"Now a murrain light on all fools, coxcombs, and"——
"Tailors' shins—hang thee, for thou hast verily split mine wi' thy gilly-pegs. They're as sharp as a pair of hatchets," said an unfortunate neighbour who had the ill-luck to encounter the gyrations of these offensive and weapon-like appendages to the trunk of Nicholas Slater, who, in his great ardour and distress at the floundering and abortive attempts of the scholar, threw them about in all directions, to the constant jeopardy and annoyance of those more immediately within their sphere of operation.
"Keep 'em out o't gait then," said the testy aggressor, angry at the interruption, being fearful of losing so lucky an opportunity.
"Peg O'Nelly, sir, was a maid-servant once at Waddow, killed first, and then drowned i' the well by one o' the men for concubinage, as the parson says; and so for the wrong done, her ghost ne'er having been laid, you see she claims every seventh year an offering which must be summat wick—and"——While he hesitated another took up the thread of his narrative.
"This is the last night o' the year, you see," said the other in continuation; "and we be just thinking to bid good-bye to th' old chap, and greet th' new one with a wag of his paw, and a drink to his weel-doing. But the first cause o' this disturbance was by reason of its being Peggy's year, and as she hasn't had her sop yet, we thought as how it would be no bad job to get rid o' this drunken tailor here, and he might save some better man; so we have been daring him to cross t' hippin-stones to-night; for there is but an hour or two to spare before her time's up."
"It is not too late," said the stranger, with great solemnity. Every eye was bent upon him. He still sat in the broad shadow projected by one huge chimney-corner, his face overhung by a broad felt hat, girt with a band and buckle; a drooping draggled feather fell over its crown. His whole person was so curiously enveloped in a loose travelling cloak that nothing but a dark unshapely mass, having some resemblance to the human form, could be distinguished. Concealment was evidently the object. Every one was awed down into silence. The few words he had spoken seemed to have dried up, or rather frozen at its surface, the babbling current of their opinions, that ran, whilom, with unceasing folly and rapidity.
"Silence!" cried the sutor from the opposite ingleside.
This command operated like a charm. The ice was broken, and the current became free. Without more ado, as if in opposition to the self-constituted authority from the high-backed chair, the guests, with one exception only, commenced with a vigorous discharge of "airy missiles," which by degrees subsided into a sort of desultory sharp-shooting; but their words were neither few nor well applied. It was evident that a gloom and disquietude was upon the assembly. There was a distinct impression of fear, though a vague notion as to its cause—a sort of extempore superstition—a power which hath most hold on the mind in proportion as its limits and operations are least known or understood. The bugbear owing its magnitude and importance to obscurity and misapprehension, becomes divested of its terrors when it can be surveyed and appreciated.
"Te misereat, miserescat, vel commiserescat mei,"
quoted the schoolmaster, who, before he could find an equivalent in his mother-tongue, was tripped up by the nimble constructor of raiment.
"The dule and his dam are verily let loose on us," said he.
"Our Lady and her grace forefend!" cried he of the awl and lapstone, whose pipe having unaccountably been extinguished, was just in the act of being thrust down into the red and roaring billets when he beheld a blue flame hovering on them; a spiral wreath of light shot upwards, and the log was reduced to a mass of glowing ashes and half-burnt embers. At this critical moment the stranger deliberately approached the hearth. He threw a whole flagon of liquor wilfully upon the waning faggots, and in a moment fiz, splutter, and smoke proclaimed that the warfare of the elements, like many others, had ended in the destruction of both the contending belligerents. The yule-log was extinguished. There was a general rush, and a consternation of so unequivocal a nature, that tables, benches, platters, and drinking utensils were included in one vast overthrow. Some thought they saw the glowing emblem of Yule transferred to the stranger's eyes, which twinkled like twin loopholes to the furnace within.
"I have thee now!" said he; but who this unfortunate might be whom they had so left, even in the very claws of the Evil One, they knew not, nor did they care to inquire. Each, too happy to escape, rushed forth hatless and sore dismayed into the street, with all the horrors of a pelting and pitiless night upon his head, and thought himself well off by the exchange, and too much overjoyed that his own person was not the victim in the catastrophe.
In the morning Isabel, the landlord's ward, and his coal-black steed were amissing!
Now, it was but a mile or so from this ancient borough to Brunckerley, or Bromiley hippin (stepping) stones, across the Ribble, where, upon this insecure but long-used mode of transit, the steps of our forefathers were guided over the ford. These same stepping-stones were quite as often the instruments or executioners of Peggy's vengeance as the well itself dignified by her name. It need not, therefore, be a matter of surprise that when the appalling and fearful events of the preceding night were bruited forth in the public thoroughfares upon New-Year's morning—a season when news-carriers and gossips, old and young, are more particularly prone to a vigilant exercise of their talents and avocations—we say it need not be a source of either suspicion or surprise that many of these conduit-pipes of intelligence, even before the day was broad awake, did pour forth an overwhelming flood of alarm and exaggeration. According to these veracious lovers of the marvellous, shrieks were heard about the requisite time, and in the precise direction where it must needs follow that Isabel was just in the act of being whisked off by one of Pegg's emissaries, and that ere now she was doubtless offered as one of the septennial sacrifices to her revenge.
It was a brave and comely morning, and a brave sight it was to see old and young go forth to the river on that blessed day. The crisp and icy brink of the brawling Ribble was beset by groups of idle folk, some anxiously looking out for symptoms or traces of the body, others occupied with rakes and various implements for searching the unknown regions beneath the turbid and angry waters. Beyond were the antlered and hoary woods of Waddow, every bow laden with the snows of yestereven, sparkling silently in the broad and level sweep of light, pouring in one uninterrupted flood over the wide and chilly waste—a wilderness of snow, a gay and gorgeous mantle glittering on the bosom of death and desolation.
Gaffer Wiswall was there. The old man almost beside himself with grief, heart-stricken with the blow, felt alone, a scathed trunk, doomed to survive when the green verdure of his existence had departed.
Wet and weary were the searchers, and their toil unremitting, but the body was not found. The "Well," Peg O'Nelly's Well, was tried, with the like result. Surely this was a visitation of more than ordinary spite and malignity. Hitherto the bodies of the victims, with but few exceptions, had been rendered back to their disconsolate survivors, the revengeful ghost apparently satisfied with their extinction; but it is now high time to make the attempt, if possible, to rid themselves of her persecutions.
"Look here!" said one of the bystanders, pointing to the river's margin; "there hath gone a horse, or it may be two, along these slippery banks, but a few hours ago, and the track seems to come from the river."
"Let us see to the other side," said another, "if there be a fellow to it." And, sure enough, on the opposite bank, there were footmarks corresponding thereto, as though one or more adventurous horsemen had swam the swollen waters recently, a little higher up than the ford, pursuing their slippery way by the very margin, along the woods, for some distance, when their track was lost amid these deep and almost pathless recesses.
"Mercy o' me," said one, "it is deep enough thereabouts to drown the castle and hill to boot. Neither horse nor man could wade that hurly-burly there last night, for the waters were out, and the footboy from Waddow told me that nobody could even cross the hippin-stones at eight o'clock. He came round by the bridge."
"But if the beasts could swim?" said another, of more knowledge and shrewdness than the rest.
"Swim!—Go to!" said the small leathern-aproned personage whose functions we have before adverted to at the bright and merry ingle of old Wiswall; "neither man nor beast could have held breast against the torrent."
This was a complete negation to the whole. Nevertheless something had crossed, whether cloven-footed or not they were unable to distinguish, inasmuch as the demon, or whatsoever it might be, had taken the precaution to make its passage in a pair of horse-shoes. The probability was, that Peggy had varied the usual mode of her proceedings, and sent a messenger with a strong arm and a fiery steed to seize her victim.
"We're none on us safe," cried one, "fro' this she div—div—Save us! I'd like to ha' made a bad job on't."
"The bloody vixen is ne'er satisfied," said an old gossip, whose nose and chin had been gradually getting into closer fellowship for at least a long score of winters. "I'll hie me to Bet at the Alleys for a charm that'll drive aw t' hobgoblins to the de'il again. When I waur a wee lassie, the scummerin' dixies didn't use to go rampaging about this gate. There was nowt to do, but off to t' priest, an' th' job waur done. Now-a-days, what wi' new lights, doctrines, an' lollypops, Anabaptists an' Presbyterians, they're too throng wranglin' wi' one another to tak' care o' the poor sheep, which Satan is worrying and hurrying like hey go mad, and not a soul to set the dog at him, nor a callant to tak' him by t' horns, an' say 'Boh!'"
It seems "the good old times," even in those days, were objects of regret, still clung to with fondness and delight—reversing the distich; for—
"Man never is, but always has been, blest!"
It is a principle in our very nature that we should look back with yearnings to our youthful years, when all was fresh and joyous; when our thoughts were in all the prime, the spring-tide of their existence, and our emotions, young and jocund as ourselves, bubbled forth fresh and clear as the mountain-spring from its source. The change is not in the objects around us; it is in ourselves. Looking through the medium of our own jaded and enervated feelings, we fancy all things have the same worn-out aspect, and contrast the present with the freshness and vigour of our former existence.
Turn we now to the former inmates at Waddow, an old-fashioned building in that old-fashioned age, now re-edified and re-built. It is beautifully situated on a slope on the Yorkshire side of the Ribble, beyond the "hippin-stones" we have named.
In a low, dark chamber, panelled with dingy oak, into which the morning sun burst joyously, its garish brightness ill assorting with the solemnity and even sadness of the scene, there sat an elderly matron, owner and occupier of the place. The casements were so beset with untrimmed branches and decayed tendrils that her form looked dim and almost impalpable, seen through the mist, the vagrant motes revelling in the sunbeams. It seemed some ghostly, some attenuated shape, that sat, still and stately, in that gloomy chamber. Before her stood a female domestic, antique and venerable as herself, and the conversation was carried on scarcely above a whisper, as though silence brooded over that mansion, rarely disturbed by voice or footstep.
