The Ghost at the Inn
THE Flying Mercury coach pulled up with a flourish in the innyard of the Jolly Postboys at Dunchester, and the guard sprang down and opened the door of the coach with a gallant air. Out there stepped a young lady, Miss Cherry Luttrell, no more than sixteen, with eyes as black as sloes, delicate arched brows, red lips, and a dimple in her cheek.
He lifted out the young lady, who stood looking about her in the inn yard. Her scarlet cloak had a hood that was over her head and was tied with scarlet ribbons beneath her chin. The shortness of her skirts displayed her black silk stockings and her neat little shoes with silver buckles. A young gentleman leaning over the gallery that ran round two sides of the inn-yard thought it the prettiest picture he had seen for many a day.
Mrs. Greensleeves, the landlady of the inn, ran out, hearing the clatter of the coach as it came under the archway from the street.
“Who have we here, John?” she asked, looking kindly at Miss Cherry.
“Mistress Cherry Luttrell, the daughter of Squire Luttrell, of Goldenwood Hall. She has come with me all the way from Brightling; you are to take care of her for the night, Mrs. Greensleeves, and to-morrow you are to hand her over to Peter Smithers, the guard of the Ajax, who will take
her on to Docking, where her father will receive her. Peter Smithers will know how to take care of Missie. It isn't the first time he, or I, for the matter of that, have taken charge of young ladies like Miss Cherry.”
“Come you in, Miss, and have a warm by the fire,” the landlady said, beaming kindly. “Be you hungry, little Miss? Why, then, there’s a chicken turning on the spit that will make your little ladyship a meal.”
Cherry Luttrell followed the landlady into the inn, unconscious of the eyes that watched her from the gallery above. She stopped at the inn door, before passing inside, to wave a hand to John, the guard, and to Simon, the coachman, who had been assiduous in seeing to her comfort.
The inn was a delightful place, dim and old-fashioned in its winding passages, with fine spacious rooms, such as they do not build nowadays. The hall was full of stuffed birds and fishes in glass cases and deers’ heads and all manner of stuffed beasts who lurked in the corners, showing white teeth as though they were about to spring out on Cherry. At one side a door with colored glass panels led into the big dining-room of the inn.
“This is bespoke to-night for our Hunt Supper,” said Mrs. Greensleeves, with her hand on the doorhandle. “Would little Missie like to peep inside?”
Little Missie would like to see anything, being very eagerly curious about the world, which she only knew from the glimpses she had of it as she went to and fro' between Goldenwood and her very select ladies' school at Brightling Dene.
She peeped within and saw the long tables set for supper with snowy napery and bright silver and heavy crystal glass, with tankards and beakers and branching candlesticks filled with wax candles. The room was but firelit. The evening fell early this week of Christmas; the light leaped on the fruit in the silver dishes and the wine, ruby and golden, in the decanters. A very pretty sight, Miss Cherry thought it, having led a dull life at Goldenwood, where her father moped since his wife’s death, and had no idea of how to make things bright for his one little girl, although he compassionated her loneliness to the degree of sending her to the Misses Primrose’s select school, depriving himself of her companionship so that she might be with children of her own age.
Afterwards she saw the spits turning in the big kitchen, each bearing its load of chickens and ducks, with beef and mutton and veal, so that little Miss Cherry called out in wonder and admiration.
“They must be giants,” she said, “to eat such a supper!”
“Not giants,” said Mrs. Greensleeves, “but healthy, hungry gentlemen. You should see what they will wash it down with—wines, both red and white, our own brown October ale—there is none better in the country—eau-de-vie from France, whiskey from Ireland: some will have Hollands and others rum, on which our navy fights so well. You are not to be frightened, little Missie, if you should hear them going to bed late. A good many of them sleep here tonight, including Mr. Anthony Wycherly, of Mote Place, who is the Master of our Fox-hounds. He is in the corridor above yours. Indeed, his room is over yours. You will bolt
your door on the inside, lest any gentleman should mistake your room for his. I have made you as comfortable as possible in the Oak Room, which has a bedroom opening ofif it. I shall send you your supper there, and you will go early to bed. It will not be a time for you to wander about the inn, as there will be so many gentlemen here,”
She chattered all this as she preceded Miss Cherry along the low corridor, lit by a solitary light at the further end. It was as pretty as the rest of the house, so far as Cherry could see it for the dark, with pictures on the walls and straight-backed chairs against them: a deep carpet
underfoot, a tall, slender old clock at the far end that ticked away merrily, an ancient cupboard full of china and other pretty things. The fire was burning up in the Oak Room, where a maid whom Cherry had seen downstairs was setting a table. A door opened into a bedroom which Cherry presently discovered to be hung with rosy chintz, which curtained also the windows and the big fourposter bed and covered the chairs and the comfortable sofa. The bed, big enough to have held half-a-dozen Cherrys, was matched by the wardrobe and the huge dressing-table with its long pier glass : but it was all so bright and cheerful, even before the maid had lit the fire there, that Cherry had no thought of loneliness.
