From the Sussex County Magazine August 1929
A Strange Experience
By Muriel Ricardo
It was very hot, and we had been spending the day on the Downs. We meant to walk a long way but the heat was too great, so we sat where we got the breeze which came sweeping across the flat country that lay between us and the English Channel.
We had been quite content to gaze idly at the panorama below us, talking every now and then of old times and places we had visited. When the sun got low in the west, we thought it time to make a start for home, a good five mile walk.
Now within sight of the end after a good hour’s tramping, we stopped again, to enjoy the enchantment of this late summer evening to the last minute. The moon was rising, a huge shining globe appearing out of the mists. Down in the valley the twilight would be coming on apace, but we were still high enough to catch the last gleams of light from the west.
In the trees below us we could see the chimneys of an old house, from the windows of which the lights were already beginning to shine. We felt we ought to be going home, but the peace and beauty of the place seemed to hold us fast. We had not spoken for some time, and I was just going to say we must make a move or darkness would be on us (though the moon was already enveloping everything with her exquisite silvery light), when my companion exclaimed suddenly,
“Hello, who is this in such a hurry at this time of night?”
A footpath came up the hill from the direction of the old house straight to where we were sitting, and then disappeared in the wood behind us. In the dim light I could just see the hurrying form of a woman coming up the path. Every now and then she stopped, looked back, and then hurried on again. But the hill was steep, and from running she fell to walking. Now she stopped, and appeared to be listening for something straight ahead of her. As she came nearer we could see she was dressed in a long, thick travelling coat, with a short cape, and carried a little bag.
We were sitting close to the path among some juniper bushes which grow all over these Downs, and evidently in the dim light she did not see us till she was right on us. Then she gave a great start, but came on with another run, though we could hear her panting for want of breath, for the hill is very steep.
“Oh, sirs,” she called out. “do not stop me, I beg of you, but let me pass, for I am in a great hurry.”
Then I got up, raised my cap, and said,
“Can I help you, for your bag seems heavy, and the path is steep? Are you going far?”
But she hardly gave me a look and hurried past, saying,
“Only tell me, have you heard the coach pass? Oh, don’t say you have, for if I am not there, he will think I have failed him. Ah, there it is; I can easily catch it if I run, and it is downhill now to the road.”
With that she started off again and sped along the path. She entered the wood, and at once we lost sight of her among the shadows of the trees. As we looked after her, we too heard the rattle of harness and the sound of several horses trotting on the road beyond the brow of the hill.
Suddenly we felt the chill of night, and so walked quickly down the path towards the village. as we got near the first house, my companion suddenly stopped and exclaimed:
“The coach – what did she mean? There are no such things now.”
At that moment an old man came out of the cottage. Without stopping to think, I said to him,
“Does a coach go up that road at night? We met a lady hurrying to catch it.”
He looked at us for a moment, and then said,
“So you have met her, too? I thought she might be out tonight. A hundred years ago she ran out of the old house there, away from her stern father, to catch the night coach, which was to take her to London and her lover.”
“And did she get it?” I asked.
“Yes, but going down the hill the other side of the Downs, they met with a terrible accident, and the poor young thing was killed, along with several others. But they say it was the best that could happen, for her lover was a bad ‘un and would have ruined her life. A lovely evening for a walk. Good night, sirs.”
We walked on, rather stunned by the dramatic and unexpected end to our very peaceful day. Poor girl. I am glad I offered to help her.