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Feather's Miscellany: The Station Ghost

...He was crawling past the ruins of an old woollen mill built over a hundred years before and set back in ghyll flushed with water, when she appeared out of the night, a slight figure of a girl flagging him down at the roadside. She appeared so suddenly Tom had to brake to avoid hitting her. She was a thin, wan girl wrapped in a shawl and wearing an old-fashioned ragged skirt and shawl. She was bedraggled and white-faced and, most surprising, shoeless. Her hair was plastered against her forehead and her eyes were red-rimmed, staring at him with an unearthly light...

John Waddington-Feather tells a classic ghost story.

It all happened late one Saturday night when Tom Allen was driving back over Ilkesworth Moor from a party in the town, and he’s stayed longer than he intended. It was a filthy night late in November, and the rain siled down amid long peals of thunder. Lightning fractured the sky at intervals and lit up the moor, which lay sodden.

The whole way back the road was flooded and water torrented down the gulleys alongside it. To tell the truth, Tom was more than a little apprehensive worrying about what would happen if by chance his car broke down as water at times rose hub-high on the wheels. The wipers also could hardly cope with the mass of rain-water pouring down the windscreen and his headlights could penetrate only a few metres ahead.

He was crawling past the ruins of an old woollen mill built over a hundred years before and set back in ghyll flushed with water, when she appeared out of the night, a slight figure of a girl flagging him down at the roadside. She appeared so suddenly Tom had to brake to avoid hitting her. She was a thin, wan girl wrapped in a shawl and wearing an old-fashioned ragged skirt and shawl. She was bedraggled and white-faced and, most surprising, shoeless. Her hair was plastered against her forehead and her eyes were red-rimmed, staring at him with an unearthly light.

She came to his window which he wound down. “Please help me!” she cried, and her voice was barely a whisper. She spoke with a cockney twang with a peculiar pitch.

“What’s the matter?” asked Tom, opening the passenger door to let her in.

“I want to go to Keighworth Railway Station and I’ve lost my way on the moors.”

“Just like the modern generation,” thought Tom. “Doubtless she’s been to some fancy dress rave-up in Ilkesworth and left it too late to catch the bus home. But where are her shoes on a night like this? She could have died of exposure here on the moors!”

Tom said he’d take her to the station, then drove off into the night. It was only a twenty minute drive into Keighworth, but Tom was glad to get off the moors and drop into the suburbs of the town. He tried to make conversation but the youngster beside him answered only in monosyllables, so talk soon dried up and he drove the rest of the way in silence, wondering what on earth possessed her to try and walk back in such weather. Surely someone at the party or whatever she’d been to could have put her up for the night.

The rain had eased by the time they reached the station and Tom had already decided he’d offer her lodging for the night in his spare bedroom. She was soaked and needed somewhere to dry out and warm up quickly. He turned to tell her – but she was gone! There was no trace of her and the car door was still firmly shut. Had he been hallucinating? Moreover the seat beside him was quite dry and she’d got in soaking wet.

He was completely nonplussed and, after parking his car, went into station to see if she was there. It was deserted and only an aged ticket-collector was locking up his office as the last train had gone and he was going home.

“Has a young girl come here just a moment ago?” asked Tom. “I gave her a lift to the station but she disappeared suddenly from my car when I stooped to let her out, and she was wet through and looked ill. I’m very worried about her.”

The old ticker-collector gave him an odd look then re-opened his office and invited Tom in to sit down. “Nay,” said the ticket-collector, “I’ve only caught glimpses of her meself but I know lots ‘ave seen her proper. She’ll be about ‘ere somewhere.”

Mystified by what the old man had just said, Tom asked him what he meant.

“She’s a ghost,” said the old man bluntly.

“A ghost!” exclaimed Tom.

“Aye, a ghost,” came the reply, and the old man went on to explain.

“Yer picked ‘er up by t’ old mill, eh?” said the ticket-collector.

Tom said yes, and that girl had startled him coming out of the night so suddenly on the moors.

“Well, when that mill were built well ower a hundred years since, t' mill-owner wanted cheap labour – and he got it. He went down to London to an orphanage and brought back some children on the railway – in cattle trucks.”

“Good God!” exclaimed Tom. “How awful!”

“Mill-masters were like that in them days,” said the old man. “Cruel as they come an' all for money. The mill-masters paid no wages but fed t’ youngsters they employed an’ they were supposed to clothe ‘em, but yer saw how poorly they were dressed by what that lass were wearing. They found nowhere for ‘em to live so t’ kids slept under t’ looms at night.”

Tom had heard stories like this before, but had never really believed them. His own grandparents had left school at twelve to work in the mill, which was bad enough, but not under conditions those 19th century orphans had to endure.

“Then when the mill fell on hard times an’ went bust, “the old man continued, “the kids were chucked out. They’d nowhere to stay an’ walked ower t’ moors to Ilkesworth – all except one, an older lass. She was ill like most of ‘em but she never made it. She went t’ other way to Keighworth to reach t’ railway station, where she’d been unloaded all them years before. She got lost in t’ dark an’ died on t’ moors. They found her t’ next day an’ she’s buried in a pauper’s grave in Keighworth Parish Church graveyard. But every year, on this very night, she tries to find her way back home to London by rail. She’ll be about somewhere for I’ve caught glimpses of her an’ so have others.”

Tom thanked the old man for his tale and left to go back to his car, but as he entered the station forecourt, there she was, the lost mill-lass! Waving and smiling wanly back at him through the gloom before she faded into the night.

John Waddington-Feather ©


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