The Fossil Pit

Charli Mills has prompted us to quarry out a rocky tale this week;

January 19, 2017 prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a about a quarry. It can be a place or include the by-product. The quarry can be operational, abandoned, it can be in real-tie or mentioned from another time. Where will the quarry take you? Go where the prompt leads.

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Samuel Beckles in his quarry

The professor looked into the quarry and gasped, he was impressed, and it took a lot to impress the man who had given the world dinosaurs.

When he had seen the tiny fossil, and told his friend he needed more specimens, now buried under thousands of tons of rock, he had never expected this. He climbed down.

“We have them.” Were his friend’s first words. He held out a rock, full of tiny black bones .

“It’s true – mammals did live with the dinosaurs.” The professor gave one of his rare smiles.

“Time to rewrite the text books again.”

Another true story.

In 1854 a tiny jaw was discovered at Durlston, near Swanage in Dorset. It looked like a mammal jaw but at the time it was thought that mammals had not existed alongside dinosaurs. Professor Richard Owen (the man who had coined the word Dinosaur) knew that this problem could only be solved with additional specimens. His friend, Samuel Beckles, a wealthy amateur, was looking for an interesting project. Owen suggested Durlston, not meaning it seriously but Beckles took him at his word. Removed over three thousand cubic metres of rock to reach the thin fossil bed – and rewrote the text books.

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Regency Pot Plants, or Learning to Love a Hyacinth

On her first morning at Northanger Abbey, Catherine Morland came down to breakfast, Henry Tilney was already there, in order to prevent him teasing her about her fears of the night before she changes the subject by looking at some flowers.

“What beautiful hyacinths! I have just learnt to love a hyacinth.”

“And how might you learn? By accident or argument?”

“Your sister taught me; I cannot tell how. Mrs. Allen used to take pains, year after year, to make me like them; but I never could, till I saw them the other day in Milsom Street; I am naturally indifferent about flowers.”

“But now you love a hyacinth. So much the better. You have gained a new source of enjoyment, and it is well to have as many holds upon happiness as possible. Besides, a taste for flowers is always desirable in your sex, as a means of getting you out of doors, and tempting you to more frequent exercise than you would otherwise take. And though the love of a hyacinth may be rather domestic, who can tell, the sentiment once raised, but you may in time come to love a rose?”

Catherine had arrived at Northanger about the middle of March, so the hyacinths were probably not cut flowers, but ones in pots or glasses. Glasses for hyacinths were available at the time, William Cobbett in The English Gardener (1829) advises;

In water-glasses, the hyacinth makes a very agreeable show in the house during the most dismal part of the winter. Get blue glasses, as more congenial to the roots than white ones, fill them with rain water, with a few grains of salt in each, and put in enough water to come up the bulb about the fourth part of an inch. Change the water carefully every week, and place the plants in the lightest and most airy part of the room, or green-house, in which you keep them.

 However by March, and particularly in a house like Northanger Abbey which had large and extensive glass houses, the bulbs would probably have been grown in pots, so that they could be changed as soon as the flower began to fade.

Flowers were often grown in pots and, if you had a large collection, could be displayed in a fashion that seems strange to a modern reader, as Louisa Johnson in Every Lady her own Flower Gardener (about 1840) describes;

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We recollect once seeing a very interesting collection of more than two hundred species, growing in a high state of perfection, in the house of an amateur living in Brussels. The room containing them was fitted up much in the same way as an ordinary library, with abundance of light shelves round the walls, and a large table in the middle of the room, on which were placed the pots containing the plants. At night, the room was lighted up by an elegant glass lamp, and it was heated by one of those ornamental stoves which are so common on the Continent, Altogether, it had a very handsome appearance.

However, in smaller room she advises to use pot stands rather than stages, (the pretentious term jardinière didn’t come into England from France until the mid-nineteenth century). A Regency, or perhaps a facsimile of a Regency, plant pot stand is to be found in Lytes Cary, a country house in Somerset.

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Courtesy National Trust

I didn’t have the material to make a curved front, so settled on an angular form. Painted black with a gold chinoiserie pattern.

