As hauntings go, the story I’m about to tell you is a fairly recent one. It began in the 1940s, so those of you who remember halfpennies and sixpences, can cast your minds eye back to the time. I first heard about the ghost a week ago and started my investigations right away.
You know from reading my blog that it’s set in a country pub and I will start by telling you a little about the place. It is in the midlands, in a rather remote spot, just outside a village. I will call it Morris’s Pub, not the real name, but you know by now, that I never divulge a name or break the confidence of the storytellers. It is over seventy miles from my home, so I set off atnoonlast Sunday. It was a miserable, overcast day and I hadn’t gone a few miles before it began to deluge, making the drive along the narrow, country roads daunting at times.
The rain stopped before I arrived at the pub, a little after lunch time. The sky was dark with leaded clouds and the promised of further rain. Thunder rumbled in the distance and the air fizzed with the electricity of sheet lightening. The pub itself is tiny and was I soon learned, once the sitting room of a house. I have never seen a place that looked more dismal and unwelcoming. There were no cars parked outside and for a moment I wondered if it was closed. Flakes of paint came off on my fingers as I pushed against the door. It groaned open and alerted those inside to my presence.
The interior was dim, the gloom broken only by a small lamp on a shelf behind the bar. There were four old men seated round one of the five small tables in the room and I knew from their expressions that women were not welcome here. The lone toilet off the hallway made it obvious that this was a male only pub and I won’t try, dear reader, to describe the condition of this stinking pit, as the story of the haunting is disturbing enough. As I made my way to the bar at the top of the room, every eye was on me and I wondered for a moment if the barman would refuse to serve me, but he was gentleman enough to be civil and when I ordered a drink for those present their hostility towards me lifted. It’s surprising how five pints of stout can do that. I sat down at the table next to the drinkers and sipped my coke. This gave me a chance to look around. The walls were full of old, framed photographs and tin plate signs advertising food and drinks that are now obsolete. High shelves lined the room and these were filled with jugs etched with the familiar names of whiskeys. Layers of dust marred every surface and even in the gloom, I saw the cobwebs in the corners.
I bit my lip and prayed the inhabitants were sleeping and I would not have to watch anything crawl out. The smell within the room was a combination of pipe tobacco and wet dog. One of the men made a remark about the weather and we fell into conversation. I was grilled thoroughly as to who I was; what I work at and when they heard my family was from that area, smiles creased their lined faces and I was in. They showed a great interest in my writing and I was delighted when one of them said.
“We have our own ghost here.”
“Really,” I said, hoping it sounded casual.
“Indeed, we have,” our host came out from behind the bar and sat down. “There’s not a man here who hasn’t seen her.”
“Her?” I asked.
“It’s a woman,” another of the men offered. “Catherine Maloney, she was.”
“You’re not going to write about this are you?” our host asked suspiciously.
“I probably am,” I said, as I didn’t want to lie to him. “But if I do, I’ll change the name of the pub and won’t tell anyone where it is.”
“I don’t suppose there’s any harm in it so,” he looked at the men, who confirmed this with a nod.
So this is his story. The Maloney family owned the house that now houses the pub. They had two daughters, Catherine, the eldest and Laura who was five years younger. Their father was a business man and they lived a comfortable lifestyle, until an outbreak of measles killed both parents and it was left to Catherine to look after her sister. Money was not a problem as they were left well provided for, but there was never any peace after the deaths and this all came down the Catherine’s jealousy of her sister. Laura was the beauty, this was obvious from an early age and as she grew so did her sister’s hatred of her. I saw an old faded photograph of the two and Catherine was very different to her sister. Laura was blond and buxom, while her sister was extremely thin, with a hooked nose and dark hair, pulled severely back behind her ears. There was a young farmer who lived close by and Catherine was determined he would be hers.
After all, she considered herself the best prospect as the eldest she had inherited her father’s estate and in those hard times many marriages were based on the dowry that came with the wife. But, Richard, the young man, was unlike the others and when he fell in love with Laura, nothing would stand in his way. One can only imagine Catherine’s fury when he proposed to her sister, but she managed to keep her feeling in check. The wedding was planned for October. The harvesting would be done by then and Richard wouldn’t be under as much pressure. In the run up to the wedding, Catherine was charm itself and helped her sister in every way possible, but she was plotting her revenge. The next piece is mostly conjecture and there is no evidence that it happened the way I heard it, other than the restless spirit.
One night, a week before the wedding, when Laura was out with her intended, Catherine staged a break in at the house. Word of the outrage spread through the small community and everyone was aghast when they heard her story of a strange man who she’d seen a few times spying on the house. Laura was a nervous wreck and begged her sister to move in with her and her new husband after the wedding. Catherine promised that she would do so. Three nights later, Catherine knocked on her sister’s bedroom door. She had made her some cocoa to help her sleep, she said. Laura had no idea as she drank the sweet drink that it would be her last. The heavy drug within the liquid worked in minutes and when her sister was insensible, Catherine dragged her from her bed, out onto the landing and down the stairs. There is a small river that runs at the end of the field behind the house and it was her intention to drown Laura there.
