THE HAUNTED MANOR-HOUSE.
"But he was wary wise in all his way, And well perceived his deceitful sleight; No suffered lust his safety to hetray; So goodly did beguile the guiler of the prey."
Ince-hall, the subject of our view, stands about a mile from Wigan, on the left hand of the high road to Bolton. It is a very conspicuous object, its ancient and well-preserved front generally attracting the notice and inquiry of travellers.
About a mile to the south-east stands another place of the same name once belonging to the Gerards of Bryn. The manor is now the property of Charles Walmsley, Esq., of Westwood, near Wigan.
The two mansions are sometimes confounded together in topographical inquiries; and the following story, though told of some former proprietor of the Ince to which our plate refers, yet, by its title of the "Manor-house," would seem as though intended for the other and comparatively less known mansion, the old "Manor-house of Ince," once inhabited by a family of that name. But the same traditions are often found connected with localities widely asunder, so that we need not be surprised at the mistake which gossips have made in this particular instance.
It is, after all, quite uncertain whether the event occurred here or not, story-tellers being very apt to fix upon any spot near at hand on which to fasten their marvellous narratives, and to give them a stronger hold on the listener's imagination.
The story is supposed to be written or related by the chief actor in the occurrences arising out of the "Haunted House." The author has thrown the narrative into this form, as he hopes it will vary the style of the traditions, and probably give more character and interest to the events here detailed than they would retain if told by a third person.
The coach set me down at the entrance to a long and unweeded avenue. A double row of beech-trees saluted me, as I passed, with a rich shower of wet leaves, and shook their bare arms, growling as the loud sough of the wind went through their decayed branches. The old house was before me. Its numerous and irregularly-contrived compartments in front were streaked in black and white zig-zags—vandyked, I think, the fairest jewels of the creation call this chaste and elegant ornament. It was near the close of a dark autumnal day, and a mass of gable-ends stood sharp and erect against the wild and lowering sky. Each of these pinnacles could once boast of its admired and appropriate ornament—a little weathercock; but they had cast off their gilded plumage for ever, and fallen from their high estate, like the once neatly-trimmed mansion which I was now visiting. A magpie was perched upon a huge stack of chimneys, his black and white plumage rivalling the mottled edifice at his feet. Perhaps he was the wraith, the departing vision of the decaying fabric; an apparition, insubstantial as the honours and dignities of the ancient and revered house of——!
I looked eagerly at the long, low casements: a faint glimmer was visible. It proceeded only from the wan reflection of a sickly sunbeam behind me, struggling through the cleft of a dark hail-cloud. It was the window where in my boyhood I had often peeped at the town-clock through my little telescope. There was the nursery chamber, and no wonder that it was regarded with feelings of the deepest interest. Here the first dawnings of reason broke in upon my soul; the first faint gleams of intelligence awakened me from a state of infantine unconsciousness. It was here that I first drank eagerly of the fresh rills of knowledge; here my imagination, ardent and unrepressed, first plumed its wings for flight, and I stepped forth over its threshold into a world long since tried, and found as unsatisfying and unreal as the false glimmer that now mocked me from the hall of my fathers.
A truce to sentiment!—I came hither, it may be, for a different purpose. A temporary gush will occasionally spring up from the first well-head of our affections. However homely and seemingly ill-adapted, in outward show and character, for giving birth to those feelings generally designated by the epithet romantic, the place where we first breathed, where our ideas were first moulded, formed and assimilated, as it were, to the condition of the surrounding atmosphere (their very shape and colour determined by the medium in which they first sprung) the casual recurrence of a scene like this,—forming part and parcel of our very existence, and incorporated with the very fabric of our thoughts,—must, in spite of all subsequent impressions, revive those feelings, however long they may have been dormant, with a force and vividness which the bare recollection can never excite.
The garden-gate stood open. The initials of my name, still legible, appeared rudely carved on the posts—a boyish propensity which most of us have indulged; and I well remember ministering to its gratification wherever I durst hazard the experiment, when first initiated into the mystery of hewing out these important letters with a rusty pen-knife.
Not a creature was stirring; and the nature of the present occupants, whether sylphs, gnomes, or genii, was a question not at all, as it yet appeared, in a train for solution. The front door was closed; but, as I knew every turn and corner about the house, I made no doubt of soon finding out its inmates, if any of them were in the neighbourhood. I worked my way through the garden, knee-deep and rank with weed, for the purpose of reconnoitring the back-offices. I steered pretty cautiously past what memory, that great dealer in hyperbole, had hitherto generally contrived to picture as a huge lake—now, to my astonishment, dwindled into a duck-pond—but not without danger from its slippery margin. It still reposed under the shadow of the old cherry-tree, once the harbinger of delight, as the returning season gave intimation of another bountiful supply of fruit. Its gnarled stump, now stunted and decaying, had scarcely one token of life upon its scattered branches. Following a narrow walk, nearly obliterated, I entered a paved court. The first tramp awoke a train of echoes that seemed as though they had slumbered since my departure, and now started from their sleep to greet or to admonish the returning truant. Grass in luxuriant tufts, capriciously disposed, grew about in large patches. The breeze passed heavily by, rustling the dark swathe, and murmuring fitfully as it departed. Desolation seemed to have marked the spot for her own—the grim abode of solitude and despair. During twenty years' sojourn in a strange land memory had still, with untiring delight, painted the old mansion in all its primeval primness and simplicity—fresh as I had left it, full of buoyancy and delight, to take possession of the paradise which imagination had created. I had, indeed, been informed that at my father's death it became the habitation of a stranger; but no intelligence as to its present condition had ever reached me. Being at L——, and only some twenty miles distant, I could not resist the temptation of once more gazing on the old Manor-house, and of comparing its present aspect with that but too faithfully engrafted on my recollections. To all appearance the house was tenantless. I tried the door of a side kitchen or scullery: it was fastened, but the rusty bolts yielded to no very forcible pressure; and I once more penetrated into the kitchen, that exhaustless magazine which had furnished ham and eggs, greens and bacon, with other sundry and necessary condiments, to the progenitors of our race for at least two centuries. A marvellous change!—to me it appeared as if wrought in a moment, so recently had memory reinstated the scenes of my youth in all their pristine splendour. Now no smoke rolled lazily away from the heavy billet; no blaze greeted my sight; no savoury steam regaled the sense. Dark, cheerless, cold,—the long bars emitted no radiance; the hearth unswept, on which Growler once panted with heat and fatness.
Though night was fast approaching, I could not resist the temptation of once more exploring the deserted chambers, the scene of many a youthful frolic. I sprang with reckless facility up the vast staircase. The shallow steps were not sufficiently accommodating to my impatience, and I leapt rather than ran, with the intention of paying my first visit to that cockaigne of childhood, that paradise of little fools—the nursery. How small, dwindled almost into a span, appeared that once mighty and almost boundless apartment, every nook of which was a separate territory, every drawer and cupboard the boundary of another kingdom! three or four strides brought me to the window;—the broad church-tower was still visible, peacefully reposing in the dim and heavy twilight. The evening-bell was tolling: what a host of recollections were awakened at the sound! Days and hours long forgotten seemed to rise up at its voice, like the spirits of the departed sweeping by, awful and indistinct. These impressions soon became more vivid; they rushed on with greater rapidity: I turned from the window, and was startled at the sudden moving of a shadow. It was a faint long-drawn figure of myself on the floor and opposite wall. Ashamed of my fears, I was preparing to quit the apartment when my attention was arrested by a drawing which I had once scrawled, and stuck against the wall with all the ardour of a first achievement. It owed its preservation to an unlucky, but effectual, contrivance of mine for securing its perpetuity: a paste-brush, purloined from the kitchen, had made all fast; and the piece, alike impregnable to assaults or siege, withstood every effort for its removal. In fact, this could not be accomplished without at the same time tearing off a portion from the dingy papering of the room, and leaving a disagreeable void, instead of my sprawling performance. With the less evil it appeared each succeeding occupant had been contented; and the drawing had stood its ground in spite of dust and dilapidation. I felt wishful for the possession of so valuable a memorial of past exploits. I examined it again and again, but not a single corner betrayed symptoms of lesion: it stuck bolt upright; and the dun squat figures portrayed on it appeared to leer at me most provokingly. Not a slip or tear presented itself as vantage-ground for the projected attack; and I had no other resource left of gaining possession than what may be denominated the Caesarean mode. I accordingly took out my knife, and commenced operations by cutting out at the same time a portion of the ornamental papering from the wall commensurate with the picture. I looked upon it with a sort of superstitious reverence; and I have always thought that the strong and eager impulse I felt for the possession of this hideous daub proceeded from a far different source than mere fondness for the memorials of childhood. Be that as it may, I am a firm believer in a special Providence; and that, too, as discovered in the most trivial as well as the most important concerns of life. It was whilst cutting down upon what seemed like wainscoting, over which the papering of the room had been laid, that my knife glanced on something much harder than the rest. Turning aside my spoils, I saw what through the dusk appeared very like the hinge of a concealed door. My curiosity was roused, and I made a hasty pull, which at once drew down a mighty fragment from the wall, consisting of plaster, paper, and rotten canvas; and some minutes elapsed ere the subsiding cloud of dust enabled me to discern the terra incognita I had just uncovered. Sure enough there was a door, and as surely did the spirit of enterprise prompt me to open it. With difficulty I accomplished my purpose; it yielded at length to my efforts; but the noise of the half-corroded hinges, grating and shrieking on their rusty pivots, may be conceived as sufficiently dismal and appalling. I know not if once at least I did not draw back, or let go my hold incontinently, as the din "grew long and loud." I own, without hesitation, that I turned away my head from the opening, as it became wider and wider at every pull; and it required a considerable effort before I could summon the requisite courage to look into the gap. My head seemed as difficult to move as the door. I cannot say that I was absolutely afraid of ghosts, but I was afraid of a peep from behind the door—afraid of being frightened! At length, with desperate boldness, I thrust my head plump into the chasm!
