The Old Manor House in Winsterlay was still there, midst the woods, not renovated through lack of money and blackened with age, where many a spider built her home glorying in the dark corners and hidden places.
Melinda Hiltendon had inherited The Old Manor House from her uncle, Bruce Hiltendon, who had died of a heart attack at the young old age of ninety-one. She went to see her old friend Daisy in her office.
“Daisy, please don’t laugh at me, you know I now live at the Old Manor House but I think it’s got a ghost and, quite honestly, I am scared stiff of staying there all alone.”
“Well, Melinda, I don’t really believe in ghosts but, if you like, I could come and spend the night there and see what happens.”
“I’d be very grateful if you could, because they’ll be sending me off to the Far East quite soon to cover the latest events and I’d like to clear up this matter before I leave.”
Daisy knew that Melinda was a reporter for a television news company. She had made friends with Daisy as she too was a very independent young lady intent on creating her future with her own hands.
After having gathered her things together into a cloth bag, Daisy went off to the Manor to spend the night there. Melinda opened the massive front door and showed Daisy through the house. Daisy certainly had no sensation of foreboding. She thought it might be because good people had lived there.
Melinda explained, “It usually starts at about half past ten or eleven o’clock at night. I can hear the ghost wandering about and a lot of creaking noises. It doesn’t last long but it’s really scary! So I stay locked in my room all night.”
Daisy saw that the Manor was full of furniture and objects of time ago. Melinda's uncle had not been rich and nothing of any particular value had been mentioned in his will, so Daisy reasoned that the “ghost” probably wasn’t a burglar because a burglar wouldn’t come every evening and there was nothing to steal anyway.
Daisy saw that there was a bathroom and four bedrooms on the first floor but three of them were in a pretty terrible state, very damp and cold, whereas Melinda’s, which was to the extreme right, was clean, reasonably well furnished and had an electric stove in it. Of the other three rooms, the master bedroom was to the left of the staircase. It had a four-poster bed and had clearly been a regal place once.
Melinda and Daisy went back downstairs to have a hot drink. The kitchen had a friendly atmosphere and was kept reasonably in order as a faithful lady came in each day to try and keep the home fire burning. Old Bertha had prepared hot meals for the late Bruce Hiltendon every day and looked after him as best she could.
Now Melinda had no need of someone to prepare her meals but decided to keep the old lady on for another few months until she retired.
Melinda told Daisy that Bertha was very deaf but refused to use her hearing aid most of the time, so communication was a bit difficult. She had spoken to Bertha about the ‘ghost’ but the only time Melinda managed to get through to her, Bertha replied indignantly, “There are certainly no ghosts in the Manor - only in the garden! - like Lady Isabel, who can be seen walking round and round the house every summer and winter solstice.”
After having had a quiet chat in the kitchen the two young women arranged that Melinda would remain in her room as usual, while Daisy would brave the circumstances and investigate what was going on.
“Bye for now, Melinda. Don’t worry, we’ll get to the bottom of it. I’ll stay here for a while and have some more cocoa.”
“See you, Daisy,” said Melinda apprehensively walking up the staircase.
Now Daisy was on her own. She was wearing warm clothes from head to toe and soft-soled shoes, and had left all clothing which could rustle or call attention to herself at home. Notwithstanding all this, the stairs creaked as she went up them in the deep silence of the night.
Daisy made her way to the master bedroom to the left, which was where old Bruce Hiltendon used to sleep. She decided to make this her shelter for the night.
Daisy put her cloth bag on the mahogany settle in the room and pulled out a thermos of coffee with a dash of whisky in it and a pack of sandwiches wrapped in a tea towel to avoid opening noisy paper bags. Luckily there was a full moon and Daisy could more or less see what she was doing as she had decided it was better not to switch the light on. Daisy sat on the big double bed to await the events but it groaned so badly she decided to sit on a rigid upright chair next to the huge wardrobe which was facing the window.
Daisy must have been sitting there uncomfortably for an hour or so, getting colder and colder, when at about half past ten a strange noise made itself heard. Daisy jumped up from the chair. It sounded as if someone had entered the house but she couldn't make out from where. It also seemed quite far away from where she was. Then she heard footsteps - maybe of heavy leather boots trampling along a passageway. The boots got nearer and nearer. They were coming towards her!
Daisy put her possessions back into her cloth bag quickly and hid behind one of the velvet curtains hanging at the window. Luckily she found a long slit in the material so she could peep through and see what was going on in the room without being seen.
Daisy felt that the blood had stopped flowing through her veins. To make things worse, something flew by and knocked against the window outside. Daisy just about managed to stop herself from reacting. Her brain raced with nasty thoughts but she pulled herself together and reasoned that it was probably a bat or an owl who were not known to hurt human beings. Perhaps it was only looking for a tasty snack after all.
Suddenly there was a noise which seemed to come from within the wardrobe and then the wardrobe door opened from inside! Now Daisy was no longer sure she didn’t believe in ghosts.
A light was shone in her direction and she could no longer see what was happening through the slit in the curtain.
Before she could get her thoughts together, there was a creaking of a floorboard right near her and she almost jumped out of her skin. “Oh my goodness,” thought Daisy. “What on earth have I let myself in for?”