She spent her evening in the Oak Room. There was so much to look at, such quantities of old china and curiosities of one kind or another, so many queer old books and pictures, that Cherry was in no danger of finding time hang heavy on her hands.
She had her supper, daintily served, which she enjoyed with a wholesome zest, having been in the open air all day. When she had finished it, and the things had been cleared away, she sat over the fire in the Oak Room witn an old “County History” on her lap, listening to the jolly sounds of taik and laughter that came up the stairs
and in at the door, which she had left slightly ajar the better to hear.
Mrs. Greensleeves had looked in, seen to the fires, and said good-night, with a recommendation to Miss Cherry to go to bed early, as she had been travelling all day and would be off early to-morrow. Miss Cherry promised to do so; but a little later she found the “County History,” and became absorbed in its contents. She turned up Dunchester and found Mote Place and the Wycherlys. She did not know why Anthony Wycherly’s name, dropped casually by the hostess, should have excited her interest. Perhaps she thought it a pretty name ; perhaps she associated it with the young gentleman who had leant over the gallery and watched her as she stepped from the Flying Mercury, and tripped lightly in, holding her skirts high over the cobbles of the innyard. No one would have guessed from Miss Cherry’s way of entering the inn that she had known the young gentleman’s eyes were fixed on her. Apparently she had not lifted an eyelash ; yet she could have described him from top to toe. She was aware that he was handsome and looked kind. And she was sure he must be Mr. Anthony Wycherly from something Mrs. Greensleeves had let drop about that gentleman being already in the house.
There was a wonderful description of Mote in the “County History,” and a long recital of the honorable and glorious deeds of the Wycherlys in one generation and another for some centuries back. She read every word of it, and having read it went over it again. She wondered if she would ever meet Anthony Wycherly face to face. Mote and Goldenwood Hall were not so far removed as distances go in the country. If only her father were not such a recluse and likely to remain so ! Her Aunt Lydia had said that when Cherry was of an age for gaieties she would have a season in town with her; but Cherry was not agog for a season in town. She thought she would have liked her
gaieties in the country, if only they might include Mote and Anthony Wycherly. So far as she could make it out there would not be more than twenty miles of country between them. What were twenty miles to a pair of horses? If they considered twenty miles a barrier why they would have no neighbors at all at Goldenwood.
There was a great shout from below, and then the sound of a fine tenor voice singing, “Here’s to the lass!”
Cherry had a ridiculous idea that it was Anthony Wycherly’s voice, as though she could know anything at all about it.
She opened her door softly and stepped out in the corridor to listen. Then she noticed for the first time, on a fine, dark, mahogany table opposite her door, a number of candles in candlesticks, which had not been there when she came to bed.
A foot coming up the stairs startled her, and she scurried back to the Oak Room without hearing the end of “Here’s to the lass !” She took up the “County History” again, and began to read the history of Dunchester. Why, there was something about the Jolly Postboys in it.
“This inn dates from the sixteenth century, and is interesting because of some fine oak carving and panelling it contains, as well as for a ghost—”
A ghost! Little Cherry read on with fascinated interest. The ghost attached to the Jolly Postboys was a very unpleasant one, being that of a lady who had poisoned her husband and mother-in-law, and had escaped justice by drowning herself in the horse-pond at the back of the inn. The ghost was supposed to be seen any night leaving the horse-pond, and, with • dripping garments, taking her way to the house.
Reading, the hairs of Cherry’s pretty head stood up, which was something of a feat since it curled in heavy black rings. She looked about her, scared. The clock in the corridor struck ten, a great hour for Cherry, and she was to be up early, as the
Ajax left the inn about eight o’clock. She closed the book with a shiver, preparatory to going to bed. Of course, it was reassuring to hear all the jolly sounds downstairs. They were roaring “John Peel” now. She thought she had better get to sleep if she could before the house had gone to bed. Once asleep she might hope to sleep till morning dawned.
