UNDER THE IVY, a haunting tale of a love lost

graveyard ghost

A ghost story inspired by the lyrics of Under The Ivy by Kate Bush

I contend that enjoyment of churchyards in no way indicates morbidity of mind. Indeed I find pleasantly absorbing these testimonies to the qualities of the unknown dead — generations of beloved husbands and devoted wives, of men who were people’s sons, of names that were mothers to men.

Which all goes to explain how I came to be wandering round the churchyard of a hamlet named — I think — White Rose Hill one spring evening. And there I found the perfect tomb, a monument so unusual that it took away my breath.

There in a quiet corner was the headstone whose story I shall never forget. It was unusual because it bore lettering not only upon its face, but also upon its back. And the words were oddly contradictory. Let me quote them straight away. “Here Lies,” read the inscription upon the stone’s face, “all that is mortal of Mary Gray, who passed away on May 3rd, 1890. In gentleness and virtue, in kindliness and calm, there breathed none like her. Pious, charitable and meek, she moved among those who loved her with tolerance and mercy. She never spoke an unkind word or did an unjust act. In lowliness and humility she passed her days, beloved by all, an example to everyone who crossed her path.” There followed the Initials, “G.T.”

* * * * *

On passing behind the stone I saw the other inscription, which ran as follows: “To the memory of Mary Gray from. A.T. She was free as a linnet, happy as a lark. Her world was laughter, and laughter was Mary. May these qualities never lie forgotten, the virtue of gay carelessness, the delight of her changing day.”

“You’ll be wondering about Mary Gray, I daresay,” said a voice, and there he stood, a greybeard with a scythe, the very spirit of all graveyard tidiers.

“Certainly, I am—I daresay, for that, most strangers do.”

“Ah,” he said, “that they do. That gravestone stands as a lesson to people that don’t persevere—and it shows that it doesn’t pay in this life to take too much account of your moods. I always tell folks to be themselves and not let other folks influence them. Human beings can do terrible things to other human beings, just by being around in their lives.”

“Then tell me the story of Mary Gray,” I begged him.

He stared for a moment or two at the headstone in silence. Then he told me her tale.

She was a pleasant enough, pretty enough girl, daughter of a small farmer of the parish. There was nothing, it appeared, really very much to Mary Gray.

“What’s more, nobody’d’ve ever remembered Mary Gray if it hadn’t been for that headstone—unless, of course, it was Peter Monk,” said the old man. “Peter and she was always about together as kiddies, birds-nesting, spinning their tops, helping with the harvest, and getting into scrapes. In fact, there wasn’t a person in White Rose Hill that didn’t see them two walking to altar as inevitably as they both had to die one day. It seemed the natural thing for them to do. And sure enough, when they got to an age when folks stop spinning tops and think about other things, they began to step out together.”

Nothing could have been more pleasingly normal, than the courtship of these two—their relationship was as soft as spring weather, and doubtless they would have walked to the altar after the appropriate time had the Tenby brothers not chosen to arrive in White Rose.

These were strange chaps, Ambrose and Gideon Tenby, the one a blithe, downright spirit always singing and chaffing, the other a solemn crag of a man with grey, staring eyes that were inclined to make the ordinary mortal turn from them after a while.

They came to labour on Cranham’s Farm, and within a week all White Rose Hill was wondering about them.

* * * * *

Ambrose spent evening after evening in the public house, Gideon Sunday after Sunday in church. Ambrose looked with gay insolence at the village girls. Gideon passed them by, his eyes straight before him.

“They were mighty queer chaps, I tell you, sir,” declared the ancient, “and I ought to know, as I seen ‘em often and knew ‘em well. Characters, both, and influences—yes, influences in the village and influences on Mary Gray. That’s what I mean when I said that about folks having to be themselves in this life. Folks found it hard to be themselves with Gideon and Ambrose Tenby—ordinary folks, that is.”

“You don’t tell me that she fell in love with them both?” I demanded.

He stared very hard at me for a moment, and then he said: “That’s what I was coming to. She did, and she didn’t. Truth was, Mary Gray was swept away. She’d never met their ilk before, and she was an ordinary girl, you’ll understand me; just an ordinary country girl who’d been walking out with Peter Monk, who was an ordinary country lad.”

