Strange Pages from Family Papers
by T. F. Thiselton Dyer
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It is also a common notion that not only are the stains of human blood wrongfully shed ineffaceable, but a curse lights upon the ground, causing it to remain barren for ever. There is, for instance, a dark-looking piece of ground devoid of verdure in the parish of Kirdford, Sussex. Local tradition says that this was formerly green, but the grass withered gradually away soon after the blood of a poacher, who was shot there, trickled down on the place. But perhaps the most romantic tale of this kind was that known as the "Field of Forty Footsteps." A legendary story of the period of the Duke of Monmouth's Rebellion describes a mortal conflict which took place between two brothers in Long Fields, afterwards called Southampton Fields, in the rear of Montague House, Bloomsbury, on account of a lady who sat by. The combatants fought so furiously as to kill each other, after which their footsteps, imprinted on the ground in the vengeful struggle, were reported "to remain, with the indentations produced by their advancing and receding; nor would any grass or vegetation grow afterwards over these forty footsteps." The most commonly received version of the story is, that two brothers were in love with the same lady, who would not declare a preference for either, but coolly sat upon a bank to witness the termination of a duel which proved fatal to both. Southey records this strange story in his "Commonplace Book,"[29] and after quoting a letter from a friend, recommending him to "take a view of those wonderful marks of the Lord's hatred to duelling, called 'The Brothers' Steps,'" he thus describes his own visit to the spot: "We sought for near half an hour in vain. We could find no steps at all within a quarter of a mile, no, nor half a mile, of Montague House. We were almost out of hope, when an honest man, who was at work, directed us to the next ground adjoining to a pond. There we found what we sought, about three-quarters of a mile north of Montague House and five hundred yards east of Tottenham Court Road. The steps are of the size of a large human foot, about three inches deep, and lie nearly from north-east to south-west. We counted only twenty-six; but we were not exact in counting. The place where one or both the brothers are supposed to have fallen is still bare of grass. The labourer also showed us the bank where, the tradition is, the wretched woman sat to see the combat." Miss Porter and her sister founded upon this tragic romance their story, "Coming Out, or the Field of Forty Footsteps"; and at Tottenham Street Theatre was produced, many years ago, an effective melodrama based upon the same incident, entitled "The Field of Footsteps."

Another romantic tale of a similar nature is connected with Montgomery Church walls, and is locally designated "The Legend of the Robber's Grave," of which there are several versions, the most popular one being this: Once upon a time, a man was said to have been wrongfully hanged at Montgomery; and, when the rope was round his neck, he declared in proof of his innocence that grass would never grow on his grave. Curious to relate, be the cause what it may, there is yet to be seen a strip of sterility—in the form of a cross—amidst a mass of verdure.[30]

Likewise, the peasantry still talk mysteriously of Lord Derwentwater's execution, and tell how his blood could not be washed away. Deep and lasting were the horror and grief which were felt when the news of his death reached his home in the north. The inhabitants of the neighbourhood, it is said, saw the coming vengeance of heaven in the Aurora Borealis which appeared in unwonted brilliancy on the evening of the execution, and which is still known as "Lord Derwentwater's Light" in the northern counties; the rushing Devil's Water, too, they said, ran down with blood on that terrible night, and the very corn which was ground on that day came tinged from the mill with crimson. Lord Derwentwater's death, too, was all the more deplored on account of his having long been undecided as to whether he should embrace the enterprise against the House of Hanover. But there had long been a tradition in his family that a mysterious and unearthly visitant appeared to the head of the house in critical emergencies, either to warn of danger, or to announce impending calamity. One evening, a few days before he resolved to cast in his lot with the Stuarts, whilst he was wandering amid the solitudes of the hills, a figure stood before him in robe and hood of grey.

This personage is said to have sadly reproached the Earl for not having already joined the rising, and to have presented him with a crucifix which was to render him secure against bullet or sword thrust. After communicating this message the figure vanished, leaving the Earl in a state of bewilderment. The mysterious apparition is reported to have spoken with the voice of a woman, and as it is known that "in the more critical conjunctures of the history of the Stuarts every device was practised by secret agents to gain the support of a wavering follower," it is not difficult to guess at a probable explanation of the ghost of the Dilston Groves. It may be added that at Dilston, Lady Derwentwater was long said to revisit the pale glimpses of the moon to expiate the restless ambition which impelled her to drive Lord Derwentwater to the scaffold.

But how diverse have been the causes of many of these romantic blood stains may be gathered from another legendary tale connected with Plaish Hall, near Cardington, Shropshire. The report goes that a party of clergymen met together one night at Plaish Hall to play cards. In order that the real object of their gathering might not be known to any but themselves, the doors were locked. Before very long, however, they flew open without any apparent cause. Again they were locked, but presently they burst open a second time, and even a third. Astonished at what seemed to baffle explanation, and whilst mutually wondering what it could mean, a panic was suddenly created when, in their midst, there appeared a mysterious figure resembling the Evil One. In a moment the invited guests all rose and fled, leaving the unfortunate host by himself "face to face with the enemy."

What happened after their departure was never divulged, for no one "ever saw that wretched man again, either alive or dead." That he had died some violent death was generally surmised, for a great stain of blood shaped like a human form was found on the floor of the room, and despite all efforts the mark could never be washed out. Ever since this inexplicable occurrence, the house has been haunted, and at midnight a ghostly troop of horses are occasionally heard, creating so much noise as to awaken even heavy sleepers.

And Aubrey in his "Miscellanies" tells how when the bust of Charles I., carved by Bernini, "was brought in a boat upon the Thames, a strange bird—the like whereof the bargemen had never seen—dropped a drop of blood, or blood-like, upon it, which left a stain not to be wiped off." The strange story of this ill-fated bust is more minutely told by Dr. Zacharay Grey in a pamphlet on the character of Charles I.: "Vandyke having drawn the king in three different faces—a profile, three-quarters, and a full face—the picture was sent to Rome for Bernini to make a bust from it. Bernini was unaccountably dilatory in the work, and upon this being complained of, he said that he had set about it several times, but there was something so unfortunate in the features of the face that he was shocked every time that he examined it, and forced to leave off the work, and, if there was any stress to be laid on physiognomy, he was sure the person whom the picture represented was destined to a violent end."

The bust was at last finished and sent to England. As soon as the ship that brought it arrived in the river, the king, who was very impatient to see the bust, ordered it to be carried immediately to Chelsea. It was conveyed thither, and placed upon a table in the garden, whither the king went with a train of nobility to inspect the bust. As they were viewing it, a hawk flew over their heads with a partridge in his claws, which he had wounded to death. Some of the partridge's blood fell upon the neck of the bust, where it remained without being wiped off. This bust was placed over the door of the king's closet at Whitehall and continued there till the palace was destroyed by fire.


[25] D'Israeli's "Curiosities of Literature."

[26] See Harland and Wilkinson's "Lancashire Folklore," 135-136.

[27] "Book of Days," I., 235.

[28] This tradition is the basis of the drama called "The Yorkshire Tragedy," and was adopted by Ainsworth in his "Romance of Rookwood."

[29] 2nd Ser., p. 21.

[30] A curious legend is related by Roger de Hoveden, which shows the antiquity of the Wakefield mills. "In the year 1201, Eustace, Abbot of Flaye, came over into England, preaching the duty of extending the Sabbath from three o'clock p.m. on Saturday to sunrising on Monday morning, pleading the authority of an epistle written by Christ himself, and found on the altar of St. Simon at Golgotha. The people of Yorkshire treated the fanatic with contempt, and the miller of Wakefield persisted in grinding his corn after the hour of cessation, for which disobedience his corn was turned into blood, while the mill-wheel stood immovable against all the water of the Calder."



"And now I will unclasp a secret book, And to your quick-conceiving discontent I'll read your matter deep and dangerous." 1. HENRY IV., Act 1., sc. 3.

"The Depository of the Secrets of all the World" was the inscription over one of the brazen portals of Fakreddin's valley, reminding us of what Ossian said to Oscar, when he resigned to him the command of the morrow's battle, "Be thine the secret hill to-night," referring to the Gaelic custom of the commander of an army retiring to a secret hill the night before a battle to hold communion with the ghosts of departed heroes. But, as it has been often remarked of secrets—both political and social—they are only too frequently made to be revealed, a truth illustrative of Ben Jonson's words in "The Case is Unaltered "—

A secret in his mouth Is like a wild bird put into a cage, Whose door no sooner opens but 'tis out.

In family history, some of the strangest secrets have related to concealment of birth, many a fraud having been devised to alter or perpetuate the line of issue. Early in the present century, a romantic story which was the subject of conversation in the circles both of London and Paris, related to Lady Newborough, who had always considered herself the daughter of Lorenzo Chiappini, formerly gaoler of Modigliana, and subsequently constable at Florence, and of his wife Vincenzia Diligenti. Possessed in her girlhood of fascinating appearance and charming manners, she came out as a ballet dancer at the principal opera at Florence, and one night she so impressed Lord Newborough that, by means of a golden bribe, he had her transferred from the stage to his residence. His conduct towards her was tender and affectionate, and, in spite of the disparity of years, he afterwards married her, introducing her to the London world as Lady Newborough.

