“Is it ever going to stop raining ? “ Katherine said, “I want to get outside and play.”
“It's raining cats and dogs,” her sister giggled. “Woof, woof, meow”
“You've been reading Paddington Bear little Frances.”
“I aint little.”
“You are and you have been reading Paddington Bear, he talks about the weather, cats and dogs. Lovely weather for ducks !”
It had not been a good start to the summer holidays. The sisters liked school but they liked even better not having to go to school. Why couldn't it rain on school days and save the sunshine for the holidays ?
Nine year old Katherine was playing hairdressers grooming every doll and teddy bear in the home. Seven year old Frances was lining up a heard of plastic sheep. “The animals went intwo by two,” she started to sing.
“There were only two sheep on Noah's Ark, your got at least twenty there.”
“I don't remember being taught at school that Captain Noah had teddy bears and Barbie Dolls on his floating zoo.”
The girls were bored. Daniel was not bored, he was lonely. Katherine and Frances had been bored for four days, Daniel had been lonely for four hundred years.
Girls, the weather forecast for tomorrow says it will not be raining. If it's right we are all going out for the day. Frances flock of sheep and Katherine's teddy bears gave a cheer. A cheer of delight, the teddies were fed up with having their hair combed and everyone knows sheep do not mark in a like like tin soldiers !
The weather forecast was right, absolutely right. It did not rain.
“Look at that up on the hill,” Katherine said. “Isn't it strange don't you think ?”
“It's not strange, it's spooky,”her younger sister replied. “Come on Dad let's go up there and have a look.”
With an end to the summer rain, perhaps a temporary end the family was spending the day at the National Trust's Gardens in Stowe.
“Who lives here ?”
“Nobody lives here Frances,” Dad explained. “This whole park used to be the home of The Duke of Buckingham.”
“He lived there then, in the Spooky House ?”
“No. The Duke lived in the big house on the other side of the park.”
“If I was The Duke I would live here in the Spooky House, I bet that would have been fun. Wooooo.”
“It's just a folly, It's called The Gothic Folly,” Dad explained.
“Katherine” said, trying to show off her knowledge. “Folly means silly doesn't it ?”
“So it's silly and spooky,” her younger sister giggles. “I like things that are silly.”
The Gothic Folly was certainly not silly but it was spooky. The gardens at Stowe were enormous, the sisters could spend a month exploring and not see everything. It must have been fantastic to have been the Duke of Buckingham and to have lived in such a place. There were not many people who had climbed up the hill to the folly but among those where there were sheep, lots and lots and lots of sheep grazing on the grass in the adjacent field. There were many more sheep than the number of plastic farm animals Frances had been playing with at home. Standing looking at the sheep was a young boy, a little bit older than Katherine perhaps he was dressed in rather strange clothes. As they were leaving the folly he turned and smiled at the sisters.
“That is a big house,” Katherine said. “Is it called Buckingham House ?”
“No,” Dad explained. “This is Stowe House where The Duke lived when he was here in the country. Buckingham was in London, he stayed there when he was in town. Buckingham House is now Buckingham Palace.”
“The queen lives there,” Frances smiled as she showed off her general knowledge.
They had not seen him as they walked from the folly to the big house but as they looked at the enormous home of The Duke of Buckingham he was there again,when the girls noticed him he smiled.
Leaving the house they walked through an area of woodland. Katherine tried to name the different kinds of trees by looking at the leaves. Frances was more interested ib seeking how many squirrels she could count as they walked along.
Near to the entrance to the park there is a cafe, the girls pestered their parents for something to eat. “I want some ice cream,” Frances, “ chocolate ice cream.”
“Apple pie and custard for me,” Katherine chose.”
She did not say it but thought her sister's choice was boring.
There he was again, the boy with the strange clothes ! Was he following them ? What was that strange hat ? He had taken it off and put it on the table where he was sitting. Neither of the girls had ever seen anyone wear a hat like that before. What ion earth was he drinking ? Neither of them thought they could ever swallow such a strange thing.
“We are going to walk round the lake before we go home.”
It is a big lake and both girls were tired when they got into the car to head home. They did not see the boy again while they walked round the lake. They could see that folly, the spooky folly up on the hill. It had made a firm impression in their minds.
Both Katherine and Frances slept well that night. When they awoke in the morning it was raining again.
Usually Frances was awake first but on that day Katherine opened her eyes at least fifteen minutes before her sister. She had a dream which was s till clear in her head and she wanted to tell Frances all about it.
“We'll come back tomorrow,” Frances mumbled as she awoke. “Let's count them all and give them names.”
Katherine felt the ends of her long blond hair tingle where it met her head. “We'll come back tomorrow. Let's count them all and give them names.” Perhaps she was still dreaming. No she was awake.