“Then first Gideon, then Ambrose Tenby starts in on Mary—and she doesn’t know what to think. There’s Gideon, with his grey eyes, sitting in the front parlour with his hands on his knees, talking about books and learning and the Bible. Then there’s Ambrose, swinging his leg over the garden gate, whistling under her window like a blackbird, telling her to come down and walk with him to Potter Hill and look for faeries.”

It all bore out the old man’s contention that folks could think themselves in love with any number of folks provided they, the other folks, carried on enough and had enough character. Peter Monk, it appeared, had no character to match the Tenby brothers. He was far from gormless, but he was ordinary. The long and the short of it was that Peter dropped out of the running, and Mary did little to stop him.

* * * * *

Mary herself fell under the spell of the two brothers. One day she thought she could never live any way but quietly and seriously with Gideon Tenby. The next day it was the insolent challenge of Ambrose’s whistle that set her heart beating and her head singing.

Mary Gray was gay, and Mary Gray was grave—Mary Gray craved pious calm, and Mary Gray wanted to dance over the hills and faraway. And, tormented, she could not make up her mind to marry either.

“It was a very queer business.” said the greybeard. “And on the whole, I sorely blame Peter Monk for not carrying on his own suit. As it was, he was scared of two folks who had strong characters, and he couldn’t bear to see the pair of them wooing Mary, and he took himself off out of the district.

“The other folks said he was wrong, said he ought to have persevered, him and Mary belonging to the community and being friends all their lives, and the Tenby brothers being strangers. But he hadn’t the heart. The village saw Mary with a spell cast over her, and it begged Peter Monk to stand up for himself, and carry Mary off in a natural, normal way.

“But Peter hadn’t the heart—he was ordinary, you see. Mary was ordinary, too, but she was a woman, and the brothers were men, and there was influence, you understand.”

Well, it appeared that a short while later both Mary’s parents died, and when this happened the brothers were after her harder than ever. But she couldn’t make up her poor mind, and she longed for what she did not recognise as just ordinary love with someone ordinary like Peter Monk. She couldn’t deal with the Tenbys’ dramatics—but they moved her as an impressionable audience is moved by an emotional play.

* * * * *

To cut short a story that went on for another year, Mary Gray grew ill, an illness that was aggravated by doubts and indecision and fear. And just a year after the death of her parents she died herself.

The brothers themselves raised the headstone of her grave, and each had inscribed on it his picture of Mary Gray.

“But, you see, they were both wrong,” said the old man. “Mary Gray wasn’t any of the things that they set down about her. She was influenced, that’s all, by each of them in turn. At heart she was just —Mary Gray. And she ought to have married Peter Monk who hadn’t any ideas about her like them two had, and who just loved Mary Gray, whom he used to spin tops with and take birds-nesting.”

“In about a year’s time, what’s more, he came back, Peter Monk did, not knowing what had happened, wondering to himself if his Mary Gray had married or remained single.”

“The queerest part of the story is that he claimed he had seen her,” added the storyteller. “Not more than a few months before.”

“Mary?” I asked. “But surely she was—”

“Dead —Yes, quite dead, sir.”

Suddenly a cold, algid sweat breached my forehead, and I looked down to find my hand unconsciously brushing itself against the headstone.

“Peter had told folk that he had been overseas. One particular night, following a day where Mary had dominated his thoughts, he had pushed out from harbour and, in that very moment, he had seen a faint white thing moving along the promenade . It had caught him by surprise and presenting itself as such an unusual sight, he had at once rested his oars and stared towards the shore. Straining his eyes, he began to make out the shape of a woman — and no ordinary woman, for it had taken on the shape of his past love—Mary.”

“Good God!” I exclaimed. “What on earth did the man do?”

“That night not a great deal, for as soon as he had called out her name she had vanished without a trace, without having uttered a word. But soon after, he made up his mind that he would return to White Rose Hill, to seek out Mary.”

“And what he found was this headstone, and the Tenbys gone.”

“He stood reading the two inscriptions, and after a while he shook his head. His Mary Gray wasn’t there. He stood by her grave, and remembered her, the way her soft eyes looked away from his shy ones, the quiet sound of her voice as she talked. She was ordinary, and he was ordinary, and they ought to have been married and had ordinary kids, if you get my meaning, sir.”

