As a kiddo, was traveling with Mom (My own personal Auntie Mame) in GB, and staying in one of her favorite places, Burford, Oxfordshire. This is, BTW, 1961. She always stayed in black and white Tudor hotels if at all possible, and we entered the interior court of one, driving up in our green Morris wagon. It was filled to the roof with everything we owned.
There was no double available–some kind of mix-up–and after a bit of discussion, they put me upstairs on the 3rd floor which was right under the eaves in this venerable building. A narrow steep stairway went up, and they said they only put the young and spry under the roof. (Or, maybe, it wasn’t a mix-up, ’cause Mum had an old WW2 boyfriend in one of the villages nearby, but this only occurs to me in my grumpy old age.)
I was history mad, then as now, so I scouted around, really enjoying the feel of the place, the dark beams, the crooked walls, the off-kilter floors, the heavy dark antiques which filled the hallways and public rooms. All this carved blackened walnut “old” was new to me! Finally, after supper, I went up to bed to read.
The loo was down the hall, so I’d made a final trip before settling in for the night. There wasn’t much light up there, just enough to see clearly the beginning of that stairwell, and only two other guests were staying up on the floor with me.
My room was under the eaves, and the roof with black beams slanted over the bed, a formidable four-poster with carved grinning critters and splayed claw feet. Perhaps it was actually Elizabethan. If it wasn’t, it was making a credible effort. I remember the smell, too, of polish, of damp and of the ages since the place had been built. Clearly, the room wasn’t often used. I finally fell asleep listening to people coming and going, chatting on the floor below.
I awoke sometime in the night–and got up to go to the bathroom down the hall. It was very quiet now, and felt quite late. I opened the door and peeped out, because I didn’t have a bathrobe, just this flannel nightgown, and I didn’t want anyone to see me. It was now entirely dark in the corridor. The hall light, I thought, must have gone out. Then, just as I stepped out, hoping to find my way in the dark, I saw him: see-through, with just traces of color. The plume on his hat was red.
I knew enough English History to see he was a cavalier, very dashing, too, with long locks and trimmed beard which came to a nice Charles I point, slashed sleeves and a waist coat. No jacket, so I guess he would have considered himself nearly as undressed as I was. Well dressed, but not “richly arrayed,” is what I want to convey.
Now, FYI, this was not MY preferred PERIOD. No, at fifteen, I was an obsessive Ricardian, and it was only Late Medieval that charged my fantasies. I was just making do with all this Tudor and English Civil War stuff. If it wasn’t medieval, well, it was worth looking at and going “Wow! Since 1580!” but it wasn’t the Absolute TOPS. TOPS was what we were planning to see the next day, Lord Lovell’s ruin of a manor on the Windrush.
The man put his hand on the hilt of his sword and spoke. I mean, I got the sense that his lips were moving, and I knew what he wanted to say, but there was no actual “hearing” involved. What he said was that he was an ancestor of mine, who had come here to raise a company for the King, and that he had been waiting a very long time for me. Another really odd thing, he was apparently up to his knees in the floor.
At this point, I got scared. I was cold–freezing! I wanted to scream, but I couldn’t. I turned to run, and then, suddenly there I was, alone, standing in the hallway. It was now lit, just as it had been when I went to bed. There I was, in my nightgown, in the hall, with that low-wattage dingy electric light dully illuminating the walls, and not a single thing, living or dead, was there with me.
Well, the next morning at breakfast, I told this entire tale to Mom. She got very excited, for she never sees things like that, and had always wanted such an experience. She was terribly interested in what the ghost had said, because she said she had “always” desperately longed for a Cavalier in the family. I remember saying something to the effect that “if only it had been a medieval ghost,” I would have been over the moon.
At this point, people at the other tables began looking at us, and, while we were eating our kippers, the owner arrived. He slung a chair over to our table and said, sotto voce, “Don’t–ah–please don’t–talk about that too loudly. I’m terribly sorry you were disturbed, but that fellow really is such a nuisance! We can hardly use the third floor–especially that back room! It’s really upsetting when summer comes and we need to be full up.”
Asked to please describe the incident–to whisper to him–I did. The owner appeared quite disturbed, nodding. “Damn! He’s back again, then. We had him exorcised a few years ago, and it seemed to quiet things down for a time. You see him only from the knees up because a few years ago we put a new floor in over the original, which is what he’s still standing on. We call him “Charles” but really aren’t certain who he is.”
I have come to doubt very much my apparition was an ancestor. Some of our family did come from the Burford area, but were poor folk, probably weavers. Foot soldiers, if they fought for King Charles I, definitely not gentlemen. This particular specter probably uses that same line on all the teen-age girls he meets up there on that dark and spooky third floor!
Juliet Waldron (c) 2008
Author of Hand-Me-Down Bride, Coming soon from Second Wind Publishing