"I heed not these idle tales. A hammer and a willing hand will pound yon bugbear into dirt," said the dame. "If there be none else, I'll try what the hand of a feeble but resolute woman can do. Yon Dagon—yon graven image of papistrie, which scares ye so, shall be broken for the very beasts to trample on."
"But the dins last night were"——
"Tell me not of such folly. When yonder senseless thing is gone, you shall be quiet, maybe, if the rats will let ye. Send Jock hither, and let Jim the mason be sent for, and the great iron mallet. Quick, Mause, at my bidding. We shall see whether or not yonder grim idol will dare to stir after it is cast down."
With a look of surprise, and even horror, at this impious intent, did the ancient housekeeper move slowly forth to execute her commands.
The innocent cause of all this broil was a certain stone figure, rudely sculptured, which, time out of mind, had been the disturbing but undisturbed inmate of an obscure corner in the cellar beneath an uninhabited wing of the mansion at Waddow. Superstition had invested this rude misshapen relic with peculiar terrors; and the generation having passed to whom its origin was known, from some cause or another it became associated with Peggy's disaster, who, as it was currently believed, either took possession of this ugly image, or else employed it as a kind of spy or bugbear to annoy the inhabitants of the house where she had been so cruelly treated. There did certainly appear some connection between Peggy's freaks and this uncouth specimen of primitive workmanship. Though bearing evident marks of some rude effigy, the spoliation of a religious house at some reforming, or, in other words, plundering, era—the ideal similitude probably of a Romish saint—yet, whenever Peggy's emissaries were abroad and a victim was to be immolated, this disorderly cast-out from the calendar was particularly restless; not that any really authenticate, visible cases were extant of these unidol-like propensities to locomotion, but noises and disturbances were heard for all the world like the uncouth and awkward gambols of such an ugly thing; at least, those who were wiser than their neighbours, and well skilled in iconoclastics, did stoutly aver that they had heard it "clump, clump, clump," precisely like the jumping and capering of such a misshapen, ill-conditioned effigy, when inclined to be particularly merry and jocose. Now this could not be gainsaid, and consequently the innocent and mutilated relic, once looked upon as the genius or tutelary guardian of the house, was unhesitatingly assigned to the evil domination of Peggy. It might be that the rancour she displayed was partly in consequence of an adequate retribution having failed to overtake her betrayer, and the family, then resident at Waddow, not having dealt out to him the just punishment of his deserts. Thus had she been permitted to pervert the proper influences and benevolent operations of this mystic disturber to her own mischievous propensities; and thenceforth a malignant spirit troubled the house, heretofore guarded by a saint of true Catholic dignity and stolidity.
But it seemed the time was now come when these unholy doings were to be put an end to. The present owner of Waddow, tired, as we have seen, of such ridiculous alarms, and the terrors of her domestics, and wishful to do away with the evil report and scandal sustained thereby, was now resolved to dissipate these idle fears, to show at once their folly and futility.
"Well, Mause, the old lady will have her way, I know; but if she doesn't rue her cantrips, my name's not Jock; that's all." And here the speaker stamped with a heavy clouted foot upon the kitchen-hearth, whither the lady's message had been conveyed.
"Thou maun get thy hammer and pick, lad, and soon, too, I tell thee," said Mause.
"I'll do aught 'at she asks me; but—but—to run like some goupin' warlock to the whame o' destruction, wi' one's een open, it's what no Christian will do that hasn' forsworn his baptism."
"Maun I tell her so?" inquired Mause, with a significant emphasis.
"Naw, naw; no' just soa; but thee maun—wait a bit; let's see." Here he began to beat about anxiously for an excuse, which did not present itself with the same facility as the expression of his unwillingness to undertake the job. "Eh me!—Jock Tattersall—herd and bailiff now these twenty years—that I should be brought to sich a pass; an' aw' through these plaguy women. Well, well; but if a good stiff lie, Mause, would sarve my turn, I wouldna' care so mich. Hears to me, owd wench; tell mistress I'm gone wi' t' kye to water, Peg's Well being frozen up."
"Tell her thysel'," said the indignant Mause; "an' then one lie may sarve. I'll no go to the dule upo' thy shouthers!"
"There's Bob i' the yard yon; winnat he do for her instead?"
"I tell thee what, Jock," said Mause, "mistress'll ha't done in her own way; so we may as weel budge sooner as later. But let's a' go together, an' I warrant our dame will be the first, an' she'll stand i' th' gap if aught should happen. Besides, courage comes wi' company, thee knows, an' there's a round dozen of us."
This proposal, in the present exigency, seemed the best that could be adopted. The whole household were full of misgivings about the result; yet, sheltered under the authority of their mistress, and themselves not consenting to the deed, they trusted Peggy would consider it in the same light, and if she should break forth upon them, doubtless she would possess sufficient discrimination to know the real aggressor, and wreak her vengeance where it was due.
Mause was despatched to their mistress, who, after a short period, starched and pinned, her aspect as stiff and unyielding as her disposition, consented to take the lead, and shame the unwillingness and cowardice of her domestics. Immediately behind walked, or rather lagged, the executioner with his weapons, looking more like unto one that was going to execution. Mause came next, then the remainder of the household, not one of them disposed to quarrel about precedency. The room to which they were tending was low, dark, and unfurnished, save with the exuviae of other parts of the premises. Rats and lumber were its chief occupants. A few steps accomplished the descent, the chamber having less of the nature of cellarage than that of a dairy, which, in former times, and until a more eligible situation had been found, was the general use and appropriation to which it was allotted. Seldom visited, Peggy, or rather her mysterious representative, reigned here without molestation or control. At times, as we have before seen, the image, awaking from its stony slumber, played the very shame amongst the chattels in the lumber-room.
Its activity and exertions against "social order" were now destined to be forever ended. Irrevocable was the doom, and the lowering aspect of the proud dame of Waddow, as the door unclosed, and a faint light from the loophole opposite revealed her enemy in all the mockery of repose—grim, erect, and undisturbed—showed the inflexibility of her purpose.
"Now to work," said she; "come hither with thy torch, Hal; why dost loiter so? and where's Jock and the mason with the tools?" But Jock and his compeer were loth to come, and the lady's voice grew louder and more peremptory. "Shame on ye, to be cow'd thus by a graven image—a popish idol—a bit of chiselled stone. Out upon it, that nature should have put women's hearts into men's bosoms. Nay, 'tis worse than womanhood, for they have the stouter stomach for the enterprise, I trow. Bring hither the hammer, I say. Doth the foul apprehension of a trumpet terrify you that has been dead and rotten these hundred years?"
Thus did the sturdy dame strive to quell their fears and stimulate them to the attack. Yet they lingered, and were loth to begin. Nay, one whispered to his fellow that the image grinned and frowned horribly during this harangue, and made mouths at the trenchant dame.
"It's no use," said Jock; "I darena strike!"
"Thou craven kestril!" said she, angrily; "and what should ail thee to shy at the quarry? Give me the weapon." And with that she seized the hammer as though rendered furious by the pusillanimity of her attendants. The whole group were paralysed with terror. Not a word was spoken; scarcely a breath was drawn; every eye was riveted upon her, without the power of withdrawal. They saw her approach, as though endowed with tenfold strength, and lending the whole weight of her long, thin arm to the blow, with a right good will added thereto, she dealt a powerful stroke at the head of this dumb idol. A headless trunk tumbled on the floor; but with that there came a shriek, so wild, woeful, and appalling, that the cowardly attendants fled. The torch-bearer threw down the light, and the whole of the domestics, with dismal outcries, rushed pell-mell through the narrow passage; fearful, inconceivable horror urging their flight. The dame was left alone, but what she saw or heard was never divulged; an altered woman she looked when she came forth, like one of the old still portraits that had slipped down from its frame in the gloomy oaken chamber. She spoke not again even to Mause that day, but seemed as if bent on some deep and solemn exercise. Abstracted from every outward impression, she sat, the image of some ancient sibyl communing with the inward, unseen pageantries of thought—the hidden workings of a power she could not control. Towards night she seemed more accessible. Naturally austere and taciturn, she rarely spoke but when it was absolutely necessary; yet now there was a softened, a subdued tone of feeling, and even a bland expression in her address, which for years had not been felt. Some bitter, some heart-searing disappointment, had dried up the sources of feeling, and left her spirit withered, without nurture, and without verdure, without so much as a green spot in the untrodden wilderness of her existence.
"I've seen him, Mause," said she, as though half in earnest, half-musing, when the faithful domestic came to warn her mistress that the time of rest was at hand.
"Seen who, my lady?"
"Bless thee, silly wench, I've seen William. Nay, nurse, it was thy boy, as thou didst use to call him; and as sure as these aged eyes have wept themselves dry at his departure and decease, I saw his vision this morning i' the image-chamber."
"Eh! the good saints guide and preserve us," said the aged menial, crossing herself very devoutly, more by way of conjuration or counter-charm, than from any proper feeling of reverence or faith in the mystic symbol of our redemption. "There's death at the door, then, sure enough," she continued; "aw this gramarye and foretokening isn't for nought; so who's to pay for it?"
"When the light was gone," said the dame, as though scarcely heeding the interpolation of her domestic, "I stayed a brief space; but what passed"——Here she raised her dim and hollow eyes for a moment; "no matter now, Mause; suffice it that my nephew, who was drown'd seven long years ago, stood before me!"
"But young master, Heaven rest his soul, what can he want from yonder bright mansion of glory, where you always said he was gone," replied Mause, "that he should come again to this pitiful world? Eh me! that Peggy should ha' claw'd so fair a victim."