He stopped, and then, bending down, he pulled aside the heavy ivy that overgrew the lower end of Mary Gray’s grave. “That was Mary Gray,” he said, and pointed to the crude letters, roughly chipped on the low stone. They read: “Here lies my lovely Mary—Peter.”

“And Peter Monk carved that himself?” I asked.

“With my own hands,” said the old man, “of moonlight nights—three years it took me. I don’t know why I loved her, sir. I just loved Mary. I blame myself bitterly, bitterly. If I’d persevered, and hadn’t been scared—but I knew the truth of her, sir, and I keep it private, not to give away the secret, under these ivy leaves.”

“And her ghost? — what you had seen by the water?”

“Just a place she had longed to go,” sighed the old man. “That little girl inside her, just retreating to her favourite place.”

*     *     *     *     *

P.J. Hodge is the author of GHOSTS AND OTHER SUPERNATURAL GUESTS, 12 tales of supernatural terror available from Amazon as ebook and Kindle:

http://mybook.to/ghosts.

Winner of Gothic Reader Book of the Year.

ghost stories

The Ghost of the Grand National

poster1

Although the public were not told of it at the time — had they been they would probably only have laughed, for people were very sceptical with regard to the supernatural in those days—the Grand National was once won by a ghost. And this is how it happened… Continue reading

THE SHEETED DEAD, a ghost tale

white sheet ghost

It was early April, the wind was howling round the old boarding school, and the rain was coming down in torrents, while in one of the cosy little rooms six girls sat chatting in front of the fire. One of them, Maisie Andrews, sat up and said, “Let’s tell some ghost stories!”

“Wouldn’t it be lovely,” agreed Rosy.

“You silly children,” said Emily, who was a little older than the others, “there’s no such thing as ghosts, so why talk about them? Why talk about a whole lot of nonsense?”

“Well, if you don’t like it you needn’t listen, we are going to tell stories. You start,” said little Elsie.

“All right,” said Maisie, “I’ll tell a story that will make Emily believe in ghosts.”

“Go ahead,” said Emily, “you see if you can!”

“Well, if I make you believe in them, will you do that sketch of Valentino for me, you know you’re so good at drawing?”

“Yes, if you make me believe in ghosts I’ll do that for you.”

“All right, I’ll go and get the paper and pencils. Irene you come with me.” Maisie got the materials and returned to the room without Irene.

“Where is Irene?” they all said when she came back.

“Oh, Miss Waverly said she wanted to have a talk with her.”

“Well, what about the ghost story?” asked Josie.

“Put the lights out. No one can believe a ghost story while the lights are on.”

“I’m starting to get creepy already,” said Rosy. “Well, I’m not,” said Emily. “Now for the ghost story.”

“Once there lived, in this very house, a terribly wicked man, whose wife had a lot of money. She had a lovely big dog, which was very faithful to her. The man was anxious to have his wife’s money. One day he called her into his room and said, ‘Woman, your hour has come!’ Then, in an instant the dog rushed in and leapt at the man, but he picked up his gun and shot it. He then said again, ‘Woman your hour has come!’ and again snatched up the gun and shot her, and her ghost still haunts this place.”

A small white figure came into the room, and went straight towards Emily. She jumped from her seat, and became as white as a sheet.

“Now do you believe in ghosts?” whispered Maisie.

“Oh, I can’t help believing in them now, can I? Yes, yes, of course I do.” Then little Irene came out and a sheet lay beside her. Emily was wild with rage.

“How dare you play such a trick on me?”

“You said you did believe in ghosts so you have to do my sketch for me,” said Maisie.

“But I don’t,” replied Emily.

“But you did,” retorted Maisie.

“I’ll do your wretched sketch for you, but I don’t believe in ghosts!”

All at once there came the sound of footsteps down the corridor — and, with the girls hushed and staring at the door quizzically, it swung open, without announcement, and, for the second time that evening, a white figure came into the room.

This figure was, however, considerably taller than little Irene.

* * * * * * *

P.J. Hodge is the author of GHOSTS AND OTHER SUPERNATURAL GUESTS, 12 tales of supernatural terror available from Amazon as ebook and Kindle:

http://mybook.to/ghosts.

