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Title: The Spectral Coach of Blackadon
Author: Anonymous
* A Project Gutenberg of Australia eBook *
eBook No.: 0602991.txt
Edition: 1
Language: English
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Date first posted: July 2006
Date most recently updated: July 2006

This eBook was produced by: Richard Scott

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by Anonymous

  "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

"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

"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

"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

"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

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.


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