"Peace, Mause; never would I believe it. Nor even now will I, for one moment, apprehend that Heaven would put any of its creatures, for whom its care is continually going forth, into the power of a base and vindictive harlot—that the All-merciful and All-good would render up an innocent victim to her malice. Better worship Moloch and the devils, unto whom our forefathers did offer a vain and cruel sacrifice. No, Mause! believe me, our faith forbids. The light of revealed truth shows no such misrule in the government of the Deity. The powers of evil are as much the instruments of good in His hand as the very attributes of His own perfections. And yet, strange enough that my devoted William should appear at the very time, and in the very place, when the destruction of the ugly image was accomplished, as though the charm were then broken, and he were set free! I am distressed, bewildered, Mause; the links are too strong to be undone by my feeble and unassisted reason. That he was reckoned by common report as a doomed one to that vindictive ghost, I know; and that the mutilation of yonder image should apparently have called forth his very substance from the dark womb where he had lain, transcends my imperfect knowledge. Beshrew me, but I could readily become tinctured with the prevailing belief, did not my firm hold on the goodness and the omnipotence of the great Ruler of all sustain my faith and forbid my distrust."
"I know not what wiser heads may think; but if I'd seen his wraith rising fro' the image, I should ha' thought—what I do yet—and so"——
"Tarry with me through the night, Mause. This vision haunts me strangely, and I do feel more heavy and debilitate than I have been wont."
Whether the shock was too great or too sudden for a frame so stubborn and unyielding, we know not; but that the firmest often feel more intensely the blows and disasters which others, by yielding to them, do evade, needeth not that we set forth, inasmuch as it is too plain and demonstrative to require illustration. On that same night, Mause, awakening from a short and broken slumber, looked on her mistress, and lo, she was a corpse!
This event, according to the popular belief, would doubtless add another to the list of Peggy's victims, and was looked upon as a terrible token from the demon against all who should hereafter have the temerity or presumption to interfere with her proceedings.
The following day it was noised abroad, and the survivors were mindful to have the entrance to this fearful chamber walled up, and thus prevent any further mischief or interference.
Towards eventide, or ere the lights were renewed in the death-chamber, there came a gentle knock at the hall-door. An aged domestic answered the summons; but with a scream, she fled as from the face of an enemy. A footstep was heard in the hall. Slowly it ascended the stairs. They creaked and groaned, every step seeming to strike with a cold shudder to the heart. They verily thought that the house was beset by a whole squadron of infernals, who had sent a messenger for the body of their mistress. The tramp of the mysterious visitor was heard in the death-chamber. Moans and bewailings were distinctly audible; and Mause, who was in the room, came down with a face colourless and wan, as though she had seen a ghost. She could not articulate, save one harrowing word—
"William!" she cried, and pointed upwards. Seven years ago had he been drowned, according to general belief, one fearful night, in crossing the river by Bromiley or Brunckerley hippin-stones. Nephew and heir-presumptive to the lady of Waddow, he had left his home that evening writhing under her malediction; for he had in an evil hour, as she thought, formed a base-born attachment to an orphan living with Gaffer Wiswall, and generally looked upon as his daughter. It was this curse which clave like a band of iron about the breast of the proud dame of Waddow; for, in the morning light, when there came news to the hall that he had been seen swept down by the ravening flood—perishing without hope of succour—she sat as though stupefied, without a murmur or a tear, and her stricken heart knew not this world's gladness again. Solitary and friendless, this fair creation seemed blotted out, and she became fretful and morose. All her earthly hopes were centred in this boy, the offspring of a sister, and they were for ever gone! Mause only had the privilege of addressing her without a special interrogation. The appearance, or it might be, the apparition of her beloved nephew, seemed again to open the sluices of feeling and affection; to soften and subdue the harshness that encrusted her disposition; but it was only the forerunner of an eternal change—the herald of that inexorable tyrant, Death!
Darkness was fast gathering about them; but the whole household were huddled together in the kitchen, none daring to venture forth to their occupations. A long hour it seemed, while every moment they were expecting some further visitation. The fire was nigh extinguished, for who durst fetch the billet from the stack? The conversation, if such might be called the brief and scanty form of their communications, was kept up in a sort of tremulous whisper, every one being frightened at the sound of his own voice. How long this state of things might have lasted we know not, inasmuch as the terrible footsteps were again heard upon the stairs—the same slow and solemn tread. They heard its descent into the hall. It became louder, and the fearful vision was evidently approaching. The sound was now in the narrow passage close to them. The next moment a form was presented to their view, carrying a taper, and recognised by the major part of the group; it being the very semblance of their deceased "young master," as he was generally called, changed, it was true, but still sufficiently like him, when living, to be distinguished from any other. One loud cry announced their discovery of the phantom.
"Why tarry here?" said the intruder. "Yonder corse hath need of the death lights;" and with that he disappeared. Yet, however needful it was that the usual offices should be rendered to the departed, there was no one bold enough to perform the duty. Nevertheless the lights were kindled by some invisible hand in the lady's chamber that night; and, by whomsoever the office was fulfilled, the corpse was not without a watcher, and a faithful one, till daylight came softly on the couch, driving away the darkness and the apprehensions it excited.
It was past midnight ere the domestics retired to rest, or rather to their chambers; so fearful were they of another visit that, by a little care and management, they contrived so that none should be left alone till morning arose before them, bright and cheerful, dissipating, in some measure, their former terrors.
Softly and cheerily broke that morning sun upon the frosty and embossed panes of Gaffer Wiswall's dwelling; but the light brought no cheer, no solace unto him. The old man was now a withered, a sapless trunk, stripped of the green verdure which had lately bloomed on its hoary summit. His daughter, as he loved to call her—and he had almost cheated himself into the belief—was ravished from him, and the staff of his declining years had perished.
He was sitting moody and disconsolate, and, like the bereaved mother in Israel, "refusing to be comforted," when a stranger entered, and, without speaking, seated himself by the broad ingle, opposite the goodman, who was looking listlessly forth into the blazing faggots, but without either aim or discernment. The intruder was wrapped in a dark military cloak; his hat drawn warily over his forehead, concealing his features beneath the broad and almost impervious shadow.
Wiswall awoke from his study, and with a curious eye, seemed silently to ask the will and business of the stranger; but he spoke not. The old man, surveying his guest more minutely, inquired—
"Be ye far ridden this morning, Sir Cavalier?"
"Not farther than one might stride ere breakfast," was the reply, but in a low, and, it seemed, a hasty tone, as though impatient of being questioned, and preferring to remain unnoticed.
The tapster's instincts were still in operation. With the true spirit of his calling, he inquired—
"From the army, sir?"
"Ay, from the Grand Turk, an' thou wilt."
"The king, they say, hath a fairer word for the dames than for those stout hearts who won him his crown," said the victualler, seemingly conversant in the common rumours that were abroad. "The sparks about court," continued he, "do ruffle it bravely among the buxom dames and their beauteous"——Here his daughter's bright image came suddenly upon his recollection, and the old man wept.
"Why dost weep, old man?" inquired his guest.
"Alas! I had a daughter once, a match fit for the bravest galliard that sun e'er shown upon. She was the wonder and dismay of all that looked on her. She loved a soldier dearly, and her mouth would purse and play, and her eye would glisten at a cap and plume; and yet the veriest prude in all Christendom was not more discreet."
"Mayhap her sweetheart was a soldier, and abroad at the wars; so that these were but the outgoings of hope and expectation for his return."
"Her sweetheart, marry! she had once—but—he was ta'en from us. The young heir of Waddow, as we always called him, at the hall yonder, was her true love; but one night, seven long bitter years back, the flood swept him away: we never saw him again, but Isabel's hope was for ever blighted!"
"And the body—was it not found?"
"Nay, for the current was swift, and bore him hence. The demon—she hath ta'en mine, as the next dainty morsel for her ravening appetite."
"'Tis seven years since I first sought my fortune as a soldier. I served my king faithfully. With him I went into exile. He hath returned, and here I come to redeem my pledge."
The stranger threw off his cloak, and the astonished and almost incredulous tapster beheld the nephew of the dame now heir to the inheritance of Waddow.
"Though swept rapidly down the stream on that dreadful night when I fled, heedlessly fled, from the denunciations of her who had supplied a parent's place from my infancy, I escaped, almost by a miracle, at a considerable distance below the ford, where I attempted to cross; yet, knowing her inflexible disposition—for she had threatened to leave me penniless—I resolved to seek my fortune as a soldier until I should be enabled to wed with better prospects for the future. I contrived to assure Isabel of my safety, but I strictly enjoined secrecy. I was not without hope that one day or another, appearing as though I had risen from the dead, I should win a reluctant consent, it might be, to our union. A long exile was the only recompense for my loyalty. The restoration hath rendered me back, and I have redeemed my pledge. At my urgent entreaty the other night, the first of my return, she accompanied me, and we have plighted our vows at the same altar. I took her privily to my former home. Knowing a secret entrance to the chamber where the image is deposited, I concealed her there, safe, as I thought, from molestation, until I had won the consent of her who was my only friend. To my horror and surprise she discovered me there, and the screams of Isabel had nigh betrayed her presence; but it was evident she thought the grave had given back its dead. I could not then undeceive her, and when I returned she was a corpse! Dying without will, I am now the lawful heir to yon good inheritance, and Isabel is the proud mistress of Waddow!"
This unlooked-for intelligence was almost overwhelming; the old man's frame seemed hardly able to bear the disclosure. He wept like a child; but the overflow of his joy relieved the oppressed heart, full even to bursting.
Yet Peggy was not without a sacrifice, according to popular belief, which sacrifice was offered in the person of the late defunct at Waddow. Indeed, according to some, it were an act of unbelief and impiety to suppose any other, and only to be equalled by that of the attack made by this resolute dame upon Peggy's representative—an outrage she so dearly atoned for by her own death.
