"So, masters, if it had not pleased your betters to have built hostels and roosting-places on the road, I might have been snug in my blanket some hours ago may be."
The personage who thus accosted them was dressed in a plain leathern cap and doublet, with a pair of stout hose that would not have disgraced a burgher of the first magnitude; his short and frizzled beard was curiously twirled and pointed, we may suppose after the fashion of those regions; and his manner and appearance was that of some confidential menial belonging to the establishment. His whole demeanour had in it an air of impertinent authority; his little sharp eyes twinkled in all the plenitude of power, and peered in the faces of the travellers as they alighted to render him an unwilling salutation.
"We have made the best of our road, Master Geoffery, since we left our quarters in Netherdale. But, in troth, it's a weary way, and a drouthy one into the bargain: I have not wet even the tip of this poor beast's nose since we started."
"Go to; an' the beasts be cared for, thine own muzzle may take its chance of a swill. Willy, see to the horses. Now for business. Master has been waiting for you these three hours: make what excuse you may. Heigh-ho! my old skull will leak out my brains soon with these upsittings."
Taking a small lamp from a recess, he commanded the strangers to follow. A wide staircase led to the gallery, from whence a number of low doors communicated with the chambers or dormitories. Entering a passage from an obscure corner, they ascended a winding stair. The huge and terrific spars of the intruders struck with a shrill clank on the narrow steps, mingled with the grumblings of Master Geoffery Hardpiece; a continual muttering was heard from the latter, by way of running accompaniment to the directions which, ever and anon, he found it needful to set forth.
"There—an ass, a very ass!—keep thy face from the wall, I tell thee, and lift up thy great leathern hoofs."
Then came another series of murmurings, mingled with confused and rambling sentences.
"This stair is like old Giles's horn, it's long a-winding. Now,—thy spurs, is it? Aroynt thee, knave, thou art like to frighten the children with their clattering. They are up, and ready for their trip. Alice will stitch a pillow to your pummels, and they'll ride bravely, the pretty dears. Stop there, I tell ye; I'll just say that you wait his pleasure, and return."
Old Hardpiece tapped gently at a small door; it was opened hastily; and a few moments only elapsed ere Master Geoffery's cunning face was cautiously extended out of the narrow opening. He beckoned to his companions, and at once ushered them into a low chamber. A lamp, half extinguished, stood on the floor; the walls were nearly bare, and streaked in various colours by the moisture filtering from the roof; a curiously-carved oak-table, and two or three stone benches comprised the furniture of the apartment; a few rusty swords, with two large pistols nearly falling from their holsters, hung from the wall. In one corner, reposing in decayed dignity, were seen some halberds, with several unmatched pairs of mildewed boots; near to the window, or rather loop-hole, heaped up in dust and disorder, lay a score or two of rusty helmets, their grim appurtenances mostly broken and disjointed.
Pacing to and fro in this audience-chamber appeared a figure of about the middle size, attired in a loose open garment. His head was nearly bald; a few thin locks only hung from the lower part of his poll; and yet his age was not so far advanced as the scanty covering of his forehead might seem to intimate. He paused not as they entered; but during the greater part of the succeeding interview persevered in the same restless and abrupt gait, as though repose were anguish, and it was only by a continued change of position that he could soothe the rising perturbation of his spirit.
"Is this your haste, when my commands are most urgent?"
He turned sharply upon them as he spoke: his eyes grew wild and keen; but at times a heaviness and languor, as if from long watching, seemed to oppress them.
"We could not"—Michael was stammering out an apology, when thus interrupted:—
"Enough! I know what thou wouldst say. Let thy comrade remain below. Geoffery, conduct him to the refectory; Michael abides here. Haste, and let refreshments be prepared."
What was the purport of the conversation that ensued may be surmised from the following history.
Old Hardpiece, grumbling the greater part of the way, led his companion through a labyrinth of stairs and passages to a small room, where a huge flagon of ale, with cold beef and other substantial articles for breakfast, were about being displayed. Anthony, nothing loth, threw aside his cap, and unbraced his girdle, for the more capacious disposal of such savoury and delicious viands. A heavy pull at the tankard again brought out Master Geoffery's deep-mouthed oratory. Anthony's tongue grew more nimble as his appetite waxed less vigorous; he asked many questions about the business which required their presence at Raven Castle in such haste.
"The orphan children of Sir Henry Fairfax are to be conveyed to some place of concealment for a short period. Master says he has had intimation of a design on the part of the late Sir Henry's friends to seize them perforce. Which act of violence Hildebrand Wentworth, being left as their sole guardian, will make all haste to prevent."
"The children of the late Sir Harry Fairfax who was killed in the wars?" inquired Anthony.
"Ay, ay. Poor things! since their mother drowned herself"——
Old Hardpiece here looked round, as though fearing some intrusion. He continued in an undertone—
"Goody Shelton says she walks in the forest; and that her wraith so frightened Humphrey's horse that it would not budge a straw's breadth, just beside the great oak in the Broad Holm, before you get into the forest on the other side towards Slaidburn."
Anthony was, at this precise moment, cramming the last visible remains of a goose-pie into the same place where he had before deposited half the good things on the table, anointing his beard with their savoury outskirts,—when suddenly his chin dropped, his face assumed a sort of neutral tinge, and his whole form appeared to grow stiff with terror. He made several efforts to speak; but the following words only could be distinguished:—
"I was sure it would be a ghost!"
"What!—a ghost!—Where!" anxiously inquired Geoffery.
"Just by the great oak in the Broad Holm, on the other side of the forest."
"What was it like?"
"I cannot tell; and Michael pretended he did not see it!"
"Thou canst surely show the appearance it put on."
"Something, as it might be, like unto a woman, crossed our path twice, and within a stone's throw. O Master Geoffery, we be dead men!"
Another groan here interrupted their discourse. Master Hardpiece muttered some unintelligible prayers, putting on a face of great solemnity. Several minutes elapsed, while the following exclamations rapidly succeeded each other:—
"A ghost!—save us!—a very ghost! I'll not to Slaidburn again without help. Another draught, Anthony; a stiffener to thy courage, mayhap. It's now daylight, though," said he, looking through the casement, "and most of us fear only what may be felt, in the day-time at any rate."
Anthony took the cup, and, apparently without being aware, drank off the contents. He was much invigorated by the draught which seemed to invest him with new courage; partly from the recollection that a long daylight would intervene between the beginning and the end of his journey, and partly because of the sudden rush of spirits to his brain. He arose, and assuming a posture more erect, planted his cap in a becoming attitude, whilst Geoffery was putting aside the empty vessels into a sort of large wooden chalice, for the purpose of a more convenient removal.
Light footsteps were now heard bounding along the passage, and the door was suddenly burst open by two rosy-cheeked children; the elder a boy of some four or five years' growth, and his sister scarcely a twelvemonth younger.
"Master Geoffery, Master Geoffery," lisped one laughing urchin, "hide me; there is Alice—she'll not let me go. We are to ride on two great horses; and I shall have a sword, and sister Julia a coach."
Here nurse Alice made her appearance. She had been weeping: tears and entreaties were vain. She asked permission to accompany them; but with a frown Hildebrand Wentworth had chidden her from his presence. Since the loss of her mother, and almost from the time that news had arrived of their father's death, which happened a little while before the birth of Julia, she had borne a mother's part to her little charge; and had it been allowed her, she would gladly have served them without reward.
Fearful of leaving them, she had followed hastily into the room. With a searching glance she eyed the stranger for a while; then suddenly turning to the children, she addressed them with great seriousness and affection.
"Harry, you have not repeated your prayer this morning. Do you think God will take care of you to-day, if you ask Him not?"
Here the rebuked boy grew silent; and with a suffused face, ran to his nurse. Whilst in her lap, he poured out his morning orison. It was a simple but affecting request. Julia knelt also; and Alice, laying a hand on each, blessed the children.
"God of their fathers, I commit them to Thy care!"
She could say no more; loud sobs checked her utterance; but leaning over these little ones, she convulsively clasped them in her embrace.
Old Hardpiece grew unusually busy about matters of no importance, and the hard-featured trooper was seen to brush his brows, as though some unpleasant suspicions had crossed his brain. He raised his arm as he gazed on the children, muttering as he clenched his hand—
"If he dare!"—He then carelessly examined his sword, returning it quickly into its sheath, as the weeping Alice drew away the children to her own apartment. Old Geoffery now grew more talkative. Leaning his chin upon his hand, and his elbow on the table, he thus proceeded:—
"It's four long years come St Barnabas since Sir Harry's death; and my lady, rest her soul! went melancholy soon after. Everything was bequeathed in trust to my master, Hildebrand Wentworth, a great friend of Sir Harry's, and his secretary or purse-bearer, I forget which—no matter—all the property, I say, was left in trust for Sir Harry's wife and children. Hildebrand brought a will from Sir Harry to this effect, and poor Lady Fairfax never looked up afterwards. She moped about, and would see nobody, and then it was they said she was out of her wits. It was not long before her head-gear and mantle were found by the river-side just below the old bridge you crossed—but her body never."
Here the entrance of Michael cut short the old man's discourse.
"Belike thou hast not lacked a cup of warm sack, and a whey-posset with my master in the west turret," scoffingly cried Master Geoffery. Michael looked surly as he replied—
"Old Gabergeon, let us have a draught of thy best, a stirrup-cup. Breakfast I have settled with above stairs."
"Marry take your swill, Mr Saucypate," tartly replied Geoffery. "And so, because you have eaten and drunk with my master, it is 'old Gabergeon;' else had it been good Master Hardpiece, or 'if you will, Master Geoffery!' Out upon such carrion, say I, that think themselves live meat when they are but fly-blown."