But I was more startled at the noise I had thus produced than by anything that was visible. As far as the darkness would permit, I explored the interior, which, after all, was neither more nor less than a small closet. From what cause it had been shut out from the apartment to which it had belonged, it were vain to conjecture. All that was really cognisable to the senses presented itself in the shape of a shallow recess, some four feet by two, utterly unfurnished, save with some inches of accumulated dust and rubbish, that made it a work of great peril to grope out the fact of its otherwise absolute emptiness. This discovery like many other notable enterprises seemed to lead to nothing. I stepped out of my den, reeking with spoils which I would much rather have left undisturbed in their dark recesses.
Preparing for my departure, and a visit to my relation in the nearly adjoining town, who as yet had no other intimation of my arrival than a hasty note, to apprise him that I had once more set foot on English ground, and intended to visit him before my return, I stepped again to the window. Darkness was fast gathering about me; a heavy scud was driven rapidly across the heavens, and the wind wailed in short and mournful gusts past the chamber. The avenue was just visible from the spot where I stood; and, looking down, I thought I could discern more than one dark object moving apparently towards the house. It may be readily conceived that I beheld their approach with an interest by no means free from apprehension; and it was not long ere two beings, in human habiliments, were distinctly seen at a short distance from the gate by which I had entered. Feeling myself an intruder, and not being very satisfactorily prepared to account for my forcible entry into the premises, and the injury I had committed on the property of a stranger, I drew hastily aside, determined to effect a retreat whenever and wherever it might be in my power. Door and window alternately presented themselves for the accomplishment of this unpleasant purpose, but before I could satisfy myself as to which was the more eligible offer, as doubters generally do contrive it, I lost all chance of availing myself of either. "Facilis descensus"—"Easier in than out"—&c., occurred to me; and many other classical allusions, much more appropriate than agreeable. I heard voices and footsteps in the hall. The stairs creaked, and it was but too evident they were coming, and that with a most unerring and provoking perseverance. Surely, thought I, these gentry have noses like the sleuth-hound; and I made no doubt but they would undeviatingly follow them into the very scene of my labours; and what excuse could I make for the havoc I had committed? I stood stupefied, and unable to move. The thoughts of being hauled neck and heels before the next justice, on a charge of housebreaking, or what not—committed to prison—tried, perhaps, and—the sequel was more than even imagination durst conceive. Recoiling in horror from the picture, it was with something like instinctive desperation that I flew to the little closet, and shut myself in, with all the speed and precision my fears would allow. Sure enough the brutes were making the best of their way into the chamber, and every moment I expected they would track their victim to his hiding-place. After a few moments of inconceivable agony, I was relieved at finding from their conversation that no notion was entertained, at present, of any witness to their proceedings.
"I tell thee, Gilbert, these rusty locks can keep nothing safe. It's but some few months since we were here, and thou knowest the doors were all fast. The kitchen door-post is now as rotten as touchwood; no bolt will fasten it."
"Nail it up,—nail 'em all up," growled Gilbert; "nobody'll live here now; or else set fire to 't. It'll make a rare bonfire to burn that ugly old will in."
A boisterous laugh here broke from the remorseless Gilbert. It fell upon my ear as something with which I had once been disagreeably familiar. The voice of the first speaker, too, seemed the echo of one that had been heard in childhood. A friendly chink permitted me to gain the information I sought; there stood my uncle and his trusty familiar. In my youth I had contracted a somewhat unaccountable aversion to the latter personage. I well remembered his downcast grey eye, deprived of its fellow; and the malignant pleasure he took in thwarting and disturbing my childish amusements. This prepossessing Cyclop held a tinder-box, and was preparing to light a match. My uncle's figure I could not mistake: a score of winters had cast their shadows on his brow since we had separated; but he still stood as he was wont—tall, erect, and muscular, though age had slightly drooped his proud forehead; and I could discern his long-lapped waistcoat somewhat less conspicuous in front. He was my mother's brother, and the only surviving relation on whom I had any claim. My fears were set at rest, but curiosity stole into their place. I felt an irrepressible inclination to watch their proceedings, though eaves-dropping was a subterfuge that I abhorred. I should, I am confident—at least I hope so—have immediately discovered myself, had not a single word which I had overheard prevented me. The "will" to which they alluded might to me, perhaps, be an object of no trivial importance.
"I wish with all my heart it were burnt!" said mine uncle.
"The will, or the house?" peevishly retorted Gilbert.
"Both!" cried the other, with an emphasis and expression that made me tremble.
"If we burn the house, the papers will not rise out of it, depend on 't, master," continued Gilbert; "and that box in the next closet will not prove like Goody Blake's salamander."
I began to feel particularly uncomfortable.
"I wish they had all been burnt long ago," said mine honest uncle. After a pause he went on: "This scapegrace nephew of mine will be here shortly. For fear of accidents—accidents, I say,—Gilbert—it were better to have all safe. Who knows what may be lurking in the old house, to rise up some day as a witness against us! I intend either to pull it down or set fire to it. But we'll make sure of the will first."
"A rambling jackanapes of a nephew!" said Gilbert; "I hoped the fishes had supped on him before now. We never thought, master, he could be alive, as he sent no word about his being either alive or dead. But I guess," continued this amiable servant, "he might ha' staid longer, and you wouldn't ha' fretted for his company."
Listeners hear no good of themselves; but I determined to reward the old villain very shortly for his good wishes.
"Gilbert, when there's work to do thou art always readier with thy tongue than with thy fingers. Look! the match has gone out twice,—leave off puffing and fetch the box; I'll manage about the candle."
I began to feel a strange sensation rambling about me. Gilbert left the room, however, and I applied myself with redoubled diligence to the crevice. My dishonest relation proceeded to revive the expiring sparks; the light shone full upon his hard features. It might be fancy, but guilt—broad, legible, remorseless guilt—seemed to mark every inflection of his visage: his brow contracted,—his eye turned cautiously and fearfully round the apartment, and more than once it rested upon the gap I had made. I saw him strike his hand upon his puckered brow, and a stifled groan escaped him; but as if ashamed of his better feelings, he clenched it in an attitude of defiance, and listened eagerly for the return of his servant. The slow footsteps of Gilbert soon announced his approach, and apparently with some heavy burden. He threw it on the floor, and I heard a key applied and the rusty wards answering to the touch. The business in which they were now engaged was out of my limited sphere of vision.
"I think, master, the damps will soon ding down the old house: look at the wall; the paper hangs for all the world like the clerk's wig—ha, ha! If we should burn the house down we'd rid it o' the ghosts. Would they stand fire, think you, or be off to cooler quarters?"
"Hush, Gilbert; thou art wicked enough to bring a whole legion about us, if any of them are within hearing. I always seemed to treat these stories with contempt, but I never could satisfy myself about the noises that old Gidlow and his wife heard. Thou knowest he was driven out of the house by them. People wondered that I did not come and live here, instead of letting it run to ruin. It's pretty generally thought that I fear neither man nor devil; but—oh! here it is; here is the will. I care nothing for the rest, provided this be cancelled."
"Ay, master, they said the ghost never left off scratching as long as anybody was in the room. Which room was it, I wonder?—I never thought on't to inquire; but—- I don't like this a bit. It runs in my head it is the very place; and behind that wall, too, where it took up its quarters like as it might be just a-back of the paper there. Think you, master, the old tyke has pull'd it down wi' scratching?"
"Gilbert," said my uncle solemnly, "I don't like these jests of thine. Save them, I prithee, for fitter subjects. The will is what we came for. Let us dispose of that quietly, and I promise thee I'll never set foot here again."
As he spoke he approached the candle—it was just within my view—and opened the will that it might yield the more readily to the blaze. I watched him evidently preparing to consume a document with which I felt convinced my welfare and interests were intimately connected. There was not a moment to be lost; but how to get possession was no easy contrivance. If I sallied forth to its rescue they might murder me, or at least prevent its falling into my hands. This plan could only prolong its existence a few moments, and would to a certainty ensure its eventual destruction. Gilbert's dissertation on the occupations and amusements of the ghosts came very opportunely to my aid, and immediately I put into execution what now appeared my only hope of its safety. Just as a corner of the paper was entering the flame I gave a pretty loud scratch, at the same time anxiously observing the effect it might produce. I was overjoyed to find the enemy intimidated at least by the first fire. Another volley, and another succeeded, until even the sceptical Gilbert was dismayed. My uncle seemed riveted to the spot, his hands widely disparted, so that the flame and its destined prey were now pretty far asunder. Neither of the culprits spoke; and I hoped that little more would be necessary to rout them fairly from the field. As yet they did not seem disposed to move; and I was afraid of a rally, should reason get the better of their fears.
"Rats! rats!" shouted Gilbert. "We'll singe their tails for them." The scratching ceased. Again the paper was approaching to its dreaded catastrophe.
"Beware!" I cried, in a deep and sepulchral tone, that startled even the utterer. What effect it had produced on my auditory I was left alone to conjecture. The candle dropped from the incendiary's grasp, and the spoil was left a prey to the bugbear that possessed their imaginations. With feelings of unmixed delight, I heard them clear the stairs at a few leaps, run through the hall, and soon afterwards a terrific bellow from Gilbert announced their descent into the avenue.
