To their great surprise the beggar hastily displaced some lumber, and, raising a trap-door, quickly disappeared down a flight of steps. With little hesitation the master followed, and keeping the footsteps of his leader within hearing, he cautiously went forward, convinced that in some way or another this opportune but inexplicable event would lead to the discovery of his sister.
Suddenly he heard a shriek. He felt certain it was the voice of Alice. He rushed on; but some unseen barrier opposed his progress. He heard noises and hasty footsteps beyond, evidently in hurry and confusion. The door was immediately opened, and he beheld Noman bearing out the half-lifeless form of Alice. Smoke, and even flame, followed hard upon their flight; but she was conveyed upwards to a place of safety.
"There," said the mendicant, when he had laid down his burden, "at the peril of all I possess, and of life too, I have rescued her. My hopes are gone—my schemes for ever blasted—and I am a ruined, wretched old man, without a home or a morsel of bread."
He walked out through the porch, Nicholas being too busily engaged in attending to the restoration of Alice to heed his escape. Two other men, strangers, had before emerged from the avenue. In the confusion of the moment their flight was effected, and they were seen no more.
When Alice was sufficiently recovered, Nicholas, to his utter surprise and dismay, learned that she had been doomed to be imprisoned, even in her own house, until she consented to be the wife of one whom, however he might have won upon her regard by fair and honest courtship, she hated and repulsed for this traitorous and forcible detention. Yet they had not dared to let her go, lest the secrets of her prison-house should be told. The false beggar, whose real name was Clegg, having become an adept in the art of coining, acquired during his residence abroad, and likewise having arrived at the knowledge of many chemical secrets long hidden from the vulgar and uninitiated, had leagued himself with one of the like sort, together with his own son, a handsome well-favoured youth (whose mother he had rescued from a Spanish convent), for the purpose of carrying on a most extensive manufacture and issue of counterfeit money of several descriptions. His former knowledge, when young, of his ancestors' mansion at Clegg Hall suggested the fitness of this spot for their establishment. Its situation was sequestered; and the ancient vaults, though nearly filled with rubbish, might yet be made available for their purpose. The secret entrance, and, above all, the currently-believed story of the ghost, might afford facilities for frightening away those who were disposed to be curious; and any noises unavoidable in the course of their operations might be attributed to this fruitful source of imposture. By a little dexterity, possession of the haunted chamber was obtained, the feigned beggar being a periodical visitant; thence a ready entrance was contrived, and all materials were introduced that were needful for their fraudulent proceedings. Many months their traffic was carried on without discovery; and in the beggar's wallet counterfeit money to a considerable amount was conveyed, and distributed by other agents into general circulation. Well might he say that boundless wealth was at their command; the means employed in disposing of the proceeds of their ingenuity were well calculated for the purpose. They had proposed, by machinations and alarms, to drive away utterly the present inhabitants and possessors of the Hall. The reign of terror was about to commence, plans being already matured for this purpose, had not the younger Clegg seen Alice Haworth; and love, that mighty controller of human affairs and devices, most inopportunely frustrated their intentions. The elder Clegg, too, was induced to aid the design, hoping that, should a union take place, the inheritance might revert into the old channel. We have seen the result: the wilfulness and obduracy of Alice, and the infatuation of the lover, who had thought to dazzle her with the riches he purposely spread before her, prevented the success of their schemes. She peremptorily refused and repulsed him, accusing him of a gross and wanton outrage. What might have been the end of this contention we know not, seeing that an unforeseen accident caused the explosion which led to her escape and the flight of her captors.
What remained of the old house was pulled down. The vaults and cellars, which were found to extend for a considerable distance even beyond the moat, were walled up, and every vestige that was left, together with an immense hoard of counterfeit money, was completely destroyed.
 Her marriage-gift was L500, nineteen cows, and a bull,—a magnificent portion in those days.
 We are sorry that this remark should come from the historian of Whalley; but our respect for the author even will not suffer us to let it pass unnoticed. The passage, indeed, refutes itself, and we need refer to none other than the very terms of the accusation. The circumstance of Bath "going out under the Bartholomew Act," that master-movement of spiritual tyranny, issued by an ill-advised and sensual monarch, when two thousand and upwards of conscientious clergymen were driven from their flocks and deprived of their benefices in one day, is a sufficient denial of what the learned doctor has insinuated, as it respects complying "with all changes" from mere self-interest and worldly lucre. For what could have hindered this conscientious and self-denying minister from conforming to the terms of the act, and securing his goodly benefice thereby, if it were not a zealous and honest regard to the vows he had taken, and the future welfare of his flock; which the very fact of his subsequent preaching to crowded auditories at his own house sufficiently corroborates. We know the persecutions, the malice, and the poverty, which would assail this unlicensed administration of ordinances; and nothing but a reverential awe for the sacred and responsible functions he had undertaken could have stimulated him to "endure the cross and despise the shame," when a very different line of conduct would have left him in the undisturbed possession of both wealth and patronage. But, we are afraid, the unpardonable offence of preaching in the church under the authority and protection of the Commonwealth, and his leaving her pale and preaching to "crowded auditories," when the wicked decree of St Bartholomew went forth, is ungrateful to the spirit of many, who ought not to stigmatise as sectaries and malignants all who have dared to think for themselves, and at anytime to oppose "spiritual wickedness" in "high places." The very principles which made Bath an outcast for conscience' sake are those which originated and led on the work of our Protestant Reformation, and placed the historian of Whalley where his sacred functions should have led him to respect the rights and consciences even of those from whom he might differ, and not hold them up to unmerited obloquy and reprehension.
 This interesting and curious relic is now in the possession of the Rev. J. Clowes of Broughton, whose ancestor, Samuel Clowes, Esq., about the year 1690, married Mary Cheetham, a descendant of Humphrey Cheetham, founder of the Manchester Blue Coat School. In 1713, after the death of James Holt, whose faithful rebuke from the Bishop of Chester we have noticed in the introduction, Castleton came into possession of the Cheethams until the death of Edward Cheetham, in 1769.
The screen is now made into a side-board, and is most fancifully and beautifully wrought with crests, ciphers, and cognisances, belonging to the Holts and many of the neighbouring families.
 Brand's Popular Antiquities, ii. 86-96.
THE MERMAID OF MARTIN MEER.
"Now the dancing sunbeams play O'er the green and glassy sea: Come with me, and we will go Where the rocks of coral grow."
Little needs to be said by way of introduction or explanation of the following tale. Martin Meer is now in process of cultivation; the plough and the harrow leave more enduring furrows on its bosom. It is a fact, curious enough in connection with our story, that some years ago, in digging and draining, a canoe was found here. How far this may confirm our tradition, we leave the reader to determine. It is scarcely two miles from Southport; and the botanist, as well as the entomologist, would find themselves amply repaid by a visit.
Martin Meer, the scene of the following story, we have described in our first series of Traditions, where Sir Tarquin, a carnivorous giant, is slain by Sir Lancelot of the Lake. These circumstances, and more of the like purport on this subject, we therefore omit, as being too trite and familiar to bear repetition. We do not suppose the reader to be quite so familiar with the names and fortunes of Captain Harrington and Sir Ralph Molyneux, though they had the good fortune to be born eleven hundred years later, and to have seen the world, in consequence, eleven hundred years older—we wish we could say wiser and better tempered, less selfish and less disposed to return hard knocks, and to be corrupted with evil communications. But man is the same in all ages. The external habits and usages of society change his mode of action—clothe the person and passions in a different garb; but their form and substance, like the frame they inhabit, are unchanged, and will continue until this great mass of intelligence, this mischievous compound of good and evil, this round rolling earth, shall cease to swing through time and space—a mighty pendulum, whose last stroke shall announce the end of time, the beginning of eternity!
Our story gets on indifferently the while; but a willing steed is none the worse for halting. Harrington and his friend Sir Ralph were spruce and well-caparisoned cavaliers, living often about court towards the latter end of Charles the Second's reign. What should now require their presence in these extreme regions of the earth, far from society and civilisation, it is not our business to inquire. It sufficeth for our story that they were here, mounted, and proceeding at a shuffling trot along the flat, bare, sandy region we have described.
"How sweetly and silently that round sun sinks into the water!" said Harrington.
"But doubtless," returned his companion, "if he were fire, as thou sayest, the liquid would not bear his approach so meekly; why, it would boil if he were but chin-deep in yon great seething-pot."
"Thou art quicker at a jest than a moral, Molyneux," said the other and graver personage; "thou canst not even let the elements escape thy gibes. I marvel how far we are from our cousin Ireland's at Lydiate. My fears mislead me, or we have missed our way. This flat bosom of desolation hath no vantage-ground whence we may discern our path; and we have been winding about this interminable lake these two hours."
"Without so much as a blade of grass or a tree to say 'Good neighbour' to," said Molyneux, interrupting his companion's audible reverie. "Crows and horses must fare sumptuously in these parts."
"This lake, I verily think, follows us; or we are stuck to its side like a lady's bauble."
"And no living thing to say 'Good-bye,' were it fish or woman."
"Or mermaid, which is both." Scarcely were the words uttered when Harrington pointed to the water.
"Something dark comes upon that burning track left on the surface by the sun's chariot wheels."
