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A Sheaf of Yule Log Stories

edited by Rev. A. D. Crake


Originally published in Oxford and London by Mowbray & Co. in 1888

This e-book edition freely available at:


gothictexts.wordpress.com

Based on the text of the first edition


Some obvious errors have been silently corrected and the format of chapter titles standardised
CONTENTS

Preface

Introduction

Night the First


The Ruined Abbey, or “My Grandfather’s Story”

Night the Second


Who Sent Him?, or My Grandmother’s Story

Night the Third


Uncle Thomas’s Story, or Glen Moyr Castle

Night the Fourth


The Embroidered Belt: A Tale of Eastbourne One Hundred Years Ago

Night the Fifth


The Three Black Cats
The Ghost at Lone Leaze Farm

Night the Sixth


Captives and Captors
The French Master’s Story

Night the Seventh


The Parson’s Tale
PREFACE

IN editing this little collection of Christmas Stories few words are necessary, save of
acknowledgment. They are nearly all founded upon facts, real or supposed, related to me by different
individuals. Only two of the Stories—and they the two which are least indebted to the supernatural
for any interest they may possess—are original.
The singular legend of The Three Black Cats has really been handed down in the writer’s family by
oral tradition: the story of The Ghost at Lone Leaze Farm is given in the very words of the farmer, on
whose farm the phenomena took place, and who gave permission for its publication at the time, now
long past: The Story of the French Master, and his Wonderful Dream, is written by my brother as it was
told us both: the last story, The Parson’s Tale, may have appeared in print, but I have only heard it by
word of mouth; it is something like the legend in Mr. Baring Gould’s Silver Store, yet not identical, and
was narrated as a supposed fact.
These particular stories lie on the border land between the seen and unseen; they may be very
incredible; but they will serve to pass away the happy time around the Yule Log, when mythic stories
are most acceptable.

A.D.C.
Introduction

“The boy’s bright dream is all before,


The man’s romance lies far behind;
Had we the present, and no more.
Fate were unkind.”

WHEN I was young it was my good fortune to spend my Christmas holidays in a remote farm house,
amongst the mountains of the lake country—a dear old home—snug and sequestered, abounding
with all which could delight a boy’s heart.
We approached it from the west by a difficult road, skirting the precipitous shores of one of the
grandest of “The Lakes,” although not a well-known one, for railroads and steamboats have not even
now found their way there, and the post-town is a day’s journey away across wild and rugged
mountains.
The house lay in the entrance to a most sombre and mysterious valley, utterly uncultivated, and
almost pathless. The mountains rose sheer to an awful height on each side, and a river rushed brawling
and shallow down the vale, now creeping and swirling under one mountain side, now under the
opposite. It contained abundance of trout, but this was not the season for fishing.
Sometimes a storm cloud would fill the desolate head of the valley, and it looked like the “Valley
of the Shadow of Death” which I used to read about in the “Pilgrim’s Progress,” almost the only book
of fiction permitted then by strict people. At such seasons one hardly dared to be alone up the valley;
the peaks above veiled in cloud and mist, the hoarse brawling of the many currents rushing down the
mountain side, the fearsome silence so impressed people, that one could not be left alone there.
But when the sun came out it turned those mountain tops to the “Delectable Mountains,” and
suggested the land Elysian to my day dreams, for I was an imaginative youth.
There was plenty to feed the imagination. The old folk, each and all, were story-tellers, and I knew
that alternately we should be made to laugh and shudder—with that pleasant sensation which a tale
of mystery produces.
One happy Christmas Eve, nearly half a century ago, I had escaped from school at Redwell Regis,
under dear old Doctor Roper, stern, but kind of heart, and had travelled a long way northward, at first
with many companions, who all joined heartily in the holiday refrain,
“No more Latin, no more Greek,
No more cane to make us squeak.”
But one by one my companions reached their homes, or took other routes, and I was alone when I
reached the dear old holiday home.
Oh, how my heart beat with joy when I saw the Pillar mountain, and Red Pike in the distance, what
visions of skating and sledging by day, and glorious evenings around the cheerful fire, in the huge
cavernous chimney-place, where I generally contrived to get one of the corners, watching the snow
flakes, hissing as they fell from the darkness above, into the cheerful flames.
There was no road passable for carriages up to the farm house, at least not in the winter, and one
of my cousins met me with horses at the Anglers’ Inn; we left the baggage to the care of the groom,
and skated across the frozen lake, heedless of the depth of some few hundreds of feet beneath us, for
these lakes are as deep as the hills are high. I might feel nervous now, but I had no nerves then.
Oh, how clear rose the mountain tops in the bracing air, how homelike the smoke rose from the
old familiar chimneys which drew nearer and nearer, as we flew along; and what a welcome awaited
me when we had landed, and had traversed the remaining mile up the steep valley, with the guardian
hills on either side.
And now I am going to recall those
“Hours that are to memory dear”
and to re-tell the stories I heard night after night, as I sat in that chimney-corner, beginning with
Christmas Eve.
Night the First

IT was just the seasonable weather that night, cold and starlight without, while the flames leapt
merrily from our glorious fire; their edges were tinged with blue, and we all predicted a continuance
of the frosty weather in which we delighted, and glorious skating on the lake.
Oh, how delightful those old-fashioned Christmases in that land of mountains and lakes, when Red
Pike had put on his snow-cap: the higher passes were all blocked by huge drifts; the lakes were already
covered with ice, the sheep had all been brought down from the upper valleys to the well protected
folds, and it made one shiver to think of the bleak heights above.
But we sat in the glow of the fire, all around the blazing log; the candles were huge monsters, made
to last till Twelfth Day, and the log was to burn all that night and the next day, casting its deep glow
into all parts of the room, especially the chimney corners on each side the vast fire place. Oh, how
cosy those corners were!
And we all sang as we lighted the candles, and kindled the log—

“Come, bring with a noise,


My merry, merry boys,
The Christmas log to the firing,
While my good dame, she
Bids you all be free,
And eat to your heart’s desiring.
With the last year’s brand
Light the new block, and
For good success in its spending,
On your psalteries play,
That good luck may
Come, while the log is trending.”

Who was there that night? Let me recall the forms and faces of the dear friends of my childhood,
who did so much to make my young life bright; there was grandfather, still a hale hearty old man,
although he had passed the limit of three score and ten; grandmother, so loving and kind, in full
possession of all her faculties, although her hand sometimes shook, and was unsteady as she poured
out our coffee or tea at breakfast table; uncle Tom, a bachelor uncle, skilled in drawing the long bow;
aunt Mary, a spinster aunt, a second mother to us all; no end of cousins, four from London—three
boys and two girls; seven from the country; and one, a high-spirited, ready-witted lad from Canada,
who had come over to England for his education, and was most popular amongst us, for his skill in
skating and sledging, and his readiness in all kinds of winter sports out of doors, made him the leader
amidst the ice and snow, although only fourteen years of age.
We indulged in all manner of games that evening—played forfeits and blind-man’s buff; acted the
mummers; dipped our fingers into burning brandy, lighted in shallow tins, for the hot raisins; caught
blindfolded at apples suspended by strings to the ceiling—caught them with our teeth, while our
hands were tied; and so on, until we were fairly tired.
And then the cry was raised—“A story, a story.”
“Yes, grandfather, a story?”
“What is it to be about?”
“Oh, about your adventure in the moor, to be sure, that Christmas Eve long ago.”
“Yes, the haunted moor, and the abbey, and the robbers.”
And we all settled ourselves with that love of the sensational so natural to the young, and what
more delightful than to sit round a bright fire, and hear stories of wanderers lost in dismal goblin-
haunted wastes.
“Well, you have all of you heard it before.”
“Yes, and we want to hear it again, ‘tis the Christmas Eve tale.”
“Well, then, my children, you shall have it once more; remember, ‘twas nearly sixty years ago,
and times have much changed.”
The Ruined Abbey, or “My Grandfather’s Story”