"Old Geoffery," said Michael, coolly, "we'll settle our rank at a more convenient opportunity. Just now I'll thank thee for the flagon."
"It's in the cupboard," growled Hardpiece. "Verily these arms would tingle. But I am old, and that same Michael but a sorry brute—no beating would mend him. An ass of most vicious propensities; he will bite forwards and kick backwards. Friends get the benefit of his teeth, and foes the favour of his heels."
Thus did the old man console himself for the rudeness he could not restrain. It was not long ere a summons hurried them to the courtyard. They found their beasts equipped and ready to depart; Harry and Julia looking joyously on, vastly diverted with the horses' accoutrements. Hildebrand stood by the gateway, looking moody and anxious for their departure; Alice, full of sorrow, attended with some refreshments which were stowed into the wallet. The journey was but short, and an hour's ride that fine morning, Michael said, would bring them to their destination. Hildebrand forbade him to mention the place where he wished to conceal the children, lest it should be known to their iniquitous relatives. Each horseman, with a child mounted before him, slowly passed the outer court, at the entrance of which Alice disappeared. The iron tramp of the steeds rang shrilly from underneath the arched gateway; Hildebrand stood by the platform; he bade them good speed. Anthony passed first; Michael checked his horse for a moment, when Hildebrand took the hand of the boy, and pressed it; but one portentous look, as at the recognition of some sinister purpose, passed between Michael and the old man, unobserved by his colleague. Hildebrand raised his hand above his mouth, and slowly whispered—
"Remember!—the gulf underneath the waterfall."
The horsemen departed. Passing the bridge they were just rising over the green slope when the children recognised Alice upon her mistress's palfrey. They screamed out loudly to her; but she was riding in a contrary direction, and soon passed out of their sight.
The narrow glades of the forest suddenly encompassed them. The morning was pretty far advanced; the merry birds twittered in their dun covert, brushing the dewdrops from the boughs with their restless wings. The thrush and blackbird poured forth a more melancholy note; whilst the timid rabbit, scared from his morning's meal, rushed by and sought his burrow. The wood grew thicker, and the sunbeams that shot previously in broad slopes across their path soon became as lines of intensely-chequered light piercing the grim shadows beneath. The trees, too, put on a more sombre character; and the sward appeared choked with rank and noxious weeds. It seemed a path rarely trod, and only to be recognised by occasional openings through the underwood.
They travelled for some hours. Michael had taken the lead, and Anthony with his prattling charge rode carelessly on. Looking round, the latter suddenly checked his horse. A momentary alarm overspread his features as he cried—
"Michael, you have surely mistaken the path: an hour's ride should have brought us to the end of our journey, and our beasts have been footing it on since morning."
"Heed not, comrade; thou wilt soon find we have the right track before us. We shall be through the wood presently."
"Why, this is the road to Ingleton, if I mistake not; I hear the roar of the Greta."
"Right—we shall be on our road to the old castle shortly."
They travelled on more silently than before, until the brawling of the torrent they had heard for some time increased with rapid intensity. The road now widening, Anthony spurred on his beast by the side of his companion, who slackened his pace to afford an opportunity for further parley.
"Whither are we bound?" inquired Anthony.
"Where the children will be well cared for."
A dubious expression of countenance, which Anthony but too well understood, accompanied these words; and villain was expressed by indications too unequivocal to be easily mistaken through every change and inflection of his visage. Anthony, though not of the most unsullied reputation, and probably habituated to crimes at which humanity might shudder, pressed the little victim closer to his breast. The prattle of the babe had won his heart: and the morning scene with Alice had softened his spirit so that he could have wept when he thought of the remorseless nature of his comrade, to whose care the children were entrusted.
The roar of the torrent grew louder. Suddenly they entered upon a sort of irregular amphitheatre—woods rising above each other to the very summit of the hills by which they were surrounded. A swollen waterfall was visible, below which a bare and flattened trunk, whose boughs had apparently been but just lopped, was thrown across the torrent. A ruined keep or donjon was seen above a line of dark firs, crowning the summit of a steep crag that rose abruptly from the river.
"This is our halfway-house," said Michael, pointing to the grim fortress: "the children are tired, and have need of refreshment. Tarry here with the horses whilst I carry them over the bridge."
"We have refreshments in the wallet—what need we to loiter yonder?" replied Anthony, eyeing the other with an expression of distrust.
"The children want rest," said Michael, "and we shall there find shelter from the heat."
"If rest be needful," was the reply, "surely this dry sward and these overhanging leaves will afford both rest and shelter."
"The children are in my keeping," said Michael, fiercely, "and I am not to account with thee for my proceedings. Alight, and give me the child."
"I will not!—Michael, I have watched thee, and I know that thou art a villain. Ay, draw, I have weapons too, comrade."
Fast and furious grew the combat, during which the terrified children made the woods echo with their shrieks. The result was not long doubtful. Michael soon proved himself the better swordsman; and his antagonist, stumbling from fatigue, broke his own weapon in the fall. Defenceless and exposed, the uplifted sword of his adversary was raised for his destruction, when suddenly the arm of the ruffian was arrested, the weapon snatched from his grasp, and a female figure habited in a dark and coarse vestment stood between the combatants. Her brow was bare, and her dark full eye beamed on them with a look of pity and of anger. Her naturally pale cheek was flushed; but it betrayed not the agitation she endured. Erect and unbending she stood before them, and the quailing miscreant crouched at her feet.
"Away to thy master!—thy blood, too worthless even for thine own steel"——
She hurled away the weapon as she spoke.
Burning with revenge at his late defeat, Anthony flew after the falling brand: seizing it, he renewed the attack. Michael fled towards the bridge. With the bound of a bereaved tiger Anthony sprung upon his prey. Just where the root of the trunk rested on the bank they closed, after a desperate lunge parried by the unprotected arm of Michael. It was disabled—but he still clung to his enemy. Anthony strove to disengage himself; but the other, aware that life or death depended on the issue of that struggle, hung on him with a convulsive tightness that rendered the advantage he had gained of no avail. The sword was useless. Anthony threw it into the boiling gulf at his feet. Both hands being now free, whilst one arm of his opponent hung powerless and bleeding at his side, he had greatly the advantage. He wrenched the other arm of Michael from its hold, lifted him from his narrow footing-place, and with a malignant shout of triumph shook him over the abyss. One startling plunge, and the wretch sank in the rolling waters. An agonising yell, and but one, escaped him, as he hung quivering over that yawning portal to eternity; the next cry was choked by the seethe of the boiling foam. The waves whirled him round for a moment like some huge leviathan tossing its prey. He sank into its gorge, and the insatiate gulf swallowed him up for ever. Anthony drew back. He turned from the horrid scene, with some yet lingering tokens of compunction, in the expectation of rejoining his companions; but in vain—the babes and his deliverer had disappeared!
Hildebrand Wentworth had passed the remainder of that day in his own chamber. It was a dark lone room, leading out of the turret we have before described. Often had he ascended the narrow stair communicating with the parapet, and often had he watched the dark woods beneath the distant mountain. It was the road taken by his guilty emissaries; and, whether on the look-out for signals or for their return, he repeated his visits until the blue mists were gathering on the horizon, and day—another day!—had passed into the bosom of eternity. It was an hour of holiness and peace, but heavy and disturbed was the current of his thoughts. He sat near a projecting angle of the turret, his head bent over the parapet. A female voice was heard beneath, chanting monotonously a low and melancholy psalm. Soon the following words were distinguished:—
"Dark as the bounding waters When storm clouds o'er them roll, The face of Zion's daughters Reveals the troubled soul."
Hildebrand drew his breath, as if labouring under some violent emotion. His whole frame was agitated. His lip grew pale as she went on with a voice of exultation—
"But joy is sown in sadness, And hope with anxious fears; Yon clouds shall break in gladness. And doubts dissolve in tears."
Fiends increase their torments at the sight of heaven! Hildebrand threw back his cloak,—with one clenched hand he struck his forehead, and with a loud groan he rushed from the spot. He sought rest in the gloom and solitude of his chamber; but hours passed on, during which the conscience-stricken culprit endured the horrors of accumulated guilt. Sometimes he opened the casement, gazing on the dark heavens, until he thought they were peopled, and he held converse with unseen and terrible things. Inarticulate murmurs broke from his lips. A few words might occasionally be distinguished—"Murder!—An old man too—The children—they are at rest!" A gleam of pleasure passed over his haggard features.
"I am now"—looking round—"now master of all."
"All?" breathed a low voice in the chamber.
The cringing wretch was speechless. Sense almost forsook him: horror fastened on his spirit, while he turned his eyes, as if by some resistless constraint, towards the place from whence the voice had issued. Near his couch was a curiously-wrought cabinet inlaid with ivory and gems of the most costly workmanship. An heir-loom of the house, it was highly valued, and tradition reports that it was one of those spoils on which our forefathers cast a longing glance in the wars of the Holy Sepulchre. Be this as it may, every document of value connected with the family was here deposited. By virtue of the power given to him from the dying Sir Henry, though ostensibly for the benefit of his lady and her infant offspring, Hildebrand guarded the trust with a jealous eye. No one had access to it but himself, nor did he permit any other person than old Geoffery, the house-steward, to visit his chamber.
Before this cabinet stood a figure enveloped in a dark robe. Pale, deadly pale, were the features, though scarcely discernible in their form and outline. The lamp burnt dimly; but with the quickened apprehension of guilt he recognised the wan resemblance of Lady Fairfax!
A cry of exhausted anguish escaped him, and he fell senseless on the floor.
Morning had risen, casting its bright and cheerful rays into the chamber, ere Hildebrand Wentworth awoke. Consciousness but slowly returned, and the events of the preceding hours came like shadows upon his soul. He stamped thrice, and immediately the vapid countenance of Geoffery Hardpiece was before him.