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Cobbett says that there were over a thousand varieties of Hyacinth available in his day, so I felt justified in using a range of colours, to give an impression of the display admired by young Catherine Morland.

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A Golden Hind on Purbeck – A curious observation with the National Trust

I have just been to Kingston Lacy (a great National Trust house) where there is currently a small exhibition of maps relating to the Bankes estate, which covered Corfe Castle as well as Kingston Lacy.

One map displayed, I almost passed over, as it is the very fine map of the Isle of Purbeck which I have known for many years. It was drawn in 1586 by Ralph Treswell for Sir Christopher Hatton, an important member of Queen Elizabeth’s court, who then owned Corfe Castle. Fortunately I didn’t pass it by, as I had only previously seen reproductions, and the map displayed was the original, newly restored and removed from the book in which it had been bound.

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As I looked at it, I realised that some of the deer, which have been drawn all across the map, had been highlighted in gold leaf. I hadn’t realised this before as colour reproductions do not bring out the glister of gold.

I pointed this out to my wife, who immediately said, ‘golden hind’, I at once realised that she was absolutely correct. Sir Christopher Hatton’s badge was a ‘golden hind’ and, as he was one of the main supporters of Sir Francis Drake’s great voyage, Sir Francis renamed the Pelican, his flagship, the Golden Hind.

The golden hinds on the map would have been a ‘conceit’, added in recognition of the man who commissioned the map. I have seen numerous comments about this map, referring to the deer, but nobody has mentioned the golden hinds, am I the first person to notice them, and recognise what they mean?

 

The picture of the map I found online.

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The Phantom Coach, or Miss Fluart’s Relations – The facts behind the tale.

I said, when I was beginning to tell the tale, that some of the more remarkable features of the story were based on fact, and suggested that people might like to guess what they were.

They were not the basic features of the story. The idea of two women living together, one of whom was quite prepared to carry a gun, come from the book – Hermsprong, published in 1796, where the wonderful Miss Fluart first came into being.

I have discussed highwaywomen in a previous blog, and as loyal men took to the road during the aftermath of the civil war, the idea of a tough woman doing so was plausible at least. Smugglers certainly used ghost stories to keep people away from some parts of the coast.

One real oddity I mentioned at the beginning of part 2, was the curious fact that county maps in England and Wales never interlinked. Even if the same mapmaker, made maps of adjacent counties and at the same scale, the county boundaries never matched!

 Hardy, Heywood, 1842-1933; The Two Roses

However the really weird facts concern the ghost!

I have based Lady Susanna Sterling on two notable West Country ladies, Lady Howard (unidentified) rides in a coach pulled by horses that are sometimes headless. She collects the souls of the dead and, on at least one occasion, deliberately hunted down an evil-doer.

 

‘About a century ago, a certain George Mace, of Watton, was the ring leader of a gang of’ local poachers. One night he and his followers met near the Hall and arranged to split up into small bands for the night’s work. They were to meet again before the moon went down in a shed behind the Hall. At the appointed time all came to the shed, with one exception-Mace. The poachers waited for a considerable time but their leader did not appear. At last, when they were becoming both angry and alarmed, they heard the sound of approaching wheels and saw a coach drive up to the door of the Hall. It was more brilliantly lit up than any natural coach of those days. They saw its steps let down, its door opened and shut again with a bang, though they could not see by whom. No sooner had the door closed than the lamps went out and the coach itself vanished utterly and without a sound. The frightened men knew they had seen the Spectral Coach but they could not tell for whom it had come. They were not left long in ignorance. Next morning George Mace’s dead body was found lying’ outside the Hall on the very spot where the coach had waited. Dr. Jessop’s informant said there was nothing to show what had killed him. There were no marks of violence on his body nor any signs of sudden illness. His time had come, and he had been fetched away by a Power which even the boldest poacher cannot hope to defy.’

However my main source for the ghost was to be found in Mrs Susanna Gould, known as Madam Gould.