The little town of Moorside was rightly named, for it stood on the borders of an extensive common,
a moor in the Northern country, which stretched for many a weary mile, covered with heath or shaggy
wood, save where the mere or bog diversified its surface.
It was the haunt of grouse and wild fowl, which in the good old days, before such districts were let
by their proprietors at enormous rentals, afforded excellent sport to the country folk, and added
savour to their otherwise frugal meals.
A good road, that is good for those districts, stretched across from north to south, connecting
Moorside with the cultivated districts beyond, and at one time it was tolerably well worn by rustic
traffic, but at this particular time it was shunned by all who were not forced to cross it. Something
ailed the moor; they said the place was cursed—at least such was the story they told me when I arrived
to spend my Christmas with my uncle and his daughter, my cousin Maggie, one winter sixty years ago,
when George III. was king, and had only just begun to reign.
I was then very fond of shooting, and that, with a certain other reason, made me choose Moorside
at Christmas-tide, when I suppose I ought to have been in the home circle.
On the morning of the 24th my uncle met me, equipped in shooting costume, just starting for the
moor.
“Do not be late to-night, remember 'tis Christmas Eve.”
“No, I will be back in good time for dinner.”
“And take care of both robbers and ghosts.”
“I don’t believe in ghosts.”
“Then you are before your time, for most people about here say the old abbey is alive at night with
goblins and spectres, blue lights, clanking chains, dismal groans, and all that sort of thing.”
“Just the kind of thing I should like to see for once,” said I, gaily.
“But that is not the worst, John,” said my cousin Maggie, “there are well authenticated stories of
highwaymen on the moor, and some rich travellers have disappeared, and never been heard of since.”
“Got into the bogs, I suppose.”
“Men whisper, murder.”
“Well, you need not be anxious about me, I will be home by dark.”
I gave her a kiss, a cousin’s privilege, and started on my way to the moor, armed with a double-
barrelled gun, but minus a dog, for I had lost my poor “Carlo” and not found another to suit me.
It was a keen frosty day, and the sun shone brightly; the ground was crisp and the air most
exhilarating. I was in high spirits.
Arriving at an eminence on the edge of the waste I gazed over the moorland: the view was
delightful. Here the streamlet murmured in the depths of the ravine, there the jagged peaks of the
hills rose crowned with masses of granite fantastically grouped together, looking for all the world like
the ruins of some ancient castle reared by giant hands, and destroyed by the storms of centuries. Faint
mists filled the hollows, and gathered around the hill tops, making them appear higher than they really
were, and adding the effect of light and shade to the scene.
But I was a sportsman; birds were plentiful, and I went on filling my bag; I did wonderfully well with
grouse and blackcock, considering that I had no dog. How I wished I had got my pointer Carlo with me;
but, poor dog, he lay beneath the turf in my garden at home. I sat down to eat my luncheon at mid-
day, and for the first time noticed gathering clouds in the north-west.
“That looks like snow,” I thought; “but I shall be home before it comes on.”
I resumed my sport and wandered further and further into the depths of the moor, the hours sped
on so quickly that I did not notice their swift passage till the sun sank westward towards a bank of
angry-looking clouds, and I began to think it was time to trudge homewards.
I looked around for the landmarks by which I was accustomed to guide my way, for it was not the
first time I had visited this moor, as the reader may guess, and was astonished to see how far I had
wandered. I was many miles from home; far to the southward lay the peak called “The Fool’s Cap,”
from its quaint resemblance to the head-dress with which naughty boys were invested at school.
I started vigorously on my homeward path, but the miles before me seemed long, and the heath
and gorse were too thick for fast walking. The sun had disappeared behind the heavy bank of deep
black snow clouds before I had conquered the ascent of the hill, to the south of the valley, which had
been the limit of my ramble.
But the twilight was unusually long, and I had little fear of losing my way, when a gust of wind
swept with a dismal wail over the hill top, and the fir trees bent before it.
Another, then another, and I perceived that a storm was rising fast. I looked behind; the bank of
clouds had risen and had entirely lost its monotonous outlines; it was broken into spires and pinnacles
of vapour, and one huge mass had assumed the form—at least, I thought so—of a giant fiend,
stretching forth its arms as if to embrace mid-air.
I hurried onward; I gained the table land; I saw the acclivity before me from which, when gained, I
should obtain a view of the town. Onward, onward, for about ten minutes, when down it came and
the air was thick with snow.
They are plucking their geese over head in style to-night thought I, and still strode on; but alas! I
could no longer see a hundred yards before me, and the snow was up to my ankles. Onward for
another quarter of an hour, and I could not see ten yards; there was no path, no track, and I was
utterly lost; I knew not where I was going.
Still I strode mechanically on, for the air was bitterly cold, and when I hesitated for a moment to
think, the blast chilled me through and through.
How long I wandered I knew not, nor where, but it must have been for hours, and I became very
much alarmed, and indeed the danger was great. Could I persevere till morning? if I did not the cold
would kill me. How I longed for my uncle’s warm fire-side; how I thought of the promised Christmas
Eve festivities, and then of the anxiety of my uncle and Maggie. Poor Maggie. Well, there was a secret
between us, I shall not tell you youngsters for you wouldn’t understand it.
“Maggie is short for Margaret which is grandmamma’s name, isn’t it?” said a childish voice.
“Sh, sh, sh,” said the rest.
At last the snow ceased, but it still continued very dark; I was about to dig me a hole in the snow
and lie down, for I had heard that the snow itself will give warmth if it quite covers you, when I saw—
a light!
I hurried towards it, my strength renewed by hope; I crossed ravines, half choked with snow; I
emerged on the open moor. Yes, it was the light from a window, but what window? Now I was close:
why, it was a Gothic window—a kind of church window; how came it there on the moor? Now I saw
through it all, it was the abbey—the old ruined abbey—raising its form in the darkness before me.
A queer shudder passed through me, what you may call a creepy feeling. I remembered my uncle’s
story that morning. The light proceeded from a window in one of the chambers of the abbey, which
was almost untouched by the hand of time, and it came from a fire, for it flickered and flickered as the
flame rose and fell.
“Well,” thought I, recovering my courage, “it doesn’t burn blue; some benighted travellers have
taken shelter there, and I will join them and take my chance what manner of men they may be.”
I crossed a ditch, ascended a bank, clambered over ruined walls, entered a corridor, and there
before me was the chamber, probably once the “hospitium,” lighted up by the fire, I advanced, my
gun ready in case of need.
The room was empty.
There was a bundle of sticks and blocks of wood by the fire, from which it had been replenished;
other traces of inhabitants there were none.
I was not, however, credulous enough to believe that ghosts had lighted this earthly fire; I had
always been a staunch disbeliever in such things, and I concluded—well, I did not know what to
conclude—but this I saw, there was a comfortable fire before me, and I meant to stay there.
So I opened my wallet, got out my whisky flask, found I had a sandwich or two left, and made as
good a supper as circumstances permitted, and watched my steaming boots and leggings as the fire
expelled the damp they had gathered in the snow.
An hour had passed, and I felt sleepy, but still, not knowing who they were who had built the fire
and when they might return, I kept my self awake as long as I could, but every now and then I nodded
and brought myself up with a start.
I tried to think of various things to keep myself awake, but I was in that state when one hardly
knows when one is awake or dreaming, when I became conscious of a strange sound—strange at that
place and hour.
It was the sound of solemn music, and it seemed to come from the ruined chapel hard by. I listened
intently, and fancied I distinguished Latin words; there was a pause, and I thought that a single voice
intoned “Gloria in excelsis Deo,” when the whole choir took up the strain, “pax in terra hominibus
bonæ voluntatis,” or I dreamt they did.
I remembered all at once that this was Christmas night, when the monks of old were wont to chant
their midnight mass, and a thrill of awe passed through me. Could it be that the spirits of those long
departed votaries were permitted to re-enact the scenes of their past worship on earth on this night
of nights? I rose now, fully awake, and on tip-toe was about to seek the spot whence the sounds
seemed to proceed, when the music was no longer heard.
“Oh, grandfather, what was it?”
Perhaps a dream, who shall say? but at all events I was now fully awake, and, as it turned out, that
wakefulness saved my life.
I had just reached the portals of the chapel, bent on ascertaining the cause of the sounds, which I
supposed had broken my sleep, when I heard heavy footsteps approaching.
Had I been before the fire I should, I think, have remained there to abide the approach of the
owners thereof, but now being in darkness, and in a spot whence I could see into the chamber I had
left through a dark window, I thought it as well to discover who they were before introducing myself
to them.
The steps drew nearer, and I heard rough voices.
“Take care, this bloke is heavy, you will hurt him if you let him fall.”
“Curse him, he has given more trouble than he is worth.”
“He almost managed to crack your lubbery head.”
Four men carrying a burden, followed by two others, came forward into the light, and then let the
burden fall with a dull thud on the ground. What was it, that ghastly burden?
I bent forward and looked through the window, taking care not to expose myself.
“See what he has got in his pockets.”
I saw now, the burden was a murdered man, and the six were assassins, foul midnight assassins.
There lay the victim, a middle-aged man, respectably dressed, with a ghastly wound on his
forehead, evidently inflicted by some blunt instrument; he had not fallen without a struggle, as was
evident by the state of the clothes of his murderers, which were disarranged and spotted with blood.
And now they were rifling his pockets, and as they did so, one looked up for a moment, and I caught
his face, and I knew him.
It was the face of a well-known vagabond, always lounging about the town of Moorside, with no
ostensible means of getting his living, yet always seeming flush of money, and treating other scamps
to drink. I knew now where he got his wealth.
“Don’t leave anything behind you to go down with the carcase into the peat-hag.”
“Where he will find good company before him,” said another, laughing grimly.
“A poor spec this time, only twenty shiners, not more than four apiece.”
“The toggery is worth something.”
“Too dangerous to keep; people may know clothes again, but not money.”
“Why, Bill, you told us that he was rich, and that he had offered you a guinea to guide him over the
moor.”
“WelI, we must be glad of what we can get, 'taint many who will venture to cross the moor now,
we have made it too hot, and if this fellow hadn’t had particular business he’d never have been game
for the trip.”
“Here is a pocket-book,” said one, producing it as he spoke, and they opened it eagerly; it was full
of bank notes, as I could gather from their talk.
They sat by the fire to count them, and I was just meditating how I could best get away. What could
I do in so wild a night?—when one of them suddenly exclaimed with an oath—
“How came that whiskey flask there?”
I had left my flask by the fire.
“Must have tumbled out of the bloke’s pocket.”
“Nothing haven’t been near the fire, and here somebody’s been chawing his supper; there’s been
a cove here.”
“To be sure there has.”
They looked suspiciously around, and conversed with each other in so low a tone that I could not
catch their words.
What was I to do?
They were strong ruffians, men who seemed as if they might have strangled a baby in its cradle
and thought it a joke; no mercy was to be expected, and if caught I could only hope to sell my life
dearly. Two courses at once suggested themselves: the first to go forth into the storm; the second to
hide amongst the ruins, for by the help of torches they might track my footsteps through the snow,
with the certainty of blood hounds, and I was stiff and faint already with fatigue: even if they did not
catch me, before morning I should sink down somewhere and freeze to death, while the ruins would
at least give some shelter, and afforded many a hiding place, which I knew, for I had visited the place
often in my boyish days, and enjoyed many a prank among its recesses.
The men had at last come to the resolution to search the place, and rising, took large brands, which
they lit to serve as torches.
Now I remembered a circular staircase which led up the half-ruined tower, and which had a door,
half way up, opening into a gallery, which ran all round the choir of the abbey church above the arches,
just where the clerestory began, the like passage you may see in many an old cathedral.”
“Yes, there is one at Exeter,” said grandson Frank.
“And in Christ Church, Oxford; I have often thought how I should like a run round,” said young Guy.
“Oh, go on, go on” said a dozen voices.
Well, then, it struck me as they rose that they would have a job to hunt me round that gallery, and
they could not come on by any possibility more than one at a time, while I had my gun and plenty of
powder and shot. I began to feel some hope; I groped in the darkness for the foot of the central tower,
and found it just as their lights began to appear where I had been a moment before.”
“Oh, grandfather, if you had not known the place,” said little Florence.
We are all in GOD’S hands, dear, and it was not without His foreknowledge of the future, when I
searched that very passage out, under the blazing light of a July sun, streaming through the shattered
windows; but now how different, the snow had drifted into the staircase, and I trod upon it as I
clambered up, and at last entered the long narrow corridor of which I spoke, running all round above
the choir, piercing the buttresses which supported the roof at frequent intervals.
I heard them pursuing me, and from my elevated post in that wind-swept gallery, beheld them
searching every nook and corner of the church below, looking behind ruined pillar and shattered altar,
their bludgeons in their right hands, their torches in their left.
“There is no one here,” said one, and I began to think I might escape their search, when one of
them, as they returned to the nave, noticed that the old door at the foot of the tower steps was open—
in my haste, for they were close behind me, I had forgotten to shut it.
“That door was shut last night,” said another.
“Very well, go upstairs and search the tower, but I don’t think you’ll find anybody.”
I omit the oaths which garnished every phrase they used.
Swearing at the cold wind as they ascended, and cursing their ill-luck in having to leave the fire and
break their shins over the fallen stones, but still aware that their wicked livelihood, and their very
necks were in danger if any visitor had seen their doings, they ascended.
“Here are steps in the snow; there is one footmark, there another; we shall have him, curse him.”
Their blood was up; they were now on a level with the gallery, wherein I had taken shelter, and my
blood was up, too. The passage was so narrow that only one man could advance at a time, the second,
and all the rest, must come on in a line behind him. I felt determined to avenge the blood they had
shed, as well as to save my own life. I was at the extremity of the passage, which was nearly fifty feet
in length, and of course quite straight; luckily there was light enough to see my work, their torches
supplied that, and I stood with my double-barrelled gun presented.
They had all entered the long, narrow passage, and the leader was within a dozen paces of me,
when I fired my first barrel.
Down went the leader with a fearful shriek, which was echoed by the second villain, who had
caught some of the discharge too. I fired the second barrel, seeing the following men clearly as the
first two had dropped and choked the passage with their bodies, and the third brute caught it also,
and fell staggering; the fourth must have been wounded, and I expect the fifth got some stray shots.
Then I dashed round the passage, ran into a recess, and coming on the other side of the choir
unpursued, loaded both barrels again. I watched them across the choir, which lay beneath, and saw
them bear two of their comrades away, dead, one for each barrel; they must have been the first and
third in line, while the second and fourth, who seemed to stagger dreadfully, got out on their legs, and
I think the fifth must have smarted somewhat.
This I only indistinctly saw by the moonlight, for they had put out their torches—it was now clear
overhead.
Crack! crack! came pistol bullets, fired at random down the passage, but I was in the other gallery;
still, I knew they would fire down that in its turn—the two, if not three, who were left, would sell their
own lives to get mine.
I didn’t stay in the gallery over the north side long; 'twas well I didn’t, for some bullets came down
and flattened against the wall where the passage turned. I was then at the eastern end where the
gallery ran across from side to side, but I anticipated a rush along each side north and south at the
same time, so that my opponents would come upon me in two opposite directions. They knew the
abbey well enough, and would easily guess where to find me.
Before me was a flight of steps leading up to the roof; I ascended them rapidly and reached the
summit. I was safe here from all but the bitter weather, for only one at a time could ascend the spiral
staircase, and I carried two lives with me, one to each barrel of my gun.
Crack! crack I went their pistols or guns, whichever they were; they were firing along each gallery
south and north at the same time. Ah! there goes the rush, they are trying to get at me from both
sides at once, as I anticipated. I laughed inwardly as I thought of their disappointment when they met
from opposite directions and discovered the bird was flown.
All was still for a moment, and I had leisure to look abroad; the wind had gone down, the snow had
ceased, the moon was shining calmly on the whitened expanse of the moor. Ah! what is that on the
moor, a body of men with torches approaching the abbey; there goes a horn.
Friends or foes? there are twenty of them.
Oh, how my heart beat for the next few minutes, until I saw my late enemies rush out of the abbey
in the opposite direction to the advancing party and fly towards a deep ravine for shelter. The horn
was again blown, and I knew now that these were my friends come out to seek and save me. I ran
down the tower, and in a few minutes my hand was clasped by my uncle, and then shaken again and
again with heartiness by all present.
They had heard the guns while they were seeking me, not far off, and had come to my rescue, not
quite comprehending the cause of the fusillade, and I was saved.
They found the body of the murdered man, a commercial traveller, which the robbers had not
found time to hide, and two dead bodies besides, but neither of them was the man I knew.
You can guess the joy with which I was welcomed at my uncle’s fireside. Maggie, poor Maggie,
actually cried for joy. I consoled her by telling her I lived for her, and so I did, and she for me.
“Grandmamma,” said several voices.
“But what became of the rest of the robbers?”
The ruffian they called Bill was speedily arrested, and I identified him on oath; he split, as they
called it, upon his ‘pals,’ of whom only three survived, for a third of their party fell a victim to my
double-barrelled gun, dying in the ravine where they took refuge, and where it was useless to pursue
them that night. The other two were caught in time, and all three swang together as they deserved,
but not till they had confessed to a dozen murders at least. They had buried their victims in a peat-
hag, as they called a certain quicksand in the moor, which swallowed the bodies up, so that they never
could be recovered, and they had spread carefully abroad the report that the abbey was haunted, so
that it might serve for their lurking place the better.
And now, dear ones, here comes Jennie to say the Christmas supper is ready. Hurrah for turkey
and mince-pie!
Night the Second

THE second day of our holidays was Christmas day; we all went to Church, six miles off across the
lake, in the morning, travelling in a variety of ways. We boys all skated over the lake, which was three
miles across, for the Church was on the other side. A sledge had been prepared for the old people,
and the girls, and my uncles, rode saddle horses, while the labourers on the farm, mostly trudged on
foot; for no one would miss Church on Christmas day.
The old-fashioned Church, bedecked with ivy and holly, the village choir with sackbut, psaltery,
dulcimer, and all kinds of music, singing at the top of their voices, “Hark the Herald Angels sing,” the
cheerful greetings from friends and neighbours in the Churchyard before and after the Service, all
come back to me as I write.
Well, we returned home, as we came: and what appetites we had for our Christmas dinners I need
not tell you: turkey and roast beef, plum pudding and mince pies: then innocent mirth all the
afternoon, while I think our elders mostly slept. Then in the evening, all were wide enough awake, to
enjoy a bountiful supper.
We were a little tired this evening, just too tired for many games, and just delightfully ready for a
story, it was grandmother’s turn this time.
“Let grandmother tell her Christmas story; we have it every Christmas day.”
“Then you must be tired of hearing it,” said the dear old lady.
“No, we are never tired of it; besides, it comes only once a year.”
Our grandmother had long passed that limit of three score years and ten, which the psalmist has
pointed out as the natural term of man’s life upon earth; but her eye was still bright and her voice yet
strong; she looked quite handsome in her widow’s cap, with the gray locks on either side of her comely
face: such a dear old soul,—she has long been at rest, but she lives still in our loving remembrances.
She saw it was no use to resist any longer, so after a while she settled herself comfortably in her
arm chair and began.
Who Sent Him?, or My Grandmother’s Story