Some time after her marriage, according to a memoir stated to be written by the fair claimant of the House of Orleans, and printed in Paris before the Revolution of 1830 but immediately suppressed, when staying at Sienna she received a posthumous letter from her supposed father, which, from its extraordinary disclosures, threw her into complete bewilderment.[31] It ran as follows:

MY LADY,—I have at length reached the term of my days without having revealed to anyone a secret which directly concerns me and yourself. The secret is this:

On the day when you were born, of a person whom I cannot name and who now is in the other world, a male child of mine was also born. I was requested to make an exchange; and, considering the state of my finances in those days, I accepted to the often-repeated and advantageous proposals, and at that time I adopted you as my daughter in the same manner as my son was adopted by the other party.

I observe that heaven has repaired my faults by placing you in better circumstances than your father, although his rank was somewhat similar. This enables me to end my days with some comfort.

Let this serve to extenuate my culpability towards you. I entreat your pardon for my fault. I desire you, if you please, to keep this transaction secret, in order that the world shall not have any opportunity to speak of an affair which is now without remedy.

This, my letter, you will not receive until after my death.


After receiving this letter, Lady Newborough sent for Ringrezzi, the confessor of the late gaoler, and Fabroni, a confessor of the late Countess Borghi, and was told by the former that, in his opinion, she was the daughter of the Grand Duke Leopold; but the latter disagreed, saying, "Myladi is the daughter of a French lord called Count Joinville, who had considerable property in Champagne; and I entertain no doubt that if your ladyship were to go to that province you would there find valuable documents, which I have been told were there left in the hands of a respectable ecclesiastic."

It is further stated that two old sisters of the name of Bandini, who had been born and educated in the house of the Borghis, and been during all their life in the service of that family, informed Lady Newborough, and afterwards in the Ecclesiastical Court of Faenza, that in the year 1773 they followed their master and mistress to Modigliana, where the latter usually had their summer residence in a chateau belonging to them; that, arriving there, they found a French count, Louis Joinville, and his countess, established in the Pretorial Palace. They further affirmed that between the Borghis and this family a very intimate intercourse was soon established and that they daily interchanged visits.

Furthermore, the foreign lord, it is said, was extremely familiar with persons of the lowest rank, and particularly with the gaoler, Chiappini, who lived under the same roof. The wives of both were pregnant; and it appeared that they expected their delivery much about the same time. But the Count was tormented with a grievous anxiety; his wife had as yet had no male offspring, and he much feared that they would never be blessed with any. Having communicated his project to the Borghis, he at length made an overture to the gaoler, telling him he apprehended the loss of a very great inheritance, which absolutely depended on the birth of a son, and that he was disposed, in case the Countess gave birth to a daughter, to exchange her for a boy, and that for this exchange he would liberally recompense the father. The man, highly pleased at finding his fortune thus unexpectedly made, immediately accepted the offer, and the bargain was concluded.

Immediately after the accouchment of the ladies, one of the Bandinis went to the Pretorial Palace to see the new-born babies, when some women in the house told her that the exchange had already taken place; and Chappiani himself being present, confirmed their statement. But as there were several persons in the secret—however solemnly secrecy had been promised—public rumour soon accused the barterers. The Count Louis, fearing the people's indignation, concealed himself in the Convent of St. Bernard, at Brisighella.

The lady, it is added, departed with her suppositious son; her own daughter being baptized and called Maria Stella Petronilla, and designated as the daughter of Lorenzo Chappiani and Vincenzia Diligenti.

Having learnt so much, Lady Newborough being in Paris in the year 1823, had recourse to a stratagem by which she expected to gain additional information. Accordingly she inserted in the newspapers, "that she had been desired by the Countess Pompeo Borghi to discover in France a Count Louis Joinville, who in the year 1773 was with his Countess at Modigliana, where the latter gave birth to a son on the 16th April, and that if either of these persons were still alive, or the child born at Modigliana, she was empowered to communicate to them something of the highest importance.

Subsequently to this advertisement, she was waited upon by a Colonel Joinville, but he derived his title only from Louis XVIII. But before the Colonel was out of the door, she had a call from the Abbe de Saint-Fare, whom she gave to understand that she was anxious to discover the identity of a birth connected with the sojourn with the late Comte de Joinville. In the course of conversation, this Abbe is stated to have made most injudicious admissions, from which Lady Newborough gathered that he was the confidential agent of the Duke of Orleans, being currently said to be his illegitimate brother.

Lady Newborough was now convinced in her own mind that she was the eldest child of the late Duke of Orleans, and hence was the first princess of the blood of France, and the rightful heiress of immense wealth. But this discovery brought her no happiness, and subjected to her to much discomfort and misery. Her story—whether true or false—will in all probability remain a mystery to the end of time, being one of those political puzzles which must remain an open question.

Secret intrigue, however, at one time or another, has devised the most subtle plans for supplanting the rightful owner out of his birthright—a second wife through jealously entering into some shameful compact to defraud her husband's child by his former wife of his property in favour of her own. Such a secret conspiracy is connected with Draycot, and, although it has been said to be one of the most mysterious in the whole range of English legends, yet, singular as the story may be, writes Sir Bernard Burke, "no small portion of it is upon record as a thing not to be questioned; and it is not necessary to believe in supernatural agency to give all parties credit for having faithfully narrated their impressions." The main facts of this strange story are briefly told: Walter Long of Draycot had two wives, the second being Catherine, daughter of Sir John Thynne, of Longleat. On their arrival at Draycot after the honeymoon, there were great rejoicings into which all entered save the heir of the houses of Draycot and Wraxhall, who was silent and sad. Once arrived in her new home, the mistress of Draycot lost no time in studying the character of her step-son, for she had an object in view which made it necessary that she should completely understand his character. Her design was, in short, that the young master of Draycot, "the heir of all his father's property—the obstruction in the way of whatever children there might be by the second marriage—must be ruined, or at any rate so disgraced as to provoke his father to disinherit him." Taking into her confidence her brother, Sir Egremont Thynne, of Longleat, with his help she soon discovered that the youthful heir of Draycot was fond of wine and dice, and that he had on more than one occasion met with his father's displeasure for indulgence in such acts of dissipation. Having learnt, too, that the young man was kept on short supplies by his parsimonious father, and had often complained that he was not allowed sufficient pocket-money for the bare expenses of his daily life; the crafty step-mother seized this opportunity for carrying out her treacherous and dishonourable conduct. Commiserating with the inexperienced youth in his want of money, and making him feel more than ever dissatisfied at his father's meanness to him, she quickly enlisted him on her side, especially when she gave him liberal supplies of money, and recommended him to enjoy his life whilst it was in his power to do so.

With a full rather than an empty purse, the young squire was soon seen with a cheerful party over the wine bottle, and, at another time, with a gambling group gathered round the dice box. But this kind of thing suited admirably his step-mother, for she took good care that such excesses were brought under the notice of the lad's father, and magnified into heinous crimes. From time to time this unprincipled woman kept supplying the unsuspecting youth with money, and did all in her power to encourage him in his tastes for reckless living. Fresh stories of his son's dissipated conduct were continually being told to the master of Draycot, until at last, "influenced by the wiles of his charming wife, on the other by deeper wiles of his brother-in-law, he agreed to make out a will disinheriting his son by his first wife, and settling all his possessions on his second wife and her relations."

Hitherto, the secret entered into by brother and sister had been a perfect success, for not only was the son completely alienated from his father, but the latter deemed it a sin to make any provision for one who was given to drink and gambling. A draft will was drawn up by Sir Egremont Thynne, and when approved of was ordered to be copied by a clerk. But here comes the remarkable part of the tale. The work of engrossing demands a clear, bright light, and the slightest shadow intervening between the light and the parchment would be sure to interrupt operations. Such an interruption the clerk was suddenly? subjected to, when, "on looking up he beheld a white hand—a lady's delicate white hand—so placed between the light and the deed as to obscure the spot on which he was engaged. The unaccountable hand, however, was gone almost as soon as noticed." The clerk concluding that this was some optical delusion, proceeded with his work, and had come to the clause wherein the Master of Draycot disinherited his son, when again the same ghostly hand was thrust between the light and the parchment.

Terrified at this unearthly intervention, the clerk awoke Sir Egremont from his midnight slumbers, and told him what had occurred, adding that the spectre hand was no other than that of the first wife of the master of Draycot, who resented the cruel wrong done to her son. In due time the deed was engrossed by another clerk, and duly signed and sealed.

But the "white hand" had not appeared in vain, for the clerk's curious adventure afterwards became the topic of general conversation, and the injustice done to the disinherited heir of Draycot excited so much sympathetic indignation that "the trustees of the late Lady Long arrested the old knight's corpse at the church door, her nearest relations commenced a suit against the intended heir, and the result was a compromise between the parties, John Long taking possession of Wroxhall, while his other half-brother was allowed to retain Draycot," a settlement that, it is said, explains the division of the two estates, which we find at the present day. The secret between the brother and sister was well kept, and whatever explanation may be given to the "white hand," the story is as singular as any in the annals of domestic history.

