Tales abound about houses with bloodstains that can’t be eradicated. Rip out floorboards, take down whole sections of wall and replace them, paint over them–the pesky things can’t be gotten rid of, so they’re usually covered with rugs or tapestries–or, occasionally, the room where they appear is locked up and only spoken of in whispers.
The stains usually represent some dreadful tragedy, but some of the circumstances that surround them are more curious than others. Take, for example, the great black stain that covered the wall of a billiard room in a house in the English countryside. Ian Fellowes-Gordon, when telling the story in John Canning’s 1974 collection 50 Strange Stories of the Supernatural, discreetly alters the name of the house, the family who owned it, and even the county in which the house stood (and may stand yet)–but swears that he, and others who stayed in that house, had close encounters with the man whose blood adorned that wall, a quarter-century after his death. He tells the story from the point of view of another officer, but all the encounters were eerily similar
During the Second World War, during the planning stages for the Normandy invasion, a British artillery unit was stationed at an old estate in one of England’s southern counties, resting, training, and having equipment refitted. In August of 1943, they got word that they would be getting a new commanding officer; their previous one had been killed in combat.
When the new commander arrived, he found the manor house, where the regiment’s officers were quartered, empty save for himself, his valet and the butler of the family who had given up their home to the officers for the duration of the war. After bathing and changing clothes, he went downstairs and to his astonishment met a young man, blond, handsome, about six feet tall, and dressed in one of the British army’s dress uniforms. The young man greeted the commander by his name and rank, but did not volunteer his own name or rank.
Instead, he asked the officer if, while he was waiting for his staff to return from training exercises, he’d like a game of billiards.
A gentleman’s game, that, and most great country houses in the old days had just such a room, where the men of the house could have a drink and a cigar and pass evenings knocking the balls around. The commander agreed, and the young man led him to a neat little billiard room. They chalked cues, shot the break, and the game was on. The new commander eventually won, but only by the skin of his teeth. The young man thanked him for the game, then excused himself as the dinner gong rang.
The commander, incidentally, never saw the young man again.
He had a solitary dinner, then, as his officers had yet to return, wandered back to the billiard room, thinking perhaps the odd young man in dress blues would return and they could have another game. But the youngster didn’t come back, and the commander found his attention riveted by something he hadn’t noticed before: a huge stain that began some six feet up one wall of the room and covered not only the wall but a good portion of the parquet floor–an ugly black stain that he knew, without being told, was blood.
When his officers finally returned from maneuvers, he let them get cleaned up and have a meal before he told them about his game of billiards.
They stared at him over snifters of brandy, until finally one of them said, “Well, sir, you’ve met the ghost.”
It seemed the story was quite well-known among men who had been stationed at the old manor house at various times throughout the war, but the junior officer summoned the butler. He had served the family since he was a very young man at the end of the Victorian era.
The butler told the startled commander that he had encountered the ghost of the First World War era heir to the estate. The young man–Fellowes-Gordon calls him Sir Nigel–had, for most of his life, suffered from tuberculosis, and as a result had been unable to participate in any outdoor sports or activities. He could, however, play billiards. At billiards, he was unbeatable.
Nigel’s father had volunteered to fight in that war to end all wars, and was killed in Belgium early in 1915. Nigel, who was medically ineligible to go into the military, took it in his head that he must go fight the Germans who had killed his father. And so, somehow, he managed to conceal his tubercular cough, passed a medical exam, and went down to the fabled training camp at Aldershot to learn to be cannon fodder.
And there, his charade of health came to an end. He had barely arrived on base before he began hemorrhaging from his fragile lungs–heavy hemorrhaging. There was no chance of him getting to Belgium now. The doctor who had passed him as fit for duty narrowly escaped cashiering, and Nigel went home in what he considered disgrace.
Within days, he had made a deadly decision. He couldn’t fight in the escalating war, and he wouldn’t wait for that wicked disease to kill him.
He shot himself in the billiard room one afternoon. The shot took the back of his head clean off, and left great gouts and runnels of blood that gradually blackened on the wall, but never could be cleaned or covered, despite all efforts.
The butler told the plainly horrified commander that he wouldn’t be seeing Sir Nigel again. He would, the butler said, pay a visit to every new arrival in the house, and challenge them to a game of billiards. And he would let them win that one game, since they were guests in his home–
but he would never challenge them to a second.
Good manners only go so far.
Something peculiarly British about that mannerliness, huh? 😉