"Come hither, Hardpiece. I am wondrous heavy and ill at ease."
"Why, master, your bed has not been disturbed these two nights.—How should there be anything but an aching head, and complaining bones, when"——
Hildebrand cast a hasty and confused glance towards the couch as he replied—
"I have matters of moment just now that weigh heavily on my spirit. I cannot"——
Here was a short pause; he continued, with a slow and tremulous accent—
"I hope the children are safe."
"Why, master," said Geoffery, "you have sent them out of harm's way, I hope; but—I know not what ails me—an uneasy night of it I have had about them."
"What hast thou seen?" eagerly demanded Hildebrand.
"Seen! I have seen nothing, but I have been haunted at all quarters by a vast crowd of vexatious busy dreams—about cut-throats and murderers."
"Who says murderer?—I will have thee in the stocks."
Hildebrand attempted to lay hold on him as he spoke; but, accustomed to these outbreaks of temper, Master Hardpiece merely stepped on one side, still maintaining his usual forward and self-sufficient demeanour.
"Mr Hildebrand Wentworth, when an old servant"——
"Peace!" interrupted his master,—"I am chafed beyond endurance." He struck his forehead violently, but suddenly recollecting himself, he seized Geoffery by the arm.
"What sawest thou last night, knave?"
"Only dreams, master—but"——
"Say on—what makes thee hesitate?"
"A messenger arrived last night."
"A messenger!—from whence?" eagerly demanded Hildebrand.
"Unluckily," said Geoffery, "it was shortly after you had retired for the night; I durst not then trouble you with the message. Marry, it's not the sort of news one likes to be in a hurry to tell."
"Go on, varlet."
"Why," continued the provoking simpleton, looking as if he had to reveal unpleasant tidings, and drawing back as he spoke, "the bearer is in the train of some herald or pursuivant, come from o'er sea to our court, about exchange of prisoners and the like. This man has a message from Sir Henry Fairfax."
"He lies! I'll have his tongue bored!" furiously cried Hildebrand.
"Nay, but listen: he says Sir Henry, whom we all thought dead, is now alive, and a prisoner in some ugly old German fortress."
During this recital the astonished Hildebrand clenched his hands, with a look of awful and impotent rage. Hardpiece continued—
"This coxcomb says he was sent specially by Sir Henry to obtain from you some papers of great moment, which will ensure his immediate release. He bears Sir Henry's signet, and the knave hath no lack of assurance."
"Has this fellow had any communication with the menials, Geoffery?—or hast thou done me the service to keep him and his message to thyself?" anxiously inquired Hildebrand.
"Why, as touching that, Alice, somehow or other,—for these women are always looking to anybody's business but their own,—wormed out his message in part, before I was aware of her drift."
"Alice!—Again has that viper crossed my path?—Bid the messenger attend."
When Geoffery returned he was followed by a short, muscular-looking personage, attired in a foreign garb. A military cloak, and slouched hat, garnished with a broad band and feather, gave him altogether an air of importance which his bare exterior had not sustained. On entering he made a slight obeisance. Hildebrand watched his bearing, as if he would have searched him to the heart's core. Not in the least disconcerted, the soldier threw himself on a seat. Preliminaries were waived by this unceremonious guest, who, speaking evidently in a foreign accent, began the interrogatory as follows:—
"You were the private secretary of Sir Henry Fairfax?"
"I was," briefly replied Hildebrand.
"Know you this signet?"
"I do," again he sullenly answered.
"It was given into my keeping," said the stranger, "as a token whereby Hildebrand Wentworth should, in the due exercise of his fealty and trust, commit to my charge certain documents that shall immediately be set forth. But first, and briefly, it may be needful to relate the manner in which Sir Henry recovered after your departure. On the day following the skirmish, wherein Sir Henry was supposed to be mortally wounded, he gave unto you, as his most valued and bosom friend, those solemn credentials, by which, as a dying man, he invested you with full powers to proceed to England, as the sole guardian and protector of his beloved wife and their infant offspring. The goods and effects of which he died the possessor were vested in your name, I believe, in trust for her benefit and the surviving children. I think I am right in this? In case of her death, though, I believe the property became yours."
"Such was the nature of the wound that his physicians believed a few hours only could intervene before his dissolution. He urged your immediate departure. Shortly afterwards the whole camp equipage, together with the sick and wounded, fell into the hands of his enemies. Driven off to a considerable distance up the Rhine at full speed, and without any other comforts or necessaries than what his captors could supply, his wounds bleeding afresh, and every limb racked with pain, to the astonishment of all he speedily recovered; and from that time he has remained a close prisoner in the fortress. Not receiving any tidings from his native shores, he knows not his loss. Yesternight only I heard of Lady Fairfax's most lamentable decease. In a cartel lately arrived for negotiating an exchange of prisoners, Sir Henry sends by me, secretly, as one of the envoys, a requisition for the papers I have before mentioned. His name, by some mistake, perhaps, not being included in the lists for exchange, has induced him so to act. The credentials, which he will thus be enabled through me to present, will doubtless accomplish his release, and restore him to his family and to his home. They are papers of great moment, and will set forth claims which cannot be overlooked; and I have most minute and special instructions to get them laid before the council."
"Where are these precious documents deposited?" said Hildebrand.
"An Eastern cabinet of choice and costly workmanship, containing other records of great value, stands in Sir Henry's private chamber." The envoy looked round, and his eyes rested on the cabinet. "The outer doors being opened, there are seen two ranges of drawers, with their separate mountings and compartments, each containing materials of greater or less moment. Sir Henry was minute in his directions, lest his lady might be bsent; and the innermost secrets of this goodly tabernacle not being known, save to themselves, the object of my visit might be retarded. With the permission of Hildebrand Wentworth, I will describe minutely where he may find this deposit."
Hildebrand slightly moved his head, and the speaker continued—
"From Sir Henry's description, and the tracings which he drew on the floor of his cell, I should conceive that this room contains the object of our search. I will recount the memoranda that I made, lest memory should be unfaithful. When the third cover is unclosed, in the lowest part of the recess on the right hand, beneath a sliding panel, is a spring, on touching which the whole flies back, and discovers a rare device, beautifully wrought in arabesque relief. So far, in all likelihood, you being his confidential secretary, have beheld?"
"I have seen this cunning work thou speakest of. What more?"
"Embellishing the four corners thereof is the likeness of a hand, curiously chased in silver; the second joint on the third finger of the lowest of them, on the left, being pressed, the whole picture, by marvellous sleight and artifice, riseth up, revealing the treasure of which I am in search."
"Hath Sir Henry sent no written message, that we may know his will in this matter?" inquired Hildebrand.
"It is strictly forbidden to a prisoner," replied the other, "to use tablets; but my knowledge of the secret is a sufficient safeguard against imposture."
"Retire: I will begin the search with all speed. But hold thyself in readiness for immediate departure. Thou wilt not have the worse thrift for a hasty dismissal."
The stranger withdrew, accompanied by Hardpiece. Hildebrand listened to their retreating footsteps; when, like unto one possessed, he stamped, and tore his thin grey locks, and cursed—audibly and bitterly cursed—his destiny.
"Hast thou escaped?—when the draught danced and bubbled over my parched lips. Fate—fortune, whatever thou art, I would curse thee!"
As he spoke, he lifted up one clenched hand towards heaven, laden with imprecation. And why did not that power, whose vengeance he visibly defied, launch a bolt against the impious?—Why not reader him, in that very act, a monument of just and righteous retribution?—"Shall not the Judge of the whole earth do right?" is a master-key that unlocks the mysteries and ministrations of Divine Providence, however complicated in their nature and obscure in their design.
As the hoary sinner withdrew his hand, suddenly the muscles of his face relaxed; a ray of hope had irradiated his spirit—a gleam of delight passed over his pale features. He grew calm, and with a firm step he strode across the apartment. He approached the cabinet.
"Thou shalt not escape me now!"—As he said this, he threw open the doors. Hildebrand had often searched this depository, but the place of concealment pointed out by the stranger had hitherto escaped his notice. He soon detected the stratagem—the lid flew back; but the papers of which he was in search were gone!
The spirit of mischief was again foiled, but his evil genius did not forsake him. He sat down, and, for purposes of the blackest malignity, forged a series of evidences—a development of plans and proceedings that would at once have branded Sir Henry as a coward and a traitor. These letters he sealed up, and calling for the messenger, committed the packet into his hands.
"You have Sir Henry's orders to lay these before the king?" said Hildebrand.
"I have," replied the envoy.
"Then hasten to court, and so good speed. Stay—when you meet Sir Henry Fairfax, offer him an old man's sympathy and condolence. Break the matter to him tenderly—and when he returns—I say no more. Away, thy mission hath need of despatch."
The soldier made a slight inclination of the head as he departed.
Hildebrand Wentworth sat down to reap the fruits of his villany—a harvest of his own planting. The full fruition of it he now seemed ready to enjoy; but days and weeks passed by, and still found him feverish and anxious. The fate of the children—whether the work of destruction had or had not been accomplished—was still to him a matter of uncertainty. He had often sent in search of the ruffians, but they had not been seen at their usual haunts. Guilt whispered that all was not complete. Restless and oppressed by undefined and terrible apprehensions, he resolved to end his doubts, and, if possible, procure an interview. He expected to obtain some clue to their procedings by a visit to the tower.
It was not far from the close of a bright summer's day when he gained the rude bridge below the waterfall. He shuddered as he looked on the narrow trunk and the ever-tossing gulf beneath. The blackness of darkness was upon his spirit, and he ran as if some demon had pursued him, climbing with almost breathless haste the steep and winding staircase that gave access from the bridge to the ruined fortress above.
