My days hike in the warm balmy weather yesterday was coming to an end and I was looking forward to my stop over at Hangerley Hall described as an isolated Victorian edifice in the quiet Yorkshire countryside, a perfect watering hole after a pleasant 20 mile walk along open paths, beautiful rolling countryside and nothing but the sound of the breeze and the comforting trill of Skylarks overhead.
There was no reception as such at the Hall, this was a place of retreat and I was greeted by a young woman, dressed rather soberly for her age who was both polite and helpful. I was shown my comfortable room in a corridor at the top of a huge old fashioned staircase and I enjoyed a hot refreshing shower.
The evening meal was vegetarian and I enjoyed the simplicity and taste. The lounge was huge and expansive and guessed it had been the living room of the great house when it had been occupied by the original family, probably before the war. Clearly, it was so big, it could have doubled for a ball room. I was alone that night in the Hall as the only paying guest, it's not too popular during the weekends I was told. The log fire behind the spark guard radiated just enough heat to keep it comfortable, and even though it had been a warm day, the large house and the high ceilinged lounge was cool. I made myself comfortable in the armchair near the fire and admired the panelling on the walls.
I must have fallen asleep with my brandy in my hand because I woke with a start in the semi darkness and for a moment wondered where I was. I had spilt my drink on my trousers and I felt a fool and a little annoyed that I had wasted perfectly good Napoleon three star brandy.
I looked at my watch with some difficulty because of the dim light and noted it was two forty-five. A few embers were left in the grate struggling to keep going. I put another log on and turned to go back to my chair and jumped a foot in the air as I was face to face with an elderly lady who I had not heard approach. My heart was pounding in my ears and I apologised for the expletive I had let slip.
She waved this apology away with a smile and a flick of her gloved hand and she sat in the hard backed wooden chair on the other side of the fire. I was still getting over the shock when we began the most interesting conversation. The lady was highly intelligent, very articulate and spoke with captivating interest about her life and to my surprise she had once lived at the Hall as a young woman, through her marriage and into her dotage. She confirmed that indeed there had been grand balls in the room before the war when life was easier and servants patrolled the corridors and rooms taking care of the needs of the family and guests. I thought I actually heard music as she described women in flowing bright gowns gliding down the stairs with their men in evening dress. 'Gay times' as she called them before the outbreak of war and when the Hall was taken over by the army as so many were in those dark days, the Hall lost its pride, its character and its soul.
This was the only time she looked sad as she described the Hall being ripped apart; art, furniture and belongings turned out into an old leaky cottage down the drive and I thought I saw a tear trickle down her cheek. She dabbed her face with a lace handkerchief and she offered me it to wipe my trousers of the brandy stain and although I initially refused, she insisted and I took it from her and gently rubbed my trousers over the stain. As I looked up and was about to offer her her handkerchief back, she had gone. I looked around the large room and even walked up the stairs looking for her and of this delightful old lady, I could find no trace.
I was determined to meet her in the morning at breakfast and return the handkerchief, a small square of thin white cotton delicately embroidered with roses, lavender flowers, vines and the initials ARH.
I slept well albeit for only four hours having had the night charmingly stolen away from me.
After a semi vegetarian breakfast (no bacon) but soya sausages and eggs with home grown tomatoes, beans and mushrooms from the surrounding fields, I asked the young lady who had greeted me the night before about the old lady. She looked at me with sad eyes which I thought familiar, and after a moments hesitation and rather unconvincingly she reiterated what she had told me the night before that there was no one else staying in the Hall. I told her this must have been some kind of mistake, the doors to the Hall had been locked and I had had a two hour conversation with the old lady.
I remembered the handkerchief and produced it with a flourish to prove the old lady's existence and I explained I wanted to return it with my gratitude. The young woman took the handkerchief with trembling hands and examined it. "ARH - This belonged to Alice Roberta Hangerley. She gave you this?" I said that she had and I described her. "My grandmother," explained the young woman. I asked if I could give her grandmother the delicate lace handkerchief back.
"I wouldn't think so, she's been dead since 1939. This used to be kept in an old trunk I keep in the loft of my cottage down the road, but it went missing a few years ago and I thought I had lost it. I once treasured it with all my heart." Her eyes were filling up. "And now she's returned it. Thank you so much." She placed her hand gently over mine for an instant and then she turned and went back into the kitchen and closed the door behind her. I could hear her crying.
I left the hall not an hour later somewhat confused still not clear about what had happened last night. I passed a tree a few yards down the drive from the Hall which I have sinced learned has not sprouted a single leaf since Alice Roberta Hangerley died all those years ago.And yet even now writing this I feel a warm indescribable glow that, by sheer accident through events outside my control, this strange episode had brought some comfort to a troubled soul with the assistance of... well, who knows.
Story and photographs the intellectual property of Rarelesserspotted