The first time Emily saw the outhouse at the bottom of the rambling, overgrown garden, she was entranced by the colourful foliage bedecking its red brick walls. Her family had only recently moved into this old house and investigating it thoroughly was irresistible to an inquisitive girl of twelve.
‘The one covered in Virginia Creeper?’ Dad asked, glancing over the rim of his teacup when she’d asked about it last night. ‘It was the gardener’s domain years ago. An ancestor of mine was gardener here before the Great War. He was sent to the Western Front and is buried out there in Flanders.’
This was all news to Emily, but interesting all the same. She wondered whether that was the reason Dad had wanted this place so badly, especially as it was very run down and needed a lot of work doing on it. Until now she’d thought Dad wanted the house because it was big, and cheap for the size. Mum was expecting again, and a family of eight would need a lot of bedrooms.
‘If you look inside, you’ll see some really old tools,’ Dad added as an afterthought.
‘Make sure you don’t touch anything,’ Mum warned, bouncing Emily’s youngest brother, Stevie, on her lap before standing to take him up to bed. ‘Tools can be sharp.’
Straight after breakfast, Emily headed out into the early September sunshine, pushing the dismal thought of school next week to the back of her mind. She flipped the latch on the old door and stepped inside.
A young man wearing a flat cap was humming to himself as he hung a variety of rusting rakes along a wall. ‘Hello, Emily love,’ he said. ‘I’d hoped you’d pop in today. ‘Your dad said you might.’
‘He did? When did he tell you that? Who are you, anyway? Are you one of the workmen come to repair all the windows?’
‘I’m your great-great-great-grandad. Now there’s a mouthful for you to get your tongue round. I’m the gardener your dad told you about last night and my name’s George. I’d seen you having a look round yesterday, so I thought I’d best introduce myself next time you came.’
Emily suddenly smiled. ‘But you’re, uh, dead…aren’t you?’ He nodded. ‘So you must be a ghost! I’ve always wanted my very own ghost. Can I come and see you every day…and can I just call you Grandad? And I’d love to know what it’s like to be a ghost. And, if you can remember, can you tell me what it was like in this house before the Great War?’
‘All in good time, Emily. We’ll have some years to talk now we’re acquainted. I can tell you a lot about many things – and yes, just Grandad will do nicely. But please don’t ask about what happened in France the day I died, ’cos I don’t rightly remember after I went over the top.
Emily had no idea what he meant by ‘over the top’, but she’d look it up later on. ‘That’s all right, Grandad. I wouldn’t think anyone would like to remember their own death. We’ll talk about nice things, I promise. So, tell me, what it’s like to stay young-looking forever … and how long have you’ve been talking to my dad … did you know him when a little boy … and why have you grown Virginia Creeper all over the outhouse walls?’
Grandad suddenly laughed. ‘You’re just like your dad was at your age. He couldn’t keep quiet for a moment, either. I’ll answer one of your questions, Emily, but then I need to rest for a while. I grow Virginia Creeper because it reminds me of my beautiful wife – your great-great-great grandma. Her name was Virginia, you see, and she had lovely red hair. So whenever I see the plant at this time of year, I feel she’s still with me.’
Emily felt a sudden lump in her throat. ‘That’s such a sad but very romantic story, Grandad. Thank you for telling me.’
‘Right then,’ Grandad said. ‘I’m very glad to have met you, Emily, but I really need to rest now. Come back to see me tomorrow and we’ll chat some more.’
Emily watched her grandad fade away then hurried back to the house. She’d spend some time searching the Internet for information about the Great War and ‘going over the top’. Then she’d look up all about growing Virginia Creeper. So tomorrow, if Grandad mentioned them, she’d have no need to ask so many questions and tire him out.
But there was one question that continued to pique Emily’s curiosity and she sighed, knowing she wasn’t likely to find the answer on the Internet. Tomorrow, she’d simply have to ask Grandad why he couldn’t meet up with Grandma now that they were both dead.
This is a story I wrote over a year ago as one of the longer ones for my book ‘A Dash of Flash’.
For anyone who doesn’t know what a flat cap is, here’s an image from Wikipedia with a little bit of information about what one actually is – also from Wikipedia.
“A flat cap is a rounded cap with a small stiff brim in front. The hat is also known as a cabbie cap, longshoreman’s cap, cloth cap, scally cap, Wigens cap, ivy cap, derby hat, jeff cap, duffer cap, duckbill cap, driving cap, bicycle cap, Irish cap, Newsboy cap, Crook cap, Joao’s hat, Sixpence, or a Paddy cap. In Scotland it is known as a bunnet, in Wales as a Dai cap, and in New Zealand, as a cheese-cutter.”
“The style can be traced back to the 14th century in Northern England, when it was more likely to be called a “bonnet”, which term was replaced by “cap” before about 1700, except in Scotland, where it continues to be referred to as a ‘bunnet’.”
My husband, who’s as ‘Northern’ as can be, being a Yorkshireman, wouldn’t dream of gardening without his flat cap on his head.