Talks with an earthbound spirit still living in the past. She wasn’t a ghost.
When Helen Greaves moved into the 16th-century end-of-terrace cottage in Sussex in the fall of 1971, she found it already occupied by the old servant, Nan. She had gone to live there 100 years before, after retiring from her job as maid, on the death of her Mistress, the Lady of the nearby manor house. As we have seen, the Lady went off into a state of Limbo on HER demise, but the old servant lived alone in the cottage, and when her time came, she never realised that she had died, and so remained earthbound.
Consequently, a few weeks after moving in, Helen became aware of this old woman. “She was sitting in the armchair opposite, and she was staring at me with curiosity and interest. She was dressed in a long black frock with a full floor-length skirt. An immaculate white apron with a bib protected the dress front. Under the severely brushed-back grey hair, the little wizened face with its large somber eyes regarded me with a sort of other-worldly expression, which immediately marked her out as a recluse. She had a thin tight mouth, as if all her life she had had to button up her words, and so had been flung in upon herself; and it was this, and her odd ‘lost’ expression which made me take notice of her.
“I had the strange impression that she was glad to have me there for company….suddenly she told me her name. Then she explained her right to be in the cottage. This had been her ‘very own’ home and she had lived there by herself since her Mistress died. I explained that there was room for both of us, and she accepted this. The old servant told a few more facts about her life and the large house where she had worked, and then was gone.”
She returned one evening in December when Helen was sitting by the fire listening to music on the radio as she mended a necklace of thin, linked silvered chains.. Helen noticed her sitting in the opposite chair, watching her with the greatest interest and concentration.
The old servant Nan commented - My Mistress had a chain like that. Only with thicker links; gold AND silver.
Helen – REAL silver?
Nan – Real silver! My mistress was rich.
Helen – Ah!
Nan – Hers come to ’er waist. It had a great locket, big as a crown, it was, hanging from it.
Helen – Like a great medallion?
Nan – With writing on one side. Mistress set great store by it. Never was without them…the chain and the locket. Wore ’em with all her dresses, all them stiff silks she liked so much…
Helen – Your Mistress had smart dresses?
Nan – Elegant they was. The Mistress was handsome an’ elegant. I remember she always wore silk when she was young. When the Master, ’er husband died, folks thought she’d marry again. But she never. The young Master too, had been drowned in the pond, and… [the pond was one of several ‘hammer ponds’ in Sussex, used to cool the molten iron ore out of which cannon were made there for the army and navy since the mid-Sixteenth century].
Helen – Drowned? How sad.
The servant didn’t reply, but was gone, but she often returned over the next few months to curl up on the chair by the fire like a cat. Helen picked up facts about her life in the past. Then one evening she seemed to want to confide her anxieties.
Nan – It’s the Boy I’m wondering about. Poor Sonny, he was weak in the head. Didn’t have no real life, he didn’t. SHE couldn’t bear him near ’er. There was a time she wanted to put ’im away. But the old Master wouldn’t ’ear of it. Not that the old Master knew much. ‘E was too easy-going with ’er, and she knew ’ow to get round him. Would ’e have kept the Boy in the house, if he’d known all I knew? That the Boy weren’t ’is own flesh and blood…a fly-by-night, a romp-in-the-’ay child of an ’andsome gardener wot come to work for us for a while. Oh, the Mistress was proud an’ self-willed. Reckon she had suspicion of me knowing, but I never give ’er that satisfaction…so she ’ad to keep me on. And the poor Boy, I tried to make up to ’im for his mother. I wonder now if he ever knew…?
(The next evening she continued) – I was fond of ’im, I was. An’ he trusted me. An idiot. It must ’ave been terrible for him. I wonder wot happened to him?
Helen – But he was drowned in the pond, wasn’t he?
Nan – Ah! Drowned, so ’e was. Goin’ in after a bird, I remember. An’ no-one to tell ’im it was deep in the middle. Poor Sonny, ’ad no life…and now ’e’s dead…It was ’er fault…’er fault. ’Eartless, that’s wot she was…(she sat for a while, then got up as if to poke the fire, then was gone).
By January of 1972 the old servant had told Helen most of the details of her life, and her working life at the large house nearby, the Lady and the Boy. They, too began to communicate, as has been recorded in earlier episodes of this series. The old servant continued to visit, as well as these other spirit intruders, and one evening she was back, talking about religion.
Nan – Never ’ad much time for Church-goin’ myself. Or for God. He never did much for me.
Helen – He created you.
Nan – Reckon me father and mother did that. Only the gentry and the parson got time for such as praying and hymn singing. Didn’t do my Mistress much good. ’leastways, I’m too old for that lark now. I don’t ’ave to wait on ’er any more. I’ve got me cottage and victuals. It’s enough for me…It’ll last me out.
Helen – Last you out? What about the end…when you die?
Nan - Die? That’s the end of you, eh?
Helen – I didn’t say so What about Heaven or Hell?
Nan – Don’t believe in ’em. Being free and having my own cottage is all the heaven I want. [Which explains why she is earthbound. She thinks this is her heaven, and she refuses to become conscious of anything else].
Nan – You’re a queer one. Thinkin’ of death, and all that.
Helen – Don’t you?
Nan – No, never. Coffins, and goin’ under the ground. Ugh!
Helen – But we all have to die sometime.
Nan – You do keep on so about dying.
Helen – Do you believe that some part of you lives on?
Nan – There you go again. No, I don’t.
Helen – But suppose you DO live on after death.
Nan – I’ll wait till it comes to it to find out.
Helen - Perhaps you won’t have to wait long.
Nan – Well, that’s a fine thing! Not long, eh? You’ll be telling me I AM dead, next!
Helen – Are you?
Nan – No, I ain’t. If I were would I be sitting ’ere talking to you?
Helen – You might. Yes indeed, you well might.
Nan – Well, of all the…! Excuse me, Madam, you must be ill. Shall I fetch you a doctor
Helen – Yes, do that.
Nan – Where will I get one?
Helen – You don’t know a doctor round here?
Nan - I ain’t seen one for years. I don’t see folk much these days.
Helen – You don’t really see anybody, do you?
Nan – Why should I? I’ve got all I want.
Helen – All? Have you no friends, no acquaintances?
Nan – I don’t want ’em. I got me cottage.
Helen – Aren’t you ever lonely?
Nan – No, I’m free. I don’t have to work from morning to night for nobody, now.
Helen – Is that your idea of heaven?
Nan – Madam, you don’t know what service is, you don’t…domestic service.
Helen – Yes, But I know I wouldn’t want to be alone in a world with nobody to love or care for…
Nan – Alone? I never thought of it.
Helen – Well, I suggest you think about it. And now, will you find me that doctor?
Nan – I don’t know where to go.
Helen – Your Mistress…
Nan – ’as been dead these ten years.
Helen – We’re back to death again.
Nan (really frightened) - Yes, Madam, I’ll fetch a doctor if I can.
Helen commented in her notes “At last she was not so sure of her present state. The first doubts had been thrust purposely by me into her mind. I closed my eyes and inwardly voiced a thankful prayer. When I looked for her again, I found that she was gone.
Summary reviewed from “The Wheel of Eternity” by Helen Greaves. published by C.W. Daniel 1974. The reader is recommended to obtain the book for the author’s full account and comments.
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