Nearly half a century ago, my dear children, I spent my first Christmas eve in this old house—old
even then. It was just after our marriage, and, strange to say, I was left alone for the first time after
the wedding day—on this night, of all others.
“Where were you, grandfather?” asked several voices.
On that very afternoon a farm-servant whom he had not seen before, came over from Keswick to
tell him of the dangerous illness of his sister, who had married and settled there. The messenger said
he was to bid him come at once, for she might not live out the night. Poor John—he was a loving
brother, as well as a loving husband, and the news cut him up badly. All I could say was—
“You must go at once, John.”
And although I did not half like the prospect of a lonely Christmas day, I hurried to pack his things
in his saddle bags, and to get him a good dinner before he started.
“Good-bye, little woman,” he said, “keep your spirits up; you won’t be lonely, not very lonely, I
hope; and I shall trust to bring you back good news—she has been like this before. If you do not like
being left without a man on the premises, all you have to do is to send for old Martin the shepherd to
come and sleep here.”
“I shan’t trouble him,” I replied, “Keziah and the baby will be company enough for me; only it will
be a very, very dull Christmas Day.”
“Well, dear one, you will go to church in the morning, and you may tell the parson why I am not
there, as a church-warden ought to be; and I daresay he will invite you to join the family party at the
vicarage.”
So his horse was brought to the door; he bade me good-bye, and rode away. I watched him till he
turned the corner down the valley, and then went in, with a heavy heart, but without any forebodings
of greater evil; for I was not at all afraid of the prospect of a night alone, with that stout wench, Keziah,
our maid servant.
When nightfall came on, we made ourselves as comfortable as we could before a roaring yule log,
like this; we lit our Christmas candles and sat together for company, with the baby’s cradle so placed
that I could rock him with my feet as I knitted a pair of comforters for John.
There was less distinction between mistress and maid then than now; Keziah was full of spirits and
made a good companion.
So we had supper—roast beef and mince pies; we drank our hot spiced ale with a roasted apple
floating on the top of each tankard, and wished each other a merry Christmas, for want of other
company.
All at once we were startled by a violent rush against the door, like the onset of some large dog.
We looked at each other in some slight alarm. It was repeated.
Keziah was not chicken-hearted; she got up and opened the outer door without more ado, to see
what it was; then shut it again, in spite of some resistance, and came back laughing.
“Oh! missus, only think, if there bain’t old Martin’s big black dog, that ugly Rover, at the door: I
could hardly keep him out.”
It was manifest Rover did not mean to be kept out; he continued scratching at the door, with now
and then a slight howl, by way of variety.
I went to the window, opened it, and called
“Go home, Rover; go home, bad dog.”
“Go home,” cried Keziah, in chorus, “or your master will hatchel your hide to-morrow.”
The only answer was a plaintive howl, which said so plainly “Let me in,” that I could not resist it,
and opened the door.
He seemed quite satisfied,—went to the fire, lay down, and winked his eyes in the light, wagging
his tail.
It was now time to go up to bed, and we lit our bedroom candles, when, to our astonishment, Rover
manifested a great disapprobation of our proceedings, barked, whined, pulled at our dresses, and in
every way a dog could, signified his pleasure that we should stay down stairs.
His persistence surprised us both, and it continued until, although not very superstitious, we
yielded so far as to decide we would not go to bed until we heard the bells, in the distance, ringing the
midnight chime for Christmas Eve.
We replenished the fire, took up our knitting again—for books were scarce and work our best
resource; besides you may knit and talk; but the time passed wearily away, and we felt ourselves
growing nervous, although we hardly knew why or wherefore.
“There they are.”
The sweet chime came floating on the frosty snow-laden air up the valley, filled with the
associations of that holy night. We opened the door and stood outside to listen: the stars seemed to
remind me of that night when they looked down on the shepherds of Bethlehem, ere the heavens
were opened and the angelic choir appeared.
As the sweet sounds came floating, over lake and fell, to our secluded valley, filling the air with
heavenly music, they brought remembrances of happy Yule-tides long past, of friends with whom one
had listened to their joyous burden in by gone days. Now whenever I hear them, they remind me of
that night of which I am telling, and of the manner in which our peace was then broken.
The cold was too intense to allow us to linger long out of doors, and we were about to turn in,
when we heard the sound of steps in the distance.
“Who can it be?” I said—“ some benighted traveller?”
“It may be the boys from the cottages (where the farm labourers lived), come to hunt the wren.”
“To hunt the wren?“ said I; “why do they persecute the poor bird to-night?”
“'Tis an old custom our people have borrowed from our neighbours, the Manxmen. When the
Christmas bells have ceased, after midnight, they go in search of a wren, and when they have found
her, they stone her to death and put the body on a bier; after which they solemnly carry her to the
churchyard and bury her, singing dirges which they call her knell, after which Christmas begins.”
“But what does it all mean?”
“That is more than I can tell you.”
“Well, it is a very cruel custom, that is all I can say; but look at the dog.”
He was lying before the fire, as if half asleep, but seemed to spy an enemy in his dreams; for he
kept on growling in his deepest bass.
“Come, Rover, good dog, what is it?”
He lifted up his nose, gave another growl, and then the nose dropped between his paws again.
We were both very tired, and though the dog’s conduct had made us feel uneasy, yet we thought
there could be no danger while he remained below to guard us; so first opening all the inner doors,
that he might range the house at his will, and carefully barring all the outer ones, we both went
upstairs, intending to sleep together for company and warmth, with baby in his little cot by our
bedside. Yes, Richard (addressing my father), you were very good that night.
“I was too young to help you much, mother,” replied my father.
The moon had risen, and shone through the window, and her light fell upon his sweet little face—
the sweetest object in all the world to a fond mother’s eyes.
I thought of Him who sanctified maternal love when He lay, on this night, in His cradle at
Bethlehem, and sang softly the lullaby—

“'Sleep, my child; lie still and slumber:


Holy angels guard thy head.'

Keziah was already giving audible evidence that she was asleep, and I lay down at last, and soon
slept, too.
How long, I know not. A very simple sound, yet an alarming one, aroused me—the falling of broken
glass on a stone floor.
“Keziah, do you hear?”
She only snored in reply.
A dull rustling sound followed.
“There can be nothing amiss,” I thought, “or I should hear the dog.”
While this thought was yet in my mind, a fierce savage growl broke the silence—oaths—a terrible
struggle. Keziah woke up aghast!
What is the matter, missus?”
We both sprang out of bed and hurried to the window, whence we saw two men dragging a third
by the legs out of the casement of the scullery—dragging him out by main force from something which
held him back, while from time to time he uttered stifled groans mingled with curses. They tore him
away from the dog, which seemed to have him by the throat; but no sooner was he released than he
fell heavily to the ground.
Rover broke into a furious bark within the scullery.
Keziah ran down stairs, and before I could fathom her intention, returned with the loaded gun from
above the mantelpiece. She flung the window open and aimed at the men.
“If you don’t get off directly, I shall shoot,” she cried.
What with the dog and the gun, the rascals had no desire to stay, but bore their wounded comrade
sullenly away into the darkness.
“Let us go down and see what they have done,” said Keziah. “There is no more danger. Oh! that
brave dog! Who sent him?”
We descended the stairs, and found Rover still keeping vigilant watch at the broken window of the
little scullery—a window just wide enough for a man to get through, and the only unbarred one in the
house.
“It is barred now, grandmother,” I said.
And has been ever since that day. Well, it was plain that the brave dog, who was now wagging his
tail with the self-satisfied look of a dog who had done his duty, had flown at the throat of the intruder
when only the head and shoulders were through the narrow window. Spots of blood lay on the floor,
and Rover’s muzzle was bloody too. It was a sickening sight, and we shuddered, even while we
caressed our deliverer.
And just then Keziah saw something glitter on the floor: she stooped and picked up an open
clasp knife.
We drew a long breath, as we gazed upon this suggestive article, and inwardly thanked GOD for our
preservation.
“But how did the dog know?”
“Who sent him?”
No man can answer that question. Martin only knew of his absence; but I doubt not WHO it was.
We could sleep no more that night, although we felt that the danger was past. We renewed the
fire, made some tea, and were just beginning to feel comfortable, when we heard the sound of an
approaching horse. I ran upstairs, looked out of the window, and saw John, your grandfather, riding
up to the stable door.
I flew down, let him in (after he had put his horse up), embraced him, and then had a good cry.
Ere long we had told him all, between us, when suddenly the remembrance of the errand upon
which he had gone came back to me.
“Oh, John, your sister! how is she?”
“In her usual health. This was a planned job. They knew nothing of the messenger of Keswick, and
I felt so uneasy that nothing could induce me to stop there till morning; so I took one of our brother’s
horses and came back directly. Ah! Rover,” he said, patting the dog, who seemed quite to realize the
obligation he had conferred, “you shall never want a meal while I live.”
“Isn’t that Rover, stuffed in the hall?”
Yes, he died of old age, and so we preserved him, in grateful memory, not only of the instrument,
but of Him who sent the dog.
“Did you ever hear anything more of the robbers?”
Yes, the very next assizes two men were tried at Carlisle for robbery and murder; convicted and
sentenced, they became penitent and told the chaplain, before their execution, that they had first
attempted our house, with the same deadly intent, having enticed the master away by a feigned story
of his sister’s illness; but were frustrated by a monstrous dog, who tore one of their number so
fearfully that he died, and lay buried in a gully amongst the mountains.
“Did you ever find the body?”
We did not search for it; but accident revealed it ten years later, when a shepherd, seeking a lost
sheep, came upon a skeleton, which had been hastily interred in a hollow gully of the hills. Heavy rains
had washed away the loose soil and exposed it to sight.
We had no doubt of its identity, and buried it, without the service, at the north side of the
churchyard.
“So you and grandfather kept your Christmas together after all.”
“And let us all wish her many happy returns of the day.”
Night the Third

IT was the third night of our holidays, the yule log was again lit, the curtains drawn, and we all
gathered around the fire after supper, while the wind howled without, for it was a wild night of wind
and snow.
Amongst the company sat our uncle Torn, by surname Tinto, a bachelor uncle, who was said to
have been crossed in love in early life; he was an artist of some repute, and had made a fortune as a
portrait-painter, in which capacity he had travelled a great deal amongst the seats of the nobility,
copying old portraits, and taking new ones.
“Haven’t you a story for us, uncle?”
“What sort is it to be? grave or gay?” said he; “I have either ready on demand.”
In truth he was a wight skilled in archery, that is, he could draw the long bow on occasion.
“A ghost story, uncle.”
“Ghost story,” echoed all.
“I have got one which will make your flesh creep—if that is what you want—but you will go and
dream afterwards.”
“Hurrah! drive on, uncle.”
“Well, my nephews and nieces, since you all want to be pleasantly frightened, you shall have my
story.”
Uncle Thomas’s Story, or Glen Moyr Castle

