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The Spectral Coach Of Blackadon






"You have heard of such a spirit, and well you know
The superstitious, idle-headed eld
Received and did deliver to our age
This tale of Herne the Hunter for a truth."

_Merry Wives of Windsor._


The old vicarage-house at Talland, as seen from the Looe road, its low
roof and grey walls peeping prettily from between the dense boughs of
ash and elm that environed it, was as picturesque an object as you could
desire to see. The seclusion of its situation was enhanced by the
character of the house itself. It was an odd-looking, old-fashioned
building, erected apparently in an age when asceticism and self-denial
were more in vogue than at present, with a stern disregard of the
comfort of the inhabitant, and in utter contempt of received principles
of taste. As if not secure enough in its retirement, a high wall,
enclosing a courtelage in front, effectually protected its inmates from
the prying passenger, and only revealed the upper part of the house,
with its small Gothic windows, its slated roof, and heavy chimneys
partly hidden by the evergreen shrubs which grew in the enclosure. Such
was it until its removal a few years since; and such was it as it lay
sweetly in the shadows of an autumnal evening one hundred and thirty
years ago, when a stranger in the garb of a country labourer knocked
hesitatingly at the wicket gate which conducted to the court. After a
little delay a servant-girl appeared, and finding that the countryman
bore a message to the vicar, admitted him within the walls, and
conducted him along a paved passage to the little, low, damp parlour
where sat the good man. The Rev. Mr Dodge was in many respects a
remarkable man. You would have judged as much of him as he sat before
the fire in his high-back chair, in an attitude of thought, arranging,
it may have been, the heads of his next Sabbath's discourse. His heavy
eyebrows, throwing into shade his spacious eyes, and indeed the whole
contour of his face, marked him as a man of great firmness of character
and of much moral and personal courage. His suit of sober black and
full-bottomed periwig also added to his dignity, and gave him an
appearance of greater age. He was then verging on sixty. The time and
the place gave him abundant exercise for the qualities we have
mentioned, for many of his parishioners obtained their livelihood by the
contraband trade, and were mostly men of unscrupulous and daring
character, little likely to bear with patience, reflections on the
dishonesty of their calling. Nevertheless the vicar was fearless in
reprehending it, and his frank exhortations were, at least, listened to
on account of the simple honesty of the man, and his well-known kindness
of heart. The eccentricity of his life, too, had a wonderful effect in
procuring him the respect, not to say the awe, of a people superstitious
in a more than ordinary degree. Ghosts in those days had more freedom
accorded them, or had more business with the visible world than at
present; and the parson was frequently required by his parishioners to
draw from the uneasy spirit the dread secret which troubled it, or by
the aid of the solemn prayers of the church to set it at rest for ever.
Mr Dodge had a fame as an exorcist, which was not confined to the bounds
of his parish, nor limited to the age in which he lived.

"Well, my good man, what brings you hither?" said the clergyman to the
messenger.

"A letter, may it please your reverence, from Mr Mills of Lanreath,"
said the countryman, handing him a letter.

Mr Dodge opened it and read as follows:--

"MY DEAR BROTHER DODGE,--I have ventured to trouble
you, at the earnest request of my parishioners, with a matter,
of which some particulars have doubtless reached you, and which
has caused, and is causing, much terror in my neighbourhood.
For its fuller explication, I will be so tedious as to recount
to you the whole of this strange story as it has reached my
ears, for as yet I have not satisfied my eyes of its truth. It
has been told me by men of honest and good report (witnesses of
a portion of what they relate), with such strong assurances,
that it behoves us to look more closely into the matter. There
is in the neighbourhood of this village a barren bit of moor
which had no owner, or rather more than one, for the lords of
the adjoining manors debated its ownership between themselves,
and both determined to take it from the poor, who have for many
years past regarded it as a common. And truly, it is little to
the credit of these gentlemen, that they should strive for a
thing so worthless as scarce to bear the cost of law, and yet
of no mean value to poor labouring people. The two litigants,
however, contested it with as much violence as if it had been a
field of great price, and especially one, an old man, (whose
thoughts should have been less set on earthly possessions,
which he was soon to leave,) had so set his heart on the
success of his suit, that the loss of it, a few years back, is
said to have much hastened his death. Nor, indeed, after death,
if current reports are worthy of credit, does he quit his claim
to it; for at night-time his apparition is seen on the moor,
to the great terror of the neighbouring villagers. A public
path leads by at no great distance from the spot, and on divers
occasions has the labourer, returning from his work, been
frightened nigh unto lunacy by sight and sounds of a very
dreadful character. The appearance is said to be that of a man
habited in black, driving a carriage drawn by headless horses.
This is, I avow, very marvellous to believe, but it has had so
much credible testimony, and has gained so many believers in my
parish, that some steps seem necessary to allay the excitement
it causes. I have been applied to for this purpose, and my
present business is to ask your assistance in this matter,
either to reassure the minds of the country people if it be
only a simple terror; or, if there be truth in it, to set the
troubled spirit of the man at rest. My messenger, who is an
industrious, trustworthy man, will give you more information if
it be needed, for, from report, he is acquainted with most of
the circumstances, and will bring back your advice and promise
of assistance.