‘She was a woman of very strong character who ruled her dependants firmly and was reputed to be absolutely fearless; during her last illness she refused to go to bed, and died in her chair on April l0th, 1795’

Nearly seventy years after her death the estate was inherited by her great-nephew, the folklorist Sabine Baring-Gould. He was fascinated to discover that, not only did he have a family ghost, but it was one that took an active part in caring for her descendants and the estate.

‘When one of Baring-Gould’s children was ill, the nurse was roused from sleep one night by a knock on the door and a woman’s voice saying: “It is time for her to have her medicine.” Opening the door she saw no one, on another occasion she entered the room where the children were asleep, to see a tall woman in old fashioned clothes bending over their bed.’

And on another occasion.

‘One old woman told Baring-Gould that as a girl she had stolen some apples from the orchard. Her pockets were full and she had one in her hand when she saw Madam Gould, all in white, standing by the gate and pointing to the apple. The terrified girl flung it away and ran to a gap at the other end of the orchard. But the ghost was there before her, pointing to her pocket, and there she stayed until all the stolen fruit was thrown down on the grass.’

But there were problems with having a ghost in the family, which gave me the idea for the opening of the story.

‘In 1864, a man returning from Tavistock by night saw the white-clad ghost at the mouth of a mine-shaft, and broke his leg whilst scrambling hastily over the opposite hedge. Baring-Gould relates that this nearly cost him and his wife a meal. The man’s sister was cook to the Rector of Bratton, and when she heard that the Baring-Goulds were coming over, she refused to cook for any member of that family because Old Madam had caused her brother’s accident.’

 

All the quotes come from Haunted England by Christina Hole, published in 1940.

 

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The Phantom Coach, or Miss Fluart’s Relations – Part 4

The Reckoning – Explanations and Conclusions?

Miss Fluart woke late, the sun was well up as she sipped her tea and read the various letters that had been delivered. There were letters from Sir Charles Campinet and another magistrate saying they would wait on her later in the day, there was a more official, but very gracious letter from the local Riding Officer delighted to have a large consignment of smuggled goods to collect, and an obsequious letter from a local lawyer, agreeing to everything the ‘honoured lady’ was suggesting.

As she was reading the last Charlotte came in, she was still very sore, but had insisted on getting up as she wanted to see the fun. She settled gratefully on the sofa and read through the letters. The last surprised her until she was shown the parchment covered book. Miss Fluart then took it away, and retuned empty handed.

“I have put it somewhere safe, I will say more when the men have gone.”

The Riding Officer was the first to arrive, he brought a wagon and Miss Fluart told Watson to oversee the unloading of the coach. After he left she brought his receipt to the two ladies.

“He says there will be a big reward for all the smuggled goods, at least forty guineas.”

“And it will be yours Watson.” Said Maria to her shocked maid. “Miss Sumelin and I will be rewarded in other ways, so we have decided that this money would be yours.” Watson left, babbling her thanks, delighted and even more devoted to her amazing mistress.

“What am I getting Maria?” Asked Charlotte from the sofa.

“Wait and see my dear,” Miss Fluart replied, “The gentlemen are here and they will want an explanation.”

Sir Charles and Mr Saxby, the other local magistrate entered the room. Miss Fluart rose to greet them and Charlotte apologised for not rising.

“My dear young lady,” Said Sir Charles, “After such a shock and injury should you not be in bed when you may be cared for and leave this unpleasant business to us?”

“Sir Charles, I have suffered more from falling off my horse. Despite what your philosophy might teach, we young ladies do not wish to be wrapped in cotton wool all the time. Also I was as much involved in this matter as Miss Fluart and should be here.”

Sir Charles shook his head, but sat down as Miss Fluart took several papers from the table.

“I first heard of this supposed ghost when the vicar’s cook refused to cook me dinner, because it had frightened her husband. Like most people I thought that he had been drunk, but soon discovered that many more were seeing the ghost coach. This began to cause me a great deal of embarrassment as people seemed to think I was responsible, so I began to investigate. Amongst the various stories I soon realised that there were some that seemed to refer to a real coach. This coach was only seen on little used roads that ran from the coast inland, and I asked myself why this should be, then realised that the obvious answer was free traders.”

the-smugglers

“Why did you not come to us?” asked Mr Saxby, “With that information we would have sent out the dragoons.”