The headless trunk was, however, removed some years afterwards to its present site by the brink of "the Well," where, having fallen upon evil and unbelieving times, it is desecrated to the profane uses of a resting-place for cans unto the merry maidens who come thither at morning and eventide to draw water.
Many are the victims now recorded to the capricious malevolence of Peggy; and though deprived of her domicile at Waddow, still her visitations are not the less frequent; and whether a stray kitten or an unfortunate chick be the sufferer, the same is deemed a victim and a sacrifice to the wrath of Peggy's manes.
"It is the shout of the coming foe, Ride, ride for thy life, Sir John; But still the waters deeper grew, The wild sea-foam rushed on."
The following account of an excursion over the sands, from Mr Baines's Companion to the Lakes, will give a very accurate idea of the mode in which travellers accomplish this interesting, though sometimes perilous journey, over the bare sands of the Bay of Morecambe. Taking a horse at Lancaster, and setting out at the same time with the "Over-sands" coach, he says—
"We arrived at Hest Bank, on the shores of Morecambe Bay, three miles and a half from Lancaster, about five in the afternoon. Here a little caravan was collected, waiting the proper time to cross the trackless sands left bare by the receding tide. I soon saw two persons set out in a gig, and, following them, I found that one of them was the guide appointed to conduct travellers, and the other a servant who was driving his master's gig to the Cartmel shore, and was to return with the horse the same evening. He had of course no time to lose, and had begun his journey at the earliest possible hour. We found the sands firm and level, except the slight wrinkles produced by the ripple of the waves; but they were still wet, having only just been left by the sea. The guide appeared to drive with caution, and in no place went farther than a mile from land. We had a good deal of conversation, and I found him intelligent and communicative. His name is Thomas Wilkinson. He is a tall, athletic man, past the middle age, and bears marks of the rough weather he has been exposed to in discharging the duties of his post during the winter months. In stormy, and more especially in foggy weather, those duties must be arduous and anxious. It is his business to station himself at the place where the river Keer runs over the sands to the sea, which is about three miles from Hest Bank, and to show travellers where they may pass with safety. The bed of the river is liable to frequent changes, and a fresh of water after rain may, in a very short time, convert a fordable place into a quicksand. When we came to the river, he got out of the gig, and waded over to ascertain the firmness of the bottom, the water being about knee-deep. Having escorted us a little farther, till we saw the guide for the Kent at a distance, and having pointed out the line we should keep, he left us to return to his proper post. We gave him, as is usual, a few pence; for though he is appointed by government, his salary is only L10 a-year, and he is, of course, chiefly dependent on what he receives from travellers.
"These sands are called the Lancaster Sands, and the guide said that they were at present eleven miles over, from Hest Bank to Kent's Bank, but that he had known them when he could pass directly over in not more than seven miles. The tide forms a channel in the sand, which has been gradually coming nearer the shore for some years past, and has obliged persons crossing to take a longer circuit. It was now the spring-tide, and the sands we were travelling upon would, at high-water, be seventeen feet below the surface of the sea.
"The day was exceedingly fine, and the prospects, in crossing over the sands, were splendid. The whole coast of the bay, from Peel Castle round to the shore beyond Lancaster; the stern crags of Warton and Arnside Fells, on the right; farther eastward, the well-known form of Ingleborough, whose broad head, not apparently of very great elevation, is still visible from every considerable hill in Lancashire, Westmoreland, and Cumberland, and seems to lift itself in serene and unchanging majesty over the neighbouring hills; the broken and picturesque shores of the Kent, beautifully wooded, and forming a vista to the eye;—the fells of Cartmel, rising in the mid-distance, their sides hung with forests, and several ornamental parks lying round their base; and above, and far beyond them, the noble chain of the Westmoreland and Cumberland mountains, whose lofty summits, clothed with light, formed a sublime barrier stretching along the northern horizon. Such are the principal features of a prospect which is not the less beautiful because it rises from the level expanse of the sands, and which was to me the more interesting from the novelty of my own situation.
"The Ulverstone coach, several gigs, and some persons on horseback, had followed us at a little distance, keeping the track left by the wheels of the vehicle which conveyed the guide. When Wilkinson left us, we rode on two or three miles before we came to the channel of the Kent, and there we found a guide on horseback, who had just forded the river from the opposite side. The guide stationed here has long gone by the name of the Carter, and it is difficult to say whether the office has been so called from the family in which it has been vested, or the family have assumed their official title as a cognomen; but it is certain that for many ages the duties of guide over the Lancaster Sands have been performed by a family named Carter, and have descended from father to son. The present possessor of the office is named James Carter, and has lately succeeded his father. He told me that some persons said the office of guide had been in his family five hundred years, but he did not know how anybody could tell that; and all he could say was, that they had held it 'for many grandfathers back, longer than anyone knew.' The salary was only L10 a-year till his father's time, when it was raised to L20; yet I should suppose that the office is a rather productive one, as the family have accumulated some property.
"The Carter seems a cheerful and pleasant fellow. He wore a rough greatcoat and a pair of jack-boots, and was mounted on a good horse, which appeared to have been up to the ribs in the water. When we came to him, he recommended us to wait till the arrival of the coach, which was nearly a mile distant, as the tide would then be gone farther out. I asked if there had been any accidents in this place lately; to which he replied, that some boys were drowned two years ago, having attempted to pass when the tide was up, in defiance of warnings; but that, with that exception, there had not been any accidents for a considerable time. When the coach came up we took the water in procession, and crossed two channels, in one of which the water was up to the horses' bellies. The coach passed over without the least difficulty, being drawn by fine tall horses. Arrived at the other side, the man of high genealogy received our gratuities, and we rode on, keeping close to a line of rods which have been planted in the sand to indicate the track, and which have remained there for many months. We shortly met the coach from Ulverstone, and several other vehicles, and as we proceeded the views of the estuary and the distant mountains became still more beautiful and interesting. Three or four miles brought us to Kent's Bank, on the Cartmel shore. I infer that the river is not fordable for any long period, as the guide told the servant whom I have mentioned that he must return in an hour if he wished to pass over again that evening.
"The peninsula formed by the Kent and the Leven is three miles over; and, after passing it, I came to the latter river, the sands of which are of the same breadth, and must be crossed to reach Ulverstone."
These sands are reckoned more dangerous than the former, as the channel of the river is frequently shifted.
It is safest to cross at spring-tides; the water then is more completely drained out, and the force of the tide sweeps the bottom clean from mud and sediment.
Here another guide on horseback escorts travellers over.
The views up the Leven are fully as picturesque, though not quite so extensive, as those at the mouth of the Kent. A bold, woody promontory, seen in our engraving, projects into the river at the mouth of the ford, narrowing it to less than half the breadth. The two ridges of the Cartmel and Ulverstone Fells, the former clothed with wood and the latter with verdure, run up inland, and carry the eye back to the mountains, round the head of Coniston Water and Windermere. On the Ulverstone shore, to the left of the town, are the grounds of Conishead Priory, which adorn with their rich woods and lawns the gently-waving side of the hill; and the mouth of the Leven opens out to the Bay of Morecambe, the shores of which are visible to a great extent.
The sands forming the Bay of Morecambe, covered by the sea at high water, are crossed every day by travellers whose time or inclination leads them to choose this route rather than one more circuitous, and nearly thrice the distance, inland. Yet the sands are by no means without danger, especially to the uncautious or unwary. Scarcely a year passes without some loss of lives, generally owing to the obstinacy or foolhardiness of the victims. Guides are appointed to conduct strangers across this trackless waste, whose duty it is to examine daily, on the receding of the tide, the several routes by which passengers may accomplish their journey. The places where danger is to be apprehended are the fordings of the several rivers or watercourses, which, even when the sands are bare, still pour forth a considerable stream to the ocean. These fords are continually changing by reason of the shifting of the sands, so that one day's path may on the morrow prove a dangerous and impassable quicksand.
The principal guide has a small annuity from government, and is obliged, in all weathers, to perform this disagreeable but highly-important duty. The priory of Conishead was charged with this office over the Leven or Ulverstone sands, and the guide whom they appointed, besides perquisites, had an allotment of three acres of land, with fifteen marks per annum. Henry the Eighth, on the dissolution of the monasteries, charged himself and his successors with the payment of a certain sum to the person that should be guide for the time being, by patent under the seal of the duchy of Lancaster. Such was the importance and the idea of danger attached to this journey, that on a little rocky island midway between the shores of Cartmel and Furness, there stood a small chapel or oratory built by the monks of Furness, where prayers were daily offered for the safety of travellers then occupied in this perilous attempt. Yet these, called the Ulverstone sands, are scarcely more than three miles across, whilst the well-known Lancaster sands are nine miles, from the circuitous line of the track, though it is said that the shorter passage is the more dangerous. That the longer journey is not unattended with risk may be inferred from the accidents which have occurred, as well as from the fact, that carriages are sometimes left to the mercy of the coming tide, the passengers making their escape in the best manner they are able.
Our tale hath reference to one of these perilous adventures, long years ago; and as neither plot nor story is evolved, the reader is warned, if he so please, that he leave the few following pages unread, unless he be of a temper not liable to suffer disappointment thereby.
The night was beautifully calm: the moon just sinking upon the verge of the distant waters, where the Bay of Morecambe, the great estuary so called, according to some authorities, by Ptolemy, opens out into the broad channel of the Irish Sea.
The stars shone down, keen, bright, and piercing,—"fixed in their everlasting seat,"—ever presenting the same aspect, the same order and disposition, through all the changes of this changing and mutable world. The scene was peculiarly inviting—so calm, so placid, the whole wide and visible hemisphere was without a blot. Nature, like a deceitful mistress, looked so hypocritically serene, that her face might never have been darkened with a cloud or furrowed by a frown. So winning was she withal, that, though the veriest shrew, and all untamed and ungovernable in her habits and conditions, this night she became hushed and gentle as the soothed infant in its repose.
