Thursday 30 October 2014

The Lonely Grave of Rosa Bevan ... #photostory #halloween

It's Halloween ... .

Do you want to hear a spooky story?

This one's a weird tale, and, if I  live to be a hundred, I don't think I’ll ever be able to come up with a rational explanation for what took place that day. 

It had been a bitterly cold October. Normally in London, we enjoy soft, gentle autumns with just a hint of summer lingering on into November. 

But that year winter had come early. 

Back then I'd been working as a junior reporter for a small suburban newspaper, an old rag that had been around since the year dot and rarely got read by anyone under fifty. It wasn't a great job: I spent most of my time brewing up and doing the photocopying, but everyone's got to start somewhere.

That day I’d been sent to the cemetery by my editor. 

Look for a story, a scary story. Find something we can print for Halloween, he’d said. 

It wasn't exactly news, which probably explained why he'd trusted me to run with it. My editor liked to punctuate the passing months with the occasional seasonal piece that would appeal to the reader's sense of tradition. It usually featured in the doldrums of the paper, somewhere round about page 33, before the news morphed into the sports section.

So there I stood, clutching a takeaway coffee for warmth in the cold dampness of the old cemetery. From memory I was in the unconsecrated bit, where they'd buried the unbelievers, the dissenters and all the other folk who'd not been in the embrace of the Established Church at the time of their passing. 

The grass was veiled with a half-hearted frost that was slowly melting in the watery sunlight, leaving everything wet and slimy in its wake. The sun hung low in the sky, throwing great elongated shadows across the ground.

I walked around for fifteen or twenty minutes, my breath condensing in the cold air, as I wondered where I could find a story.

Maybe the inscriptions on the headstones would give me a start, I thought, taking a slug of the hot coffee and looking around at the massed ranks of graves and tombs that surrounded me. 

Then one particular headstone seemed to call out to me from the shadows. It was in the form of a long, thin gothic arch, carved from Portland Stone. It listed slightly to one side, touching its neighbour, as though it were leaning on the shoulder of an old friend. 

How very understated, I thought, contrasting its simplicity with the extravagance of its neighbours. I’d always thought the Victorian love of ornamental angels and wreathed funeral urns was a bit over the top.

I stood squinting at the stone, trying to make out what it said. The surface was weathered and pitted with the passage of the years, making the engraving hard to decipher. 

In Loving Memory 
Rosa Bevan
Wife of Charles T. Bevan
Died August 28, 1884, Aged 24
"Thy Will be Done."

The words seemed sparse and controlled. Surely a life lost at the tender age of 24 ought to have elicited a greater out-pouring of emotion. In fact the Thy Will be Done bit spoke of a certain indifference to what had taken place. And then there was the expanse of unused space that stretched all the way down to the earth beneath, which suggested that, in the fulness of time, other names ought to have appeared there too, names such as Charles T. Bevan, the husband left behind with his loving memories and his economical way with words. 

I was suddenly overcome by the blackest depression. I felt desperately sorry for poor Rosa, keeping her lonely vigil in the shadows, at a discreet distance from the main path. I had a strong sense of her unfinished business. I don’t understand why. There were hundreds of other life stories carved into the various memorials and tombstones round about that could have touched me, but it was Rosa’s cold, sad presence that reached out.

I was lost in my thoughts when I heard a twig snap behind me. I looked round, but couldn't see anyone.

Then a man's voice whispered urgently in my ear, My Will be Done.

I could have sworn that I felt his breath, cold and clammy, against my skin as he exhaled the words.

The whispered words jarred with the inscription on Rosa's headstone: Thy Will be Done.

The hairs on the back of my neck rose in terror. I had a sense of someone of imposing stature standing right behind me. I turned and looked again, but there was no one there.

'Ello, Miss. Lost your way, Miss?  

Startled, I turned around and saw a young woman walking towards me from the other side of Rosa's grave. I'd been distracted by what I thought was going on behind me and, as a result, I hadn't noticed her approaching.