"A fishmonger's skiff belike," said Sir Ralph.
They plunged through the deep sandy drifts towards the brink, hastening to greet the first appearance of life which they had found in this region of solitude. At a distance they saw a female floating securely, and apparently without effort, upon the rippling current. Her form was raised half-way above the water, and her long hair hung far below her shoulders. This she threw back at times from her forehead, smoothing it down with great dexterity. She seemed to glide on slowly, and without support; yet the distance prevented any very minute observation.
"A bold swimmer, o' my troth!" said Molyneux; "her body tapers to a fish's tail, no doubt, or my senses have lost their use."
Harrington was silent, looking thoughtful and mysterious.
"I'll speak to yon sea-wench."
"For mercy's sake, hold thy tongue. If, as I suspect—and there be such things, 'tis said, in God's creation—thou wilt"——
But the tongue of this errant knight would not be stayed; and his loud musical voice swept over the waters, evidently attracting her notice, and for the first time. She drew back her dark hair, gazing on them for a moment, when she suddenly disappeared. Harrington was sure she had sunk; but a jutting peninsula of sand was near enough to have deceived him, especially through the twilight, which now drew on rapidly.
"And thou hast spoken to her!" said he gravely; "then be the answer thine!"
"A woman's answer were easier parried than a sword-thrust, methinks; and that I have hitherto escaped."
"Let us be gone speedily. I like not yon angry star spying out our path through these wilds."
"Thou didst use to laugh at my superstitions; but thine own, I guess, are too chary to be meddled with."
"Laugh at me an' thou wilt," said Harrington: "when Master Lilly cast my horoscope he bade me ever to eschew travel when Mars comes to his southing, conjunct with the Pleiades, at midnight—the hour of my birth. Last night, as I looked out from where I lay at Preston, methought the red warrior shot his spear athwart their soft scintillating light; and as I gazed, his ray seemed to ride half-way across the heavens. Again he is rising yonder."
"And his meridian will happen at midnight?"
"Even so," replied Harrington.
"Then gallop on. I'd rather make my supper with the fair dames at Lydiate than in a mermaid's hall."
But their progress was a work of no slight difficulty, and even danger. Occasionally plunging to the knees in a deep bog, then wading to the girth in a hillock of sand and prickly bent grass (the Arundo arenaria, so plentiful on these coasts), the horses were scarcely able to keep their footing—yet were they still urged on. Every step was expected to bring them within sight of some habitation.
"What is yonder glimmer to the left?" said Molyneux. "If it be that hideous water again, it is verily pursuing us. I think I shall be afraid of water as long as I live."
"As sure as Mahomet was a liar, and the Pope has excommunicated him from Paradise, 'tis the same still, torpid, dead-like sea we ought to have long since passed."
"Then have our demonstrations been in a circle, in place of a right line, and we are fairly on our way back again."
Sure enough there was the same broad, still surface of the Meer, though on the contrary side, mocking day's last glimmer in the west. The bewildered travellers came to a full pause. They took counsel together while they rested their beasts and their spur-rowels; but the result was by no means satisfactory. One by one came out the glorious throng above them, until the heavens grew light with living hosts, and the stars seemed to pierce the sight, so vivid was their brightness.
"Yonder is a light, thank Heaven!" cried Harrington.
"And it is approaching, thank your stars!" said his companion. "I durst not stir to meet it, through these perilous paths, if our night's lodging depended on it."
The bearer of this welcome discovery was a kind-hearted fisherman, who carried a blazing splinter of antediluvian firewood dug from the neighbouring bog; a useful substitute for more expensive materials.
It appeared they were at a considerable distance from the right path, or indeed from any path that could be travelled with safety, except by daylight. He invited them to a lodging in a lone hut on the borders of the lake, where he and his wife subsisted by eel-catching and other precarious pursuits. The simplicity and openness of his manner disarmed suspicion. The offer was accepted, and the benighted heroes found themselves breathing fish-odours and turf-smoke for the night, under a shed of the humblest construction. His family consisted of a wife and one child only; but the strangers preferred a bed by the turf-embers to the couch that was kindly offered them.
The cabin was built of the most simple and homely materials. The walls were pebble-stones from the sea-beach, cemented with clay. The roof-tree was the wreck of some unfortunate vessel stranded on the coast. The whole was thatched with star-grass or sea-reed, blackened with smoke and moisture.
"You are but scantily peopled hereabouts," said Harrington, for lack of other converse.
"Why, ay," returned the peasant; "but it matters nought; our living is mostly on the water."
"And it might be with more chance of company than on shore; we saw a woman swimming or diving there not long ago."
"Have ye seen her?" inquired both man and dame with great alacrity.
"Seen whom?" returned the guest.
"The Meer-woman, as we call her."
"We saw a being, but of what nature we are ignorant, float and disappear as suddenly as though she were an inhabitant of yon world of waters."
"Thank mercy! Then she will be here anon."
Curiosity was roused, though it failed in procuring the desired intelligence. She might be half-woman half-fish for aught they knew. She always came from the water, and was very kind to them and the babe. Such was the sum of the information; yet when they spoke of the child there was evidently a sort of mystery and alarm, calculated to awaken suspicion.
Harrington looked on the infant. It was on the woman's lap asleep, smiling as it lay; and an image of more perfect loveliness and repose he had never beheld. It might be about a twelvemonth old; but its dress did not correspond with the squalid poverty by which it was surrounded.
"Surely this poor innocent has not been stolen," thought he. The child threw its little hands towards him as it awoke; and he could have wept. Its short feeble wail had smitten him to the heart.
Suddenly they heard a low murmuring noise at the window.
"She is there," said the woman; "but she likes not the presence of strangers. Get thee out to her, Martin, and persuade her to come in."
The man was absent for a short time. When he entered, his face displayed as much astonishment as it was possible to cram into a countenance so vacant.
"She says our lives were just now in danger; and that the child's enemies are again in search; but she has put them on the wrong scent. We must not tarry here any longer; we must remove, and that speedily. But she would fain be told what is your business in these parts, if ye are so disposed."
"Why truly," said Harrington, "our names and occupation need little secrecy. We are idlers at present, and having kindred in the neighbourhood, are on our way to the Irelands at Lydiate, as we before told thee. Verily, there is but little of either favour or profit to be had about court now-a-days. Nought better than to loiter in hall and bower, and fling our swords in a lady's lap. But why does the woman ask? Hath she some warning to us? or is there already a spy upon our track?"
"I know not," said Martin; "but she seems mightily afeard o' the child."
"If she will entrust the babe to our care," said Harrington, after a long pause, "I will protect it. The shield of the Harringtons shall be its safeguard."
The fisherman went out with this message; and on his return it was agreed that, as greater safety would be the result, the child should immediately be given to Harrington. A solemn pledge was required by the unseen visitant that the trust should be surrendered whenever, and by whomsoever, demanded; likewise a vow of inviolable secrecy was exacted from the parties that were present. Harrington drew a signet from his finger; whoever returned it was to receive back the child. He saw not the mysterious being to whom it was sent; but the idea of the Meer-woman, the lake, and the untold mysteries beneath its quiet bosom, came vividly and painfully on his recollection.
Long after she had departed, the strange events of the evening kept them awake. Inquiries were now answered without hesitation. Harrington learned that the "Meer-woman's" first appearance was on a cold wintry day, a few months before. She did not crave protection from the dwellers in the hut, but seemed rather to command it. Leaving the infant with them, and promising to return shortly, she seemed to vanish upon the lake, or rather, she seemed to glide away on its surface so swiftly that she soon disappeared. Since then she had visited them thrice, supplying them with a little money and other necessaries; but they durst not question her, she looked so strange and forbidding.
In the morning they were conducted to Lydiate by the fisherman, who also carried the babe. Here they told a pitiable story of their having found the infant exposed, the evening before, by some unfeeling mother; and, strange to say, the truth was never divulged until the time arrived when Harrington should render up his trust.
Years passed on. Harrington saw the pretty foundling expand through every successive stage from infancy to childhood—lovelier as each year unfolded some hidden grace, and the bloom brightened as it grew. He had married in the interval, but was yet childless. His lady was passionately fond of her charge, and Grace Harrington was the pet and darling of the family. No wonder their love to the little stranger was growing deeper, and was gradually acquiring a stronger hold on their affections. But Harrington remembered his vow: it haunted him like a spectre. It seemed as though written with a sunbeam on his memory; but the finger of death pointed to its accomplishment. It will not be fulfilled without blood, was the foreboding that assailed him. His lady knew not of his grief, ignorant happily of its existence, and of its source.
Their mansion stood on a rising ground but a few miles distant from the lake. He thus seemed to hover instinctively on its precincts; though, in observance of his vow, he refrained from visiting that lonely hut, or inquiring about its inhabitants. Its broad smooth bosom was ever in his sight; and when the sun went down upon its wide brim his emotion was difficult to conceal.
One soft, clear evening, he sat enjoying the calm atmosphere, with his lady and their child. The sun was nigh setting, and the lake glowed like molten fire at his approach.
"'Tis said a mermaid haunts yon water," said Mrs Harrington; "I have heard many marvellous tales of her, a few years ago. Strange enough, last night I dreamed she took away our little girl, and plunged with her into the water. But she never returned."