"Not doubting of your help herein, I do with my very hearty
commendation commit you to God's protection and blessing, and
am,--Your very loving brother, ABRAHAM MILLS."

This remarkable note was read and re-read, while the countryman sat
watching its effects on the parson's countenance, and was surprised that
it changed not from its usual sedate and settled character. Turning at
length to the man, Mr Dodge inquired, "Are you, then, acquainted with my
good friend Mills?"

"I should know him, sir," replied the messenger, "having been sexton to
the parish for fourteen years, and being, with my family, much beholden
to the kindness of the rector."

"You are also not without some knowledge of the circumstances related in
this letter. Have you been an eye-witness to any of those strange
sights?"

"For myself, sir, I have been on the road at all hours of the night and
day, and never did I see anything which I could call worse than myself.
One night my wife and I were awoke by the rattle of wheels, which was
also heard by some of our neighbours, and we are all assured that it
could have been no other than the black coach. We have every day such
stories told in the villages by so many creditable persons, that it
would not be proper in a plain, ignorant man like me to doubt it."

"And how far," asked the clergyman, "is the moor from Lanreath?"

"About two miles, and please your reverence. The whole parish is so
frightened, that few will venture far after nightfall, for it has of
late come much nearer the village. A man who is esteemed a sensible and
pious man by many, though an Anabaptist in principle, went a few weeks
back to the moor ('tis called Blackadon) at midnight, in order to lay
the spirit, being requested thereto by his neighbours, and he was so
alarmed at what he saw, that he hath been somewhat mazed ever since."

"A fitting punishment for his presumption, if it hath not quite demented
him," said the parson. "These persons are like those addressed by St
Chrysostom, fitly called the golden-mouthed, who said, 'Miserable
wretches that ye be! ye cannot expel a flea, much less a devil!' It will
be well if it serves no other purpose but to bring back these stray
sheep to the fold of the Church. So this story has gained much belief in
the parish?"

"Most believe it, sir, as rightly they should, what hath so many
witnesses," said the sexton, "though there be some, chiefly young men,
who set up for being wiser than their fathers, and refuse to credit it,
though it be sworn to on the book."

"If those things are disbelieved, friend," said the parson, "and without
inquiry, which your disbeliever is ever the first to shrink from, of
what worth is human testimony? That ghosts have returned to the earth,
either for the discovery of murder, or to make restitution for other
injustice committed in the flesh, or compelled thereto by the
incantations of sorcery, or to communicate tidings from another world,
has been testified to in all ages, and many are the accounts which have
been left us both in sacred and profane authors. Did not Brutus, when in
Asia, as is related by Plutarch, see----"

Just at this moment the parson's handmaid announced that a person waited
on him in the kitchen,--or the good clergyman would probably have
detailed all those cases in history, general and biblical, with which
his reading had acquainted him, not much, we fear to the edification and
comfort of the sexton, who had to return to Lanreath, a long and dreary
road, after nightfall. So, instead, he directed the girl to take him
with her, and give him such refreshment as he needed, and in the
meanwhile he prepared a note in answer to Mr Mills, informing him that
on the morrow he was to visit some sick persons in his parish, but that
on the following evening he should be ready to proceed with him to the
moor.