The same night came down to the Kent side, intending to set out on their perilous march over the sands of the bay, divers travellers, well mounted for the occasion. Yet were their steeds much harassed, weltering in mud and foam, by reason that their journey had been both long and hasty, and their business urgent, nor were they yet without apprehension of pursuit. They looked wistfully down towards the west, where the moon hung over the ocean's brim, a red ensanguined crescent, as if about to dip her golden bowl into the raging deep, or mayhap to launch her glittering bark on that perilous tide. For, in good sooth, the travellers on that same day, having forded the estuaries of the Duddon and the Leven, were barely in time for their passage across the sands of the Kent, their destination being the tower of Arnside, standing on a round rocky peninsula, little more than two miles from their present station. Yet was the way perilous, though they had time sufficient for their purpose. The river Kent, or Ken, which, when the tide hath receded from the bay, followeth often at a considerable depth and speed, was at this period much swollen by reason of the late swells and freshes from the hills. Moreover, the tide would ere long press back the waters towards their source, and but few hours should elapse ere the ocean itself would roll over and obliterate every trace of their intended path. Yet though sure and undeviating was the peril before them, another more imminent and perchance not less remote, awaited them from behind. They were pursued. Hot and hasty was the chase, and their blood alone would slake the vengeance of their adversaries.
Pausing ere the first plash was heard in the heavy sands beneath the shore, the foremost horseman of the party thus held discourse. Those that followed were likewise armed, and to all appearance were followers or retainers of the chief, who had been with them upon some foray or predatory excursion.
"We are between fire and water, I trow; but what of that? We must e'en cross."
"And how if the fog of yesternight should come again, or we should miss our track?"
"Tush, Harry, with thine evil croak. There will be time enough to discourse with danger when it comes. Besides, I would know it blindfold, and the night doth bear no token of either distemper or disquiet."
"Thou art passing careless of our jeopardy. It were better, even now, that we follow the track by the coast. My counsel was set at naught, or we had gone forward by Cartmel, and missed this perilous pathway of the sea."
"And with it met the enemy at my gate; or, peradventure, having passed on thither before us, we should have found them in quiet possession of our good fortalice yonder. Truly it were a precious entertainment! We should have Lenten fare, I trow, where they be lords o' the feast."
"Our steeds, I think, would have outstripped them, even by way of the forest and the bridges, but"——
"Thou reckonest not for delay by the hill-paths and the morass, let alone the weary miles that we should have to ride. Tut, man, they fancy not of our crossing this little brooklet here, because I misled them ere we departed; and they are now mightily sure of cutting off our retreat, and getting at the tower before us. How the knaves will slink back when they find the gate barred in their teeth. Forward, Sir Harry, and let the Cumberland wolves take the hindmost!"
They dashed down the slope into the heavy mud by the beach, and soon the little band might have been seen moving like dark specks on the sandy waste, even though night had come on, so clear and unsullied was the atmosphere.
The wind, which through the day had blown light, but piercing, from the north, seemed all at once to become more bland and genial. A pause was felt; then a veering to and fro, like the flapping sail, ere the big canvas comes bellying before the wind; a pause, created by one of those occult and uncomprehended operations of nature, to be understood only in the secret recesses of her power, where all the germs of being are elaborated, but whither the most daring and exalted of human capacities never penetrated.
It was near the turn of the tide, and the wind, obeying her spell, as though at the call of that mighty wizard, was gradually veering towards the sea, and shortly would ride on with the rolling billows, driving forward, like some proud charioteer, the dark waters of the Atlantic in its progress.
The travellers were pricking on their way discreetly, the channel of the river just before them, rippling pleasantly over some quiet star, that seemed to sink deep within its bosom.
To their right was the voice of the restless and mystic ocean, obeying the fiat of Him who hath fixed its bounds—at too great a distance now to excite other feelings than those of their own impotence, and the immensity by which they were surrounded. I know of no sound to be compared to it. There is nought in the wide range of our intelligence that can produce the dread, the almost terrific expansion which it seems to create in the mind, save it be the dizzy view over some dark and unfathomable abyss—an impression that comes over us like the dread unutterable anticipations of eternity!
Suddenly a thin white vapour was seen obscuring the brightness in the west. Then came a cloud-like haze, scudding on the very surface of the stream, wherein the plash of horses' feet announced their entrance. They rode slowly on, but the channel was deep, and it seemed as though some sleight and witchery was about them, for the mist became so dense that the clouds seemed to have dropped down to encompass and enfold them. The stream gradually became deeper, until the foremost horse was wading to the belly, labouring and snorting from the chillness and oppression upon his chest.
"'Tis an unlucky and an embarrassing escort that we are favoured with," said the rider. "The wind, too, whiffles about strangely. 'Tis on my face, now, and verily I think the stream will ne'er be crossed. I trust we are not wading it down towards the sea."
"Troth but we be, though," hastily replied his friend, after looking down, bending as low as possible to observe his horse's feet, where he could just discern the gouts of foam as they ran right before, instead of passing them from left to right.
"Put back—put back, and soon!" he cried, in great alarm; for the mist bewildered them strangely. They did put back, but instead of all obeying the same impulse, some of the party, finding themselves on opposite sides of the stream, were plunging and replunging into it, to rejoin their comrades, every one calling out for his neighbour to follow; so that, in the end, the whole party were so confused that, on being gathered together once more on the sand, they really knew not on which side of the stream they stood, nor which way to move. They seemed like persons discoursing in a dream, and the mist hung about them so closely that they could not, even by dismounting, see the marks of their own footsteps. They felt that they were standing on a bank of sand, which they knew must inevitably, and ere long, be covered by the raging tide, even then, perhaps, on its way to overwhelm and devour them. But this was the utmost of their knowlege, for the direction in which to proceed, or the bearing of either shore, was beyond their knowledge or apprehension. They would now have been glad to retrace their steps, but this, alas! they knew not how to accomplish. To remain would be certain destruction; to go on, might only be hastening to meet it. But move they must, as the only chance of escape; yet opinions were as various as the points of the compass. One was for going to the right, another to the left, another straight forward; so that, what with arguing and wrangling, they became more bewilderd and uncertain than ever.
"I do verily believe we have not yet crossed the river," said one.
"Not come across!" replied another; "why we've been through and through, to my own certainty, at least thrice."
"Thrice in thy teeth!" said his angry opponent; "and so I'll go forward."
"And I'll go back," was the reply. But the precise idea they had formed of these opposite and important determinations was more than either of them could explain; even though they had been ever so certain upon these points, to proceed in a straight line in any direction was impossible, without some object by which to direct their course. Ever and anon was heard a heavy plunge into the stream, but even this token had ceased to avail them, for its course could not be ascertained. The tide was now arresting its progress, and the water moved to and fro in every direction, according to the various impulses it received. The wind, too, was light and treacherous; its breath seemed to come and go, without any fixed point by which they could feel either its arrival or departure. In this dilemma, and without any clue to their extrication, harassed and confounded, they were like men bereft of their senses, and almost at their wits' end. Still they clung instinctively about each other, but their conduct had now taken the opposite extreme. Before, all was bustle and activity, everybody giving directions, hallooing, shouting, and so forth. Now, they were silent, and almost stationary, stupefied, distracted. There is a fascination in danger. I have known those who never could look down a precipice without a horrible impulse to leap over the brink. Like the scared bird, almost within the gripe of its destroyer, yet unable to flee, so had they lost, apparently, all power of escape. It was a silence more awful even than the yellings of despair. Its horrid gripe was on every heart; every bosom withered beneath its touch. The nature of the most courageous appeared to change; trembling and perplexity shook the stoutest frame; yet suddenly and unexpectedly was the silence broken, and the spell that bound them dissolved.
"Hark!" said every voice together; "a bell, by the blessed Virgin!" The sound roused them from their stupor. Hope again visited the prison-house of the spirit.
"On, on!" said their leader.
"On, on!" was re-echoed on every side; but they were still attempting to escape in different directions. Scarcely two of them were agreed as to the place whence the sound proceeded. Yet it came on, at stated intervals, a long, deep, melancholy knell, almost terrific in their present condition. Another council was attended with the same results—opinions being as varied as ever. Still that warning toll had some connection with their fellow-men, some link, which, however remote, united them to those who were now slumbering in happiness and security. Yet of their true course and bearing they were as ignorant as ever.
"Now, by'r lady," said one, "there's either witch or wizard at the tail o' this. Haven't I passed this very place to and fro, man and boy, these twenty years, and never went away by a yard's space, right or left. Now"——
"Right well, Humphry Braithwaite, should I know it too, and yet we might be in a wilderness for aught I can distinguish, either land-mark or sea-mark. Hush, I'm sure that bell is from the right."
"Nay, I hear it yonder, to the left, if I'm not witched."
"Thee'rt gone daft, man, 'tis——Well, if the sound binna from both sides, right and left! I hear it behind me now."
"We must be moving," said the leader. There's no chance for us here. We can but meet the enemy at the worst, and there are three chances of escaping for one of drowning, which way soever we take, at a blind venture. Then let us away together; and may the Virgin and St Bees be our helper!"
But there were some who would rather trust to their own guidance; and what with the indecision of one, the obstinacy of another, and the timidity of a third, he soon found himself with only one companion, besides his good grey steed, when he flung the reins to his control, and spurred forward.