"How I should like to see a mermaid!" said the playful girl. "Nurse says they are beautiful ladies with long hair and green eyes. But"—and she looked beseechingly towards them—"we are always forbidden to ramble towards the Meer."
"Harrington, the night wind makes you shiver. You are ill!"
"No, my love. But—this cold air comes wondrous keen across my bosom," said he, looking wistfully on the child, who, scarcely knowing why, threw her little arms about his neck, and wept.
"My dream, I fear, hath strange omens in it," said the lady thoughtfully.
The same red star shot fiercely up from the dusky horizon; the same bright beam was on the wave; and the mysterious incidents of the fisherman's hut came like a track of fire across Harrington's memory.
"Yonder is that strange woman again that has troubled us about the house these three days," said Mrs Harrington, looking out from the balcony; "we forbade her yesterday. She comes hither with no good intent."
Harrington looked over the balustrade. A female stood beside a pillar, gazing intently towards him. Her eye caught his own; it was as if a basilisk had smitten him. Trembling, yet fascinated, he could not turn away his glance; a smile passed on her dark-red visage—a grin of joy at the discovery.
"Surely," thought he, "'tis not the being who claims my child!" But the woman drew something from her hand, which, at that distance, Harrington recognised as his pledge. His lady saw not the signal; without speaking, he obeyed. Hastening down-stairs, a private audience confirmed her demand, which the miserable Harrington durst not refuse.
Two days he was mostly in private. Business with the steward was the ostensible motive. He had sent an urgent message to his friend Molyneux, who, on the third day, arrived at H——, where they spent many hours in close consultation. The following morning Grace came running in after breakfast. She flung her arms about his neck.
"Let me not leave you to-day," she sobbed aloud.
"Why, my love?" said Harrington, strangely disturbed at the request.
"I do not know!" replied the child, pouting.
"To-day I ride out with Sir Ralph to the Meer, and as thou hast often wished—because it was forbidden, I guess—thou shalt ride with us a short distance; I will toss thee on before me, and away we'll gallop—like the Prince of Trebizond on the fairy horse."
"And shall we see the mermaid?" said the little maiden quickly, as though her mind had been running on the subject.
"I wish the old nurse would not put such foolery in the girl's head," said Mrs Harrington impatiently. "There be no mermaids now, my love."
"What! not the mermaid of Martin Meer?" inquired the child, seemingly disappointed.
Harrington left the room, promising to return shortly.
The morning was dull, but the afternoon broke out calm and bright. Grace was all impatience for the ride; and Rosalind, the favourite mare, looked more beautiful than ever in her eyes. She bounded down the terrace at the first sound of the horses' feet, leaving Mrs Harrington to follow.
The cavaliers were already mounted, but the child suddenly drew back.
"Come, my love," said Harrington, stretching out his hand; "look how your pretty Rosalind bends her neck to receive you."
Seeing her terror, Mrs Harrington soothed these apprehensions, and fear was soon forgotten amid the pleasures she anticipated.
"You are back by sunset, Harrington?"
"Fear not, I shall return," replied he; and away sprang the pawing beasts down the avenue. The lady lingered until they were out of sight. Some unaccountable oppression weighed down her spirits; she sought her chamber, and a heavy sob threw open the channel which hitherto had restrained her tears.
They took the nearest path towards the Meer, losing sight of it as they advanced into the low flat sands, scarcely above its level. When again it opened into view its wide waveless surface lay before them, reposing in all the sublimity of loneliness and silence. The rapture of the child was excessive. She surveyed with delight its broad unruffled bosom, giving back the brightness and glory of that heaven to which it looked; to her it seemed another sky and another world, pure and spotless as the imagination that created it.
They entered the fisherman's hut; but it was deserted. Years had probably elapsed since the last occupation. Half-burnt turf and bog-wood lay on the hearth; but the walls were crumbling down with damp and decay.
The two friends were evidently disappointed. At times they looked out anxiously, but in vain, as it might seem; for they again sat down, silent and depressed, upon a turf-heap by the window, while the child ran playing and gambolling towards the beach.
Harrington sat with his back to the window, when suddenly the low murmuring noise he had heard on his former visit was repeated. He turned pale.
"Thou art not alone; and where is the child?" or words to this purport were uttered in a whisper. He started aside; the sound, as he thought, was close to his ear. Molyneux heard it too.
"Shall I depart?" said he, cautiously; "I will take care to keep within call."
"Nay," said his friend, whispering in his ear, "thou must ride out of sight and sound too, I am afraid, or we shall not accomplish our plans for the child's safety. Depart with the attendants; I fear not the woman. Say to my lady I will return anon."
With some reluctance Sir Ralph went his way homewards, and Harrington was left to accomplish these designs without assistance.
Immediately he walked out towards the shore; but he saw nothing of the child, and his heart misgave him. He called her; but the sound died with its own echo upon the waters. The timid rabbit fled to its burrow, and the sea-gull rose from her gorge, screaming away heavily to her mate; but the voice of his child returned no more!
Almost driven to frenzy, he ran along the margin of the lake to a considerable distance, returning after a fruitless search to the hut, where he threw himself on the ground. In the agony of his spirit he lay with his face to the earth, as if to hide his anguish as he wept.
How long he remained was a matter of uncertainty. On a sudden, instantaneously with the rush that aroused him, he felt his arms pinioned, and that by no timid or feeble hand. At the same moment a bandage was thrown over his eyes, and he found himself borne away swiftly into a boat. He listened for some time to the rapid stroke of the oars. Not a word was spoken from which he could ascertain the meaning of this outrage. To his questions no reply was vouchsafed, and in the end he forbore inquiry—the mind wearied into apathy by excitement and its consequent exhaustion.
The boat again touched the shore, and he was carried out. The roar of the sea had for some time been rapidly growing louder as they neared the land. He was now borne along over hillocks of loose sand to the sea-beach, when he felt himself fairly launched upon the high seas. He heard the whistling of the cordage, the wide sail flap to the wind, with the groan of the blast as it rushed into the swelling canvas; then he felt the billows prancing under him, and the foam and spray from their huge necks as they swept by. It was not long ere he heard the sails lowered; and presently they were brought up alongside a vessel of no ordinary bulk. Harrington was conducted with little ceremony into the cabin; the bandage was removed from his eyes, and he found himself in the presence of a weather-beaten tar, who was sitting by a table, on which lay a cutlass and a pair of richly-embossed pistols.
"We have had a long tug to bring thee to," said the captain; "but we always grapple with the enemy in the long run. If thou hast aught to say why sentence of death should not pass on thee, ay, and be executed straightway too—say on. What! not a shot in thy locker? Then may all such land-sharks perish, say I, as thus I signify thy doom." He examined his pistols with great nicety as he spoke. Harrington was dumb with amazement, whilst his enemy surveyed him with a desperate and determined glance. At length he stammered forth—
"I am ignorant of thy meaning; much less can I shape my defence. Who art thou?"
The other replied, in a daring and reckless tone—
"I am the Free Rover, of whom thou hast doubtless heard. My good vessel and her gallant crew ne'er slackened a sky-raker in the chase, nor backed a mainsail astern of the enemy. But pirate as I am—hunted and driven forth like the prowling wolf, without the common rights and usages of my fellow men—I have yet their feelings. I had a child! Thy fell, unpitying purpose, remorseless monster, hath made me childless! But thou hast robbed the lioness of her whelp, and thou art in her gripe!"
"As my hope is to escape thy fangs, I am innocent of the crime."
"Maybe thou knowest not the mischief thou hast inflicted; but thy guilt and my bereavement are not the less. My child was ailing; we were off this coast, when we sent her ashore secretly until our return. A fisherman and his wife, to whom our messenger entrusted the babe, were driven forth by thee one bitter night without a shelter. The child perished; and its mother chides my tardy revenge."
"'Tis a falsehood!" cried Harrington, "told to cover some mischievous design. The child, if it be thine, was given to my care—by whom I know not. I have nurtured her kindly; not three hours ago, as I take it, she was in yonder hut; but she has been decoyed from me; and I am here thy prisoner, and without the means of clearing myself from this false and malicious charge."
The captain smiled incredulously.
"Thou art lord of yonder soil, I own; but thou shouldest have listened to the cry of the helpless. I have here a witness who will prove thy story false—the messenger herself. Call hither Oneida," said he, speaking to the attendants. But this personage could not be found.
"She has gone ashore in her canoe," said the pirate; "and the men never question her. She will return ere mid-watch. Prepare: thou showedst no mercy, and I have sworn!"
Harrington was hurried to a little square apartment, which an iron grating sufficiently indicated to be the state prison. The vessel lay at anchor; the intricate soundings on that dangerous coast rendered her perfectly safe from attack, even if she had been discovered. He watched the stars rising out, calm and silently, from the deep: "Ere yon glorious orb is on the zenith," thought he, "I may be—what?" He shrank from the conclusion. "Surely the wretch will not dare to execute his audacious threat?" He again caught that red and angry star gleaming portentously on him. It seemed to be his evil genius; its malignant eye appeared to follow out his track, to haunt him, and to beset his path continually with suffering and danger. He stood by the narrow grating, feverish and apprehensive; again he heard that low murmuring voice which he too painfully recognised. The mysterious being of the lake stood before him.