Rubbing the sleep from her eyes Frances said, ”You were in my dream last night and was that boy, his name is.....”
“Daniel.” Katherine cut her sister short. “His name is Daniel.”
“How do you know ?”
“Because I reamed about him as well.”
“In Squirrel Wood ?”
“But didn't the squirrels look funny, I mean squirrels are grey and these were all brown.”
“Good morning Miss. Good morning Miss,” Daniel said. “Welcome back to the home of His Grace The Duke of Buckingham.”
“Your hat looks funny,” Frances said.
Daniel took it off and bowed to his two new friends. “All important people wear to hats.”
“So are you important then ?”
“I am not but my father is, he is the estate manager here at Stowe.”
“What's an estate manager ?”
“He is in charge of all of the grounds here in the park and all the farms on His Grace's estate.”
“What do you do then ?”
“Nothing. I am a ghost.”
“You don't look much like a ghost to me.”
Daniel smiled. “I was going to visit the squirrels, to say good morning and make sure they are alright.”
“Do they have names, the squirrels ?” Frances asked.
“Of course they do. I gave them to each one myself.”
“Why are they all a funny colour ?” Katherine asked. She knew this boy Daniel must be playing a game, he was not a ghost. It was the sort of joke Frances would have played, perhaps she put him up to it.
“They are all brown,” Frances said before he could answer.
“Actually they are red, they are not brown.”
“Well they should be grey. Squirrels are grey !”
“I have heard it said that in the colonies there are grey squirrels but here in England we have red squirrels.”
Colonies ? What colonies ?
“Look up there, that's Squirrel George I named him after the king.”
The two sisters looked up.
“There with him are William and Matilda, I named them after the king's brother and sister.”
“We don;t have a king,” Katherine explained. “We have a queen.”
“Of course we have a king and of course we have a queen, Queen Charlotte.T hey have been to Stowe, King George and Queen Charlotte.”
“Did you meet them ?”
“No, I am not important enough to be introduced to the kind and queen. Besides I am a ghost.”
“A ghost with a silly hat.”
Daniel took off his hat again and bowed. “I have told you my name, what are your names ?”
Katherine introduced herself then smiled as she curtseyed. Frances smiled but she did not courtesy.
“Is this called Squirrel Wood ?”
“That is what I call it but I am sure His Grace had it named something much grander.”
“Do you come down to Squirrel Wood every day ?”
“Most days but not always every day. Most days since 1769. That is quite a long time.”
Katherine, who was good at Maths, worked it out. “Two hundred and fifty years,” she said.
Daniel bowed again. This was a good game, the sisters would play the game with Daniel.
“So what is the date today ?” Katherine asked.
“It is Monday 3rd August in the Year Of Our Lord 1771.”
“No it's not, it's Monday 3rd August 2019.”
“For you perhaps but you are not a ghost. I am and it is Monday 3rd August in the Year Of Our Lord 1771.”
“This is boring,” Frances said. “Boring just standing here talking, I want to do something.”
“Shall I show you were the baby squirrels live ?”
There were three of them, three infant red squirrels playing in the trees. “What are their names ?”
“Mary, named after Maryland. Caroline after North and South Carolina. Rhode, he's a boy, named after Rhode Island.”
The three watched with delight as the squirrels played. Daniel waited for his new friends to ask about the names he had given to them. If they did not ask him within the next few minutes he would tell them anyway.
“Do you live in that weirdo place up on the hill ?”
“I do Miss Frances. It it is the residence of the estate manager.”
“Well after all I am a ghost.”
Katherine and Frances wondered for just a brief moment if indeed their friend Daniel could actually be a ghost but Frances wondered if anyone who wore a hat like that could evcer be a ghost.
“You haven't asked me why I chose the names fior the baby squirrels.”
The girls did not reply and they did not reply when he explained. What were these colonies ?
“Oh look, there's a badger,”
“That's Henry, he's a good friend of the squirrels, he looks after them.”
“Are there any other animals living here in Squirrel Wood ?”
“Lots and lots and lots.”
“Such as ?”
“Deer, they come into the wood to hide when the Duke and his friends start to hunt them. The Duke likes a bit of venison on his table.”
Daniel did not think so. “Foxes,” he continued. “The Duke likes to hunt them as well.”
“What about birds ?”
“There are lots of birds, all kinds but my favourite are the owls. I like to sit here at night and listen to them.”
“Do they have names ?”
Katherine and Frances awoke before Daniel could answer.
“You and I have had the same dream,” Katherine said. “Exactly the same.”
Frances though for a moment then said, “Spooky.”
“It is spooky,” Katherine agreed, “but it was not frightening.”
“Daniel kept us safe.”
“I was about to say that.”
“I know you were.”
It was raining again.