Reckless, almost driven to desperation, he committed his way to the beast's better discretion, as he thought, goading on the jaded animal incessantly, his fellow-traveller still keeping behind, but at no great distance. They halted after a space; but how long it is impossible to say. Hours and minutes, in seasons of pain or excitement, are, in the mind's duration, arbitrary and conventional. To measure time by the state of our feelings would be as futile as an attempt to measure space by the slowness or impetuosity of our movements. Hours dwindle into minutes, and minutes are exaggerated into hours, according to the circumstances under which the mind moves on. We are conscious of existence only by the succession of our feelings. We are conscious of time only by its lapse. Hence we are apt to make the same measure serve for both; and, as our own dispositions predicate, so doth time run fast or slow. True it is that time cannot measure thought. The mind notes but the current and passage of its own feelings; they only are the measure of existence and the medium of identity.
"Halt, Lord Monteagle!" cried his companion from behind; "I hear the sea before us. Hush, and use thine own senses, if they be worth the trial."
The other listened, but it was only for one moment; the next saw him wheel round, urging on his flight in the opposite direction, for he knew, or his senses were rendered deceptive through terror, the sound of the coming tide.
"Halt, Lord Monteagle!" again cried the horseman from behind; "for the water is deeper at every plunge. Halt, I say, for the love of"——The sound died on the speaker's lip, for he was overwhelmed and sickening with the dread anticipation of death.
"On one side or the other, then, I care not which," cried the foremost rider.
"To the right, and Heaven grant us a safe deliverance!"
Away went the panting steeds; but the waters increased; yet were they powerful animals, and they swam boldly on amid the roar and dash of the rising waves. Still it was with difficulty they could breast the torrent. The courageous beasts braced every sinew to the work—instinctively grappling with danger—every effort was directed to their escape. Suddenly a loud shout was heard, and something dark rose up before them. It might be the hull of some vessel, that was approaching an ark of safety. This thought was the first that crossed them. But they felt a sudden shock and a vibration, as though their steeds had struck the land.
They saw, or it was a deception produced by agitation or excitement, the dark outline of the beach, and men hurrying to and fro with lighted torches. They galloped on through the waves, and a few moments brought them safely upon the hard, loose pebbles of the shore.
Joyful was the recognition; for those who had come to their succour were the party from whom they had separated, who had luckily gained the shore before them. But what was their surprise when they found they had been galloping to and fro almost within a stone's throw of the beach opposite the place of their destination! Yet such was their state of bewilderment that it was an even hand but they had put about on the other side, and attempted to return across the channel. In that case no human help could have rescued them from destruction, for the tide already had overtaken them, and it was only their close proximity unto the shore which enabled the horses to regain their footing, and bear them safely to land.
It seems that their pursuers were still outdone, for their stronghold was open to receive them; and the enemy, foiled in their expectations, returned with all speed into Cumberland, lest during their absence some more dangerous foe from the Borders should lay waste their possessions.
THE RING AND THE CLIFF.
"And still I tried each fickle art,[ii] Importunate and vain; And while his passion touched my heart, I triumphed in his pain."
Having in vain attempted to ascertain the locality of the following tradition, we suspect that it may have strayed originally from another county, though it has taken root in our own.
The only place that could by any possibility answer the description which marks the catastrophe is the high ridge above Broughton, in Furness; and even here it would be difficult to point out any single spot which would exactly correspond in every particular.
The Lancashire coast, with here and there an exception, is one low bank or ridge of sand, loosely drifted into hillocks of but mean height and appearance; only preserving their consistency by reason of the creeping roots of the bent or sea-mat weed (Arundo arenaria) which bind the loose sands together, and prevent them from being dispersed over the adjoining grounds. On the opposite coast fancy might often recognise those very cliffs to which our story alludes; perpendicular, bare, and almost inaccessible, with rents and chasms, where little difficulty would be found in pointing out the exact features represented in this tradition.
On the sea-coast, where a wild bare promontory stretches out amidst the waves of the Irish Channel, is a small hamlet or fishing station. Its site is in the cleft of a deep ravine, through which a small stream lazily trickles amid sand and sea-slime to the little estuary formed by the sea at its mouth. Between almost perpendicular cliffs the village lies like a solitary enclosure, where the inhabitants are separate and alone—aloof from the busy world—their horizon confined to a mere segment of vision. The same ever-rolling sea hath swung to and fro for ages in the same narrow creek, at the sides of which rise a cluster of huts, dignified with the appellation of village—some of these ornamented about and upon the roofs with round patches of the yellow stone-crop and house-leek, that never-failing protection against lightning and tempest, according to indubitable testimony set forth by Master Nicholas Culpepper in his Herbal.
The strong marine odour, so well known to all lovers of sea-side enjoyments, may here be sensibly appreciated; for the pent-up effluvia from the curing of fish, marine algae, and other products of the coast, abundantly strengthen the reminiscences connected with this solitary and secluded spot.
It was on a cold, grey morning in October that two individuals were loitering up a narrow path from the hamlet which led to the high main road, passing from village to village along the coast; branches from which, at irregular intervals, penetrated the cliffs to the different fishing stations along the beach. The road, on rising from the village, runs along the summit, a considerable height above the sea; terrific bursts through some rocky cleft reveal the wide ocean rolling on from the dim horizon to the shore. Here and there may be seen the white sail, or the hull of some distant bark, gliding on so smooth and silently as to suggest the idea of volition obeyed without any visible effort. Rising from the ravine, the road passes diagonally up the steep. At the period of which we speak, ere it reached the main line of communication through the country, a reft or chasm in the steep wall towards the sea—a nearly perpendicular rent—left the mountain path without protection, save by a slender paling for the space of a few yards only. Nothing could be more dreary and terrific. Through this dizzy cleft—the sides bare and abrupt, without ledge or projection—the walls, like gigantic buttresses, presenting their inaccessible barriers to the deep—the distant horizon, raised to an unusual height by the point of sight and position of the spectator, seemed to mingle so softly and imperceptibly with the sky that it appeared one wide sea of cloud stretching to the foot of the cliff. From that fearful summit the billows were but as the waving of a summer cloud, undulating on the quiet atmosphere. The fishing bark, with its dun, squat, picturesque sail, looked as though floating in the sky—a fairy boat poised on the calm ether.
As we before noticed, two persons were loitering up this path. They paused at the brink of the chasm. It might be for the purpose of gazing on the scene we have just described; but the lover's gaze was on his mistress, and the maiden's eye was bent on the ground.
"'Tis even so, Adeline. We must part. And yet the time may come, when——But thou art chill, Adeline. The words freeze ere they pass my lips, even as thine own; for I never yet could melt the frost-work from thy soul. Still silent? Well. I know thy heart is not another's; and yet thou dost hesitate, and linger, and turn away thy cold grey eyes when I would fain kindle them from mine. Nay, Adeline; I know thou lovest me. Ay! draw back so proudly, and offer up thine and thy true lover's happiness for ever on the altar of thy pride."
"Since thou knowest this heart so well," retorted the haughty maiden, "methinks it were a bootless wish to wear it on thy sleeve, save for the purpose of admiring thine own skill and bravery in the achievement."
"Thou wrongest me, Adeline; 'tis not my wish. Say thou art mine; we are then safe. No earthly power shall part us. But I warn thee, maiden, that long years of misery and anguish will be our portion should we separate while our troth is yet unplighted. This ring," said he, drawing off his glove, "is indifferently well set. The bauble was made by a skilful and cunning workman. The pearls have the true orient tinge, and this opal hath an eye like the hue of the morning, changeable as—woman's favour. How bright at times!—warm and radiant with gladness, now dull, cold, hazy, and"——unfeeling, he would have said, but he leaned on the slender barrier as he spoke, and his eye wandered away over the dim and distant wave, across which he was about to depart. Whether he saw it, or his eye was too intently fixed on the dark and appalling future, we presume not to determine.
"A woman's favour, like thy similes, Mortimer, hath its colour by reflection. Thou seest but thine own beam in't; the hue and temper of thy spirit. We have no form nor feeling of our own, forsooth; we but give back the irradiation we receive."
"Thou canst jest, Adeline. Thy chillness comes upon my spirit like the keen ice-wind; it freezes while it withers."
The maiden turned aside her head, perhaps to hide a gleam of tenderness that belied her speech.
"Adeline, dark hours of sorrow are before thee! Think not to escape."
He seized her hand.
"Shouldst thou wed another, a doom is thine—a doom from which even thought recoils."
He looked steadfastly upon her, but the maiden spoke not; a tear quivered through her drooping eyelashes, and her lip grew pale.
"But I must away," continued Mortimer. "Yonder bark awaits me," and he drew her gently towards the brink. "It will part us, perhaps for ever! No, no, not for ever. Thou wilt wed—it may be—and when I return—Horror!"
He started back, as from a spectre which his imagination had created.
"That ring—take it. Let it be thy monitor; and should another seek thy love, look on it; for it shall warn thee. It shall be a silent witness of thy thoughts—one that will watch over thee in my stead; for the genii of that ring," said he, playfully, "are my slaves."
But she returned the pledge.
"I cannot. Do not wind the links around me thus, lest they gall my spirit; lest I feel the fetters, and wish them broken!"
"Then I swear," said Mortimer, vehemently, "no hand but thine shall wear it!"
He raised his arm, and the next moment the ring would have been hurled into the gulf, but ere it fell he cast another glance at his mistress. Her heart was full. The emotion she sought to quell quivered convulsively on her lip. He seized her hand; but when he looked again upon the ring it was broken!
By what a strange and mysterious link are the finest and most subtle feelings connected with external forms and appearances! By what unseen process are they wrought out and developed; their hidden sources, the secret avenues of thought and emotion, discovered—called forth by circumstances the most trivial and unimportant! Adeline turned pale; and Mortimer himself shuddered as he beheld the omen. But another train of feelings had taken possession of her bosom; or rather her thoughts had acquired a new tendency by this apparently casual circumstance; and true to the bent and disposition of our nature, now that the slighted good was in danger of being withdrawn, she became anxious for its possession. She received the token. A slight crack upon its rim was visible, but this fracture did not prevent its being retained on the hand.
