1.3.4 "The White Hart"

A happy ghost story, if there can be such a thing!

“Not everyone who is enlightened by an angel knows that he is enlightened by him.” St Thomas Aquinas.

This tale of redemption is told by a likeable male chauvinist, bachelor and keen fell-runner, Pete Montague, who recalls three strange incidents which he initially thought were unconnected. The first is his encounter with a little albino deer which he found in the forest when he was out for a jog. The second is that of a chance meeting with a beautiful, young but somewhat enigmatic girl in a remote chapel, and of their conversation in which she told him of the tragic story of the daughter of the family which built it. And the third incident …... 

 

An adult fantasy story for those who like to think about what they are reading.

 

To purchase this story click here.

 

Background Information.

After the misery of "The Golden Tup" I wanted something a bit lighter, something with a bit of fun in it and a battle of the sexes story seemed a good one to go for - we all like to have a moan about the other sex, but we also all like a bit of love and romance!

 

Once again, the initial idea for this story was its ending, so I am not going to tell you that. Having got that, the rest of the story fell into place fairly easily, with our, I hope, likeable male chauvinist Pete Montague, meeting more than his match in an elusive young and pretty Raphaella who tells him the story of the young mistress of a country estate, whilst at the same time gently suggesting to Pete the errors of his ways! As I wanted this story to be a bit of a pick-me-up after "The Golden Tup", I decided to have the historic part of it leading on from the historic part of The Golden Tup and so some of the characters get a mention in both tales. Although it is meant as a bit of fun, there is a serious side to it and also tragedy - it is a ghost story after all! However, that said, I hope it ends as happily as it is possible for a ghost story to end!

 

A couple of snippets; a white hart was the personal badge of King Richard II who was first deposed and then met a somewhat unfortunate end. Before this he introduced a law requiring pubs to have signs, which possibly accounts for the “The White Hart” being the fifth most popular pub name! And of course I hope I don't need to tell you that Shakespeare's Romeo had the surname Montague do I, and hence why the story is structured as it is?

 

Sample Chapters.

The White Hart

(a story in three parts)

Prologue

“Well, seeing as we've had some pretty serious tales to date, how about something a little more light-hearted,” joked Pete. “How about a fell runner's tale?”

The Pete in question was not the same Peter as the one married to Susan. This Pete, Pete Montague, had lived in the village for at least twenty years, was in his thirties, still a bachelor and given his passion with sports, one of which included fell running, was, according the rest of us, likely to remain so for the foreseeable future! He was certainly eligible all right and had had a succession of girl friends, but none of his relationships seemed to last. Possibly as a result of this, some of the married women felt a bit “mumsy” towards him, wanting him to find a nice girl and settle down, whereas a few of the married men were perhaps a touch jealous of him and his various girls! Indeed, it was “his girls” coupled with his surname that had led to the occasional use of Romeo as a nickname, but this hadn't really stuck and Peter Montague remained Pete to those of us that knew him.

Although it was none of our business, I fancy the truth about his seemingly varied love life was that of his simply not having found the right girl yet. However, the latest rumour doing the rounds was that he had just started going out with a new girl - though of course I should say, young woman - who was just as mad about sport as he was! I suspect I was not alone in wondering if it was the confidence brought on by this new love that had caused him to volunteer his, as it turned out, surprisingly candid story.

However, be that as it may, Pete was popular, had a good sense of humour and could take a joke, which was just as well given the merciless crew that were present that evening!

“A fell-runner's tale. Oh no! Anything but!” said Bill.

“So who fancies a game of darts?” asked Dan.

“Leave him alone you lot,” said one of the ladies present.

“Yes, give him a break lads. If we get a few pints down us, it might just be bearable!” came from another of the men.

“Now come on you chaps,” protested Pete. “I promise you it won't be quite as you think. It even involves Hartstane Chapel and if that is good enough for Verity it's.....”

“But Verity doesn't have us flogging up the hills like Sisyphus!”