“With respect what use would they have been?” Replied Miss Fluart. “The dragoons idea of secrecy is to shout once rather than twice. Everyone, including the smugglers, would hear them coming three or four miles away. That is all those who would not have drunk so much out of fear of the ghost that they couldn’t sit in the saddle. There were only three people I had any confidence in to help me hunt down whoever was taking my great-aunt’s name in vain, my maid, my friend and myself. So we set a trap and caught a ghost.” She paused, “But sadly the men escaped, I would love to have them in prison as one of them shot at Miss Sumelin.”

“Was the coach the only vehicle you saw that night?” Asked Sir Charles.

“Why?” replied a puzzled Miss Fluart.

“Because four men have been found dead this morning, all of them have been crushed by a broad wheeled cart, so it couldn’t have been your coach. One is a known smuggler, two are petty criminals who have both been before the bench on more than one occasion, whilst the fourth is unknown to us, but had a French made coat and a plan of Plymouth in his pocket.”

“A Spy?”

“Most likely and we suspect these men were the ones who escaped from you last night.”

“We certainly never saw a waggon or cart, I was more concerned about getting Charlotte home. Did John Taylor see anything?”

“That fool, no he saw nothing at all.”

“Well, the deaths of those men is a mystery that will probably never be solved.”

“Very likely, now tomorrow I will send a man to collect the coach and horses.”

“You will not Sir Charles, the coach is mine.”

“Come madam, how can you suggest such a thing. It was clearly made to scare people and was used in a criminal conspiracy.”

Miss Fluart smiled sweetly. “I have here a letter from a legal gentleman, well known to you both, who tells me that the coach was built for a number of local worthies, who intended to present it to me as a mark of their esteem. It was being ‘tested’ in secret and was apparently misappropriated by the smugglers.”

“Tested indeed,” snapped Mr Saxby, “You know who was behind the whole operation. You must tell us at once, or you will be liable.”

“Liable for accepting a valuable gift. I think not.” She replied. “Anyway I am sure there will be no more smuggling runs like that again, indeed I rather suspect that smuggling will also be much reduced locally.”

“Do you really mean to keep it then.” He was getting angry now,

“Yes, and Mr Corrow it acting for me in this respect.”

“Corrow, he is a rogue. He was a rogue when he worked for Lord Grondale and he is a rogue now.”

“Oh no, Mr Corrow is a kind and generous gentleman. As soon as he heard what had happened he not only informed me that the carriage was intended for me, but personally offered to recompense Miss Sumelin for the damage to her riding habit.”

“So Corrow is the gentleman. I think we should take a close look at him.”

“But please wait until the mantua-makers account is settled.”

Sir Charles laughed, “ Come Saxby, you must see that Miss Fluart has this well in hand. Even if we were able to convict, I am sure that whoever is concerned is powerful enough to escape with a fine smaller than that which they are paying to these gallant ladies.”

His companion nodded, Miss Fluart rose and handed Sir Charles a thick package.

“And here is something that might make interesting reading if anything untoward were to happen.”

He rose too and bowed.

“Such as a mantua-makers account not being settled.”

“Exactly,” she replied, curtsying. “Now gentlemen I must ask you to leave, Miss Sumelin is still unwell and needs to return to bed.”

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Over supper, Charlotte said,

“You said nothing about Lady Susanna?”

“No, it would have confused them, ghosts don’t fit into the philosophy of Sir Charles.”

“But it was her, wasn’t it?”

“Oh yes, I think she was as irritated by people pretending to be her as I was. She was appearing around the house as her first priority was always to protect her family. Then when you were shot at she got as angry as I was and you can guess the rest.”

Charlotte was silent, thinking of what those wicked men must have endured, being hunted by a spectral coach, she was sure Lady Susanna would have wanted them to be terrified.

 

Later, when she was in bed, Miss Fluart came to say goodnight, Charlotte looked up at her friend and said.

