The Grey Lady

The haunted manor is closed on Mondays,
its fragile visage overgrown
with florid veins of virginia creeper,
the croquet lawn sadly unkempt,
while exotic weeds unfurl
from cracked urns of weathered stone.

Behind the locked shutters
a mysterious presence is making itself known.
The Chinese temple dogs enshrined
in the dining room exchange porcelain smiles,
and in the west wing,
the faded chaise gives a long sigh,
as the portrait eyes of long dead ancestors
follow a shadowy form,
at first glance like some nebulous hourglass–
taking a turn Austen-fashion,
around the drawing room
perhaps a little restless,
yet this spirit seems at home–the mistress of this place.

Her grey figure drifts into the small salon,
lined with bulging Cordoba leather,
centuries of gilt worn thin,
where she paces three times around the table
before pausing to twiddle with the little cupid
poised with bow and arrow atop the mantel clock.
Then down the corridor to the library,
gliding past the Wars of Roses armour
rustling in time-worn salute,
making the glass ripple on the cabinet doors,
as she trails fine fingers across familiar bindings.
Taking leave of this sanctuary,
she ascends the grand staircase of polished oak,
bestowing the ghost of a smile on the mischievous face
of a long-dead family favourite.

Into the South-West bedroom she goes–
oh, this is her very special place,
where frightened weekend guests
cowered under bedclothes as she
worried the drapes around the lumpen four-poster
and rattled the coat hangers in the wardrobe.
They never did get a good night’s sleep–
and their consternation the morning after,
when her signature’s discovered–
strange asymmetric shapes cut out from every
piece of finery they own–the cherry on the cake.

She rarely ventures up the narrow stairs,
to the servants’ quarters,
because another spirit often walks there,
her nemesis–Bold Jack,
a footman taken on in lean times,
his good character counterfeited–
who once caught her handling the fine volumes
when she should have been merely dusting–
and she paid the price.
His big hands gripping her by the neck,
his ugly thick lips pressed upon hers–
she could not scream or make any protest.

Memories of that ordeal now drowned,
like unwanted kittens in a sack–
for a merciful God has kindly granted her
the freedom to roam at will
and the ability to peruse the precious books
without having to open them at all.
The dust of ages is no longer her concern
and she can keep an eye on things–
making sure the Chinese pups don’t run amok
under the Bohemian crystal gasolier,
or play a game of ‘Beggar My Neighbour’
with the disembodied hand–
(often seen tapping at the library’s mullioned window,
making people faint–no one’s quite sure
who it belonged to.)

This is all hers–this realm of shadows,
and tomorrow the visitors will arrive
in dribs and drabs,
not bothering to wipe their feet as usual,
or shake out dripping umbrellas.
Smearing the polished glass and muttering
over the silverware–
and when they think the coast is clear,
placing their ample behinds on the
seat of the Hepplewhite chair–
and they look so surprised when it tips to one side!
She is the guardian of this place,
a chatelaine who needs no bunch of keys,
entitled in her drift from room to room,
as the Grey Lady of the Manor.

The Grey Lady

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