Contrary to the tone of the banter, a few round the table had begun to show signs of interest, including Verity, who had mentioned the chapel in her story of The Golden Tup which she had recounted the previous month. So perhaps this story was not going to be just about fell running?

“All right then, if that's how you feel,” said Pete in a mock huff, “You won't want to hear about the lovely ladies then?”

“Ooooh! Lovely ladies eh? Pipe down you lot! This is beginning to sound a lot better than fell running. Go on Pete, the floor is yours.” enthused Dan whilst giving Pete a theatrical bow to indicate that the floor was indeed his.

After the laughter had died down, Pete started to tell his tale.

Part 1.

The incident in Hartstane Woods.

“Although this story started about a year ago, at that time I didn't realise that it was the start of anything and it was only later that I realised the connections between this and two other incidents. So because of this, I am going to commence this tale part way though, at the time when I first realised that there might be a connection between this, the second incident, and one that had occurred earlier in the year.

So this is in fact the second incident, which occurred last summer.”

“It was a lovely summer morning,” commenced Pete, who then smiled to himself before continuing,

“Well, you have to admit that beats “Once upon a time” as an opening line!”

“And did everyone notice, not a mention of fell-running?!” said an observant Bill.

“It was a lovely summer morning,” repeated Pete, trying to hold back his laughter at some joke that he had yet to impart to us, “and I had got up early with a view of going for a training run and getting back before.....”

At this point there were cries of “Oh no, not already!” “Did he manage to get twenty words out before he mentioned....?” and by this time Pete had given up trying to hold back his laughter and was laughing along with the rest of us.

“Will you be quiet, you lot,” said Verity in a school marmish voice, even though she was also trying hard to keep a straight face, “or we'll be here all night at this rate. Let Pete tell his story.”

Pete regained his composure and started again.

“It was a lovely summer morning and I had got up early with a view of going for a training run and getting back before breakfast. So I suppose the time was about 7.00 – 7.30 am. I'd parked the car in the small parking area at this end of Hartstane Woods, just at the start of the straight section of road and that fabulous row of beech trees. You know where I mean. After pulling on my trainers, I cut through the woods to the burn and jogged along the bank-top path beside it.

It was a fabulous, fairytale morning with shafts of golden sunlight shining in almost parallel beams through an enchanting forest-scape of Scots pine, beech, the occasional group of redwoods and rhododendrons. The sunlight created a wonderful dappled pattern of light on the rhododendron bushes which were in full bloom - various shades of purple through to lilac and white - and looking fantastic. The whole, almost medieval forest scene was as near perfect as one could wish and I was in the middle of it. The Hartburn was gently babbling over rocks beside me and a woodpecker drummed on a tree somewhere off to my left. Yes, God was in His Heaven and all was right in the world! And I, feeling like a knight of yore - though not on a white charger! - was jogging through this magical forest. I was glad that I had chosen to get up and enjoy this.

All too soon I came out at the flat area where the old house, Hartstane Hall, used to stand. Gosh, that estate must have been grand in its time as the woods that we know today would of course have been the Hall's back garden. Some back garden! Fancy having beech and giant redwoods in your garden! It's hard to imagine it now, but all those superb trees must have been planted - beech doesn't grow naturally in straight lines as those along the roadside are, and neither are they or the redwoods indigenous hereabouts.

It is sobering to note that it is the garden that survives and not the Hall, even though at the time the Hall would have been considered far more important than its garden, which would have been looked on as just an area for recreation, and to reflect on the fact that the Hall has all but disappeared over just a relatively short space of time. OK, the land where it once stood is a bit unnaturally flat, but there is nothing left but the chapel, still standing there in splendid isolation, to suggest that a grand country house ever existed on the spot. The garden however, with its wonderful trees and rhododendron bushes, winding paths and stone steps, still has a magnificent grandness about it. You don't need much imagination to see that it would have been lovely in its heyday, though arguably the garden's heyday is right now, as most of the fabulous trees we see today would have been a bit on the small side back then!

