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© Nash Ford PublishingThe Headless Victim
of Step-Mother Love

Hampden Pye’s relationship with his step-mother had always been rather strained. Lady Pye had no love for  her step-son. Ever since her marriage to Sir Robert Pye, all those years ago, she had tried to undermine Hampden. She had tried hard to poison Sir Robert’s mind against his son, and with some success too. Hampden was seen as a lazy good for nothing by his father, but in truth all his efforts to make his way in life were thwarted by his wicked step-mother. When Sir Robert and Lady Pye’s own little son appeared on the scene, Hampden’s life became even more unbearable. The lady’s life soon revolved solely around her own little lad and, as he grew to adulthood, she began to see Hampden as nothing but a threat to the boy’s inheritance.  Hampden was rarely allowed out of the house, and Lady Pye even took to vetting his friends. But he was now a middle-aged man of fifty-five! He wasn’t going to have any more of her interfering. She had tried to hide him away behind the gates of Faringdon House for too many years. He didn’t care what the old witch said anymore, he was going to have some fun no matter what the consequences.

There was a bitter argument the night that Hampden first announced he was going into the village unaccompanied. He was going to meet some friends in a local tavern. His step-mother could not believe her ears. A common tavern was not the place for someone of his station to be seen. What could he be thinking of? And what sort of people might he meet? Ruffians and pick-pockets, harlots and prostitutes. Oh no, Hampden was definitely staying home. Hampden however was quite determined. Her arguments held no sway with him. “I'm going out,” he roared, slamming the door as he tore out of the house.

Lady Pye was furious, but Hampden’s little jaunts continued. He would go out at night, and in the day time too. Sometimes only into Faringdon, sometimes to Abingdon, sometimes to Oxford or even London. Sometimes he wouldn’t tell her where he was going, and sometimes he came home drunk and abusive! If Hampden wasn’t around, she couldn’t control him, and if she couldn’t control him, she couldn’t protect her son’s inheritance. There wasn’t much she could do though, especially when her husband backed Hampden up. She had hoped her step-son’s rough ways would incense her husband, but instead he seemed to warm to Hampden’s new found spirit.

Down in the village, Hampden had become well known at all the local inns. He was enjoying his new found freedom to the full. That’s not to say he was a particularly excessive drinker, but he certainly knew how to have a good time. He had become especially popular with the ladies. They were forever vying for his attentions. However, there was only one girl who held any interest for Hampden. The young barmaid in his favourite tavern was the picture of perfection. She was dark and petite, with the most entrancing smile. He couldn’t keep his eyes off her. Hampden was in love.

Over the weeks, the two became very close. The little barmaid was flattered by all the attention from the dashing heir to the local manor. He was handsome and charming and extremely eligible. She was quickly swept off her feet, and before long Hampden stopped returning home to his own bed each night.

It was at this point that Hampden’s step-mother became suspicious. Her step-son had taken to spending all evening with drunken hoodlums, true, but he had always returned home in the small hours. Now he was out all night long, and she was lucky if he appeared again for lunch the next day. He had avoided all her questions, and her husband knew nothing. It could only mean one thing: A woman! A woman who could give Hampden an heir to take the Faringdon estates away from her own precious little boy.

Lady Pye was determined to find out who the floozy was, who had ensnared her foolish step-boy. So she sent a servant out, on successive evenings, to spy on Hampden. Of course, she soon found out all about the young barmaid. The little tart! How dare she try and wheedle her way into the Pye family. If she thought she was ever going to get her hands on any of the Pye fortune, she had another thing coming.

“Boys will be boys, my dear,” Sir Robert tried to tell his wife. “Leave Hampden be. He’ll soon settle down once he’s had a chance to sow a few wild oats.” Lady Pye would not listen though. Hampden “settling down” was the last thing she wanted. Once Hampden had found his confidence with the opposite sex, her husband would be introducing him to every eligible young lady in the county! The second her step-son returned home, Lady Pye confronted him with her findings. Hampden was horrified. He could not believe that even his step-mother would spy on him. What was wrong with barmaids anyway?
“It’s the person inside that matters, step-mother, not their social standing or the size of their purse. I love her.”
“She’s a grubby little gold-digger, and you’re going to stop seeing her at once,” Lady Pye screamed at a defiant Hampden.
“It’s too late for that,” he said calmly. “We were married yesterday”.

