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.
“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.”
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.
“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.
To be continued