Daisy recovered slightly but her heart was beating like a drum. Luckily the direction of the light moved away and now she could vaguely make out that something was roaming about the room.
In the moonlight she could see that the being in the room looked like a man and that he had a long beard. The man was carrying something which he threw onto the bed. He then pulled out a small bottle from his pocket and had a sip out of it. After taking his boots off he got into the thing on the bed and Daisy saw it was a sleeping bag! He slid inside it, zipped it up and turned his torch off.
Daisy's brain was almost completely numbed with fear but the man seemed to be happy in this horizontal position and merely grunted a little as he swiftly fell asleep. How had he arrived from the wardrobe? He couldn’t live in a wardrobe! Then she got it. Of course, the back of the wardrobe led to a priests' hole! When Oliver Cromwell was hunting down royalists and priests, people who owned large houses had a tunnel built from a room - sometimes a wardrobe - leading way down through the grounds and out to safety.
But now what was she to do? If she woke the man up he might be scared and attack her. Daisy waited a little longer until the man started snoring, and then crept from behind the curtain towards the door. As she tiptoed across the old carpet she stepped onto another loose board which made a terrible screech. Daisy froze looking towards the man. Luckily he made no sign of having heard anything and continued sleeping peacefully. Daisy managed to creep over to the door, open it and escape outside closing the door as quietly as possible.
“Now, over to Melinda’s room,” she thought to herself.
As she knocked lightly on the door she whispered, “It's me, Daisy.”
Melinda opened the door swiftly and asked, “Oh, Daisy, is everything all right?”
Daisy explained what had happened but neither of the two women knew what to do about it. They thought of calling the police at first, but as the man had given no trouble at all they decided to wait till morning and that Daisy should stay in Melinda's room all night.
However, at about six o’clock, Daisy couldn’t bear the suspense any more and went to see if the ‘ghost’ was still in the master bedroom, but, as she suspected, he was no longer there and had taken his sleeping-bag with him. Daisy went back to Melinda’s room and tried to nod off.
At about seven o'clock Old Bertha could be heard in the kitchen humming a Scottish song and banging about.
“She does that every morning!” explained Melinda.
The two friends had hardly slept at all but as there was so much noise going on they decided to go downstairs to have some breakfast.
“Ah, good morning, Miss Melinda - would you like a cup of tea?” Bertha shouted.
“Bertha, this is a friend of mine - Daisy.”
“Well, it's lovely to see some young people around here,” replied Bertha putting on her hearing aid. “There's coffee too, if you prefer it.”
Strong black coffee was decided on and Bertha prepared some nice toasted bread.
“And did you both sleep well?” asked Bertha.
Daisy and Melinda looked at each other not quite knowing what to say.
Bertha rambled on, “It's nice and quiet up there, isn't it? The old master always used to sleep well. He said he had a clean conscience and there was nothing to steal, so he wasn't afraid of anything.”
“Excuse me, Bertha, but we had a rather funny experience,” said Daisy. “There was quite a noise in Mr. Hiltendon’s room last night - actually there was a man sleeping there.”
“Oh, you mean Elijah Woodehouse. Poor old soul. He still sleeps there every night. In the old master's room, you know...”
Melinda interrupted, “You mean you knew all about it - that he comes to sleep there?”
“Yes, of course I did. Didn’t I tell you? I must have forgotten,” she replied. “We all used to have breakfast together at about seven-thirty in the morning. Since the master died, Elijah goes away before I get here - he says it's too sad to repeat the ritual without Mr. Hiltendon.”
Daisy asked, “Do you mean he's got nowhere to stay?”
“That's it. When the master died, I met Elijah in the park one afternoon - it was raining heavily - and I told him he should come in just the same as he always had, so he wouldn't catch a cold.” Bertha sipped her coffee.
“He and the master used to keep each other company playing chess, reading, chatting away for hours on end. He always slept in the next room because the master wouldn’t let him go back to his park bench. I told him that now he could sleep in the master’s old bedroom coming through the priest’s hole as usual.”
The two young women held a council of war after breakfast and Melinda decided that Elijah should be made to feel a lot more comfortable. They had in mind to fix up a bed and a wardrobe in a small room downstairs near the kitchen with heating and have a shower put into the bathroom nearby. It was further suggested that Elijah should be given a small sum of money for his 'caretaking' and also a key to the back door so that it wouldn’t be necessary for him to use the priest’s hole any longer.
Bertha was given the job of telling Elijah about the proposition and asking him to come to the Manor that same morning to have a little talk about it.
Bertha started putting her coat on, “I'd better go out to the park now to look for Elijah to tell him the good news. You know, he's very independent but, as he's getting older, he may be happy to have a home to go to. Besides,” she added lowering her voice a little, “it's not really safe for him to go through the entrance of the passageway to the priest's hole at night as ghosts are known to assemble there every full moon...”
The next day Belinda telephoned Daisy, “Elijah came to meet me. It seems that he was once a sailor and therefore a very practical sort of chap and said that he’d be very glad to have a proper bed to sleep in and he’d be willing to look after the Manor when I’m away.”
So it was that the mystery of the Old Manor House ghost was solved.