Once upon a time (I like orthodox beginnings), in the dark wintry month of December, I received a
summons to Glen Moyr Castle—
“Where is that?”
In Perthshire; it was, nay is, an old seat of the Glen Moyr family, and has been the scene of many a
tragedy in days of “auld lang syne.” Those Scotch families, with their long pedigrees, are far more
blessed with legendary lore than our English nobility, who are in comparison but as mushrooms.
And this old castle was a sight of beauty and awe combined: it stood on the edge of a deep ravine,
so that you entered it upon the level, and crossing the hall looked out of the windows upon a depth
which made you shudder. Once it had stood a siege, in the days of the wars between king’s men and
queen’s men:1 but since the general pacification of the Highlands, after the battle of Culloden, which
put an end to the predatory habits of the breek-less Highlanders, with their exactions of black mail
and the like, it had been modernized and made into a comfort able dwelling enough, albeit the old
keep, and four flanking towers, were left to the owls, who repaid us with dismal songs by night.
Behind rose a pine-clad mountain, and before, down the ravine, the Lowlands opened in fertile
plains, broad river, sun-lit fields. I remember that picture and could paint it from memory.
Well, to this castle I was summoned in the December, twenty or thirty years ago, to restore some
of the ancestral portraits, and to add a few from living originals.
The weather was frosty and bracing, and I enjoyed my visit very much, at least at first; there was a
large roomy hearth, like this, in the picture gallery, and an abundance of logs, and there I sat painting
all the morning, dined at the housekeeper’s table, and in the afternoon went out and skated on the
frozen lake hard by; in the evening I painted again, till I was tired, and then retired to my own room—
an antique wainscoted chamber opening out of the upper chamber.
It was a handsome room—almost too handsome to be assigned to a wandering artist—the bed, a
large four poster, with dark tapestried hangings, a settee, a cabinet, a large table of carved walnut
wood, and a soft carpet: heavy curtains concealed at night an alcove projecting over the ravine at a
formidable height, containing a large window.
Here I retired, early in the evening, smoked and read before a good fire, while I sipped the dew
from Ben Nevis.
“How could you do that in your room at night, uncle?”
A distillery at the foot of the famous mountain bottled it for my use; but we will not dwell on the
subject. Sometimes I saw the Earl, who would come and inspect my work: I need not say that I was
not admitted to any further intimacy, for the Scotch nobility are very exclusive, and no one who cannot
boast of high lineage is allowed any familiarity. I was made comfortable enough, and could dispense
with more notice, for I found the butler, housekeeper, and other upper servants quite gentlefolks in
their way, and very chatty and friendly.
Well, one Friday night, after supper with these good people, I retired to my room, and sat in a
comfortable, meditative mood, before the fire, smoking my meerschaum, and sipping the mountain
dew aforesaid, which good people call “toddy” in the north. Beside me lay my little pet spaniel “Fan,”
a most affectionate dog, and my inseparable companion, whom I had been allowed to bring with me,
as a great favour. Never could one be more snug and comfortable, or less disposed to superstition,
when my little pet attracted my attention by a piteous whine; I looked at her, she was standing in a
constrained attitude, gazing upon something in the centre of the room; her hair standing on end—the
picture of terror.
I looked hastily round, and there, to my intense surprise, stood a lady, dressed in antique garments:
it was for all the world as if one of the originals of those ancient portraits I was commissioned to copy,
had re-appeared in the chamber, which had once been its habitation while in the flesh.
I was too startled to speak: the more so as there was such a concentrated malignity in the gaze
that it chilled my blood. At last I conquered the spell—the hideous nightmare which seemed to
paralyze my limbs—and rose; when the figure turned round and, walking across the room, parted the
heavy tapestry window curtains, and entered into the alcove which contained the window which
overhung the ravine.
I still stood petrified: the more so as some indescribable sounds seemed to arise from behind the
curtain—sounds I could hardly analyze, but which curdled my blood for all that.
At last I conquered the spell. Steadily summoning all my courage, I walked to the alcove—parted
the curtains.
The moon shone brilliantly through the broad window, from the depths of a cloudless sky of azure
blue—the space was empty.
I opened the window—the only possible means of egress—and looked out—
It was a lovely night, and the midnight view would have enchanted me, had the fever of my blood
permitted me to enjoy it, but I was far too agitated for tranquil enjoyment: yet the scene sobered me,
and calmed my spirit by degrees.
Down below, the forest, which clothed the sides of the ravine, slumbered in the moon-beams
beneath me, at an awful depth. Some hundred feet intervened between the highest tree tops and my
window; yet by this way, and this way only, could my visitant have escaped—if she were of flesh and
blood.
So awful looked the depth, that I hardly liked to stay long at the window; the idea came, what if
the projecting masonry should not be soundly built, and we should give way—should not we thunder
down to the abyss below, shattering the tree tops!
It was so still, so lovely: in the intense silence of the night, I could hear the babbling of the mountain
brook in the bottom of the ravine.
Just then, whoop! shriek! came a terrible white form to my window.
Good heavens! is she coming back? can she fly? is it a ban-shee?
No, only a poor harmless screech-owl from the tower. I could have shot the innocent bird—she
startled me so.
I closed the window, and returned into the room.
Then I took up my pipe, puffed out several ferocious and defiant whiffs, and next I sat at the table.
My materials lay before me, I sketched that face.
After a time I undressed and got into bed, and slept soundly till the heavens became red with a
crimson dawn: so profound was the tint, that when I awoke ideas of blood and fire were predominant
in my head. Once more I looked out of the window—a substratum of glowing crimson over the eastern
pines across the ravine, a superstructure of orange, and such a glorious opal into which it faded. Oh,
what a sunrise! I shall never, I fear, see such another.
All the common sense in my nature came back—it was a hideous nightmare, nothing more: it could
be nothing more, as I confidently asserted to myself by daylight,—that glorious sun, which now arose,
and soon routed all the bright colours of early dawn, or absorbed them into his own majesty,
convinced me. The old lady was an underdone potatoe, which I had eaten, and could not digest—
ahem!
I resolved to say nothing about the matter to anyone, for I valued my reputation for sanity, and
hated all superstition; besides it is so hard to distinguish between certain dreams and real incidents,
that I felt sure that I had dreamt all that I have told you, and resolved to be more careful about my
suppers in future.
But there was one strange thing which a little upset the nightmare theory—the behaviour of the
dog. “Fan” had evidently had a bad nightmare as well as her master, and was quite as upset as he.
When I went out, she followed joyfully at my heels; when I returned, she entered the room
reluctantly, and kept close to me all the time she was there.
In spite of my calm courage and common sense, I must own that I was a little uneasy the next night;
but I made a moderate supper, and was rewarded, according to my theory, with a quiet night.
Exactly a week had passed away; Friday night had come round again, and I was again sitting in my
chamber and smoking my meerschaum as I pored over the pages of a favourite book. “Fan” had got
over her fright and was lying quite comfortable on the hearth-rug.
We had been enjoying ourselves thus about half-an-hour, when suddenly poor “Fan” gave that
piteous whine again, then uttered a hideous howl, and rolled over in what appeared to be a fit.
All the old terror returned to me, and almost crushed me; I looked round, each hair standing on
end, “like quills upon the fretful porcupine.” I gazed into the weird eyes of that same awful figure, into
that malignant face, which might have befitted a fiend; and while I stood spell-bound, she moved
again across the room and passed behind the curtains.
Then arose those horrid sounds again: there was a noise of struggling, of faint infantile screams, as
if children were there in hideous danger. All at once the window seemed to open violently; then came
a sound—inexplicable—as of a rush in the air.
It was so terrible that I fell on my knees and prayed for help, for my brain seemed reeling; then I
behaved like a man and a Christian, and went to the window.
There was no moon this time, but the night was clear and starlight, and all was peace.
I soothed my poor doggie as well as I could, and took him into my bed. I know not how I slept; but
sleep I did—by snatches—awaking ever and anon from some fantastic and fearful dream.
In the morning I was much shaken; and the servants asked me if I was unwell. I looked, they said,
as if I had seen a ghost!
I scorned the supposition; because all my life long I had valiantly refused to believe in ghosts, or in
such absurd superstitions, and was well fortified with all the stock arguments, which, to sensible
people, absolutely disprove the probability of such things as the French call revenants; and moreover,
I had invented, or found in books, a beautiful theory of the mode in which contagious terror is
communicated from man to beast: which exactly met the case of my wee doggie, who was evidently
very unwell, and could only be retained in the room by force.
“Why did you not ask for another room?”
I should have been ashamed then to do so—that was yet to come; in fact I would not attribute my
fright to any supernatural element. I said to myself, “spectral illusion,” “spectral illusion,” and when
that did not do I simply said, “I don’t believe in ghosts, and there is no possible evidence that would
make me believe in them,” in short, I made facts square to my theories, and not the theories to the
facts.
Another week passed away, and brought on Christmas Day, which on this particular year fell on a
Friday. Our gentry were Episcopalians, using mainly the same forms as the Church of England; and we
kept Christmas all the more heartily because it was neglected around us. So we all went to Church in
the morning and afternoon, and in the evening we all dined together, the earl, countess and family,
with the whole household, in the old baronial hall—the quality above, and the commons below, the
huge plated salt-cellar: it was quite a revival of ancient feudal times.
There were drinkings of health, Christmas carols, and the evening was devoted, after dinner, to all
manner of old Christmas games, while the earl mingled affably amongst us all, and the countess did
not disdain to take part in the fun.
But at last the merry evening came to an end, and satiated with hot spiced wine, we all retired to
rest. I only smoked a few whiffs and then got into bed.
For a long time I watched the falling embers of the fire, between the curtains at the foot of the
bed, and by my side lay poor little “Fan.”
I had fallen into a doze, when I was awakened by a piercing shriek, rather than a howl, from “Fan.”
There she was again, at the foot of the bed, between me and the fire, looking in between the
curtains, which she parted with her hands. No words can describe the lurid light, which, like fire of
hell, burnt in those eyes—the fell malignity of purpose.
I could not have borne it longer; but she turned slowly towards the window alcove, parted the
curtains and entered.
Then ensued that fearful hubbub again, but clearer and more definite; there were the cries of child-
like voices in frantic fear, and wailing entreaty, so piteous and life-like, that I could bear it no longer. I
jumped out of bed, rushed to the window, just as it appeared to be thrown open; whereupon I heard,
as it seemed, the cries of children who clutched at the sill and wailed for mercy: then the sound, first
as of the fall of one body, then of another. I could bear it no longer; I threw aside the curtains, the
space was empty—all was still and tenantless; the window shut as usual.
I threw it open, and, to my excited fancy, a wailing sound seemed to arise from the awful depth
below.
I went back to my bed trembling all over; the dog lay there motionless; I strove to arouse her; she
was dead—evidently dead of fright.
I was overcome at last—my fortitude did not avail me. I could not rest in that bed. I dressed, and
walked up and down the corridors till the welcome dawn appeared. With daylight came courage, and
I lay down exhausted and slept.
I was awoke after the usual breakfast hour by the butler’s voice, “Shall I bring you a cup of tea?” I
assented, and he brought it, where upon he enquired whether the Christmas festivities had been too
much for me.
“No, but I had had a horrid sort of night mare,” I said.
He looked as if half inclined to say more, but he checked himself. At last he walked to the table,
and there lay the sketch, to which I had half mechanically added some finishing touches before I lay
down.
“Where did you get the original of this?” he said; “who showed it you?”
“I copied it from life,” I replied, with a faint sort of hysterical laugh.
“Nay, there is no living creature like it; you must have seen the portrait.”
“I assure you I have not seen any such picture; it is the result of a ghastly nightmare, which fixed
this purely idealistic conception on my fancy.”
“Well,” said he, “when you are well enough I will show you its original; till then I would advise you
to sleep.”
“One favour,” said I; “I fear this room does not agree with me.”
“I thought so,” he said; “but you told me you did not believe in ghosts.”
“Nor do I. The wicked can’t get out of their prison, and the good are too happy to come back here.”
“For an unbeliever, you have made a very fair sketch of one who has been a ghost these two
centuries,” said he, and departed.
I came down to dinner, and noticed that both housekeeper and butler were very attentive to my
wants, and seemed to regard me with much interest. After dinner, Mrs. Webb asked me to come and
take tea in her room—the butler came too.
After some little conversation, during which I avoided all reference to the past night, for I felt too
weak to bear it, the housekeeper said,
“There is a picture in the old lumber room, on the top of the western tower, which you have never
seen, Mr. Tinto; may I take you to see it?”
I assented, and we ascended the circular stone staircase, to the top story of the western tower,
where, amongst faded hangings, and the disjecta membra of discarded furniture, stood a large picture,
turned with its face to the wall.
“Open this window, Mr. Duncie,” said the housekeeper to the butler, “and let Mr. Tinto see the
picture.”
The ruddy light of ebbing day shone into the room, as he opened the casement, and suffused the
room with a crimson hue, while it revealed in sombre light—the portrait, clear and unmistakeable, of
the mysterious lady, the original of my sketch.
“Who was she?” I enquired.
“Two hundred years have passed since she sinned and suffered—two centuries.”
“Quite as much,” I said; for I recognised the painting as the work of a master of the seventeenth
century.
“She was the Countess of Glen Moyr, in the days of the Sixth James—your First in England—and
was blessed, or rather cursed, with two fair children, a boy and a girl—the boy the heir to the barony.
She conceived a violent jealousy of her husband, and her head was turned by reading an old Greek
lay, wherein an injured wife murders her children to avenge herself.2 In short, out of that window she
hurled her two children.”
“What became of her?”
“The honour of the family was concerned, and there was no law, to speak of, in the Highlands of
that day; so they even shut her up in one of the dungeons, and left her.”
“And they say she walks on Fridays—the day the deed was done,” added the butler; “but Mr. Tinto
can tell us more about that.”
But I was too sick to ask more; and begged I might not be questioned just then, promising to explain
myself by-and-bye. I only asked to be put in another room.
The butler assured me that he would not have put me in the fatal chamber at all, but they had no
other room so convenient for my purposes; and as no one had slept there within living memory, the
ghost story had got to be looked upon as an idle legend. He had asked me indeed whether I believed
in ghosts, and my stout repudiation of such folly convinced him that I was the proper person to restore
its reputation to the room.
But my nerves were at last somewhat seriously shaken, and at my earliest opportunity I
relinquished my task, but half completed, and bade the Highlands a long farewell.

***

When our uncle Tom had reached this point, he paused; we were all so impressed by this terrible
story, that no one spoke for some time, and we mused as we gazed at the fire; at last one of us asked
him,
“Did you ever tell them all about it, uncle?”
Yes; the Earl came himself to see the sketch, and to question me how I had obtained it, on the
morrow. I told him all, and he consented to my request, that I might be allowed to relinquish the task
which I had undertaken at the castle.
“Yes,” he said, “it might be better; your nerves seem shattered, and a change may do you good.
When you are quite restored, we shall be happy to see you again.”
So I buried my poor dog, and left the castle for England. I never resumed the task.
“And you believe in ghosts now, uncle?”
“I am not sure that I do.”
“How do you account for it all, then?”
I leave it a mystery unsolved.”

NOTES

1 King James VI. and his mother Queen Mary.

2. She must have read the Medea of Euripides.


Night the Fourth

THE frost still continued and was likely to continue: we skated on the lake, or drove up the valley
on sledges, or made glissades after the Canadian fashion, taught us by the American cousin aforesaid,
all day long: then at night, after an evening at in-doors games, chess, draughts, and dominoes, came
a hearty supper about the curfew time, and then we all clustered together around the Yule Log for our
accustomed tale, which was the termination of our day’s enjoyment.
This time it was our Aunt Mary’s turn: and we all called upon her to fulfil her duty.
She looked at our Canadian cousin, young Frank Maydestone: and they interchanged a quiet smile.
“My tale,” she said will explain how young Frank here came to be a Canadian instead of a true born
Briton.”
“None the worse for that,” interrupted the irreverent Frank.
“His grandparents left England in the year 1783: his great grandfather was a city merchant who
afterwards settled at Moorside: he had two daughters, Margaret and Mabel, Margaret was your
grandmother, here: Mabel, Frank’s grand-mother.”
“What is Frank then—our second, third cousin, or what?”
“Shut up,” said Frank, “and let aunt wade into her story”—
“I wrote it for a magazine, long, long ago, and will read it from thence.’’
And she brought forth an old faded pamphlet.
“The Gentlewoman’s Magazine,” it was called, it has long been extinct: and read—
The Embroidered Belt: A Tale of Eastbourne One Hundred Years Ago

It was the month of July, 1783.


Two men sat in the “parlour” of a city merchant, situate in Cheapside; men did live in the city then.
One was the merchant himself, the other a physician,
“Where would you advise me to take the poor girl, then? I own she is sadly out of health.”
“Most men in my position would say ‘The Wells’ (so men then called Tunbridge Wells with
affectionate familiarity), and would add, in the words of a local writer, that ‘the insalubrious humidity
of the sea-air is tempered by its passage over the intervening downs,’ but, for my part, I do not share
the general prejudice of the faculty against the sea-side, which I feel is mistaken and will soon die
away.”
“Then, you would advise sea-air in its untempered purity.”
“Yes, I would; there are many cosy nooks on the coast, which the world has not yet found out,
although doubtless it will do so some day, and then set to work to spoil them; they will be big watering
places by this time next century. Now one of these is Eastbourne, a delightful retreat, hidden away in
a nook of the South Downs, near Beachy Head, embowered in trees, with the sea about a mile away—
just a comfortable distance.”
“There are no houses on the beach, then?”
“Yes,—let me see—there are just seven; they call them ‘Sea Houses;’ but the village (some call it a
town, but it has no market) clusters around its old church, a regular gem, in Gothic architecture—but
I must be off; other patients to attend to; say you will go and take her there yourself; your partners
can do without you for a week or two.”
“They must, in a case like this.”
“Bespeak places in the coach for the Wells, then, and post thence across country via Mayfield and
Hailsham—most delightful drive—leafy month of June—green hedges—birds singing—cuckoo—
nightingale, and all that.”
“It shall be done.”
Mabel Kingswood was indeed a lovely girl, and I need not tell my readers, since she is my heroine,
“endowed with every virtue.”
In truth, she was beautiful; even as she lay listlessly on her couch, in the beams of the setting sun,
her complexion was fair; her hair, auburn; her eyes, blue; nor was the flush on the western sky more
lovely or delicate than that hectic glow upon her fair cheek; yet that very glow told of the progress of
decay. For many years she had seemed the picture of rosy health, but now the frequent curse of our
inland climate, the signs of incipient consumption, had made themselves manifest.
“Father, what does the doctor say?”
“Good news for you, my child; we are to go to the seaside.”
“Where?” said she, listlessly.
“To Eastbourne.”
“Where is that? I never heard the name before.”
“Nor did I, till the doctor told me to take you there; but it seems that it is a lovely village near the
sea, under the Sussex downs.”
“Father, I shall get well again, there, I feel sure. A rustic village by the sea, how delightful; fresh
eggs, cream, butter, then the hills and the ever roaring sea.”
“Only get well, my darling, and you will gladden your old father’s heart.”
We will not dwell upon the events of the journey, for the glories of the old coaching days have
been sufficiently sung by others; the four-in-hand, the merry horn, the constant succession of pretty
villages and lively market towns, the sweet scent of the leafy hedges, the gorgeous chesnut, the
fragrant honey suckle, the clear brooks in which one can see the trout sparkle, the wide common with
its ruminative cattle. All this, not seen for a moment, to be lost as one is buried with dismal shriek in
a tunnel, or whirled through a cutting, as if the only object in life is “to get somewhere,” but enjoyed
to the heart’s content. Onward! past smiling gardens, at the wicket gates of which old men lean and
nod to the coachman; onward! until the sun casts all the shadows westward, and anon we descend
the slopes of “Mount Ephraim,” and stop at “The Wells.”
The Wells were quite as crowded then as now; nay, we fancy even more so, for other rivals had
not yet arisen, and it was the nearest “watering place” to town.
They lodged at the inn close by the healing springs, tasted the waters but did not like them, were
much enchanted with the view at sunset from the rocks; slept well, and on the morrow entered a
comfortable carriage, drawn by two post horses, and left the Wells by the Mayfield road.
In little more than an hour they reached the in interesting old town of Mayfield, and stopped to
look at the ruins of the palace where once Edward the Confessor lived, and where earlier still S.
Dunstan played the devil more than one uncanny trick, as old traditions tell. One more stage through
deep woods and winding valleys, and they stopped to lunch at Cross-in-Hand.
‘Whilst the meal was preparing, they ascended the slight eminence crowned by the windmill, just
above the inn, and her father bade Mabel observe a bright spot on the distant horizon, some fifteen
miles away.
“Oh! father, can it be the sea?”
“It is the sea, my child; and now do you see where the line of downs in the south-west seems to
terminate in a point?”
“I do.”
“Well, that point is Beachy Head; look through this glass, and you will make out the Blockade1
Station on the summit.”
As Mabel looked, a strange thrill passed over her: a sort of foreboding which she remembered in
after days, as if Beachy Head were somehow or other mixed up with her future fate, or coming trials.
“Yes, that is Beachy Head, and a mile or two this side, at the foot of the downs, lies Easthourne.”

