Saturday, 14 April 2012
I Want To Shrivel Your Blood by Dennis Hamley
Actually, I really do want to shrivel your blood,
by Dennis Hamley
I ended my last blog by saying that if you were good I'd tell you a ghost story. Well, you have been so I will. And it is true. It is, it is.
First, the backstory. The year was 1964, the month was October. For the previous four years I had been teaching at Stockport Grammar School even though I'm a soft southerner. I thought it was time for a change so I crossed the Pennines to Wakefield and Queen Elizabeth Grammar School. And in October I was teaching Wuthering Heights for A level to a crowd of Yorkshire sixth-formers.
Now while I was living in Stockport I met a nurse who worked at the Christie Cancer Hospital in Manchester and before I left for Yorkshire we had agreed to get married. She wasn't yet officially my fiancee but that's how I shall henceforth refer to her. She was still in Manchester working out her notice before she too crossed the Pennines. And that Saturday she was coming over for the weekend. I met her off the train, she asked 'What are we going to do?' and I said, 'We're going to Haworth to see the Brontes.' I'd never been there, never seen the parsonage, hadn't even been on the Keighley and Worth Valley Railway, but knew that I had to do all those things, though perhaps the railway could wait. So we got in my old Morris Minor and drove off north.
It was a really Wuthering Heights sort of day. Dark grey clouds loured over us, the wind rose and the rain sleeted down. The scene was as desolate as I had hoped it would be. We toured the parsonage, listened to the guide, saw the books, the clothes which would fit midgets, the tiny shoes, Branwell's paintings and then, when we thought we had exhausted everything, we stepped outside into the rain and wind and ran to the church.
The church seemed about the most miserable thing even on that miserable day. Running down one side was a glass-topped display case in which various old parish documents lay open. I went straight to the parish register and found, to my delight, that it was open at the page of the entry for Emily's burial. What happened next might have something to do with the fact that I was immersed in Wuthering Heights and had somehow made myself open to suggestion and atmosphere. It might have been that my fiancee was paying her first visit to Yorkshire and the weather might be making her have second thoughts and so my feelings were raw and vulnerable. I don't know. It might have been that the visitation I was about to receive was just a haunting with no reason behind it at all. I don't know that either.
What I know is that there was an indefinable feeling that my eyes were being led to the entry of the burial, that an invisible hand, which, though I couldn't see it, I knew was very small, was pointing to it. I suppose that might have been merely imagination or thinking after the event. But what was certainly not imagination was the real fact that, right up close to my ear, came the sound of a woman crying, softly at first, then increasing to deep racking sobs and then slowly dying away. I can hear it as I write. I shall always hear it.
St Michael and All Angels, Haworth
My first thought was about my fiancee. "I didn't know she felt like that about it,' I said to myself, half angry, half sad. 'She might have told me.' But when I turned round there was nobody there. She was down the other end of the church examining something.
'Did you hear that woman crying?' I asked.
After looking at me as if she had doubts about what she was taking on, she told me she hadn't but there were some people in the church porch and it might have been one of them. So I went to have a look. I have seldom seen a group of people less likely to contain a crying woman.
'I heard her," I said. 'Emily came to me and pointed out her burial so that I wouldn't miss it.'
'Rubbish,' my fiancee answered.
So I returned to the parish register and Emily's burial entry and listened again. Complete silence except the wind moaning outside and the occasional spatter of raindrops on the windows. I wasn't surprised. I knew the revenant had disappeared to wherever she came from, never to return. And that was it. We left the church, got in my Morris Minor, drove out of Haworth and back to Wakefield, had a nice dinner in the Steak House and forgot all about it. But next day it all came back to me and has continued to at intervals ever since.
So there we are. I have been visited by the ghost of Emily Bronte. Definitely. Over the years I've told that story to several people. Some have sidled away embarrassed, others have raised their eyebrows and made tutting noises, others have said straight out what my fiancee said. 'Rubbish.' At least I haven't been quite like the Ancient Mariner about it, largely because my eyes don't really glitter.. Nobody, yet, has said 'Unhand me, greybeard loon' but that's probably because I don't have a beard.
However, once, just once, someone has said, 'Yes, I believe you.' Then he spoilt it by adding, 'Except...'
'It couldn't have been Emily. Emily was dead so she wouldn't be watching her own burial. It must have been Charlotte, telling you how upset she was.'
I had to admit the justice of that. So that's my story. I once stood next to Emily Bronte as she cried over her own burial. Or perhaps it was Charlotte crying over the death of her sister. Or, now I come to think of it, perhaps it was Ann.
Well, it was undoubtedly one of them. And it makes me feel very privileged.