Part 1 Nancy’s Promise
The weather had changed and it was wet and cold as the coach made its way across the moors towards Leeds.
“No passengers today.”
“Who would want to be out today?” Said Tom miserably.
“Perhaps there will be somebody wanting to stop the coach.”
“In this weather, not even a highwayman would be out.”
The guard nodded and they continued their wet way across the moor. Suddenly the mist in front cleared for a moment and they saw a figure standing by the road. As they slowed the guard said, “She looks too poor to be a passenger.”
“If she wants a ride we will take her up. No one should be outside in weather like this.”
“You’re too good.” The guard grunted.
Then there was cry from the coachman. “Nancy!” He threw the reins to the guard and slid to the ground. As he approached the woman she recognised him and covered her face.
“Nancy, what has happened to you?” The young woman just sobbed. Tom almost had to lift her into the coach, which is when he saw she was carrying a baby.
He wrapped a blanket around her, then climbed back onto the box and drove on.
“That was Nancy?” the guard said in amazement.
“Yes, she looks very bad, and she has a child.”
“But why did you help her?”
“She is ill, no Christian could leave someone out in this weather, not if they could help them.”
“But you were going to marry her, then she ran off with another man two weeks before your wedding. Don’t you care?”
“Of course I care, I care for Nancy. I wanted her to be happy, but now she needs my help and I will do what I can.”
“You’re a better man than I am Tom Blakeborough.” Added the guard, as they swung into the inn.
There were passengers waiting for them, so they couldn’t stop long. Tom carried Nancy inside and told the landlady to care for her.
“I will be back tomorrow and pay what’s due then.” He called as he drove away. “Like a true good Samaritan,” the landlady said, as she went to settle Nancy in a warmed bed.
The following day Tom returned, to grave news. “The baby died during the night, and I doubt that she is long for this world.” Said the landlady, leading him upstairs. “She knows she is dying, and is desperate to see you before…”
Tom entered the warm room, a fire was burning and Nancy was wrapped up in the bed. She turned her pale face to Tom, and gave a weak smile. “I’m glad I got to see you one last time.” She whispered, “I want to ask for your forgiveness.”
“There is nothing to forgive.” He replied.
“Yes there is, the man I left you for was a rogue. After a few months I found out that he was a highwayman and was already married. I left him, he was angry and came after me, but was killed in a brawl before he could find me. When I discovered he was dead, I decide to return to my parents, that was when you found me.”
“I am glad I did.”
“I am too, I am happy I can see your kind face one last time.” He tried to say something, she shook her head weakly.
“Tom, I am dying, I know that. I also know something else, I want to tell you something that you must keep secret and only tell to your son.”
“I don’t have a son.”
“But you will, and he too will be a coachman, as will his son and his grandson as far as I can see. And to all of you I make this promise, when you are in greatest need, when speed is of the essence, especially when a life hangs in the balance, I will come to you. I will take the reins and guide you safe through storm and snow.”
She fell back on the pillow, he bent to say something, but realised that she could never hear anything again. He kissed her cold forehead and left the room.
Part 2 The Pardon
The word ran round the inn, and out into the street. The two men were surrounded by well-wishers, but they were still worried. “We have the pardon, but we need to get it to Durham.” He said to the innkeeper then, looking up at the church clock, added. “In under ten hours!” A mutter went round the crowd, to get to Durham in so short a time, that was nigh impossible. What use was the pardon if it arrived too late, an innocent man would hang.
The innkeeper had run to the stables at the back. “Tom Blakeborough.” He shouted, “You’re needed.”
Tom looked up. “But I only just got in!”
“A pardon has just arrived for George Hutton. But it’s got to get to Durham by tomorrow morning. You’re the finest coachman in Yorkshire, and with what’s coming.” They looked to the north, the sky was already dark with the approaching storm.
“Aye, I’ll try.” Tom replied bluntly. Four horses were harnessed up, and less than half an hour after they had arrived the men, and the precious pardon, began their journey.
Seven miles out the rain came down, heavier than he had ever seen, he could hardly see beyond the leading horses head. He had no choice but to slow the coaches pace to a crawl, one of the passengers opened a window, doubtless to ask why he had slowed, took one look at the weather and shut the window.
Tom was concentrating on his rain-soaked horses, when he felt a touch on his hands, he looked down to see a thin, pale hand. Beside him sat a woman, there was a sudden flash of lightning and he saw it was Nancy, Nancy whose new-dug grave he had stood beside two years earlier.
