Born Too Late

Speke Hall - where Maude fell in love with the boy from the distant past

Love can transcend almost any obstacle. It can leapfrog over age differences, it can see beyond the colour of a person's skin, and it can bridge the gulf between rich and poor. The following story, which happened a long time ago, seems to indicate that love can even transcend time itself.

On the snowy Saturday afternoon of December 1901, Mrs Rose Mooney sat in front of the blazing fire in the caretaker's quarters at Speke Hall, an old but beautiful half-timbered mansion in Liverpool, England. Rose's husband Desmond Mooney looked after the Hall with a few gardeners and a stableman. Upon this afternoon, he was in town having a drink with a relative. The only company Mrs Mooney had was her 11-year-old daughter Maude, who is described as a beautiful little girl with long dark red hair that was usually worn in two pony tails. Mrs Mooney was five months pregnant, and little Maude was looking forward to having a baby brother or sister to look after. Anyway, on this Saturday afternoon, the girl went out to play in the grounds of Speke Hall, as she did most days. Sometimes her cousin or a friend from school joined in the games, but being December, all Maud's friends were spending their time with their families and relatives. Maud decided to build a snowman, and even borrowed her father's old fishing hat to put on the snowman. Around 4 o'clock that afternoon, twilight started to creep across the sky, so Mrs Mooney went out and shouted to her daughter. There was no sign of her. Mr Mooney returned home, and he looked for his daughter too. The Mooneys followed the trail of footsteps leading from the snowman for over two hundred yards, and got the shock of their lives. There were unidentified footprints next to the impressions of Maud's shoes. They looked slightly larger than Maud's and the imprints seemed to have been made by shoes with a heel. The mystery deepened when the Mooneys discovered that both sets of footprints came to an abrupt end near two large 500-year-old Yew Trees known as Adam and Eve.
The gardener, George, turned up not long afterwards and he added another puzzle to the unfolding mystery. He said he had seen Maude Mooney throwing snowballs at what looked like a little girl who was wearing a large floppy hat. Mr Mooney said: 'No George, that's been the snowman with my hat on.'
The gardener shook his head and insisted that a young girl dressed in a peculiar black costume had been playing with Maude - and it had certainly not been a snowman by any stretch of the imagination. Mrs Mooney started to cry, and as her husband comforted her, she said: 'Where can she be?'
Mr Mooney said: 'Don't worry pet', and he asked the gardener to take her to the Hall. Mr Mooney whispered that he was going to the police. Moments later, the sound of a child laughing could be heard. It was Maude's laughter. The lost child suddenly came running across the snow-covered lawns. She was wearing a little cape of some sort.
Her parents and the gardener closed in on her and as her mother sobbed and hugged Maude, her father chided her and asked her where she had been. Maude sulked and her bottom lip quivered. She said: 'I'm not to say. It's a secret.'
Mr Mooney said: 'Secret?! I'll give you a damn good hiding my girl…'
But Mrs Mooney squeezed her child in her arms and led her indoors. The child refused to say where she had been, and Mr Mooney examined the little black cloak that had been found on his daughter. It was black velvet with a dark violet silk lining, and had a border of gold stitching. There were no labels on it to indicate who had made it. On many more occasions, until August of the following year, Maude vanished for hours on end, and her parents and many other people visiting the Hall were a witness to the strange disappearances. Sometimes, the girl's voice and laughter could be heard, even though she couldn't be seen, and the gardener's old English sheepdog used to behave strangely, and seemed to be able to see things in the grounds that humans couldn't. Anyway, in the end, Mr Mooney got a job in Ormskirk, and he and his family moved from Speke Hall. Maude Mooney cried her eyes out when they moved, as if she was in love with her invisible playmate and couldn't bear to leave him or her.
In 1911, when Maude reached the age of 21, she finally broke her silence, and told her mother about the supernatural circumstances of the strange goings-on at Speke Hall. She said she had fallen in love with a little cavalier boy named Tristam. He lived hundreds of years in the past, but could come into the present now and then. How this happened Maude did not know, but what she did know was that she loved Tristam, and he loved her. They would walk hand in hand, and she had even met his parents and their servants at the Hall. They rode on Tristam's horse along the Mersey and kissed under one of the old Yew Trees. He played an instrument like a guitar and serenaded her, and gave her roses. He even gave her his cape when Maude was cold. The little lovers even carved their initials on a tree. The identity of Tristam has not been established yet. It's said that in 1969, Maude asked to be taken to Speke Hall, where she passed away on a brigh sunny afternoon, aged 79. Perhaps she is with Tristam for good now.

©Tom Slemen 2002.