Readers of my blog will remember the intrepid Miss Fluart, who was created back in the 1790’s and about whom I have woven additional tales. This is another contribution, part of which is based on fact, I will tell you what if you manage to read to the end of the tale.
A Ghost spoils Dinner
“I’m not making dinner for that woman!” The cook turned and marched out of the kitchen, slamming the door as she left.
The vicars wife turned to the frightened maids.
“Just serve what cold meat there is, that will have to do.” She waited to help the terrified girls as upstairs her husband was trying to explain what was happening to his guests.
“I am afraid that our cook is refusing to cook dinner for you.” He said to Miss Fluart.
“And she called you names.” Added the vicar’s daughter.
“Oh dear, what have I done now?” asked Miss Fluart.
“It isn’t you.” Continued the vicar, clearly rather embarrassed, “It is your great aunt Susanna.”
“My great aunt,” gasped his guest, “but she has been dead for nearly a hundred years. I was looking at her monument in the church last Sunday, a wonderfully inaccurate piece of stonework.”
“She is a ghost, and frightened Cook’s husband so he fell in a ditch and injured his leg. That’s why Cook is angry with you.” Anna, the vicars daughter, added excitedly.
“That will do miss.” Said her mother rising, and leading her unwilling child from the room.
“I am afraid it is true, that is what Cook has said.” Continued the vicar.
Miss Fluart nodded, “The phantom coach, I suppose? I didn’t think it had been seen for years?”
“And I don’t think it has been seen now.” He replied, “I suspect that he had taken too much drink, fell in the ditch and didn’t want to admit to his wife what really happened.”
They left soon afterwards, as soon as the carriage turned out of the vicarage drive, Charlotte Sumelin, who had been, rather unsuccessfully, trying to hide her curiosity, burst out;
“What was that about! Your great aunt is a ghost!”
“Yes.” Miss Fluart sighed, “though I suspect that the vicar is right, the man had simply drunk too much. I wish he really had seen her, I would love to meet her.”
Charlotte looked at her friend in wide eyed amazement.
“You would like to meet your great aunt – who is a ghost.”
“Oh yes, when we get home I will tell you all about her.”
As soon as they entered their house, Maria led Charlotte to an upstairs room. On the wall was a painting of a woman dressed in a riding habit, seated on a bench. She had a broad brimmed hat and was holding elaborately embroidered gloves, a riding crop – and an old fashioned pistol!
“Meet Lady Susanna Sterling, my great, or should it be great-great, aunt.”
They watched as a servant took the picture down and carried it into the parlour, finally Miss Fluart began.
“It was about a hundred and fifty years ago, during the great civil war. As parliament was taking control of this part of the country, there were various risings against the new government. These were all put down, but one of the last involved Lady Susanna’s nephew. He was imprisoned in Taunton Castle and sentenced to death. His mother begged Lady Susanna to try and intervene, so she went to Taunton, there she was approached by the governor of the Castle who offered to release her nephew for money!”
“Did she pay?”
“Of course.” Maria replied, “such arrangements were common then. No one knew which side would eventually win, and people in authority wanted to have friends on both sides, and if you could make money out of it so much the better. So Lady Susanna handed over five hundred pounds, the nephew was released, and immediately left for France. Then a few days later all the prisoners were pardoned and released, the governor had cheated her.”
“I imagine she was angry.”
“She was livid, but there was nothing she could do, at least not legally.” Miss Fluart paused dramatically, “So she turned highwaywoman.”
“What!” Charlotte was both shocked and amused.
“Turned highwaywoman, she first stopped the governor, and got back the money she had given him. Then she robbed other men who were friends of the governor. Soon the tale of the mysterious highwaywoman spread, but they never caught her, she had various secret ways into this house. Then after the king returned she allowed the story to get out. There were ballads and tales written about her, she never admitted anything but it was all true. Then when she died, the ‘Virtuous Ornament of Womankind’ as it says on her monument, was given the dead coach to ride.”
“Do you think it’s true?”
“Oh, I am sure she was a highwaywoman.”
“And a ghost?”
“I suspect not?” Miss Fluart sighed. “but I wish she was. I doubt we will be hearing any more of Lady Susanna and her coach.”
Within two weeks Miss Fluart knew she was wrong, the coach and Lady Susanna were being seen across half of Devon and Cornwall. Some of the reports were clearly fictitious but others seemed to come from respectable people, in one case a physician and a clergyman. Also, to her irritation, the old ballads were being resurrected and reprinted, her maid returned with several from the market in Tiverton. And people began to look askance at her.
“People either think I am wicked because Lady Susanna’s ghost is walking or pity me for having such a terrible relative.”
“And you aren’t wicked, at least not for that reason.” Giggled Miss Sumelin, “and you certainly don’t think that she was at all terrible.”
“Quite right, my dear.” She replied, “I think the best thing is to keep quiet and hope it blows over soon.”
It didn’t, and the next day proved it. Charlotte received a letter.
“It’s from Harriet, she says mama isn’t feeling very well, and wants to see me. I will have to go.”
“Do you believe her?”
“Of course not.” Replied Charlotte, “I don’t think mama has felt well in all her life, it’s the way she has of making sure her family does what she wants. I think that it is my father, he has heard the stories of the ghost and no longer thinks that you are a suitable person to be my companion.”
“Did he ever think that I was a suitable person?”
“No, but this affair gives him an excuse to take me away from you. I must go though, I will do my best to be back in two weeks.”
Maria Fluart watched the chaise depart sadly, she wondered when and if she would ever see her friend again. If she had been a melancholy female she would have burst into tears, and ran to her room and refused to leave it. But melancholy didn’t make up any part of her nature, she allowed herself one tear, wiped her eye, and went to her desk. She knew what she had to do, to both sort out the problem and hopefully win back her friend and companion from her irritating father. She sat down and wrote several letters, then called her maid.
“Watson, I want you to post these letters, then I have another task for you.”
Nancy Watson, who had worshipped Miss Fluart ever since the memorable day when she drew a pistol on Lord Grondale, bobbed a curtsey and listened wide eyed and open mouthed to her mistresses instructions.
To be continued