The Six Troopers

The first of three Carbrook Hall Ghost stories

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1. Six Troopers

THE SIX  TROOPERS

Some distance from old Carbrook hall on a dark frosty morning a small light could be seen flickering warmly in the tiny window of a small cottage nestling in the  gloomy shadows of a clump of oak trees.  A faint wisp of wood smoke swirled from it’s chimney set in the roughly thatched roof.  The smoke barely moved, so still was the early morning air and none but the faintest breeze was seen to do more than make a ripple on the deep sea of icy mist which seemed to carpet the entire common and shimmer in the waning moonlight.  Inside the cottage, an elderly couple, Tom and Bess Webster, anxiously waited for the sun to rise.  It was winter, 1644.

Tom was kneeling in front of the hearth in the parlour trying to get the fire to burn a little more fiercely.  “ Come on yer bloody thing you, get goin’.  We don’t want to freeze to death before mornin!” “Did you say somethin’ Tom?” called his wife from the kitchen, “Or are you talkin’ to yerself again?”

Tom muttered to himself and getting awkwardly to his feet went to the window and, wiping the frost from the glass, peered outside.  Bess came into the parlour carrying a large milking can full of beer, this she set next to the fire.  “I said are you talkin’ to yerself or what?”  Tom kept gazing through the window but said softly, “The wood’s too damp.”  Bess looked at the fire and then set about the hearth. “Too damp be damned to you, its you! You’ve not opened the grate.”  Bess busied herself with a poker and soon the fire seemed to be jumping into life.  Both were silent for a short while as the room gradually began to warm. 

“There,” she said “that’ll soon warm that beer up.  Tom? Tom what do you keep starin’ out there for?”  Tom still kept gazing through the window but replied, “I don’t know.  Today just don’t seem right.  I’ve got one of them feelin’s”  Bess went over and put her hands on his shoulders, turning him towards a table near the fire.  “Well you just sit down and have some bread and beer with me and I reckon they’ll all go away.”  Although she said it in a light hearted way and with all of her true affection, Bess was a little worried;  Tom’ instincts were rarely wrong.

It was barely an hour later as the couple were happily chatting away that Tom fancied he heard something outside.  He thought he could hear a kind of sound like tiny bells in the distance, with the mutter of men’s voices.  “Shh! Shh!” he whispered to his wife, “Do you hear that?” 

Bess listened, and sure enough she too could hear the sound.  As it got closer they could hear the voices of men and the little bells that they could hear was the jangling of horses harness.  Very soon they could hear the soft clomping of horses hooves approaching the cottage. The horses belonged to a group of soldiers, six troopers, though to which regiment or to which army they belonged it was difficult to say. 

For two years the country had been at war with itself until earlier that year the Roundheads managed to defeat the Cavaliers at Marston Moor.  After that battle many soldiers had scattered, most returning to their units but some, the most desperate, becoming renegades.   The old couple neither knew nor cared, they hoped against hope that they would pass them by, but it was a forlorn hope.  The couple’s master, Colonel Bright, was fighting for Parliament.  If these men were Roundheads it might stand them in good stead, if Royalist then perhaps they may lose what provisions they had, but renegades?  That was the fear.

The horses came to a stop outside the cottage and a voice barked out an order, then silence.  Seconds later there were three heavy bangs on the door,  “Open up!” a voice ordered.  “Don’t open it Tom.” Whispered Bess. “We haven’t much choice I reckon love.” “Open this door now!” continued the voice, fiercely banging on the door. “Who is it?” cried Tom, “I want to know who it is first!” “You’ve five seconds or we’ll kick it down!” “Oh, all right ,all right!  I’m comin’ I’m comin’.” 

Tom scuttled up to the door and lifted the wooden bar that secured it then slowly opened it wide.  There framed in the doorway was the owner of the voice.  Beyond him were his small troop.  All of them appeared in the same attire.  They wore the typical uniforms of Roundhead troopers with the exception that their riding boots and long leather buff-coats were filthy and travel stained, their faces dirty and unshaven while the breastplates and helmets that they wore were patched with rust.  There was the unmistakable air about them that they belonged nowhere.