Winner of Gothic Reader Book of the Year.

ghost stories

The Woman Who Floated, a ghostly tale for Mothering Sunday

mothering sunday story

Tomorrow is Mothering Sunday, time for a little Simnel cake, perhaps?…

I had overheard conversation on the topic but felt unable to examine the rumours from any rational point of view. Ultimately, the villain would be unmasked; more so, all my instincts pointed to the revelation of a scoundrel no more than a child or simple-minded adult (perhaps more than one) intent on concocting mischief!

But no matter my opinion; for it is the past. Instead, I will keep to the facts, simply told, and begin with the events of the afternoon of Mothering Sunday, two years before.

We had returned from church, the sky a bitter shade of grey; and at the margins of the unploughed fields surrounding us, dark clouds threatened with torpid heaviness. I passed my hand behind her back to support her frame and she, in turn, shrank further into my side, taking pitiful shelter from the bracing winds. It was the first time in many months I had seen her looking this frail.

Beside us, and looking nearly to be doubled-over by the strength of the gales, were Mrs Bentley and her son. He too was doing his utmost to support his mother and make some headway upon the path.

Finally, having negotiated such inclemency, we arrived at the front porch of our cottage, the middle of a nestled set of three.

I bid good afternoon to the Bentleys and stepped through the iron gate, at the same time removing a few veins of ivy that had made their way through from the adjacent hedgerow. Here, I made a commitment to spend time remedying matters at the front of the house having just spent a season behind it.

A few hours passed in drinking tea and conversation, when at half past three we were alarmed to hear an awful banging at the front door.

My mother indicated that she would rise to answer it, but I insisted that she should remain at rest and I should attend to the caller; though I was at a complete loss as to whom would be visiting at such an inconvenient time.

When I opened the door, I was surprised to see Mrs Bentley’s son and immediately I took note of his rather confused and distressed state. Holding his chest, he managed to find his voice and told me that I should come quickly to the house. I seized my coat and we rushed there immediately. Inside, upon the kitchen floor, I found Mrs Bentley, lying in a most unusual position, as if she had fallen backwards although, somehow, her arms had remained directly by her sides. With all the finesse of a well-read scholar I set about searching for signs of life upon the unfortunate woman’s body. But there was little I could do, as I soon became aware of a great coldness that had set into her. I recall having seen only one deceased person in my life, and I can assure you that I felt decidedly queasy despite deference in the duties I had in assisting her poor son.

A doctor was duly dispatched to the house and thereupon confirmation came that Mrs Bentley had suffered heart failure. It was a shocking circumstance despite Mrs Bentley’s advancing years; and on such a day, too!

That evening we invited Thomas, Mrs Bentley’s son, to stay with us. The situation was made all the more heartfelt by his insistence on persistently thanking us for our help in dealing with the day’s unfortunate events. Each time, I reminded him that it was the very least we could do considering the circumstances.

It was only through this close-hand hospitality did Thomas reveal a curious happening but an hour or so before his mother’s death. Continue reading

INNOCENT’S SONG, a ghost story

innocent's song

It led her to the bushes, and deep into its centre — such was its enchantment —whereupon she came across a little grave, nothing more than a headstone, but one that had been entirely hidden from view, consumed by the thick growth of gorse several feet in height. In all her years of living in the house she had never before stumbled across it. Stranger still was the inscription upon the headstone:—

‘Twas sweetness that cut you down,
As mild a song as Heaven found;
And turning from the face of day,
You softly sigh’d your soul away.
So happy infant, early blest,
In peaceful slumbers now you rest.

When she reached the house, and had related her tale, her aunt told her another story, one of a little girl who had been buried and forgotten:

Read the entire story here: Innocent’s Song

Innocent’s Song, a ghost story for ‘Oranges and Lemons’ Day

innocent's song, a ghost story

I intended this story for children but possibly it’s a little too scary! What do you think?

It was that part of the evening when the shadows are deepening and the twilight had nearly run its course. The singing birds had finished their merry song, and children were settling down for peaceful slumber.