From the platform a narrow ledge of rock led to the ditch, now dry, and nearly filled with fragments from the ruins. He passed the tottering arch of the portcullis;—long weeds choked up the entrance, waving drearily as the light breeze went over them. Hildebrand heard not the moan of the coming blast. Evening approached, and the thousand shadows haunted him,—grim spectres that crossed his path, crowding upon him with anger and menace. From a ruined doorway he ascended a narrow stair, and had penetrated far into the interior of that part of the castle which, in some measure, remained entire, when, for the first time, he seemed startled into a consciousness of his situation. It was an appalling scene of solitude and decay. The realities, to which he almost instantaneously awoke, might have awed a less guilty spirit than that which inhabited the bosom of Hildebrand Wentworth. A long gallery, supported by huge pillars, terminated in the distance by a long and narrow oriel. On each side, broken but richly-variegated windows threw down a many-tinted light, which, oppressed by the dark and caverned arches, gave a strange and mysterious character to the grotesque reflections hovering on the floor. Narrow streams of light flitted across the dense vapours, visible only in their gleam. Involuntarily did Hildebrand pass on: impelled as if by some unseen but resistless power, he durst not retrace his footsteps. His tread was slow and fearful, as he traversed the long and dreary vista. Every sense was now in full exercise;—his faculties becoming more acute by the extremity of terror he endured. His ear caught the slightest sound—his eye, the least motion that glimmered across his path. Sometimes a terrific shape seemed to glide past: he brushed the cold and clammy damps from his brow, and it vanished.
Suddenly a door opened at the extremity of the gallery, and a faint light streamed from the crevice. Voices—children's voices—were heard in the chamber. He rushed onward. Rage, frantic and uncontrolled, possessed him, as he beheld the babes, the intended victims of his avarice, in all the bloom of health and innocence, unconscious of danger, bounding through the apartment, together with their nurse and protector, Alice! Goaded by his insatiate tormentor, he drew a poniard from his vest, and rushed on the unoffending objects of his hate. Alice shrieked; she attempted to throw herself between them and their foe, but was too far off to accomplish her purpose. His arm was too sure, and his stroke too sudden. But ere the steel could pierce his victims it was arrested. He looked round, and a female figure, loosely enveloped in a dark cloak, had rescued them from death. It was the same form that had before interposed between them and the fangs of their remorseless enemy. Loosened by the sudden spring, her garment flew aside. Hildebrand gazed silently, but with a look of horror, too wild and intense to be portrayed. He seemed to recognise the intruder—his lips moved rapidly while he spoke.
"Thee!—whom the waves had swallowed! Have the waters given up their dead?"—he faintly exclaimed, almost gasping for utterance.
"Monster! canst thou look upon this form," she cried, "and not wither at the sight? But I have done," she meekly continued: "Heaven hath yet a blessing for the innocent;—but thy cup of iniquity is full. Thy doom is at hand. I have trusted Thee, O my Father; and I trust Thee still!"
It was the much injured and persecuted wife of Sir Henry Fairfax who now stood before the abashed miscreant.
"Away!" she cried; "to Heaven I leave my vengeance and thy crime. Hence—to thy home! Thine, did I say? Soon, monster, shall thou be chased from thy lair, and the wronged victim regain his right."
Hildebrand, awed and confounded, retraced his path, brooding over some more cunning stratagem to ensure his prey. He had passed the bridge, and, on attempting to remount his steed, his attention was directed to a cloud of dust, and a pale flash of arms in the evening light. Two horsemen drew nigh—their steeds studded with gouts of foam, and in an instant one of them alighted before the traitor. It was Sir Henry Fairfax! "Have I caught thee?" cried the knight.—"What mischief art thou here a-perpetrating?—Seize that villain!"
In a moment, Hildebrand was denied all chance of escape.
"Thy machinations are defeated—thy villanies revealed, and vengeance demands a hasty recompense."
Hildebrand prostrated himself on the ground in the most abject humiliation, and besought mercy.
"I will not harm thee, wretch," exclaimed the gallant knight: "to a higher power I leave the work of retribution. The ministers of justice await thee at my castle. I came hither first to seek my wife!—Lead the way; thou shalt be witness to our meeting—wife, children, all. Our bliss will to thee be misery that the most refined tortures could not inflict. On—on."
Hildebrand, with imbecile agony, grasped at the very stones for succour. He then rushed towards the bridge, and, ere his purpose could be anticipated, with one wild yell, precipitated himself into the waters!
A few lines will suffice by way of explanation to this unlooked-for termination of their sufferings.
When Lady Fairfax fled from the castle, in order to elude his search,—for Hildebrand had the audacity to threaten by force to make her his wife,—she threw off her cloak and head-dress, laying them on the river's brink that it might appear as though she had accomplished her own destruction. To the care of the faithful Alice she had committed her children, and likewise the secret of her concealment. Alice was in continual correspondence with her unfortunate mistress; and great was the joy and exultation with which she communicated the arrival of a messenger from her lord, whom she had long mourned as dead. Providentially, no interview took place between Hildebrand and the stranger on the night of his arrival; and sufficient time intervened to enable Lady Fairfax to make a desperate attempt, in the hope of gaining possession of the papers for which he had been sent. She well knew Hildebrand would not relinquish the possession of credentials that might ensure his lord's return. It was Lady Fairfax who had alarmed him the same night by her appearance in his chamber. She hoped to have found him asleep; but was enabled to get possession of the writings through his timidity and surprise. With these she met the envoy, as he was returning from the castle. Disclosing all the tortuous and daring villany of Hildebrand, she committed the real documents to his care, instructing him at the same time to lay before her sovereign the narrative of her wrongs. Soon was the captivity of Sir Henry terminated; and joy, heightened by recollection of the past, and chastened by the severity of their misfortunes, attended them through the remainder of their earthly career.
THE PHANTOM VOICE.
"He heerde a sunde but noughte he zee. No touche upon his fleshe ther came; Bot a swedderin witide smote heavilee, And heavilee brenn'd the fleckerin' flame."
The following tradition, like some of the preceding legends, has been found, under various modifications and disguises, connected with local scenery, and attaching itself in the mind of the hearer to well-known places and situations with which he may have been familiar.
Southport, a bathing-place of great resort on the Lancashire coast, has been pointed out as the scene of the following tragedy, which probably occurred long before its salubrity and convenience for sea-bathing had rendered this barren tract of sand the site of a populous and thriving hamlet. From the mildness and congeniality of the air to persons of weak and relaxed habits, it has been not inaptly termed, "The Montpelier of England."
"But the coast is probably as dangerous for shipping as any round the kingdom. The sandbanks extend in a north-westerly direction for at least six miles, so as to render the navigation extremely difficult even to the natives, and impracticable for strangers. Hence shipwrecks are very frequent;" and "in a coming tide, accompanied by a strong westerly wind, it is almost impossible for boats to put off or to live in the sea."
"It not unfrequently happens that these accidents occur in the night-time, in very hazy weather, or at ebb tide. In the latter case it is necessary for boats to be taken in carts over the sands down to low-water mark, before any assistance can be attempted.
"If the captain of the vessel be obstinate, and trust to his own skill, he increases the danger. When the crews of the vessels take to their own boats, and disobey the directions of the Southport pilots, their jeopardy is tenfold greater, and their loss almost inevitable."
Nearly one hundred vessels have been wrecked on this coast within the last thirty years, and more than half of them totally lost. Of these calamities the particulars are upon record. Which of them may have given rise to the events here detailed we have no means of ascertaining.
It was at the close of a bright and memorable evening in October that I had carelessly flung the reins upon the neck of my horse, as I traversed the bare and almost interminable sands skirting the Lancashire coast.
On my right a succession of low sand-hills, drifted by the partial and unsteady blasts, skirted the horizon—their summits strongly marked upon the red and lowering sky in an undulating and scarcely-broken outline. Behind them I heard the vast and busy waters rolling on, like the voice of the coming tempest. Here and there some rude and solitary hut rose above the red hillocks, bare and unprotected: no object of known dimensions being near by which its true magnitude might be estimated, the eye seemed to exaggerate its form upon the mind in almost gigantic proportions. As twilight drew on, the deception increased; and, starting occasionally from the influence of some lacerating thought, I beheld, perchance, some huge-and turreted fortress, or a pile of misshapen battlements, rising beyond the hills like the grim castles of romance, or the air-built shadows of fairy-land.... Night was fast closing; I was alone, out of the beaten track, amidst a desert and thinly-inhabited region; a perfect stranger, I had only the superior sagacity of my steed to look to for safety and eventual extrication from this perilous labyrinth.
The way, if such it might be called, threading the mazes through a chain of low hills, and consisting only of a loose and ever-shifting bed of dry sand, grew every moment more and more perplexed. Had it been daylight, there appeared no object by which to direct my course,—no mark that might distinguish whether or not my path was in a right line or a circle: I seemed to be rambling through a succession of amphitheatres formed by the sand-hills, every one so closely resembling its neighbour that I could not recognise any decided features on which to found that distinction of ideas which philosophers term individuality. In almost any other mood of the mind this would have been a puzzling and disagreeable dilemma; but at that moment it appeared of the least possible consequence to me where the dark labyrinth might terminate.
Striving to escape from thought, from recollection, the wild and cheerless monotony of my path seemed to convey a desperate stillness to the mind, to quench in some measure the fiery outburst of my spirit. It was but a deceitful, calm—the deadening lull of spent anguish: I awoke to a keener sense of misery, from which there was no escape.
But it was not to lament over my own griefs that I commenced my story. Let the dust of oblivion cover them; I would not pain another by the recital. There are sorrows—short ages of agony—into the dark origin of which none would dare to pry: one heart alone feels, hides, and nourishes them for ever!
