A True Story by PETER WYNGARDE
It’s over 50 years since an actor friend and I secured a part in a play in Stratford. As I remember, neither of us were particularly ‘Well off’ at the time, so instead of trying to find rooms in the town, we decided to look for alternative accommodation for the duration of the play.
Having scoured the local newspapers for what seemed like an eternity, we managed to find what appeared to be the perfect place; a large rural cottage located in a small hamlet just five miles outside of Stratford. The rent, if my memory serves me correctly, was one pound and ten shillings per week (£1.50), which even we two struggling actors could afford.
But there, it seemed, lay the catch: wasn’t this amount really a bit TOO much of a bargain to be true? I decided to make some enquires just to be sure that there hadn’t been a printing error but found, to our delight, that the figure was indeed correct. We decided to accept and moved in right away.
It was the middle of summer and the play, which was now in its third week, had proven to be a huge success. Following one of the many backstage parties that were thrown by the theatre manager, my friend and I were driving back to the cottage around 12.30am, when a young man appeared from nowhere, and sped across the road right in front of our car. I screamed out to my friend at the wheel, who immediately applied the brakes. We just managed to miss the man by mere inches.
A couple of nights later we were, again, driving back to the cottage after the evening performance when the same thing happened. Since the play was taking a break for a few days, we decided it was best if we stayed ‘home’ for the duration.
Following the end of the play’s run in July, my friend decided to audition for another production at the same theatre, and was successfully engaged in the lead role. I, on the other hand, had decided to take the remainder of the summer off, and spent much of my time sunbathing in the garden of the cottage.
One evening, however, whilst I was driving my friend to the theatre, I spotted what appeared to be the man who’d we’d almost killed on two previous occasions sitting on a fence by the side of the road. The moment he spotted us, he made a dash for the cover of the woods to our left, at which point I screeched the car to a halt and decided to go off after him. But despite that fact that I’d virtually been on his heel as he’d made off, I was unable to find him anywhere. It seemed as if he’d literally disappeared into thin air.
Later that same evening we arrived at the cottage to find that it’d been ransacked; all the furniture had been turned over, and there were paper and books strewn everywhere. I immediately made my way to the village police station, which appeared to be manned by one middle-aged officer to whom I related our tale.
Scratching the top of his head, he replied casually: “Did you know, Sir – that cottage is meant to be haunted? No one stays there for longer than a couple of days.” It suddenly occurred to me why the rent had been so low! I immediately returned to my friend who’d been left to tidy up the mess.
The following day whilst my friend was at the theatre, I decided to take a trip down to the local library to do a spot of research about this supposed “Haunted Cottage”. I found a book containing records of the family who’d lived there for many years. Among the lists of births and deaths, one entry leapt out at me: ‘Possibly Murdered’.
A few days later while I was at the cottage alone, I noticed that one of the watercolour’s on the drawing room wall was hanging lopsided, but as I walked over to fix it, it suddenly dropped from its hanger and crashed facedown onto the floor at my feet.
Noticing that the brown backing paper had begun to peel, I decided to remove it completely, and found amongst the padding of old newspapers dating back to the 1800’s, a piece of parchment containing what appeared to be a confession. Further investigation at the library revealed that the gentleman whose name appeared at the bottom of the document had been a labourer employed by the cottage owner.
At the age of only 23 years, he’d fallen in love with his Master’s wife of 17, and in a fit of jealousy, had murdered his employer who, it transpired, was over three times older than his wife.
Since I’d promised to pick up my friend from the theatre that evening, I left the ‘confession’ on the large oak table in the kitchen, and went out through the back door. Having relayed the story to my fiend as we drove back along the dark, winding country lanes which lead to the cottage, I half expected to arrive ‘home’ to find the confession missing.
I was slightly disappointed to see it still lying there on the table where I’d left it, but from that day on there wasn’t a single disturbance in the house, nor did we ever see the young man who’d twice darted across the road in front on the car.
It’s my belief that the ‘entity’ in question had been desperately searching for the confession behind the painting in order to finally put his troubled spirit to rest.
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