“What do you want ?” asked Tom, “We’ve nothin’ ‘ere but to keep ourselves if you take that we’ll starve!”  The trooper in the doorway stepped inside with a smile. “You’ve no need to fear us old feller.  Scouting party that’s all, not thieves.”  He glanced behind him and beckoned to his men to come inside.  “You’ll be Tom Webster?” “Yes, how did you ....” “This is your wife and we’re on Colonel Bright’s estate?” “Yes......who are you?” The trooper turned towards his men who all smiled and nodded agreement.  Turning back to Tom he removed his gauntlets and offered his hand which Tom took. “Corporal Tyler, garrison of York.  Sent on the Colonels orders in advance of his return in a few days time.  I was ordered to find you Tom for the keys to the manor in order that we can billet there.”

Bess rushed to her husband suspiciously looking at the corporal, “Ask him for some papers Tom!  Them soldiers always has papers, you want papers before you give him them keys.”

Laughing, Tyler reached into a despatch bag hung over his shoulder, brought out a piece of paper and handed it to Tom.  “Well to be honest corporal, a piece of paper ain’t much good if you’ll excuse my wife,” he gave her a withering glance, “as we don’t read you see.” “But you know your master’s seal don’t you Tom?”

Sure enough at the bottom of the paper was affixed the seal of the Bright family’s crest. “Well I suppose everything’s in order.” Said the old man, “Only, I’d ....I’d stay in the village if I were you.  I wouldn’t stay in the Hall until the Master comes back.  Nobody does.  It’s not lucky.”

At this one of the troopers, Jenkin, became curious,  “What do you mean ‘unlucky’?” “People just don’t,”  Bess said coming forward and in great earnest, “people never have done.  It’s a thing as old as the hills.  If the master is away at war no one stays at the Hall.” 

She paused for a moment and glanced nervously at her husband, wondering whether to continue.  Tom nodded gravely.  Bess continued almost in a whisper. “The soldiers in the mist.  They say that in war time they guard it for the master.  If anyone goes there the mist comes from the common.  The mist brings the soldiers you see, they were cursed for something terrible.” “Ha!” Tyler had let out a loud laugh which made everyone jump, “The Ghostly Company!” “You know about this?” asked Jenkin. “Old wives tales,” continued Tyler, “I was a kid around here, my mother told me the story.  It’s rubbish.  Come on let’s move.” “No, wait” said Jenkin, “There’s many a strange thing in God’s wide world.  If there’s anything out of sorts then I want to know.  Go on now mistress, what are these men, if men they are?” “ I’ve told you Jenkin, it’s a story, just a story.” 

Tyler, for some reason best known to himself, seemed anxious that the story should not be told.  Jenkin, who like many in those days was very superstitious, would have none of it.  He stared defiantly at the corporal. “I’m  going nowhere till my mind’s made up.”  Then looking back to the old woman, “Now then mistress?”  Tyler irritably conceded to Jenkin’s demand.  Nervously Bess began to tell them of the Ghostly Company, and this is the story they were told.

It was not the first time that Carbrook had seen a war in which Englishman fought Englishman, indeed three hundred years earlier, the wars of the roses had seen son against father and cousin against cousin.  This war too, saw it’s tragedy born of greed and men’s lust for power; it also saw the Master of Carbrook at war, leaving the defence of his manor to a company of soldiers under the command of a trusted Sergeant, Daniel Dunne. 

Dunne may well have been a good soldier, but as to being a good man he fell very short.  In the absence of his master and on the pretence of that authority, he and his men fell to pilfering and plunder all around the district, becoming greatly feared as a power in their own right.  They did as they pleased and their capacity for cruelty and evil increased.  The most horrendous of all was that it was said hardly a single local girl escaped the soldiers’ depraved attention.  All bar one, whose chastity Dunne was himself determined to spoil.

Her name was Isobel, and she was the daughter of a nearby baron himself engaged in the war, she was also reputed to be the most beautiful woman in the dukedom. Wisely, however she had been given into the keeping of the Abbey of Beauchief, some miles from Carbrook. Dunne however was not now a man to be awed by the power of God.  Intoxicated by greed and his ill gotten riches he could see his accomplishments with the power of the sword. 