"White man"—she spoke in a strange and uncouth accent;—"the tree bows to the wing of the tempest—the roots look upward—the wind sighs past its withered trunk—the song of the warbler is heard no more from its branches, and the place of its habitation is desolate. Thine enemies have prevailed. I did it not to compass thine hurt: I knew not till now thou wert in their power; and I cannot prevent the sacrifice."
"Restore the child, and I am safe," said Harrington, trembling in his soul's agony at every point; "or withdraw thy false, thine accursed accusations."
"Thou knowest not my wrongs and my revenge! Thou seest the arrow, but not the poison that is upon it. The maiden, whose race numbers a thousand warriors, returns not to her father's tribe ere she wring out the heart's life-blood from her destroyer. Death were happiness to the torments I inflict on him and the woman who hath supplanted me. And yet they think Oneida loves them—bends like the bulrush when the wind blows upon her, and rises only when he departs. What! give back the child? She hath but taken my husband and my bed; as soon might ye tear the prey from the starved hunter. This night will I remove their child from them—to depart, when a few moons are gone—it may be to dwell again with my tribe in the wigwam and the forest."
"But I have not wronged thee!"
"Thou art of their detested race. Yet would I not kill thee."
"Help me to escape."
"Escape!" said this untamed savage, with a laugh which went with a shudder to his heart. "As soon might the deer dart from the hunter's rifle as thou from the cruel pirate who has pronounced thy death! I could tell thee such deeds of him and these bloody men as would freeze thy bosom, though it were wide and deep as the lakes of my country. Yet I loved him once! He came a prisoner to my father's hut. I have spilled my best blood for his escape. I have borne him where the white man's feet never trod—through forests, where aught but the Indian or the wild beast would have perished. I left my country and my kin—the graves of my fathers—and how hath he requited me? He gave the ring of peace to the red woman; but when he saw another and a fairer one of thy race, she became his wife; and from that hour Oneida's love was hate!—and I have waited and not complained, for my revenge was sure! And shall I now bind the healing leaf upon the wound?—draw the arrow from the flesh of mine enemies? Thou must die! for my revenge is sweet."
"I will denounce thee to him, fiend! I will reveal"——
"He will not believe thee. His eye and ear are sealed. He would stake his life on my fidelity. He knows not of the change."
"But he will discover it, monster, when thou art gone. He will track thee to the verge of this green earth and the salt sea, and thou shall not escape."
With a yell of unutterable scorn she cried—
"He may track the wild bee to its nest, and the eagle to his eyrie, but he discerns not one footprint of Oneida's path!"
The pangs of death seemed to be upon him. He read his doom in the kindling eye and almost demoniac looks of the being who addressed him. She seemed like some attendant demon waiting to receive his spirit. His brain grew dizzy. Death would have been welcome in comparison with the horrors of its anticipation. He would have caught her; but she glided from his grasp, and he was again left in that den of loneliness and misery. How long he knew not; his first returning recollection was the sound of bolts and the rude voices of his jailers.
In this extremity the remembrance of that Being in whom, and from whom, are all power and mercy, flashed on his brain like a burst of hope—like a sunbeam on the dark ocean of despair.
"God of my fathers, hear!" escaped from his lips in that appalling moment. His soul was calmed by the appeal. Vain was the help of man, but he felt as if supported and surrounded by the arm of Omnipotence, while silently, and with a firm step, he followed his conductors.
One dim light only was burning above. Some half-dozen of the crew stood armed on the quarter-deck behind their chief; their hard, forbidding faces looked without emotion upon this scene of unpitying, deliberate murder.
To some question from the pirate Harrington replied by accusing the Indian woman of treachery.
"As soon yonder star, which at midnight marks our meridian, would prove untrue in its course."
Harrington shuddered at this ominous reference.
"I cannot prove mine innocence," said he; "but I take yon orb to witness that I never wronged you or yours. The child is in her keeping."
"Call her hither, if she be returned," said the captain, "and see if he dare repeat this in her presence. He thinks to haul in our canvas until the enemy are under weigh, and then, Yoh ho, boys, for the rescue. But we shall be dancing over the bright Solway ere the morning watch, and thy carcase in the de'il's locker."
"If not for mine, for your own safety!"
"My safety! and what care I, though ten thousand teeth were grinning at me, through as many port-holes. My will alone bounds my power. Who shall question my sentence, which is death?"
He gnashed his teeth as he went on. "And your halls shall be too hot to hold your well-fed drones. Thy hearth, proud man, shall be desolate. I'll lay waste thy domain. Thy race, root and branch, will I extinguish; for thou hast made me childless!"
The messenger returned with the intelligence that Oneida was not in the ship.
"On shore again, the ——! If I were to bind her with the main-chains, and an anchor at each leg, she would escape me to go ashore. No heed; we will just settle the affair without her, and he shall drop quietly into a grave ready made, and older than Adam. I would we had some more of his kin; they should swing from the bowsprit, like sharks and porpoises, who devour even when they have had enough, and waste what they can't devour."
"Thou wilt not murder me thus, defenceless, and in cold blood."
"My child was more helpless, and had not injured thee! Ye give no quarter to the prowling beast, and yet, like me, he only robs and murders to preserve his life. How far is it from midnight?"
"Five minutes, and yon star comes to his southing," said the person he addressed.
"Then prepare; that moment marks thy death!"
The men looked significantly towards their rifles.
"Nay," cried this bloodthirsty freebooter, "my arm alone shall avenge my child."
He drew a pistol from his belt.
"Yonder is Oneida," sang out the man at the main-top; "she is within a cable's length."
"Heed her not. When the bell strikes, I have sworn thou shalt die!"
A pause ensued—a few brief moments in the lapse of time, but an age in the records of thought. Not a breath relieved the horror and intensity of that silence. The plash of a light oar was heard;—a boat touched the vessel. The bell struck.
"Once!" shouted the fierce mariner, and he raised his pistol with the sharp click of preparation.
The bell boomed again.
"Hold!" cried a female, rushing between the executioner and the condemned: But the warning was too late;—the ball had sped, though not to its mark. Oneida was the victim. She fell, with a faint scream, bleeding on the deck. But Harrington was close locked in the arms of his little Grace. She had flown to him for protection, sobbing with joy.
The pirate seemed horror-struck at the deed. He raised Oneida, unloosing his neckcloth to staunch the wound.
"The Great Spirit calls me:" she spoke with great exertion: "the green woods, the streams, land of my forefathers. Oh! I come!" She raised herself suddenly with great energy, looking towards Harrington, who yet knelt, guarded and pinioned—the child still clinging to him.
"White man, I have wronged thee, and I am the sacrifice. Murderer, behold thy child!" She raised her eyes suddenly towards the pirate, who shook his head, supposing that her senses grew confused.
"It was for thy rescue!" again she addressed Harrington. "The Great Spirit appeared to me: he bade me restore what I had taken away, and I should be with the warriors and the chiefs who have died in battle. They hunt in forests from which the red-deer flies not, and fish in rivers that are never dry. But my bones shall not rest with my fathers!—I come. Lake of the woods, farewell!"
She threw one look of reproach on her destroyer, and the spirit of Oneida had departed.
The pirate stood speechless and bewildered. He looked on the child—a ray of recollection seemed to pass over his visage. Its expression was softened; and this man of outlawry and blood became gentle. The savage grew tame. The common sympathies of his nature, so long dried up, burst forth, and the wide deep flood of feeling and affection rolled on with it like a torrent, gathering strength by its own accumulation.
Years after, in a secluded cottage by the mansion of the Harringtons, dwelt an old man and his daughter. She soothed the declining hours of his sojourn. His errors and his crimes—and they were many and aggravated—were not unrepented of. She watched his last breath; and the richest lady of that land was "THE PIRATE'S DAUGHTER."
"O Thou who every thought pervades, My darkened soul inform: With equal hand Thy goodness guides A planet or a worm."
On the eastern side of Swart Moor, about a mile from Ulverstone, stands Swartmoor Hall. This bleak elevation took its name from Colonel Martin Swart, or Swartz, an experienced and valiant soldier, of a noble German family, to whom the Duchess of Burgundy, in 1486, entrusted the command of the troops which were sent to support Lambert Simnel in his claim to the English crown. A more detailed account of this transaction will be found in the first volume of our present series, in the tradition relating to "The Pile of Fouldrey." Suffice it to say that the rebel army was defeated here with great slaughter; and Swartz, along with several of the English nobility, was slain—an event which entailed the name of this chieftain on the place of his overthrow.