It was the betrayal of a secret, on the other hand, on the part of a woman that is traditionally said to have caused the sudden and tragic death of Richard, second Earl of Scarborough. This nobleman, it seems, was in the confidence of the King, and had been entrusted by him with the keeping of a most important secret. But, like most favourites, the Earl was surrounded by enemies who were ever on the alert to compass his ruin, and, amidst other devices, they laid their plans to prevail on the unsuspecting Earl to betray the confidence which the King had implicitly reposed on him. Finding it, however, impossible by this means to make him guilty of a breach of trust towards the King, they had recourse to another scheme which proved successful, and thereby irrevocably compromised him in the King's eyes.

Having discovered that the Earl was in love with a certain lady and was in the habit of frequently visiting her, some of his enemies discovered where she lived, and, calling on her, promised an exceeding rich reward if she could draw the royal secret from her lover, and communicate it to them. Easily bought over by the offer of so rich a bribe, the treacherous woman, like Delilah of old, soon prevailed upon the Earl to give her the desired information, and the secret was revealed. As soon as the Earl's enemies were apprised of the same, they lost no time in hurrying to the king, and submitting to him the proofs of his protege's imprudence. They gained their end, for the next time the Earl came into the royal presence, the King said to him in a sad but firm voice, "Lumley, you have lost a friend, and I a good servant." This was a bitter shock to the Earl, for he learnt now for the first time that she in whom he had reposed his love and faith had been his worst enemy, and that, as far as his relations to the King were concerned, he was disgraced as a man of honour in his estimation. With his proud and haughty spirit, unable to bear the misery and chagrin of his fall and ruin, he had recourse to the suicide's escape from trouble—he shot himself.

But another secret, no less tragic and of a far more sensational nature, related to a certain Mr. Macfarlane. One Sunday, in the autumn of the year 1719, Sir John Swinton, of Swinton, in Berwickshire, left his little daughter Margaret, who had been indisposed through a childish ailment, at home when he went with the rest of his family to church, taking care to lock the outer door. After the lapse of an hour or so, the child had become dull through being alone, and she made her way into the parlour below stairs, where, on her arrival, she hastily bolted the door to keep out any ghost or bogie, stories relating to which had oftentimes excited her fears. But great was her terror when, on looking round, she was confronted by a tall lady, gracefully attired, and possessed of remarkable handsome features. The poor child stood motionless with terror, afraid to go forwards or backwards. Her throbbing heart, however, quickly recovered from its fright, as the mysterious lady, with a kind eye and sweet smile, addressed her by name, and taking her hand, spoke:

"Margaret, you may tell your mother what you have seen, but, for your life, to no one else. If you do, much evil may come of it, some of which will fall on yourself. You are young, but you must promise to be silent as the grave itself in this matter."

Full of childish wonderment, Margaret, half in shyness and half in fear at being an agent in so strange a secret, turned her head towards the window, but on turning round found the lady had disappeared, although the door remained bolted. Her curiosity was now more than before aroused, and she concluded that after all this lady must be one of those fairies she had often read of in books; and it was whilst pondering on what she had seen that the family returned from church.

Surprised at finding Margaret bolted in this parlour, Sir John learnt that "she had been frightened, she knew not why, at the solitude of her own room, and had bolted herself in the parlour." Although she was soon laughed out of her childish fears, Lady Swinton was quick enough to perceive that Margaret had not communicated everything, and insisted upon knowing the whole truth. The child made no objection, as she had not been told to keep the secret from her mother. After describing all that happened, Lady Swinton kissed her daughter tenderly and said, "Since you have kept the secret so well, you shall know something more of this strange lady."

Thereupon Lady Swinton pushed aside one of the oaken panels in the parlour, which revealed a small room beyond, where sat the mysterious lady. "And now, Margaret dear," said her mother, "listen to me. This lady is persecuted by cruel men, who, if they find her, will certainly take her life. She is my guest, she is now yours, and I am sure I need not tell you the meanest peasant in all Scotland would shame to betray his guest."

Margaret promised to keep the secret, never evincing the slightest curiosity to know who the lady was, and it is said she had reached her twentieth year when one day the adventure of her childhood was explained. It seems that the lady in question was a Mrs. Macfarlane, daughter of Colonel Charles Straiton, a zealous Jacobite. When about nineteen years old she married John Macfarlane—law agent of Simon Fraser, Lord Lovat—who was many years her senior. Soon after her marriage Mrs. Macfarlane made the acquaintance of Captain John Cayley, a commissioner of Customs, and on September 29th, 1716, he called on her at Edinburgh, when, for reasons only known to herself or him, she fired two shots at him with a pistol, one of which pierced his heart.

According to Sir Bernard Burke, it was when she would not yield to Captain Cayley's immoral overtures that the latter vowed to blacken her character, a threat which he so successfully carried out "that not one of her female acquaintances upon whom she called would admit her; not one of all she met in the street would acknowledge her." Desperate at this villainy on his part, Mrs. Macfarlane, under pretence of agreeing to Captain Cayley's overtures, sent for him, when fully confident that he was about to reap the fruit of his infamous daring he obeyed her summons. But no sooner had he entered the room than she locked the door, and, snatching up a brace of pistols, she exclaimed: "Wretch, you have blasted the reputation of a woman who never did you the slightest wrong. You have fixed an indelible stain upon the child at her bosom; and all this because, coward as you are, you thought there was no one to take her part." At the same time, it is said, she fired two shots at him with a pistol, one of which pierced his heart. Her husband asserted, however, that she fired to save herself from outrage, an explanation which she affirmed was "only too true." Her husband also declared that his wife was desirous of sending for a magistrate and of telling him the whole story, but that he advised her against it. But not appearing to stand her trial in the ensuing February, she was outlawed, and obtained refuge in the mansion house of the Swinton family in the concealed apartment already described.[32] According to Sir Walter Scott, she "returned and lived and died in Edinbugh"; but her life must have been comparatively short, as her husband married again on October 6th, 1719.

Akin to this dramatic episode may be mentioned one concerning Robert Perceval, the second son of the Right Hon. Sir John Perceval, when reading for the law in his chambers in Lincoln's Inn. The clock had just struck the hour of midnight, when, on looking up from his book, he was astonished to see a figure standing between himself and the door, completely muffled up in a long cloak so as to defy recognition.

"Who are you?" But the figure made no answer.

"What do you want?" No reply.

The figure stood motionless. Thinking it made a low hollow laugh, the young student struck at the intruder with his sword, but the weapon met with no resistance, and not a single drop of blood stained it.

This was amazing, and still no answer. Determined to solve the mystery of this strange being, he cast aside its cloak, when lo! "he saw his own apparition, bloody and ghostly, whereat he was so astonished that he immediately swooned away, but, recovering, he saw the spectre depart."

At first this occurrence left the most unpleasant impressions on his mind, but as days passed by without anything happening, the warning, or whatever it was, faded gradually from his memory, and he lived as before, drinking and quarrelling, managing to embroil himself at play with the celebrated Beau Fielding. The day at last came, however, when his equanimity was disturbed, for, as he was walking from his chambers in Lincoln's Inn to a favourite tavern in the Strand, he imagined that he was followed by an ungainly looking man. He tried to avoid him, but the man followed on, and after a time, fully convinced that he was dogged by this man, he demanded "Who he was, and why he followed him?"

But the man replied, "I am not following you; I'm following my own business."

By no means satisfied, young Perceval crossed over to the opposite side of the street, but the man followed him step by step, and before many minutes had elapsed he was joined by another man as ungainly-looking as himself. Perceval, no longer doubting that he was followed, called upon the two men to retire at their peril, and although he succeeded in making them take to their heels after a sharp sword skirmish, he was himself wounded in the leg, and made his way to the nearest tavern. This unpleasant encounter, reviving the memory of the ghastly figure he had seen in his chambers, made him feel that he was a doomed man, and he was not far wrong, for that night near the so-called May-pole in the Strand he was found dead—but how he died was a secret never divulged.

Another equally strange incident connected with this mysterious crime happened to a Mrs. Brown, "perhaps from her holding some situation in the family of his uncle, Sir Robert." On this fatal night, writes Sir Bernard Burke, she dreamt that one Mrs. Shearman—the housekeeper—came to her and asked for a sheet.

She demanded, "for what purpose," to which Mrs. Shearman replied, "Poor Master Robert is killed, and it is to wind him in."

Curious to say, in the morning Mrs. Shearman came at an early hour into her room, and asked for a sheet. For what purpose? inquired Mrs Brown.

"Poor Mr. Robert is murdered," was the reply; "he lies dead in the Strand watch-house, and it is to wind his body in."