The young children of Glenford Grange had in the early afternoon come out in the park for a little party, but, finding the open air so delightful, they were loath to return to the house, and lingered on enjoying to the full the calm, evening air. However, as darkness commenced to envelop the surroundings, they crept closer to one another, and conversed in whispers. To their right stretched a vast expanse of lawn, which seemed, to their imaginative minds, to be peopled with strange and mystic figures—fairies, ghosts, goblins, and other fearsome things. Their talk eventually fell on ghosts—a strange theme for discussion out there on the green lawn in the silence.

Helen looked round her timidly, the uncanny silence and stillness playing on her nerves. She turned her head, and then suddenly she gave a start as a terrified shriek escaped her lips.

“Look! over there!” she gurgled, clutching Adam by the arm. Her face went white as she trembled in every limb.

The remainder of the little party jumped to their feet in consternation, wondering at Helen’s strange behaviour. Alas ! They were only too soon reduced to the same straits of terror as she, when they looked in the direction of her outstretched finger.

A white ghostly figure drifted across the lawn—a figure of mystery; for whence it had come, or what was its mission they could not tell. Adam pinched himself hard to be assured that he was not dreaming. But, no! He had full command of his senses, for this silent, mysterious figure continued its noiseless way, getting nearer, ever nearer to the little huddled-up, terrified group under the tree.

What was that ? All three had heard the singing: a strange, disembodied voice chanting gently, coming to them from across the lawn.

The sound rose high into the air whereupon the words became clear.

“Oranges and lemons, say the bells of St. Clement’s.
You owe me five farthings, say the bells of St. Martin’s.
When will you pay me? say the bells of Old Bailey…”

Long it lingered, startling even the insects from the flowers, and then suddenly, in one mournful outburst, the cadence of it died away.

The ghostly figure was nearing the thicket at the edge of the woods, and scarcely had the last notes of the cry died away, before it also disappeared into nothingness—mere space as it seemed.

A night-owl screeched, and a tree cast its shadows over the forlorn little party. Then the Moon,” Her Majesty of the Night,” sailed forth in her full glory, shedding a silvery radiance over the landscape.

Trembling and quaking in every limb, it was long before the children induced themselves to pass that dreaded spot, where the mysterious apparition had appeared, and where that singing had seemed to summon the ghost back to the land whence it had come.

The next day the children were inclined to disbelieve that the previous night’s experience had really occurred. Out there now, with the sunshine pouring down, and the birds singing merrily, it seemed as if the occurrence had been merely the substance of some horrible nightmare. They strove to obliterate the memory of it from their minds, but in vain.

“I vote a game of hide and seek,” said Clifford at length. “It might help to rid us of these gloomy thoughts.”

The suggestion was eagerly accepted, and Adam and Blossom ran together to hide. Blossom wormed her way into the middle of a group of gorse-bushes, but suddenly she was confronted with the face of a child, grey and worn, as if bearing an age beyond her years, which peered at her through the bushes.

“Oh, my! Little dearest!” she cried. “Oh! My little dearest—come to me.”

A brilliant smile, as welcoming as the blossom, lit up the tiny face before her, but as quickly as it had come it faded, and was replaced by something quite different.

Astounded, Blossom stood there, frozen to the spot, staring wide-eyed at the little child, expecting it to come to her. And then, amidst the silence came a small sound, as if a metal blade was swiping somewhere in the near distance.

Snip! Snip! Snip!

Only then did Blossom looked beneath the face of the child, and then she realised the situation.

Snip! Snip! Snip! went the tiny blades.

Chip chop, chip chop went the voice in her head.

With her eyes closed and arms outstretched, she awaited the terrible thing, but it was not she who came, for Adam, quickly concluding that Blossom had chanced upon one of the previous night’s supposed ghosts made his way to intercept the little trespasser of the park. But he was doomed to disappointment, for, before he could clasp his arms around her, there rose in the air that ghastly chanting of the night before, and his little prisoner slipped from his grasp.

Baffled, foiled and disappointed, Adam and his cousins made a full search, hoping to find some clue to the mystery which at present enveloped the recent events. At last they reluctantly decided to let Mr. Glastin, Adam’s father, into their secret, for they were sure that if he made investigations he would set matters right. They found Mr. Glastin in his office, and the little party having seated themselves, Adam proceeded with his story.

“Father, did you hear a strange singing last night, and this morning?” he asked.