She turned out the lamp in the Oak Room and went into the bedroom. The fire was burning brightly, and the room ought to be cheerful enough, seeing that every bit of furniture in it was so polished and beeswaxed that it reflected the leaping flames all round the room. The chintz, too, was of the cheerfullest. Why, then, should Cherry have had a dismal vision of the many dead who had been “laid out” in the old four-poster? It wasn’t a bit like the child. What a bother that she should have read about the horrid ghost!
They were singing “Tom Bowling” downstairs now. How could one be afraid with all that jolly life so near one?
Cherry undressed hurriedly. She felt very tired, and she was really going to drop off to sleep as soon as her head touched the pillow. Unfortunately, just before she got into bed, she lifted the windowr-blind and peeped out.
It was a night of broad moonlight. She had no idea of what wTay the windows looked. As it happened they looked on the pond, the black waters of which were visible in the bright moonlight. To-night would put a film of frost upon them. It wras very cold.
She dropped the blind with a shiver and got into bed, but got out again immediately to look under the bed and in the huge wardrobe and into the powdering-closet ; anywhere a foe might lurk. Everything was safe. She bolted her door, left the candles lighting in their sconces, and got back into bed. She was not going to risk waking up in the dark.
She went to sleep right enough, but she woke up out of her first sleep with a dreadful feeling that something had happened in the room. As a matter of fact, it was nothing worse than that one of the doors of the wardrobe, which she had not, perhaps, secured properly, had swung open with a click of the half-caught bolt. There was the door staring at her, revealing cavernous depths of darkness beyond.
Cherry never associated the open wardrobe door with the something which had frightened her. She sat up in bed. The fire was nearly out, and the candles had guttered and wasted in a draught. There was not much more of life for them.
She sat up, peering into the gloomy corners of the room with dilated eyes. The house was quiet. She had no idea of what time it was, but she had a sense of the house being in bed. While she sat there the furniture began to do some of the disconcerting things old furniture has a way of doing. The gentleman’s wardrobe that flanked the bigger one uttered a . groan. Then some shadowy person got up from the sofa and walked across the room, making the floor creak, and, judging by the sound, subsided into the comfortable winged chair by the fire.
Cherry stared about her, pale with fear. She fixed a scared eye on the candles with their long stalactites of grease, and gave them mentally half an hour before guttering out. There was no more coal in the room. She had ascertained that fact for herself before going to bed. All this queer behavior of the furniture was bad enough in the light; but with her knowledge of what it might portend it would be terrible in the dark. What was she going to do? She stared at the chintz-covered sofa with a vision of a dripping, drowned woman lying upon it. Then with a wonderful uplifting of heart she remembered the many candles she had seen on the table in the corridor.
It never occurred to unsophisticated Cherry that the candles were placed there for any specific purpose, unless it might be out of the mercy of heaven to her fears.
She took one of the gluttering candles in her hand, unbolted the door in a tremendous hurry, crossed the Oak Room and out into the corridor. All was dark outside ; but by the light of her own candle she saw that the candles were still there.
She laid hands upon them eagerly. There were some twenty in all. As fast as she could she transferred them from the table in the corridor to the table in the Oak Room. There was not a sound in the house while she did it. Plainly; everyone was asleep. She looked anxiously up and down the dark corridor lest the ghost should approach that way. The clock struck while she was doing it. One o’clock! How cold it was. A sharp wind blew along the corridor, chilling her in her pretty nightgown and bare feet.
Suddenly she was arrested, almost turned to stone, by a sound close at hand. Following it the house-door slammed below, and a babel of jovial voices broke out. The guests who stayed had been speeding the guests who went. She heard one voice above the others, the voice of the landlord apparently. She had caught a glimpse of Mr. Greensleeves yesterday, a man as big as a tun, with a jolly red face.
“Good-night, gentlemen, and pleasant dreams to you!”
Then a door slammed somewhere in the lower regions, and she heard the feet of the revellers ascending.
She stood as though turned to stone. She had transferred the last of the candles, and turned back to make sure there were no more. She stood with the candle in her hand. Horror! Were the gentlemen going to find her there in her nightdress, barefooted ?