Night now came on, heavy and dark; not a star twinkled above me; I seemed to have left the habitations of men. In whatever direction I turned not a light was visible; all fellowship with my kind had vanished. No sound broke the unvarying stillness but the heavy plunge of my horse's feet and the hollow moan of the sea. Gradually I began to rouse from my stupor: awaking, as from a dream, my senses grew rapidly conscious of the perils by which I was surrounded. I knew not but some hideous gulf awaited me, or the yawning sea, towards which I fancied my course tended, was destined to terminate this adventure. It was chiefly, however, a feeling of loneliness, a dread, unaccountable in its nature, that seemed to haunt me. There was nothing so very uncommon or marvellous in my situation; yet the horror I endured is unutterable. The demon of fear seemed to possess my frame, and benumbed every faculty. I saw, or thought I saw, shapes hideous and indistinct rising before me, but so rapidly that I could not trace their form ere they vanished. I felt convinced it was the mind that was perturbed, acting outwardly upon the senses, rendered more than usually irritable by the alarm and excitation they had undergone—yet I could not shake off the spell. I heard a sharp rustling past my ear; I involuntarily raised my hand; but nothing met my touch save the damp and chilly hair about my temples. I tried to rally myself out of these apprehensions, but in vain: reason has little chance of succeeding when fear has gained the ascendency. I durst not quicken my pace lest I should meet with some obstruction; judging it most prudent to allow my steed to grope out his path in the way best suited to his own sagacity. Suddenly he made a dead halt. No effort or persuasion could induce him to stir. I was the more surprised from knowing his generally docile and manageable temper. He seemed immovable, and, moreover, as I thought, in the attitude of listening. I too listened eagerly—intensely; my senses sharpened to the keenest perception of sound.
The moan of the sea came on incessantly as before; no other sound could be distinguished. Again I tried to urge him forward; but the attempt was fruitless. I now fancied that there might be some dangerous gulf or precipice just at his feet, and that the faithful animal was unwilling to plunge himself and his rider into immediate destruction. I dismounted, and with the bridal at arm's length, carefully stepped forward a few paces, but I could find no intimation of danger; the same deep and level bed of sand seemed to continue onwards, without any shelving or declivity whatever. Was the animal possessed? He still refused to proceed, but the cause remained inscrutable. A sharp and hasty snort, with a snuffing of the wind in the direction of the sea, now pointed out the quarter towards which his attention was excited. His terror seemed to increase, and with it my own. I knew not what to anticipate. He evidently began to tremble, and again I listened. Fancy plays strange freaks, or I could have imagined there was something audible through the heavy booming of the sea—a more distinct, and as it were, articulate sound—though manifestly at a considerable distance. There was nothing unusual in this—perhaps the voice of the fisherman hauling out his boat, or of some mariner heaving the anchor. But why such terror betrayed by the irrational brute, and apparently proceeding from this source? for it was manifest that some connection existed between the impulses of the sound now undulating on the wind, and the alarm of my steed. The cause of all this apprehension soon grew more unequivocal—it was evidently approaching. From the sea there seemed to come, at short intervals, a low and lengthened shout, like the voice of one crying out for help or succour. Presently the sounds assumed a more distinct and definite articulation. "Murder!—Murder!" were the only words that were uttered, but in a tone and with an expression of agony I shall never forget. It was not like anything akin to humanity, but an unearthly, and, if I may so express it, a sepulchral shriek—like a voice from the grave.
I crept closer to my steed: nature, recoiling from contact with the approaching phantom, prompted me thus intuitively to cling to anything that had life. I felt a temporary relief, even from the presence of the terrified beast, though I could distinctly perceive him shuddering, yet fixed to the spot. The voice now came on rapidly; it was but a few paces distant. I felt as though I was the sport and prey of thoughts too horrible for utterance. Alone, I had to cope with the Evil One;—or I was already, perhaps, the victim of some diabolical agency. The yell was close upon my ear; I felt the clammy breath of the grave across my face, and the sound swept by. It slowly arose;—but the agony of the cry was more intense,—more sharp and vehement the shriek of "Murder!" Grown bolder, or perhaps more desperate, I cried out, "Where, in the name of——?" I had scarcely uttered the words when a loud rushing cleft the air, and a crash followed, as though some heavy body had fallen at my feet. The horse burst from its bonds, galloping from me at full speed, and I stood alone! In this appalling extremity, I approached the object of my fears. I bent to the ground; stretching out my hand, my fingers rested on the cold and clammy features of a corpse! I well remember the deep groan that burst from my lips;—nature had reached the extremity of endurance—I felt a sudden rush of blood to the heart, and fell beside my ghastly companion, equally helpless and insensible.
I have no means of ascertaining the duration of this swoon; but, with returning recollection, I again put out my hand, which rested on the cold and almost naked carcase beside me. I felt roused by the touch, and started on my feet—the moon at this instant emerging from a mass of dark clouds, streamed full on the dead body, pale and blood-stained, the features distorted, as if by some terrible death. Fear now prompted me to fly: I ran as if the wind had lent me wings—not daring to look back, lest my eyes should again rest on the grisly form I had just left. I fled onwards for some time; the moon now enabling me to follow the beaten track, which, to my great joy, brought me suddenly, at the turn of a high bank, within sight of a cheerful fire gleaming through a narrow door, seemingly the entrance to some wayside tavern. Bursts of hilarity broke from the interior; the voice of revelry and mirth came upon my ear, as though I was just awakening from a dream. It was as if I had heard the dead laugh in their cold cerements. As I stepped across the threshold, the boisterous roar of mirth made me shudder; and it seemed, by the alarm visible in the countenances of the guests, that my appearance presented something as terrible to their apprehensions. Every eye was fixed on me as I seated myself by a vacant table; and I heard whisperings, with suspicious glances occasionally directed towards the place where I sat. The company, however, soon began to get the better of their consternation, and were evidently not pleased at so unseasonable an interruption to their mirth. I found that some explanation was necessary as to the cause of my intrusion, and with difficulty made them comprehend the nature of my alarm. I craved their assistance for the removal of the body; promising, if possible, to conduct them to the spot where the miserable victim was thrown. They stared at each other during this terrible announcement; and, at the conclusion, I found every one giving his neighbour credit for the requisite portion of courage, though himself, at the same time, declining to participate in the hazards of the undertaking.
"Roger towed me 'at he stood i' th' churchyard, wi' shoon-bottoms uppermost, looking for the wench he wur to wed through the windows. Ise sure he'll make noa bauk at a bogle."
"Luk thee, Jim, I canna face the dead; but I wunna show my back to a live fist, the best and the biggest o' the country-side—Wilt' smell, my lad?"
Roger, mortified at this test of his courage, raised his clenched hand in a half-threatening attitude. A serious quarrel might have ensued, had not a sudden stop been put to the proceedings of the belligerents by an interesting girl stepping before me, modestly inquiring where I had left the corpse; and offering herself as a companion, if these mighty cowards could not muster sufficient courage.
"Shame on thee, Will!" she cried, directing her speech to a young man who sat concealed by the shadow of the projecting chimney;—"shame on thee, I say, to be o'erfaced by two or three hard words. I'se ganging,—follow 'at dare."
Saying this, she took down a huge horn lantern, somewhat dilapidated in the outworks, and burnt in various devices, causing a most unprofitable privation of light. A bonnet and cloak, hastily thrown on, completed her costume; and, surrendering the creaking lantern to my care, she stood for a moment contemplating the dingy atmosphere before she stepped forth to depart. During these ominous preparations, a smart sailor-looking man, whose fear of his mistress' displeasure had probably overcome his dread of the supernatural, placed himself between me and the maiden, and taking her by the arm, crustily told me that if I could point out the way, he was prepared to follow;—rather a puzzling matter for a stranger, who scarcely knew whether his way lay right or left from the very threshold. Thus admirably qualified for a guide, I agreed to make the attempt, being determined to spare no pains, in the hope of discovering the object of our search.
Company breeds courage. Several of the guests, finding how matters stood, and that the encounter was not likely to be made single-handed, volunteered their attendance; so that our retinue was shortly augmented to some half-dozen stout fellows. The vanguard was composed of myself and the lovers; the rest crept close in our rear, forming their rank as broad as the nature of the ground would admit.
Luckily I soon found the jutting bank round which I had turned on my first view of the house we had just left. We proceeded in silence,—except that a whisper occasionally arose from one of the rearmost individuals talking to his bolder neighbour in front, when finding his own courage on the wane. Following for some time what appeared to be the traces of recent footsteps, I hoped, yet almost feared, that every moment I might stumble on the bleeding corpse. An attendant in the rear now gave the alarm,—something he saw moving on our left causing him to make a desperate struggle to get before his companions. This produced a universal uproar—each fighting for precedency, and thoroughly determined not to be the last. I soon beheld a dark object moving near, and the next minute I was overjoyed to find my recreant steed, quietly searching amongst the tufted moss and sea-reed for a scanty supper. My associates knew not what to make of this discovery. Some of them, I believe, eyed him with deep suspicion; and more than one glance was given at his hoofs to see if they were not cloven.