One of his prize possessions, indeed, came from the parish church in Attercliffe village, which in a drunken rage they had sacked in revenge for the priest attempting to shelter some terrified women and keep them from his men.  It was a large communion chalice made of solid gold and set with pearls and precious stones, said to have been passed down as a gift to the church from the time of King Alfred. It had been well hidden, but the priest was persuaded, none too gently,  to uncover it’s hiding place. He was then cruelly cast into a cellar at Carbrook.  Upon this Holy relic,  Dunne was used to swearing profane and blasphemous oaths, occasionally bringing the priest before him to witness them upon pain of death.

It was one night that after being taunted by his lackeys, Dunne thought upon Isobel of Beauchief.  Bringing the priest from his prison in the cellar, Dunne told him, falsely, that the lord of the manor of Carbrook was killed in battle and that without doubt his own power now entitled him to that rank.  To confirm this delusion he declared to loud and drunken cheers that the very next morning he would bring in and wed Isobel of Beauchief.  Although mortified by this, the priest calmly told Dunne that he could not believe that a man even as evil as he, would dare to seize upon the body of a noble lady, given to the sacred sanctuary of the church.

Dunne flew into a blind rage and, raising the chalice as he had often done before, swore his fateful oath; that by the devil’s teeth, if he did not seize and marry this woman, before the next night, then may he and his company perish and be damned to guard Carbrook for eternity; then he added in jest, “Or else until that duty be relieved!”.  The priest looked at Dunne and said that as he had heard for himself such profanity, he would pray earnestly for both the lady’s safety and  the sergeant’s wish.

It was a fierce and stormy night but none seemed to be deterred by this.  Dunne then drew his men about him, they mounted and made through the driving rain for the abbey, almost certainly it’s occupants would be surprised.  No one could have imagined that in this hour of intended savagery, fortune would eventually turn on sergeant Daniel Dunne and his company.

Nothing is known of the troops  they encountered by chance on their way to Beauchief , nor to which army they belonged, but just short of their goal, Dunne’s company was fallen upon and butchered to a man.  It was just a small incident in a long war and Dunne’s ambitions came to nought.  But Carbrook did not remain unguarded, a presence fell upon the hall, and people say they saw the ghosts of marching soldiers, cloaked in a pale blue mist, particularly a man in a long black cloak bearing a halberd, sergeant Dunne.  However, on the return of the hall’s Master, the apparitions ceased, only ever to be seen on the anniversary of their deaths, or in times of trouble when the Master is away.

It was Tyler who broke the silence in the tiny cottage.  “So this then,” said corporal Tyler, staring contemptuously into the faces of his men, “is the reason for your folly.” 

Tyler had watched them become engrossed in the tale that was told to them and his words now made them a little embarrassed, they felt almost as if they had behaved like children.  One, Newman, attempted to justify himself. “But if it’s true, what then?” he said. Tyler pressed his face into Newman’s and practically spat out his answer. “What if it is! Which it isn’t! Who would you rather face, fairy-tale soldiers or a troop of King’s horse?  What’s going to kill you Newman, a damp mist or one of these?” 

Tyler drew his sword and a pistol for emphasis.  Holding the weapons he looked at every trooper in the room.  All of them seemed to see that what the corporal said was right, it was the living they had more reason to fear.  What the corporal did not tell them and the reason perhaps that he did not want the story told, was that he already knew something of the story of the ‘Ghostly Company’, at least, he knew of the supposed existence still of the sergeant’s golden chalice hidden somewhere inside the hall.  This part of the story however his comrades had missed.

Ignoring the advice given them to travel on to Attercliffe village, the troopers mounted and turned towards the Hall, going around to the side facing the river in order that their presence were not seen by any patrol on the road as the sun had now risen.  The horses were stabled at the rear and  Tyler led the way towards a small door facing the stableyard.  It was noticed that the corporal seemed to know the place fairly well as indeed turned out to be the case.  Once inside they set about searching the rooms for anything that may be of use, enthusiastically turning out cupboards and drawers.  Corporal Tyler however, was interested in one particular room and slipping away from the others went in search of the small library in one of the upper chambers.  On finding it, being the only one amongst them who could read, or so he thought, he set to, sifting through old documents and records, looking for something very specific.

