised that the tree beside the pond, which had been frozen since late November, had split in two, one half still stood, the other had fallen into the pond and smashed the ice.
Pulling on his coat, he walked down the path and across the green to where several men were standing around the fallen tree.
“Morning Sir.” Caleb Smith, the sexton, touched his hat. “T’would be the cold did it, I suppose.”
“I am sure you are right.” The Rector replied, “The squire told me the other day that several trees in the new plantation had lost branches in the past few weeks.”
“It would be easy enough to get the wood out of the pond, two pair of horses could do it. But what would become of the timber.”
“Well, it would be no good for anything other than firewood. The tree belongs to the parish, so I suggest that the wood goes to the alms house.” He smiled at the old sexton. “I am sure that you can find the men to cut the wood, the parish will pay.” Adding, “As it will be cold work, send the men to the Rectory kitchen afterwards, there will be hot ale for all.”
Smiling the sexton began rounding up the men. As the Rector turned back towards his house his two sons, just returned from school and university for the holidays, came running out towards him. They looked at the smashed ice on the pond.
“Sorry lads,” the sexton said, “There is no way you can skate today, t’will be a day or two before the ice is thick enough to skate on again.”
“That’s all right.” said James, the eldest, “We were going to build a snowman anyway.”
An hour later he saw that his sons had organised the rest of the village boys, to build a large snowman beside the path that crossed the green, as the dusk came on it looked very realistic, just like a large man in a greatcoat looking towards the Rectory.
That evening the Rector, accompanied by his wife and elder son, drove across the park to the Manor House. Sir Thomas had sent his carriage to bring the Rectory family, together with the Misses Beddoes, the daughters of the previous Rector, who lived in a cottage beside the church. The Rev. Grainger often joked that their home was more convenient for the church than the Rectory, which always made them giggle.
Lights from the manor house shone across the frozen snow of the park as they approached, the cold was bitter, the hot bricks that they had been given as they began their short journey were now ice cold. Their welcome was warm enough to disperse the cold, Lady Scott loved entertaining and was always looking for a reason to hold a party, and Christmas gave her the perfect excuse for bringing together all the neighbouring families. Most of the people gathered in the great hall they knew, but there was one gentleman there they had never seen before, he was introduced as Michael Scott, a distant cousin of Sir Thomas.
“In fact I know nothing about him,” the baronet said to the Rector later in the evening, “I was introduced to him at my club in London, as a distant relative, and Jane insisted on inviting him down. I thought he might be interested in one of my daughter’s but he makes no efforts there.” He looked across to where James was dancing with Charlotte, the oldest of his three girls. Lady Scott broke in.
“Yes, they make a lovely couple. It would be delightful if they did marry.” “But not for some time, they are much too young.” The Squire replied, but his tone expressed approbation of the idea.
This pleasant conversation was suddenly interrupted by a commotion on the other side of the large room.
“You are mistaken, I doubt you have the wit to recognise your own cat if it stuck its claws into your skinny legs in the dark.”
Mr Scott stormed out of the room, leaving the two misses Beddoes sobbing, Lady Scott and Mrs Grainger ran across to calm them. A few moments later Sir Thomas and the Rector joined the ladies in the small room where they had taken the shocked spinsters, curious to know what had caused the commotion. The women were all sipping tea, and were talking quietly over what had happened.
“It is so strange,” Mrs Grainger began, “It was about nothing. Miss Beddoes mentioned that she thought she had seen Mr Scott in the village before and he got very cross about it.”
“Yes” interrupted Miss Henrietta, the younger of the two sisters. “It was nothing, It was about a month ago, the night was very cold but the moon was bright and I had seen a ring round it.”
“So she called me to the window.” Interrupted Miss Beddoes. “And on the green we saw two men, one looked just like our cousin David, he was wearing that old hat he always did, the one trimmed with white lace.”
“And the other looked like Mr Scott.” Continued her sister, and then they walked into the shadow of the tree by the pond.”
“But it couldn’t have been Mr. Scott. Because Mr Scott said it wasn’t him.”
“And it couldn’t have been David as he would have called to see us, however late it was.” Henrietta finished triumphantly.
Curious, but concerned for his neighbours, the Rector said. “But you are still shocked, I will send for the carriage and we will take you home straight away.”
“Oh No.” said the Miss Beddoes simultaneously, “We don’t want to spoil anything, and the young people are having so much fun.” She looked across to where James and another young man were serving slices of cake to several young ladies, including the squire’s daughters.
The Rectory party were amongst the last to leave. As they were putting on their coats and cloaks, the Rector was reminded of the events of the morning. Charlotte bent towards his son and said softly.
“If I can I will come and see your snowman tomorrow.”
“Well take your sisters and Miss Grey, and wrap up warm, my dear.” said her mother, who had overheard the conversation.
“Take this Reverend.” Said her husband, handing the Rector a newspaper, ‘I have finished with it.” Sir Thomas took the Morning Chronicle whilst the Rector took The Times, the papers were very expensive and were published weekly, so the two gentlemen took one each and exchanged them regularly.
As they walked up the path to their front door the Rector looked back across the village green. On the far side lights showed where the Misses Beddoes were getting out of Sir Thomas’s carriage. He stopped, puzzled until his wife called him inside. He was certain the snowman had been to the left of the path, but it was now clearly on the right.
To be continued