In the year 1848, the Warwick magistrates investigated a most extraordinary and preposterous charge of murder against Lord Leigh, his deceased mother, and persons employed by them, in the course of which inquiry one of the accusers professed to have been in possession of a secret connected with the matter for a number of years. The accusation seems to have originated from the attempt of certain parties to seize Stoneleigh Abbey on pretence that it rightfully belonged to them, and not to Lord Leigh. In November, 1844, a mob took possession of the place for one George Leigh; several of the ringleaders were tried for the offence, and not fewer than twenty-eight were convicted. The account of this curious conspiracy, as given in the "Annual Register," goes on to say that Richard Barnett made the charge of murder: in 1814 he was employed under Lady Julia Leigh and her son at the Abbey, where a number of workmen were engaged in making alterations; four of these men were murdered by large stones having been allowed to fall on them, and their bodies were placed within an abutment of a bridge, and then inclosed with masonry. Another man was shot by Hay, a keeper. In cross-examination, the witness said he "had kept silence on these atrocities for thirty years, because he feared Lord Leigh, and because he did not expect to obtain anything by speaking. He first divulged the secret to those who were trying to seize the estate; as this information he thought would help them to get it, for the murders were committed to keep out the proper owners."

In the course of the inquiry, John Wilcox was required to repeat evidence which he had given before a Master of Chancery; but, instead of doing so, the man confessed that he was not sober when he made the declaration. He further declared how some servants of the Leigh family had burned pictures, and had been paid to keep "the secrets of the house." The whole story, however, was a deliberate and wilful fabrication, the facts were contradicted and circumstantially refuted, and of course so worthless a charge was dismissed by the Bench.


[31] See "Annual Register" (1832), 152-5.

[32] This incident suggested to Sir Walter Scott his description of the concealment and discovery of the Countess of Derby in "Peveril of the Peak." See "Dictionary of National Biography," xxxv., 74.



Open, lock, To the dead man's knock! Fly, bolt, and bar, and band; Nor move, nor swerve, Joint, muscle, or nerve, At the spell of the dead man's hand. INGOLDSBY LEGENDS.

One of the most curious and widespread instances of deception and credulity is the magic potency which has long been supposed to reside in the so-called "Hand of Glory"—the withered hand of a dead man. Numerous stories are told of its marvellous properties as a charm, and on the Continent many a wonderful cure is said to have been wrought by its agency. Southey, it may be remembered, in his "Thalaba, the Destroyer," has placed it in the hands of the enchanter, King Mohareb, when he would lull to sleep Zohak, the giant keeper of the Caves of Babylon. And the history of this wonder-working talisman, as used by Mohareb, is thus graphically told:

Thus he said, And from his wallet drew a human hand, Shrivelled and dry and black. And fitting, as he spake, A taper in his hold, Pursued: "A murderer on the stake had died. I drove the vulture from his limbs and lopt The hand that did the murder, and drew up The tendon strings to close its grasp, And in the sun and wind Parched it, nine weeks exposed."

From the many accounts given of this "Dead Hand," we gather that it has generally been considered necessary that the hand should be taken from a man who has been put to death for some crime. Then, when dried and prepared with certain weird unguents, it is ready for use. Sir Walter Scott, in the "Antiquary" has introduced this object of superstition, making the German adventurer, Dousterswivel, describe it to the assembled party among the ruins at St. Ruth's thus jocosely: "De Hand of Glory is very well known in de countries where your worthy progenitors did live; and it is a hand cut off from a dead man as he has been hanged for murder, and dried very nice in de smoke of juniper wood; then you do take something of de fatsh of de bear, and of de badger, and of de great eber (as you do call ye grand boar), and of de little sucking child as has not been christened (for dat is very essential), and you do make a candle, and put into de Hand of Glory at de proper hour and minute, with the proper ceremonials; and he who seeketh for treasures shall never find none at all."

Possessed of these mystic qualities, such a hand could not fail to find favour with those engaged in any kind of evil and enterprise; and, on account of its lulling to sleep all persons within the circle of its influence, was of course held invaluable by thieves and burglars. Thus the case is recorded of some thieves, who, a few years ago, attempted to commit a robbery on a certain estate in the county Meath. To quote a contemporary account of the affair, it appears that "they entered the house armed with a dead man's hand, with a lighted candle in it, believing in the superstitious notion that a candle placed in a dead man's hand will not be seen by any but by those by whom it is used, and also that if a candle in a dead hand be introduced into a house, it will prevent those who may be asleep from awaking. The inmates, however, were alarmed, and the robbers fled, leaving the hand behind them." Another story communicated by the Rev. S. Baring-Gould, tells how two thieves, having come to lodge in a public-house, with a view to robbing it, asked permission to pass the night by the fire, and obtained it. But when the house was quiet the servant girl, suspecting mischief, crept downstairs, and looked through the keyhole. She saw the men open a sack, and take out a dry withered hand. They anointed the fingers with some unguents, and lighted them. Each finger flamed, but the thumb they could not light—that was because one of the household was not asleep.

The girl hastened to her master, but found it impossible to arouse him—she tried every other sleeper, but could not break the charmed sleep. At last stealing down into the kitchen, while the thieves were busy over her master's strong-box, she secured the hand, blew out the flames, and at once the whole house was aroused.

Among other qualities which have been supposed to belong to a dead man's hand, are its medicinal virtues, in connection with which may be mentioned the famous "dead hand," which was, in years past, kept at Bryn Hall, Lancashire. There are several stories relating to this gruesome relic, one being that it was the hand of Father Arrowsmith, a priest, who, according to some accounts, is said to have been put to death for his religion in the time of William III. It is recorded that when about to suffer he desired his spiritual attendant to cut off his right hand, which should ever after have power to work miraculous cures on those who had faith to believe in its efficacy. This relic, which forms the subject of one of Roby's "Traditions of Lancashire," was preserved with great care in a white silk bag, and was resorted to by many diseased persons, who are reported to have derived wonderful cures from its application. Thus the case is related of a woman who, attacked with the smallpox, had this dead hand in bed with her every night for six weeks, and of a poor lad living near Manchester who was touched with it for the cure of scrofulous sores.

It has been denied, however, that Father Arrowsmith was hanged for "witnessing a good confession," and Mr. Roby, in his "Traditions of Lancashire," says that, having been found guilty of a rape, in all probability this story of his martyrdom, and of the miraculous attestation to the truth of the cause for which he suffered, were contrived for the purpose of preventing the scandal that would have come upon the Church through the delinquency of an unworthy member. It is further said that one of the family of the Kenyons attended as under-sheriff at the execution, and that he refused the culprit some trifling favour at the gallows, whereupon Arrowsmith denounced a curse upon him, to wit, that, whilst the family could boast of an heir, so long they never should want a cripple—a prediction which was supposed by the credulous to have been literally fulfilled. But this story is discredited, the real facts of the case, no doubt, being that he was hanged "under sanction of an atrocious law, for no other reason but because he had taken orders as a Roman Catholic priest, and had endeavoured to prevail upon others to be of his own faith." According to another version of the story, Edmund Arrowsmith was a native of Haydock, in the parish of Winwick. He entered the Roman Catholic College of Douay, where he was educated, afterwards being ordained priest. But in the year 1628 he was apprehended and brought to Lancaster on the charge of being a priest contrary to the laws of the realm, and was executed on 26th August, 1628, his last words being "Bone Jesu."[33] As recently as the year 1736, a boy of twelve years, the son of Caryl Hawarden, of Appleton-within-Widnes, county of Lancaster, is stated to have been cured of what appeared to be a fatal malady by the application of Father Arrowsmith's hand, which was effected in the following manner: The boy had been ill fifteen months, and was at length deprived of the use of his limbs, with loss of his memory and impaired sight. In this condition, which the physicians had declared hopeless, it was suggested to his parents that, as wonderful cures had been effected by the hand of "the martyred saint," it was advisable to try its effects upon their afflicted child. The "holy hand" was accordingly procured from Bryn, packed in a box and wrapped in linen. Mrs. Hawarden, having explained to the invalid boy her hopes and intentions, applied the back part of the dead hand to his back, stroking it down each side the backbone and making the sign of the Cross, which she accompanied with a fervent prayer that Jesus Christ would aid it with His blessing. Having twice repeated this operation, the patient, who had before been utterly helpless, rose from his seat and walked about the house, to the surprise of seven persons who had witnessed the miracle. From that day the boy's pains left him, his memory was restored, and his health became re-established. This mystic hand, it seems, was removed from Bryn Hall to Garswood, a seat of the Gerard family, and subsequently to the priest's house at Ashton-in-Makerfield. But many ludicrous tales are current in the neighbourhood, of pilgrims having been rather roughly handled by some of the servants, such as getting a good beating with a wooden hand, so that the patients rapidly retraced their steps without having had the application of the "holy hand."

It is curious to find that such a ghastly relic as a dead hand should have been preserved in many a country house, and used as a talisman, to which we find an amusing and laughable reference in the "Ingoldsby Legends":

Open, lock, To the dead man's knock! Fly bolt, and bar, and band; Nor move, nor swerve, Joint, muscle, or nerve, At the spell of the dead man's hand. Sleep, all who sleep! Wake, all who wake! But be as dead for the dead man's sake.

The story goes on to tell how, influenced by the mysterious spell of the enchanted hand, neither lock, bolt, nor bar avails, neither "stout oak panel, thick studded with nails"; but, heavy and harsh, the hinges creak, though they had been oiled in the course of the week, and

The door opens wide as wide may be, And there they stand, That wondrous band, Lit by the light of the glorious hand, By one! by two! by three!