“You said that Lady Susanna got angry when I got shot because her first concern was to protect her family.”

“Yes my dear.”

“But I am not family.”

Maria Fluart bent and kissed her friend on her forehead.

“But you are my dear, you are.”

But Charlotte was already asleep.

 

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The Phantom Coach, or Miss Fluart’s Relations – Part 3

The Hunt is On.

The path led from the village, across the field, over the common and onto the moorland. It had once been a favoured route for young couples, there were plenty of places where two people could ‘get comfortable’ as the saying went, but over the past two months it had lost its popularity, few people wanted to risk meeting the ghost coach. Despite this the sight a young woman on the arm of a young man still wasn’t that unusual, but if their appearance wasn’t strange, their conversation was.

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“Aren’t you even going to give me a kiss?” The young man asked, almost plaintively.

“Of course not.” The young woman replied, “we are only here to keep a lookout. You know what my lady wants, and you are being paid.”

“But it’s been three days now, I don’t think anything is going to happen.”

“That certainly won’t.” Nancy Watson caught the young man’s hand as he tried to get too close and twisted it. He cried out, then to his amazement, she wrapped her arms round him hard and screamed.

“What the…” he gasped, then was pulled back by Nancy as the coach galloped past, he turned to look and screamed as well. The galloping horses had no heads.

Nancy pushed the man away.

“All right Bob, you can go home now.”

“But, but that was the ghost coach.”

“Of course it was, what do you think we have been looking for these past few days.”

There was the sound of a shot, far away.

“Oh, they have caught them.”

“Who have the ghosts caught?” said Bob in terror.

“No Miss Fluart and Miss Sumelin have caught the ghosts.”

Bob looked in terror at the sturdy maidservant, who was looking up the path. She was holding a pistol in her hand.

“I will just wait here in case any try to escape this way, you can go home now.”

He ran.

 

Miss Fluart waited in the shadow cast by a tall tree beside the old road. She had been alerted by Nancy’s scream, her hiding place had been chosen deliberately, at the top a short, steep slope. As she expected the coach horses had slowed on the slope and were only walking slowly at they came over the brow. She rode out into the moonlight and took her position in the middle of the road. The coach approached her slowly, when it showed no sign of stopping she fired a single shot into the air. Her horse skipped a little and the coach stopped. She dropped the old gun she had fired, and drew a deadly looking duelling pistol from her pocket. She pointed the long barrelled weapon at the headless coachman and said calmly.

“Now we will try an experiment. I will count to five, then I will shoot you. If you are a ghost it will do you no harm and I will come and greet my great aunt. If you are a man and don’t want to be turned into a ghost you will remove that silly mask, now – ONE.”

As the coachman scrabbled to remove the mask a voice from inside the coach shouted.

“Drive on, ignore her, drive on or I will shoot you.”

“But its Miss Fluart,” called the coachman.

“I don’t care who it is, drive on.” An arm holding a pistol was stuck out of the coach window.

“Don’t be cruel to the coachman.” Said Miss Fluart, “he isn’t sure if you would shoot him, but he knows that I would. Well done John Taylor.” She added looking up at the coachman who had now removed the mask, and was looking down in terror, his eyes flickering from Miss Fluart to his employer and back again.

“I wonder if Sir Charles knows what his coachman gets up to at night?” She turned to the coach and ordered the occupants to get out, slowly two men stepped out, the second one had just put his foot on the ground when there was a shout behind her.

“Stop that and drop your gun.”

Miss Fluart didn’t move, but said calmly.

“Thank you Charlotte, how many are there.”

“Two,” her friend replied, “they were on the back of the coach and dropped down when it stopped, then crawled round to try and take you from behind.”

The two men stepped forward to join the others, Charlotte stepped out of the shadows, she was holding another pistol, her green riding habit had rendered her almost invisible.

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“Now I guess you are free traders, I don’t mind you avoiding the revenue, I don’t approve of giving money to the government if I can help it, they only waste it. But I am not having you taking my family name and frightening my neighbours with it. So I am going to let you run away and never do it again. John drive the carriage to my house then run home. You rest can take off your shoes and stockings and go. If you don’t I will take you to the magistrates.”