Anyway, I had reached the flat area where the old Hall used to stand, had crossed it and the road on the far side, and was heading up through the forest proper - the more modern spruce plantation - going up a spruce needle strewn path towards the small pond at the top there. Wow! After the open beech and pine woods of the old garden, that section of forest certainly felt dark, damp and cold - the sun just doesn't get in, so the forest never warms up - and its floor is as dead as a dodo as well! OK, an environmentalist might argue that beech and rhododendrons are not the best species to have in a woodland because they also tend to smother the woodland floor and prevent growth, but the previous mixed woodland that I had just come through was far more preferable and not just more alive, but very much more alive than the cold, damp, dead tomb of the spruce forest that I was then jogging through.

If you know that path, you'll know that it leads up to a pond and that there are the remains of an old wire fence running alongside it. As I was looking forward to breaking out into the warmth of sunshine at the pond, I wasn't really paying too much attention to the sound of one of the wires scraping in the fence post staples and put this down to a tree having fallen on the fence, being moved in the breeze and so dragging the wire. However, as I approached the flatter section where the spruce forest ends and gives way to the tussocky fellside, the scraping definitely got louder and I could see that there was no tree lying across the old fence in the immediate vicinity.

Just a few metres further on and in a small dip, I found the cause of the scraping - a small deer had one of its hind legs caught up in a bundle of old wire and was struggling to get free. But this wasn't any small deer, because, with the exception of a rust coloured stripe across it's throat, it was completely white - an albino deer - all white and with a lovely pink nose. I was quite taken aback because, for some reason I had never thought it possible that you could have an albino deer. Although I had once seen an albino blackbird in the garden - which I know sounds like a complete contradiction, an all white, black bird! - but, illogical as it sounds, it had never occurred to me that deer could also be albino.

This little fellow - though I realised that he was in fact a she when I got closer - was absolutely stunningly beautiful, with soft looking, short pure white fur covering fine limbs and bones - delicate but somehow not fragile. Her head was particularly fine with a beautiful bone structure immediately apparent. Possibly her exceptional beauty was due to her fur colouring, or lack of it I should say, which meant that there were none of the usual different shades of brown to distract the eye. The overall impression was that of looking at a superb piece of Meissen porcelain, except that this piece of porcelain was anything but static, as the poor little creature was struggling like mad to get her leg free!

All her four lower legs were splattered with mud as a result of trying to obtain a purchase on the slippery side of the bank which rose from the muddy puddle in which she was standing at the bottom of the dip, and in addition, her trapped lower left hind leg was looking rather raw from rubbing against the wire. One didn't need to have seen this sort of thing before to realise that the animal was not going to escape by her own devices and that all she was doing was succeeding in tightening the tangle of wire which held her captive.

Why hadn't those who had bundled up this wire taken it away with them? Honestly, what is the point in bundling up old wire only to then just leave it? Goodness me! Bundle it up and take it away! Why are people so thoughtless and untidy?

As I looked at this little deer caught thus, my mind went back to an incident of the previous year when I had found a ewe snagged on a barbed wire fence. That greedy specimen had pushed her head through the fence - isn't the grass always greener on the other side?! - and had caught the fleece on her shoulders on the barbs of the upper strand of the fence. Each time she'd moved she'd caught more of her fleece on the barbs and so had become more snagged. And this lovely little white bambi was doing much the same with the bundle of wire around her leg.

As I approached she went frantic, kicking and struggling as if her life depended on it. Well, I suppose from her perspective she had every reason to believe this to be the case - how did she know I was not considering her as my next meal! - but my intentions were nothing of the sort, I was certainly not out to harm her.

Bracing myself for the inrush of cold muddy water into my trainers, I stepped into the puddle and grabbed her and held her firmly, and to my surprise, and relief, she stopped struggling, no doubt thinking that her time was up and so was resigned to her fate! I recalled that the ewe had reacted in a similar way and so, as I had done with the ewe, I started talking quietly to this little deer and giving her a stroke from time to time.