At Danesfield, Berkshire—so-called from an ancient horseshoe entrenchment of great extent near the house, supposed to be of Danish origin—is preserved a withered hand, which has long had the reputation of being that presented by Henry I. to Reading Abbey, and reverenced there as the hand of James the Apostle. It answers exactly to "the incorrupt hand" described by Hoveden, and was found among the ruins of the abbey, where it is thought to have been secreted at the dissolution.


[33] Baines's "Lancashire," iii., 638; Harland and Wilkinson's "Lancashire Folklore," 158-163.



MEPHISTOPHELES.—I will bind myself to your service here, and never sleep nor slumber at your call. When we meet on the other side, you shall do as much for me. GOETHE'S "Faust."

The well-known story of Faust reminds us of the many similar weird tales which have long held a prominent place in family traditions. But in the majority of cases the devil is cheated out of his bargain by some spell against which his influence is powerless. According to the popular notion, compacts are frequently made with the devil, by which he is bound to complete, for instance, a building—as a house, a church, a bridge, or the like—within a certain period; but, through some artifice, by which the soul of the person for whom he is doing the work is saved, the completion of the undertaking is prevented: Thus the cock is made to crow, because, like all spirits that shun the light of the sun, the devil loses his power at break of day. The idea of bartering the soul for temporary gain has not been confined to any country, but as an article of terrible superstition has been widespread. Mr Lecky has pointed out how, in the fourteenth century, "the bas-reliefs on cathedrals frequently represent men kneeling down before the devil, and devoting themselves to him as his servants." In our own country, such compacts were generally made at midnight in some lonely churchyard, or amid the ruins of some castle. But fortunately for mankind, by resorting to spells and counterspells the binding effects of these "devil-bonds" as they have been termed were, in most cases, rendered ineffectual, the devil thereby losing the advantage.

It is noteworthy that the wisdom of the serpent is frequently outwitted by a crafty woman, or a cunning priest. A well-known Lancashire tradition gives a humorous account of how the devil was on one occasion deluded by the shrewdness of a clever woman. Barely three miles from Clitheroe, on the high road to Gisburne, stood a public house with this title, "The Dule upo' Dun," which means "The Devil upon Dun" (horse). The story runs that a poor tailor sold himself to Satan for seven years on his granting him certain wishes, after which term, according to the contract, signed, as is customary, with the victim's own blood, his soul was to become "the devil's own." When the fatal day arrived, on the advice of his wife, he consulted "the holy father of Salley" in his extremity. At last the hour came when the Evil One claimed his victim, who tremblingly contended that the contract was won from him by fraud and dishonest pretences, and had not been fulfilled. He even ventured to hint at his lack of power to bestow riches, or any great gift, on which Satan was goaded into granting him another wish. "Then," said the trembling tailor, "I wish thou wert riding back again to thy quarters on yonder dun horse, and never able to plague me again, or any other poor wretch whom thou has gotten into thy clutches!"

The words were no sooner uttered than the devil, with a roar which was heard as far as Colne, went away rivetted to the back of this dun horse, the tailor watching his departure almost beside himself for joy. He lived for many years in health and affluence, and, at his death, one of his relatives having bought the house where he resided, turned it into an inn, having for his sign, "The Dule upo' Dun." On it was depicted "Old Hornie" mounted on a scraggy dun horse, without saddle or bridle, "the terrified steed being off and away at full gallop from the door, while a small hilarious tailor with shears and measures," viewed his departure with anything but grief or disapprobation.[34] The authors of "Lancashire Legends," describing this old house, inform us that it was "one of those ancient gabled black and white edifices, now fast disappearing under the march of improvement. Many windows of little lozenge-shaped panes set in lead, might be seen here in all the various stages of renovation and decay. Over the door, till lately, swung the old and quaint sign, attesting the truth of the tradition."

Occasionally similar bargains have been rendered ineffectual by cunning device. In the north wall of the church of Tremeirchion, North Wales, has long been shown the tomb of a former vicar, who was also celebrated as a necromancer, flourishing in the middle of the fourteenth century. It is reported that he proved himself more clever than the Wicked One himself. A bargain was made between them that the vicar should practise the black art with impunity during his life, but that the devil should possess his body after death, whether he were buried within or without the church. But the worthy vicar dexterously cheated his ally of his bargain by being buried within the church wall itself. A similar tradition is told of other localities, and amongst them of Barn Hall, in the parish of Tolleshunt Knights, on the border of the Essex marshes. In the middle of a field is shown an enclosed uncultivated spot, where, the legend says, it was originally intended to erect the hall, had not the devil come by night and destroyed the work of the day. This kind of thing went on for some time, when it was arranged that a knight, attended by two dogs, should watch for the author of this mischief. He had not long to wait, for, in the quiet of the night, the Prince of Darkness made his appearance, bent on his mischievous errand. A tussle ensued, in the course of which, snatching up a beam from the building, he hurled it to the site of the present hall, exclaiming:

"Wheresoe'er this beam shall fall, There shall stand Barn Hall."

But the devil, very angry at being thus foiled by the knight, vowed that he would have him at his death, whether he was buried in the church or out of it. "But this doom was averted by burying him in the wall—half in and half out of the church. At Brent Pelham Church, Herts, too, there is the tomb of one Piers Shonkes, and there is a tale current in the neighbourhood that the devil swore he would have him, no matter whether buried within or without the church. So, as a means of escape, he was built up in the wall of the sacred edifice."

Another extraordinary story has long been told of Hermitage Castle, one of the most famous of the Border Keeps in the days of its splendour. It is not surprising, therefore, that for many years past it has had the reputation of being haunted, having been described as:—

"Haunted Hermitage, Where long by spells mysterious bound, They pace their round with lifeless smile, And shake with restless foot the guilty pile, Till sink the smouldering towers beneath the burdened ground."

It is popularly said that Lord Soulis, "the evil hero of Hermitage," in an unguarded moment made a compact with the devil, who appeared to him in the shape of a spirit wearing a red cap, which gained its hue from the blood of human victims in which it was steeped. Lord Soulis sold himself to the demon, and in return he was permitted to summon his familiar, whenever he was desirous of doing so, by rapping thrice on an iron chest, the condition being that he never looked in the direction of the spirit. But one day, whether wittingly or not has never been ascertained, he failed to comply with this stipulation, and his doom was sealed. But even then the foul fiend kept the letter of the compact. Lord Soulis was protected by an unholy charm against any injury from rope or steel; hence cords could not bind him, and steel could not slay him. But when at last he was delivered over to his enemies, it was found necessary to adopt the ingenious and effective expedient of rolling him up in a sheet of lead, and boiling him to death, and so:

On a circle of stones they placed the pot, On a circle of stones but barely nine; They heated it red and fiery hot And the burnished brass did glimmer and shine. They rolled him up in a sheet of lead— A sheet of lead for a funeral pall; They plunged him into the cauldron red And melted him, body, lead, bones and all.

This was the terrible end of the body of Lord Soulis, but his spirit is supposed to still linger on the scene. And once every seven years he keeps tryst with Red Cap on the scene of his former devilries.

And still when seven years are o'er Is heard the jarring sound When hollow opes the charmed door Of chamber underground.

A tradition well-known in Yorkshire relates how on the Eagle's Crag, otherwise nicknamed the "Witches' Horseblock," the Lady of Bernshaw Tower made that strange compact with the devil, whereby she not only became mistress of the country around, but the dreaded queen of the Lancashire witches. It seems that this Lady Sybil was possessed of almost unrivalled beauty, and scarcely a day passed without some fresh admirer seeking her hand—an additional attraction being her great wealth. Her intellectual attainments, too, were commonly said to be far beyond those of her sex, and oftentimes she would visit the Eagle's Crag in order to study nature and admire the varied aspects of the surrounding country.

It was on these occasions that Lady Sybil often felt a strong desire to possess supernatural powers; and, in an unwary moment, it is said that she was induced to sell her soul to the devil, in order that she might be able to take a part in the nightly revelries of the then famous Lancashire witches. It is added that the bond was duly attested with her blood, and that in consequence of this compact her utmost wishes were at all times granted. Hapton Tower was, at this time, occupied by a junior branch of the Towneley family, and, although Lord William had long been a suitor for the hand of Lady Sybil, his proposals were constantly rejected. In his despair, he determined to consult a famous Lancashire witch—one Mother Helston—who promised him success on the ensuing All Hallows' Eve. When the day arrived, in accordance with her directions, he went out hunting, and on nearing Eagle's Crag he started a milk-white doe, but, after scouring the country for miles—the hounds being well-nigh exhausted—he returned to the Crag. At this crisis, a strange hound joined them—the familiar of Mother Helston, which had been sent to capture Lady Sibyl, who had assumed the disguise of the white doe. The remainder of the curious family legend, as told by Mr. Harland, is briefly this: During the night, Hapton Tower was shaken as by an earthquake, and in the morning the captured doe appeared as the fair heiress of Bernshaw. Counter spells were adopted, her powers of witchcraft were suspended, and before many days had passed Lord William had the happiness to lead his newly-wedded bride to his ancestral home. But within a year she had renewed her diabolical practices, causing a serious breach between her husband and herself. Happily a reconciliation was eventually effected, but her bodily strength gave way, and her health rapidly declined. When it became evident that the hour of her death was drawing near, Lord William obtained the services of the neighbouring clergy, and by their holy offices the devil's bond was cancelled. Soon afterwards, Lady Sybil died in peace, but Bernshaw Tower was from that time deserted. Popular tradition, however, still alleges that her grave was dug where the dark Eagle's Crag shoots out its cold, bare peak into the sky, and on the eve of All Hallows, the hound and the milk-white doe are supposed by the peasantry to meet on the Crag, pursued by a spectre huntsman in full chase. It is further added that the belated peasant crosses himself at the sound, remembering the sad fate of Lady Sybil of Bernshaw Tower.

