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The Goodwood Ghost Story






My wife's sister, Mrs M----, was left a widow at the age of thirty-five,
with two children, girls, of whom she was passionately fond. She carried
on the draper's business at Bognor, established by her husband. Being
still a very handsome woman, there were several suitors for her hand.
The only favoured one amongst them was a Mr Barton. My wife never liked
this Mr Barton, and made no secret of her feelings to her sister, whom
she frequently told that Mr Barton only wanted to be master of the
little haberdashery shop in Bognor. He was a man in poor circumstances,
and had no other motive in his proposal of marriage, so my wife thought,
than to better himself.

On the 23rd of August 1831 Mrs M---- arranged to go with Barton to a
picnic party at Goodwood Park, the seat of the Duke of Richmond, who had
kindly thrown open his grounds to the public for the day. My wife, a
little annoyed at her going out with this man, told her she had much
better remain at home to look after her children and attend to the
business. Mrs M----, however, bent on going, made arrangements about
leaving the shop, and got my wife to promise to see to her little girls
while she was away.

The party set out in a four-wheeled phaeton, with a pair of ponies
driven by Mrs M----, and a gig for which I lent the horse.

Now we did not expect them to come back till nine or ten o'clock, at
any rate. I mention this particularly to show that there could be no
expectation of their earlier return in the mind of my wife, to account
for what follows.

At six o'clock that bright summer's evening my wife went out into the
garden to call the children. Not finding them, she went all round the
place in her search till she came to the empty stable; thinking they
might have run in there to play, she pushed open the door; there,
standing in the darkest corner, she saw Mrs M----. My wife was surprised
to see her, certainly; for she did not expect her return so soon; but,
oddly enough, it did not strike her as being singular to see her
_there_. Vexed as she had felt with her all day for going, and rather
glad, in her woman's way, to have something entirely different from the
genuine _casus belli_ to hang a retort upon, my wife said: "Well,
Harriet, I should have thought another dress would have done quite as
well for your picnic as that best black silk you have on." My wife was
the elder of the twain, and had always assumed a little of the air of
counsellor to her sister. Black silks were thought a great deal more of
at that time than they are just now, and silk of any kind was held
particularly inconsistent wear for Wesleyan Methodists, to which
denomination we belonged.

Receiving no answer, my wife said: "Oh, well, Harriet, if you can't take
a word of reproof without being sulky, I'll leave you to yourself"; and
then she came into the house to tell me the party had returned and that
she had seen her sister in the stable, not in the best of tempers. At
the moment it did not seem extraordinary to me that my wife should have
met her sister in the stable.

I waited indoors some time, expecting them to return my horse. Mrs M----
was my neighbour, and, being always on most friendly terms, I wondered
that none of the party had come in to tell us about the day's pleasure.
I thought I would just run in and see how they had got on. To my great
surprise the servant told me they had not returned. I began, then, to
feel anxiety about the result. My wife, however, having seen Harriet in
the stable, refused to believe the servant's assertion; and said there
was no doubt of their return, but that they had probably left word to
say they were not come back, in order to offer a plausible excuse for
taking a further drive, and detaining my horse for another hour or so.

At eleven o'clock Mr Pinnock, my brother-in-law, who had been one of the
party, came in, apparently much agitated. As soon as she saw him, and
before he had time to speak, my wife seemed to know what he had to say.

"What is the matter?" she said; "something has happened to Harriet, I
know!"

"Yes" replied Mr Pinnock; "if you wish to see her alive, you must come
with me directly to Goodwood."

From what he said it appeared that one of the ponies had never been
properly broken in; that the man from whom the turn-out was hired for
the day had cautioned Mrs M---- respecting it before they started; and
that he had lent it reluctantly, being the only pony to match in the
stable at the time, and would not have lent it at all had he not known
Mrs M---- to be a remarkably good whip.

On reaching Goodwood, it seems, the gentlemen of the party had got out,
leaving the ladies to take a drive round the park in the phaeton. One or
both of the ponies must then have taken fright at something in the road,
for Mrs M---- had scarcely taken the reins when the ponies shied. Had
there been plenty of room she would readily have mastered the
difficulty; but it was in a narrow road, where a gate obstructed the
way. Some men rushed to open the gate--too late. The three other ladies
jumped out at the beginning of the accident; but Mrs M---- still held on
to the reins, seeking to control her ponies, until, finding it was
impossible for the men to get the gate open in time, she too sprang
forward; and at the same instant the ponies came smash on to the gate.
She had made her spring too late, and fell heavily to the ground on her
head. The heavy, old-fashioned comb of the period, with which her hair
was looped up, was driven into her skull by the force of the fall. The
Duke of Richmond, a witness to the accident, ran to her assistance,
lifted her up, and rested her head upon his knees. The only words Mrs
M---- had spoken were uttered at the time: "Good God, my children!" By
direction of the Duke she was immediately conveyed to a neighbouring
inn, where every assistance, medical and otherwise, that forethought or
kindness could suggest was afforded her.