Her plan worked. She returned to her bed and feigned shock and distress when the news was brought to her next morning about the discovery of her sister’s body. Her cunning was beyond belief as she had torn her sister’s nightgown, exposing her flesh and this made her cries about the strange man she’d seen more plausible. Richard was beyond consolation at his loss and if Catherine thought he would turn to her in his hour of need, she was very much mistaken. He was a broken man and died a bachelor. There were many in the district who whispered about the murder, but in those days before DNA and the like, it wasn’t easy to prove who it might be. The idea that a woman would have committed such an atrocity was never considered and Catherine remained free. Rumours ran riot and there was a story of a young man, who on his way home late the night of the murder, swore he saw Catherine going into the house. He remembered it because he said the end of her skirts were soaking wet. He had taken a few drinks that night and those closest to him thought it wiser to say nothing to the law. Catherine became a recluse, which was easy enough, as her neighbours started to avoid her and she died four years after her sister. Some say she starved to death, other she went mad and poisoned her herself, either way, her body now lies in a grave beside her sister.
“I knew all about the story of the ghost, when it bought the place over twenty years ago” my host, Tim said. “The last owner was too old to run the place. I didn’t believe the story at first, but I soon learned, didn’t I lads?” He looked round the little group of men.
They mumbled their assent and I had to wait as he got up to refill their glasses. No one spoke until he came back and the silence seemed to wrap itself around me.
“I took over the place at the beginning of April and laughed off any suggestion of a ghost,” he placed the creamy pints in front of the men and sat down. “The last owner was a bachelor like me and I thought if she hadn’t troubled him then she wouldn’t me. I’ll never forget the first time it happened.”
He stopped and stared into the gloom, as though the memory of that first time was still as fresh as ever.
“It was October, the anniversary of the murder. I was in here,” he paused, and looked over at one of the men. “You were here that same night, Tommy.”
“I was indeed,” the man wiped a moustache of white foam from his upper lip. “I’ll never forget it.”
“It was late,” Tim went on with his tale. “Just after twelve and I was washing up the glasses when it started. I remember looking up when I heard the sound of a thump on the bedroom floor overhead. Then the dragging started, we could trace it with our eyes as it moved along the landing. I’ll tell you, the hairs on the back of my neck stood on end as the bump, bump, bump started on the stairs. There was no doubt in my mind that it was the sound of a body being dragged down one step at a time. We heard the back door open and felt the cold air enter the room. I don’t think either of us wanted to let on how frightened we were, did we Tommy? So we followed the sound. There was nothing to see once we got outside and I remember how we stood there in the dark for a few minutes. We were just about to go back inside when there was a cry of distress followed by the most terrible scream from the direction of the river. I remember running towards the sound and hearing the splash as a body hit the water, but when we got there, all was quiet. We searched the riverbank, but there wasn’t even a ripple on the water. The same thing was repeated for the next week and everyone here is a witness to this. We’ve all seen her from time to time, the ghost I mean. It happens fast, it’s a sort of out of the corner of your eye affair, but there no denying her presence. Doors slam of their own accord and not just in October, oh no. She tends to come and go as she pleases.”
“How can you live with that?” I asked.
“I’m used to it now,” Tim shrugged. “As I said, she never bothers me.”
“Still, it can’t be easy,” I said.
“It gets me down at times,” he agreed. “I’d like to have a dog for company, but I can’t get one to stay in the place. They turn on their heels the minute they come through the door.”
It had rained again while I’d been inside the pub, but the air felt good after the stuffy interior. I couldn’t help, but wonder why Tim didn’t leave. I don’t think I’d have his courage. It made me smile to see they had all come outside and were waving to me as I drove off; I am no longer a stranger. I would be back on Tuesday to speak to a former customer, who was so frightened by what he witnessed that he has never gone back there. He is away on holiday at the moment, but I’m looking forward to what he has to say.
Tuesday 9th August.
I’m back from the haunted pub. I got there just after seven this evening and met the man I told you about. We will call him John. He was parked a good distance away from the pub, as though getting too close would taint him in some way. He’s a man in his sixties and I knew the moment he started to speak, that he wasn’t a man given to strange fancies. His story started twelve years ago and according to him, he’s still not over the fright. It was around Christmas time, he knows the exact date, but I didn’t push him on it. There were carols being sung on the old radio behind the bar.
“Tim went out to change a barrel,” he said. “They’re kept in the shed attached to the house, so I was alone for about ten minutes. It was too early in the evening for the regulars and pitch dark outside. I was reading my paper and not paying much attention to anything, when I had the most awful sensation. At first, it felt like someone was watching me and I looked up. I’d heard the stories about the place, but never paid the any attention. I heard the thump from overhead and imagined someone had broken in to the place. Then the banging started on the stairs. I was frozen in my seat,” he blushed as he admitted this. “I’m not easily frightened, but I’ll never forget that night. The hallway outside the bar was dark and I heard the shuffling of feet coming closer. I saw her standing in the doorway, I swear to you, I saw her and for the first time in my life I knew what it felt like to be in the company of pure evil.”
“Did she look real?” I asked.
“Not as real as you or I,” he said. “It was more like looking at someone through a rain-spotted window, sort of hazy, you know what I mean?”
“What did you do?”
“I don’t know how long she stood there. It seemed like hours, but it couldn’t have been more than a few seconds. I heard the back door open and Tim coming back in. I don’t know if I blinked or what, but the next second she was gone. I didn’t wait for Tim to come into the room. I was off and out that door as frightened as a small child. Since I had intended having a few drinks, I’d left the car at home, so I’d no choice, but to walk. As I said it was pitch black outside and the twenty minute walk home seemed to take forever. I was looking over my shoulder all the way and my heart was thumping from the fright. I would step inside that place,” he nodded at the pub in the distance. “For any money.”
His terror, even after all these years is obvious and I chose not to go back inside, but take refuge in the safety of my car. As the image of the pub faded in my rear view mirror, I was glad it was still bright and I didn’t have to face the winding roads in the dark.