The Rider’s Tale

Enclosed herewith is the strange tale of how Lady Wellerbry regained her sight but lost her vision. You will not believe it, of course, but all I can do is recount it as I heard it.

***

The rider appeared on a fine black steed speckled in mud and the white flecks of its sweat; the rider had ridden hard. The stableboy said the horse was in a worse state than any he had seen afore. The rider didn’t seem much improved on the steed. I noticed gloved hands shaking under a thick cowled cloak. The rider downed a cup of wine, giving it short shrift, all consumed under that heavy hood. It was only then that the hands returned to anything like steadiness. We gave time, gave space, let the road fall from weary shoulders. Presently, when the rider seemed revived, I ventured to ask of the rider’s travels and arrival among us; tales being the main currency of the roadside inn.

The rider sunk back in a chair by the fire. The traveller’s cowled head nodded and gazed deep into the fire. Sit back, nurse your drink, welcome the warmth of the fire and lend your ears. It was several more moments before words rose over the crackling and popping of the logs.

***

“You will not believe me, and I do not expect you to do so. All I can do is tell my tale and let you judge its validity yourself. I have had several months to reflect on events, order them in my mind, and understand my own part in them, and I have told this tale many times as a warning to others. As you would have observed it yourself, I tell it that you may better heed its lesson.

This tale began on a windswept, storm-lashed moorland road, near the coast in a forgotten corner of England in the month of October last year.

It was a foul night. A lone carriage battled the broken trail; two small lanterns offered poor illumination to the huddled coachman atop his lonely perch. Four black horses caked in mud struggled and strained on their rutted path. The carriage wallowed and rolled its way to the crest of a low hill and the white stone mile-marker that stood isolated sentry there.

The carriage paused for a moment while the horses and coachman renewed their resolve. Ahead of the carriage, just visible in the silver moonlight, the trail continued winding its way alone through the advancing valley. There was the merest suspicion of houses through the driving rain: their white wattle and daub walls illuminated by moonlight, a dim smudge in the distance. On a hill to their East, the dark and brooding shape of the Abbey of St Lucy, the reason for the journey.

The carriage began its painful passage down the jarring road, its pathetic lights soon swallowed by the cloak of night. It left the battered hilltop with just the howling of the wind and occasional rumbling thunder which rolled on down into the valley as if to announce the arrival of the party.

The ancient Abbey watched the carriage approach with resigned indifference, set above the squalid hamlet. When finally the carriage stopped again, it was before the large oak doors of the Abbey which had witnessed many a storm before and will no doubt see many more.

The coachman tied off the team and applied the brake. Stretching his aching back, he shuffled and then slipped down from the side of the carriage and approached the imposing gateway. Using his metal-capped rod, he struck the doors three times. Rap. Rap. Rap.

At first, the Abbey was silent. Ignorant of his call. Eventually, he could see a glow within.

“Who goes there on this foul night?” Came the challenge.

“The Lady Wellerbry and her party. Seeking shelter and sustenance, moral and spiritual. The Abbot expects us.”

“But not until the ‘morrow. Given the storm.”

“Would you turn her away? After all, she has done for the Abbey?”

“Wait. I will rouse the Abbott.”

The storm lashed and howled, rain struck the old stones of the abbey walls and ran down its sides in rivulets. The coachman sheltered in the corner of the gateway, out of the worst of the fury, wrapped in his cape and with his brimmed hat pulled low. Presently, voices could be heard within, and more lights shone as bolts were pulled. Finally, the door creaked open on aged hinges.

“Please accept our apologies. We are, of course, ready to welcome the Lady.” Said the abbot arriving to greet his honoured guest with a retinue of the abbey’s monks.

The coachman glanced within, assured himself a warm hearth awaited. He then returned to the coach and rapped twice on the black painted side bearing the coat of arms of her ladyship’s regal house.

“My lady.”

