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The Great Cley Floods: Chapter 6

Judith is sure that she has seen and heard the black hound, the sight of which is supposed to foretell a tragic event. And Rebecca continues to be deeply puzzled by the identity of the young woman who sheltered in her home on the night of the great Cley flood.

Jean Day continues her time-shift story based on two East Coast flood disasters which occurred a century apart.

*

April 16th 1853

Rebecca put away her book and looked out of the window, appreciating how lovely the flowers were looking. It had been a hard winter, but the spring which followed seemed all the more wonderful. Apple and cherry trees were in full blossom. The daffodils were golden wonders. It was too nice a day to stay indoors, playing whist. Sometimes, in mid-summer, the card table and chairs were put out on the back lawn, so that she and her friends could enjoy the fresh air while engaged in their play, but it was too early in the year to do this.

For once Judith was the first to arrive. She seemed to be discomposed and Rebecca offered her a glass of water.

“Is something the matter Judith?'' she asked. "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 urgently drank the water.

"Seen what? You are making no sense whatsoever.”

“The dog. You know the legend. A huge black dog called Black Shuck. It's supposed to have come ashore from a shipwreck in January, 1709. Legend has it that the dog wanders around this area. To hear it howling is to be foretold of disaster.''

“Surely you don’t believe all that rubbish. You must have seen a stray black dog. By the way I know a poem about Black Shuck. It goes -

And a dreadful thing from the cliff did spring
And its wild bark thrill’d around
His eyes had the gleam of the fires below
‘Twas the form of the Spector Hound.''

There was a gleam in Rebecca's eye. "Not that I want to encourage your fears Judith...but they say that anyone who sees the hound will die within the next twelve months.''

“Could that be so Rebecca? Do you think I am going to die?''

Rebecca's smile developed into a chuckle. "That is possible you know. Not that it would have anything to do with a black dog. You're 84 Judith. You know as well as I do that to live past seventy is a gift.''

“So you don’t believe that I saw the black dog?''

"Oh I expect you saw a black dog, but... The hound in the legend is said to patrol the coastal path n Sheringham and Overstrand. The creature is alleged to be as big as a calf. You hear the sound of its heavy paws hitting the ground, and it is supposedly only seen at night. Here we are at 2 pm on a beautiful spring afternoon.

"Apparently what people had actually seen when they thought they had encountered the hound was a sheep, to which some mischief maker had attached a lantern. A century ago it suited smugglers to scare townsfolk away from the coastal path, so all kinds of weird tales were put about. Have you heard he one about the fiddler and his dog? They entered an underground tunnel right here in Cley - a smugglers' passage that led to the Guild Hall at Blakeney, it is said. The fiddler could be heard playing underground. His dog is also supposed to haunt this area.

"You know the place that I am talking about? By the creek road from Cley to Blakeney. close to the mouth of the River Glaven. You know that chapel ruin, a chapel built by the Carmelite White Friars. Sea-bound ships were blessed by the friars. Fishermen put offerings in a box outside the chapel to ensure a safe and succesful voyage.

"There was a tunnel from that place to Blakeney, and another led to Wiveton Hall, both of them used by smugglers.''

"And did the fiddler have a big black dog?''

"There's no mention of what kind of dog it was.''

"This is all very well Rebecca, but I did see a dog. A big black dog. The creature howled, then disappeared. It frightened me...''

"Enough now,'' said Rebecca. "I see our friends coming up the garden path. Forget your fears. Let us play cards on his fine afternoon.''

Hannah and Anna Marie were deep in conversation when they arrived. They were of almost the same age and saw each other regularly during the week, not merely when they came to play whist at Rebecca's.

"Have you heard the news?'' Hannah demanded. "There's been a huge fire at Hunstanton Hall. The hall has been almost destroyed.''

"I knew it!'' Judith exclaimed.

"How could you know it?'' Hannah asked. "Who told you the news?''

"I heard the howling of the hound. Black Shuck. It foretold a disaster.''

"What could that have to do wih Hunstanton Hall?'' Rebecca demanded. "But do tell me Anna Marie, what else did you hear of the fire?''

“Well...'' said Anna Marie, delaying her news "you know Hunstanton Hall. A fine mansion in wooded parkland. The seat of Hamon le Strange. Well...my husband heard that the ancient banqueting hall and eighteen other rooms were destroyed.”

“Old Hunstanton was recorded in Domesday Book as Hunstatunes.'' said Hannah, not wanting to be left out of the conversation. "The lands surrounding it were gifted by William the Conqueror to the Le Strange family who have been Lords of the Manor for more than 800 years. Maybe this fire will bring about a change.''

"What other disaster could the dog have meant, if not the fire?'' Judith insisted.

“Well,'' said Hannah, intrigued by the thought of the black dog "I heard that Catharine Dingle died. She was the sister of our friend and former whist partner, Caroline, who herself died some years ago.''

"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,” Rebecca responded tartly.

“What about the sinking of the Queen Victoria steamship then? Many lives were lost?''

“When was that?”

“A few months ago.”

“And 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 Lossiemouth at the Murray Firth in Scotland where 11 drowned when two fishing boats sank. That was over a month ago.''

“And my Mr. McGilivry would tell me too, if there was a local disaster. Your howling dog must have been making its noise to tell us about Hunstanton Hall. Were lives lost?”

“I didn’t hear of any. No doubt we will hear more of the fire. There will be news in 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. I no longer think of her. The cards are the thing at the moment.”

So the ladies began to play whist, as they usually did on Saturday afternoons. But Rebeccas had not been telling the truth when she said she had stopped thinking about Mary. She repeatedly went through every detail in her mind of what had happened on the night of the flood. She had gone to the lengths of compiling a written record of those details.

What if Mary really had been from the future? Those strange things she had mentioned. Cars, petrol, phones. It was all too fantastic. Talking to someone a long distance away through a wire. Riding in a coach pulled by a chemical rather than a horse.

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 that she and her family had had to move back to Holt.

She intended to find out if anyone knew anything of Mary's husband. She recalled that Mary had said his name was Martin and he taught English at Holt Free Grammar School. The Pitcher boys attended that school. She must make a point of calling on their mother and casually ask if there was a teacher called Martin.

No she had not forgotten Mary. She was even more determind than ever to re-establish the bond that had existed between them as the flood waters had risen.

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