I was awoken by a sudden hard jolt that threw me from the seat in the coach right down to the floor. The rattling and shaking continued while, stunned, I attempted to collect myself and ensure that I still had the package. My charge, the small wrapped box was clattering near the left coach door, and I grabbed it and pulled it to my chest breathing a sigh of relief. The shaking continued, making me wonder what exactly was about.
I pulled myself up to the rear seat of the compartment I was now completely alone in and pulled back a curtain from the window. All that was beyond was grey. Grey road, dark grey outlines of what I hoped were trees, a grey sky with not a trace of where the sun might be. I pulled out my pocket watch and checked the time. It was nearly four o’clock. I looked out a gain, the only relief being the cool mist against my cheeks. Rutherford had said stated the Melksmire Estate was a six hour coach ride from Boston. That would likely mean we were almost there.
The coach suddenly shuddered to a stop as the coachman yell out a loud “Hoah!!” The sudden inertia threw me forwards and I crashed with a cry of shock and ire bursting from my throat.
“Oolwright Guv’nor!” the loud voice of the jarvie called in his thick Lincolnshire accent. “This is your stop. Time to get out.”
I decided he was being rather rude, and pushed my head out of the window to look about, again seeing nothing but gloomy grey, then twisted my head to look up at the man at the reins in his heavy coat and wide brimmed hat.
“Are you sure this is the Melksmire Estate?” I asked, unconvinced.
The man pointed off to ahead and to the right. I could make out what seemed to be a tall marker post.
“Aren’t you taking me to the main house?” I did not want to step out of the coach here, not in this gloomy purgatory, where I’d surely lose my way after but three paces.
“This is as far as the horses will go,” the man said in a now churlish tone. “Now get yourself out, or I’ll come down there and drag you out by your collar, I will!”
I grumbled my response, but seeing no other choice, I opened the door and climbed down, right into a shockingly cold puddle that was at least ankle deep. The jarvie snickered at my involuntary cry of displeasure.
“Roads are piss poor hereabouts,” he commented. “Lucky if my horses haven’t thrown a shoe or two.”
I stepped out of the puddle, turned to glare up at the grey bearded man, who offered me a surly glare.
“Be back in three days,” he stated. “Eight O’clock in the morning sharp. Don’t be late, or I’ll head back to Boston without ye.”
I nodded. He flicked the reins, and the carriage was off.
As for myself, I found my way to the marker post. A pace away from it I could finally make out the carved wood on the signs nailed to the post. London – 120. Boston – 24. Melksmire -3. Three miles! The coachman had set me down more than an hour’s walk from the Estate? It could very well be dark by the time I reached the entrance to the estate, let alone the main house. My regret about agreeing to this courier assignment filled me with irritation. Not to mention the fact I would not see Millicent, now for more than a week.
Not wanting to immediately desiring to trudge through the uniform and sinister grey that surrounded me, I decided to pull out the letter of hers that I always carried in my greatcoat pocket. Her humor, wit, sarcastic subtext always cheered me. This was my favorite letter for travelling, a tale of how her nana viewed my visits, nocturnal and otherwise. My favorite remark of hers was how her grandmother railed against my trudging through her flower beds after a night time visits, only to say after the next days tending of the garden that her only remaining pleasure in life was responding to the call of tending her garden.
A sudden snap of wood called my attention. I spun around to see a man in a ragged coat approach me from the heavy fog, appearing otherwise as lifeless as all else I could see. He was not much taller than me, but had a presence that I could not help but feel dwarfed by. His lantern jawed face jutted out towards me, eyes piercing and the teeth of his grin disturbingly feral in appearance.
“Are you Master Daniel Hollingsthwaite?” he asked in the same accent as the coachman, although in distinctively more disquieting tone than that man had managed. “Come now, speak, I ‘aven’t got all day.”
I took an involuntary step back from the willowy figure.
“I am,” I told him.
“Do ye ‘ave the package?” he demanded to know.
“I do,” I replied. Admittedly, there was a quaver in my voice as I gripped the box tightly between my left elbow and body. “And who might you be good sir?”
“I am Wattford,” he replied. “Groundsman for the Melksmire’s. They told me to fetch you – and your package.”
I wasn’t at all certain I believed him.
He smiled again and let out a high cackle.
“I know that look,” he announced proudly, pointing a crooked finger at me. “You’re a penny dreadful reader, I’ll bet, thinkin’ I’ll garrote you right here and now and hang you from the nearest oak.”
Now that he mentioned it…
He let out a noise of absolute dissatisfaction.
“There’s not but a farthing’s worth of dreadful hereabouts, I’m sorry to say,” he offered disappointedly. Then he started to turn, stopped, waved at me to follow. “Are ye comin’ or not? It’s a good hour back to the estate, and that’s by me cart. You don’t want to get lost in all this, do ye?”
I sucked in a chest full of courage and followed. No, I did not want to get lost in all this, even if the peril was as he had claimed. Still, I had my doubts, and shuddered again as he began to sing quietly in tune with the squelches our boots made in the mud. This place felt like it bore a good tuppence’s worth of dreadful, at the very least.