Whilst  Tyler was thus occupied, the others had found, to their considerable delight that the larders were still plentifully stocked.  In the near proximity was a large beautifully carved oak panelled room.  The morning sun cast it’s light through the small leaded windows onto a magnificent fireplace.  The troopers started to fuel this by breaking up furniture from another room a tapestry hanging on the wall was shredded for kindling and soon a cheery fire was going. 

Here it was that they had decided to spend the next night, though none were sure why Tyler had brought them there, the place being somewhat short of valuables compared to some they had plundered, though they were cheered by the amount of food and especially wine, that they had found.   The delight of a forthcoming feast and getting the fire going so occupied them that it was a couple of hours before anybody noticed that the corporal was missing.  Trooper Newman went off in search of  Tyler eventually finding him in the library carefully studying an old paper. His attention firmly on what he was reading, Tyler was somewhat surprised by Newman tapping him on the shoulder.

“ What are you up to creeping around like that?” he demanded. The trooper noticed that the corporal was agitated, as if he had been caught doing something he shouldn’t. “Maybe I could ask you the same thing, eh?”  he replied becoming suspicious, “What’s so interesting there then?” he said pointing to the paper. “Nothing,” came the reply, “I thought we might find something interesting, where he’s lodged his goods, that kind of thing.  But nothing.”  Newman’s doubts were not eased. “Jenkin can read a bit.” He said, “If that there’s nothing, then I’d rather he said so as well.” 

The trooper turned to leave the room.  Realising that Newman could easily arouse the suspicion of the others at what he had found, Tyler quickly decided that if he was not to keep his discovery all to himself, then he would share it with one, rather than six.  Calling him back, Tyler swore Newman to secrecy and after agreeing a deal between them, he began to explain the contents of the paper.

He told Newman that he had heard of the story of Sgt. Dunne’s chalice, and that it was widely believed still to be hidden in Carbrook.  His mother had once been a servant there, which explained his knowledge of the place and had heard of a paper that purported to point to the place it was hidden.  There was, of course, a fatal proviso. Nobody searched for the chalice because of a curse which said that if hands were laid upon it, then those same hands would earn the reward of Daniel Dunne.  But he had found the paper and intended to look for it that very night when all else were asleep, and leave before they were awake.

“I’m not sure about this,” said Newman, “we’ve been through a lot together we have.  Shared the same risks and shared the same rewards.  Besides, they’d kill us.” “Wars don’t last for ever.” Said Tyler persuasively, “When the time comes we’re all going to have to look after ourselves.  Don’t think for one minute Jenkin or the others wouldn’t do the same.  When the fighting’s over they’ll come looking for us, no matter who wins.  Which of us isn’t for the rope already?”.

Whatever the rights and wrongs of it, Tyler was right.  All were deserters, all had looted, all had killed, Jenkin even his own Captain.  It was enough to convince trooper Newman.

The six troopers made merry with themselves that night, though it was not noticed that Tyler and Newman were perhaps being a little more temperate than the others, who, one by one, full of meat and drink, drifted off into a stupor.

If anyone were watching the hall that night, they might have been disturbed at the sight of a mist slowly rising from the common, and beginning to glide slowly and silently towards the hall, but as the two troopers left their slumbering comrades and began climbing the stairs to the upper rooms, they were unaware of it’s slow march towards them.

By the light of a single candle, the flame guttering in the draught, the two men sought to find the answers that would lead them to the chalice.  Deciphering as best he could, the untidy hand in which it was written, Tyler discerned that of two keys he had found with the paper, one was for a door to a garret room, the other for a cabinet, within which, so the tattered paper seemed to indicate, would be the chalice.  With their hopes high, they made their way along a tiny corridor that led from the library and ended with a small door, set into which was an ancient and rusting iron lock. 

Outside, meanwhile, the creeping mist had reached the hall, and had begun to shimmer with a cold blue light as it began to rise and envelop the walls.  In the oak panelled room where the others slept, the fire suddenly died, and went out.