The hall, about 180 years ago, was the residence of Thomas Fell, commonly called Judge Fell, vice-chancellor of the Duchy Court at Westminster, and one of the judges that went the Welsh circuit; a man greatly esteemed both in his public and private capacity. His wife was a lady of exemplary piety: she was born at Marsh Grange, in the parish of Dalton, in the year 1614, and was married before she had attained to the age of eighteen. The Judge and his lady being greatly respected, and much hospitality being displayed in their house to ministers and religious people, George Fox, in the year 1652, on his first coming into Furness, called at Swartmoor Hall, and preaching there, and also at Ulverstone, Mrs Fell, her daughters, and many of the family adopted his principles. The Judge was then upon the circuit. On his return he seemed much afflicted and surprised at this revolution in his family; and in consequence of some malicious insinuations from those who met him with the intelligence, he was greatly exasperated against George Fox and his principles. By the prudent intervention of two friends, however, his displeasure was greatly mitigated; and Fox, returning hither in the evening, answered all his objections in so satisfactory a manner, that the Judge "assented to the truth and reasonableness thereof;" the tranquillity of the family was restored; and from that time, notwithstanding numerous attempts to detach him from the cause, he continued a steady friend to the members of the society and its founder on all occasions where he had the power. A weekly meeting was established in his house the following Sunday. But his patronage did not last many years; he departed this life in September 1658, his health having been for some time before considerably on the decline.
Mrs Fell, after his death, suffered much inconvenience and oppression because of the religious principles she had embraced; yet, notwithstanding, the weekly meetings continued to be held at her house until the year 1690, when a new meetinghouse was opened about a quarter of a mile distant.
In 1669, eleven years after the death of Judge Fell, she married George Fox, whom she survived eleven years, dying at Swartmoor Hall in February 1702, nearly eighty-eight years old.
The house is still inhabited, though in a very dilapidated condition. The barns and stables by which it is surrounded, and the litter of the farmyard, give it a very mean and undignified appearance.
The tenant is a substantial farmer, who is very assiduous in showing the premises. The hall is spacious, with an oaken wainscoting. The bedrooms, which are large and airy, were formerly ornamented with carved work, now greatly damaged. In one of them is a substantial bedstead, with carved posts, on which it is said this reformer used to repose, and any of his followers have permission to occupy it for one night. This privilege is either not known, or perhaps not very highly appreciated, for the tenant states that not a single "Friend" has availed himself of it during the whole time he has resided there. Here is shown the study of George Fox in all its pristine plainness and simplicity. On one side of the hall is an orchard, looking almost coeval with the building. The house stands high, and the upper windows command an extensive and beautiful prospect. The meetinghouse is a neat plain building, in perfect repair, still used by the Friends at Ulverstone and the neighbourhood for religious worship. Over the door is the following inscription, "Ex dono G.F. 1688." There is a burial-place surrounded with trees attached to the chapel.
George Fox did not reside constantly at Swartmoor after his marriage. The greater part of his time was spent in itinerancy. He travelled nearly over the whole of Great Britain, and several parts of America in the exercise of his ministry. After encountering innumerable sufferings, oppositions, and afflictions, this indefatigable missionary departed this life on the 13th of November 1690, in the 67th year of his age, at a house in White Hart Court, London. He was interred in the "Friends Burying-Ground," near Bunhill Fields.
The author is aware that the following remarkable account of "a special interposition" has been attributed to other names and later dates, and is recorded as having happened to individuals at different places both in England and Ireland. The same fact attaching itself to different localities and persons—probably according to the caprice or partialities of the several narrators—is, as he has found in the course of his researches, no unusual occurrence. He does not attempt to decide in favour of any of the conflicting claims or authorities, but merely to give the tale as it exists, selecting those places and circumstances which are most suitable for his purpose.
The supremacy of a special Providence, guiding and overruling the affairs of men, is a doctrine which few will have the hardihood to withstand and still less to deny. It is interwoven with our very nature, and seems implanted in us for the wisest and most beneficent of purposes. It is a doctrine full of comfort and consolation; our stay and succour in the most appalling extremities. There does seem, at times, vividly bursting through the most important periods of our existence, a ray from the secret place of the Most High. We see an opening, as it were, into the very arrangements and councils of the skies; we catch a glimpse of the machinery by which the universe is governed; the wheels of Providence are for a moment exhibited, palpable and unencumbered by secondary causes, while we, stricken prostrate from the consciousness of our own insignificance, acknowledge with awe and admiration the protecting power of which we are so unworthy.
Of the special interference we have just noticed the following narrative, true as to the more important particulars, is a striking instance; events, apparently happening out of the ordinary way, seem brought about by this direct interposition at a period when the most eminent display of human foresight and sagacity would have been unavailing.
One chill and misty evening in the year 1652, being the early part of a wet and, as it proved, a tardy spring, two strangers were benighted in attempting to cross the wild mountain ridge called Cartmel Fell. They had proposed taking the most direct route from Kendal to Cartmel; having, however, missed the few points which indicated their track, they had for several hours been beating about in the expectation of finding some clue to extricate themselves, but every attempt seemed only to fix them more inextricably in a state of doubt and bewilderment. A dense fog had been rapidly accumulating, and they began to feel something startled with a vague apprehension of a night-watch amongst the hills, unprovided as they were with the requisite essentials for either food or lodging.
The elder of the two, though not more than midway between thirty and forty years old, was clad in a strange uncouth garb of the coarsest materials, and his lank long hair hung matted and uncombed upon his shoulders from a "brim" of extravagant dimensions. This style of dress was not then recognised as the distinctive badge of a religious sect, as it is now of the people called "Quakers," or, as they are more favourably designated, "Friends." The person of whom we speak was the founder of this society, George Fox, who, only about five years previous to the date of our story, after much contemplation on religious subjects, took upon himself the public ministry. In the year 1650 he was imprisoned at Derby for speaking publicly in the church after divine service; on being brought before a magistrate, he bade the company "tremble at the word of the Lord;" the expression was turned into ridicule, and he and his friends received the appellation of "Quakers."
His appearance was stout and muscular; and his general demeanour of that still, undisturbed aspect which, if not one of the essentials of his own religion, is at least looked upon as its greatest ornament, betokening the inward grace of a meek and quiet spirit. "He was," says John Gough, the historian of this people, "a man of strong natural parts, firm health, undaunted courage, remarkable disinterestedness, inflexible integrity, and distinguished sincerity. The tenor of his doctrine, when he found himself concerned to instruct others, was to wean men from systems, ceremonies, and the outside of religion in every form, and to lead them to an acquaintance with themselves by a most solicitous attention to what passed in their own minds; to direct them to a principle of their own hearts, which, if duly attended to, would introduce rectitude of mind, simplicity of manners, a life and conversation adorned with every Christian virtue, and peace, the effect of righteousness. Drawing his doctrine from the pure source of religious truth, the New Testament, and the conviction of his own mind, abstracted from the comments of men, he asserted the freedom of man in the liberty of the gospel against the tyranny of custom, and against the combined powers of severe persecution, the greatest contempt, and keenest ridicule. Unshaken and undismayed, he persevered in disseminating principles and practices conducive to the present and everlasting well-being of mankind, with great honesty, simplicity, and success."
The companion of this reformer was arrayed in a more worldly suit; a mulberry-coloured cloak and doublet, with a hat of grey felt, that, for brevity of brim, would almost have vied with that of the brass basin worn by the knight of the rueful countenance, whose history may be consulted at length in the writings of that veracious historian, Don Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra. His movements were of a more irregular and erratic nature than comported with the well-ordered and equable gait of his companion. The rarely-occurring remarks of the latter were anything but explicit as to the state of his feelings in contemplation of an event, the possibility of which increased with every step—a night's lodgings in these inhospitable wilds. The sun was now evidently beneath the horizon; darkness came on with frightful rapidity; and they had, as yet, no reason to divest themselves of so disagreeable an anticipation. To one in the full glare of daylight, or with a sound roof-tree over his head and a warm fire at his elbow, the idea of a night-vigil may not appear either unpleasant or extraordinary; but, wrapped in a sheet of grey mist, the wet heath oozing beneath his feet, with the cold and benumbing air of the hills for his supper, there could be little question that he would be apt to regard it as a condition not far removed from the extremity of human suffering; especially if at the same time he had just exchanged a snug fireside and an affectionate neighbourhood of friends for these appalling discomforts.
"I know not what we shall do," said the younger traveller. "It never entered into my head beforehand to imagine the possibility of such an event. Surely, surely, we are not to live through a whole night in these horrid wilds. Pray, do speak out, and let me at least have the comfort of a complaint, for we are past consolation."
"I have been ruminating on this very matter," replied the other; "and it does appear that we are as safe in this place verily as though we were encompassed with walls and bulwarks. Methinks, friend, thou speakest unadvisedly; in future, when thee knowest not what to do—wait! The more thee pulls and hauls, and frets and kicks, depend on it thou wilt be the less able to extricate thyself thereby. We are not left quite without comfort in this dreary wilderness; here is a goodly and a well-set stone, I perceive, just convenient. Verily, it is a mercy if we get a little rest for our limbs. Many a meek and holy disciple, of whom the world was not worthy, has ere now been fain of a slice of hard rock for his pillow."
"And, in truth, we are as likely as the holiest of 'em to refresh ourselves all night on a stone bolster," pettishly replied the unthankful youth, as he seated himself beside his friend.
It was not long ere a slight breeze began to roll the mist into irregular masses of cloud. The dense atmosphere appeared to break, and a star twinkled for a moment, but disappeared as suddenly as it came forth. Ralph Seaton, the younger of the pedestrians, pointed out the friendly visitant to his companion. It seemed as though the eye of mercy were beaming visibly upon them.
"I have seen it," said the man of quiet endurance; "and now gird up thy loins to depart. The fog will rapidly disperse; and it may be that some distant light will guide us to rest and shelter."
