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My Lady’s Coach
by [?]

He faced us, rush-lamp in hand, in his great vaulted kitchen, and the light fell on an honest, puzzled face. As for Mr. Noy’s face, I regret to say that it fell when he heard this vindication of his flock.

“I brought ye into the kitchen, sirs,” went on Farmer Menhennick, “because ’tis cosier. We keep a fire banked up here all night.” He bent to revive it, but desisted as his wife entered with one of the house-wenches, and gave them orders to light a lamp, fetch a billet or two of wood, and make the place cheerful.

My face, I daresay, and the news of the robbery, scared the two women, who went about their work at once with a commendable quietness. But I think it was a whisper from the maidservant which caused the farmer to ejaculate, as he helped me to a chair:

“And you’ve walked across Blackadon Down at this hour of night! My word, sirs, and saving your reverence, but you had a nerve, if you’d only known it!”

“Why, what’s the matter with Blackadon?” asked Mr. Noy sharply.

Farmer Menhennick faced him with a deprecatory grin.

“Nothing, sir–leastways, nothing more than old woman’s tales, not worth a man’s heeding.”

“Has it by chance,” said I, “anything to do with a hearse?”

“A hearse!” Mr. Noy stared at me, and then his eye fell on the farmer, who had been helping to unbutton my tunic, but was now drawn back a pace from me with amazement written all over his honest face. “A hearse?” repeated Mr. Noy.

“Why, however–” began the farmer, with his eyes slowly widening.

“A hearse,” said I, “with black nodding plumes and (I believe) a headless driver. Let me see–” I began to hum the air sung by Jim the guard:–

“The wheels go round without a sound–“

The two women had dropped their work and stood peering at me, the pair of them quaking.

“He’s seen it–he’s seen it!” gasped the farmer’s wife.

“A hearse?” cried Mr. Noy once more, and this time almost in a scream. “When? where?”

“On Blackadon Down, sir,” answered Mr. Menhennick. “‘Tis an old story that the moor’s haunted, and folks have been putting it round that the thing’s been seen two or three times lately. But there–’tis nothing to pay any heed to.”

“Oh, isn’t it!”

“You understand, sir, ’tisn’t a real hearse–“

“Oh, isn’t it!” repeated Mr. Noy in scorn.

“And you, sir–” He had almost caught and shaken me by the collar, but remembered my hurt just in time. “And do you, sir, sit there and tell me that you’ve known this all along, and yet–oh, you numskull!” He flung up two protesting hands.

“But even if it’s a real hearse–” I began.

“That’s the kind most frequently met, I believe. And ‘the wheels go round without a sound.’ Yes, they would–on Blackadon turf! Any more questions? No? Then I’ll take my turn with a few.” He wheeled round upon the farmer. “Ever seen it yourself?”

“No, sir.”

“Has anyone here seen it?”

No; but the maidservant’s father had seen it, three weeks ago–the very night that Squire Granville’s house was tried–

Mr. Noy was almost capering. “Splendid!” he cried. “Splendid! That will sharpen his temper if it don’t his wits. The Squire’s house was tried, you say?” He turned on the farmer again. “Hullo, my friend! I understood there were no law-breakers in this parish?”

“‘Tisn’t known for certain that the house was tried,” the farmer explained. “‘Tis thought that some of the lads was giving the old boy a scare, he having been extra sharp on the poaching this year. All that’s known is, he heard some person trying his shutters, and let fly out of his bedroom window with a gun; and what you can build on that I don’t see.”