Order, however, being re-established, we again set forward with what proved a useful auxiliary to our train. We had not travelled far ere I was again aware of the peculiar snort by which he manifested his alarm; and it was with difficulty I got him onwards a few paces, when he stood still, his head drawn back, as if from some object that lay in his path. I knew the cause of his terror, and, giving the bridle to one of my attendants, cautiously proceeded, followed by the maiden and her lover; who, to do him justice, showed a tolerable share of courage—at any rate, in the presence of his mistress. At length I recognised the spot, where, yet unmoved, lay the bleeding carcase. The girl started when she beheld the grim features, horribly drawn together and convulsed, as if in the last agony. I was obliged to muster the requisite fortitude to attempt its removal; and raising it from the sand, with a little assistance I placed it across the horse, though not without a most determined opposition on the part of the animal. Throwing a cloak over the body, we made the best of our way back; and on arriving at the house I found that the only vacant apartment where I could deposit my charge was a narrow loft over the out-house, the entrance to which was both steep and dangerous. With the assistance of my two friends, though with considerable difficulty, it was in the end deposited there, upon a miserable pallet of straw, over which we threw a tattered blanket. On returning, I found the guest-room deserted: the old woman to whom the tavern belonged—the mother, as I afterwards found, of my female companion—was hastily clearing away the drinking utensils, and preparing for an immediate removal to the only apartment above-stairs which bore the honours of the bedchamber. She kindly offered me the use of it for the night; but this sacrifice of comfort I could not allow; and throwing my cloak over a narrow bench, I drew it near the fire, determining to snatch a brief interval of rest, without robbing the good woman and her daughter of their night's repose.
It was now past midnight; sleep was out of the question, as I lay ruminating on the mysterious events of the few past hours. The extraordinary manner in which the murdered wretch had been committed to my care seemed an imperative call upon me to attempt the discovery of some foul and horrible crime. With the returning day I resolved to begin my inquiries, and I vowed to compass sea and land ere I gave up the pursuit. So absorbed was I in the project, that I scarcely noticed the storm, now bursting forth in a continuous roll from the sea, until one wild gust, that seemed to rush by as if it would have swept the dwelling from its seat, put an end to these anticipations. I watched the rattling casement, expecting every moment that it would give way, and the groaning thatch be rent from its hold. Involuntarily I arose and approached the window. It was pitchy dark, and the roar of the sea, under the terrific sweep of the tempest, was truly awful. Never had I heard so terrible a conflict. I knew not how soon I might be compelled to quit this unstable shelter; the very earth shook; and every moment I expected the frail tenement would be levelled to its foundations. The eddying and unequal pressure of the wind heaped a huge sand-drift against the walls, which probably screened them from the full force of the blast, acting at the same time as a support to their feeble consistency; sand and earthy matter were driven about and tossed against the casement, insomuch that I almost anticipated a living inhumation. The next gust, however, generally swept off the greater portion of the deposit, making way for a fresh torrent, that poured upon the quaking roof like the rush of a heavy sea over a ship's bulwarks.
I was not destined to be left companionless in the midst of my alarms. The old woman and her daughter, too much terrified to remain quiet, came down from their resting-place, which, being close within the thatch, was most exposed to the tempest. A light was struck, and the dying embers once more kindled into a blaze. The old woman, whom I could not but observe with emotions of awe and curiosity, sat cowering over the flame, her withered hands half-covering her furrowed and haggard cheeks; a starting gleam occasionally lighted up her grey and wasted locks, which, matted in wild elf-knots, hung about her temples. Occasionally she would turn her head as the wind came hurrying on, and the loud rush of the blast went past the dwelling. She seemed to gaze upon it as though 'twere peopled, and she beheld the "sightless coursers of the air" careering on the storm; then, with a mutter and a groan, she again covered her face, rocking to and fro to the chant of some wild and unintelligible ditty. Her daughter sat nearly motionless, hearkening eagerly during the short intervals between the gusts; and as the wind came bellowing on, she huddled closer into the chimney-corner, whither she had crept for protection.
"Such nights are not often known in these parts," said I, taking advantage, as I spoke, of a pause in the warfare without. The old woman made no answer; but the daughter, bending forwards, replied slowly and with great solemnity:—"Mother has seen the death-lights dancing upo' the black scud: some ha' seen the sun sink down upon the waters that winna see him rise again fro' the hill-top."
"Is your mother a seer, then, my pretty maiden?"
"Ye're but a stranger, I guess, if you know not Bridget o' the Sandy Holm—Save us! she's hearkening again for the"——
"There!—Once!" The old woman raised her hands as she spoke, and bent her head in an attitude of listening and eager expectation. I listened too, but could discover no sound, save the heavy swing of the blast, and its receding growl."
"Again!" As she said this, Bridget rose from the low stool she had occupied, and hobbled towards the window. I thought a signal-gun was just then audible, as from some vessel in distress. Ere I could communicate this intelligence, another and a nearer roll silenced all conjecture. It was indeed but too evident that a vessel was in the offing, and rapidly driving towards the shore, from the increasing distinctness of the signals.
Old Bridget stood by the window; her dim and anxious eyes peering through the casement as if she could discern the fearful and appalling spectacle upon the dark billows.
"Your last!—your last, poor wretches!" she cried, when a heavy gust brought another report with amazing distinctness to the ear. "And now the death shriek!—another and another!—ye drop into the deep waters, and the gulf is not gorged with its prey. Bridget Rimmer, girl and woman, has ne'er watched the blue dancers but she has heard the sea-gun follow, and seen the red sand decked with the spoil. Wench, take not of the prey: 'tis accursed!"
The beldame drew back after uttering this anathema, and again resumed her station near the hearth.
The storm now seemed to abate, and as if satisfied with the mischief at this moment consummating, the wind grew comparatively calm. The gusts came by fitfully, like the closing sobs of some fretful and peevish babe, not altogether ceasing with the indulgence of its wishes. As I stood absorbed in a reverie, the nature of which I cannot now accurately determine, the maiden gently touched my arm.
"Sir, will ye walk to the shore? I'se warrant the neighbours are helping, and we may save a life though we canna gie it."
She was wrapped in a thick cloak, the hood thrown forward, and the horn lantern again put in requisition, fitted up for immediate service. We opened the door with considerable difficulty, and waded slowly through the heavy sand-drifts towards the beech. The clouds, shattered and driven together in mountainous heaps, were rolling along the sky, a dark scud sweeping over their huge tops, here and there partially illuminated by the moonbeams: the moon was still obscured, but a wild and faint light, usually seen after the breaking up of a storm, just served to show the outline of objects not too remote from our sphere of vision.
My companion soon brought me to an opening in the hills which led directly down to the beach. Immediately I saw lights before us moving to and fro, and the busy hum of voices came upon the wind; forms were indistinctly seen hurrying backward and forward upon the very verge of the white foam boiling from the huge billows. Hastening to the spot, we found a number of fishermen—their wives assisting in the scrutiny—carefully examining the fragments of wreck which the waves were from time to time casting up, and throwing with a heavy lunge upon the shore. Either for purposes of plunder, or for the more ostensible design of contributing to their preservation, sundry packages were occasionally conveyed away, subsequently to an eager examination of their contents. My associate ran into the thickest of the group, anxiously inquiring as to the fate of the crew, and if any lives had been preserved.
"I guess," cried an old hard-featured sinner, "they be where they'll need no lookin' after. Last brast o' wind, six weeks agone next St Barnaby, I gied my cabin to the lady and her children—an' the pains I waur like to ha' for my labour—I didn't touch a groat till the parson gied me a guinea out o' th' 'scription;—but I may trot gaily hoam to-night. There's no live lumber to stow i' my loft; the fishes ha' the pick o' the whole cargo this bout."
"Canna we get the boats?—I can pull an oar thou knows, Darby, wi' the best on 'em," inquired the female.
"Boats!" exclaimed Darby; "ne'er a boat would live but wi' keel uppermost. I'se not the chap to go to Davy Jones tonight pickled i' brine, my pratty Kate."
"Thou'rt a greedy glead;—I'se go ask Simon; but I'll warrant thou'lt be hankering after the reward, and the biggest share to thine own clutches."
She turned away from the incensed fisherman; and proceeding to a short distance, we found a knot of persons gathered around a half-drowned wretch who owed his appearance again upon land to having been lashed on some lumber which the sea had just cast ashore. Almost fainting from cold and exhaustion, he was undergoing a severe questioning from the bystanders—every one wishing to know the name of the ship, whither bound, and the whole particulars of the disaster. We just came in time for his release; and I soon had the satisfaction to find the poor fellow in my quarters, before a comfortable fire, his clothes drying, and his benumbed limbs chafed until the circulation was again pretty nigh restored. After drinking a tumbler of grog he appeared to recover rapidly; and we found on inquiry that he was master of the vessel just wrecked on the coast. He shook his head on a further inquiry as to the fate of her crew. "A score as good hands," said he, "are gone to the bottom as ever unreefed a clean topsail or hung out a ship's canvas to the wind; I saw them all go down as I lashed myself to the jib." He groaned deeply; but speedily assuming a gayer tone, requested a quid and a quiet hammock. "My lights are nearly stove in,—my head hangs as loose as a Dutchman's shrouds; a night's sleep will make all taut again."
Old Bridget was gone to bed; and unless the sailor chose to occupy the straw pallet already in the possession of a guest whose mysterious arrival seemed to be the forerunner of nothing but confusion and disaster, there did not seem any chance of obtaining a berth save by remaining in his present situation. I told him of the dilemma, but Kate replied:—"We can just take the body fro' the bed; it winna tak' harm upo' the chest i' the fur nook. The captain will not maybe sleep the waur for quiet company."
He did not seem to relish the idea of passing the night even with so quiet a companion; but as it seemed the least disagreeable alternative, we agreed to pilot him to the chamber and help the miserable pallet to change occupants. The corpse we agreed to lay on some clean litter used for the bedding of the cattle. We conducted the stranger to his dormitory, which was formerly a hay loft, until converted into an occasional sleeping-room for the humble applicants who sometimes craved a night's lodging at the Sandy Holm.