While he was speaking the mist coiled upwards, driving rapidly across the sky in the shape of a heavy scud. A few stars twinkled here and there through the lucid intervals, "few and far between;" but they were continually changing place, closing and unfolding as the wind mingled or separated their shapeless fragments.
"It is even as I said. Seest thou yonder light?"
"I see not anything," replied Seaton.
"Just beneath that bright star to our left?" again inquired the elder traveller.
"I only see a dark hill rising there abruptly against the lowering swell of the sky."
Our "Friend" was silent for a space, when he replied in a tone of deep solemnity—
"It is the inward light of which I have spoken to thee before; a token of no ordinary import. To-night, or I am deceived, we are called on to pass through no common allotment of toil and tribulation. Oft hath this light been outwardly manifest, and as often has it been the precursor of some sharp and fiery trial! Again! But thou seest it not. Yet mayest thou follow in my steps. Take heed thou turn not either to the right hand or to the left. But"——The speaker's voice here grew fearfully ominous and emphatic.
"Hast thou courage to do as I shall bid thee? I must obey the will of the Spirit; but unless thou hast faith to follow the light that is within me, rather pass the night on that cold unsheltered rock than draw back from His witness. Remember, it is no slight peril that awaits us."
Not without a struggle and certain waverings, which indicated a faith somewhat less implicit than was desirable on such an occasion, did the disciple promise to obey—ay, to the very letter—every command that might be given. Peradventure, a well-founded apprehension of spending the night companionless on the cold and wet dormitory to which his evil stars had conducted him, had some influence in this determination. Suffice it to say, never did disciple resolve more faithfully to obey than did our young adventurer in this perilous extremity.
Their path now appeared to wind precipitately down a steep and narrow defile, through which a rapid torrent was heard foaming and tumbling over its rugged bed. Following the course of the stream to a considerable distance, a rude bridge was discerned, sufficiently indicating a path to some house or village in that direction. The wind was rising in sharp and heavy gusts. The moon, not yet above the hills, was brightening the dark clouds that hung behind them like a huge curtain. The sky was studded, in beauteous intervals, with hosts of stars. This light enabled them to follow a narrow footpath, which, abruptly turning the head of a projecting crag, showed them a distant glimmer as though from some friendly habitation. Seaton bounded past his more recondite companion; and it was not long ere a fierce growl challenged him as he approached nearer to the dwelling. He threw open the door, and discovered what was sufficiently distinguishable as a public-house, a homely interior, dignified by the name of tavern. Two grim-looking men sat before a huge pile of turf, glowing fiercely from the wide expanse appropriated to several uses beside that of fireplace and chimney. Liquor and coarse bread were near them on a low three-legged table; while Seaton, overjoyed at his good fortune and happy escape, thought the rude hut a palace, and the smell of turf and oat-cake a refection fit for the gods.
"Be quiet, Vixen." The fierce animal, at this rebuke from her mistress, slunk into a dark corner beside the chimney, whence two hideous and glaring eyes were fixed on the strangers for the rest of the evening. Wherever Seaton turned, he still beheld them, intently watching, as though gloating on their prey. The female who had thus spoken did not welcome her guests with that cheerful solicitude which the arrival of profitable customers generally creates. She bustled about unceasingly; but showed neither anxiety nor inclination to offer them any refreshment. Short and firm-set in person, she looked more muscular than was befitting her sex. Her hair was grizzled, and the straggling tresses hung untrammelled about her smoke-dried and hard-lined visage. Her features wore a dubious and unpleasant aspect, calculated to create more distrust than seemed desirable to their owner. Every effort, however, to disguise their expression only rendered them the more forbidding and repulsive.
Near the turf-stack, by the chimney, sat a being to all appearance in a state of mental derangement almost approaching to idiotcy. His eye rested for a moment, with a vacant and undefined stare, upon the strangers; then, with a loud shrill laugh, which made the listeners shudder, he again bent his head, basking moodily before the blaze. The moment Seaton had thrown down a light portmanteau that he carried, the dame, with a low tap, summoned two stout fellows from an inner room, who, with a suspicious and over-acted civility, inquired the destination and wishes of their guests. The elder of the travellers, now coming forward as spokesman, inquired about the possibility of obtaining lodgings for the night, and was informed that a room, detached from the rest, was generally used as a guest-chamber on all extra occasions.
"There's a bed in 't fit to streek down the limbs of a king," said one of the gruff helpers; "and maybe the gentlemen will sleep as sound here as they could wish. Rabbit thee, Will, but the luggage will break thy back. Have a care, lad. Let me feel: it's as light as a church poor's-box. The de'il's flown awa' with aw the shiners, I think; for it's lang sin' I heard a good ow'd-fashioned jink in a traveller's pack."
This was said more by way of comment than conversation, as he handled the stranger's valise.
The features of these men exhibited a strange mixture of ferocity and mirth. Savage, and almost brutal in their expression, still an atmosphere of fun hovered about them—a Will-o'-the-wisp sort of playfulness, unnatural and decoying, like the capricious gambols of that renowned and mischievous sprite.
The Quaker seated himself on a low bench before the fire. He took from his neck a huge handkerchief, spreading it out on his knees. He then drew off a pair of long worsted stocking-boots; leisurely untied his shoes, and extending his ample surface in the most convenient manner to the blaze, appeared, with eyes half-shut, pondering deeply some inward abyss of thought, yet not wholly indifferent to the objects around him. His tall and bony figure looked more like some stiff and imitative piece of mechanism than a living human frame with flexible articulations, so fashioned was every motion of the body to the formal and constrained habits and peculiarities of the mind. Seaton had observed, with no slight uneasiness, the suspicious circumstances in which they were placed; but he was fearful of betraying his mistrust, lest it should accelerate the mischief he anticipated. He looked wistfully at his friend; but there was no outward manifestation that could elucidate the inward bent of his thoughts. The keen expression of his eye was not visible; but his other features wore that imperturbable and stolid aspect which suited the stiff and unyielding substance of his opinions. Seaton was now reminded of his supper by an inquiry from the female as to their intentions on that momentous subject. A "flesh pye," as she termed it, was drawn from its lair—a dark hole used as a cupboard—and set before the guests. The very name sounded suspicious and disgusting. In the present state of his feelings the most trivial circumstance was sufficient to keep alive the apprehensions that haunted him. He endeavoured to rally himself out of his fears, and had in some measure succeeded, thrusting his knife deep into the forbidden envelope. At that moment a slight rustling caused him to look aside. The idiot was gazing on him. He shrank from this unexpected glance; and the knife loosened in his grasp. He thought the creature made a sign with his finger, forbidding him to eat. It might be fancy; but nevertheless he felt determined not to touch the food; and the former, with that natural cunning which, in characters of this description, almost assumes the nature of instinct, again appeared crouching over the blaze, and incapable either of observation or intelligence. This transaction passed unnoticed by the rest of the party; and Seaton, afraid that some horrible and unnatural food had been set before him, secretly motioned to his friend, who, apparently unheeding, helped himself to a portion of the mysterious dish. For a moment it occurred to Seaton that the cunning half-wit, apprehensive lest too great a share of the savoury victuals should fall to their lot, had contrived to forbid this appropriation. After a few mouthfuls, however, he observed that his friend had as little relish for the provision as himself, remarking that a rasher of bacon would be preferred, if the hostess could furnish him with this delicacy. A whisper was the result of this request; but, in the end, a savoury collop was set upon the table. Beer was added, as a matter of course; but neither of them partook of the beverage. Though Seaton, to all appearance, drank a portion, yet his fears got the better of his fatigue; and some apprehension of treachery made him careful to convey away the liquor unobserved. Fox now drew up his gaunt figure in the attitude which indicated a change of position. With great deliberation he rose, and addressed the hostess—
"Canst thee show us to bed?"
Answering in the affirmative, she snatched up a light, and leading the way across a narrow yard, she pointed out a small step-ladder outside the building. Giving the candle into the hands of the grave personage who followed her, she left them after bidding "Good-night!"
They scrambled up the ladder, entering the room appropriated to their use. It was low, and of scanty dimensions. The walls were bare; and the damp oozed through chinks and crevices, where the wind met with slight interruption, though it clamoured unceasingly for admission. The only furniture in the apartment was a low bedstead, on which a straw mattress reposed in all the accumulated filth of past ages. A coverlid of coarse woollen partly concealed a suit of bed-linen that would have stricken terror amongst a tribe of Esquimaux. Neither party appeared wishful to tempt the mysteries that were yet unseen, or to divest himself of clothing. They flung their luggage on the floor, and sat upon it, each awaiting the first word of intercourse from his companion. After a while there was a heavy groan from the Quaker; and Seaton something hastily intimated his suspicions respecting the occupation and pursuits of the party below.
"I am of the like persuasion with thyself," was the reply. "Verily, the warning was not in vain. This night may not pass ere faith shall have its test. I have had a sore struggle. Our safety will be granted; but through inward guidance rather than from our own endeavours. Yet must we use the means."
"I see no way of escape," returned Seaton, "provided they be what we have unhappily too good cause to apprehend. Unarmed, and without the means of defence, how can we cope with men whose object, doubtless, with the robbery, will be the concealment of their crime?"
