It was Winter when I first saw the house. It looked so sad there amongst the tall stark trees, abandoned, unloved and lonely.My romantic self said Rescue it! My practical brain said How absurd! Look at all the money it would take, and time, and for what? It was way off the beaten track, Too far from the village unless I used a bike or pony cart. But of course my heart always ruled my head. So I bought the property.
It was far cheaper than I expected, so I could afford to move my meager belongings and furniture by pony cart up from the station all in one move. One of the young men helped me unpack and place the furniture where I wanted it.
After exploring the old place I gave up on the third floor as a lost job, The bottom story with its lovely stone floored kitchen and open wood fireplace with a pot bellied stove in one corner had great possibilities.
Fred Langdon had cut a load of wood for me in return for a dinner of lamb shank stew and potatoes and a mug of home brewed ale. I could see he appreciated the drink.
As the shadows of early evening started to creep across the neglected garden, he bundled up his tools of trade and took the pony cart back to the village, promising to come the next day and repair the roof and window shutters and rehang the door for me.It was then the silence of the place grabbed me, but it was a friendly silence. The old house was welcoming me.
There was a store room of sorts next to the kitchen where an old wire bed had been stored. Some servant's quarters I thought, but good enough for tonight, and the room was warm from the heat of the fire burning in the kitchen.
As I snuggled into the old quilt my mother had made for me I thought of the plans I had for the second story of the house.It would make a beautiful painting studio and library.
Harry, my husband who had died some years ago would have told me what a waste of space that would have been, but he was no longer there to boss me and oversee my every move so I felt a wicked sense of freedom. I could do what I liked. This was my house.
I slept the deep sleep of the virtuous.
The last of the winter snows had passed and there was a freshness of new life coming into the woods all around me. Snowdrops and daffodils bloomed in the last strongholds of snow and the catkins burst into life as the mountain birds began to herald spring.
Fred became a regular visitor to the house and he mended and patched the broken roof and the steps leading up to the porch. In the small shed out the back he rescued a rocking chair for me, and later, very shyly, bought me a small grey kitten to be a companion for my nights.
As spring turned into summer I mended my broken heart and did some shopping in the village. But dark and suspicious looks were cast my way, so mostly I let Fred do my shopping.
I spent my time in the garden and discovered the woodland walk that wended its way amongst the tall trees and over to a waterfall. The stones were wet and slippery and as little Shadow accompanied me on all the walks I didn't go there often.
I would have been content except for the strange sounds I was now hearing in the house. No, nothing scary, but strange.
I kept hearing children's voices and once the sound of someone playing the violin. But there was no one there of course. I put it down to a trick of the wind blowing sound from further across the valley to my house.
Shadow grew rapidly and spent many warm hours watching unseen things in my studio. She would lay in the sun as I painted and her head would move from side to side as if following aomeone across the room. I laughingly asked Fred if he knew of any ghosts associated with the house and he looked at me strangely.
"No, ma'am. No ghosts. Only rumours of strange noises cominf from the track by the waterfall, that's why it isn't used any more. But nothing to do with the house or garden. Why? Is someone bothering you?"
I soothed his fears, I was content.
Early autumn a band of gypsies came and asked if they could camp in the bottom fiels by the dell and I gave them my permission, but they had packed up and left by the time I got up to have breakfast. They had broken a fence and left a lot of litter behind as they must have left hurriedly and not had time to tidy up. But I had liked the dark skinned woman and the little boy whose so dark eyes looked so wise, and felt disappointed in the way they had left.
The next day the station master came up the track with a crate containing some chickens in it. It was addressed to me and with it came a short note from the gypsy woman apologising that they had left so hurriedly. I was glad of the chickens, the eggs would help flesh out my fresah herbs and vegetables in my larder.
Later that evening I took a walk down to the dell and saw figures in the wood, darting about with lights. Drat! Poachers! I thought.
I heard a cry as if a rabbit had been caught in a trap. Well you know me. I can't abide the thought of weak animals treapped and hurt. A quick blow from a stone or a bullet did not worry me, but traps!I followed the path to the waterfall.
I saw two boys on the bridge, leaning over and watching something. Then I saw they had hung a rabbit by the legs over the railing and was watching it slowly drown in the cascading water. I picked up a thick stick and shouted at them. Bullies! How I hated that! Unfeeling little cowards!
They glanced up and saw me coming. White faced they raced across the bridge and down the track leading to the huddle of worker's cottages.
Little beasts! I thought as I rescued the rabbit and set it free.
Again that night I heard the haunting sounds of a violin being played. The melody was so sad I found myself crying. Strangely too, the children's voices were much louder and closer, almost as if in the house with me. But I had locked and barred the door and knew I was alone in the house.
The next day there was a bunch of red roses on the doorstep. I smiled. Perhaps Fred had put them there, After all he knew I spent many happy hours in the rose garden I had planted. But he didn't come that day at all.
Winter settled in after a brief autumn so Shadow and I snuggled up in the warm quilt by the fire. I was now fairly self sufficient with food and my chcickens.
Again I heard the children's voices and I heard the violin being played so beautifully and as it was not night but early in the day I listened carefully and found the sound seemed to come from my studio on the second floor. I went upstairs and looked around but there was clearly no one there, even though Shadow seemed to be convinced that there was.
Perhaps it was coming from the third story and the dilapitated rooms that did not merit doing up. Hitching up my skirts I climbed the rickety staircase and searched the rooms. Nothing but forgotten dusty and cobwebby nick nacks.
In a trunk I found lots of sheets of music bundled up and forgotten and a withered red rose tied around a diary with an old pink ribbon. Well this looked interesting. I closed the trunk and took the diary downstairs with me.
After feeding the animals and myself I opened the small hand written diary and began to read.
It was the diary of a young girl. She had come to the house with her brother and sister to recover from a long illness. She was an accomplished violinist but had caught a chill at a concert. She wrote that she was dreading the hot summers when she would have to go to India to live with her Aunt as her parents and other siblings would be touring. Her parents seemed to have money as they had several properties but she liked the Mountain Mill house the best. She described my house and garden so well that I could not mistake her meaning.
She wrote that she practised most days playing her violin getting ready for another concert. This is where the diary got a little strange.
She said she kept seeing a small grey cat in her room who would sit and listen to her play, but that no one else in the family could see. She said as she had been very ill her parents became alarmed when she mentioned seeing things.
"...so dear diary, I shall write my visions here in my diary and keep it in the trunk in the attic. I saw the grey lady the other day, she was in the dell by the bridge. But she did not look sad or angry or anything. I wonder why the village calls this the haunted house? If she is the ghost she is a very lonely one. I wish I could have met her, she looks nice.
Next week we must all pack up and leave. How I hate India with its bright sky and heat., but Aunt Maya loves to have me stay with her. They say the new road will go straight through this dell. I wonder what will happen to my grey lady then? I shall leave her some roses as she was also seen in the rose garde. I hope she likes them." And there the diary stopped.
I looked at my old grey dress and dowdy grey bonnet and smoothed the fur on Shadow's coat as he purred beside me.
So who was the ghost? Her or me? Were we both shadows passing each other in the stream of time? Each catching a glimpse of each other's lives?