Newman had, with some effort, managed to force the key into the old lock while Tyler was desperately trying to preserve the light from the candle. The key slowly turned, screeching in protest at the decaying metal that seemed almost intent on preventing it in it’s purpose.  Finally, there was one last groan of the lock and then a snap; the bolt had been thrown. Putting his weight against the still resisting door, trooper Newman at last gazed into the long forgotten room. 

As Tyler followed him inside, the stillness of the room left them cold. It was bare save for a small rotting table, on which they set the candle.  There was no window,  worse still, no cabinet.  It was however a panelled room, smaller but not dissimilar to the one downstairs.  Not unsurprisingly they thought that a secret panel might be the cabinet mentioned.  They began to search each panel before eventually, they discovered a small keyhole in one of them.

In their excitement, they had failed to notice that the room seemed to have a faint light of it’s own; of a very pale blue, perhaps they thought that it was the moonlight shining through one of the many cracks to be seen through rafters, but on that night, no moon could be seen from Carbrook, the mist was too thick.

Corporal Tyler placed the small key into the lock, were they about to make their fortune? The lock turned easily enough, the door opened but there was a bang as the door behind them shut!  They paid no attention; what was inside the dark recess gleamed, and it gleamed gold!  Newman held the candle nearer, and it was indeed a golden chalice, or so it seemed.  Congratulating themselves, Tyler reached in and pulled out the chalice, turning it in his hands and admiring it’s sheen and pearls; yet even as he did so, it appeared to them to be changing;  to their horror, it was!   As it did so, the light within the room grew more intense; they watched their treasure turn first to the lustre of silver, then to the tone of steel, changing by degrees to become like iron.  It rusted, rusted to dust.

The two men scarce knew what to say; they had seen beauty and value disappear before their own eyes, they had seen the incorruptible crumble to dust in their hands. They began to realise that someone, or something, had used their own greed to trick them to their doom.  They began to realise that the light around them had grown brighter, that the door through which they had come was closed to them but that another door, not noticed before, in the opposite wall appeared through its cracks to be lit from behind by a clear blue light; the same light which gave an eerie glow to the mist that was now creeping under it.   They could hear too.  They could hear a sound they were familiar with.  It was the sound of shuffling feet and the odd soft clink of a piece of armour, it was the sound of soldiers drearily marching; marching slowly towards the door.  They  froze in terror. They had fought living men in living battles, that much they could do.  But if these men were who they now, and suddenly, feared them to be; how could they fight the dead!   Then despair overwhelmed them.  Faintly at first, then more clearly, they could hear hollow, melancholy voices chanting. “Our duty is relieved.  Our duty is relieved!”.

The troopers in the oak room were suddenly awakened by the sound of terrified screams.  Screams so loud and terrible it might be doubted they were human.  Grabbing their weapons and dismissing their fear, they rushed dizzily upwards towards the awful sound, calling in vain for their comrades.  They reached the garret room; silence.  The door, once again, was open and on the other side was yet another open door.  They drew their pistols, and followed the way their comrades must have gone.  As they went inside, the door behind them closed.

Outside, the mist began to lose it’s flicker of blue light and to fall from the walls of the house.  The larger part of it seemed to begin drifting back thickly again towards the common, but it quickly began to disperse, disappeared and never returned there.  The rest seemed quietly to sink into the ground around the hall, sinking into the very foundations of Carbrook itself.

No one seemed to notice the disappearance of corporal Tyler and his troopers.  They were, after all, just six out of thousands and hundreds of men were never seen again in that war.  But nobody can account for the fact that on many occasions since then, six troopers are said to have been seen galloping silently out of Carbrook and round and round the hall, surrounded by a blue mist. 

They have been seen outside in mid air, still walking it seems in parts of the hall long since gone. Perhaps still climbing those stairs to that dreadful room from which none returned. They have been seen in the oak room through the window, eating and drinking.  Always from the late hours of the night, until the early hours of the morning.  Six forgotten souls from a long forgotten war, waiting it seems.  But for what ?  Perhaps for someone foolish enough and greedy enough to replace them, just as they replaced Daniel Dunne, and his ‘ghostly company’.  

 

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