After this brief development their walk was concluded. They breathed no vows. Mortimer would not again urge her. A lock of hair only was exchanged; and shortly the last adieu was on their lips, and the broad deck of the vessel beneath his feet, whence he saw the tall cliff sink down into the ocean, and with it his hopes, that seemed to sink for ever into the same gulf!
Some few years afterwards, on a still evening, about the same time of the year, a boat was lowered from a distant vessel in the offing. Three men pulled ashore as the broad full moon rose up, red and dim, from the mist that hung upon the sea. The roll of the ocean alone betokened its approach. Its melancholy murmur alone broke the universal stillness. The lights came out one by one from the village casements. The cattle were housed, and the curs had crept to the hearth, save some of the younger sort, who at intervals worried themselves, fidgeting about, and making a mighty show of activity and watchfulness.
One of the passengers stepped hastily on shore. He spoke a few words to the rowers, who threw their oars into the boat, fastening her to the rocks. Afterwards they betook themselves to a tavern newly trimmed, where, swinging from a rude pole, hung the "sign" of a ship—for sign it could only be called—painted long ago by some self-initiated and village-immortalised artist, whose production had once been the wonder of the whole neighbourhood.
A roaring blaze revealed the whole interior, where pewter cups and well-scoured trenchers threw their bright glances upon all who wooed these dangerous allurements at "The Ship."
But the individual whom the rowers had put ashore withstood these tempting devices. He strode rapidly up the path, and paused not until he approached the cliff where the agony of one short hour had left its deep furrows for ever on his memory.
The incidents of that memorable day were then renewed with such vividness that, on a sudden, writhing and dismayed, he hurried forward in the vain hope, it might seem, of flying from the anguish he could not control.
A dark plain stone house stood at no great distance, and hither his footsteps were now directed. A little gate opened into a gravel walk sweeping round an oval grass plat before the door. He leaned upon the wicket, as though hesitating to enter. By this time the moon rode high and clear above the mist which was yet slumbering on the ocean. She came forth gloriously, without a shadow or a cloud. The wide hemisphere was unveiled, but its bright orbs were softened by her gaze. The shadows, broad and distinct, lay projected on a slight hoar-frost, where a thousand splendours and a thousand crystals hung in the cold and dewy beam. Bright, tranquil, and unruffled was the world around him—but the world within was dark and turbulent—tossed, agitated, and overwhelmed by the deep untold anguish of the spirit.
The tyrant sway of the passions, like some desolating invader, can make a paradise into a desert, and the fruitful places into a wilderness. How different to Mortimer would have been the scene viewed through another medium! His soul was ardent, devoted, full of high and glorious imaginings; but a blight was on them all, and they became chill and decayed—an uninformed mass, without aim or vitality.
He was afraid to proceed, lest his worst suspicions might be confirmed. He had heard——But we will not anticipate the sequel.
A loud barking announced the presence of an intruder, but the sagacious animal, when he had carefully snuffed out a recognition, fawned and whined upon him, running round and round towards the house, with gambols frolicsome and extravagant enough to have excited the smiles of any human being but Mortimer.
As he approached he heard a soft, faint melody from within. It was her voice;—he could not be mistaken, though years had passed by;—though the dull tide of oblivion had effaced many an intervening record from the tablet of his memory, those tones yet vibrated to his soul. His heart thrilled to their impression like two finely-modulated strings, which produce a corresponding sympathy upon each other. He listened, almost breathless. The recollection came like a track of fire across his brain. Memory! how glorious, how terrible art thou! With the wand of the enchanter thou canst change every current of feeling into joy or woe. The same agency—nay, the same object—shall awaken the most opposite emotions. The simplest forms and the subtlest agents are alike to thee. Nature seems fashioned at thy will, and her attributes are but the instruments of thy power.
The melody that he heard was a wild and mournful ballad which he had once given to Adeline, when the hours flew on, sparkling with delight, and—she had not forgotten him!
The thought was too thrilling to endure. His brain throbbed with ecstacy. Unable to restrain his impatience, he applied hastily to the door. Such was the excitement under which he laboured that the very sound made him start back: it struck so chilly on his heart. Then came an interval of harrowing suspense. He shuddered when he heard the approaching footsteps, and could with difficulty address the servant who stood inquiring his errand.
"Is—is Adeline within?"
The menial silently surveyed the inquirer, as though doubtful in what manner to reply, ere he answered—
"My mistress is at home, sir."
Mortimer stepped into the hall. The servant threw open the door announcing his name, and Mortimer was in the presence of Adeline.
The meeting was too sudden for preliminary forms and courtesies. There was no time for preparation. The blow was struck, and a thousand idle inquiries were perhaps saved; but Adeline, after one short gaze of astonishment and dismay, covered her face; a low groan escaped her, and she threw herself convulsively on the chair.
Mortimer hastened to her relief, but she shrank from his touch. She spoke not; her anguish was beyond utterance.
She shuddered as though the sound once more awakened the slumbering echoes of memory.
"Leave me, Mortimer," she cried. "I must not"——
"Leave thee!" it was repeated in a tone that no words can describe. Inquiry, apprehension, were depicted in his look as if existence hung on a word; while a pause followed, compared with which the rack were a bed of roses. The silence was too harrowing to sustain.
"And why? I know it all now," cried the unhappy Mortimer; and the broad impress of despair was upon his brow, legibly, indelibly written.
"I am here to redeem my pledge; and thou! O Adeline! Why—why? Say how is my trust requited? Were long years too, too long, to await my return? I have not had a thought thou hast not shared. And yet thou dost withhold thy troth!"
"It is plighted!"
"To my husband?"
Though anticipating the reply, the words went like an arrow to his heart. We will not describe the separation. With unusual speed he descended the path towards the village. He rushed past the cleft with averted looks, fearful that he might be tempted to leap the gulf. He entered the tavern; but so changed in manner and appearance that his companions, fearful that his senses were disordered, earnestly besought him to take some rest and refreshment.
In the end he was persuaded to retire to bed. But ere long fever and delirium had seized him; and in the morning he was pronounced by a medical attendant to be in extreme danger, requiring the interposition of rest and skill to effect his cure.
* * * * *
It was in the cold and heavy mist of a December evening that a female was seated upon the tall cliff above the chasm we have described. As the solitary gull came wheeling around her, she spoke to it with great eagerness and gesticulation.
"Leave me—leave me!" she cried. "I must not now. Poor wanderer! art thou gone?" With an expression of the deepest bitterness and disappointment, she continued, "Why, oh, why didst thou take back thy pledge? Nay, it is here still; but—alas! 'tis broken. Broken!" and a scream so wild and pitiful escaped her, it was like the last agony of the spirit when riven from its shrine. Her hair wet with the drizzly atmosphere hung about her face. She suddenly threw it aside, as if listening.
"'Tis he! Again he comes. My—no, no; he was my lover! I have none now. I have a husband; but—he is unkind. Alas! why am I thus? I feel it! O merciful Heaven! my brain leaps; but I am not—indeed I am not mad!"
Saying this, she bounded down the cliff into the path she had left, with surprising swiftness. Returning, she was met by her husband, with two servants, who were in search. He chid her harshly—brutally. He threatened—ay, he threatened restraint. She heard this; but he saw not the deep and inflexible purpose she had formed. Horror at the apprehension of confinement, which, in calmer intervals, she dreaded worse than death, prompted her to use every artifice to aid her escape. She was now calm and obedient, murmuring not at the temporary attendance to which she was subjected. She sought not the cliff and the deep chasm; but would sit for hours upon the shore, looking over the calm sea, with a look as calm and as deceitful.
Vigilance became relaxed; apprehension was lulled; she was again left to herself, and again she stole towards the cliff. Like to some guilty thing, she crept onward, often looking back lest she should be observed. Having attired herself with more than ordinary care, before leaving her chamber she unlocked an ivory casket with great caution, taking thence a ring, which she carefully disposed on her forefinger. She looked with so intense a gaze upon this pledge—for it was the pledge of Mortimer—that she seemed to be watching its capricious glance, like the eye of destiny, as if her fate were revealed in its beautiful and mystic light.
Sunset was near as she approached the cliff. She paused where the chasm opened out its deep vista upon the waters. They were now sparkling in the crimson flush from a sky more than usually brilliant. Both sky and ocean were blent in one; the purple beam ran out so pure along the waves, that every billow might now be seen, every path and furrow of the deep.
Adeline climbed over the rail. She stood on that extreme verge, so fearful and abrupt that it might have rendered dizzy a stouter head than her own.
"This night are we married, Mortimer. The ring and the cliff!"
The ring at this moment shot forth a tremulous brightness; probably from participation with the glowing hues by which it was surrounded.
"The genii of that ring—said he not so?—they will bear me to him. Our couch is decked, and the bridal hymn——Hark!"
It was only the sound from some passing skiff that crept along the waters, but Adeline thought she heard the voice of her lover.
"He calls me; when will he return?"
She looked anxiously on the ring, as though expecting a reply; but she saw its bright hues diminish, and gradually grow dim in the dull grey light which displaced the gaudy sunset.
"Oh, why art thou gone so soon?" Her heart seemed full, as though in the very agony of separation.
"I must away. His bark is on the deep; and he will not return."
She buried her head in her lap, and wept. But suddenly she started up; she looked on the distant wave as though she beheld some object approaching. She again climbed upon the rail, and gazed eagerly through the twilight on the billows, now foaming back in triumph with the returning tide. Her features were yet beautiful, though wasted by disease; and as she gazed, a smile, rapturous and bright, passed over, like a sunbeam on the dark billows. She waved her hand.
"I have waited for thee. Bear me hence. Haste! Oh, haste! They are here."