Someone came up more light-footed than the others, and was in the corridor before she broke through her stupefaction and fled. He had a dim vision of the white-robed creature
disappearing within a doorway. He heard the click of the bolt. He fancied Cherry standing behind her door with a panting heart—the lovely thing! Then he fumbled for the matches which lay in a certain candlestick which Cherry had annexed as well as the candles, with a pious thanksgiving to the kind Providence who had placed them there specially for her help.
In a few seconds the full truth was revealed to Cherry, for such a babel of voices broke out in the corridor ; and some strong language was used not altogether suitable for Miss Cherry’s ears. Some were calling for the landlord, others for Mrs. Greensleeves; some were objurgating the management of the Jolly Postboys ; some were abusing other some. They seemed to be all pressing and jostling each other in the dark. Doubtless some of the gentlemen had indulged over-freely in the excellent wine for which the Jolly Postboys was famous. A quarrel seemed imminent when a cool voice broke out over it all. Cherry was certain it was his.
“By some mischance, friends,” it said, “our candles have disappeared. There is no help for it but to go to bed in the dark.”
Then there was a stumbling up and down steps, collisions with pieces of furniture in the dark, exclamations, oaths. It was quite a long while before the last sound of it died away in the darkness and the trembling Cherry stole ofif to bed, half-terrified, halfdelighted with what had turned out such a prank. The last sound she heard was someone stumbling and recovering himself in the room overhead. Mr. Anthony Wycherly ; oh, she hoped he had not hurt himself.
She had a fine illumination through the dark hours. Somehow, she did not feel inclined to sleep, although she derived a certain comfort from knowing that he slept overhead. If she but closed her eyes the ghost was in the room, so the end of it was that she found a book to read. It was “Clarissa Harlowe,” and she was so fasci-
nated by it, seeing the features of the unknown young gentleman in Sir Charles Grandison, that she soon forgot her fears.
She lit the candles by relays during the lonesome hours. About six o'clock, when the cocks were crowing and Mrs. Greensleeves was turning over, preparatory to waking, Cherry slipped out and restored the burnt-out candles to their places, and going back to bed slept the sleep of innocence till it was time to awake.
She ate her breakfast in a bow-window of Jolly Postboys that looked on to the street, while the six horses were being put into the Ajax, for there had been snow in the night, and it would take all six to pull them through the drift that was always at the foot of Crossdown Hill. She listened to Mrs. Greensleeves calling to her husband across the stable-yard.
“John Greensleeves, John, here's Tom, the boots, come downstairs and says the gentlemen are in a fine taking, for no candles nor matches could
they find on there way to bed, and broken shins and black eyes are as plentiful as haws before a hard winter. Strangest of all, Tom reports that the candlesticks are on the table but the candles burnt to the socket. What do you make of it, John Greensleeves?
“That the gentlemen enjoyed theirselves too well, wife,” came in a genial bellow from the other side of the yard.
Cherry quaked, and to escape from the scene of her exploit was glad to huddle into the coach and hide herself there before it was time for it to start, yet as she ran to the coachdoor, looking up to the gallery, she met the eyes of the young gentleman whom she called in her own mind Mr. \nthony Wycherly. She looked up at hun and he looked down at her, and their eyes met, and she was suddenly as red as her name and thankful for the shelter of the coach.
That Christmas eve is yet remembered in those parts for the accident to the coach, for as it thundered down
Crossdown Hill—and a mercy the snow acted as a natural brake, or matters had been worse—a wheel suddenly came off. The horses feeling the thing dragging behind them, got from under control. For a second or two the coach, full of terrified people, swaying hither and thither, was dragged behind the horses. Then, amid screaming and shouting, and Barnaby, the driver, and Peter Smithers hanging on to the reins like Trojans, the coach turned clean over in the big drift at the foot of the hill.
Then there was a commotion. The passengers on top of the coach were flung hither and thither in all directions. There were a good many of them travelling home for Christmas, but they were all men on the top, and they didn’t say much, but either lay stunned or picked themselves up slowly, feeling all over their bodies to make sure no bones were broken.
Peter Smithers was lying very still, with the off-leader partly across his body and his horn lying on the snow a yard away from him; old Barnaby was feebly endeavouring to get the harness cut so that the near-leader could struggle to his feet. From the body of the coach, where there were five women besides Cherry, the screaming and crying were enough to deafen a man. No one seemed to know what to do, else there were plenty of men to do it.