On the night appointed the two clergymen left the Lanreath rectory on
horseback, and reached the moor at eleven o'clock. Bleak and dismal did
it look by day, but then there was the distant landscape dotted over
with pretty homesteads to relieve its desolation. Now, nothing was seen
but the black patch of sterile moor on which they stood, nothing heard
but the wind as it swept in gusts across the bare hill, and howled
dismally through a stunted grove of trees that grew in a glen below
them, except the occasional baying of dogs from the farmhouses in the
distance. That they felt at ease, is more than could be expected of
them; but as it would have shown a lack of faith in the protection of
Heaven, which it would have been unseemly in men of their holy calling
to exhibit, they managed to conceal from each other their uneasiness.
Leading their horses, they trod to and fro through the damp fern and
heath with firmness in their steps, and upheld each other by remarks on
the power of that Great Being whose ministers they were, and the might
of whose name they were there to make manifest. Still slowly and
dismally passed the time as they conversed, and anon stopped to look
through the darkness for the approach of their ghostly visitor. In vain.
Though the night was as dark and murky as ghost could wish, the coach
and its driver came not.

After a considerable stay, the two clergymen consulted together, and
determined that it was useless to watch any longer for that night, but
that they would meet on some other, when perhaps it might please his
ghostship to appear. Accordingly, with a few words of leave-taking, they
separated, Mr Mills for the rectory, and Mr Dodge, by a short ride
across the moor, which shortened his journey by half a mile, for the
vicarage at Talland.

The vicar rode on at an ambling pace, which his good mare sustained up
hill and down vale without urging. At the bottom of a deep valley,
however, about a mile from Blackadon, the animal became very uneasy,
pricked up her ears, snorted, and moved from side to side of the road,
as if something stood in the path before her. The parson tightened the
reins, and applied whip and spur to her sides, but the animal, usually
docile, became very unruly, made several attempts to turn, and, when
prevented, threw herself upon her haunches. Whip and spur were applied
again and again, to no other purpose than to add to the horse's terror.
To the rider nothing was apparent which could account for the sudden
restiveness of his beast. He dismounted, and attempted in turns to lead
or drag her, but both were impracticable, and attended with no small
risk of snapping the reins. She was remounted with great difficulty, and
another attempt was made to urge her forward, with the like want of
success. At length the eccentric clergyman, judging it to be some
special signal from Heaven, which it would be dangerous to neglect,
threw the reins on the neck of his steed, which, wheeling suddenly
round, started backward in a direction towards the moor, at a pace which
rendered the parson's seat neither a pleasant nor a safe one. In an
astonishingly short space of time they were once more at Blackadon.

By this time the bare outline of the moor was broken by a large black
group of objects, which the darkness of the night prevented the parson
from defining. On approaching this unaccountable appearance, the mare
was seized with fresh fury, and it was with considerable difficulty that
she could be brought to face this new cause of fright. In the pauses of
the horse's prancing, the vicar discovered to his horror the
much-dreaded spectacle of the black coach and the headless steeds, and,
terrible to relate, his friend Mr Mills lying prostrate on the ground
before the sable driver. Little time was left him to call up his courage
for this fearful emergency; for just as the vicar began to give
utterance to the earnest prayers which struggled to his lips, the
spectre shouted, "Dodge is come! I must begone!" and forthwith leaped
into his chariot, and disappeared across the moor.

The fury of the mare now subsided, and Mr Dodge was enabled to approach
his friend, who was lying motionless and speechless, with his face
buried in the heather.

Meanwhile the rector's horse, which had taken fright at the apparition,
and had thrown his rider to the ground on or near the spot where we have
left him lying, made homeward at a furious speed, and stopped not until
he had reached his stable door. The sound of his hoofs as he galloped
madly through the village awoke the cottagers, many of whom had been
some hours in their beds. Many eager faces, staring with affright,
gathered round the rectory, and added, by their various conjectures, to
the terror and apprehensions of the family.

The villagers, gathering courage as their numbers increased, agreed to
go in search of the missing clergyman, and started off in a compact
body, a few on horseback, but the greater number on foot, in the
direction of Blackadon. There they discovered their rector, supported in
the arms of Parson Dodge, and recovered so far as to be able to speak.
Still there was a wildness in his eye, and an incoherency in his speech,
that showed that his reason was, at least, temporarily unsettled by the
fright. In this condition he was taken to his home, followed by his
reverend companion.

Here ended this strange adventure; for Mr Mills soon completely regained
his reason, Parson Dodge got safely back to Talland, and from that time
to this nothing has been heard or seen of the black ghost or his
chariot.[4]





Next: Drake's Drum

Previous: The Seven Lights



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