“Yes, my son,” replied Mr. Glastin, with a strange smile as he turned to view the serious young face of his son, “yes, it is not an uncommon sound, particularly at this time of year.”

“Father, sorry, I—,” Adam paused momentarily to look at his cousins, “—we, that is, do not understand.”

Mr. Glastin then related a strange tale, which gave some explanation to their recent experience.

His mother, so he told them, had, one night, been alone in the house except for her two small children when she was aroused from sleep by the sound of singing outside her bedroom window. She listened, her heart beating wildly. After what seemed hours the singing ceased, followed by sounds as of creeping footsteps around the house. Not for a moment were they silent. She could follow them all the way round till slowly, without hurry, without pause, they once more reached her window. A few moments of nerve-wracking silence. Then a crying, scarcely audible, becoming gradually louder and louder till it ended in an awful shriek. My mother lay trembling, almost too frightened to breathe, till she heard the little gate of her front garden open and shut, then, summoning all her courage, she rose, and creeping to the window, raised the blind just a little. She saw in the bright moonlight, walking across the lawn towards her aunt’s house, a small figure in a white dress. The figure disappeared behind the gorse bushes. My poor mother, terrified for the safety of her relatives, left the house and followed the singing which still hung upon the air. It led her to the bushes, and deep into its centre — such was its enchantment —whereupon she came across a little grave, nothing more than a headstone, but one that had been entirely hidden from view, consumed by the thick growth of gorse several feet in height. In all her years of living in the house she had never before stumbled across it. Stranger still was the inscription upon the headstone:—

‘Twas sweetness that cut you down,
As mild a song as Heaven found;
And turning from the face of day,
You softly sigh’d your soul away.
So happy infant, early blest,
In peaceful slumbers now you rest.

When she reached the house, and had related her tale, her aunt told her another story, one of a little girl who had been buried and forgotten:

The children had been playing together in the garden, and the father remarked that it was time for them to go to bed. However, he allowed them to play a little while longer after they had pleaded for him to let them have one last song together. Gertrude had suggested a rhyme, and Thomas, seeing an immediate relevance, had revealed a pair of gardening shears which he said would be most appropriate for the chip! chop! verse.

But tragedy was to strike; after only a single round of the song, Thomas tripped across a line of exposed roots, and the shears, remaining tightly held in his grasp, were driven upwards with such force that they penetrated the exposed neck of his little sister. The skin was pierced, and the blade penetrated as deep as the spine. Her brother attempted to extract the scissors, but had little success; the blood immediately gushed from the wound. Thereupon the girl collapsed and soon died. The song they were singing, as you will undoubtedly have guessed, was Oranges and Lemons.

* * * * * * *

Oranges and Lemons Day takes place every year in London, usually on the third Thursday of March [1], even when Easter intervenes, at the Church of St Clement Danes.

Children who go to the nearby St Clement Danes Church of England Primary School attend a service, after which the church’s bells are rung and the children are given each an orange and a lemon.

Click on the photograph below to view a video of the Oranges and Lemons Day church service.

oranges and lemons

THE CRAWLS, the story of the Tichborne Dole and its curse

tichborne dole

March 25th is ‘Lady Day’, the traditional name of the Feast of the Annunciation of the Blessed Virgin.

It is also a day of festivities in Tichborne, Hampshire, when donations of flour, which have been blessed by the local parish priest, are handed out from the front of Tichborne House — and, a time when, once more, the villagers serve to abate the terror of an age-old curse!

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

Listen …can you hear her?

Strain your ears, press them close to the soil and you surely will!

That wretched wheeze: a drawn-out throttling of the throat that sounds like murder.

Then comes the coughing: a diseased hack-hack-hack, as if a seal gasping for air.

I am dying.

She is dying, but slowly.

What an odd place to die?

The plough-ravaged soil caresses her, taking her down.

Earth binds itself to her fingers; black rivers run across her back.

I will not let him win.

She has crawled this field many times before — every accursed March 25th for the past eight hundred years. And crawl it she must, for without her spirit, and the curse that is renewed each and every Lady Day, Tichborne would be nothing more than a dream of the past. So, let us bless the soul of Lady Mabella and allow her to tell her tale; a tale that has come to be known as ‘The Terror of Tichborne’. Continue reading