“I do not find history at school all that interesting,” Katherine started to explain, “But I think we need to do a bit of history today.”
“I am not old enough to do history,” Frances smiled. “I am only seven.”
Yes, it was raining again so the girls were going to spend another day of their school summer holiday inside the house. They would normally play apart, do their own thing but on that day Katherine needed the help of her younger sister.
“History is about dinosaurs and stuff,” Frances smiled.
“It is also about Daniel.”
“But he is a ghost,” Frances was still smiling but then more seriously explained, “he was a dream.”
“Is he ? I am not sure. How come we both had the same dream ?”
“I don't know.”
Katherine was thinking very carefully. “How old would you say Daniel is ? I am nine, you are seven years old, how old is Daniel ?”
Frances shrugged her shoulders. “A bit older then you are. Ten ? Eleven ?”
“I think that eleven is about right. I remember he said it was 1771 so that would mean he was born in the year 1760.”
“He said he named the two squirrels after the king and queen,” Frances remembered.
“King George and Queen Charlotte, we need to find out when in history they ruled the country.”
“Shall I go and get my tablet ?”
“Yes Frances, do that.”
Was daniel after all just a dream ? Was he two dreams ? What about his being a ghost ? There was no such thing as a ghost was there ? Daniel ? Was he a ghost ? If Daniel was a ghost then were the squirrels also ghosts ? No they were real.
King George – Katherine typed the search into the tablet. Oh, there were lots of them: One, Two, Three, Four, Five, Six. Prince William's great-grandfather was King George Sixth.
“King George and Queen Charlotte,” Frances said, “they were the squirrels.”
“This one, King George Third, was on the throne from1738 to 1820 and he was married to Queen Charlotte,” Katherine read the information from the tablet.
“That is a long time ago.”
“A very long time ago Frances but we, you and I, have both been there. Last night.”
“In a dream.”
“I don't think it was a dream, we had the same experience. I do not think it was a dream, I think it was real.”
“And we are going back there. Tonight.”
“Really. We are. I think we need to find out as much as we can about where we are going.”
“Let's do it !”
Daniel was standing on a bridge at the end of the lake looking out across the water and watching the swans. As he saw the sisters approaching he turned towards them lifted his hat and bowed.
“Good morning Miss Katherine. Good morning Miss Frances.”
“Hiya,” Frances greeted him.
Katherine was a little more formal. “Good morning Master Daniel.”
Was it good morning, it was the middle of the night. It certainly after bed time.
“How many swans are there ?”
“Forty-six, I have counted them.”
“And are they all your friends ?”
“Indeed Miss Frances but they do not all have names. That is something I still have to do, I am trying to think up a name for all forty-six. The lake has a name.”
“It is called Swan Lake isn't it ?”
“It is Miss Katherine. How did you know ?”
“It;s obvious, Swan Lake. Here is a lake with forty-six swans swimming on it, how could it be called anything different ?”
“Forty-six includes the young cygnets who were born earlier in the year.”
“A cygnet is a baby swan,” Katherine explained to her sister.
“ I know !”
“So Miss Katherine, Miss Frances what brings you to Stowe again today ? This makes it three days in a row that you have been here.”
“We wanted to see you,” Katherine said.
“I want an adventure,” Frances said.
“That sounds like a good idea.”
“In seventeen whatever this date is there were pirates. Is that true ?”
“Yes but they do not sail on Swan Lake.”
“Swan Lake is the name of a ballet,” Katherine said. “I go to ballet classes every Saturday and I can dance some of the ballet Swan Lake.”
“What is ballet ?” Daniel asked. “Is that something pirates do ?”
“I want an adventure,” Frances repeated,
If he was to stop being a lonely ghost Daniel needed his two friends to come each day. He needed to take them on an adventure. He had an idea.
“The Duke of Buckingham is the richest man in England,” Daniel began his adventure.
“Is he the richest man in the world ?” Frances asked.
“He could be but I think that Tzar Peter of Russia may be the richest, if he is than our Duke certainly is second.”
Daniel would give Frances and her sister an adventure, an adventure he knew The Duke of Buckingham and Tzar Peter of Russia would like to be a part.
“Come on ladies let's have an adventure.”
“Really, truly Miss Frances. Come and walk with me to the other end of the lake.”
Frances looked into the distance. “All that way ?”
“Don't complain,” Katherine said. “I'll race you.”
Daniel smiled as the three started to sprint, a sprint which after the first three undred yards turned into a jog.
“You're not fit Katherine,” Frances puffed.
“You only just beat me.”
“But I came first,” Daniel applauded himself.
“But you are a ghost,” Frances observed. All ghosts are good runners, everyone knows that !”
Daniel did not know that. He was not sure but he had never thought about it.
“Down here, come on, follow me.”
To be continued......................
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