But it was a man who appeared from within when the carriage door opened, a black leather riding boot which took the first step down from the carriage, wearing a dark coat, white dog collar and britches. He surveyed the scene, sniffed the air with a wrinkled nose, and applied his tricorn hat before he offered his hand to assist the lady within. Her white-gloved hands reached for the frame of the door, feeling their way from the door handle, to the man’s hand.

“If you please, my lady.”

Her silken gloved hand rested upon his.

“You will remember one step down, ma’am.”

“I know my own coach thank you, Jefferson!”

“Yes, ma’am. Of course, ma’am.”

“Make sure Sarah brings my valise. You know what’s she’s like.” Sarah was not the girl’s name, of course, it was Susan, but Her Ladyship had stuck with her previous servant’s name for ease. After trying to raise the issue, Susan had decided perhaps Sarah was as good a name and let the matter drop.

“Yes, madam.”

As she emerged from the carriage, it was clear her young sightless eyes absorbed nothing of the scene before her. She begrudgingly accepted help from Jefferson and was guided to the enticing warmth of the hearth. Her voluminous travelling skirts, of the latest fashion, hovered perilously above slick flagstones before the door. Once inside, she stood quite still in the centre of the room and waited.

“If you would…” Jefferson starts to speak, but she held one hand aloft, index finger extended in admonishment. “I really think..” The finger wagged slightly left to right, and he subsided into silence.

“Sarah! Where is that damn girl! I do declare! She is my Lady-In-Waiting, and yet it is I who is always left waiting for her!”

A clattering sound behind reveals her lady-in-waiting was struggling through the doors behind her, laden with a large burgundy valise. She began to place the bag on the floor but at the sound of the bag being lowered:

“Not there, woman! On a chair, on a chair. Never on the floor!”

“A thousand apologies ma’am,” Susan placed the bag on a chair and rushed to her mistress. “Excuse me, ma’am; I’ll just remove your bonnet and cape.” With deft fingers, Susan removed her mistress's outer garments.

“Now,” the lady said with a sense of relief, “wherever shall we sit? Near the fire, I would suggest. Jefferson? Where is that damned priest! Jefferson!”

“Right here, ma’am.”

“Whatever were you doing? Have I not instructed you? Your duty is to assist. You may be a specialist in your field but, as I explained quite clearly on enrollment, I will also ...also require your full attention on other matters!”

“Yes, ma’am of course. We should be gr…”

“Ah, ah.” The index finger was up again. “Do not say, as I think you were about to, that I should be grateful. There is nothing to be grateful for; when you are afflicted, as I am, there is little to be grateful for!”

“Well, very good madam. Let us then simply praise the Lord we are out of the storm, cloistered warm, and soon we hope to have hearty fare to restore us.”

“You are insufferable, Jefferson. If you were not endowed with supposed specialist knowledge of scripture and prophesy, I would have abandoned you days ago.”

“As you wish, madam,” said the priest, running a finger along the inside of his dog collar which suddenly seemed a little tighter. “If you will allow me, madam, I will guide you to a seat by the fire.”

“We did not expect you till tomorrow,” whispered the Abbott to the priest.

“Her Ladyship would brook no delay. She cannot miss the 22nd. She stated she would arrive on the 22nd before midnight and arrive on the 22nd she would.”

“But the storm, sir.”

“Nature cannot be allowed to interfere with the plans of Her Ladyship. She believes this is a once in a lifetime opportunity.”

“What is so important about the 22nd, Father? If you don’t mind me asking.”

“You will know your scriptures, Daniel 8:14. There is a prophecy that the 22nd October 1844 is when our savour will return to Earth with his companion Samuel Snow. It is oft referred to as the 2300-day prophecy. To explain the issues raised and solved by the prophecy would take time and I am cold and wet after our journey, but suffice to say our great leader William Miller believes the messiah will reappear on the 22nd October 1844.”

“Praise be his name.” The Abbott genuflected. “But why then, Father did your party travel here?”

“Your abbey is dedicated to Saint Lucy, who is the patron saint of the blind, hence why Her Ladyship has supported it over the years. The name Lucy means light, as you will know. My mistress believes that to be here at this auspicious time will see her sight restored. The ghost of the Old Abbot, killed by seaborne raiders, is reputed to wander the abbey....”