Luckily the light was not extinct, and I lost no time in taking possession of the document, which I considered of the most importance. A number of loose papers, the contents of a huge trunk, were scattered about; but my attention was more particularly directed to the paper which had been the object of my uncle's visit to the Manor-house. To my great joy, this was neither less nor more than my father's will, witnessed and sealed in due form, wherein the possessions of my ancestors were conveyed, absolutely and unconditionally, without entail, unencumbered and unembarrassed, to me and to my assigns. I thought it most likely that the papers in and about the trunk might be of use, either as corroborative evidence, in case my uncle should choose to litigate the point and brand the original document as a forgery, or as a direct testimony to the validity of my claim. I was rather puzzled in what manner to convey them from the place, so as not to excite suspicion, should the two worthies return. I was pretty certain they would not leave matters as they now stood when their fears were allayed, and daylight would probably impart sufficient courage to induce them to repeat their visit. On finding the papers removed, the nature of this night's ghostly admonition would immediately be guessed, and measures taken to thwart any proceedings which it might be in my power to adopt. To prevent discovery, I hit upon the following expedient:—I sorted out the waste paper, a considerable quantity of which served as envelopes to the rest, setting fire to it in such a manner that the contents of the trunk might appear to have been destroyed by the falling of the candle. I succeeded very much to my own satisfaction. Disturbed and agonised as my feelings had been during the discovery, the idea of having defeated the plan of my iniquitous relative gave a zest to my acquisitions almost as great as if I had already taken possession of my paternal inheritance.
Before I left the apartment, I poured out my heart in thanksgivings to that unseen Power whose hand, I am firmly convinced, brought me thither at so critical a moment, to frustrate the schemes and machinations of the enemy.
Bundling up the papers, my knowledge of the vicinity enabled me to reach a small tavern in the neighbourhood without the risk of being recognised. Here I continued two or three days, examining the documents, with the assistance of an honest limb of the law from W——. He entertained considerable doubts as to the issue of a trial, feeling convinced that a forged will would be prepared, if not already in existence, and that my relative would not relinquish his fraudulent claim should the law be openly appealed to. He strongly recommended that proceedings of a different nature should be first tried, in hopes of enclosing the villain in his own toils; and these, if successful, would save the uncertain and expensive process of a suit. I felt unwilling to adopt any mode of attack but that of open warfare, and urged that possession of the real will would be sufficient to reinstate me as the lawful heir. The man of law smiled. He inquired how I should be able to prove that the forgery which my uncle would in all probability produce was not the genuine testament; and as the date would inevitably be subsequent to the one I held, it would annul any former bequest. As to my tale about burning the will, that might or might not be treated as a story trumped up for the occasion. I had no witnesses to prove the fact; and though appearances were certainly in my favour, yet the case could only be decided according to evidence. With great reluctance I consented to take a part in the scheme he chalked out for my guidance; and, on the third day from my arrival, I walked a few miles and returned to the town, that it might appear as if I had only just arrived. On being set down at my uncle's I had the satisfaction to find, as far as could be gathered from his manner, that he had no idea of my recent sojourn in the neighbourhood. Of course the conversation turned on the death of my revered parents, and the way in which their property had been disposed of.
"I can only repeat," continued he, "what I, as the only executor under your father's will, was commissioned to inform you at his decease. The property was heavily mortgaged before your departure; and its continued depression in value, arising from causes that could not have been foreseen, left the executor no other alternative but that of giving the creditors possession. The will is here," said he, taking out a paper, neatly folded and mounted with red tape, from a bureau. "It is necessarily brief, and merely enumerates the names of the mortgagees and amounts owing. I was unfortunately the principal creditor, having been a considerable loser from my wish to preserve the property inviolate. For the credit of the family I paid off the remaining incumbrances, and the estate has lapsed to me as the lawful possessor."
He placed the document in my hands. I read in it a very technical tribute of testamentary gratitude to M—— S——, Esq., styled therein "beloved brother;" and a slight mention of my name, but no bequest, save that of recommending me to the kindness of my relative, in case it should please Heaven to send me once more to my native shores. I was aware he would be on the watch; guarding, therefore, against any expression of my feelings, I eagerly perused the deed, and with a sigh, which he would naturally attribute to any cause but the real one, I returned it into his hands.
"I find," said he, "from your letter received on the 23d current, that you are not making a long stay in this neighbourhood. It is better, perhaps, that you should not. The old house is sadly out of repair. Three years ago next May, David Gidlow, the tenant under lease from me, left it, and I have not yet been able to meet with another occupant fully to my satisfaction; indeed, I have some intention of pulling down the house and disposing of the materials."
"Pulling it down!" I exclaimed, with indignation.
"Yes; that is, it is so untenantable—so—what shall I call it?—that nobody cares to live there."
"I hope it is not haunted?"
"Haunted!" exclaimed he, surveying me with a severe and scrutinising glance. "What should have put that into your head?"
I was afraid I had said too much; and anxious to allay the suspicion I saw gathering in his countenance—"Nay, uncle," I quickly rejoined; "but you seemed so afraid of speaking out upon the matter that I thought there must needs be a ghost at the bottom of it."
"As for that," said he, carelessly; "the foolish farmer and his wife did hint something of the sort; but it is well known that I pay no attention to such tales. The long and the short of it, I fancy, was, that they were tired of their bargain, and wanted me to take it off their hands."
Here honest Gilbert entered, to say that Mr L——, the attorney, would be glad to have a word with his master.
"Tell Mr L—— to walk in. We have no secrets here. Excuse me, nephew; this man is one of our lawyers. He has nothing to communicate but what you may hear, I dare say. If he should have any private business, you can step into the next room."
The attorney entering, I was introduced as nephew to Mr S——, just arrived from the Indies, and so forth. Standing, Mr L—— made due obeisance.
"Sit down; sit down, Mr L——," cried my uncle. "You need not be bowing there for a job. Poor fellow, he has not much left to grease the paws of a lawyer. Well, sir, your errand?"
I came, Mr S——, respecting the Manor-house. Perhaps you would not have any objections to a tenant!"
"I cannot say just now. I have had some thoughts of pulling it down."
"Sir! you would not demolish a building, the growth of centuries—a family mansion—been in the descent since James's time. It would be barbarous. The antiques would be about your ears."
"I care nothing for the antiquities; and, moreover, I do not choose to let the house. Any further business with me this morning, sir?"
"Nothing of consequence—I only came about the house."
"Pray, Mr L——," said I, "what sort of a tenant have you in view;—one you could recommend? I think my uncle has more regard for the old mansion-house than comports with the outrage he threatens. The will says, if I read aright, that the house and property may be sold, should the executor see fit; but, as to pulling it down, I am sure my father never meant anything so deplorable. Allow me another glance at that paper."
"Please to observe, nephew, that the will makes it mine, and as such I have a right to dispose of the whole in such manner as I may deem best. If you have any doubts, I refer you to Mr L——, who sits smiling at your unlawyer-like opinions."
"Pray allow me one moment," said the curious attorney. He looked at the signature and those of the parties witnessing.
"Martha S——; your late sister, I presume?"
My uncle nodded assent.
"Gilbert Hodgon—your servant?"
"The same. To what purpose, sir, are these questions?" angrily inquired my uncle.
"Merely matters of form—a habit we lawyers cannot easily throw aside whenever we get a sight of musty parchments. I hope you will pardon my freedom?"
"Oh! as for that you are welcome to ask as many questions as you think proper; they will be easily answered, I take it."
"Doubtless," said the persevering man of words. "Whenever I take up a deed, for instance,—it is just the habit of the thing, Mr S——,—I always look at it as a banker looks at a note. He could not for the life of him gather one up without first ascertaining that it was genuine."
"Genuine!" exclaimed my uncle, thrown off his guard. "You do not suspect that I have forged it?"
"Forged it! why, how could that enter your head, Mr S——? I should as soon suspect you of forging a bank-note or coining a guinea. Ringing a guinea, sir, does not at all imply that the payee suspects the payer to be an adept in that ingenious and much-abused art. We should be prodigously surprised if the payer were to start up in a tantrum, and say, 'Do you suspect me, sir, of having coined it?'"
"Sir, if you came hither for the purpose of insulting me"——
"I came upon no such business, Mr S——; but, as you seem disposed to be captious, I will make free to say, and it would be the opinion of ninety-nine hundredths of the profession, that it might possibly have been a little more satisfactory to the heir-apparent had the witnesses to this, the most solemn and important act of a man's life, been any other than, firstly, a defunct sister to the party claiming the whole residue: and secondly, Mr Gilbert Hodgon, his servant. Nay, sir," said the pertinacious lawyer, rising, "I do not wish to use more circumlocution than is necessary; I have stated my suspicions, and if you are an honest man, you can have no objections, at least, to satisfy your nephew on the subject, who seems, to say the truth, much astonished at our accidental parley."
"And pray who made you a ruler and a judge between us?"
"I have no business with it, I own; but as you seemed rather angry, I made bold to give an opinion on the little technicalities aforesaid. If you choose, sir," addressing himself to me, "the matter is now at rest."
"Of course," I replied, "Mr S—— will be ready to give every satisfaction that may be required as regards the validity of the witnesses. I request, uncle, that you will not lose one moment in rebutting these insinuations. For your own sake and mine, it is not proper that your conduct should go forth to the world in the shape in which this gentleman may think fit to represent it."
"If he dare speak one word"——
"Nay, uncle, that is not the way to stop folks' mouth now-a-days. Nothing but the actual gag, or a line of conduct that courts no favour and requires no concealment, will pass current with the world. I request, sir," addressing myself to the attorney, "that you will not leave this house until you have given Mr S—— the opportunity of clearing himself from any blame in this transaction."
"As matters have assumed this posture," said Mr L——, "I should be deficient in respect to the profession of which I have the honour to be a member, did I not justify my conduct in the best manner I am able. Have I liberty to proceed?"
"Proceed as you like, you will not prove the testament to be a forgery. The signing and witnessing were done in my presence," said my uncle. He rose from his chair, instinctively locked up his bureau; and, if such stern features could assume an aspect of still greater asperity, it was when the interrogator thus continued:—"You were, as you observe, Mr S——, an eye-witness to the due subscription of this deed. If I am to clear myself from the imputation of unjustifiable curiosity, I must beg leave to examine yourself and the surviving witness apart, merely as to the minutiae of the circumstances under which it was finally completed: for instance, was the late Mr—— in bed, or was he sick or well, when the deed was executed?"