At six o'clock in the evening, the time at which my wife had gone into
the stable and seen what we now knew had been her spirit, Mrs M----, in
her sole interval of returning consciousness, had made a violent but
unsuccessful attempt to speak. From her glance having wandered round the
room, in solemn awful wistfulness, it had been conjectured she wished to
see some relative or friend not then present. I went to Goodwood in the
gig with Mr Pinnock, and arrived in time to see my sister-in-law die at
two o'clock in the morning. Her only conscious moments had been those in
which she laboured unsuccessfully to speak, which had occurred at six
o'clock. She wore a black silk dress.

When we came to dispose of her business, and to wind up her affairs,
there was scarcely anything left for the two orphan girls. Mrs M----'s
father, however, being well-to-do, took them to bring up. At his death,
which happened soon afterwards, his property went to his eldest son, who
speedily dissipated the inheritance. During a space of two years the
children were taken as visitors by various relations in turn, and lived
an unhappy life with no settled home.

For some time I had been debating with myself how to help these
children, having many boys and girls of my own to provide for. I had
almost settled to take them myself, bad as trade was with me, at the
time, and bring them up with my own family, when one day business called
me to Brighton. The business was so urgent that it necessitated my
travelling at night.

I set out from Bognor in a close-headed gig on a beautiful moonlight
winter's night, when the crisp frozen snow lay deep over the earth, and
its fine glistening dust was whirled about in little eddies on the bleak
night-wind--driven now and then in stinging powder against my tingling
cheek, warm and glowing in the sharp air. I had taken my great "Bose"
(short for "Boatswain") for company. He lay, blinking wakefully,
sprawled out on the spare seat of the gig beneath a mass of warm rugs.

Between Littlehampton and Worthing is a lonely piece of road, long and
dreary, through bleak and bare open country, where the snow lay
knee-deep, sparkling in the moonlight. It was so cheerless that I turned
round to speak to my dog, more for the sake of hearing the sound of a
voice than anything else. "Good Bose," I said, patting him, "there's a
good dog!" Then suddenly I noticed he shivered, and shrank underneath
the wraps. Then the horse required my attention, for he gave a start,
and was going wrong, and had nearly taken me into the ditch.

Then I looked up. Walking at my horse's head, dressed in a sweeping
robe, so white that it shone dazzling against the white snow, I saw a
lady, her back turned to me, her head bare; her hair dishevelled and
strayed, showing sharp and black against her white dress.

I was at first so much surprised at seeing a lady, so dressed, exposed
to the open night, and such a night as this, that I scarcely knew what
to do. Recovering myself, I called out to know if I could render
assistance--if she wished to ride? No answer. I drove faster, the horse
blinking, and shying, and trembling the while, his ears laid back in
abject terror. Still the figure maintained its position close to my
horse's head. Then I thought that what I saw was no woman, but perchance
a man disguised for the purpose of robbing me, seeking an opportunity to
seize the bridle and stop the horse. Filled with this idea, I said,
"Good Bose! hi! look at it, boy!" but the dog only shivered as if in
fright. Then we came to a place where four cross-roads meet.

Determined to know the worst, I pulled up the horse. I fetched Bose,
unwilling, out by the ears. He was a good dog at anything from a rat to
a man, but he slunk away that night into the hedge, and lay there, his
head between his paws, whining and howling. I walked straight up to the
figure, still standing by the horse's head. As I walked, the figure
turned, and I saw _Harriet's face_ as plainly as I see you now--white
and calm--placid, as idealised and beautified by death. I must own that,
though not a nervous man, in that instant I felt sick and faint. Harriet
looked me full in the face with a long, eager, silent look. I knew then
it was her spirit, and felt a strange calm come over me, for I knew it
was nothing to harm me. When I could speak, I asked what troubled her.
She looked at me still, never changing that cold fixed stare. Then I
felt in my mind it was her children, and I said:

"Harriet! is it for your children you are troubled?"

No answer.

"Harriet," I continued, "if for these you are troubled, be assured they
shall never want while I have power to help them. Rest in peace!"

Still no answer.

I put up my hand to wipe from my forehead the cold perspiration which
had gathered there. When I took my hand away from shading my eyes, the
figure was gone. I was alone on the bleak snow-covered ground. The
breeze, that had been hushed before, breathed coolly and gratefully on
my face, and the cold stars glimmered and sparkled sharply in the far
blue heavens. My dog crept up to me and furtively licked my hand, as who
would say, "Good master, don't be angry. I have served you in all but
this."

I took the children and brought them up till they could help
themselves.





Next: Captain Wheatcroft

Previous: The Denton Hall Ghost



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