“Ah yes, and on certain festivals and high church days he can grant the wish of a true believer?”

“Oh, of course. You will know the legend then?”

“Aye, and see those who flock for the blessing. But the blessing is only ever given to true believers, those pure of heart and grateful for their blessings.”

“I have recounted the prophecy to Her Ladyship in great detail and explained the blessings which are reputed to be bestowed by the ghost of the Abbott. We spent many an hour on this terrible journey in prayer and reflection to cleanse my lady’s heart in preparation for her miracle.”

“And when will this miracle happen?”

“At one minute past midnight, barely one hour from now. We must eat and refresh ourselves and then be in the chapel of the abbey devoted to prayer. Have the preparations I requested been made?”

There is a look of hesitation on the Abbott’s face, “Yes, Yes, all is in hand.” The careful observer would have noticed the smallest of hand gestures to his fellow brothers; two of whom began to slowly back away from the party and disappeared deeper into the abbey.

“Everything must be prepared exactly as I instructed. There can be no errors.”

“The chapel will be ready as we required?” Interjected Her Ladyship.

“Yes, Your Ladyship, the candles have been lit, the altar is draped, the flowers have been dressed. In short, everything is ready for the second coming and your great moment,” said the Priest.

“Very good. See that it is done; there can be no excuses, no mistakes. Tonight is my one chance, and if I do not succeed now, I will never have another opportunity. It must be perfect. Perfect. Do you hear?” Her Ladyship was very clear.

Suitably refreshed, the party entered the chapel and knelt in prayer. Everything was still and silent, the only sound the spluttering of the candles.

The monks begin to file in from each side of the vestry singing in their deep, resonant tones.

This was the moment Her Ladyship had prayed for, dreamed of, devote her life to.

Finally, the abbey bell chimed twelve. Deep, rich notes echoed in the quiet chamber.

Nothing stirs.

“He will come,” Her Ladyship whispered. “He will come.”

The air grew cold. The candles flickered and extinguished as a draft flowed through the chapel. In front of the stained glass window, a drifting, bluish-grey light, shimmered and like smoke caught in a vortex, twisted and writhed. There were gasps from within the pews, Susan, the lady-in-waiting, cried out, only for Jefferson to tap her foot for composure. The lady herself had a look of euphoria on her face, almost as radiant as if the second coming had occurred; as she lifted her gaze to this phantasma which had slowly transformed into the shape of an old monk with grey-bearded visage.

“Who has disturbed my sleep and called me forth for favour?”

“I have.” Said Her Ladyship, standing. She was trembling. Her delicate features shivered in the gaze of the phantom.

“Have you lead a pious life?”

“Yes, I have.”

“Have you prayed each day?”

“I have.”

“Have you donated your tithe to the church each year?”

“Yes.”

“Have you followed the ten commandments?”

“Indeed.”

“Have you treated others as you would wish to be treated?”

“Yes.” Jefferson raised his eyebrow slightly.

“Are you grateful for the blessings of the Lord Your Saviour?”

“Yes.” Feet shuffled in the pews.

“That is NOT what I have observed while you have been a guest within my Lord’s house. I have seen an ungrateful, bossy woman who uses her money and power to humiliate others. Perhaps in an attempt to compensate for her shortcomings. Ungratefulness is just the beginning of your sins.”

“No... no... I’m grateful. Exceptionally grateful. The Lord be my witness.” The lady cried whimpering.

“As you’re so sure you have answered truthfully, I will grant your wish…”

“Oh, thank you, thank you, God be praised.” Relief flooded her face.

“...and give you an opportunity to demonstrate your gratitude.”

***


“Well? Well? You can’t stop a story like that there, dear traveller. Can we get you another drink perhaps?”

“I’m grateful, but no. The story does not end well, my friend. For you see…” the figure pulls back its cowl to reveal a poxed and most wretched face, inhuman in features.


“...my wish was granted,

I can see...

...but wish never to be seen.”


---

Words 2,359



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