"Follow my example. It is thine only chance for deliverance. Question me not; but be silent, and obey. I have said it."
While the speaker relapsed into one of his usual reveries, Seaton cast his eyes inquiringly round the room. Their feeble light was ready to expire. The rude gusts rocked the frail tenement "as if't had agues;" and the walls groaned beneath their pressure. There was a small casement, stuffed with paper and a matchless assortment of parti-coloured rags, near the roof, directly over the bed. He ascended softly to examine the nature of this outlet; but, to his further alarm, he found it guarded outside with iron bars. This was a direct confirmation of his surmises. A cold shudder crept over him. He felt almost stiffening with horror as he looked down upon his thoughtful companion, doomed, he doubted not, as well as himself, to fall a prey to the assassin. He gazed wildly round the apartment, as if with some desperate hope of deliverance. His head grew dizzy; objects seemed to flit past him; and more than once he fancied that footsteps were creeping up the ladder. This acute burst of agony subsiding, he listened to the short and rapid whirl of the wind eddying by; and never had the sound fallen upon his ear so fearfully. It seemed like the wail of a departing spirit, or like some funeral dirge, moaning heavily and deep through the sudden pauses of the blast. He threw himself on the bed. Fatigue and long abstinence had enervated his frame. Nature, forced almost beyond the limit of endurance, had become passive, and almost incapable of suffering. A deep slumber stole upon him, yet could he not escape the horrors by which he was surrounded. Daggers reeking in blood—spectres covered with hideous wounds—murderers on the rack—gibbets, and a thousand forms, shapeless and unimaginable, crowded past with inconceivable rapidity. A huge figure approached. In its hand a weapon was uplifted, as if to destroy him. He made a vehement effort to escape; but was holden, without the power of resistance. Just as it was descending he awoke. For a while he was unable to recollect precisely the nature of his situation. The apartment was quite dark. He groped confusedly about him, but to no purpose. At that instant a ray seemed to glide from the casement. It was a moonbeam struggling through that almost impervious inlet. By this light he beheld a figure intently gazing towards the window. At the first glance he did not recognise his companion; but, as he started from the couch, the former approached him, and, laying one hand on his shoulder, whispered that he should be still. He obeyed, and remained motionless. The reason for this admonition was soon apparent. He heard a slight pattering at intervals on the few brittle fragments which the window yet retained. Seaton at first thought it might be the rain, especially as the wind had considerably abated; but he soon found there must be some other cause, from the rattling of sand and other coarser materials upon the floor and bed. He crept close to the window, looking out below, but was unable to find out the reason of this disturbance. Suddenly a volley of pebbles bounded past his face, and the moon shining forth at the same instant, a figure was distinguished anxiously attempting to arouse and excite their attention. To his great astonishment he recognised the wayward being whose glance had startled him so disagreeably a few hours before. He recollected the idiot's former signal, and felt convinced that this was a more direct and friendly interference. Seaton carefully pulled away a portion of the stuffing, and was thus enabled to bring his head closer to the bars. This movement was observed; and with an admonition to silence, the strange creature pointed to the ground, at the same time he appeared as if urging them to escape. Seaton comprehended his meaning; but the iron fastenings were an apparently insurmountable impediment. He laid hold of one of the bars with considerable force; and to his great joy it yielded to the pressure. Apparently there was no other individual beneath, or this friendly warning would not have been given. It seemed as if the tenants of the hovel were too secure of their prey to set a watch. He descended cautiously to his companion. A few whispers were sufficient to convey the intelligence. Again he mounted to the window; and, on looking down, found that their providential monitor had disappeared. There was no time to be lost. Seaton again tried the bar, and succeeded in removing it. Another was soon wrenched from its hold, and a few minutes more saw him safely through the aperture, from which he let himself down with little difficulty to the ground. His companion immediately followed; and once more outside their lodging, a new difficulty presented itself. Seaton knew of no other path than the one by which they had previously gained the cottage; and this would, in all probability, afford a leading track to their pursuers, who might be expected shortly to be aware of their escape. But he was relieved from this dilemma by his companion making a signal that he should follow. "Remember thy promise," said he. Seaton was prepared to obey, feeling a renewed confidence in the discretion of his guide. Turning into a pathway near the place where they had alighted, their course was towards a river, which they beheld at no great distance twinkling brightly in the moonbeams. They cautiously yet rapidly proceeded down a narrow descent, fear hastening their flight, for they expected every moment to hear the footsteps of their pursuers. In a little while they turned out of the road, and, by a circuitous path, which the guide seemed to tread with unhesitating confidence, they came to the river's brink. By the brawling of its current, and the appearance it presented, the water was evidently shallow, and might be crossed without much difficulty. Seaton was preparing to make the attempt, but was prevented by his comrade.
"I have some inward impression that we may not cross here. We shall be pursued; and our adversaries will imagine that we have passed over what is doubtless the ford of this Jordan. I know not why, but we must follow its banks, and for some distance, ere we pass."
Seaton urged the danger and folly of this proceeding, and proposed crossing immediately, but met with a decided and unflinching refusal from his companion. They now kept along the river's brink, but with much difficulty. The rain having swollen the waters, they were often forced to wade up to the knees through the little creeks and rivulets that intersected their path. They journeyed on for a considerable time in silence, when the elder traveller made a sudden pause.
"It is here," said he. Seaton looked on the river; but the broad and deep wave rolled past with frightful impetuosity. The moonbeams glittered on a wide and rapid flood, whose depths were unknown, but to which, nevertheless, it seemed that they were on the point of committing themselves.
"The river is both wide and deep!" said the youth.
"Nevertheless, we must cross," replied his more taciturn companion. Without further parley the latter plunged boldly into the stream. Urged on by his fears, and preferring death in any shape to the death that was pursuing him, Seaton followed his example. For some time they struggled hard with the full sweep of the current; and it seemed little short of a miracle when they arrived, almost breathless and exhausted, on the opposite side.
"Praised be His name who hath given strength! Though deep waters have encompassed us, yet His arm is our deliverance."
With a holy and ardent outpouring of soul did this good man render thanksgivings unto Him whose hand had been so visibly stretched out for their protection. Just as he had made an end of speaking, a distant but distinct howl was borne down upon the wind. They listened eagerly, as the sound evidently grew nearer. It was like the short but stifled cry of a hound in full chase.
"Peril cometh as a whirlwind," said George Fox; "but fear not—a way will be left for our escape!"
"It is that malicious hound!" replied Seaton shuddering, as he remembered the beast which had gazed so intently on him, and which was evidently trained for the present purpose.
"We must climb up to those tall bushes with all speed," said the companion of his flight, at the same time leading the way with considerable haste and agility.
From this height they saw, at some distance up the river, three men on horseback, preceded by a large hound, who, true to the scent, was following steadily on their footsteps. They approached rapidly to the place where the fugitives had gone over, when the dog made a dead halt, and looked wistfully across.
"Loo, loo!" said the foremost rider, "hie on, lass!" But the beast would not move.
"Sure now, Mike," said he, as the others came up, "if they've taken the water at this unlucky hole, they'll need no drownin' by this anyhow."
"It's the brute, bad luck to her," replied his comrade. "She's on the wrong scent. Why they're over the ford by this, and we shall have the bloody thief-catchers here before we can open the door for 'em."
"If the bitch had followed my nose, instead of her own beautiful scent," said the remaining speaker, "we should ha' been over the ford too, long ago. They'd as soon think of swimming o'er the bay in a cabbage-leaf as cross at this place. Back, back; and we'll shoulder 'em yet, my darlings. Come along, boys—one of you take the ford, an' watch the road over the hill. Have a care, now, that the rogues be not skulking round the bog. I'll keep the road hereabout; an' thou, Mike, lay to with the hound when thou art on the other side. Maybe they'll not find it just so easy to beat us in the hunting while we've a leg to lay on after them."
The worthy triumvirate here withdrew. The animal was with much difficulty forced from her track; but by the help of a stout cord she was dragged off, yelping and whining, to the great joy of their intended victims. Seaton could not but recognise the very finger of Providence, which had pointed out the means of preservation. No other way was left apparently for their escape. Whatsoever course they had taken, save this, must have inevitably thrown them into the very toils of their pursuers; and he determined to follow, fearlessly and without question, the future impulses of his companion.
"Shall we attempt to flee, or must we tarry here a space?" he hesitatingly inquired.
"Nay, friend," said his guide, "I wis not yet what we shall do; but methinks we are to abide here until morning!"
Seaton shivered at this intimation. His clothes were drenched, and his whole frame stiffened and benumbed with cold. His position, too, crouching amongst decayed branches and alder twigs, was none of the most eligible or easy to sustain. He felt fully resolved, however, to follow the leadings of his friend, being convinced that his ultimate safety depended on a strict adherence to this determination.