It is curious to find no less a person than Sir Francis Drake charged with having been befriended by the devil; and the many marvellous stories current respecting him still linger among the Devonshire peasantry. By the aid of the devil, it is said, he was enabled to destroy the Spanish Armada. And his connection with the old Abbey of Buckland is equally singular. An extensive building attached to the abbey, for instance, which was no doubt used as barns and stables after the place had been deprived of its religious character, was reported to have been built by the devil in three nights. "After the first night," writes Mr. Hunt,[35] "the butler, astonished at the work done, resolved to watch and see how it was performed. Consequently, on the second night, he mounted into a large tree and hid himself between the forks of its five branches. At midnight, so the story goes, the devil came, driving teams of oxen, and, as some of them were lazy, he plucked this tree from the ground and used it as a goad. The poor butler lost his senses and never recovered them." Although, as it has been truly remarked, "on the waters that wash the shores of the county of Devon were achieved many of those triumphs which make Sir Francis Drake's life read more like a romance than a sober chronicle of facts;" the extraordinary traditions told respecting him have largely invested his life with the supernatural. But, whatever may have been the nature of his dealings with the devil, we are told that he has had to pay dearly for any earthly advantages he may have derived therefrom in his lifetime, "being forced to drive at night a black hearse, drawn by headless horses, and urged on by running devils and yelping headless dogs, along the road from Tavistock to Plymouth."

Among the many tales related, in which the demoniacal element holds a prominent place, there is one relating to the projected marriage of his wife. It seems that Sir Francis was abroad, and his wife, not hearing from him for seven years, concluded he must be dead, and hence was at liberty to enter for a second time the holy estate of matrimony. Her choice was made and the nuptial day fixed; but Sir Francis Drake was informed of all this by a spirit that attended him. And just as the wedding was about to be solemnised, he hastily charged one of his big guns and discharged a ball. So true was the aim that "the ball shot up right through the globe, dashed through the roof of the church, and fell with a loud explosion between the lady and her intended bridegroom." The spectators and assembled guests were thrown into the wildest confusion; but the bride declared it was an indication that Sir Francis Drake was still alive, and, as she refused to allow another golden circlet to be placed on her finger, the intended ceremony was, in the most abrupt and unexpected manner, ended. The prettiest part of the tale remains to be told. Not long afterwards Sir Francis Drake returned, and, disguised as a beggar, he solicited alms from his wife at her own door; when, unable to prevent smiling in the midst of a feigned tale of abject poverty, she recognised him, and a very joyful meeting took place.

And even Buckland Abbey did not escape certain strange influences. Some years ago, a small box was found in a closet which had been long closed, containing, it is supposed, family papers. It was arranged that this box should be sent to the residence of the inheritor of the property. The carriage was at the abbey door, into which it was easily lifted. The owner having taken his seat, the coachman attempted to start his horses, but in vain. They would not, they could not, move. More horses were brought and then the heavy farm horses, and eventually all the oxen. They were powerless to start the carriage. At length a mysterious voice was heard declaring that the box could never be moved from Buckland Abbey. Accordingly it was taken from the carriage easily by one man, and a pair of horses galloped off with the carriage.

The famous Jewish banker, Samuel Bernard, who died in the year 1789, leaving an enormous property, had, it is said, "a favourite black cock which was regarded by many as uncanny, and as unpleasantly connected with the amassing of his fortune." The bird died a day or two before his master. It would seem that in bygone years black cocks were extensively used in magical incantations and in sacrifices to the devil, and Burns, it may be remembered, in his "Address to the Deil" says, "Some cock or cat your rage must stop;" and a well-known French recipe for invoking the Evil One runs thus: "Take a black cock under your left arm, and go at midnight to where four cross roads meet. Then cry three times 'Poul Noir!' or else utter 'Robert' nine times, and the devil will appear."

Among the romantic stories told of Kersal Hall, Lancashire, it is related how Eustace Dauntesey, one of its chiefs in days of old, wooed a maiden fair with a handsome fortune; but she gave her heart to a rival suitor. The wedding day was fixed, but the prospect of her marriage was a terrible trouble to Eustace, and threatened to mar the happiness of his life. Having, however, in his youth perfected himself in the black art, he drew a magic circle, at the witching hour of night, and summoned the Evil One to a consultation. The meeting came off, at which the usual bargain was quickly struck, the soul of Eustace being bartered for the coveted body of the beautiful young lady. The compact, it was arranged, should close at her death, but the Evil One was to remain meanwhile by the side of Dauntesey in the form of an elegant "self," or genteel companion. In due course the eventful day arrived when Eustace stood before the altar. But the marriage ceremony was no sooner over than, on leaving the sacred edifice, the elements were found to be the reverse of favourable to them. The flowers strewed before their feet stuck to their wet shoes, and soaking rain cast a highly depressing influence on all the bridal surroundings; and, on arriving at the festive hall where the marriage feast was to be held, the ill-fortune of Eustace assumed another shape. Strange to say, his bride began to melt away before his very eyes, and, thoroughly familiar as he was with the laws of magic, here was a new phase of mystery which was completely beyond his comprehension. In short, poor Eustace was the wretched victim of a complete swindle, for while, on the one hand, something is recorded about "a holy prayer, a sunny beam, and an angel train bearing the fair maiden slowly to a fleecy cloud, in whose bosom she became lost to earth," Dauntesey, on the other hand, awakened to consciousness by a touch from his sinister companion, saw a huge yawning gulf at his feet, and felt himself gradually sinking in a direction exactly the opposite of that taken by his bride, who, in the short space of an hour, was lost to him for ever.

But one of the most curious cases of this kind was that recorded in an old tractate[36] published in 1662, giving an account attested by "six of the sufficientest men of the town," of what happened to a certain John Leech, a farmer living at Raveley. Being desirous of visiting Whittlesea fair, he went beforehand with a neighbour to an inn for the purpose of drinking "his morninges draught." Whilst the two were enjoying their "morninges draught," Mr. Leech began to be "very merry," and, seeing his friend was desirous of going, he exclaimed, "Let the devil take him who goeth out of this house to-day." But in his merriment he forgot his rash observation, and shortly afterwards, calling for his horse, set out for the fair. He had not travelled far on the road when he remembered what he had said, "his conscience being sore troubled at that damnable oath which he had took." Not knowing what to do, he rode about, first one way and then another, until darkness set in, and at about two o'clock in the night "he espied two grim creatures before him in the likeness of griffins." These were the devil's messengers, who had been sent to take him at his word, and take him they did, according to the testimony of the "six sufficientist men of the town." They roughly handled him, took him up in the air, stripped him, and then dropped him, "a sad spectacle, all bloody and goared," in a farmyard just outside the town of Doddington.

Here he was discovered, lying upon some harrows, in the condition described. He was picked up, and carried to a gentleman's house, where, being well cared for, he narrated the remarkable adventure which had befallen him. Before long, however, he "grew into a frenzy so desperate that they were afraid to stay in his chamber," and the gentleman of the house, not knowing what to do, "sent for the parson of the town." Prompted, it is supposed, by the Satanic influence which still held him, Mr. Leech rushed at the minister, and attacked him with so much fury that it was "like to have cost him his life." But the noise being heard below, the servants rushed up, rescued the parson, and tied Mr. Leech down in his bed, and left him. The next morning, hearing nothing, they thought he was asleep, but on entering his room "he was discovered with his neck broke, his tongue out of his mouth, and his body as black as a shoe, all swelled, and every bone in his body out of joint."[37]

We may conclude these extraordinary cases of "devil-bonds" with two further strange incidents, one an apparent record of a case of a similar kind, which was practised, amidst the frivolities and plotting of the French Court, by no less celebrated a lady than Catharine de Medicis. In the "Secret History of France for the Last Century,"[38] this incredible story is given: "In the first Civil War, when the Prince of Conde was, in all appearance, likely to prevail, and Katherine was thought to be very near the end of her much desired Regency, during the young king's minority, she was known to have been for two days together retired to her closet, without admitting her menial servants to her presence." Some few days after, having called for Monsieur de Mesme, one of the Long Robe, and always firm to her interest, she delivered him a steel box, fast locked, to whom she said, giving him the key: 'That in respect she knew not what might come to her by fortune, amidst those intestine broils that then shook France, she had thought fit to enclose a thing of great value within that box, which she consigned to his care, not to open it upon oath, but by an express order under her own hand.' The queen dying without ever calling for the box, it continued many years unopened in the family of De Mesme, after both their deaths, till, at last, curiosity, or the suspicion of some treasure, from the heaviness of it, tempted Monsieur de Mesme's successor to break it open, which he did. Instead of any rich present from so great a queen, what horror must the lookers on have when they found a copper plate of the form and bigness of one of the ancient Roman Votive Shields, on which was engraved Queen Katherine de Medicis on her knees, in a praying posture, offering up to the devil sitting upon a throne, in one of the ugliest shapes they used to paint him, Charles the IXth, then reigning, the Duke of Anjou, afterwards Henry III., and the Duke of Alanson, her three sons, with this motto in French, "So be it, I but reign."

