March 24, 2015 09:03PM
Idyllic country villages are hardly a normal venue for highwaymen. Firstly, there are no highways really near to glorify the term, in a village where everyone knows everyone else, and secondly, who would dare to commit any crime in Lady Catherine de Bourgh's domain? Who indeed?

Chapter One.

To the citizens of the rural haven of Hunsford by Westerham, highwaymen and footpads were creatures occasionally read of in newspaper broadsheets or heard of but rarely if ever at all , in conversation. Thomas Welland, landlord of one of the local Inns claimed to have seen a highwayman hung up by Chipstead some years earlier, and Mr Jones’s mariner cousin told numerous grisly tales of such when holding court in The Bell and Whistle. Mention was made of the Hunsford Phantom, for did not Edward Blake still tell of it when drunk?, but in general, tales of such were but half-believed as they never touched the lives of the community Such things only ever happened to others. The only robbery ever mentioned was when fourteen year old William Pike had stolen a bun from Mrs McGill’s bakers shop and she boxed his ears and dunked him in the river for his trouble.

Lady Catherine de Bourgh was not in spirits.
“Mr Collins. A dreadful occurrence took place a few weeks ago. The coach of a local magistrate from Brasted was held up by two villains who robbed him of his watch and fob and took all his money, a gold signet ring and the contents of his satchel. Despite several volunteer constables from the area and the services of a couple of paid ones, the thieves were not brought to justice. That was bad enough, but now two instances in the last fourteen days force me to believe we have footpads and highwaymen loose in my area of jurisdiction. A private coach was held up by two men riding one horse, and on Tuesday last, the postman was waylaid and all his mail stolen in broad daylight. What value it may have been we know not, but important documents may have also been lost as well as money orders and letters of a personal nature. What is more of consequence, Mr Collins, is that these kind of people cannot be allowed to roam freely within Rosings estates and parishes. They must be apprehended and dealt with. It will not do!”

William Collins, parson of Hunsford , tenant and neighbor of Lady Catherine and on one of his regular respect calls on his patroness, nodded his agreement, albeit somewhat nervously. Lady Catherine, seeing his discomfort, raised a hand.
“Oh, don’t make yourself uneasy Mr Collins. I have no wish to involve your good self in the matter in any way. I just needed to advise you to take care if you should need to venture abroad in the near future, either afoot or by carriage. I would not wish you to be attacked in such a way!”
“Oh, fear naught. I assure your Ladyship, if such varlets approached myself I would give them a good introduction to my blackthorn walking cane, indeed I would, for in my position as a clergyman I must fight all forms of evil and I….”
“Yes, yes Mr Collins. Just heed my words and, at Sunday service, be sure to issue my warnings from the pulpit. I will not have such happenings polluting the shades of Rosings!. I will not be denied; they must be caught immediately. Forewarned is forearmed and we must be ready. Pass the message boldy”
“Indeed I shall, your Ladyship, indeed I shall”
Mr Collins, his audience over, dismissed himself with a bow.

Before Sunday arrived and Mr Collins was able to dispense fire and brimstone on all members of the criminal populace, another occurrence took place that brought the matter almost to his very doorstep. The carriage of the Reverend Oliver Parsley, parson of a parish in nearby Oxted, was halted on the main Westerham Road and its occupant, on his way to visit Mr Collins himself at Hunsford was robbed of his belongings. Two masked men on one horse, one carrying a flintlock pistol, were claimed to be the perpetrators. Mr Collins was offended, her Ladyship absolutely beside herself with outrage. The incident also somewhat deflated Mr Collins because his planned sermon may now seem a little less than an early warning. He could of course possibly hope for a thunder and lightning storm to occur during service, but Lady Catherine’s message would have somewhat less effect due to this latest episode. An element of closing the stable door was evident.

Charlotte, the good Mrs Collins, was duly informed that thieves and vagabonds were rampant in the area and warned to lock up her chickens securely as well as always keeping the house doors bolted after dark. Mr Collins took to patrolling around the parsonage grounds with his blackthorn stick before retiring each night –but always within sight of the house, of course. Highway robbery extended to become lane and path robbery. He also did stretching and deep-breathing exercises each morning and once almost managed three push-ups in preparation to defend his mansion. One must be vigilant and prepared. At first, Charlotte had been more than a little sceptical about the siege tactics, but the latest episode of robbery almost in their parish, had shaken her, and she held her peace. The war recently over, the local militia was being temporarily disbanded and news of the rampant highwaymen was more than a little disturbing. Mr Collins, chest out and swishing his cane at imaginary foes who he decidedly hoped would never appear - strode the ramparts with vigilant aplomb. Lady Catherine had promised constables would patrol the roads after dark till the vagabonds were apprehended. Two weeks passed by, the warnings, “better late than never” as Mr Collins declared, were dispensed and no further incidents were reported. Tobias Small discharged his shotgun at a marauding fox one night, but that was all that occurred to disturb the peace. Mr Collins reduced his nightly patrols to a quick stroll around after locking up the church and everyone relaxed.

Chapter Two.

“I may be a little late returning this evening, Charlotte, dear. The service will end at about six-thirty and, since Dawkins has his sister visiting, I’ll drive the chaise myself. It’s less than four miles to Oxted and I’ll be home before full dark hopefully, and Dawkins will be around by then anyway!”
Charlotte was not madly enthusiastic about the idea of Mr Collins being abroad on the road in the gloaming, but he insisted there was nothing to worry about. He would take his cane, just in case. That fact did little to ease Charlotte’s concern, but she waved him off in the afternoon sunshine determined not to worry over-duly. Nothing had happened for two weeks, so….