She smiled at me, as though she sensed I was afraid and was trying to reassure me. Although now that I think about it, the smile on her lips never quite reached her cold, black eyes, which seemed to look right through me, as though they were searching for something - or someone - hidden amongst the graves behind me.

I'm fine, thanks. I said, noticing that she was wearing a long, black dress that looked as though it had been created by a Victorian seamstress. 

W-why are you dressed like that? I asked. 

I'm an actress, she said, pinning a wispy strand of light brown hair back into place in the bun that she wore low on her head.  I've got an audition up in town later this afternoon.

I thought it strange that she should be wearing her stage clothes before she got to the theatre, but said nothing more about it as I was distracted by the sound of footsteps, walking off briskly along one of the side paths behind me. I looked round, but could see nothing other than some branches moving in the undergrowth where someone had brushed past them.

Pass no remarks on him, she said. He's always here. He doesn't like it when I talk to anyone.

Why not? I asked. Who is he?

He's nobody important, not any more, but he's worried I'll tell you his secret, she said, smiling that strange half-smile, that never touched her eyes. Come with me, Miss. You've come looking for a story, haven't you Miss? You've got to write a proper, good story before the end of tomorrow, ain't that right, Miss?

Surprised that she seemed to know my reason for visiting the cemetery, I conceded that she was, indeed correct, and that I would face the wrath of my editor if I hadn't produced a few pages of copy before we went to print.

She beckoned me to follow her, and then set off between the tombstones, but before I could take a step I felt a sharp poke in my ribs, and then the urgent, disembodied voice whispered in my ear again.

 My will be done, it said in tones that suggested it would broker no contradiction.

This time I couldn't control myself; I shrieked in fright.

Oh, don't go upsetting yourself, Miss. He just doesn't want anyone to know his secret. You pay him no heed, Miss.

By this stage she was fast disappearing down the pathway, and, as I had no wish to be left on my own with whatever it was that was poking me and insisting that its will should prevail, I rushed after her. 

The old cemetery is in two parts, the East Cemetery and the West Cemetery, one divided from the other by Swiggin's Lane, a winding alleyway, only just wide enough for a hearse to drive up. I'd lost sight of her by the time I reached the gate, and, when I set eyes on her again she'd already gone across to the West Cemetery. I could see her pale face and shadowy form waiting for me on the other side of the railings.

I was out of breath, and panting as though I'd run a mile by the time I reached the lane. I could hear my blood pumping in my ears, and it felt as though my heart would burst through my chest, whether from running or from fear I'm not sure.

Perhaps I went too slowly across the lane, and didn't pay attention. I don't remember. But suddenly, out of nowhere, a horse-drawn hearse was bearing down upon me. The horses, all frothing at the mouth, and red in the eye from their exertions, were moving at breakneck speed, their tall feathered head-plumes dancing in the air. In the very nick of time, I came to my senses and jumped out of the way as it went careering past, missing me by millimetres.

Stunned, I watched as it disappeared noiselessly round a sharp bend in the lane.

How strange they didn't make any noise or stop here at the gate to the cemetery, I thought, as I caught my breath. I was badly shaken up, as you can imagine, but I'm pretty sure that I didn't give voice to my thoughts.

Their kind never make any noise, she said, by way of answer to my unspoken question. He's not stopping because he's got no business in here today, other than in trying to stop you coming through the gate, Miss. 

Turning around she set off at a brisk pace up the hill.

I had no wish to be left on my own, so I set off after her, although, now that I think about it, a wiser person would have made a break for it, back down Swiggin's Lane to the land of the living.

We passed tall plinths, bearing veiled funeral urns, any number of stone angels and the large, ostentatious stone vaults of the better-off dead.

Finally she stopped in front of a handsome tomb. She paused and, resting one frail, white hand on its heavy pediment admired it in contemplative silence for a moment.