The two men whom Charlotte had stopped pulled off their shoes, dropped them and ran. One of the men from the coach tried to say something, but his companion stopped him, bent as if to unbuckle his shoe, then turned, a small pistol in his hand, and fired.

Maria’s horse shied, she fired but her shot went wide, the men now ran. Maria went to draw her second pistol but a moan made her stop. Looking down she saw Charlotte lying on the road.

She slid from her horse and bent to help her friend, John Taylor had also slid from the box, taken the coach horses heads and grabbed the reins of Miss Fluart’s horse.

“How is she?”

“I’m all right.” Charlotte tried to rise and winced. “I think I have twisted my leg in the fall. The ball has torn my skirt though.”

She up looked at her friend and gasped, she had never seen Maria like this before. Her face was suffused with anger.

“John take Charlotte home, if any further hurt comes to her I will kill you.”

“Yes miss.” He said, terrified.

“What are you going to do?” Gasped Charlotte.

“They tried to kill you.” Snapped Maria, “I am going to kill them.”

Charlotte tried to grab her arm but Miss Fluart was already scrambling back onto her horse. She was just settling in the saddle when there was a noise, and another rider galloped up. Charlotte looked around to see the rider, the stopped in surprise, John Taylor stood, half bending as if to help her, but frozen to the spot, his eyes glazed and sightless. She then looked up at the strange woman, who was wearing a broad brimmed hat, and looked somehow familiar. The woman rode up to Maria, and placed her hand on hers. Charlotte suddenly saw the gloves, and realised who she was.

“Hold niece, you stay here.”

“But they hurt Charlotte.”

“Stay with your friend, she needs you. This hunt is mine.”

Stunned Miss Fluart stopped as the strange woman rode off, as she passed through the shadow cast by the large tree she seemed to fade and, on the other side of the tree, Charlotte could have sworn she saw an old-fashioned coach head off in the direction of the escaping men.

Who was that?” asked Charlotte quietly.

“I think we both know.” Replied Maria, “So now to get you and this carriage home.”

She went to help Charlotte to get into the coach, as Charlotte stepped up she gasped.

“No thank you, I will ride on the box. It smells like a tavern.”

Maria looked inside, there were brandy barrels filling up most of the floor, packets smelling of tobacco up one side, and smaller packets tucked into every available crevice. The only space left was just big enough for the two man who had shot at Charlotte. As she looked around she saw a thin, parchment bound book tucked into the pocket on the door. She slid this into her own pocket, then went to help John lift Charlotte onto the box.

Back home they found that Nancy had only just returned, having seen no sign of the men, Charlotte was lifted down and Nancy helped her into bed. The horses were stabled and the coach locked up. John Taylor was ordered to walk home carrying a letter for his master. Maria then went to study the book. It was late by the time she had finished, she then wrote several letters and left orders that they were to be delivered as soon as it was light. She was smiling as she went to bed, one ghost at least had been laid.

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To be continued

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The Phantom Coach, or Miss Fluart’s Relations – Part 2

Investigating the Impossible

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Two weeks later, Charlotte Sumelin walked straight into the dining room and found Miss Fluart bent over the table, which was covered with piles of papers and large scale maps of Devon and Cornwall.

“Why cannot cartographers agree where the county boundary is?” She muttered, “At no point do these maps agree, and they are supposed to be drawn at the same scale.”

“I have no idea.”

Miss Fluart spun round, her mouth dropped open. For the first time in her life Charlotte saw her friend truly surprised and shocked. She stepped forward and hugged her.

“I told you I would be back in two weeks.”

“And I was going to wait another week before I came to rescue you?”

“ You have taught me too much, I’m not like Caroline Campinet, needing to be rescued by a gun wielding young lady.”

“You can wield your own gun?”

“You know I can, but happily I didn’t need to, I was a dutiful daughter until early this morning when a chaise arrived at the front door. It had been quite difficult to persuade the inn to send it, I was quite cross that my father had expressly forbidden them to supply me with a vehicle.”