And in the Court Rolls of the Manor of Hatfield, near the Isle of Axholme, Yorkshire, the following ridiculous story is given: "Robert de Roderham appeared against John de Ithon, for that he had not kept the agreement made between them, and therefore complains that on a certain day and year, at Thorne, there was an agreement between the aforesaid Robert and John, whereby the said John sold to the said Robert the Devil, bound in a certain bond, for threepence farthing, and thereupon, the said Robert delivered to the said John one farthing as earnest money, by which the property of the said devil, was vested in the person of the said Robert, to have livery of the said devil on the fourth day next following, at which day the said Robert came to the forenamed John and asked delivery of the said devil, according to the agreement between them made. But the said John refused to deliver the said devil, nor has he yet done it, &c., to the great damage of the said Robert, to the amount of 60gs, and he has, therefore, brought his suit.

"The said John came, and did not deny the said agreement; and because it appeared to the Court that such a suit ought not to subsist among Christians, the aforesaid parties are, therefore, adjourned to the infernal regions, there to hear their judgment, and both parties were amerced by William de Scargell, Seneschall."


[34] Harland and Wilkinson's "Lancashire Legends," 15-16.

[35] "Romances of the West of England."

[36] "A Strange and True Relation of one Mr. John Leech," 1662.

[37] "Saunders' Legends and Traditions of Huntingdonshire," 1878, 1-3.

[38] London, printed for A. Bell, 1714.



"Say not 'tis vain! I tell thee, some Are warned by a meteor's light, Or a pale bird flitting calls them home, Or a voice on the winds by night— And they must go. And he too, he, Woe for the fall of the glorious tree." —MRS. HEMANS.

A curious chapter in the history of many of our old county families is that relating to certain forewarnings, which, from time immemorial, have been supposed to indicate the approach of death. However incredible the existence of these may seem, their appearance is still intimately associated with certain houses, instances of which have been recorded from time to time. Thus Cuckfield Place, Sussex, is not only interesting as a fine Elizabethan mansion, but as having suggested to Ainsworth the "Rookwood Hall" of his striking romance. "The supernatural occurrence," he says, "forming the groundwork of one of the ballads which I have made the harbinger of doom to the house of Rookwood, is ascribed, by popular superstition, to a family resident in Sussex, upon whose estate the fatal tree—a gigantic lime, with mighty arms and huge girth of trunk—is still carefully preserved." In the avenue that winds towards the house the doom-tree still stands:—

"And whether gale or calm prevail, or threatening cloud hath fled, By hand of Fate, predestinate, a limb that tree will shed; A verdant bough, untouched, I trow, by axe or tempest's breath, To Rookwood's head, an omen dread of fast approaching death."

"Cuckfield Place," adds Ainsworth, "to which this singular piece of timber is attached, is the real Rookwood Hall, for I have not drawn upon imagination, but upon memory, in describing the seat and domains of that fated family." A similar tradition is associated with the Edgewell Oak, which is said to indicate the coming death of an inmate of Castle Dalhousie by the fall of one of its branches; and Camden in his "Magna Britannia," alluding to the antiquity of the Brereton family, relates this peculiar fact which is reported to have been repeated many times: "This wonderful thing respecting them is commonly believed, and I have heard it myself affirmed by many, that for some days before the death of the heir of the family the trunk of a tree has always been seen floating in the lake adjoining their mansion;" a popular superstition to which Mrs. Hemans refers in the lines which head the present chapter. A further instance of a similar kind is given by Sir Bernard Burke, who informs us that opposite the dining-room at Gordon Castle is a large and massive willow tree, the history of which is somewhat singular. Duke Alexander, when four years old, planted this willow in a tub filled with earth. The tub floated about in a marshy-piece of land, till the shrub, expanding, burst its cerements, and struck root in the earth below; here it grew and prospered till it attained its present goodly size. It is said the Duke regarded the tree with a sort of fatherly and even superstitious regard, half-believing there was some mysterious affinity between its fortune and his own. If an accident happened to the one by storm or lightning, some misfortune was not long in befalling the other.

It has been noted, also, that the same thing is related of the brave but unfortunate Admiral Kempenfeldt, who went down in the Royal George off Portsmouth. During his proprietary of Lady Place, he and his brother planted two thorn trees. But one day, on coming home, the brother noted that the tree planted by the Admiral had completely withered away. Astonished at this unexpected sight, he felt some apprehensions as to Admiral Kempenfeldt's safety, and exclaimed with some emotion, "I feel sure that this is an omen that my brother is dead." By a striking coincidence, his worst fears were realised, for on that evening came the terrible news of the loss of the Royal George.

Whenever any member of the family of Kirkpatrick of Closeburn, in the county of Dumfries was about to die—either by accident or disease—a swan that was never seen but on such occasions, was sure to make its appearance upon the lake which surrounded Closeburn Castle, coming no one knew whence, and passing away as mysteriously when the predicted death had taken place, in connection with which the following singular legend has been handed down: In days gone by, the lake of Closeburn Castle was the favourite resort during the summer season of a pair of swans, their arrival always being welcome to the family at the castle from a long established belief that they were ominous of good fortune to the Kirkpatricks. "No matter," it is said, "what mischance might have before impended, it was sure to cease at their coming, and so suddenly, as well as constantly, that it required no very ardent superstition to connect the two events into cause and effect."

But a century and a half had passed away, when it happened that the young heir of Closeburn Castle—a lad of not quite thirteen years of age—in one of his visits to Edinburgh attended at the theatre a performance of "The Merchant of Venice," in the course of which he was surprised to hear Portia say of Bassanio that he should

"Make a swan-like end, Fading in music."

Often wondering whether swans really sang before dying he determined, at the first opportunity, to test the truth of these words for himself. On his return home, he was one day walking by the lake when the swans came sailing majestically towards him, and at once reminded of Portia's remark. Without a moment's thought, he lodged in the breast of the foremost one a bolt from his crossbow, killing it instantly. Frightened at what he had done, he made up his mind it should not be known; and, as the water drifted the dead body of the bird towards the shore, he buried it deep in the ground.

No small surprise, however, was occasioned in the neighbourhood, when, for several years, no swans made their annual appearance, the idea at last being that they must have died in their native home, wherever that might chance to be. The yearly visit of the swans of Closeburn had become a thing of the past, when one day much excitement was caused by the return of a single swan, and much more so when a deep blood-red stain was observed upon its breast. As might be expected, this unlooked-for occurrence occasioned grave suspicions even amongst those who had no great faith in omens; and that such fears were not groundless was soon abundantly clear, for in less than a week the lord of Closeburn Castle died suddenly. Thereupon the swan vanished, and was seen no more for some years, when it again appeared to announce the loss of one of the house by shipwreck.

The last recorded appearance of the bird was at the third nuptials of Sir Thomas Kirkpatrick, the first baronet of that name. On the wedding-day, his son Roger was walking by the lake, when, on a sudden, as if it had emerged from the waters, the swan appeared with the bleeding breast. Roger had heard of this mysterious swan, and, although his father's wedding bells were ringing merrily, he himself returned to the castle a sorrowful man, for he felt convinced that some evil was hanging over him. Despite his father's jest at what he considered groundless superstition on his part, the young man could not shake off his fears, replying to his father, "Perhaps before long you also may be sorrowful." On the night of that very day the son died, and here ends the strange story of the swans of Closeburn.[39]

Similarly, whenever two owls are seen perched on the family mansion of the noble family of Arundel of Wardour, it has long been regarded as a certain indication that one of its members before very long will be summoned out of the world; and the appearance of a white-breasted bird was the death-warning of the Oxenham family, particulars relating to the tragic origin of which are to be found in a local ballad, which commences thus[40]:

Where lofty hills in grandeur meet, And Taw meandering flows, There is a sylvan, calm retreat, Where erst a mansion rose.

There dwelt Sir James of Oxenham, A brave and generous lord; Benighted travellers never came Unwelcome to his board.

In early life his wife had died; A son he ne'er had known; And Margaret, his age's pride, Was heir to him alone.

In course of time, Margaret became affianced to a young knight, and their wedding-day was fixed. On the evening preceding it, her father, in accordance with custom, gave a banquet to his friends, in order that they might congratulate him on the approaching happy union. He stood up to thank them for their kind wishes, and in alluding to the young knight—in a few hours time to be his daughter's husband—he jestingly called him his son:—

But while the dear unpractised word Still lingered on his tongue, He saw a silvery breasted bird Fly o'er the festive throng.