A cadaverous hue stole over the dark features of the culprit; their aspect varying and distorted, in which fear and deadly anger painfully strove for pre-eminence.
"And wherefore apart?" said he, with a hideous grin. He stamped suddenly on the floor.
"If that summons be for your servant, you might have saved yourself the trouble, sir," said his tormentor, with great coolness and intrepidity. "Gilbert is at my office, whither I sent him on an errand, thinking he would be best out of the way for a while. I find, however, that we shall have need of him. It is as well, nevertheless, that he is out of the way of signals."
"A base conspiracy!" roared the infuriated villain. "Nephew, how is this? And in my own house,—bullied—baited! But I will be revenged—I will."
Here he became exhausted with rage, and sat down. On Mr L—— attempting to speak, he cried out—"I will answer no questions, and I defy you. Gilbert may say what he likes; but he cannot contradict my words. I'll speak none."
"These would be strange words, indeed, Mr S———, from an innocent man. Know you that WILL?" said the lawyer, in a voice of thunder, and at the same time exhibiting the real instrument so miraculously preserved from destruction. I shall never forget his first look of horror and astonishment. Had a spectre risen up, arrayed in all the terrors of the prison-house, he could not have exhibited more appalling symptoms of unmitigated despair. He shuddered audibly. It was the very crisis of his agony. A portentous silence ensued. Some minutes elapsed before it was interrupted. Mr L—— was the first to break so disagreeable a pause.
"Mr S——, it is useless to carry on this scene of duplicity: neither party would be benefited by it. You have forged that deed! We have sufficient evidence of your attempt to destroy this document I now hold, in the very mansion which your unhallowed hands would, but for the direct interposition of Providence, have levelled with the dust. On one condition, and on one only, your conduct shall be concealed from the knowledge of your fellow-men. The eye of Providence alone has hitherto tracked the tortuous course of your villany. On one condition, I say, the past is for ever concealed from the eye of the world." Another pause. My uncle groaned in the agony of his spirit. Had his heart's blood been at stake, he could not have evinced a greater reluctance than he now showed at the thoughts of relinquishing his ill-gotten wealth.
"What is it?"
"Destroy with your own hands that forged testimony of your guilt. Your nephew does not wish to bring an old man's grey hairs to an ignominious grave."
He took the deed, and, turning aside his head, committed it to the flames. He appeared to breathe more freely when it was consumed; but the struggle had been too severe even for his unyielding frame, iron-bound though it seemed. As he turned trembling from the hearth, he sank into his chair, threw his hands over his face, and groaned deeply. The next moment he fixed his eyes steadily on me. A glassy brightness suddenly shot over them; a dimness followed like the shadows of death. He held out his hand; his head bowed; and he bade adieu to the world and its interests for ever!
THE LAST OF THE LACIES.
"By that painful way they pass Forth to an hill that was both steep and high; On top whereof a sacred chapel was, And eke a little hermitage thereby."
—SPENSER'S Fairy Queen.
Clitheroe, the hill ly the-waters, the ancient seat of the Lacies, carries back the mind to earlier periods and events—to a rude and barbarous age—where justice was dispensed, and tribute paid, by the feudatories to their lords, whose power, little less than arbitrary, was held directly from the crown.
The Lacies came over with the Conqueror; and, on the defection of Robert de Poictou, obtained, as their share of the spoil, sixty knights' fees, principally in Yorkshire and Lancashire. For the better maintainence of their dignity they built two castles, one at Pontefract, the principal residence, and another at Clitheroe. A great fee, or great lordship, as Pontefract was a possession of the highest order; an honour, or seigniory, like Clitheroe, consisting of a number of manors, was the next in rank; and these manors were severally held by their subordinate lords in dependence on the lord paramount, the lord of the fee or honour.
What was the precise aspect of our county when the Normans possessed themselves of the land, it might be deemed an effort of the imagination perhaps to portray. "Yet," says Dr Whitaker, in one of his happier moods, "could a curious observer of the present day carry himself nine or ten centuries back, and, ranging the summit of Pendle, survey the forked Calder on one side, and the bolder margins of Ribble and Hodder on the other, instead of populous towns and villages, the castle, the old tower-built house, the elegant modern mansion, the artificial plantation, the park and pleasure ground, or instead of uninterrupted enclosures, which have driven sterility almost to the summit of the fells; how great must then have been the contrast, when, ranging either at a distance or immediately beneath, his eye must have caught vast tracts of forest ground stagnating with bog or darkened by native woods, where the wild ox, the roe, the stag, and the wolf had scarcely learned the supremacy of man—when, directing his view to the intermediate spaces, to the windings of the valleys, or the expanse of plain beneath, he could only have distinguished a few insulated patches of culture, each encircling a village of wretched cabins, among which would still be remarked one rude mansion of wood, scarcely equal in comfort to a modern cottage, yet then rising proudly eminent above the rest, where the Saxon lord, surrounded by his faithful cotarii, enjoyed a rude and solitary independence, owning no superior but his sovereign.
"This was undoubtedly a state of great simplicity and freedom, such as admirers of uncultivated nature may affect to applaud. But although revolutions in civil society seldom produce anything better than a change of vices, yet surely no wise or good man can lament the subversion of Saxon polity for that which followed. Their laws were contemptible for imbecility, their habits odious for intemperance; and if we can for a moment persuade ourselves that their language has any charm, that proceeds less, perhaps, from anything harmonious and expressive in itself, or anything valuable in the information it conveys, than that it is rare and not of very easy attainment; that it forms the rugged basis of our own tongue; and, above all, that we hear it loudly echoed in the dialect of our own vulgar. Indeed, the manners as well as language of a Lancashire clown often suggest the idea of a Saxon peasant; and prove, with respect to remote tracts like these, little affected by foreign admixtures, how strong is the power of traduction, how faithfully character and propensities may be transmitted through more than twenty generations."
The Normans were a more polished, a more abstemious people; as scribes and architects they were men to whom this district was greatly indebted. Our only castle, our oldest remaining churches, our most curious and valuable records, are all Norman.
"Such was the state of property and manners when the house of Lacy became possessed of Blackburnshire." The simplicity of the Saxon tenures was destroyed. A tract of country, which had been parcelled out among twenty-eight lords, now became subject to one; and all the intricacies of feodal dependence, all the rigours of feodal exaction, wardships, reliefs, escheats, &c., were introduced at once. Yet the Saxon lords, though dependent, were not in general actually stripped of their fees. By successive steps, however, the origin of all landed property within the hundred, some later copyholds excepted, is to be traced to voluntary concessions from the Lacies, or their successors of the house of Lancaster; not grants of pure beneficence, but requiring personal service from the owners, and yearly customs or payments, equivalent at that time to their value. Their present worth grew out of the operation of causes little understood in these ages either by lord or vassal—namely, the certainty of the possession, the diminishing value of money, and the perpetuity of the title.
In four generations, or little more than one hundred years, the line of the Lacies became extinct; Roger Fitz-Eustace, lord of Halton and constable of Chester, coming into possession by right of his grandmother Awbrey, uterine sister of Robert de Lacy, the last of this illustrious race. Fitz-Eustace, however, took the title of De Lacy; but in the fourth descent from him the very name was lost. Henry de Lacy, the last and greatest man of his line, dying the 5th February 1310, left one daughter only, who had married, during her father's lifetime, Thomas Plantagenet, Earl of Lancaster—and carried along with her an inheritance even then estimated at 10,000 marks per annum. On the earl's attainder, the honour of Clitheroe, with the rest of his possessions, were forfeited to the crown. After undergoing many changes while it continued a member of the Duchy of Lancaster—that is, until the restoration of Charles II.—that prince, in consideration of the great services of General Monk, whom he created Duke of Albemarle, bestowed it upon him and his heirs for ever. Christopher, his son, dying without issue, left his estates to his wife, daughter and co-heiress of Henry Cavendish, Duke of Newcastle; by her they were bequeathed to her second husband, Ralph, Duke of Montague, whose grand-daughter Mary, married George, Earl of Cardigan, afterwards Duke of Montague. Elizabeth, his daughter, married Henry, Duke of Buccleuch, in whose family the honour of Clitheroe is now vested.
Clitheroe Castle is described by Grose as "situated on the summit of a conical insulated crag of rugged limestone rock, which suddenly rises from a fine vale, in which towards the north, at the distance of half-a-mile, runs the Ribble, and a mile to the south stands Pendle Hill, which seems to lift its head above the clouds."
In the time of the Commonwealth it was dismantled by order of Parliament; the chapel has totally disappeared; and nothing now remains but the square keep and some portions of the strong wall by which the building was surrounded. The tower, though much undermined, remains firm as the rock on which it was built, and forms the principal object in our engraving.
It was midnight; and the priest was chanting the service and requiem for the dead in the little chapel or chantry of St Michael, which was built within the walls of Clyderhow or Clitheroe Castle. The Dies irae from the surrounding worshippers rose in a simple monotone, like the sound of some distant river, now caught on the wing of the tempest, and flung far away into the dim and distant void, now rushing on the ear in one deep gush of harmony—the voice of Nature, as if her thousand tongues were blended in one universal peal of praise and adoration to the great Power that called her into being. Many a heart quailed with apprehension, many a bosom was oppressed with doubtful and anxious forebodings. Robert de Lacy, the last of this illustrious race, fourth in descent from Ilbert de Lacy, on whom the Conqueror bestowed the great fee of Pontefract, the owner of twenty-eight manors and lord of the honour of Clitheroe, was no longer numbered with the living; and here in the chapel of this lone fortress, before the dim altar, all that remained of this powerful baron, the clay no longer instinct with spirit, was soon to be enveloped in the dust, the darkness, and the degradation of its kindred earth.
Many circumstances rendered this scene more than usually solemn and affecting. Robert de Lacy had died without issue to inherit these princely domains, the feudal inheritance of a family whose power had so wide a grasp, that it was currently said the Lacies might pass from Clitheroe Castle to their fortress at Pontefract, a journey of some fifty miles, and rest in a house or hostelrie of their own at every pause during their progress.
