The Great Cley Floods 8
April 16th 1853
Rebecca put away her book, looked out of the window, and thought how lovely the flowers looked. It had been a hard winter, but the spring always seemed much more impressive afterwards. The apple and cherry blossoms were in full bloom, and the sun was shining. The daffodils were wonderful. It was almost too nice to sit indoors and play whist. Sometimes in the middle of the summer, she would put her card table and chairs out on the back lawn and she and her friends would have
their game there.
Judith arrived first for once, and Rebecca had her sit down, and offered her a glass of water, as she looked quite put out.
“Is something the matter Judith? You look very pale.”
“I’ve seen it. I always knew I would one day, and now I have seen it.” She picked up the glass and drank the water as if she were parched.
“Seen what? You are making no sense whatsoever,”
“The dog. You know the legend. A huge black dog called Black Shuck. He is supposed to have come ashore during a shipwreck in January 1709, and he supposedly has been wandering the area or so it is told, whenever he is seen or heard howling, that fortells disaster.”
“You don’t believe all that rubbish, surely. It was no doubt just some stray big black dog and
somehow you got it mixed up in your head. Anyway I know a poem about it. Shall I recite it for you?
“And a dreadful thing from the cliff did spring
And its wild bark thrill’d around
His eyes had the glow of the fires below
‘Twas the form of the Spector Hound.
“And I don’t want to frighten you even more Judith, but the legend has it that anyone who sees the hound will die within 12 months.”
“And do you think it is true Rebecca? Do you think I will die?”
“Yes, Judith. I think it is highly likely that you will die within the next twelve months but I don’t think it will have anything to do with the black dog. You are 84 years old. Anything after seventy is a
gift, and you must know that yourself.”
“So you don’t believe that I saw the black dog then?”
“I expect you saw a black dog, but many things are wrong from the legend. My understanding of it,”
continued Rebecca, “is that the hound usually prowls on the coastal path, between Sheringham and Overstrand, and usually on the cliffs. He is supposed to be about the size of a small calf, and the first thing you hear is the sound of the hound’s heavy paws. And I thought he was only seen at night. Here it is two p.m. on a beautiful spring afternoon. And I also heard that some mischief-maker tied a
lantern to the neck of a sheep, and that was what people were really seeing. Apparently, last century when smuggling was rife around here, it suited the smugglers’ purposes to have the townsfolk scared so they put about all sorts of weird tales.
“There is another tale of the dog too. Have you heard it? About the fiddler and his dog who went
into an underground tunnel here in Cley, part of a smugglers’ route up to the Guild Hall at Blakeney, and the fiddler could be heard playing as they went into the tunnel. But that dog is also supposed
to haunt the area. You know where I mean, along by the creek road going from Cley to Blakeney close to the mouth of the River Glaven where there is the ruin of the chapel which was built by the White Friars of the Carmelite order. It was there so that ships going out to sea could be blessed, and fishermen put offerings in a box outside the friary to ensure a successful and safe voyage. Anyway, there was a tunnel from there to Blakeney and also to Wiveton Hall, both used
“Was there a big black dog too, the one who did the haunting from the tunnels?” asked Judith.
“I don’t know if it was ever mentioned.”
“But Rebecca, I saw this dog, this big black dog, and he howled, and then he just disappeared. Just
like that. I was so frightened, I can tell you.”
“Well, the others are just coming up the path. I do hope you can forget your fear for long enough to have a decent game with the cards this afternoon. Unless you are not my partner, of course, and then I don’t mind if you are a bit dithery,” she added with a smile.
Hannah and Anna Marie were still chatting as they came into the house. Being more of an age than the other two women, they saw each other on several occasions each week, not just meeting for the weekly game of whist.
“Did you hear the news?” asked Hannah. “Anna Marie had it from her husband. There has been a
huge fire at Hunstanton Hall. It is nearly destroyed.”
“I knew it,” said Judith.
“What do you mean, you knew it? Did you get the news from someone else?”
“I heard the hound, Black Shuck, howling, and that is supposed to mean that there has been or will be a disaster.”
“But why should you hear it here? What does Hunstanton Hall have to do with us? But do tell me,
Anna Marie, what else did you hear about Hunstanton Hall’s fire?”
“Well you know what it is like, Hunstanton Hall. It is a fine mansion, standing in a beautifully wooded park, and the seat of Hamon le Strange. Anyway, my husband heard the ancient banqueting hall and eighteen other rooms were destroyed,” said Anna Marie.
“I know a bit about Hunstanton too,” added Hannah, not wanting to be left out of this conversation. “Old Hunstanton was recorded in Domesday Book as 'Hunstatunes' and it and the lands surrounding it were gifted by William the Conqueror to the Le Strange family who have been Lords of the Manor more than 800 years already, but maybe this will make a change, this fire.”
“Well, what other sort of disaster could the dog howling have meant if it didn’t relate to the fire?” asked Judith.
“Well, I heard that Catharine Dingle died. She was the sister of our friend and whist partner, Caroline who of course died a few years ago,” said Hannah.
“I’m sorry to hear that, but I don’t think the black dog would waste his wailing on an old woman who was likely to die anyway,” added Rebecca sharply.
“What about the sinking of the Queen Victoria the steamship, many lives were lost.”
“When was that?”
“A few months ago.”
“Did it happen around here?”
“Dublin I think. James would tell me I am sure if there was a shipping disaster near here. The
only one I can think of on the East coast this year was at Loosiemouth at the Murray Firth in Scotland where 11 were dead from two fishing boats sinking. But that was over a month ago now.”
“And my Mr. McGilivry would tell me too, if it was a local disaster, so of course it was not. So
I think your howling dog will just have been making that noise to tell us about Hunstanton Hall. Were there any lives lost?”
“I didn’t hear, but no doubt there will be more, and it will be in all the papers next weekend.”
“Enough of the supernatural. Let’s get down to our cards.”
“Speaking of the supernatural, did that woman whom you rescued ever show herself in the village again, Rebecca?”
“No, and I have stopped even thinking about her now. The cards are the thing at the moment.”
The afternoon continued, and all was as it usually is on Saturday afternoon. But Rebecca had lied when she said she had stopped thinking about Mary. She often went through the whole period of the visit in her mind, and tried to remember just what it was that Mary had said that seemed so strange. She even went so far as to write everything down. What if the visit really was from the future, and all those things - cars, petrol, phones she called them - what if they were really going to happen here in the next hundred years. It was too much to contemplate, talking to someone a long distance away through a wire, driving a coach using a chemical rather than an animal to pull it, it all seemed so far fetched. Rebecca went for walks more frequently than usual, hoping to catch a glimpse of Mary. It had occurred to her that their cottage might have been so badly damaged by the food that she and her family had had to move back to Holt.
A new plan had just occurred to her, which she hadn’t had time to put in action yet. She intended to ask Rachel to check with her friend Richard if he knew anything about Mary’s husband. She remembered that he was called Martin, and that he taught English at Holt Free Grammar School. Richard teaches at the same school so it should be no problem for him to find out. If not him, then there were the Pitcher boys who attended the school as well. She must make a point of calling on their mother just casually first, so that it would not seem an odd question to put to them about one of the masters at school. No, she had not forgotten. If anything, she was more determined than ever to try to rekindle the link that she felt existed between her and Mary on that far away night.