The country was very thinly inhabited, and their enemies were in possession of the only outlets by which they could escape to the nearest village. Aided, too, by the sagacity of the dog, their track would inevitably be discovered before daylight enabled them to find shelter. These considerations were too important to be overlooked, and Seaton quietly resolved to make himself as comfortable as circumstances would permit. He wrung out the wet from his clothes, chafed his limbs, and ere long, to his inexpressible relief, the first symptoms of the dawn were visible in the east. Just as a glowing rim of light was gliding above the horizon, they ventured to peep forth cautiously from their retreat. To their great mortification, they saw, at a considerable distance, a horseman stationed on the brow of a neighbouring hill, evidently for the purpose of a more extended scrutiny. Signals would inevitably betray their route should they emerge from their concealment; and escape now seemed as hopeless as ever.
In this fresh difficulty Seaton again sought counsel from his friend, who replied with great earnestness—
"There is yet another and a more grievous trial;"—he lifted up his eyes, darkening already with the energy of his spirit;—"but I trust our deliverance draweth nigh. We must return!"
"Return?" cried Seaton, his lips quivering with amazement. "Whither? Not to the den we have just left?"
"Even so," said the other with great composure.
"Then all hope is lost!" mournfully returned the inquirer.
"Nay," replied his companion, "but let me ask what chance, even according to thine own natural and unaided sense, there is of deliverance in our present condition? Hemmed in on every hand, without a guide, and strangers to the path we should take, if the watchman from the hill miss our track, there is the hound upon our scent!"
There was no gainsaying these suggestions; but still a proposal that they should return to the cabin, whence they had with such pains and difficulty made their escape, in itself was so absurd and inexplicable a piece of manoeuvring, that common sense and common prudence alike forbade the attempt. Yet, on the other hand, common sense and common prudence appeared to be equally unavailing as to any mode of escape from the toils in which they were entangled.
Again he determined to follow his friend's guidance: who, addressing himself immediately to the task, made the best of his way to the ford which he had refused to cross the preceding night. They now took the direct road to the house. The morning was sharp and clear. Seaton felt the cold and raw atmosphere cling to his frame, already chilled to an alarming degree; but the excitation he had undergone prevented further mischief than the temporary inconvenience he then suffered. As they came nearer the hut his very faculties seemed to escape from his control. A sense of danger, imminent and almost insupportable, came upon him. Bewildered, and actuated with that unaccountable but instinctive desperation which urges on to some inevitable doom, he rushed wildly into the dwelling. It was not as they had left it. Several horses were quietly standing by the door; and a party, who had merely called for the purpose of half-an-hour's rest and refreshment, were then making preparations to depart. Seaton took one of them aside, and disclosed the terrible circumstances we have related. By a judicious but prompt application of their forces they prevented any one from leaving the house, and were prepared to seize all who should return thither. A close search soon betrayed the quality and calling of its inmates. A vast hoard of plunder was discovered, and proofs too abundant were found that deeds had been there perpetrated of which we forbear the recital. The old woman was seized; and her capture was followed by the apprehension of the whole gang, who shortly after met with the retribution merited by their crimes.
The maniac proved to be a son of the old beldame. At times, the cloud unhappily clearing from his mental vision had left him for a short space fearfully cognisant of the transactions he was then doomed to witness. On that night to which our history refers a sudden providential gleam of intelligence flashed upon him, and an unknown impulse prompted his interference in behalf of the unfortunate, and, as he thought, unsuspecting victims. Ere leaving the country they saw him comfortably provided for; and, as far as the nature of his malady would permit, his mind was soothed, and his darkest moments partly relieved from the horrors which humanity alone could mitigate, but not prevent.
 Vide West's Antiquities of Furness.
THE DEMON OF THE WELL.
"Avaunt, thou senseless thing! Can graven image mimic life, and glare Its stony eye-balls; grin, make mouths at me? Go to, it is possessed;—some demon lurks Within its substance."
Peggy's well, the subject of our engraving, is near the brink of the Ribble, in a field below Waddow Hall; Brunckerley Stepping-stones not being far distant, where several lives have been lost in attempting to cross, at times when the river was swollen by a rapid rise, which even a day's rain will produce. These calamities, along with any other fatal accidents which happened in the neighbourhood, are usually attributed to the malevolence of Peggy. The stepping-stones are alluded to in our first volume as the place where King Henry VI was taken, after escaping from Waddington Hall.
Some stones are still visible at low water; but whether these are the original "Hippins," or the foundations of a wooden bridge which succeeded them, and was borne down by the ice at the breaking up of the frost in the year 1814, is not known.
The stone image by the well, depicted in our engraving, has been the subject of many strange tales and apprehensions, being placed there when turned out of the house at Waddow, to allay the terrors of the domestics, who durst not continue under the same roof with this misshapen figure. It was then broken, either from accident or design, and the head, some time ago, we have understood, was in one of the attic chambers at Waddow Hall.
One loud, roaring, and tempestuous night—the last relics of the year 1660—some half-dozen boon companions were comforting themselves beside a blazing fire, and a wassail-cup, at the ingle of a well-ordered and well-accustomed tavern within the good borough of Clitheroe, bearing on its gable front, over a grim and narrow porch, a marvellous portraiture apparently of some four-footed animal, by common usage and consent denominated "The Bull." What recked they of the turmoil that was abroad, while good liquor lasted, and the troll and merry tale went round? The yule-log was blazing on the hearth, and their cups were bright and plenished.
"'Ods bodikins, Nic—and that's a parson's oath," said a small waspish figure from the farther chimney-corner, in a sort of husky wheezing voice, "I'll lay thee a thimblefull of pins thou dar'na do it."
"And I'll lay thee a grey lapstone, an' a tachin-end to boot, that I run ower t' hippin-stones to-night, and never a wet sole; but a buss and a wet lip I'll bring fro' the bonniest maiden at Waddow!"
"Like enough, like enough, though thou hast to brag for't," said the first speaker tauntingly—an old customer of the house, and a compiler of leathern extremities for the good burghers and their wives.
"Give o'er your gostering," said another; "Non omnes qui citharam tenent, sunt citharoedi.[iii] Many talk of Robin Hood who never shot from his bow. Know ye not 'tis Peggy's year, and her oblation hath not been rendered? Eschew therefore the rather your bravery until this night be overpast."
This learned harangue betrayed the schoolmaster, who was prone to make Gaffer Wiswall's chimney-side a temporary refuge from the broils and disturbances of his own, where his spouse, by way of enticing him to remain, generally contrived either to rate him soundly or to sulk during their brief communion.
"Who cares for Peg?" said the hero who had boasted of his blandishments with the maids. "She may go drown herself i' the Red Sea for aught I care!"
This heretical, unbelieving, and impious scorner was a man of shreds and patches, a pot-valiant tailor, whose ungartered hosen, loose knee-strings, and thin shambling legs, sufficiently betokened the sedentary nature of his avocations. "I wonder the parson hasn't gi'en her a lift wi' Pharaoh and his host ere this," continued he.
"Or the schoolmaster," said that provoking little personage, the first speaker, whose sole aim was to throw the apple of discord amongst his fellows.
"And pray who may this lady be whom ye so ungallantly devote to perdition?" inquired a stranger from behind, who had hitherto been silent, apparently not wishful to join the hilarity of those he addressed. The party quesited was in the midst of a puff of exhalation more than usually prolonged when the question was put, so that ere he could frame his organs to the requisite reply the pragmatical tailor, whose glibness of tongue was equalled only by his assurance, gave the following by way of parenthesis:—
"Plague on't, where's t'ou bin a' thy life, 'at doesn't know Peg O'Nelly, man?"
"Deuce tak' thee for a saucy lout," said the sutor; "I'll brak' thy spindle-shanks wi' my pipe-stump. Be civil if thou can, Nicky, to thy betters. Sir, if it please ye to listen, we'll have ye well instructed in the matter by the schoolmaster here." He cast a roguish look at the pedagogue as he spoke. But I pray you draw in with us, an' make one wi' the rest."
The scholar adjusted himself, passed one hand thoughtfully upon his brow, and with a gentle inclination commenced with a loud hem, or clearance of aught that might obstruct the free communication of his thoughts.
"Peg, or Peggy, as some do more euphoniously denominate her, was maid, woman, or servant—ancilla, famula, ministra, not pedissequa, or one who attends her mistress abroad, but rather a servant of all work, in the house yonder at Waddow, many years past. Indeed, my grandmother did use to speak of it as ex vetere fama—traditionary, or appertaining unto the like."
"I tell thee what, gossip, if thee doesn't get on faster wi' thy tale, Peggy's ghost will have a chronicle of another make. I can see Nic's tongue is yammering to take up a stitch i' thy narrative," interrupted the leathern artificer.
"And I'd bring it up in another guess way," said Nicholas, tartly, "than wi' scraps and scrapings fro' gallipots, and remnants o' mass books."
"Pray ye, friends, be at peace a while, or I may be dealt with never a word to my question," said the stranger beseechingly.
"Go on," rejoined the peremptory occupant of the chimney-corner; "but let thy discourse be more akin to thy text."
The schoolmaster, thus admonished, again set forward.
"As I was a-saying precedent or prior to this unseasonable interruption—medium sermonem—I crave your mercy, but I was born, as I may say, with the Latin, or the lingua latialis in my mouth, rather than my mother-tongue; so, as I was a-saying, this same Peggy, filia or daughter to Ellen, if I mistake not, seeing that Peg O'Nell doth betoken, after the manner and use of these rude provincials, that the genitrix or mater is the genitive or generator, being"——