With him ended the male line of this great family. Failing in issue, he had devised all these vast estates to Awbrey, his uterine sister, daughter of Robert de Lizours, married to Richard Fitz-Eustace, lord of Halton and constable of Chester.
Thus ended the last of his race; and the inheritance had passed to a stranger.
The surrounding worshippers were mostly domestics and retainers of the family, save Robert de Whalley, the dean of that ancient church, supposed to have been founded by Augustine or Paulinus in the seventh century, and then called "The White Church under the Leigh." No tidings had been heard from the Fitz-Eustace at Halton, and in two days the body was to be carried forth on its last pilgrimage to Kirkstall Abbey, founded by Henry de Lacy, father of the deceased, about forty years prior to this event.
The beginning of February, in the year 1193, when our story commences, was an epoch memorable for the base and treacherous captivity of Richard Coeur de Lion by the Duke of Austria; and for the equally base and treacherous, but short-lived, usurpation of John, the brother of our illustrious crusader. The nation was involved in great trouble and dismay. The best blood of England and the flower of her nobility had perished on the deserts of Palestine, or were pining there in hopeless captivity. The house of Fitz-Eustace, into whose possession the estates of the Lacies were now merged, had themselves been shorn of a goodly scion or two from the family tree during these "holy wars."
Richard Fitz-Eustace, the husband of Awbrey, died about the 24 Hen. II. (1178), leaving one son, John, who founded the Cistercian Abbey of Stanlaw in Cheshire, the present establishment of Whalley. He was slain at Tyre in the crusade, A.D. 1190, the second of the reign of Richard I., leaving issue, Richard a leper, and Roger, who followed his father to the Holy Land, but of whose fate no tidings had been heard since his departure thence on his return to Europe. Besides these were two sons, Eustace and Peter, and a daughter named Alice.
Roger Fitz-Eustace and his friend William de Bellamonte—from whom are descended the Beaumonts of Whitley-Beaumont, in Yorkshire—had fought side by side at the memorable siege of Acre; but whether alive or dead the certainty was not yet known, though there might be good grounds for the apprehension generally entertained, that they were held in captivity by infidels or by princes miscalled Christian, the bitterest enemies to the faith they professed.
Clitheroe Castle was built by Roger de Poictou, or, as he is otherwise called, Roger Pictavensis, of a noble family in Normandy, and related to the Conqueror. He led the centre of William's army at the battle of Hastings. King William having given him all the lands between the Mersey and the Ribble, he built several castles and fortresses therein, providing largely for his followers, from whom are descended many families who are still in possession of manors and estates originally granted by this unfortunate relative of the Conqueror. He was twice deprived of his honours, many of them being escheated to the crown, while Clitheroe Castle, together with the great fee of Pontefract, was bestowed on Ilbert de Lacy, a Norman follower of William.
In a country not abounding with strong positions, an insulated conical rock of limestone rising out of the fertile plain between Penhull (Pendle) and the Ribble would naturally attract the attention of the invaders. Here, therefore, we find a fortress erected even earlier than the castle at Lancaster. The summit of this rock was not sufficiently extensive to admit of a spacious building, and probably nothing more was at first intended than a temporary retreat and defence from the predatory incursions of the Scots. The structure was, however, gradually enlarged, and became one of the chief residences of the Lacies. A lofty flanking wall ran along the brink of the rock, enclosing the keep and adjoining buildings, likewise the chapel of St Michael, coeval with the foundation of the castle, and forming part of it, being amply endowed by the founder, and license procured from the Dean of Whalley for the purpose of having divine service performed and the sacraments administered therein, to the household servants, foresters, and shepherds, who occupied these extensive and thinly-inhabited domains.
In this little sanctuary now lay the remains of its lord. The cold February sleet pattered fitfully against the narrow panes; and the shivering mourners muffled themselves in their dark hoods, while they knelt devoutly on the hard bare pavement of the chapel. Oliver de Worsthorn, the old seneschal, knelt at the foot of the bier; his white locks covered his thin features like a veil, hiding their intense and heart-withering expression. He felt without a stay or helper in his last hours—a sapless, worthless stem in this wilderness of sorrow.
Robert, the Dean of Whalley, attended as chief mourner. Being descended from a distant branch of the Lacies, he had long thrown a covetous glance towards the inheritance. A frequent guest at the castle, he had been useful as an auxiliary in the management and control of the secular concerns; the spiritual interests of its head were in the keeping of another and more powerful agent, little suspected by the dean of applying the influence he had acquired to purposes of secular aggrandisement.
It may not be deemed irrelevant that we give a brief outline of the constitution or office of dean, as then held by the incumbents of Whalley. The beautiful abbey, now in ruins, was not as yet built. Some Saxon lord of had, about the seventh century, founded a parish church, dedicated to All Saints, called The White Church under the Leigh. The first erection was of wood, many years afterwards replaced by a plain building of stone. The rectors or deans were also lords of the town, and married men, who held it not by presentation from the patron, but as their own patrimonial estate, the succession being hereditary. In this manner the deanery of Whalley was continued until the Lateran Council, in the year 1215, which, by finally prohibiting the marriage of ecclesiastics, put an end to this order of hereditary succession, and occasioned a resignation of the patronage to the chief lord of the fee, after which the church of Whalley sunk, by two successive appropriations, into an impoverished vicarage.
Long before the Conquest the advowson had become far more valuable than the manor, and the lords, who were also patrons, saw the advantage and convenience of qualifying themselves by inferior orders for holding so rich a benefice; and thus the manor itself in time ceased to be considered as a lay fee, and became confounded with the glebe of the church.
The office of dean, at the period in which our history commences, had for centuries been considered as a dignity rather secular than ecclesiastical, and the pursuits of the incumbent had doubtless assimilated generally with those of his lay associates. Indeed, it is recorded that Dean Liulphus, in the reign of Canute, had the name of Cutwulph, from having cut off a wolf's tail whilst hunting in the forest of Rossendale, at a place called Ledmesgreve, or more properly Deansgreve. Like many other ancient and dignified ecclesiastics, they were mighty hunters, enjoying their privileges unmolested through a vast region of forest land then unenclosed, and were only inferior in jurisdiction to the feudal lords of these domains. "On the whole, then, it appears," says Dr Whitaker, "that the Dean of Whalley was compounded of patron, incumbent, ordinary, and lord of the manor; an assemblage which may possibly have met in later times, and in some places of exempt jurisdiction, but at that time probably an unique in the history of the English church."
Robert de Whalley, the incumbent before named, was not a whit behind his progenitors in that laudable exercise of worldly wisdom and forethought, as it regarded matters of a temporal and transitory nature. His bearing was proud, and his aspect keen; his form was muscular, and more fitted for some hardy and rigorous exercise than for the generally self-denying and peaceful offices of the Catholic Church. In his youth he had the reputation of being much disposed to gallantry; and the same proneness to intrigue was yet manifest, though employed in pursuits of a less transitory nature. His disappointment was, in consequence, greatly augmented when these long-coveted possessions were given to another, and his ambitious dreams dissipated. Yet was he not without hope that the succession of the Fitz-Eustace family might be frustrated. The leper would of necessity be passed over, and, Roger being either dead or in captivity, the revenues and usurpation of this distant and almost inaccessible territory might still be enjoyed without molestation or inquiry. Such were the meditations of this plotting ecclesiastic, as he knelt before the altar in that solemn hour, in the chapel of "St Michael in Castro."
The walls of the chapel, or rather chantry, were smeared with black; and in front of the screen were portrayed uncouth representations of the arms and insignia of the deceased. A pall was thrown over the body, and a plate of salt, as an emblem of incorruptibility, placed on the corpse—a heathenish custom borrowed from the Druids. The candles burnt dimly at the little altar, and the cold and bitter wind threw the shadows in many a grotesque and startling shape on the dark bare walls which enclosed them. It was an hour and a scene that superstition might have chosen for manifesting her power; and many an anxious glance was thrown towards the dark recesses out of which imagination was ready to conjure some grim spectre, invested with all the horrors that monkish legends had created. The priest who officiated was an unbeneficed clergyman, long known as an inmate of the castle. He was of a quiet and inoffensive disposition, but much attached to his lord; often during the service grief stayed his utterance, and he mingled his loud sobs with those of the surrounding worshippers.
The dirage was concluded, and vespers for the dead were now commencing with the "Placebo Domino." The priest with his loud rich voice sang or recited the anthem, and the attendants gave the response in a low and muttering sound. Just as he was beginning the fumigation with a sign of the cross, to drive away demons and unclean spirits from the body, suddenly a loud, deep, and startling blast was heard from the horn at the outer gate. The whole assembly started up from their devotions, and every eye was turned towards the dean, as though to watch and take the colour of their proceedings from those of his reverence. He lifted his eyes from the corpse, which lay with the face and shoulders uncovered; and, as if startled from some bewildering reverie, cried aloud—
"What untimely visitor art thou, disturbing the sad offices of the dead?"
He paused, as though the sound of his own voice had disturbed him; while wrapping himself in his cloak, he hastily approached Oliver, who stood irresolute, not knowing how to act in this unexpected emergency. De Whalley pointed towards the door, and the seneschal prepared to obey, accompanied by the porter with a light, and one or two attendants.
Immediately outside the chapel the way led down a steep angle of the rock, which Oliver, by dint of much use and experience, descended without any apparent difficulty, save what arose from the slippery state of the path, which rendered the footing more than usually precarious and uncertain.
Again, the blast brayed forth a louder and more impatient summons, startling the echoes from their midnight slumber, while the deep woods answered from a thousand unseen recesses.
"Hang thee for a saucy loon, whoever thou be! I'll warrant thee as much impudence in thy face as wind i' thy muzzle," said the disturbed seneschal. "Tarry a while, Hugo; ope not the gate without a parley, despite the knave's untimely summons."