It was in the form of a classical casket with elaborate scrolled edges but little other decoration. The proportions were handsome, the carving had been expertly executed on good Portland Stone and the overall design, whilst restrained, was pleasing to the eye. 

 He always had such good taste, much better than mine she said, looking up at me as though she were checking that I was still there. It's just right, isn't it Miss? He's made it look so distinguished.

I was struck by the note of pride in her voice, as though she harboured some affection for the person responsible, and as though his good taste somehow reflected well on her.

But the thing is, Miss. The thing I want to tell you is that he made me do it. He wanted me out of the way so that he could be with her. 

She looked at me with a pained, beseeching expression as though she were desperate to be believed.

Come on over here, Miss, and have a read of this, she said, waving me towards her, and pointing to the inscription on the side of the tomb.

Sacred to the memory of
Charles T. Bevan
Died 1st November, 1896
Aged 41 years.

And of his infant son
Joshua Bevan
Died 21st January, 1885.

And of Caroline Jane Bevan
Wife of the above Charles and
Mother of the said infant.
Died 31st January, 1901
Aged 37 years. 

As I was bending closer to decipher the writing for myself I felt a sharp push in the small of my back. For a moment I lost my balance, and fell towards the tomb. Putting my hands out I was able to stop myself before my face smashed into the stone.

Come on Miss, we'd best be off. He's getting angry now. Let's go, but remember when you tell them my story, Miss, you have to tell them that he did it. 

She started walking off, back down the hill to the cemetery gate, but this time she was going so fast that I just couldn't keep up. She seemed to glide over the ground. 

At one point she paused, and turned around to look back at me.

He made me do it, Miss. That's all I want the world to know. He stood over me and made me drink it all down. 

Do what? Drink what? What are you talking about? I asked, but she'd turned around and was quickly disappearing from sight. 

I ran after her as fast as I could, but I slipped and came crashing to the ground. By the time I'd gathered myself up and made it down to the cemetery gates she'd already crossed Swiggin's Lane and was back in the East Cemetery. 

Wait for me, I called. Where are you going?

For a brief moment she turned and, for the first time she looked me directly in the eye, as though she were surprised by the question. Her gaze chilled me to my core. The black eyes were lifeless pools of unspeakable sadness; they had a hypnotic draw that left me powerless to look away.

Sorry, Miss, she said softly. I've got to leave you now, and where I'm going, you can't follow.

And then she disappeared off between the tombstones. I went into the East Cemetery and looked around for her, but she had gone. Vanished into thin air. I didn't feel like lingering long on my own in case the other thing caught up with me again, so I made my way back to the gate. 

By this time there were a couple of people standing around in Swiggin's Lane waiting for a funeral or something. I asked them if they'd seen a pale lady, dressed in a black Victorian dress. They looked at me, shaking their heads as though I were mad, and walked off without replying. 

As I stood there, alone and embarrassed at having been taken for a nutcase, I heard the urgent voice, whispering in my ear. 

Ain't you scared? It asked. She's gone somewhere you can't follow. 

And then it laughed a horrible mirthless laugh.

I didn't bother to look around for it.  I knew there would be nobody there. Instead I ran down Swiggin's Lane, towards normality and the office, as fast as my legs would carry me. 

When I got back my editor wanted to know what I was planning to write about, and I was so shaken up that I told him, straight out, exactly what had happened.

OK, he said. It sounds mad, but let's search the archives for the month and year she died. We've got all the old back issues on microfiche so it should be easy. 

He must have been impressed by my sincerity, because he came down to the basement with me to look through the files for himself. 

We pulled up the year 1884 and leafed our way through the months to August. Then we picked out the 28th of August. It was a Thursday. And there she was on the front page of the evening edition, wearing the same black gown she'd worn in the cemetery.

Rosa Bevan, celebrated stage actress, and much loved wife of Charles T. Bevan of Bayswater House, Porchester Terrace, died  this morning following an overdose of Laudanum. Early accounts suggest that she died by her own hand. We understand that the police are not treating her death as suspicious. 

