CHRISTMAS HIGH JINKS: The sounds of La Golondrina floated through the air as Viv sat at the grand piano. How pleased she was that someone had asked them to look after this fine musical instrument for a few months. Having learned to play when she was younger, this gave Viv the opportunity to brush up on her skills as a pianist and she was thoroughly enjoying it. The piano was in the Library and suited the room perfectly. She could hear her father and an antique dealer talking in the Long Gallery as they haggled over the price of a painting that he was selling. Viv gazed out of the window as she played and thought back to the Midsummer’s Eve Ball that they’d had a few months ago. It had been a huge success and so many people were there – more than she’d ever seen in one place. She had worn her long dress and her best friend had stayed the night so that she had someone of her own age there. She and her friend had sold raffle tickets to the guests, which had been fun and a good way to mix with everyone. Viv wondered why it was that the men always seemed more jovial and friendly towards them than the women, even encouraging them to sit on their knee! It had been most embarrassing as Viv wasn’t used to such attentions. Parties and drinking made people act in very strange ways, she thought. Now her thoughts headed towards Christmas and the New Year’s Eve Ball that they were planning. It was so exciting having all these Balls and dances; it made Viv feel very grown up when she wore her evening gown and slingback shoes. However, Christmas was first and she began to wonder what gifts she would get.
“Let’s go out for a bit, I’m bored!” Gavin’s voice ran ahead of him into the Library and made Viv jump.
“OK, I suppose we could. I’ve been playing for ages now, I could do with a break,” answered Viv. “Where’s Pap?” Viv used their little brother’s nickname.
“He’s gone to his friends’ house to play – that’s why I’m bored!”
They wandered out of the Library and grabbed their coats; the weather was turning quite cold now and the nights were drawing in. As they headed out of the back door, stopping to check the guinea pigs first, their feet followed the path down towards the church, which stood on the edge of the grounds. A low stone wall surrounded the churchyard and they passed through the iron gate and made their way around to the front porch. The church was always open and seemed to attract quite a lot of visitors; however, there was no-one about that day and the children made their way inside.
“Gosh it’s so gloomy in here,” said Gavin. “I don’t know why people want to visit this place – there’s nothing to do or see inside.”
They wandered down the aisle looking at leaflets on the way. When they got to the altar they noticed two enormous candles at each end of it.
“Let’s light the candles,” Gavin shouted. “That will brighten the place up.”
With that he climbed up onto the altar, found some matches nearby and quickly lit the two candles. They noticed some other candles nearby and lit them. Then they saw a small chapel to one side and lit the candles in there too. The church looked so pretty now as the candlelight reflected off the brass work and the stained glass windows.
“That’s much better,” exclaimed Viv. “Now the place doesn’t look anywhere near as gloomy as it did before.”
As they stood back to admire their handiwork they thought they heard someone walking down the path to the door outside.
“Quick!” shouted Viv. “Let’s get out of here or we’ll be in trouble.”
They ran to the door but saw that it was just some visitors to the church so didn’t feel too worried after all. As they wandered around the corner of the church and onto the grass near the graves Gavin suddenly lurched forward and fell over.
“What’s up?” asked Viv as Gavin stood up.
“I tripped over a stone or something, buried under the grass,” he answered.
They pulled at the long grass and found that the stone was part of a grave that was quite overgrown. Quickly they yanked the grass away and used an old trowel that they’d found nearby to scrape all the moss off. Before long they saw a name.
“Meynell!” shouted Viv. “It’s one of the Meynell graves.”
“Not surprising, I suppose,” she added.
As they pulled more grass away the stone outline of a grave quickly revealed itself. Viv scraped more moss off the stones and before much longer she saw the full name which was carved there.
“Rose Meynell, aged 8 years old!”
They both looked at the name and Viv suddenly had an epiphany.
“It’s the ghost!” she cried. “The little girl we keep seeing on the landing.”
“Urgh really?” queried Gavin, moving further away from the grave.
“It must be”, continued Viv. “She’s the same age, she’s a Meynell and she died in the Victorian days.”
Viv stood up triumphantly as she realised that this must be the child’s last resting place. Then she felt a bit sad as she thought of a child dying so young; it also made the whole ghost thing seem more of a reality now that they’d seen her grave. Dusk was starting to fall so they made their way back through the graveyard to the iron gate which led into their grounds and soon they were back in their lounge. Quickly they told their mum all about the grave and she listened excitedly saying they’d have to check with Mrs Meynell to see if she knew anything about it.
“Don’t forget it’s the Christmas Carol Service tomorrow evening,” Gwynyth reminded them. This was met with loud groans of protest.
“Do we have to go?” asked Gavin. The children hated going to church as it was quite boring to them and most of the people there seemed to be very posh. Their mother informed them that they were expected to be seen there as they lived at the Hall but that there was a party at the vicarage afterwards with lots of food, mince pies and mulled wine along with a group of bell-ringers to finish off the evening. The thought of nice Christmas fare was enough to mollify them but they were already thinking up tricks they could play on the unsuspecting parishoners!
The day of the Carol Service arrived and as they approached the church Gavin and Viv went to show their mother where the grave was. But as they got nearer they couldn’t find it.
“How strange,” said Viv. “I’m sure it was here, just round the corner from the front door!”
“It was here!” shouted Gavin. “There's the stone that I tripped over.”
“But why would it disappear after all our hard work,” Viv wondered aloud and a cold shiver went down her back. She looked up and saw a small child running round the corner of the church.
“Hey!” she shouted and ran off towards her. As she rounded the corner she found herself all alone but ran to the next corner and then quickly searched the churchyard ending up back with her mother and brother who were patiently waiting.
“She's gone!” said Viv, exasperated.
“Who's gone dear?” asked her mother.
“The little girl that ran off – near the grave – didn't you see her?” Viv queried.
But no-one else had seen her and Viv was left frustrated, sensing that there was more to this than she knew.
They had another look around but couldn’t see anything but overgrown grass and crooked headstones. Their mother bustled them into the church saying they’d have a proper look another day. As they went to take their seats, they overhead the verger complaining that the candles on the altars were all burnt down and wondering who could have done such a thing in a church building. Gavin and Viv swapped smiles.
Later on at the vicar’s tea party the children greedily scoffed down sandwiches and mince pies. One of the posh ladies asked Viv to hand round the trays of cake to which Viv took umbrage – she didn’t like people telling her what to do, especially when they weren’t her parents! By now they were getting bored and as per usual, when they got bored, they got up to mischief! They stood by the table with all the food on it and when no-one was looking they took the custard cream biscuits apart, licked all the cream out then put them back together again on the plate. They also swapped the tops and bottoms of the sandwiches around so the fillings were all mixed up. One last thing was a bottle of cola in the mulled wine!
The bell-ringers were about to start ringing out Christmas carols as they all stood down the staircase. Viv thought they looked rather nice and sounded very Christmassy too. She and Gavin stood watching everyone eat their food whilst listening to the bells - and smiled at the strange faces they pulled as they ate!
More tea vicar?
Don't miss next week's instalment: “A New Year Calamity!”
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Merry Christmas everyone!