Oliver, hobbling onward, reached the wicket, just then occupied by Hugo's broad and curious face prying out cautiously into the misty and unintelligible void, without being a whit the wiser for his scrutiny.
"What a plague do ye keep honest men a-waiting for at the gate," said a gruff voice from the pitchy darkness without, "in a night that would make a soul wish for a dip into purgatory, just by way of a warming?"
"Hush," said Oliver, who was a true son of the Church, and moreover, being fresh from the services appointed for the recovery of poor souls from this untoward place, felt the remark of the stranger as peculiarly impious and full of blasphemy—"Hush! thou bold-faced scorner, and learn to furbish thy wit from some other armoury; we like not such unholy jests—firebrands thrown in sport! Thy business, friend?"
"Open the gate, good master priest-poke," said the other, in a tone of authority.
"Not until thou showest thine errand," said the equally imperative interrogator within; who, having the unequivocal and somewhat ponderous advantage of a pair of stout-built and well-furnished gates to back, or rather face, him in the controversy, was consequently in a fair way for keeping on the strong side of the argument.
"Now, o' my troth, but ye be a pair of rude curs, barking from a warm kennel at your betters, who are shivering in the cold, without so much as a bone to pick, or a wisp of straw to their tails! Well, well, 'tis soon said; every dog, you know,—and 'twill be my turn soon. I come hither from the castle at Halton, where my Lady Fitz-Eustace would lay your curs' noses to the grinding-stone; but, rest her soul, she will not long be above ground, I trow. Know then, masters, I am her seneschal, whom she sends with a goodly train to the burying. Quick, old goat-face, or we will singe thy beard to light thee to our discovery."
The gates were immediately unbolted at this command, opening wide before so dignified a personage, who, as the representative of the Fitz-Eustace, was evidently impressed with a sufficient sense of his own importance, while he and his attendants rode through the grim Norman arch into the courtyard. The uppermost extreme of this illustrious functionary was surmounted with a sort of Phrygian-shaped bonnet or cap, made of deerskin, suitably ornamented. A mantle or cloak of a dark mulberry colour, fancifully embroidered on the hem, was clasped upon one shoulder by a silver buckle. Underneath was a short upper riding-tunic made of coarse woollen, partly covering an under-vest made of finer materials. A leathern girdle was buckled round his loins, having sundry implements attached thereto, requisite during the performance of so long a journey through a thinly-inhabited region. The upper garment scarcely covered the knee, over which stockings of red cloth were seen, reaching half-way up the thigh; round the leg were bandages or cross-garterings well bespattered with mud; low boots or buskins protected the feet and ankles; to these spurs were fastened, the head being spear-shaped and something crooked in the shank. His beard was forked, and this appendage, apparently the result of a careful and anxious cultivation, he occasionally twisted with one hand whilst speaking. He carried a lance, or rather hunting-spear, which he wielded with an air of great formality and display; his followers were likewise furnished each of them with a cloak and tunic, and a conical cap of coarse felt tied under the chin with a leathern band: a girdle of the same material was buckled round the waist, with a scrip and other necessaries for the journey. They rode horses of the Welsh breed, small and stout-built; spoil captured, in all probability, from that rebellious and unruly nation.
The entry of this armed train was more like an act of taking possession than that of a peaceable and formal embassage; and the newly-arrived seneschal soon began to exercise the office of governor or castellan, seizing the reins of government with an iron grasp. He was a square carroty-headed personage, about the middle size, and of a ruddy aspect. He held an office of trust under the Fitz-Eustace, and, spite of his saucy garrulity, in which he indulged on most occasions, he was faithful, and would have challenged and immolated any one who had dared to question the right of the Fitz-Eustace to precedence before any other baron of the land. Long service rendered him more intrusive than would have been thought becoming, or even excusable in any other enjoying less of his mistress's confidence.
"Now, my merry men all," said this authoritative personage, "a long and a weary path have we ridden to-day; and had we not been, as it were, lost in your savage wildernesses—where our guide, whom we forced before us by dint of blows and hard usage, could scarce keep us in the right track—we had been here before sunset. Thanks to this saint of yours, whosoever he be, for we saw the watchlights at times from the chapel, as we guessed, else had we been longer in hitting our mark, and might, peradventure, have supped with the wolves on a haunch of venison. Now for the stables. What! have ye no knaves hereabout to help our followers with the beasts?"
Oliver, much troubled at this loquacious and unceremonious address, replied with some acrimony—
"The household are in the chapel, where it had been better thou hadst let us bide, and given the corpse a quiet watchnight—the vigils for the dead are not ended."
"Go to, master seneschal, for of this post I do adjudge thee, and reverence thine office in respect of mine own, but let dead men make their own lanterns; we must have supper anyhow, and that right speedily."
Oliver, after seeing the gate secured, sent Hugo for help, whilst he led the way himself into the hall of this once formidable fortress. It was high and gloomy, the fire being apparently extinguished. A step on the floor showed where the higher table was placed, prohibiting those beneath a certain rank from advancing upon the skirts of their superiors; an indispensable precaution, when servants and retainers of all sorts ate their meals with the master of the feast. Perches for hawks, in form like unto a crutch, were placed behind his chair; for these birds were usually taught to sit hoodless in the evening among company undisturbed. Hunting-spears, jackets, chain-armour, shields, and helmets, decorated the walls; and many a goodly heritage of antlers hung, like forest boughs stripped of their verdure. There were two oriels furnished with leaning-stones for the convenience of loungers. Painted glass filled the higher portions of the windows, representing uncouth heads, hands, feet, and bodies of saints, in all the glowing and gorgeous magnificence which the beam of heaven can give to colours of more than earthly brightness, though disposed in forms of more than childish absurdity.
The hall, the usual rendezvous of the household, was now deserted for the dread solemnities of that cheerless night. But the stranger was much discouraged by reason of the coldness and gloom, shivering audibly at the comfortless appearance that was before him.
"St Martin's malison light on ye—fire, billets, and all—I've seen nothing like to warm my bare nose and knuckles since we left Halton, two long days agone. Verily, to my thinking, there's as much timber burnt there daily as ye would pile here for a winter's use."
"Prithee come with me into the kitchen, we may have better quarters peradventure among the fleshpots," said Oliver, leading the stranger through a small doorway on the left. This coquinus of our ancestors was usually placed near the hall, for the convenience of serving. Here, through a sliding aperture in the panel, the victuals were transferred with safety and despatch. It was built entirely of stone, having a conical roof with a turret at the top for the escape of steam and smoke. A fire was still burning, provided with a large cauldron suspended on a sort of versatile gibbet, by which contrivance it could be withdrawn from the flame. Fire-rakes and fire-jacks were laid on the hearth, and around the walls were iron pots, trivets, pans, kettles, ladles, platters, and other implements of domestic economy. Huge dressers displayed symptoms of preparation for to-morrow's necessities, and a coarse kitchen-wench was piling fuel on the ever-burning fire.
The envoy, glad to be ensconced so near the blaze, quickly addressed himself to the task of improving it by a dexterous use of a huge faggot by way of poker. He had thrown off his upper clothing; and the grim walls soon reddened with the rising glow. So intent was he on an occupation which he evidently enjoyed, that he was not aware when Oliver departed, the latter slipping off unobserved to the chapel for the purpose of informing the dean of this arrival.
In one part of the kitchen was a long low-roofed recess, accessible only by a ladder, wherein dried meats, consisting of bacon, ham, deers' tongues, mutton, venison, and other dainties of the like nature, were stored. To this inviting receptacle was the attention of our guest more especially directed. Without ceremony or invitation he ascended, and drawing out a formidable weapon from his belt he commenced a furious attack.
Oliver, on his return, found this worthy usurping the functions of both cook and consumer of the victual with great assiduity. He was accompanied by the dean, who addressed the intruder as follows:—
"How is it that we have none from the noble house of Fitz-Eustace save thou and thy company?"
The messenger looked askance from his occupation, disposing of a large mouthful of the viands with sufficient deliberation ere he vouchsafed a reply.
"Me and my company! As goodly a band, I trow, as ever put foot to stirrup or fist to crupper! yet will I resolve thy question plain as Beeston Castle. My lady is old, and her only son died long ago on a crusade. Her third grandson, now in the office of constable, is out amongst the Welsh—plague on their fiery blood!—by reason of the absence of his elder brother, Roger, yet abroad in these Holy Wars. Of the eldest born, Richard, we know not but that he is deceased. He left the castle many years ago, sorely afflicted, for he was a leper. So that, peradventure, my lady hath sent the best man she had, inasmuch as I am steward and seneschal, being appointed thereto through her ladyship's great wisdom and discretion."
Here he surveyed himself with an air of indescribable assurance and satisfaction.
"And, saving your presence," continued the deputy, "I come here as castellan, or governor, until he whose right it is shall possess it."
"And how know we that we be not opening our gates and surrendering our castle to some losel knave, whose only title may lie on the tip of his tongue, and his right on the end of his rapier?"
"By this token," said the seneschal haughtily, at the same time drawing out a formal instrument, to which was appended the broad seal of the ancient house of Fitz-Eustace.
The dean cast his eyes over the document, returning it to the messenger without either answer or inquiry, and immediately retired from the presence of this usurper on his long-coveted possessions.
Much chagrined by so unexpected an interference, he left the castle, even at this untimely hour. Yet his footsteps were not bent towards the shadow of his own roof, the deanery at Whalley.
Outside the castle wall, and on the steepest side of the hill, was a little hermitage, wherein dwelt one of those reputed saints that dealt in miracles and prayers for the benefit of the "true believers." Many of these solitaries were well skilled in craft and intrigue; others, doubtless, deceived themselves as well as others in the belief that Heaven had granted them the power to suspend and control the operations of nature. To this habitation, occupied by one of these holy santons of the Church, were the steps of the dean immediately directed. He raised the latch as though accustomed to this familiarity. The chamber, a high narrow cell, scooped out of the rock, was quite dark; but the voice was heard, a deep sepulchral tone, as though issuing from the ground—
"Art thou here so soon, De Whalley?"