The pale figure gently took the reins from his unresisting hands, and cracked them. The horses sprang forward into a gallop, they couldn’t see but were more terrified of what was driving them than the featureless road ahead. Tom clutched onto the box, it was all he could do to hold on, but Nancy just sat calmly urging on the horses. Inside the coach he could hear the men shouting, but ignored them as he could do nothing, just sit and watch a long dead woman drive his coach into the jet-black night.
He knew they drove through villages, as he saw the occasional light from a window, he heard the sound of the wheels change as they crossed the moors, but it was not until a very grey dawn broke could he get any idea of where they were, and by the time it was fully light he could see the great bulk of Durham Cathedral.
As they entered the city he felt the reins placed in his hands, he turned to thank Nancy but she just smiled and vanished. After this it was a blur, they drove towards the prison, the crowds were already gathering, there were cheers as the pardon was rushed inside, a purse of gold was pressed into his hand, and he finally drove to the inn where he could see his horses settled and collapse into a bed.
He didn’t speak of Nancy then, not for a year, until he told the pretty daughter of the Durham inn keeper, on their wedding night. She kissed him and said, “I saw you as you drove into Durham, I saw the lady beside you, she smiled at me, that was when I knew I should marry you – as she wished it.”
When their son was learning to drive, he told him about Nancy. Though he never saw her, he told his son in turn, as Nancy had predicted all his descendants drove coaches. As horses gave way to petrol and diesel, the story continued to be passed down, father told son, told daughter.
3 Snow Baby
The paramedic recognised the signs, he couldn’t deliver the baby, they had to get the mother to hospital. If they didn’t, and soon, the mother might, and the baby would, die.
It had been clear when they had arrived, but by the time they had got her into the ambulance a foot of snow had fallen, the wind blew flurries of snow into the ambulance as the driver shut the door. Tamsin walked to the cab, she was having trouble seeing the gateposts of the farm, and how she was to see the road across the moors in this weather, she had no idea.
She opened the door and was about to climb in, and stopped in shock. In the driving seat was a thin young woman in a long, old fashioned, dress. For a moment she just gaped, then suddenly remembered her grandfather’s story.
“Nancy?” She gasped, the woman nodded. With a mixture of fear and wonder Tamsin ran round to the other side and climbed in, as soon as she sat they were off. She could see nothing, just snow in the ambulance’s headlights. She held onto her seat belt as the ambulance raced across the moors, swinging round corners heading straight up steep slopes. It didn’t skid or slide but drove smoothly across the snow and ice covered roads.
As her initial terror subsided, she turned to watch Nancy driving the ambulance. She sat there, hands on the wheel, looking forward. Tamsin found herself wondering how a woman who had died more than two centuries earlier had learnt to drive, then laughed at such a silly question. She was in an ambulance, being driven in impossible conditions, by a ghost who had made a promise to one of her ancestors.
Suddenly they were driving through a village, she knew where they were, it would normally take about half an hour driving to the hospital. But now? The blizzard hit again, and everything vanished, she looked across at Nancy who looked back at her and gave her sad little smile.
Then suddenly the snow cleared again and she realised that, impossibly, they were less than half a mile from the hospital. She radioed ahead, checked on the patient, her colleague was amazed that they were there so soon. Nancy swung the ambulance into place, the door at the back opened, nurses rushed to lift the woman out. Tamsin turned to thank Nancy, but she had gone.
A day or two later a nurse called and said that someone wanted to see her in maternity. Surprised she went to the ward to be greeted by a young mother, still pale, with a little baby in her arms.
“I want to thank you, if it hadn’t been for you we would both have died.” Tamsin thanked her, and tried to pass it off, but the mother became very serious.
“I haven’t given her a name yet, and I feel that it is somehow very important. What’s your name, I would like to call her after the person who saved her life.”
Tamsin hesitated for a moment, “Nancy, I would love it if you called her Nancy.”
“Thank you Nancy.” The mother said softly as she bent over her baby girl.
This tale is based on fact, or as much fact as any ghost story can have. The story of Tom and Nance, her betrayal, his kindness, her promise and her subsequent help were recorded over a hundred years ago. As for the later tale, well after the first Tom’s death Nance never reappeared though some of his descendants were sure she would come again, if the situation warranted it. I just made that part of the tale come true.