The only entrance was by a crazy ladder, and so steep, that I was afraid our feeble companion would find considerable difficulty in climbing to his chamber. It was my intention to have prevented him from getting a sight of the ghastly object that occupied his couch; but pressing foremost, he ran up the ladder with surprising agility, gaining the top ere I had made preparations for the ascent. I mounted cautiously, giving him the light whilst I made good my landing; and he went directly to the bed. I had set my foot on the floor, and was lending a hand to Kate, who had still to contend with the difficulties of the way, when I heard a dismal and most appalling shriek. Starting round, I beheld the stranger gazing on the couch, his eyeballs almost bursting from their sockets, and his countenance distorted with horror and amazement. I ran to him as the light dropped from his grasp; catching it ere it fell, I perceived his eyes rivetted on the livid and terrific features of the corpse. My limbs grew stiff with horror; thoughts of strange import crowded on my mind; I knew not how to shape them into any definite form, but stood trembling and appalled before the dark chaos whence they sprung. Scarcely knowing what I said, still I remember the first inquiry that burst from my lips—"Knowest thou that murdered man?"
The words were scarcely uttered when the conscience-stricken wretch exclaimed, in accents which I shall never forget, "Know him!—yesterday he stood at my helm. I had long borne him an evil grudge, and I brooded on revenge. The devil prompted it—he was at my elbow. It was dark, and the fiend's eyes flashed when I aimed the blow. It descended with a heavy crash, and the body rolled overboard. He spoke not, save once; it was when his hated carcase rose to the surface. I heard a faint moan; it rang on my ear like the knell of death; the voice rushed past—a low sepulchral shout; in my ear it echoed with the cry of 'MURDER!'"
Little remains to be told; he persisted to the last in this horrible confession. He had no wish to live; and the avenging arm of retributive justice closed the world and its interests for ever on a wretch who had forfeited all claims to its protection—cast out, and judged unworthy of a name and a place amongst his fellow-men.
 Glazebrook's Southport.
"From hag-bred Merlin's time have I Thus nightly revelled to and fro; And for my pranks men call me by The name of Robin Goodfellow. Fiends, ghosts, and sprites, Who haunt the nightes, The hags and goblins do me know; And beldames old My feates have told— So vale, vale; ho, ho, ho!"
"In the northern parts of England," says Brand, speaking of the popular superstitions, "ghost is pronounced gheist and guest. Hence barguest or bargheist. Many streets are haunted by a guest, who assumes many strange appearances, as a mastiff dog, &c. It is a corruption of the Anglo-Saxon , spiritus, anima."
Drake, in his Eboracum, says (p. 7, Appendix), "I have been so frightened with stories of the barguest when I was a child, that I cannot help throwing away an etymology upon it. I suppose it comes from A.S. , a town, and , a ghost, and so signifies a town sprite. N.B. is in the Belgic and Teutonic softened into gheist and geyst."
The boggart or bar-gaist of the following story resembles the German kobold, the Danish nis, and the Scotch brownie; but, above all, the Spanish duende, which signifies a spirit or sprite, supposed by the vulgar to haunt houses and highways, causing therein much terror and confusion. "DUENDE. Espiritu que el vulgo cree que infesta las casas y travesea, causando en ellas ruidos y estruendos"—LEMURES, LARVAE. "To appear like a duende," "to move like a duende" are modes of speaking by which it is meant that persons appear in places where they are least expected. "To have a duende" signifies that a person's imagination is disturbed.
The following curious Spanish "Moral," the MS. of which has been kindly lent to the author by Mr Crofton Croker may not be deemed uninteresting as an illustration of the subject. We have accompanied each stanza with a parallel translation of our own.
DUENDE ENEMIGO DEL JUEGO.
DUENDE AN ENEMY TO GAMING.
A Moral Tale.
Un Duende, grave Senor, Que estudio la astrologia, Se propuso la mania, De ser rico jugador.
A grave and learned Senior, who Practised astrology, Bethought him by his lucky stars He passing rich would be.
Todos los siete planetas, Formaban su gran consejo; Y antes de llegar a viejo, Ya no tenia calzetas.
The planets seven his council made, He hugged the glozing cheat; But ere the pedant's legs were old, No stockings held his feet!
Aburrido y sin dinero, Mui tarde se arrepintid, Y en un desban se metid A llorar su error primero.
Enraged and disappointed, he Waxed sour and melancholy, And to a vintner's garret trudged, There to bewail his folly.
Por su gran sabiduria, En duende se corivirtio, Y la guerra declaro, Al arte de fulleria.
"I'll have revenge," he cried, then wrought So wondrous cunningly, That in a trice transformed he was, A brisk Duende he.
La vecindad asombrada, De sus fuertes alaridos, Corriendo despavoridos, Abandon an la Posada.
This pedant, now a "Boggart" made, No soul could rest in quiet; Nor rogue nor bully was his match For kicking up a riot.
Dueno absolute ya el duende, De la espantosa mansion, Se auniento la confusion, Y el temor entre la gente.
At last none dared that garret drear, His dwelling, to come nigh; Sole master of his attic, he Reigned peremptorily.
Pero siendo tan demente El hombre que es codicioso, No falto quien jactancioso, Despreciase al senor duende.
Not so the sharpers, who this house Had made their special haunt: "Senor Duende!—Humph!"—cried they "May suck eggs with his aunt!"
Unos cuantos jugadores, Que llaman de profesion, Eligieron la mansion Para exercer sus primores.
They and their worthy company, Of the black-limbed profession, Here cheated in a lawful way, By that best right—possession!
Mui luego la compania, Numerosa vino a ser, Y el que Ilegaba a perder, Contra al duende maldecia.
The crowd increased. Some luckless wight His winnings at an end, he Swore by his trumps, 'twas owing to That rascally Duende!
La confusa griteria, Pronto al duende incomodo, Y al complot se aparecio Que apenas, cuarta tenia.
This roused him from his garret, where He heard the daily squabble; And lo, in human form, he stands Before the shirtless rabble!
En voz, como chirimia, Dijoles cortes y atento Que habitaba el aposento Donde su amo existia.
He squeaked, "Your servant, gentlemen; I would not thus intrude, 'Pon honour, but your conduct is So very-very rude.
Que en alta camara fiero, Todo senor, reclamaba El orden, y lo aperaba, Aunque ageno de en fullero.
"My master,—he who sits up-stairs I mean,—no jesting, gents,— Expects that you'll be quiet, else He'll scold at all events."
No fue poca la sorpresa, Del mensage y la vision; Y aun con todo, un temeron, Quiso de ella hacer presa.
The gamblers stared, some tumbled down, Some gaped, some told their prayers But one, more daring, swore, i'fack, He'd kick the brute down-stairs!
Mas el caso se fustro, Sin saber como ni cuando, Pues por el ayre volando Nuestro duende se fugo.
But ere he felt th' uplifted foot He 'scaped,—how none could tell; But, sooth it was, this messenger No bodily harm befell!
El suceso maldecian Los unos por el temor, Y gritaban con furor Los que el dinero perdian.
The rogues, who saw him disappear, Waxed paler than before: Some said an Ave; some for fear, And some for folly, swore.
Vuelve por segunda vez, El mensajero, crecido Media vara, y atrevido, Les dice, menos cortes.
When suddenly amidst them all, Again the demon stands; A full half-yard in stature grown! Their business he demands.
Que su amo, era absoluto, De aquella encantada casa, Y su paciencia era escasa, Con todo fullero astuto.
"I tell ye, villains, gamblers, thieves! His patience is but small, With such as you,—so master says, Who master will you all!
Que les mandaba salir De aquel lugar, con presteza, Pues de no, su gentileza, Los haria consumir.
"Out of the house, ye rabble rout! Out of the house! I say, Or otherwise his honour will Consume you utterly!"
Del duendecito quisieron Apoderarse valientes, Mas se les fue entre los dientes, Y sin la presa se vieron.
Thought one, "I'll seize this varlet vile," And speedily arose; He caught him in his clutch—the sprite Vanished and tweaked his nose!
Ya el temor empezo a obrar Y entraron las reflexiones, Apoyando con varones, Que era Duende, a no dudar.
"San Jerome, save us, we are loo'd If this should be the sprite; The big Duende, best we bid His boggartship good night."
Como siempre al jugador, Lo sostiene la esperanza, Fundaron la confianza, En que un Duende es vividor.
But hope, the gambler's enemy, Beguiled them to their ruin; "These ugly sprites, they say, are rich, Yet yield nought without wooing.
Que su ciencia atrae dinero, Y medios paro adquirirlo, Y era cuerdo el admitirlo, Dandole el lugar primero.
"His skill may help us to repair Our cloaks, and eke our breeches; Best speak him fair. We'll worship Nick If he but grant us riches!"
Mas el duende que escuchaba La trama de los fulleros, Quiso en tales caballeros, Vengar, lo que suspiraba.
The sly Duende, like a mouse, Hearkening behind the wall, Did now resolve he quickly would The greedy rogues bemaul
En efecto, agigantado, Con negro manto talar, Cornamenta singular, Ufias largas y barbado.
A mighty giant, lo he comes. Wrapped in a cloak of sable; With horns, hoofs, nails, and beard yclad, He jumped upon the table!
Un garrote enarbolado Y brotando espuma y fuego, Les dijo: Yo devo al juego Mi desgracia y este estado.
A cudgel of some seven years' growth He brandished. Fire and smoke Shot from his lips, while thus he spake;— "I'll gripe you gambling folk.
Los fulleros me han quitado Con mi dinero, la vida, Y pues que sois homicida De todo hombre inocente!
"To gaming my disgrace I owe, With money went my wife; 'Tis such as you the murderers be,— This night shall end your life!
No quede vicho viviente, En toda culta nacion, Que ejerza la profesion De fullero y vagamundo.
"In every nation, called refined, Or gamblers or their wives, Or wealthy wight shall ne'er be found, Who shakes the bones and thrives."