“Now my beauty ......... you just hold still ....... how did you get all tangled up like this?....... steady …... now, now, I am not going to hurt you ........”

and with my free hand started to untangle the wire,

“oh, this is a mess .......... now tell me .......... no, no, hold still ........ how did a pretty girl like you ....... ah, at last ......”

while at the same time I tried to tread down the bundle with my foot. Unfortunately, it kept springing back, which did nothing to aid progress.

The poor little creature's lower left rear leg was rather badly scratched by the wire and so I was endeavouring to get the rusty strands away from it without causing further damage or more pain, but was finding this nigh-on impossible and inevitably the wires occasionally touched her sore leg and she would wriggle like mad and I had to abandon my task and hold on to her with both arms until she calmed down. Her body was soft and warm against my legs and hands, and I could feel her breathing fast and feel the rapid beat of her heart. She was obviously extremely frightened.

“Now, now, be patient my lovely ........ struggling is not going to help ....... ah good, that's got that strand free ........ Whoa! Steady now ........”

Her short soft fur felt like moleskin and it was pleasant holding her and stroking her when she wasn't wriggling like an eel. She looked up at me with large, soft, frightened eyes as if to implore me not to harm her.

“Now if we can get this piece .......”

and I knew it was going to hurt her, and it did, and she struggled like mad again, but at last I managed to stamp a section of wire down and off her leg.

“Good, now perhaps we are getting somewhere,” I murmured to her. “There, there ........ nearly done ....... now I think .......”

and eventually I was able to tread down the remaining wire so that the animal could lift her leg free.

“There we are my darling, off you go.”

And no sooner had I loosened my grip on her and she was off like an arrow, a beautiful bounding white arrow, moving smoothly and effortlessly over the tussock covered fellside. Oh to be able to fell-run like that, I thought, as I watched her making such an easy job of it!

When at what was obviously deemed a safe distance, she stopped, turned her beautiful, delicate white head and looked at me with those lovely big round eyes. What a beautiful animal! Did she comprehend that I hadn't been trying to kill her, that my efforts had been directed towards freeing her from the wire in which she had become ensnared and now, now that she felt safe, did she want to look at whoever it was that had freed her? You never really know how much animals do understand. Was the whole business for her just a lucky escape, or did she actually realise that she had been rescued and so was her stopping and looking back at me her way of saying thank you? After standing there for, I don't know, a quarter of a minute say - hers was not just a brief backward glance and was certainly long enough to have me wondering what thoughts might be going through her head - she turned and with a few easy bounds disappeared from sight behind a slight rise.

I breathed an emotional sigh, sorry that she was gone, but pleased, contented if you like, that she was back where she belonged, out on the fell, back in nature, free to run again where she would.

It was only after this that I realised how cold and wet my feet had become from standing in that puddle - both my trainers and socks were soaking! So whereas my new-found white friend had bounded off so effortlessly, I instead squelched off along the path in a most undignified manner hoping that some warmth would return to my feet before too long. Although horrible to start with - how else do you describe cold, muddy water squeezing between your toes? - after about a kilometre the blood did start to flow again and I gradually ceased to notice the unpleasantness, settled into my stride and then enjoyed the rest of the run.

Once back home, after a shower and breakfast, I decided to check up on albino deer. How rare were these, what causes this abnormality and so on? Yes, all right, I know when you stop and think about it this is going to sound a bit stupid of me, but up until that point I had been describing / classifying this little deer to myself as “albino”. Of course I knew it was white, I had seen that, but I had not put the words “white” and “deer” together, and of course had not put the words “white” and “hart” together either.

Now before anyone says anything, yes, I know a hart is a male deer and that strictly speaking I should be referring to my little bambi as a white doe, rather than as a female white hart. However whilst I was musing on this incident in Hartstane Wood I was also vaguely recalling an earlier incident which had happened back in the spring, which had involved a white hart and also intriguingly had occurred at Hartstane and so I was, without intending to, conflating the two incidents.