She committed suicide, my editor said.

My will be done.

He made me do it, Miss. He made me drink it all down.

Their words rang in my ears.

No, I said. She didn't and what's more I think she'd like the world to know the truth.

And that was my very first story, although my scoop would probably have sat more comfortably in a history book or a compilation of ghost stories than on page 33 of the newspaper.

All the best and Happy Halloween,

Bonny x

As shared on Friday FindsOur World Tuesday and image-in-ing


  1. Oh great story and so strange but sometimes the spirits nudge us along a particular route. Happy Halloween.

    1. Thank you, Viv. Glad you enjoyed it. Happy Halloween! Bonny

  2. Love it - an excellent story for Halloween. I hope you write lots more, you had me completely absorbed in your tale.

  3. Love it, an excellent tale for Halloween. I hope you write lots more - you had me completely absorbed in your tale.

  4. I really enjoyed your wonderful Hallowe'en tale. I was completely absorbed by it.

    1. Thank you so much for your feedback. I'm really happy to hear that you enjoyed it. Happy Halloween! And thanks for stopping by, Bonny

  5. Like this Story for Friday finds .... It's a Tale to fear something ;)))

    1. Thank you for your feedback, Erica. So glad you enjoyed it. Happy Halloween and thanks for stopping by, Bonny

  6. What an absolutely marvelous Halloween tale! I loved it, was kept spellbound. Really great. Thanks for sharing!

    1. Thank you so much, Dotti. Glad you enjoyed it. All the best, Bonny

  7. I love ghost stories and this one is wonderful! I would have been petrified. Great spooking photos to go along with it. Happy Halloween!

    1. Thank you, Michelle. So glad you liked it. I'd have been out of there with the speed of greased lightning at the sound of the first twig snapping. I'm guilty of getting very spooked in old cemeteries. All the best, Bonny

  8. Oh my...perfect story! I always love reading your Friday Finds posts, but I always know I will need a block of time to enjoy them, these can not be rushed! Thanks too for your passionate response on my blog today. I am glad to see I stirred the passion in your and that you shared it with me.

    1. Thank you for your kind words, Sarah. Yes, I do tend to run on a bit. Your blog post was fabulous, both the words and the very lovely photos, and, as with all good writing, you had me hooked with your message. All the best, Bonny

  9. Both hubby and I loved your great ghost story, Bonny! Hope you had a spooktacular Halloween too! :)

    1. Thank you so much, Kia. Really glad that you liked it. Yes, thanks, we had a spooktacular time trick-or-treating, fuelled with spicy pumpkin soup. Hope you did too. All the best and thanks for stopping by, Bonny

  10. What a fitting tale for Halloween!!! The accompanying photos are excellent!

    1. Thank you, Carola. Glad you enjoyed it. All the best and thanks for stopping by, Bonny

  11. Nice story, looks like he wanted the first wife out of the way

    1. Thanks, Bill. He certainly did. All the best and thanks for stopping by, Bonny

  12. Great ghost story!Deliciously creepy.

    1. Thank you so much. I'm glad you enjoyed it. All the best and thanks for stopping by, Bonny

  13. I'm glad I read this by the morning light. I don't think I would've made it to my bedroom without turning the lights on as I made my way. Shiver! I hope I don't think of your story the next time I go to the cemetery.

    1. Thank you. I hope you'll be ok. All the best and thanks for stopping by, Bonny

  14. Captivating images!!!
    Lots of cemetery shots this week. Thanks for sharing yours at mine (

    1. Thanks, Sue. We've all been getting into the Halloween theme. All the best and thanks for stopping by, Bonny

  15. I loved reading this and as I have already said to NC Sue - I love cemeteries as they hold some many untold secrets and stories.

    1. Thank you for your kind feedback. I'm glad you've enjoyed it. All the best and thanks for stopping by, Bonny