She listened. Her countenance grew more pale and agitated. Voices were heard, and footsteps evidently approaching. She recognised the hated sound of her pursuers. Agony and despair were thy last ministers, unhappy victim! She wrapped her cloak closer to her form, and, with one wild and appalling shriek, leaped that dizzy height, by the foot of which her mangled remains were shortly discovered.
* * * * *
In the family of —— is a ring, taken from the finger of a female ancestor of the house who leaped from "The Lady's Cliff,"—for such it continues to be called; and it is still said to be haunted by her spirit. The ring was found uninjured, save by a crack through the rim, where it seems bent by a sudden stroke. Superstition attaches strange stories to this relic. True enough, at times it appears almost gifted with intelligence; though perhaps the answer, intimated by the brilliancy or dimness of the stone, may often be construed according to the thoughts or wishes of the inquirer. It is kept in a little ivory box, and preserved with great care. It is said there never was a question propounded to this oracle—if done with a proper spirit, with a due and devout reverence, and a reliance on its wondrous efficacy—but the ring, by its brightness or its gloom, shadowed forth the good or evil destiny of the querent.
Mortimer recovered. In this village, many years afterwards, lived an old man, whose daily walk was to the cliff. From that height he would gaze until the last hue of evening died upon the waves. He then returned, with a vacant and down-cast look, sad and solitary, to his dwelling. He was buried there in the churchyard; and a plain-looking stone, with the initials C. M., still marks the spot called THE STRANGER'S GRAVE.
 Many a fertile acre has been covered with sand and rendered useless which might have been preserved by sowing on its confines the seeds of this plant. The Dutch have profited by a knowledge of its efficacy; Queen Elizabeth prohibited the extirpation of it. As soon as it takes root a sandhill gathers round it; so that wherever it is planted it gives a peculiar character to the coast. This grass or reed is manufactured into mats, baskets, &c. A legislative enactment, however, in 1742, was issued for its preservation. The Scottish Parliament likewise protected it, together with Elymus arenarius, or upright sea-lyme grass.
THE DEAD MAN'S HAND.
"Yet stay, fair lady, turn again, And dry those pearly tears; For see, beneath this gown of grey, Thy own true love appears."
Bryn Hall, the scene or rather the solution, of the following tradition, is now demolished. It was the ancient seat of the Gerards, by virtue of marriage between William Gerard, about the year 1280, with the daughter and sole heir of Peter de Bryn. It was built in a quadrangular form with a spacious courtyard, to which admittance was gained by a narrow bridge over the moat surrounding the whole fabric. The gatehouse was secured by massy doors well studded with iron; a curiously-carved porch led to the great hall, where, on the chimney-piece, were displayed the arms of England, not older than the reign of James I. A railed gallery ran along one side, on which persons might stand to observe the entertainments below without mingling in them. It was supported by double pillars in front of pilasters, forming arches between, profusely ornamented by rich carved work. Most of these decorations, together with the carved wainscots, were taken to embellish Garswood Hall, near Ashton, a few miles distant, where the family resided after their removal.
In the windows were some armorial bearings of painted glass, the first quarterings beginning with the Leighs of Lyme, instead of Gerard or Bryn, as might have been expected. Here was a Roman Catholic chapel, and a priest who continued long after the family had departed, having in his custody the hand mentioned in the following pages. It is still kept by them, or rather by the priest, who now resides at Garswood. Preserved with great care in a white silk bag, it is still resorted to by many diseased persons, and wonderful cures are said to have been wrought by this saintly relic. It is called the Hand of Father Arrowsmith—a priest who is said to have been put to death at Lancaster for his religion in the time of William III. When about to suffer, he desired his spiritual attendant to cut off his right hand, which should then have the power to work miraculous cures on those who had faith to believe in its efficacy. Not many years ago, a female, sick of the smallpox, had it lying in bed with her every night for six weeks, in order to effect her recovery, which took place. A poor lad, living in Withy Grove, Manchester, afflicted with scrofulous sores, was rubbed with it; and though it has been said he was miraculously restored, yet, upon inquiry, the assertion was found incorrect, inasmuch as he died in about a fortnight after the operation.
Not less devoid of truth is the tradition that Arrowsmith was hanged for witnessing a good confession. Having been found guilty of a misdemeanour, in all probability this story of his martyrdom and miraculous attestation to the truth of the cause for which he suffered was contrived for the purpose of preventing the scandal that might have come upon the Church through the delinquency of an unworthy member.
One of the family of the Kenyons attended as under-sheriff at the execution; and it is said that he refused the culprit some trifling favour at the gallows, whereupon Arrowsmith denounced a curse upon him—to wit, that whilst the family could boast of an heir, so long they should never want a cripple: which prediction was supposed by the credulous to have been literally fulfilled.
What a strange and appalling history would be that of superstition! how humiliating, how degrading to the boasted dignity of our nature! In all ages this teeming source of error has yielded abundantly all varieties of phantasms—the sublime, the solemn, the horrible, and the ridiculous—a mildew, a blight, on the fairest blossoms of truth; an excrescence; a coat of rust, which eateth as a canker, and makes religion, which was given as a blessing and a boon to our perishing race, a burden and a curse. And yet neither good nor evil is unmixed. Such is the nature even of our most baneful impressions that instances do arise where good may come from so corrupt a source. The connection between material and immaterial, between mind and matter, so operates, that sometimes, and in proportion to the strength of the impression, a change is wrought by the mere control of the mind over the bodily functions.
To this operation may be ascribed the wonder-workings of these latter days. We do not question the effects thereby produced; but totally, unhesitatingly, deny the cause. Imagination at times doth so usurp the mastery over the animal and bodily faculties, that she has been known to suspend their ordinary processes, and to render the frame insensible even to the attacks of pain itself.
In one of the northern divisions of the county—we know not the precise situation, nor is it needful to our purpose that we inquire—there dwelt a comely maiden, who, at a period of little more than twenty summers from her birth, found herself in the undisturbed possession, if not enjoyment, of an abundant income, with a domain of more than ordinary fertility and extent. Her parents dying during the period of her youth, she, as the only offshoot of the family, held her dominion uncontrolled. That the possessor of such an abundant stock of liberty should wish to wear a chain is verily a marvel not easily resolved. But so it was; and she seemed never so well pleased as when the links were firmly riveted. The forging of this invisible chain was a work performed in secret. She felt her thrall, but she sighed not to be free! For, alas! a grievous malady had seized her. The light of her eyes—a brisk and winning gallant, in the shape of a male cousin—had departed. He went out to the wars, as was reported, and Ellen refused to be comforted. He knew not, peradventure, of her liking towards him. He was of a different creed, moreover—a Catholic—and she had, in the sovereignty of her caprice, treated him with something of petulance—he thought scorn. What a misfortune, that two fond hearts should have wanted an interpreter!
She sat one evening in her bed-chamber, and Bridget her maid, a little Roman Catholic orphan, who had served her from a child, was busily engaged in preparing her mistress for the night's repose. Now Bridget was a zealous believer in saints, miracles, and the like; and Ellen would often disport herself gently on the subject.
"I wish I could believe in thy legends and thy saints' gear; it would verily be a comfortable disposition of my thoughts in all extremity to have a hope of a special interference."
"And why not?" said Bridget, who confessed thrice a-year, and knew the marvellous histories of a dozen saints by rote.
"Because," said her mistress, "I did not imbibe thy faith with my mother's milk as thou hast done. 'Tis part of thy very nature, wench; and thou couldst not but act in conformity thereto."
"There have we the better of our birthright. But, nevertheless, those who repent and turn to the true faith have the same privileges; yet it is hard, as well it may be, to bend their stubborn nature to this belief. How comfortable to have one's sins struck from the calendar, and to know that we are holy again as a little child, besides ailments of the body innumerable that are cured whenever we can bring our faith to its full exercise!"
"Well, Bridget, if I were a good Catholic as now I am an unbeliever and heretic, dost think that St Somebody, or whoever I might take a fancy to for the purpose, would be propitiated by a few prayers and genuflexions, and restore me to health and—and"——
She faltered in her speech; the banter died away on her lips; memory gave a sudden twinge, and her heart grew dark under the dim cloud that was passing over.
"I'd answer for it, if you were a good Catholic, that Father O'Leary would cure you as readily as he did Davy Dean's sow, that went mad, and bit her master."
"But seeing that I am neither a good Catholic nor even Davy Dean's sow, is there a saint in the whole calendar would think it worth while to work a miracle on such a wicked unbeliever as I am?"
"There's one way, as I've heard tell; that if ye take a sprig of St John's wort, and say three credos over it and a paternoster, and lay it under your pillow, you shall dream of the remedy by which a cure may be wrought."
Ellen did not immediately reply to this suggestion, for she thought that no special revelation was needed to point out a remedy.
"I would give the world if I had it to know what my cousin William is doing," said she in a musing fit, as though some sudden fancy had crossed her.
"And why may you not?" said the ready-witted maid; "yea, as sure as St Peter's at Rome, and that's not to be gainsaid either by Turk or infidel."
"What, dost thou learn these crotchets in thy creed?" said Ellen.
"Nay," replied the other, "it is a bit of conjuration not enjoined by the Church; a kind of left-handed intercourse which we get by stealth from other guess-folk, I reckon, than the holy saints."
"Am I to dream of this too?"
"Why, nay; you may be wide awake for that matter; but you must just take a phoenix feather in one hand, a cockatrice tooth in your mouth, and breathe on the glass, when, as the breath departs, they say your true love will appear therein."
"But he is not my true love, wench; and so I may not bind him with such spell, mayhap."
"How know ye that, fair mistress?"
"Go to; thou dost wound and vex me with thy questions. Hath he not been gone these five months, and never a word, good or bad, hath been rendered to me? Nay, did he not, ere he went, so deport himself with most cold and supercilious arrogance, and even with neglect and disdain?"