White hart! I confess I felt a slight tingle. How many pubs are called “The White Hart”? Must be hundreds. So were they, white harts that is, common once upon a time? Or is it just that the combination of these words has always had a charm about them, always invoked a romantic image of yore? “What shall we call the pub, darling?” “How about “The White Hart”? A name like that'll bring the punters in!” Only of course back in the days of yore they would have said all of this in Olde Worlde English!

Any ideas anyone, what “punter” is in Olde Worlde English?

There is no doubting though that the words “white hart” do have something romantic, ancient, almost medieval about the image that they conjure up - thoughts of knights on white chargers, mysterious and enchanted woods, and of course, maidens in distress!

And then - and how shall I describe it …... interestingly? - it occurred to me that I'd had much the same romantic thoughts earlier on while actually jogging through Hartstane Woods. OK, I hadn't had a white charger and I hadn't found a beautiful maiden in distress, but …... I had found a beautiful little female white hart in distress.

And it was at this stage that my vague recollections of that earlier incident at Hartstane started to come into focus. As already said, that incident had involved a white hart.

How odd? Was this just coincidence?

 

To purchase this story click here.

 

 

Reviews.

 

*****

"As in some of his other stories Leslie Garland also begins "The White Hart" with a quote from St. Thomas Aquinas: "Not everyone who is enlightened by an angel knows that he is enlightened by him”. I think this is brilliant as a backdrop through the story.

 

The details and the atmosphere make it a page turner. Three incidents are woven together and might give the introductory quote a wider meaning.  The story is brilliantly written and highly recommended!"

 

(See full review by Patruscha on Amazon)

 

*****

"Another readable tale of strange goings on in the countryside. Do you believe in ghosts? It doesn't matter as the harmless one in this story is cleverly brought to life."

 

(See review by George G on Amazon)

 

****

" The White Hart links in to the other excellent stories by this author: the locations are familiar, as is the setting. A group of friends meet in the pub and swop stories of strange happenings. This time it's Pete's turn: a young man who we are told has always fancied himself as a bit of a ladies' man. His story is of some seemingly unconnected incidents, which he only realises later might have a deeper meaning. Whilst running, he has an encounter with a white deer, and meets a captivating woman, who tells him the sad story of a previous owner of the estate. Much of their conversation is about the roles and expectations of men and women in terms of relationships: this was fun and made me want to join in! I really wanted to correct Pete on his total misunderstanding of Jane Austen for a start, so yes, the writing drew me in and involved me!
This was more lighthearted than the other stories I've read and offers a good foil to the more troubling tales. There are similar supernatural themes, which I won't give away. I would recommend this and the other stories by this author."

 

(See full review by Hector's Girl on Amazon and Goodreads )

 

****

"This short story is told in The Red Grouse Inn, an English Pub, where a group of friends meet regularly for a few pints and a chat.  On this particular Thursday evening, Pete decides to tell a tale about Hartstane Hall, an old estate which has disintegrated over the years. It's about his encounters and one coincidence too many! Do you believe in ghosts?

This short story is very well put together.

 

(See full review by Brigitte on Mes LivresAmazon and Goodreads )

 

****

"Super story, such fun. Unusual, amusing and uplifting. Great for a wet day or winter evening."

 

(See review by Amazon Customer on Amazon)

 

****

The White Hart is a lovely re-telling of a story the author became acquainted with years ago. Ghosts and ghost stories fascinate me and this story is a delight.

In many ways the story is about redemption and understanding, for both the ghost as well as the man who sees her. The quote by St. Thomas Aquinas referenced in the beginning of the story, makes a wonderful anchor for the plot. “Not everyone who is enlightened by an angel knows that he is enlightened by him.”

 

(See full review by DA on Amazon and goodreads)

 

 

To purchase this story click here.