Humming an aire he liked, Mr Collins drove his merry way down the road towards Hunsford. It wasn’t quite full dark and was a bright night with a cloudless sky so the rising moon lit up the area and made driving comparatively easy. He had lighted his side lamps on the gig and was half wondering what delights dear Charlotte had prepared for the evening meal as the horse clip- clopped steadily towards home. He saw a lantern glow up ahead and wondered who was abroad this evening. One of the parishioners perhaps; a constable maybe? …
“Stand and deliver!” The words he had heard mentioned so many times of late were growled harshly at him as a horse suddenly edged out into the road in front of his gig and some twenty yards ahead. He hauled on the reins in startled surprise as he made out two figures mounted on the animal. Both had masks over the lower halves of their faces and the rear one of them was pointing a pistol at him as he slid to the ground. His own animal came to a halt almost alongside the other horse.
“Your money and your valuables, or your life!” The ominous words were almost shouted at him as Mr Collins attempted to get to his feet. His hearty was racing madly.

What happened next when the incident was related, he could hardly recall in his fright. It all happened very fast, but one of those strange flashes of memory struck him. Whoever termed highwaymen “Gentlemen of the Road” certainly didn’t have these two in mind. Roughly dressed and decidedly not in fashion, they appeared uncouth louts. He stood up and the light carriage lurched. His horse shied forward and he half-rising stumbled, tripped over his feet and was pitched sideways from the vehicle and out into space. He somehow landed on his feet but staggering forward, tripped again and went into an impromptu forward roll. As he rolled forward, his long legs, thrashing the air, hit the robbers’ horse directly in its belly and it in turn leapt forward in fright and charged the man with the large flintlock pistol, knocking him to the ground. The pistol discharged with a loud bang and Mr Collins, hat jammed firmly over his eyes, rose, tripped again over the robber’s foot and landed with a whoosh of breath on the cursing man. A loud shout occurred and a third mounted figure rode forward into what was almost a pantomime scene. The second robber who was still on the horse and hadn’t spoken a word till then, let out a roar of surprise, kicked his heels into his mount’s flanks and took off in a rush into the darkness.

“Stand where you are or I’ll fire. I am his majesty’s constable. Stand or I’ll shoot you down, I swear!” The voice had a ring of authority and Mr Collins, hat still jammed over his eyes, certainly was not going to argue.

The related story, first in court, and later in the local taverns and inns, as the constable gave his evidence, was as follows, How close it came to the truth was a matter for conjecture.

“I was patrolling the grounds besides Rosings estate when I saw a carriage and figures in the road, Your Honour . One had a lantern, another was mounted on a horse and the third turned out to be his reverence Mr Collins. As I drew close, Mr Collins, who I now know was taking his life in his hands, dived from his gig and threw himself at the mounted man. Somehow, in a display of gymnastics I’ve never seen the like of before, he then managed to dive on the robber with the pistol, who discharged it at him. It was later claimed that only shot was in the pistol and no ball, but that is unproveable either way. Mr Collins couldn’t know that anyway. As I arrived wielding my own pistol, and took charge, Mr Collins had managed to overcome the robber and had him on the ground. When he was unmasked, this turned out to be Jem Hawkes from the village next to Hunsford. It was easily determined that the one who rode off was his brother Michael as they are a pair of drunken ne’r do wells who are always together. When their house was searched later, several items were recovered that proved their guilt. When asked what he was doing with a gold watch engraved “Anna”, some legal documents and various letters, one of which was sent by Lady Catherine de Bourgh, Michael Hawkes claimed the watch was his mothers, he was studying law and was also conducting a romantic liason with Lady Catherine. This claim, of course, was furiously denied by her Ladyship. His mother’s name was Margaret. His brother, Jem Hawkes, claimed he had found the pistol whilst patrolling the estate looking for highwaymen. They are a pair of rogues, and, but for the bravery of Mr Collins, who claimed it all happened so fast he had little recollection of his actions, they may still be terrorizing and robbing the citizens.”

As they left the court, a proud Charlotte exclaimed “William dear, you are a complete hero. A foolish one, for being so brave, but my hero nevertheless. I’m going to cook you lamb with mint sauce for supper!”
Mr Collins, determined he would not tell lies, exhibited a dignified silence. He was not a man to sell himself short however and for the next couple of weeks the plaudits, almost gracious thanks from Lady Catherine and the sheer hero-worship shown by his neighbors had him walking on clouds. The nation needs its heroes, after all.!


Hunsford Tales. Stand and Deliver.

Jim G.MMarch 24, 2015 09:03PM

Re: Hunsford Tales. Stand and Deliver.

Lucy J.April 06, 2015 02:38AM

Re: Hunsford Tales. Stand and Deliver.

Kathy BerlinMarch 26, 2015 03:00PM

Re: Hunsford Tales. Stand and Deliver.

terrycgMarch 25, 2015 06:43PM

Re: Hunsford Tales. Stand and Deliver.

Maria VMarch 25, 2015 10:55AM

Re: Hunsford Tales. Stand and Deliver.

Elizabeth A.March 25, 2015 04:37AM

Re: Hunsford Tales. Stand and Deliver.

LucieMarch 25, 2015 02:55AM


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