Sir Robert and Lady Pye were both stunned. For some time they stood there open mouthed, not knowing what to say. Hampden turned to leave.
“Stop him!” screamed his step-mother. Two servants ran in from the hall. Hampden tried to avoid them, but they wrestled him to the ground. “Lock him in his room,” Sir Robert said coldly.

Hampden’s father was highly troubled by this turn of events. He did not mind his son having a little fun with the village wenches, but marrying one of them was out of the question. Lady Pye was over the moon however. She could never have foreseen such an opportune turn of events. Now was her chance to be rid of Hampden once and for all. For several days they pondered their situation. Sir Robert was keen to reverse matters, but the local vicar was clear that a divorce would be very difficult. Their best chance was to keep the two as far apart as possible, while they tried to sort things out. Eventually Lady Pye persuaded her husband to agree to have Hampden sent away to join the Navy. He would no doubt be posted overseas, and would be safely out of reach of his, so called, wife.

The Naval hierarchy was always keen to take new men on board and they easily agreed to give Hampden a lieutenancy, no matter what his own wishes might be. The young Faringdon man was bundled into a carriage and was half way to Portsmouth, and a ship sailing for the Spanish Coast, before his wife even knew he had left the village.

Even though Hampden was to be well out of the country, his step-mother was not satisfied. She could not bear the thought of him finding someone else. Even little bastards running about in Spain might be a threat to her son. She was taking no chances. He might be away from that village harlot, but now she had pushed him into the navy. Everyone knew what sailors were like when it came to women. What had she done? Her thoughts tormented her mind both day and night, until finally she could endure the torture no longer. There was only one way to truly protect her son’s inheritance. It was the perfect solution. She began to plot the murder of her own step-son!

Lady Pye had already become friendly with the captain of Hampden’s ship through their arrangements to have her step-son removed from England. He was a man of few scruples, and she was certain he would help her in her cause for the right financial reward. She was sure Hampden’s ship had not yet sailed from Portsmouth, and so hurriedly wrote to the captain, cryptically suggesting a scheme. She did not spell things out in words of two syllables, but the captain got the idea and all was set.

Hampden’s ship soon left for the Iberian peninsula where it became engaged in the Spanish Wars through an expedition under Sir George Rooke. It was therefore not difficult for the captain to stage an “accident”. He engaged the help of one of the more coercible members of his crew, “Hairy-faced Dick” as his ship-mates called him. During their next battle, Hampden stood on the foreman’s deck, cutlass in hand, ready to defend himself. As the bullets flew around their heads, Dick waited for the signal from his captain, and, when no-one was looking, he pushed poor Hampden in front of a stray canon. His head was blown clean off.

Back in Faringdon, Lady Pye wore her grief with hypocritical pride. She even organised a memorial service in Hampden’s honour. Though she had justified her actions to herself, her step-son’s ghost was not about to forgive her. Before she left for the church, his spirit appeared to the lady with his mangled head resting in his hands. Her screams could be heard throughout the village, but the servants could see nothing and were quite concerned for the lady’s sanity. Her young son, meanwhile, was more interested in the thousand pounds a year he was now due. It was not until the two entered their coach, to leave for church, that he too saw his brother appear, and his mother was forced to reveal her wicked deed.

Hampden also terrorised his old captain at his club in Bath, where he had retired as an admiral, and Hairy-faced Dick in his newly bought quayside store did not escape either; and ever afterwards Hampden’s headless phantom haunted the graveyard of Faringdon Church where his memorial service had been held. His restless spirit worried the villagers for a hundred years before they were eventually forced to have the vicar exorcise him. Now at last, he does, finally, rest in peace.

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    © Nash Ford Publishing 2001. All Rights Reserved.