***

We cannot tell the exact site of the lovely home, where the merchant and his child found refuge
from the turmoil of town; they spent several happy weeks, during which Mabel’s strength rapidly
returned, to her father’s deep joy, and she was able to take long walks with him, over the downs or
along the beach.
It so happened at length that business summoned her father up to town, and he left her, posting
all the way to the Wells again; promising to return in a few days. The excellent old landlady who let
the lodgings, a dear, motherly soul, who, like Mrs. Pipchin “had seen better days” (the only point of
resemblance), promised to take care of the “dear young lady,” and besides she had her own faithful
nurse, Barbara, to take care of her likewise.
So, without much apprehension, she bestowed the accustomed kisses, and saw her father depart;
if she shed some tears she wiped them soon, for she was cheered by the loving words.
“I shall soon come back again, perhaps to take a house and live here, for Eastbourne has given back
my dear child to health and life, and greater boon I could not crave.”
The morning seemed dull after he had gone, and the evening was so bright and fair that it allured
her to the beach.
So she trod the pleasant path across the “Links.” On the left she viewed the well-known mansion,
Compton Place; and on the right she gazed up the wooded dell terminated by its grotto, which people
enthusiastically call “Paradise.”
Traversing the village street of Meads, she descended to the beach at “Holywell,” so called from
certain springs, once said to possess healing properties, and therefore supposed to be under saintly
influence.
Here a road had been cut through a projection of the cliff—giving the place a romantic
appearance—and she descended by its help to the beach.
The sea was very beautiful as it glistened in the bright sunlight; there was a brisk wind from the
south-east, and consequently a bracing feeling in the air, which predisposed her to exertion. The tide
was coming in; it was not, however, perceptible to the town-bred maiden, whether it was advancing
or retiring; the waves were high; the water had just reached the shingle.
Exhilarated by the scene, on she wandered, until she turned the last point, and stood at the base
of the giant bastions of the “Head,” which rose majestically above her, into mid-air, to the height of
nearly six hundred perpendicular feet.
Above her flew the sea-gulls; before her the wide expanse of ocean, with its “many dimpled smile.”
She sat on a fallen mass of chalk, deeply impressed, and mused awhile.
A loud shout from above reached her.
A young man, in naval attire, was gesticulating in a frantic way, but she could not imagine that he
meant to address her. Wrapt in the scene, she watched the tremendous waves draw nearer and
nearer, without any fear.
“Ah! he is still gesticulating; can it be meant for me?” At six hundred feet above, the words are
inaudible.
Stay! he has borrowed a speaking trumpet, which the old coast-guardsman happened to possess,
and now she hears—
“Go back—the tide”—the rest of the words are inaudible.
For the first time she thinks of the road she has yet to traverse; she looks at the promontory she
has passed, and sees the waves dash against it. She runs hurriedly towards it, but ere she reaches it
she beholds wave after wave strike with such force that she dares not risk the passage, lest she should
be sucked away by the under-tow.
But there will doubtless be time if she hurries along to the other promontory, which closes in the
little bay.
Too late, again she arrives, panting and breathless, to find it yet more impracticable than the
eastern one.
“My poor father!” she exclaimed; “what will he do?”
She looked above; but although the cliffs were broken at the eastern extremity of the little bay,
and an experienced cragsman might find footway here and there, there was no foothold possible for
the timid girl.
And nearer and nearer the monstrous waves drew: the sun went down, and added to the terror of
the scene: the heavens became black with a thunder storm: the lightning played upon the distant
horizon.
Still the waves drew nearer.
Now their spray reached her, as she leaned against the cliffs.
All at once, as she closed her eyes not to see an immense monster of water and foam, which
seemed bent on devouring her, a light, active form dropped, as from above, beside her. She looked; a
rope quivered in the wind, down which he had descended, from a perch, some fifty feet above.
“You must let me fasten this round you,” he said; “there are good men, and strong, up above; they
will pull you out of danger in no time.”
He looped the rope firmly beneath her arm pits.
“Heave away,” he cried.
She gave a faint scream, as she felt herself suspended between earth and heaven for a few seconds,
and then set her feet upon a pinnacle of the cliff, with the sea-gulls screeching around her. The birds
flew away; strong arms supported her.
“One more ride, and you are safe,” said a deep voice.
Again out in the dizzy void—the head swimming—but the rope is guided by a connecting one from
below. She lands again, and now a circuitous path, ordinarily only trodden by the coast-guard, leads
up to the summit. She waits till her deliverer rejoins her, and then they thread its mazes.
The reader must not seek to identify the place now; the site is not what it was a century ago. No
formation yields to sea and air like chalk, and it is useless to seek the road by which Mabel Kingswood
escaped the tide. There is an easier one now, which the writer has himself scaled, emerging by the
“chimney,” so called.
Her deliverer stood by her side at the top.
“Are you much exhausted? May I send for a carriage? the blockade men will let you rest in their
house meanwhile.”
“And a drop of summat hot won’t do her any harm, the more so as its paid its duty to king George.
She’s a brave girl; but if it hadn’t been for you, Mr. Frank, she’d be floating amongst those boiling
waves down below.”
To make a long story short, Mabel found shelter in the house, which she had seen through the glass
from the Windmill at Cross-in-Hand, and experienced much hearty kindness from the wife of the
officer in charge.
There she remained until Frank Maydestone returned with a carriage from his father’s farm; and
taking his place at her side drove her home to Eastbourne, where she found her old nurse, Barbara, in
a state of great excitement. The reader must picture the reception.

***

Frank Maydestone was a frank, hearty young fellow, half farmer, half sailor, with a sweet smile
which seemed to light up his sunburnt face; he had the advantage of a good education at the Grammar
School, at Lewes; and hence did not exhibit the rustic want of manners which some times conceals
real worth.
Of course he came on the morrow, and found her little the worse for her aerial flight, and
subsequent climb—which alone proved how her health had been restored by Eastbourne air; he came
that day, yes, and he came again and again: there was a magnet there, and he felt its attraction more
and more each day, until he was deeply in love.
So when Mr. Kingswood returned, he found a suitor for the hand of his daughter, in the person of
a youth who claimed, not without truth, to have saved her life.
He had heard the outlines of the story by letter from Mabel, and it had hastened his return, that
he might take more care of his precious jewel; poor old father, he little suspected that there was a
young thief in the case, who meant to steal the aforesaid jewel away altogether, if he could.
Frank had already stormed the fortress of Mabel’s heart, and it had capitulated on the terms—
“Ask my father; if he consents, I am yours; but how can I leave him?”
He, the father, felt that, but for Frank, he might not have a daughter to give in marriage; and finding
the consent of the happy swain’s parents was already personally given, gave his own too.
Frank was amphibious in nature; he had many sea-faring friends and relations, and often went out
for a short cruise. Sometimes he appeared dressed as a young farmer, sometimes as a gallant sailor
lad.
In the latter character he wore a belt, but it was not to Mabel’s taste, and she soon supplanted it
by her first present, a richly embroidered belt, within which were worked the words, “Frank
Maydestone, from his Mabel, July 23rd, 1783.” It was the day when he asked the gift of her hand and
heart.

***

Mabel was of course now a frequent visitor at the farm, and was most kindly received, whenever
she appeared, by the “old folks.”
It was upon one of these visits that an incident occurred, which changed the whole future course
of the lives of our young couple.
Arriving with her father unexpectedly one day, she heard that Frank was out with an uncle, upon a
short cruise; and was expected home that night—wind being fair.
The idea struck her that she would ascend the hills above the little haven, and watch for his arrival.
So she left her father chatting merrily away with Mr. and Mrs. Maydestone, and took her way
towards the green slopes above the cliffs, whence she might gaze seaward.
Upon her road she heard, several times, the report of a gun, apparently fired at sea; for a moment
she thought of the French privateers, who, in the previous year, had often insulted these coasts, but
in the preceding February peace had been proclaimed; a peace which included the recognition of the
Independence of the United States, to the disgust of most Englishmen of the time.
But when she reached the summit she soon saw, with anxious eyes, the solution of the thing.
A small vessel, probably a smuggling craft, was hotly pursued by a revenue cutter, and was striving
to enter among the reefs by passages known to its crew, but probably inaccessible to the other vessel
on account of its greater draught.
“Why are they firing at her?” asked Mabel of an old shepherd, who was tending his sheep, or, as
he called them, his “ships” on the turf—for the Sussex shepherds transpose the use of the terms,
“ship” and “sheep.”
“Why are they firing at that sheep out there?” said he; “because they be greedy fellows, who
grudge a poor fellow his bit of ’bacco, or drop o’ brandy to warm his innards.”
Mabel comprehended it all now.
“Will they escape?”
“No; ’tother ’un is too close; they can’t get away, look! that shot has hulled her; lookee! my eyes,
if they haven’t set the sheep on fire!”
A bright flame shot up from the smuggler—a boat left her side, filled with men, and apparently
heavily laden, and made for the mouth of the haven, near the spot where Mabel sat.
“They’ll save a part of their cargo, it may be,” said the old man; “but I’m afeard the cutter has got
boats, too; if not, they may stow it all away in ‘Darby’s hole,’ hard by, till nightfall, when they will get
carts and take it inland—may be to the vault beneath the Lamb Inn, at Eastbourne—after that there
sheep be off.”
“But isn’t it all very wrong? I mean to be smugglers.”
“Some say ’tis, and some say ’tisn’t; I inclines to the ’tisn’t: or how would a poor man fill his pipe
or get his drop o’ brandy?”
Meanwhile the little boat had nearly reached the shore—steered through passages in sunken reefs,
indicated by the boiling foam—when the cutter was seen lowering her boats too, evidently
determined not to lose the prey. The lugger was burning furiously, and the pursuers neglecting it made
for the shore after the fugitives.
But they had got the start and might have escaped, at least at the price of forsaking their burdens,
when signals were exchanged between the cutter’s boat and the shore, and a body of the coast-guard
appeared on the scene.
Mable felt a deep interest in the pursued fugitives—she knew not why, and gazed until she saw
them land in the gathering gloom of night. Soon she heard, with terrified ears, the sound of conflict
which reached the height whereon she stood—oaths, cries, then quick steps in flight or pursuit.
Suddenly, just below her, she beheld two figures: one a slight one, in flight, the other, a burly form, in
pursuit. Then there arose a cry, “I’ve got you at any rate, my buck,” and saw that the pursuer had
attained his prey ere the latter could climb round a projecting angle of the cliff, which intercepted his
passage. Then came the sounds of a struggle—a loud cry, then a plunge in the air, a heavy fall, and all
was still, until a succession of groans broke the silence.
She could dimly see the light form of the smuggler disappearing round the rocks, into the gloom of
night, and knew that the pursuer must have fallen, but whether accidentally, or of malice prepensé on
the part of the fugitive, she could not tell.
Her sympathy aroused for the poor wretch, who lay at the foot of the cliff; she descended
cautiously to the beach, through a gully worn by the winter rains, and there she perceived the victim.
He was dying—struggling in the last agony—his spine dislocated by the fall; in his hand he held a
belt he had torn from the other when he was thrust backwards by the youthful fugitive, who “had the
wall,” in the desperation of the escape.
The poor wretch had his last thoughts distracted by his revengeful feelings; he put the belt into
Mabel’s hands with his own trembling fingers.
“Take it; it will hang him,” he said; and with this aspiration expired.
Mabel took the belt from his outstretched hands and ran for aid, thinking that perhaps life might
not yet be extinct. She saw a group of persons, amongst whom were two or three blockade men, and
told her tale.
One of them took the belt.
“Turn your lantern this way, Jim.”
The other did so, and the first read the words aloud—
“Frank Maydestone, from his Mabel.”
The poor girl fainted.

***

Frank was taken that night at his mother’s house. The poor lad was indeed guilty—there could be
no doubt of the fact.
Yes, it was a sad case; the people around attached no stigma to smuggling; nay, rather supported
and aided it; and, in his love for adventure, willing perhaps, too, to increase a scanty fund of pocket
money, the unfortunate lad had joined a band of these lawless persons.
This was to have been his last cruise; he would “give it all up,” he had told his companions, for he
was to be married.
His had been no intentional homicide; he had been seized by the belt, and, yielding to the natural
impulse to escape, sent his captor violently backwards with one powerful thrust of his fist—the result
was death.
But there was no doubt that it was murder in the eyes of the law. Smuggling must be put
down—examples were needed, and he must die.
The assizes were almost due at Lewes. Suffice it to say, that the inevitable verdict was returned,
when they came in, and Frank Maydestone was condemned to die.
They pitied him, both judge and jury, but that was all: men must do their duty, whether hearts be
broken or not.

***

Sometimes, the “good farmer,” King George the Third, strolled around the neighbourhood of his
palace, as he supposed, “incog.,” but he was all the time perfectly well known to the initiated.
The next day but one after the proceedings at Lewes, he was visiting a neighbouring farm, and
looking with great interest at the cattle, asking questions about their breed, when the farmer, who
was frequently honoured by a talk with “Farmer George,” took the liberty, as it seemed of set purpose,
of telling him the tale of the young smuggler, who had killed a customs’ officer to secure his escape,
and who was detected accidentally by his sweetheart. The good king listened with much interest, and
often repeated the words, “Poor girl—poor girl.”
Whereupon the farmer made a sign.
A young lady, clad in deep mourning, appeared and threw herself down on her knees before the
monarch, with a piteous cry for mercy.
“Why,” said the king, wiping his eyes, “can this be the very girl of whom you told me; the poor girl
who unwillingly betrayed her sweetheart? Why, you old fox, you must have known she was here all
the time; and this is her father, I suppose: it is quite a conspiracy, isn’t it? Don’t cry, my wench, I have
daughters of my own and can’t bear to see them cry; he shan’t die, that is if I can prevent it; but all
this is very wrong, most irregular, you know, not constitutional in any way—quite a breach of
etiquette.”
The good king smiled through his tears.
***

In those “hanging days” execution generally followed condemnation very quickly—often the next
morning—but in this instance the judge had granted a longer delay in order to wait the result of the
recommendation to mercy, which the jury had coupled with their verdict, and which had been backed
by a general petition from the neighbourhood.
The delay sufficed—first a reprieve arrived; and, after a brief delay, the royal prerogative was
exercised in the grant of a pardon, upon one condition—
That, for the sake of example, the pardoned one should accept exile, and choose either of our
colonies as his future home.

***

There are few parish churches in Sussex more interesting than the old Parish Church of Eastbourne,
dedicated to St. Mary the Virgin: it bears many evidences of its antiquity, while its graceful pillars—
alternately circular and octagonal,—its capitals, enriched with foliage, lend striking architectural effect
to the nave, which they separate from either aisle.
At this date, it was encumbered with hideous
pews, and defiled with unseemly whitewash; while the windows, stained so gorgeously now, were
filled with plain and dingy glass.
But it presented an animated sight one lovely autumn morning, soon after the events we have
recorded, when Frank Maydestone led the blushing Mabel Kingswood to the altar.
Dont go and search for their names in the venerable register, dear reader, we have of course given
fictitious ones; you may picture the scene without such adventitious aid.
There stood the happy father of the bride, wiping his eyes—no, his glasses; there the robust and
portly mother of the “well-liking” Frank; and behind all, their friends, bucolical and marine.
“Well, dang it,” said one bucolic (sotto voce), “if that isn’t better than being hanged.”
“Well, you get ‘tied up’ either way,” said Jack Tar; “howsomdever I don’t think he minds it much.”
He might well say so; for oh, how happy they looked; with what sweet blushing grace she signed
the register, and what a shower of old slippers followed the twain as they stepped into the carriage,
while the bells poured forth a joyful peal.
But they had to bid adieu to the dear old country; and their sorrow for the late untimely event
abridged the wedding festivities.
And so their honeymoon trip was the voyage to Canada, where they arrived safely, and prospered.
There Frank became one of the earliest settlers in the primæval forests in the far west—one of the
pioneers who led the way—wherein so many of the young men of the present day tread, without like
compulsion.
As the settlements grew, he became a frontier judge himself, and it was noticed that never was
one known more full of sympathy for the unfortunate, as distinguished from the criminal, more ready
to find “extenuating” circumstances. And by his side the happy and loving Mabel tasted the sweets of
wedded love for many a long year, while pretty, prattling children nestled at her feet, one after the
other, and called her Mother.”
“My father was one of them,” said cousin Frank.