Into the commotion came a horseman, leading his horse down the hill— Mr. Anthony Wycherly. He tied his horse to a gate; then took charge. Wonderful what one clear head will do ! He sent one grave look towards poor Peter, lying under Blucher.
“First the women, gentlemen,” he said.
The women were pulled out through the window of the coach. The doorhandle had twisted and the door refused to budge. But first came an old woman, holding on to a basket, somewhat cut about the face with the glass of the window. Next a genteel-looking person like a lady’s maid, protesting that her chances in life
were all gone because she had a long cut across the cheek and the old woman’s basket had blackened one eye. Next, a girl from a London shop, who screamed when her arm was touched; then a fine madam in a tippet of fur over black satin, and a painted and powdered face rasped all over with the glass as though the teeth of a harrow had done it. She was fainting, and as the men dragged her through the window it was as though she were a pot of essences. Lastly came Cherry, white and trembling. The other women had fallen on top of her and nearly crushed her little life out, but she had lain in the back of the coach, clear of the windows, and once she could recover her breath she was uninjured.
Meanwhile someone had gone back to the village for help. The injured were laid out on the snow. Cherry, from a distance, where she had gone obeying Anthony Wycherly’s kind, imperious bequest, saw what they were doing, how at last they got the horses up and poor Peter free of Blucher. Men were coming with mattresses and shutters to carry away the injured. They passed by Cherry, carrying their groaning burdens, going uphill to the inn. Cherry bore it better when Anthony Wycherly had found time to come and tell her that no one was killed, though Peter’s shoulder was badly crushed.
Afterwards they walked up together to the inn, where Anthony Wycherly ordered for Cherry as though she had been his sister. For a while, in the pleasure of being so taken care of and the fascination of watching Anthony Wycherly’s face, the good looks of which were marred by a great bruise that extended from his cheek-bone over his temple to the forehead, that she forgot to think of her father’s anxiety when no coach came. But at last she remembered and wrung her hands.
“I have thought of that,” said Anthony Wycherly quickly. “I am going to take you home, You shall ride behind me on a pillion. Indeed, you
•must, my dear, for every inn is full here.”
Cherry never thought of disputing it, so off they went in the clear, cold afternoon, Cherry sitting behind on Trumpeter, one little arm clasping Anthony Wycherly’s big body.
And so out .into the white country, where the red and orange of the skies faded in the dusk, and presently it was purple dark and all the stars came out.
It was a somewhat slow journey, and it might have been a dangerous one if Trumpeter were not so surefooted and his rider so careful. It was to Anthony Wycherly’s credit that he did not cease to be careful, despite the allurements of the little, soft, warm person so close to him, with the little hand clasping him where he might stoop and kiss it in its glove.
And so they rode up to Goldenwood Hall just about the time that Squire Luttrell was growing frantic with his fear for his child. Be sure he was deeply grateful to Anthony Wycherly for what he had done ; and as all the country was Impassable it must needs
be that he stay and spend Christmas with them.
A good many things had been said during that ride which it might have taken a month to say if it were not for the intimacy of the pillion. Confession had been made, and pardon given, for the spoiling of Anthony Wycherly’s beauty, which was due to walking into an open cupboard door in the darkness at the Jolly Postboys.
“Besides which, sweet Mistress Cherry,” said Anthony Wycherly, “you owe me amends for the suspicion which fell upon me of being intoxicated by more than the vision of beauty which met my eyes for a second that night as I came upstairs. Will you make them?”
Cherry consented to make amends —after the desired fashion; and so went no more to school, but at the age of seventeen became Mistress of Mote, where if you happen to visit you shall see her picture painted by the great Raeburn himself, with the hood of a red cloak over her black locks and a sprig of Christmas holly in her hand.
(In Imitation of Omar Khayyam)
We must haste on, we must forever flee Along the path whose end we may not see.
We travel on the road whence none return;
Gone are our friends: and gone we soon shall be. For, one by one, their feeble footsteps fail,
And one by one they pass beyond the pale Of Sea and Sky, and lie forever hid Behind a thick, impenetrable Veil.
As they, so we the mountain-slope descend ;
As they, so we with clay shall blend ;
As they, so we shall reach the Silent Bourn Whither the footsteps of Creation trend.
A moment’s rest this giddy whirl among;
A minute’s peace, laboriously wrung
From Strife and Toil: and then the night descends: The Fute is still : the Poem has been sung.