Investigating the Impossible
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.”
“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.”
“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.”
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?”