Y dando un grito profundo, Su garrote descargando, A todos fue despachando, Sin dejar uno en el mundo.
With that a loud and horrid yell He gave. And cudgel flew Broadside amongst them; when, like vermin, he Dispatched the hungry crew!
No extinguio, sin duda, el Duende, Toda la mala semilla, Pues hay muchos, como el Duende, Sin camisa, y sin capilla.
But woe is me, they were not all destroyed. For many still, by these cursed arts decoyed, Shoeless and shirtless, miserable sinners, Are seen, snuffing, with empty wind, their dinners!
In the Dunske Folkesagen appear one or two circumstances relative to the freaks of a nis, the goblin of the Danish popular creed, similar to the pranks detailed in our Lancashire legend. Fancy, however sportive and playful with materials already in her possession, is of a much less creative character than is generally supposed, even by those most susceptible to her influence. It is surprising how few are the original conceptions that have sprung from the human mind. Popular superstitions—the great mass of them spread over an immense variety of surface, climate, manners, and opinions—might be supposed to exhibit a corresponding difference in originality and invention. But here we find the same paucity of incidents, varying only in character with the climate which gave them birth; the leading features being evidently common to each. The Scandinavian and the Hindoo, the European and the Asiatic, construct their legends on the same basis; the same stories, and even the same train of events, proving their common origin.
Mr Crofton Croker, a name familiar to all lovers of legendary lore, has kindly communicated the following tale. In substituting this, in place of what the author might have written on the subject, he feels convinced that his readers will not feel displeased at the change, and assures them it is with real gratification that he presents them with an article from the pen of the writer of The Fairy Legends.
Not far from the little-snug smoky village of Blakeley, or Blackley, there lies one of the most romantic of dells, rejoicing in a state of singular seclusion, and in the oddest of Lancashire names, to wit, the "Boggart-hole." Rich in every requisite for picturesque beauty and poetical association, it is impossible for me (who am neither a painter nor a poet) to describe this dell as it should be described; and I will therefore only beg of thee, gentle reader, who peradventure mayst not have lingered in this classical neighbourhood, to fancy a deep, deep dell, its steep sides fringed down with hazel and beech, and fern and thick undergrowth, and clothed at the bottom with the richest and greenest sward in the world. You descend, clinging to the trees, and scrambling as best you may,—and now you stand on haunted ground! Tread softly, for this is the Boggart's clough; and see in yonder dark corner, and beneath the projecting mossy stone, where that dusky sullen cave yawns before us, like a bit of Salvator's best, there lurks the strange elf, the sly and mischievous Boggart. Bounce! I see him coming; oh no, it was only a hare bounding from her form; there it goes—there!
I will tell you of some of the pranks of this very Boggart, and how he teased and tormented a good farmer's family in a house hard by, and I assure you it was a very worthy old lady who told me the story. But first, suppose we leave the Boggart's demesne, and pay a visit to the theatre of his strange doings.
You see that old farm house about two fields distant, shaded by the sycamore-tree: that was the spot which the Boggart or Bar-gaist selected for his freaks; there he held his revels, perplexing honest George Cheetham—for that was the farmer's name—scaring his maids, worrying his men, and frightening the poor children out of their seven senses, so that at last not even a mouse durst show himself indoors at the farm, as he valued his whiskers, five minutes after the clock had struck twelve.
It had long been remarked that whenever a merry tale was told on a winter's evening a small shrill voice was heard above all the rest, like a baby's penny trumpet, joining in with the laughter.
"Weel laughed, Boggart, thou'rt a fine little tyke, I'se warrant, if one could but just catch glent on thee," said Robert, the youngest of the farmer's sons, early one evening, a little before Christmas, for familiarity had made them somewhat bold with their invisible guest. Now, though more pleasant stories were told on that night beside the hearth than had been told there for the three preceding months, though the fire flickered brightly, though all the faces around it were full of mirth and happiness, and though everything, it might seem, was there which could make even a Boggart enjoy himself, yet the small shrill laugh was heard no more that night after little Bob's remark.
Robert, who was a short stout fellow for his age, slept in the same bed with his elder brother John, who was reckoned an uncommonly fine and tall lad for his years. No sooner had they got fairly to sleep than they were roused by the small shrill voice in their room shouting out, "Little tyke, indeed! little tyke thysel'. Ho, ho, ho! I'll have my laugh now—Ho, ho, ho!"
The room was completely dark, and all in and about the house was so still that the sound scared them fearfully. The concluding screech made the place echo again;—but this strange laughter was not necessary to prevent little Robert from further sleep, as he found himself one moment seized by the feet and pulled to the bottom of the bed, and the next moment dragged up again on his pillow. This was no sooner done, than by the same invisible power he was pulled down again, and then his head would be dragged back, and placed as high as his brother's.
"Short and long won't match,—short and long won't match,—ho, ho, ho!" shouted the well-known voice of the Boggart, between each adjustment of little Robert with his tall brother, and thus were they both wearied for more than a hundred times; yet so great was their terror, that neither Robert nor his brother—"Long John," as he ever afterwards was called—dared to stir one inch; and you may well suppose how delighted they both were when the first grey light of the morning appeared.
"We'st now ha' some rest, happen," said John, turning on his side in the expectation of a good nap, and covering himself up with the bed-clothes, which the pulling of Robert so often backwards and forwards had tumbled about sadly.
"Rest!" said the same voice that had plagued them through the night, "rest!—what is rest? Boggart knows no rest."
"Plague tak' thee for a Boggart!" said the farmer next morning, on hearing the strange story from his children: "Plague tak' thee! can thee not let the poor things be quiet? But I'll be up with thee, my gentleman: so tak' th' chamber an' be hang'd to thee, if thou wilt. Jack and little Robert shall sleep o'er the cart-house, and Boggart may rest or wriggle as he likes when he is by himsel'."
The move was accordingly made, and the bed of the brothers transferred to their new sleeping-room over the cart-house, where they remained for some time undisturbed; but his Boggartship having now fairly become the possessor of a room at the farm, it would appear, considered himself in the light of a privileged inmate, and not, as hitherto, an occasional visitor, who merely joined in the general expression of merriment. Familiarity, they say, breeds contempt; and now the children's bread and butter would be snatched away, or their porringers of bread and milk-would be dashed to the ground by an unseen hand; or if the younger ones were left alone but for a few minutes, they were sure to be found screaming with terror on the return of their nurse. Sometimes, however, he would behave himself kindly. The cream was then churned, and the pans and kettles scoured without hands. There was one circumstance which was remarkable;—the stairs ascended from the kitchen, a partition of boards covered the ends of the steps, and formed a closet beneath the staircase. From one of the boards of this partition a large round knot was accidentally displaced; and one day the youngest of the children, while playing with the shoe-horn, stuck it into this knot-hole. Whether or not the aperture had been formed by the Boggart as a peep-hole to watch the motions of the family, I cannot pretend to say. Some thought it was, for it was called the Boggart's peep-hole; but others said that they had remembered it long before the shrill laugh of the Boggart was heard in the house. However this may have been, it is certain that the horn was ejected with surprising precision at the head of whoever put it there; and either in mirth or in anger the horn was darted forth with great velocity, and struck the poor child over the ear.
There are few matters upon which parents feel more acutely than that of the maltreatment of their offspring; but time, that great soother of all things, at length familiarised this dangerous occurrence to every one at the farm, and that which at the first was regarded with the utmost terror, became a kind of amusement with the more thoughtless and daring of the family. Often was the horn slipped slyly into the hole, and in return it never failed to be flung at the head of some one, but most commonly at the person who placed it there. They were used to call this pastime, in the provincial dialect, "laking wi' t' Boggart;" that is, playing with the Boggart. An old tailor, whom I but faintly remember, used to say that the horn was often "pitched" at his head, and at the head of his apprentice, whilst seated here on the kitchen table, when they went their rounds to work, as is customary with country tailors. At length the goblin, not contented with flinging the horn, returned to his night persecutions. Heavy steps, as of a person in wooden clogs, were at first heard clattering down-stairs in the dead hour of darkness; then the pewter and earthern dishes appeared to be dashed on the kitchen-floor; though in the morning all remained uninjured on their respective shelves. The children generally were marked out as objects of dislike by their unearthly tormentor. The curtains of their beds would be violently pulled to and fro,—then a heavy weight, as of a human being, would press them nearly to suffocation, from which it was impossible to escape. The night, instead of being the time for repose, was disturbed with screams and dreadful noises, and thus was the whole house alarmed night after night. Things could not long continue in this fashion; the farmer and his good dame resolved to leave a place where they could no longer expect rest or comfort: and George Cheetham was actually following with his wife and family the last load of furniture, when they were met by a neighbouring farmer, named John Marshall.
"Well, Georgey, and soa you're leaving th' owd house at last?" said Marshall.
"Heigh, Johnny, ma lad, I'm in a manner forced to 't, thou sees," replied the other; "for that wearyfu' Boggart torments us soa, we can neither rest neet nor day for't. It seems loike to have a malice again't young ans,—an' it ommost kills my poor dame here at thoughts on't, and soa thou sees we're forc'd to flitt like."
He had got thus far in his complaint, when, behold, a shrill voice from a deep upright churn, the topmost utensil on the cart, called out—"Ay, ay, neighbour, we're flitting, you see."
"'Od rot thee!" exclaimed George: "if I'd known thou'd been flitting too I wadn't ha' stirred a peg. Nay, nay,—it's to no use, Mally," he continued, turning to his wife, "we may as weel turn back again to th' owd house as be tormented in another not so convenient."
They did return; but the Boggart, having from the occurrence ascertained the insecurity of his tenure, became less outrageous, and was never more guilty of disturbing, in any extraordinary degree, the quiet of the family.