Swift as the lightning's flashes fleet, And lose their brilliant light, Sir James sank back upon his seat Pale and entranced with fright.

With some difficulty he managed to conceal the cause of his embarrassment, but on the following day the priest had scarcely begun the marriage service,

When Margaret with terrific screams Made all with horror start. Good heavens! her blood in torrents streams, A dagger in her heart.

The deed had been done by a discarded lover, who, by the aid of a clever disguise, had managed to station himself just behind her:—

"Now marry me, proud maid," he cried, "Thy blood with mine shall wed"; He dashed the dagger in his side, And at her feet fell dead.

And this pathetic ballad concludes by telling us how

Poor Margaret, too, grows cold with death, And round her hovering flies The phantom bird for her last breath, To bear it to the skies.

Equally strange is the omen with which the ancient baronet's family of Clifton, of Clifton Hall, in Nottinghamshire, is forewarned when death is about to visit one of its members. It appears that in this case the omen takes the shape of a sturgeon, which is seen forcing itself up the river Trent, on whose bank the mansion of the Clifton family is situated. And, it may be remembered, how in the park of Chartley, near Lichfield, there has long been preserved the breed of the indigenous Staffordshire cow, of white sand colour, with black ears, muzzle, and tips at the hoofs. In the year of the battle of Burton Bridge a black calf was born; and the downfall of the great house of Ferrers happening at the same period, gave rise to the tradition, which to this day has been current in the neighbourhood, that the birth of a parti-coloured calf from the wild breed in Chartley Park is a sure omen of death within the same year to a member of the family.

By a noticeable coincidence, a calf of this description has been born whenever a death has happened in the family of late years. The decease of the Earl and his Countess, of his son Lord Tamworth, of his daughter Mrs. William Joliffe, as well as the deaths of the son and heir of the eighth Earl and his daughter Lady Frances Shirley, were each preceded by the ominous birth of a calf. In the spring of the year 1835, an animal perfectly black, was calved by one of this mysterious tribe in the park of Chartley, and it was soon followed by the death of the Countess.[41] The park of Chartley, where this weird announcement of one of the family's death has oftentimes caused so much alarm, is a wild romantic spot, and was in days of old attached to the Royal Forest of Needwood and the Honour of Tutbury—of the whole of which the ancient family of Ferrers were the puissant lords. Their immense possessions, now forming part of the Duchy of Lancaster, were forfeited by the attainder of Earl Ferrers after his defeat at Burton Bridge, where he led the rebellious Barons against Henry III. The Chartley estate, being settled in dower, was alone reserved, and has been handed down to its present possessor. Of Chartley Castle itself—which appears to have been in ruins for many years—many interesting historical facts are recorded. Thus it is said Queen Elizabeth visited her favourite, the Earl of Essex, here in August, 1575, and was entertained by him in a half-timbered house which formerly stood near the Castle, but was long since destroyed by fire. It is questionable whether Mary Queen of Scots was imprisoned in this house, or in a portion of the old Castle. Certain, however, it is that the unfortunate queen was brought to Chartley from Tutbury on Christmas day, 1585. The exact date at which she left Chartley is uncertain, but it appears she was removed thence under a plea of taking the air without the bounds of the Castle. She was then conducted by daily stages from the house of one gentleman to another, under pretence of doing her honour, without her having the slightest idea of her destination, until she found herself on the 20th of September, within the fatal walls of Fotheringhay Castle.

Cortachy Castle, the seat of the Earl of Airlie, has for many years past been famous for its mysterious drummer, for whenever the sound of his drum is heard it is regarded as the sure indication of the approaching death of a member of the Ogilvie family. There is a tragic origin given to this curious phenomenon, the story generally told being to the effect that either the drummer, or some officer whose emissary he was, had excited the jealousy of a former Lord Airlie, and that he was in consequence of this occurrence put to death by being thrust into his own drum, and flung from the window of the tower, in which is situated the chamber where his music is apparently chiefly heard. It is also said that the drummer threatened to haunt the family if his life were taken, a promise which he has not forgotten to fulfil.

Then there is the well-known tradition that prior to the death of any of the lords of Roslin, Roslin Chapel appears to be on fire, a weird occurrence which forms the subject of Harold's song in the "Lay of the Last Ministrel."

O'er Roslin all that dreary night A wondrous blaze was seen to gleam; 'Twas broader than the watch-fire light And redder than the bright moonbeam.

It glared on Roslin's castled rock, It ruddied all the copse-wood glen; 'Twas seen from Dryden's groves of oak, And seen from cavern'd Hawthornden.

Seem'd all on fire that Chapel proud, Where Roslin's chiefs uncoffin'd lie; Each Baron, for a sable shroud, Sheathed in his iron panoply.

Seem'd all on fire, within, around, Deep sacristy and altar's pale Shone every pillar, foliage-bound, And glimmer'd all the dead men's mail.

Blazed battlement and pinnet high, Blazed every rose-carved buttress fair; So still they blaze when Fate is nigh The lordly line of Hugh St. Clair.

But, although the last "Roslin," as he was called, died in the year 1778, and the estates passed into the possession of the Erskines, Earls of Rosslyn, the old tradition has not been extinguished. Something of the same kind is described as having happened to the old Cornish family of the Vingoes on their estate of Treville, for "through all time a peculiar token has marked the coming death of one of the family. Above the deep caverns in the Treville Cliff rises a carn. On this chains of fire were seen ascending and descending, and oftentimes were accompanied by loud and frightful noises. But it is reported that these tokens have not taken place since the last male of the family came to a violent end. According to Mr. Hunt,[42] "tradition tells us this estate was given to an old family who came with the Conqueror to this country. This ancestor is said to have been the Duke of Normandy's wine taster, and to have belonged to the ancient Counts of Treville, hence the name of the estate. For many generations the family has been declining, and the race is now nearly, if not quite, extinct.

In some cases, families have been apprised of an approaching death by some strange spectre, either male or female, a remarkable instance of which occurs in the MS. memoirs of Lady Fanshaw, and is to this effect: "Her husband, Sir Richard, and she, chanced, during their abode in Ireland, to visit a friend, who resided in his ancient baronial castle surrounded with a moat. At midnight she was awakened by a ghastly and supernatural scream, and, looking out of bed, beheld by the moonlight a female face and part of the form hovering at the window. The face was that of a young and rather handsome woman, but pale; and the hair, which was reddish, was loose and dishevelled. This apparition continued to exhibit itself for some time, and then vanished with two shrieks, similar to that which had at first excited Lady Fanshaw's attention. In the morning, with infinite terror, she communicated to her host what had happened, and found him prepared not only to credit, but to account for, what had happened.

"A near relation of mine," said he, "expired last night in the castle. Before such an event happens in this family and castle, the female spectre whom you have seen is always visible. She is believed to be the spirit of a woman of inferior rank, whom one of my ancestors degraded himself by marrying, and whom afterwards, to expiate the dishonour done his family, he caused to be drowned in the castle moat."

This, of course, was no other than the Banshee, which in times past has been the source of so much terror in Ireland. Amongst the innumerable stories told of its appearance may be mentioned one related by Mrs. Lefanu, the niece of Sheridan, in the memoirs of her grandmother, Mrs. Frances Sheridan. From this account we gather that Miss Elizabeth Sheridan was a firm believer in the Banshee, and firmly maintained that the one attached to the Sheridan family was distinctly heard lamenting beneath the windows of the family residence before the news arrived from France of Mrs. Frances Sheridan's death at Blois. She adds that a niece of Miss Sheridan's made her very angry by observing that as Mrs. Frances Sheridan was by birth a Chamberlaine, a family of English extraction, she had no right to the guardianship of an Irish fairy, and that therefore the Banshee must have made a mistake.

Likewise, many a Scotch family has its death-warning, a notable one being the Bodach Glass, which Sir Walter Scott has introduced in his "Waverley" as the messenger of bad-tidings to the MacIvors, the truth of which, it is said, has been traditionally proved by the experience of no less than three hundred years. It is thus described by Fergus to Waverley: "'You must know that when my ancestor, Ian nan Chaistel, wanted Northumberland, there was appointed with him in the expedition a sort of southland chief, or captain of a band of Lowlanders, called Halbert Hall. In their return through the Cheviots they quarrelled about the division of the great booty they had acquired, and came from words to blows. The Lowlanders were cut off to a man, and their chief fell the last, covered with wounds, by the sword of my ancestor. Since that day his spirit has crossed the Vich Ian Vohr of the day when any great disaster was impending.'" Fergus then gives to Waverley a graphic and detailed account of the appearance of the Bodach: "'Last night I felt so feverish that I left my quarters and walked out, in hopes the keen frosty air would brace my nerves. I crossed a small foot bridge, and kept walking backwards and forwards, when I observed, with surprise, by the clear moonlight, a tall figure in a grey plaid, which, move at what pace I would, kept regularly about four yards before me.'

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