Notes

1 Coast-guard stations were so called in those days, and they who guarded the coast—“supervisors,”
“Surveyors,” and “Riders.”
Night the Fifth

AMONGST the company gathered around the Yule Log was our cousin Priscilla, and on the fifth
night we called upon her for a story—a dear old lady she was, maiden still, although her years
exceeded the half-century, and steeped in legendary lore. I think I see her still, with her ringlets on
each side of her head, already grey with the advance of time.
“Come, cousin, it is your turn to-night.”
“Let it be about ghosts,”—and a pleasant shiver ran around, for we liked a tale of diablerie best of
all.
“Would witches do instead?”
“Yes! yes!”
“Well, I have a story which is a veritable tradition handed down in our family. The belief in
witchcraft has happily long since died out amongst us, and we see but the embers of a superstition,
which once numbered its victims by thousands; indeed, in the city of Wurtzburgh, in Germany, one
hundred and fifty-seven persons were burned at the stake within two years for this imaginary crime”
“Imaginary?”
“Doubtless, yet often the sufferers were malevolent people who believed devoutly in their own
powers, and had the will to do as they were believed to have done, and thus were guilty in intent, if
not in deed.”
“But is not yours a true story?”
“It was believed at the time, and we will place ourselves in the position of our ancestors for half-
an-hour, and share their feelings and beliefs, if we can: some foundation there must have been for a
tale so singular in its details.
The Three Black Cats

ONE of our ancestors was the possessor of a small estate in the Wychwood forest, then very much
larger than now, and occupying a wide extent of country north-west of Oxford. It was many years
ago—I can hardly tell how many—but he must have lived in the beginning of the last century. His name
was Halliday.
Now in those days there was great alarm in the country about witchcraft, and no wonder, for every
strange thing that occurred was ascribed to the malevolence of witches, everyone seemed to believe
in their power, from the Justice of the Peace to the village school dame, and most people were sorry
that the laws which consigned such monsters to the stake, had been swept from the Statute Book by
wiser heads than their own.1
Hard by the home farm lived one of the most dreaded of these hags, and strange were the stories
they told of her. She had been seen to ride broomsticks through the air, and to assume the forms of
animals; to mutter spells, to melt waxen images of unhappy victims at the fire (who faded away as
their effigies faded and died of atrophy!)
Once, passing a waggon, she had, in mere mischief, caused the cart rope to turn in the air like a
huge snake, which so frightened the driver, that he dropped the reins, and the horses ran away,
equally frightened, and smashed the waggon.
She lived in a dismal dell of the wood, where nothing but stinging-nettles and foul weeds grew; the
toad and the newt were her companions, and the very birds avoided the place. Her dwelling was a
crazy hut, somewhat devoid of comfort, but not of food and fuel, which were abundantly supplied for
the asking, owing to the fear with which she was regarded. Her door opened by a string passing
through a hole above the latch, which it drew up. Once, a frolicsome lad poked the string in through
the hole, and when she came home she could not get in. She cursed the daring rascal, and the unhappy
boy pined away, like her other victims, and died.
Now our ancestor had always been careful to avoid her enmity, and to pay her the accustomed
tribute in butter, eggs, milk or the like, until one day his unlucky fortune brought upon him her hatred.
He was out coursing, when his dogs roused up a large white hare; he followed up the chase, and
the dogs seemed to have the prey on their very jaws, when it rushed into the bushes which surrounded
the old hag’s dwelling, and there disappeared, as if it had got through some crevice into the hut.
Halliday opened the door; there was no hare, but an old woman sat panting over the fire, struggling
vainly to recover her breath. It was plain whom he and his dogs had been hunting.
But from that time she hated him and his with bitter hatred, and soon the effects of that hatred
became manifest. The cattle pined away and died, the crops withered,—everything went wrong. In
vain they tried to propitiate her; she had been hunted, and would not be propitiated. Yet she did her
diabolical work so cunningly, that no one caught her on the premises, or it would have gone bad with
her in spite of her dread master.
Now our ancestor had two little children, a boy and a girl, lovely as ever gladdened a parent’s heart.
Well, one day, when everyone was out, the old hag came upon the scene, and found the children in
the courtyard of the house, whereupon she looked them through and through, and muttered her
deadly spells. ‘Whose pretty children are you, my little dears?’ she said, with a mocking laugh: ‘Ah!
you are master Halliday’s children I see. Ah! ah! pretty dears.’
But from this time, like the cattle, the poor little dears pined away, and no doctor could do them
any good. Too well did the father and mother suspect the cause, but they knew not what to do, when
one night they were awoke by the screams of the children, and rushed to the nursery, where they
found them sitting up in bed, almost wild with fright.
So soon as they could speak, they insisted that three black cats were in the room, and had been
sitting on the bed trying to suck their breath.
There were, it need hardly be said, no living beings in the room; but the parents sat with their little
ones until they had composed them into a broken slumber; their hearts were very heavy, for it was
plain that their darlings had received a very severe shock. Next night the nurse was told to sit up with
them, and they hoped all would be well; but in the dead of the night the same screams were heard,
and the girl was found vainly endeavouring to soothe the children; she had been overpowered with
an extraordinary disposition to sleep, and during that sleep, the cats had reappeared, but only the
children had seen them.
And so, every night, the same dreadful phenomenon recurred. The parents watched by the bedside
themselves; they changed the room; but it was all of no avail: the watchers were always overpowered
by a strange and unnatural drowsiness, sleep ensued, and the mystery was re-enacted, until they were
woke by the screams and cries of the children, for there was something in the visitation very appalling
to their little minds, especially when the phantom cats tried, as they said, ‘to suck their breath.’
In this extremity the parents had recourse to a man of high reputation for wisdom and for ‘white
magic,’ who lived in the Chiltern hills; ‘the cunning man’ people called him, and he was not himself
beyond the suspicion of too great an intimacy with unseen powers, but he never used his art for evil.
Therefore the parents journeyed to the hill country, and sought his aid. They told him their sad
story, and he confirmed their worst anticipations; ‘It is but too true,’ he said; ‘they do see these cats.
Your children are hopelessly bewitched.’
“But can you not save them?” cried the poor mother, wringing her hands.
“Alas!” he replied, “it is too late; you should have sought me before. Your cattle I can save, at least,
for the future, but it is too late for the poor little ones!”
In vain they offered him all the wealth they possessed, in vain they implored him to let the cattle
take their chance, and to confine his exertions to the children. It was useless, quite useless, he said.
“But,” he continued, “if I cannot save your children, I can give you revenge. You may destroy the witch
if you have courage to avenge your little ones.”
They grasped at the offer, so riven were their hearts by the cruel injury they had received.
“Try us!” they cried. “How can we remove this curse from our home and neighbourhood?”
“Go home, then,” he replied, “you will find a cow just dead of the pestilence; cut the body open,
take out the liver, the heart, and the lungs, then make a great fire in the chamber where the little ones
sleep, shut yourselves up with them, and at sunset, having previously stopped up every crevice in door
or window, throw the liver, the heart, and the lungs into the fire. Then watch in silence until midnight,
but say not a word, or you will break the spell; at twelve o’clock the wall will appear to gape, and the
three cats will appear, the one after the other, the third will be the witch: shoot her, and you will have
avenged your poor children.
Sadly, but with brows bent in stern resolution, they returned home to their forest-dwelling, and
found, as the cunning man had predicted, a cow just dead of the plague. This gave them faith in the
knowledge of the seer, and they gave the order to the servants to cut out the liver, the heart, and the
lungs.
At sunset, which was not till curfew, for it was summer, they put the children to bed, soothing them
with the promise that they would sit with them all night; they closed every crevice in the room, and
as the sun went down, like a huge red ball over the western woods, they threw the liver, heart, and
lungs on the fire, and the scent thereof was not odoriferous. But they had to bear it, and there they
sat, as the darkness of the brief summer night gathered.
A storm came up, and the clouds blotted out the stars; a hoarse wind moaned and howled around
the house; the dogs seemed disturbed, and barked and howled incessantly; there they sat, quiet and
gloomy, but sternly resolute; not a word could they interchange for fear they should break the spell;
but they read their Bibles, and especially those solemn and mysterious chapters of the Revelation
which close the sacred Book, and tell of the victory of the Church of GOD over the powers of darkness.
Yet they shuddered from time to time; for a vague sense of fear crept over them, and chilled the very
blood, making each individual hair of the head to assert itself obtrusively, and stick up “like quills upon
the fretful porcupine.”
The two children lay placidly asleep in bed as the hours rolled on, ten, eleven, and at last the old-
fashioned clock told that the midnight hour was near.
How terribly resonant its loud ticking seemed, distinct as the blows of a hammer, telling how the
moments perished, and were reckoned—each lessening the interval as it sank into the grave of the
past. At last the clock gave that curious “click” which old-fashioned clocks send forth about five
minutes before the hour—the hour of twelve.
Five minutes of intense suspense. The wife was as pale as death; and instinctively placed her hand
upon her heart to still the tremendous beating which half threatened the rupture of the fleshy prison;
the husband sat with his hand on the trigger of his old flint gun, now at full-cock, and his eyes intently
fixed upon the wall at the head of the bed.
One! two! three! four! five! Slowly the measured tones fell on the still air of the night, and at the
sixth—
The wall seemed to open; a chasm yawned as if from the outer darkness; and a huge gaunt black
cat appeared, and emerged upon the bed, where it lay, intently watching the children, the eyes
gleaming with lurid fire; then a second appeared, and did likewise; then a third, most hideous of all,
the witch herself in feline disguise.
The man forgot his horror in his fell wrath.
“Thou cursed witch!” he said, and fired.
But, alas! that one word, so excusable, broke the spell, and the guilty sorceress escaped her
merited doom; he fired in vain.
The children woke up screaming; the cats disappeared; the lights went out; the room filled with
smoke; the husband threw open the windows, and looked out into the black night; a howling wind
arose, and on its wings came the burden of a well-known voice, laughing in hideous cachinations, and
uttering the word fire! fire! fire!
The poor children fell back upon their pillow, and sobbed themselves to sleep, and from that day
they slowly withered away: they were reduced to atrophy, appeared as living skeletons ere they died
and were at peace.
But then the power of the enemy was exhausted; the cattle died no more; those which were sick
recovered; other children were in due course born, lovely as those they had lost; and the remainder
of their lives was peaceful, so far as peace can be found here.
Against the witch in the changed state of the law no remedy could be found, although many like
her had perished in a blazing tar barrel, upon less evidence than was afforded in her case; but she had
her reward.
A terrible storm of thunder and lightning burst over the forest; a traveller, a stranger to those parts,
was passing through the wood and sought for shelter, when he saw the witch’s hut: he opened it, and
shrank back from the hideous interior. Through a fetid cloud of sulphureous smoke he saw a skull in
one corner, crossbones in another; toads, efts, newts, adders, and like obscene reptiles affixed by nails
to the walls; but no living tenant.
Nor was the witch ever seen again, and no one in Wychwood forest ever doubted that her master
raised that storm when he carried her away.
So ended cousin Priscilla’s story, and for a few moments not one of us spoke; at length I broke the
silence.
“But is it all true?”
“As I said before, some extraordinary events must have occurred which formed the foundation of
this story, which has been handed down by oral tradition for more than a century; but that Satan was
ever allowed to give his servants such power to blast or hurt their fellow mortals, I for one cannot
believe.”
“And remember,” said my grandfather, “how a story gains in details as it is handed down by oral
tradition; try the experiment, let one of you tell a story secretly to another, and the auditor to a third,
and the third to a fourth; by the time it has gone round the party the original narrator would hardly
know his own tale.”
“But a story is sometimes equally incredible when related by one to whom the incidents actually
happened,” said cousin Timothy, who hailed from the Inns of Court.
“Have you heard such a one?”
“Well, yes; there was uncle Tom’s last night, and I have come across another of the incredible breed
myself.”
“Oh, please tell it; let us have it,” cried all.
Nothing loth cousin Tim began.
The Ghost at Lone Leaze Farm

