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.”
“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.”
“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.”
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.