"Sir Ulphilas," said the intruder hastily, and with some degree of agitation, "canst work miracles now? The Canaanites are come into the land to possess it; nor will threatenings and conjurations drive them forth."
"I know it," said the hermit, who, though unseen, had not, it seems, been an inattentive observer of the events of the last two hours. A light suddenly shot forth, enkindled as if by magic, showing the tall gaunt form of the "Holy Hermit of the Rock." He was dressed in a long grey garment of coarse woollen. It was said that he wore an iron corslet next his skin, for mortification, it was thought by the vulgar; but whether for this purpose, or for one of a more obvious nature, it would perhaps be easy to surmise. A girdle of plaited horse-hair encompassed his thin attenuated form. His head was uncovered; and he seemed to have just risen from his couch, a board or shelf, raised only a few inches from the rock on which it lay. His eye was wild, quick, and sparkling; but his cheek was deadly pale, and his features collapsed and haggard in their expression.
"I have dreamed a dream," said the visionary.
"And to what end?" inquired his visitor, seating himself with great deliberation.
"Nay, 'twas not a dream," continued the hermit: "St Michael stood before me this blessed night, arrayed as thou seest him portrayed in the glass of his holy chapel above. His armour was all bright and glistering, and his sword a devouring flame. He flapped his wings thrice ere he departed, and said unto me, 'Arise, Ulphilas, and work, for thine hour is come!'"
"And what the better am I," said the irreverent priest, "for this saintly revelation? I must work too, or "———
"Hold," said the hermit, laying his hand on the other's shoulder with great solemnity; "speak not unadvisedly with thy lips; there be created intelligences within hearing that thou little knowest of."
"Thou didst promise; but verily the substance hath slidden from my grasp: whilst I, fond fool, embraced a shadow. Cajoled by thine assurance, that my blood should be with the proud current that inherits these domains, I forebore, and let thee work. But thou hast been a traitor to my cause I do verily suspect, nay, accuse thee of this fraud. Thy machinations and thy counsel were the cause. By thine accursed arts Robert de Lacy hath left his patrimony to a stranger!"
"True, I counselled him thus. What then?"
"I and mine are barred from the inheritance!"
"Shall the word of the Hermit of the Rock fall to the ground? Have I not promised that thy blood shall be with those that inherit these domains?"
"Promises are slender food for an hungry stomach," cried the unbeliever.
"If the promise fail, blame thy dastardly fears, and not my power. Thou shalt see the promised land thou shalt not inherit. Thy son shall receive the blessing."
The dean looked for a moment as though he could have fawned and supplicated for a reversion of the decree; but pride or anger had the mastery.
"And so," cried he, "thou findest thy predictions run counter to thy schemes, perdie; for thou dost mock me in them with a double sense."
"How, false one? Have I not wrought for thee? Hath not he, whose corpse now resteth in hope, overwhelmed thee with his favours through my counsel and contrivance? I owed thee a service, for thou wast my stay and sustenance when driven hither an outcast from the haunts of men. But thoughtest thou that I should pander to thy lust, and hew out a pathway to thy desire?"
"To me this!" said the covetous intruder, his voice quivering with rage.
"Yes, to thee, Robert de Whalley," replied the hermit: "because thou hast not leaped the last height of thine ambition, forsooth—because thou art not lord of these wide domains, through my interest and holy communion with the departed—and because I have not basely sold myself to thee, thou art offended. Beware lest the endowment be wrested from thy grasp, the glebe and manor pass away from thine inheritance."
"Thou hadst the privity and counsel of the deceased, and a whisper would have made it mine," said the dean, with great dejection.
"Greedy and unblushing as thou art, know it was I who counselled him, and the deed is in my keeping. I sent a secret message unto Halton with the news, and Roger de Fitz-Eustace will be here anon!"
"Thou dreamest; he is in bondage, or slain at Ascalon."
"He will reappear," replied the hermit, "and the banner of the Fitz-Eustace wave on yonder turret. Hence! ungrateful member of our holy communion;—to thy house, and let an old man rest in peace."
The disappointed priest departed in great haste: terror, of which he could not divest himself, and for which he could not account, overpowered him in the presence of the hermit. He durst not provoke him further; but as he crossed the courtyard again a glimpse of hope shot suddenly on his soul.
"In thy keeping!" He spoke scarcely above his breath; but the walls seemed to give back the sound. He started like some guilty thing at the discovery of its crime.
Before morning light on the following day the castle bell began to toll. Preparations were making for the conveyance of the last of the Ladies to the Abbey of Kirkstall, a journey which would occupy the greater part of two successive days. The pathway over the hills was narrow, and the mode of conveyance difficult, if not dangerous. A sort of litter was made for the corpse, and slung on a pole between two horses, covered, as in a bier, with the pall and trappings. A sword of ceremony was carried in front; the dean rode immediately before the body, the chanters preceding, and a priest with the cross and censer. Behind came the male domestics, and the seneschal of Halton with his train.
Psalms were sung at every halting-place, and in the villages through which they passed, and torches were kept lighted during the greater part of the journey. These were for the purpose of being extinguished in the earth that should finally cover the body.
Thus attired, and thus attended, was this once powerful baron conveyed to his narrow dwelling-house in the dust.
We will not follow them further, nor detail the pomp of the funeral rites, that last mockery of greatness, but return to existing objects and events—man's ever-gnawing ambition; so vast, when living, that the whole earth is too narrow for its sphere; when dead, the veriest churl hath as wide a possession!
Weeks and months passed away, and the raw February wind grew soft in the warm and joyous impulse of another spring. One night, about the hour of vespers, two men, habited in monkish apparel, came to the cell of the Hermit of the Rock. After the usual salutation they entered, carrying with them staff and scrip, as if bent on a long and weary travel.
"Whence come ye, and whither bound?" said the hermit, surveying the intruders by the light of a solitary lamp that was burning in a niche, wherein stood a skull and crucifix, emblems of our faith and our mortality.
"We are from the Abbey of Stanlaw, on our way to Kirkstall in the morning."
"Wherefore abide ye here? There is lodging and better cheer withal in the castle above."
"We are under a vow, and rest not save on holy ground: we crave thy hospitality, therefore, and shelter for the night."
"Is your errand to Kirkstall hidden, or is it an open embassage?"
"The Lady Fitz-Eustace sendeth greeting by our ministry unto the holy abbot through our superior at Stanlaw, beseeching that he would make diligent inquiry touching the will of Robert de Lacy, once lord of this goodly heritage. She hath had news of his demise, and likewise another message with an assurance that every of these possessions have been devised to the Fitz-Eustace by his last will and testament. Yet this writing she has not yet seen, nor knoweth she into whose custody it hath been given. Apprehending the great favours which the Cistercian house at Kirkstall hath received from the Lacies, and the close intimacy which the abbot once enjoyed, she doth conjecture that, in all likelihood, the testament is in his keeping."
"Your journey hath need of none other reference, for the will is in my custody."
"In thine, Sir Ulphilas?"
"How! know ye my name already?" said the hermit sharply, and a fierce glance shot from under his high and pallid brow.
"Holy St Agatha! and has not the fame and sanctity of the Hermit of the Rock gone forth to many lands! Where the broad Mersey and the silver Dee roll their bright waters, thou art known by thy holiness and thy faith."
"And how is our good brother Roger, abbot of your monastery at Stanlaw?" inquired the hermit, not deigning to notice their fulsome and flattering epithets.
"Holy Virgin! how knowest thou his name?"
"And hath not the fame of your holy abbot, and the sanctity of your house, reached us even here?" said the hermit, with a look of scrutiny and scorn. The visitors were silent. The hermit seized the lamp, and surveyed their persons with much care and deliberation.
"Holy father," said the abashed intruders, "we crave thy blessing, and moreover a share of thy pittance, for our way hath been long and toilsome: since yesterday our journeying hath been over hills and through deep forests, infested by wolves and noisome beasts, which we had much ado to escape."
The hermit drew a little table from the recess, blowing the wan embers until a cheerful blaze flashed brightly through the cell. He then opened a cupboard scooped out of the solid rock, and took thence a scrap of hard cheese, a barley cake, and a few parched peas, with which the holy men commenced their supper. They ate their meal in silence, washing down the dainties with a draught from the spring. When the repast was finished, one of the brethren thus addressed his host—
"And what shall be thy message to our holy abbot? Wilt thou send the parchments to his grace?"
"Nay, brethren, that is not my purpose."
Another and a brief pause ensued.
"But the message?"
"Say that the will is here,"—he looked towards his bosom as he spoke,—"and at the appointed hour it shall be ready. When Roger de Fitz-Eustace comes hither, his claim shall be duly certified."
"Alas!" said the wayfaring guests, in a tone of deep sorrow and apprehension, "he went on a warfare against the infidels."
"He will return," was the reply.
"The Virgin grant him a safe deliverance! but he tarrieth long, and a rumour hath lately been abroad that he fell at Ascalon."
"'Tis false!" cried the hermit, roused to an unexpected burst of wrath. His eyes kindled with rage, and he darted a glance at the intruders which made them cower and shrink from his rebuke. In a moment he grew calm, relapsing into his usual moody and thoughtful attitude. Taking courage, they again addressed him.
"Is this thy message to the abbot of Stanlaw? If so, our errand hath but a sorry recompense."
"And what recompense should fall to the lot of miscreants like ye?" said the hermit, surveying them with a contemptuous glance. "I hear the sound of your master's feet behind ye. Tell Robert, the proud Dean of Whalley, that when he sends ye next on so goodly an errand, to see that ye con your lesson more carefully, else will ye be known for a couple of errant knaves as ever went a-mousing into an owl's nest! Hence, begone!" said the hermit, as he drave them from his threshold; and the counterfeit monks went back to Whalley in haste, reporting the ill success of their mission.