“You have had some experience with ghosts,” said a young lawyer of my acquaintance, “now I
know a man who has a more remarkable tale to tell than you; at least his experience cost him
somewhat more.”
“In what way?”
“Why, he was at the time a working farmer, and the ghost turned him out of house and home, so
that he had to sell his stock at a great loss, and live as a day labourer.”
“Indeed! it must have been a formidable ghost to bring a British farmer to that pass.”
“Well, if you will come over to D— and lunch with me, we will have him in, and he shall tell you the
tale himself.”
A few weeks passed away, and I had a letter from my legal friend, asking me to come over on the
morrow, as he had secured the attendance of the farmer. I came accordingly, and after luncheon, he
came in as we smoked our pipes.
He was not at all the ideal of a ghost-seer—a middle aged man, bronzed by exposure to wind and
weather, and apparently not given to undue excitement of the imagination.
“I am told,” said I, after we got him comfortably settled, “that you have had some trouble with
ghosts in your time.”
“I have, indeed, sir,” he replied, “and it has cost me dear.”
He thrust into my hands a bill advertising the sale of the stock on Lone Leaze Farm, for the 20th of
December, 18—
“On that forced sale, sir, I lost at least two hundred pounds, and had to go to work as a day
labourer.”
“Tell me the story, right-away, as the American say,” I replied.
“Well, sir, I had an uncle and aunt who lived for fifteen years at Lone Leaze Farm, the farm, sir, on
your right hand by the brook, as you follow the short cut from D— to M—. I can’t say that they were
very happy, aunt was not altogether a pleasing woman; she had a beard, and that you know, sir,
doesn’t improve a woman, and she thought uncle wasn’t so kind to her as he should have been. Now,
after they had spent about fifteen years at the lone farm, uncle thought he had enough to retire upon,
and as I was his favourite nephew, he put me into the place, and lent me the money to buy stock. He
and aunt moved up to the town. So I went to the farm, with my young wife,—I was just married,—and
there we lived happily for about six years, without being vexed with any manner of disturbance; and
there our little girl was born—our only child. About the end of that time poor aunt died, and died
without making it up with uncle. She said to me as she was dying, ‘No, Thomas, I can never forgive
him, for I loved him so much, and he wasn’t true to me,’ and so the poor thing passed away, without
easing her mind. She died up at D— , where they were then living. She had been dead and buried
about a year, and was beginning to be forgotten, as will be the case some day with all of us, when one
day in the middle of November, as my wife was coming home with the little girl in the dusk of the
evening, the child suddenly cried out,—
“Mother, there’s aunt!”
“What do you mean, Katie?”
“Why, there she is just going round by the wood-house, and she has got such a funny head-dress
on.” (And here the child described a curious black head-dress aunt used to wear years before Katie
was born, and which she had never worn in the little one’s lifetime.) This made wife feel very queer,
and she went round the wood house, but could not see anybody.
When I came home she told me all about it, and I tried to persuade her ‘twas all the child’s fancy,
but then there was that circumstance of the headdress, and we could not tell quite what to think.
A few nights after, when I came back from work, wife said,—
“I wish you would come in earlier, Thomas.”
“Why?” I said.
“Because the place is so lonely, and there are such curious noises about it.”
“Noises! what noises?”
“In aunt’s old bedroom.”
“What are they like?”
“Walking about, rapping at the door, and the like.”
“Oh!” said I, “it is all through Katie; if she hadn’t thought she saw aunt, this wouldn’t have come
into your head.” And I tried to reason her out of it.
Well, soon after that my turn came.
I was very late at D— one night; there had been a pig market, and I didn’t get home till they had all
gone to bed. When I first opened the door, all at once a kind of feeling came over me that there was
something wrong in the house, and I trembled and shivered all over. I got to the fire, and made me a
glass of something hot to keep my spirits up, when I heard a step coming along the passage, and knew
it at once by the slop-heeled shoes—always down at heels.
It was the tread of my aunt!
It came to the door, while I sat shivering there, and then stopped. I plucked up my courage, went
to the door and opened it.
There was no one there.
I went to bed, and got to sleep, but I had not slept long when I was awakened by the sound of D—
church clock striking twelve. It was very queer. I never woke in that way before;—the church was
nearly a mile away.
Just as the sound died away, I heard a noise in aunt’s room, the door opened, and then came heavy
steps across the top of the landing between the two rooms, and they came straight to our bedroom
door, it opened, and then in the light of the moon, which shone brightly through the window, I saw
my aunt standing as in life, the head-dress, of which the little one spoke, on her head, and her stony
gaze fixed upon me.
I was that frightened that I sweated as if you had poured a bucket of water over me, and could
neither move nor stir, till it disappeared. Then I woke my wife, and she tried to quiet me, for she was
braver than I at first.
But immediately afterwards there came loud rappings upon the door, the windows, the bed posts,
the table, all about the room, and then they went down stairs, and all about the place—there was no
sleep that dreadful night.
In the morning I went up to D— , and told uncle all about it.
“Thomas,” said he, “if the living don’t hurt you, the dead never will,” and he burst into tears.
“Well,” said I, “I can’t stand it much longer; I shall leave the farm.”
“If you do,” he replied, “you may get into another as you can, and sell your stock as you best may,
for never another penny shall you touch of mine, and I will cut your name out of my will.”
“Then will you come to sleep in the place for a night, just to see what it is like?”
“Not if I knows it,” he replied solemnly.
So I was forced to go back, and do my best to bear it all, for I couldn’t afford to leave the farm, and
when I got home the rappings had already begun. And night after night they came on in the long
winter evenings, just after dark. Now we had a fierce dog, and when they came (these noises) in the
kitchen where he was, he would lie down and howl as if I had been standing over him with a whip;
and the cats were as bad; we shut the two of them up in aunt’s room one night, but they joined their
noises to the other thing, and when we opened the door in the morning they dashed out of the house
like wild things, and we never saw either of them again; and even the cattle were frightened—the
cows struggled in their stalls, and the horses scampered round in the yard. There was a man from D—
,—“Stuttering Tom,” as they called him—a threshing for me once, and it came on before he was gone,
and he well nigh went off into a faint.
Still I tried to bear it, although the nights were dreadful, and I began to think I couldn’t bear it much
longer—it never stopped—but all this time we saw nothing after the first night, until one night.
That night I came home from work, just about dark, and found wife fainting on the bed.
It seems, as she afterwards told me, that she had been doing some needlework all day, and did not
go upstairs to make the beds till dusk; the little girl was standing by her, when all at once the child
cried out,—
“Mother, here is aunt again!”
Wife turned, and there stood aunt so close that she might have touched her.
She fell on the bed in a swoon, and I came in and found her gone like that, and the little girl a crying
over her, and the noises going on everywhere.
I brought her to her senses and got her to bed but how we passed that night I can never fully tell;
we lay trembling and shaking in our beds and those horrible noises kept on, while the dog was howling,
the cattle rushing about, and all the place seemed turned upside down.
“Wife,” said I, “if we live till to-morrow, we will go right away, and never come nigh the place again,
and uncle may come and live here himself if he likes it.”
And so we rose with the first morning light, and packed up a few things, and went all three of us to
D—, where we hired a poor lodging—but at all events a quiet one. I had to sell my stock and give up
the farm, for I couldn’t get another at once, and hadn’t the money wanted for the change. Uncle kept
his word: he was so angry he struck my name out of his will, and wouldn’t help me a bit. All he said
was, “Well, if you can’t live there, no one else shall; I’ll pull the house down, or change it into stables”—
and so he did.
I was forced, as I said before, to go out and work for my bread, for I lost dreadfully by selling the
stock; but anything was better than what we had gone through.
But sometime after, grandfather, uncle’s own father, who was a very early man, went down there
at dawn on a summer morning to hoe the garden, and as he looked under a straddle rick for his hoe,
he saw her all dressed in black, standing against the barn door, and old Captain, uncle’s grey horse,
saw her, too, for he galloped round the yard like mad, and grandfather thought he’d have leapt the
wall.
When he came home he came to me and said, “Thomas, I always believed you, but now I know you
were right, for I have seen her myself, and it went to my very heart to see her standing out there like
that, all dressed in black, and Captain, he saw her, too, and went mad-like.”
Some time after uncle fell ill and died, and when he was dying he sent for me. “Thomas,” he said,
“you were right and I was wrong,” and then he muttered something which sounded like, “that he had
seen her,” and “’twas all right at last,” but I couldn’t quite make out.
And when he was gone and we had laid him by her side, and his will was read to the funeral party
that night, my name was in its old place and I was made a man again.

Here the narrative ended, nor did our subsequent enquiries throw any light on the mysterious
features of the narrative. That the narrator believed every word he said was evident, but yet the
circumstances so far transcended our utmost experience—the apparition not appearing till the year
had passed away—the appearance then not at the scene of death, but at a house the deceased had
left six years earlier, and then not to the faithless husband, but to an innocent nephew, to frighten
him and his out of house and home—all was incredible in the highest degree.
Driving home that night, a lawyer’s clerk from my friend’s house acting as charioteer, we passed
the lone farm in question at my request; it was now simply a farm—the dwelling house quite vacant
and dismantled.
I mentioned the story to my legal companion.
“Yes,” said he, “there can be no doubt poor So-and-so is sincere in the belief of his own story, and
that he lost a deal of money on the transaction, but of course he must have been the victim of an
excited imagination.”
And so I leave the story to the consideration of my hearers—only certifying them, that it is no effort
of my own imagination, but the bonâ fide narrative of one who believed himself to have suffered as
he describes, and whose words I have repeated to the best of my recollection.
***

“A most singular story,” said grandmother, “but after all it teaches a moral lesson, the poor soul
couldn’t rest in peace because she could not forgive.”
“But then, why did she not appear to her husband, not go and torment her poor inoffensive
nephew?”
“Who can tell? but these young people will be afraid to go to bed. I must really interdict this kind
of story, at least after night-fall.”

Notes

1 The penal statute of James I. was not blotted from the Statute Book till 1736; the tale must,
therefore, bear a subsequent date. It is significant that so exemplary a judge as Sir Matthew hale
believed in witchcraft, and considered the statute which he administered to be just, and founded upon
scripture; on the strength of the texts, Exodus xxii, 18, and Deut. xviii. 10.
Night the Sixth

MY readers may think that we had got almost tired of story telling, but on the contrary we felt
much like the Sultan who listened to the tales of his wife for a thousand and one nights, the more we
got, the more we craved: “l’appetit vient en mangeant,” says an old French proverb.
Not that we devoted our whole evenings at the mountain farm to our tales—we played games of
all kinds from blind man’s buff to dominoes, until supper, and then took our dose of legendary lore as
a sort of night-cap, to send us to sleep.
However, we had not found the last night’s tale particularly somniferous: the night-hag had
bestridden the night-mare, and visited most of our couches, after those weird stories told by Cousin
Priscilla and cousin Timothy.
So to-night grandmother sternly forbade any witchcraft or diablerie, and insisted that we should
seek our sensation in the real world of life, not amidst the shadows beyond.
“Come, cousin Frank,” said we, “you must give us a story of the back-woods.”
“Guess I can give you a fairly tall one,” he replied, “about two boys, whom I knew as old men. Their
names are John and Henry Johnson, and they sit at peace under their own vine and fig-tree, having
long buried the hatchet, as the Indians say: they are our neighbours, and I often go and hear them talk
of the exciting days of their boyhood: would you believe me, they took scalps when they were younger
than I am.”
“Took scalps! good gracious!” said grandmother.
“Well, not exactly scalps, but they might have taken them had they known how.”
“Tell us all about it.”
And without further preface Frank began his story, which he entitled—
Captives and Captors

WHEN John and Henry Johnson were boys, they lived in a lone country, west of Wyoming, where
there were no end of massacres, in the old Indian wars, as most people know: it is only about fifty
years since the Shawnees ranged over the hills and forests about the source of the Susquehanna, and
scarce a settlement out there, which has not some bloody traditions to amuse folk, around their
Christmas fires.
They were the sons of farmers, ‘squatters,’ people called them, who had cleared and cultivated the
land of a fertile valley in the West, and when the one was thirteen and the other eleven, the events
occurred I am now going to tell you about; and it will shew you what I have often told you, that boys
brought up in a wild rough country have to do things which would make your hair rise, at home here.
They had gone out after nuts and blackberries in the woods, one fine day after harvest; it was the
Indian summer, and let me tell you there is nothing like it in Enland, so bright and fine and yet not too
hot, the trees decked in all manner of glorious colours, crimson and golden, and purple, and a lot
besides, all the tints of the rainbow, I should say.
Then what blackberries we have, as big as your plums, and nuts of all kinds; we find plenty to eat
in our woods, without coming home to dinner.
So did these two fellows, but they got a little tired, and sat down to rest, when two Indians suddenly
pounced upon them, like vultures from the sky: they had not time to run away, and so were made
prisoners.
Imagine being prisoners to ferocious savages, painted and bedizened, with tomahawk, knife, and
all things befitting, looking as ugly as—well never mind what: wouldn’t you fellows scream if you saw
them, but they had no time to practise screaming out there in the west, only just enough for work and
fighting.
“Save when they sat under their own vine and fig-tree as you said a time ago,” said I, thinking his
talk too tall, and not believing American boys so much finer fellows than ourselves.
“Shut up, let Frank go on,” said the rest, and Frank “smote a quiet smile,” and continued:—
The Indians laughed at their young captives, and played about with them as a cat with a mouse,
pretending to scalp them, and telling them they should be burnt at the stake, and scorched with fire-
brands, have boiling water poured down their throats, and the like, but they did them no immediate
harm, and led them by the hand until after sun down.
The youngest boy Henry wasn’t so plucky as his brother, and cried just a bit, but John kept up his
pluck like a true son of the forest, and cheered the young one up, telling him he meant to find some
way of escape for both; this he managed to say as they trotted along with the savages.
And now the savages found a hollow nook in the forest where they could rest comfortably; and
they made a fire, took from their wallets parched corn, and dried meat, which they shared with the
boys, for fatigue made even this coarse food welcome: and the heat of the fire and the fact that it was
his usual bedtime sent the younger boy to sleep, and John pretended to be sleepy too, although he
was as wide awake as a wild cat.
The two Indians were not up to much, they despised the boys and were over confident, so instead
of tying them hand and foot, each brute took a boy in his arms, folded and interlocked his fingers, and
so lay down to sleep—would you believe it, Henry has told me that he did sleep, but John didn’t, as
you will see.
In a few minutes the red arms of the savage unloosed their hold, and John disengaged himself
softly, as he heard the Indian snoring “in the arms of Murphy,” as Pat would say, and walked back to
the fire.
It had burnt low, and only cast a flickering red light in the branches of the trees above them, and
John stirred the half-burnt faggots, until they blazed, that he might see whether the Indians were
really sound asleep. Yes, they slept like the Seven Sleepers, whoever they were, not a limb stirred,
they did not even wink.
Then he gently pulled his brother, and the arms of the second savage unclosed; so they both stood
by the fire with the sleeping brutes snoring away like hogs at their feet.
“I think,” said John, “we will go home.”
“But they will awake and catch us.”
John reflected a moment; they must have been many miles from home, and in the depths of the
woods, where the Indian is far more at home than the white man, and can follow a trail even by night,
like a bloodhound.
“Then before we go we will kill them,” said John.
The Indians had one gun only, which rested against a tree, with their tomahawks beside it.
John got hold of it, and, resting it on the log of a decayed tree, pointed it at the head of one savage:
he cocked it, took aim at the ear of the sleeping man, and then whispered to Henry to take his place,
and put the boy’s finger on the trigger, ordering him not to pull it, until he gave the word.
Then the brave boy took hold of a tomahawk, and stood astride the savage in whose arms he had
just been folded; then he said
“Now.”
And at the same moment his tomahawk descended and the gun went off. The gun did its deadly
work, and settled its man at once, the tomahawk not quite so neatly; the wretch was not killed at the
first blow, but John stuck to his job, while Henry cried out,
“Lay on, Johnnie, I’ve done for this one,” and the next moment both savages lay dead before them.
Frank paused, while we boys all clapped and cheered.
“Then taking the gun and tomahawk—but forgetting to scalp them—they started for home, and
after a little while, they heard steps approaching in front; they hid in the bushes, till they could make
out who it was: it turned out to be their own father, with a lot of the neighbours, on the scent after
them. When they told their tale no one would believe it at first, but when John led them back the way
he had come, and they found the dead bodies, they declared that the boys were regular bricks.
There, that is a true story, and John and Henry are both living now to prove it.

