The New Zealand Railways Magazine, Volume 11, Issue 7 (October 1, 1936)
The People of Pudding Hill — No. 10. — “The Ghost of Pudding Hill.”
One evening, Johnny Black and the Sparrowdenes were sitting up in the Macrocarpa Tree on Pudding Hill. Summer was nearly gone and the birds were chattering away together before they settled down for the night. The Sparrowdenes had left their home under the eaves of the cottage, because the young Sparrowdenes had grown so big that there was not enough room for them all, and Mrs. Sparrowdene was telling Johnny Black how it worried her when they went off by themselves and did not come back until it was dark.
“Ah,” said Johnny, “that's a way that young people have you know, and sometimes they need a lesson to show them, how dangerous it is.”
“Ha! Ha! ha!” laughed the young Sparrowdenes, who thought Johnny Black was funny. “What is there to be afraid of in the dark?”
“Ghosts,” said Johnny Black, in a hollow voice.
The young Sparrowdenes huddled together at this, although Harold who was the biggest and boldest of them said that he didn't believe there were such things.
“Well,” said Johnny Black, “I'll tell you a story, a true one, about a Ghost my grandmother had to do with.
“In the days before she was married,” he went on, “she used to look after an old Owl. The Honourable Hoot his name was, and he was so old he couldn't look after himself properly or go out any more at night to get his supper. My grandmother had to go up every evening to his home, which was in the fork of a dead pine tree. I can remember her saying that it looked so ghostly in the moonlight with its bare branches and not the sign of a leaf or a bit of a greenery about it, that often she had to screw up all her courage to go there at all after dark.
“But she was a brave young bird, and once she got there it was not so bad because the Honourable Hoot kept a very comfortable house and all my grandmother had to do was to get him up out of bed and sit him in his chair with a bowl of bread and milk and a cup of cocoa. After that she could go to sleep if she liked, but the job got on her nerves because the old gentleman had a habit of thinking he was young again, and he would shout out, in the middle of the night, ‘Yoicks’ and ‘Tally Ho,’ as though he were out hunting, and once or twice he fell out of his chair.”
Johnny Black paused, and at that moment Joe the Morepork flew down from his hole in the old gum tree; “Whooo, whooo,” he cried, and although it was only his way of saying “Good-evening,” it sounded to the Sparrowdenes so very much like the sound old Honourable Hoot might have made in the middle of the night, that they shivered and huddled closer together still.
“As I was saying,” Johnny Black cleared his throat with a croaking sort of sound, “one, cold winter's evening, ray grandmother set off for the pine tree. It was a terrible night, with the rain coming down in torrents, and the wind made a moaning sound in the dead branches, and from the Honourable Hoot's window there shone a light. Now this was very strange, because the Honourable Hoot's candle was never lit until my grandmother got there, and stranger still when she reached the front door she could smell bread and milk and cocoa being cooked Very cautiously she opened the door, and what she saw gave her such a turn that you could have knocked her over with a feather, so she said, for instead of the Honourable Hoot lying tucked up in his bed as he should have been, there he was rummaging about the place seemingly young and strong again, complaining that it wasn't the proper kind of food at all for a man to eat. He was all white, and when he turned round to look at my grandmother, she said his eyes glared something awful.
“‘Hullo,’ he said, ‘who are you?'
“‘Please sir,’ she answered, ‘I've come to get the Honourable Hoot's supper.'
“‘Well,’ he shouted, ‘I'm the Honourable Hoot, and for my supper I want roast beef and greens and Yorkshire pudding.'
“‘Oh, but sir,’ my grandmother said, ‘the Honourable Hoot is a very old gentleman and he always has bread and milk for his supper.’ She was going to say more when the owl moved in front of the candle and the light shone right through him as though he had not been there at all, and then my grandmother knew it was the Honourable Hoot's ghost she was talking to, and she threw her apron over her head and ran out of the door as fast as she could go, and never looked behind until she was safe home again.”
“Ho!” said Harold Sparrowdene, “I wouldn't have been frightened of that.”
“Ah.” Johnny Black replied, “but that's not all, for àlways after that, on dark and stormy nights, the Honourable oots' ghost would be seen flying round the old pine tree. At least, so my grandmother said. I never saw it, which perhaps, was lucky for me.”
“Why?” asked Harold Sparrowdene.
(Continued on p. 48.)