"Nevertheless," said De Whalley, "I have some clue to the search, if the glance of his eye, which these varlets have reported, do show truly where the treasure is hidden. I will foil the old fox yet with his own weapons."
This comfortable reflection, in all probability, moderated his anger at the unskilful disposition of his messengers, whom he dismissed with little ceremony from his presence.
In the meantime the new castellan was exercising his power with unsparing and immoderate severity. Oliver de Wortshorn was almost heartbroken; the old man suddenly found himself reduced to the condition of a mere dependant on the self-will and caprice of this petty tyrant, his authority having been usurped, and his office wrested from him, by the hand of a stranger. Adam de Dutton was the name of this new functionary, and he rode it out bravely over the necks of the servants and retainers, discharging some, punishing others, and making the whole community groan beneath the iron yoke of his oppression. Had there been a master-spirit to wield the elements of conspiracy, and unite the several members, so as to act from one common impulse, matters were just ripe for rebellion.
Early in the morning, after a day of more than ordinary discipline, Oliver bent his feeble steps to the hermitage. He laid his complaints before the occupier of the cell, who was ever ready to administer aid and comfort to the afflicted.
"Take little heed of the deputy now," said the holy man, "his master will be here anon. I hear the tramp of armed men, with the herald's trumpet. I see the red griffin, and the banner of the Fitz-Eustace."
"But, holy father, Sir Ulphilas," replied the ejected steward, "there is no peace either by night or day, and we are nigh worn out with his waywardness and oppression. If it might be that your reverence would come with me, peradventure the churl would grow tame at your presence."
The hermit, complying with this importunity, accompanied Oliver to the castle.
In the hall Adam de Dutton was about consigning one of the villains, for some venial offence, unto the whipping-post and the stocks. The accused besought his inexorable judge for some remission of the sentence, falling on his knees before him just as the hermit, with great solemnity, entered the hall. His face was partly concealed by a large hood, and little of his countenance was visible above the long beard which flowed over his bosom, and the fire of his eye, which seemed to glow through the dark shadows beneath.
"Whom bring ye next for our disposal?" inquired the castellan; but there was no answer; every eye was directed to the hermit, who came slowly forward, standing opposite to, and within a very short distance from, the dread arbiter of justice in the castle of the Lacies.
"What brings thee to our presence? Back to thy sanctuary; else we may deal with thee as with other knaves who live by their wits and the witlessness of fools."
"What hath this man done amiss?" inquired the hermit, in a tone that showed his meekness to be disturbed, and his wrath evidently kindling; nor would the thunder be long ere it followed the flash.
"It is our pleasure!" answered Adam de Dutton, reddening with rage; "and furthermore our pleasure is, that thou get thee to thy cell, or, by the beard of St Michael, my bowmen shall help thee thither when this fellow hath had his allowance at their hands."
"Fool!" cried the hermit, in a voice which struck terror through the assembly; and even the judge himself started back with amazement.
"Begone, child!" said Ulphilas to the culprit; "I dismiss thee of the punishment; peradventure thou hast deserved to suffer, but I give to this emissary a timely warning thereby."
The criminal was not loth to obey, disappearing speedily without hindrance, while the spectators were mute with amazement. The hermit, too, was silent before the usurper, who, almost frantic with vexation, cried out—
"Seize him!—help, for the Fitz-Eustace!—treason against our Lady of Halton!"
Uttering many rapid and incoherent expressions, he approached the hermit, who stood unmoved, apparently the only unconcerned spectator in the rising tumult. The seneschal's guards were already in motion, but Adam was the first who attempted the seizure.
The holy man drew back, as though from some touch of pollution.
"Hold!" cried he, "one touch and 'tis thy last. Rash fool, thou hast provoked this rebuke!"
The hand of the seneschal had scarcely been put forth, when, lo! the astonished deputy shrank back in dismay. A sudden change came over his angry countenance—a look of surprise mingled with horror, as though he could have wished the earth to gape and hide him from the object of his apprehensions. He stood trembling, speechless, pale as ashes, expecting immediate and condign punishment. So suddenly this change was wrought that the spectators fancied it to be some direct interposition from heaven; concluding that he was smitten for the sacreligious and profane hand he had dared to stretch toward this holy man. Yet was the change not so sudden but that a quick-eyed observer, if such were there, might have seen the hermit's outer garment loosened for a moment, and a significant whisper which the other evidently heard with such visible tokens of alarm.
Ulphilas immediately retired to his cell, and from that hour the castellan discharged his official duties evidently under the control of some overmastering influence or apprehension.
Not long afterwards it was rumoured abroad that tidings had been heard from Roger de Fitz-Eustace, who was supposed either to be in captivity or to have fallen at the siege of Ascalon.
The king was still detained in prison by the Emperor Henry VI., and it was only through the remonstrance of the German princes, and a threat of excommunication from the Pope, that Henry, finding he could no longer hold him in durance, concluded a treaty for his ransom at the exorbitant sum of 150,000 marks, about L300,000 of our money; of which sum two-thirds were to be paid before he received his liberty, and sixty-seven hostages delivered for the remainder. The captivity of the superior lord was one of those cases provided for by the feudal tenures, and all vassals were, in that event, obliged to contribute towards his ransom. Twenty shillings were therefore levied on each knight's fee throughout England; but as this money came in slowly, and was not sufficient for the intended purpose, the voluntary zeal of the people readily supplied the deficiency.
The churches and monasteries melted down their plate to the amount of 30,000 marks; the bishops, abbots, and nobles paid a fourth of their yearly rent; the parochial clergy contributed a tenth of their tithes; and the requisite sum being thus collected, the queen-mother and Walter, Archbishop of Rouen, set out with it to Germany, paid the money to the emperor and the Duke of Austria at Mentz, delivered to them hostages for the remainder, and freed Richard from captivity.
During these important negotiations two messengers arrived at Clitheroe, who in consequence of the deputy's absence for a season, held a secret conference with the Dean of Whalley ere they departed. An order was left that the castle should be forthwith in readiness for the reception of some distinguished guest. In those days tidings travelled slowly in such thinly-populated districts; like the heath-fire, which extends rapidly where the fuel is thickly strewn, but is tardy in spreading where it is less abundant.
The dean, having received the messengers, took special care that the knowledge of their arrival should be kept, if possible, from the ears and eyes of Adam de Dutton, who happened for several days at that season to be hunting in the forest, where a mighty slaughter of game—wolves, bears, and such like—was the result; in which dangerous pastime, Geoffery, the dean's only son, acted a distinguished part. This bold adventurer was accounted the most skilful hunter in the whole range of these vast forests, where the venison was so strictly kept that the life of a man was held in but little estimation, comparatively, with the care and preservation of a beast.
The Deans of Whalley, as we have before seen, were mighty hunters in those days; and a wild and picturesque story is told in Dugdale's Mon. Angl.. v. i., to which we have before alluded—to wit, that the great-grandfather of the present incumbent, Liwlphus Cutwolph, cut off a wolf's tail whilst hunting, from which he acquired this surname. Geoffery inherited a more than ordinary passion for the chase. With his bow and hunting-spear he had been known to spend many days in these deep and trackless recesses, where the feet of man rarely trod, and the wild roe and the eagle had their almost inaccessible haunts. Adam was often his only companion; the seneschal's partiality for the sport having rendered these dissimilar spirits more akin than their nature had otherwise permitted.
On the evening of a sultry day Ulphilas had thrown himself on his couch, when, without warning or intimation, the Dean of Whalley stood beside him.
"The holy hermit hath betaken himself early to his repose. How fareth he in this hard cell? 'Tis long since we have met."
"Peradventure it might have been longer, had not news travelled to thine ear touching the safety of the Fitz-Eustace and his speedy arrival," said the hermit, without so much as turning his eyes toward his visitor. Robert de Whalley stood silent and aghast. This was a direct and unequivocal testimony to the prescience of the good father, for to no ears but his own had the tidings been communicated.
"Thou knowest of his return?"
"Yes, ere the knowledge was thine," said the hermit carelessly.
"There is little use in secrecy where the very walls possess a tongue; and seeing that the first part of mine errand is known, it may be thou art as well instructed in the latter, which is the true purport of my visit."
"I am," replied the other quickly, now for the first time fixing his eyes on the intruder, "and of the issue too, I trow."
"Ah!" said the dean, with a long-drawn exclamation of surprise, and a sudden gasp as though he would have held the secret more tightly to his bosom; "and who"—
"Nay, thou art but obeying the impulse of thy nature," said the hermit, musing. "The brutes ye hunt obey their common instinct—and thou—Yet the ravening wolf and the cunning fox ye follow, and worry to their death."
"Death!" cried the dean; "what meanest thou?"
"Did I not counsel thee to beware? But thou wilt tumble into thine own pitfall. The trap is laid for thine own feet!"
The hermit sat on the low couch, and he gazed wildly round the cell as though pursuing some object visible only to himself.
"Give me the parchments committed to thy trust by De Lacy, and I will build a house to thy good saint, enriching it with rare endowments."
"Thou wouldest drive a thrifty bargain with Heaven. Verily thou shouldst have the best on 't, though," replied the hermit, with a contemptuous smile.
"Truly I could but return to Heaven the bounties that it gave; yet would I, peradventure, build, for His honour and glory, to whom all things belong, a habitation, the like whereof hath not been seen for stateliness and grandeur," said the dean, with affected reverence and humility of spirit.
"Others may do that as well as thou."
"But will he, whose coming is now at hand, make so costly a sacrifice for the welfare of the Church? I will found an abbey, holy father, consecrate to thy patron, wherein thou shalt be the ruler. I purpose to enrich it with half my possessions, even of those whereby, through thy ministry, I do become entitled from the death of Robert de Lacy."