“So?”

“It is amazing what the promise of an extra half-guinea can do. So here I am, so you don’t need to worry any more. Now what are all the papers covering the table, are they plans for rescuing me?”

“No, those plans are lodged in my head.” Replied Miss Fluart, surprising herself by blushing slightly. Recovering quickly she continued, “These are all the sightings of the ghost coach. I wrote to all the local newspapers asking for them to send me details of any sightings that were reported to them. Also Watson has been invaluable, gossiping with everybody at the local markets. Knowing that she works for me people have loved trying to terrify her with all the stories that are going around.”

“There seem to have been a lot of sightings, your ancestor can certainly travel.”

“Yes, but far fewer when I disregard all those I think are rubbish. Men who have drunk too much, silly servant girls needing an excuse for not getting back when they should, and so on. Then the ones I suspect having something real behind them I have had to divide into two groups. The first group, and the most widespread, describe a carriage driving across the moors, with a headless coachman and pulled by headless horses.”

“And those are the ones you suspect are real!” said Charlotte in amusement, “Headless horses driven by a headless coachman.”

“Yes, now listen to this one. The Exeter Mail sent it to me. Someone seems to have taken down the report verbatim. The coach was seen by Timothy Manners.”

“But he’s an idiot.”

“True, in all but one respect – horses. I wouldn’t trust him on anything, apart from horses and anything to do with them. Now listen, it’s just like him, always sounds a little drunk.” She took the paper and read.

‘It was Tuesday, was coming back from the races, had done quite well so was rather late, good moon though. Coach on old hill road, funny that, never take a coach up there myself. Good coach though, looked like one of Hills, had his strapping, had crest I knew. Miss Fluart, good filly though beyond my touch, like her friend, good fillies both. Horses odd, matched greys, no heads, odd, would have asked coachman, no head either. Very odd.’

“What do you think?” Asked Miss Fluart, but Charlotte was giggling.

“Are we a matched pair of fillies?”

“From him that’s a compliment, as I said he only knows about horses. From any other man that would have been insulting, but from him no. But his account is interesting. If we forget about the headlessness what he saw was a coach made by Hills of Exeter drawn by four matching greys.”

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“But what about the headlessness?”

“Pale horses, coachman with a pale greatcoat, then the heads of men and horses covered with black cloth or something similar. Even in moonlight they would appear headless.”

“So they are real, but why go to all that trouble?”

“ I have an idea, but there are the other sightings as well, and for these we have a witness who cannot be doubted.” She pulled on the bell-pull, and Watson entered. “Sit down and tell Miss Sumelin what you saw that night.”

“Yes Miss,” the maid began, clearly very excited to be the centre of attention. “I had been at Sir Charles Campinet’s where his head housemaid is getting married and he had allowed there to be a feast in the servants hall. I had gone…”

“Let me guess, to see if you could hear any more stories of the ghost coach.”

“Yes Miss, but there were none worth listening to, only Bill Mathers, and he was drunk when he told the story and probably drunk when he claims it pushed him into a ditch. Well, it was just dark when I started walking back, I had crossed the great field, and was on the lane leading up to the house when I saw it, the coach.” She paused dramatically. “It was driving down the cross road towards the ford, there was no driver and it was pulled by four black horses.”

“Did they have heads?”

“Yes miss, and tails as well. But the coach was a funny thing, a big box on four wheels, just like the one in the back of the picture of my lady, not like a modern coach at all.”

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She continued in the same vein for a few minutes before Miss Fluart thanked her and sent her away.

“What do you think?” She asked. Charlotte, who had been looking at the portrait of Lady Susanna, and discovering that there was a tiny, picture of an old-fashioned coach in the background, replied.

“I suspect she saw something and it got confused with this image she had seen in the portrait.”

“Perhaps, but I went down to the ford the next morning. No wheeled vehicles had passed that way in the previous two days.” She paused, then continued, “But the first coach is a different kettle of fish. I think I know what it is up to, and hopefully where to find it. Would you like to go ghost hunting?”

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Filed under Georgian, Ghost story, Historical tales