Yes, we all agreed it was a brave thing, but we thought English boys could have done it too.
“And after all it was not so grand a thing as young Casabianca standing on the burning deck,” said
aunt. “Steady to his duty while the flames were all around him scorching his body, until the ship blew
up,” and here she repeated the well-known poem—
“The boy stood on the burning deck,”
which I will not quote in full as every one knows it.
“But I don’t think much of the French,” said cousin Jack.
“They are brave men sometimes; we have a French Master at my School, who was a fine soldier;
let me tell you his story,” said cousin Ted.
“Come, for cousin Edward’s story,” said they, and he began.
“I will give it you in his own words as nearly as I can recollect them,” said he.
The French Master’s Story

I was twenty-five years of age, and had just obtained my company; I was gazetted captain in 1832.
My regiment had been stationed in the early summer at Gardaia, on the borders of the Algerian
Sahara, for we were then engaged in that short but bloody campaign, in which we conquered the
patriotic chieftain Abd-el-Kader, and ultimately, under General Lamoricière, annexed Algeria as a
colony to the French dominions. The scene of war had for a time shifted from the part of the country
where I was stationed, and our chief work was the keeping open the communications between the
different garrisons quartered in the conquered districts, checking the never-ceasing risings among the
warlike tribes of the desert, and occasionally making a brief raid or foray among the disaffected
districts in Southern Algeria.
It was in the beginning of the month of May that I was summoned to my Colonel’s quarters one
evening, and directed by him to proceed at daybreak with a hundred Chasseurs to El Gorega, a
distance of about one hundred and twenty miles. The object was to convey dispatches of great
importance to the commander of the garrison there, which were to be in his hands by mid-day on the
day following our leaving Gardaia. We were delighted at the prospect of a little movement, for we had
been cooped up in garrison for the previous month, and were longing for an adventure of any sort.
All our arrangements were made that evening, and as the morning sun gilded the snowy peaks of
the distant Atlas mountains the trumpet sounded the “reveille,” and in half-an-hour my company was
drawn up in full marching order awaiting our colonel’s inspection.
This preliminary was soon accomplished, but before the signal to march was given he gave me my
last instructions to halt at a certain point marked out on my route if we could get so far in the day, and
there to pass the night.
“Keep good watch,” said he; “your chief danger will be from midnight assassins; you will meet no
open foes on your line of march.”
Our road lay that day through a beautiful tract of country, along the verge of the great Algerian
desert, of which ever and anon long vistas would spread out between the rugged mountain ranges
which shuts it off from Central Algeria. Semitropical vegetation in the wildest profusion delighted our
eyes on all sides, and the balmy air of the early Algerian summer made the morning ride simply perfect.
As the sun rose in the heavens we took our mid-day meal, and under the grateful shade of a thick
group of overhanging feathery palms halted till the heat began to subside. We had made good
progress, and could afford to rest our horses. As the officers reclined, grouped together around us,
smoking their cigarettes, I told them my colonel’s last injunction, and expressed some surprise at his
thinking it necessary.
“Surely,” said I, “assassins in this country are not bold enough to risk their lives among a hundred
armed men.”
“Call up Sergeant Jacques Duval,” said a young sous-lieutenant, “and he will tell you another story.”
“By all means,” said I, “bid him come forward.”
The man’s tale was a brief one, but to the point. He had been one of a detachment of 200 men
watching the outposts of Abd-el-Kader’s forces the year before. Their officers, twelve in number,
occupied a tent in the midst of the encampment.
On a dark night the whole of them were murdered by dagger thrusts, and that so noiselessly that
the assassins escaped without leaving one trace behind them save a bloody weapon left in the
colonel’s heart.
“Well,” said I, “there is one comfort, and that is, we shall have no darkness to-night, for the moon
is at her full.”
We continued our journey, and after rapid riding reached the spot indicated as our halting place
for the night just as the day came to a close, and the brief tropical twilight had begun. It was a capital
place for a night halt, and well justified the colonel’s selection of it. A long, low wall, broken down at
intervals, surrounded an old abandoned cemetery, and within the enclosure our whole regiment
might have found room to picket their horses and a place of security from night surprises. I took special
care to post the most reliable men I had with me at frequent intervals around the wall, and as I took
my last round in the brilliant moonlight, I observed that a sentinel stood at each place where time or
violence had effected a breach. Around the cemetery was an unbroken expanse of thick, low,
brushwood, through which it seemed impossible that a foe could pass without instant detection.
All seemed perfectly secure, and with a feeling of complete confidence in the precautions taken, I
threaded my way through the groups of men as they lay enveloped in their cloaks buried for the most
part in deep slumber.
In the centre of the cemetery the officers assembled around me to talk over the events of the day
and the news of the war from the eastern frontier, where the great Arab Chieftain was said to be at
the head of 10,000 men. We sat late, sipping our coffee and smoking our cigarettes, till at length a
feeling of drowsiness prevailed among us, and we lay down to sleep. I remember that I selected for
my couch a long, flat stone that stood a few inches above those surrounding it, and stretched out on
this I closely wrapped my cloak around me, placed my loaded pistol within reach, and fell asleep.
How long I slept I cannot tell, but it must have been soon after I closed my eyes that there came
over my mind a dream of intense and life-like reality. I saw in that dream the whole of the bloody
tragedy related by Jacques Duval enacted before my eyes, while I, bound to the dread thrall of
nightmare, could neither lift hand or voice to help. The scene then shifted to our own encampment,
and I saw with distinct, though dreamy vision, figures emerge from the brushwood around the
cemetery, crawling with slow, tortuous, almost imperceptible motion towards the wall. Their dark,
naked bodies, assimilated in colour to the ground, and, to my horror, I saw two sentinels suddenly
struck to the earth and the dreaded foe within the walls.
The moon now shone out brightly on the scene, and in my dream I became awfully conscious that
the play of the moonbeams upon my epaulettes had attracted their attention. On they
came in a line towards me, and as I saw the danger approach I seemed conscious of an awful conflict
between the powers of soul and body to break the bands of sleep.
Nearer and nearer. My God! thought I, shall I awake too late?
The leader had now reached the foot of the stone on which I lay, and I saw him creep with tiger-
like ferocity and stealth to my side, when, with a terrible and convulsive effort, I awoke.
THERE, close to me, with his eyes shining into mine, and his hot breath almost on my cheek, knelt
the assassin, his keen dagger drawn for the fatal thrust.
My pistol lay close to my hand, in my dream I had seemed to grasp it, and in an instant I brought it
to bear on him and fired. The report aroused the whole camp, and every one leapt to his feet. At my
side lay the proof of the reality of the dream, the assassin with his dagger in his hand, but my bullet
through his head. His companions endeavoured to escape, but they were too late, and the whole of
them, six in number, were in our hands.
When my men found that two of the sentinels lay dead at the walls they clamoured for vengeance,
and we held a drum-head court-martial. Before breakfast we led them outside the walls,
and shot them.

***

“It was a wonderful dream,” said I to the French master; “could you ever account for it?”
“Never,” said he; “but that I really dreamed, that I was in no sense awake until the crisis came, I
am as certain as I am of my existence?”
So ended the French master’s tale.
Night the Seventh

THE last evening of the year had now arrived, and we all assembled as usual around the expiring
embers of the old Yule log which had lasted us all the Christmas week.
It was a clear bright frosty night; at the suggestion of our American cousin we carried torches of
pine wood down to the lake and continued our skating by moonlight: I can remember that fairy scene
as if it were yesterday, the skaters, like fireflies, gliding around, the sweet sensation of mystery and
awe as we skated over the deepest and darkest waters of the lake, now in bright moonlight, now in
deep shadow, the merry voices ringing out. So we went on until supper-time, when reluctantly we
returned—reluctantly, although a little tired.
How we did enjoy our supper that night,—roast beef, fragments of the Christmas turkeys, mince
pies, plum pudding,—and then we gathered around the expiring embers of the Yule log which had
lasted us all that happy Christmastide.
We had a guest at supper, the parson of the parish, one who had by no means a sinecure, although
like most mountain priests he was “passing rich on forty pounds a year.” His parish was like a small
bishopric, extending some ten or twelve miles in length, by about the same width. I think the Pillar
Mountain lay in his jurisdiction, although I never heard that, like Simeon Stylites, he spent much time
in devotion there. He was a bachelor, and lived in a small vicarage, very unlike the sumptuous
mansions of the more favoured of his brethren. The door opened at once into the dining-room, there
were but two rooms on the ground floor, besides the kitchen, and two up above; the second of the
former was his study, full of antique tomes, antiquarian, historical, theological, liturgical, nothing for
a boy to read.
He had an old grey pony, upon which he rode up hill and down dale to visit his scattered flock; for
there were seldom more than two or three houses found contiguous; frequently he spent the night
away from home, and now he had come round the frozen lake to visit us at the valley farm, a visit
which chanced about once every three months. He was of course asked to sup and to stay the night,
to which, nothing loth, he consented, and of course we expected the payment of a story, suitable to
the last night of the old year.
“You are expected to pay your forfeit this evening, parson!“ said my grandfather.
“Well, how much is it, or what is it?”
“The forfeit of a tale.”
“What sort of a tale is it to be?“
“Suitable to the last day of the year,” said grandmother.
“You remind me of an old friend I have lost this year, and who left on record a very singular and
almost incredible story.”
“These boys will believe it, whatever it may be.”
He did not belong to our Communion, being the chaplain to one of the great Roman Catholic
families of Lancashire, who never accepted the Reformation; but he was a most amiable and worthy
man; like myself, fond of antiquarian lore, and our studies first introduced us to each other, and
afterwards brought us much together; but I will tell you his story, just being careful to guard myself
against any theological deduction which might be drawn from any incidents therein contrary to the
principles or practice of our Reformed Church.
The Parson’s Tale

Father Ambrose was travelling in France with the family to which he was attached, in charge of his
pupil, the only son and heir. It was just after the Revolution, and indeed must have been during the
brief interval of peace which was closed by the breach of the treaty of Amiens, an opportunity which
was embraced with alacrity by the travelling portion of the community, long excluded from France.
“Some of them didn’t find it so easy to get back,” said uncle John.
No indeed, for when Napoleon suddenly declared war, he made all the English then travelling in
France prisoners, contrary to the principles and practice of modern nations; but enough, I must get on
with my tale.
It was late in the day when they arrived at an old Cathedral city in the south of France; they sought
the principal inn, dined, and leaving his pupil wrapt in the enjoyment of a cigar, Father Ambrose
strolled out to look at the Cathedral.
It was a sad sight, and made the good father feel much as I feel when I look at the ruins of Furness
Abbey, and think of what once was.
The insane revolutionists in their bacchanalian riot against GOD and holy things, had first placed a
goddess of reason on the desecrated altar and then in mad riot, broken and defaced the shrines—the
sculpture, the glories of the venerable pile; the devotion of centuries had been expended in rendering
it an object of beauty for all ages, the mad fanaticism of one age, had destroyed it, thus injuring
posterity in their cruel injustice, for the great works of our forefathers are only ours in trust for future
generations.
The windows had been so studiously pelted by successive generations of schoolboys, that they had
not a pane of glass remaining, save in a few inaccessible positions; the great oak iron-bound door
stood open and the chaplain entered.
While in sad reverie, he gazed upon the desecrated shrines and altars; the sun set and the angelus
tolled the farewell of parting day, for it was a summer evening. Our good chaplain knelt at the sound
in prayer, for it appealed to his habits of piety, and soon found himself pouring out strong supplications
mingled with tears, for the unhappy Church of France.
“But had not Napoleon restored the Church?” asked cousin Priscilla.
Rome was not built in a day; the hand of the restorer had not reached this ancient cathedral as yet;
it is not a ruin now, as we shall see. All at once his devotions were interrupted by a loud clang, and
rising, he found that the verger, after ringing the Angelus, had closed the door.
Our friend was entrapped; the windows were too high for him to climb out, and after having
satisfied himself that there was no avenue of escape, he quietly gave way to circumstances, only sorry
for the party to which he belonged, lest they should be uneasy about him.
But there was no help for it, and the chaplain made himself a couch in a seat of the choir, with
some ruined cushions, which had once graced the decanal stalls; it was quite warm, and after saying
his office of Compline, he fell asleep.
He slept soundly until the hour of midnight, when, although he had not been awakened by the
chimes which told of the flight of previous hours, he woke at the resonant boom of the bell in the
clock tower and sat upright.
Then he perceived a streak of light, or rather two, at right angles to each other, upon the northern
wall to the left of the high altar, such as would be made by a person standing with a light behind a
door, which did not fit closely: indeed it seemed to be a door for it opened, and a figure came out clad
in white surplice (or girded alb) over a black cassock.
The figure “pattered” along the marble floor to the high altar,—“pattered along,” the feet making
a singular noise as if he walked in pattens; he stood at the altar, spread a fair linen cloth, lit the two
candles, furnished the “credence,” and as he did so, revealed the startling, nay, horror-striking fact
that his feet were fleshless, the extremities of a skeleton.
Now he turned and looked down the choir where our chaplain lay, and the eyeless orbs of a skull,
yet filled with a lurid light, searched out the darkness.
Then came a voice—
“Is there any priest present, who will say a mass for my poor soul?“
Our priest dared not reply: dared not.
The lights burnt dimly—went out—and the poor chaplain tried to sleep, and believe it was all a
dream, yet what man could sleep after such a nightmare: the very heights and depths of the vast
gothic fane, seemed the haunts of occult influences or existences now, although innocent enough the
moment before; the night wind sighed as if Ossian’s thousand ghosts shrieked upon it, and a poor
harmless bat appeared to come from the portico of the nether unknown. At last, just when “nature’s
sweet nurse,” sleep, came to soothe the poor priest, once more the clock struck one.
Again! yes again! the light appeared, behind the door, again the ghostly acolyte standing before
the altar asked—
“Is there any priest present who will say a mass for my poor soul?”
The chaplain half rose at the sad appeal, faltered, hesitated, and then sank back on his cushions.
Again the lights sank, died, and all was dark.
But our priest was now ashamed of himself: here was a poor soul, craving for help, and a help
which the tenets and practices of his own church authorized, nay, commanded him to give, and his
cowardice prevented him from complying; shame conquered fear—“If he asks me again I will say, I
am a priest: I will.”
The chaplain could sleep no more: he lay awake and counted the moments until the third hour, the
hour of two: he was full of holy courage: and when again he saw the light in the rectangular streak, he
quivered not nor quailed.
Again the ghostly acolyte stood forth, again the same pitiful cry was raised.
“Is there any priest who will say a mass for my poor soul?”
“I am a priest, and I will.”
The chaplain rose, and went forward, and fleshless hands were raised, holding the holy garments
in which he arrayed himself; he said the mass, the ghostly server ministering behind, and the
indescribable patter of bone on stone incessantly recurred.
At length all was over; the Mass was said, when, as the priest with a sigh of relief descended the
altar steps, the acolyte spake:
“Father, thou hast freed me from what I cannot give thee now to understand; in return I will do
thee a service. One whole day, before the hour of thy death, I will come and give thee warning, that
thou mayest set thine house in order before thou die.”
And now the priest slept again till the doors were opened—slept the sleep of the just—and the few
who came according to their custom to say their prayers at the desecrated shrines, found him sound
asleep and awoke him; he rejoined his party, and in due course returned to England, where he spent
the rest of his quiet and unobtrusive life at — Castle.
Now what I am about to tell you all occurred only last Eastertide.
The chaplain was then a hale old man—not so very old—some years short of the threescore and
ten promised to man as the average limit of his existence. He was in his study one day about the end
of last April, when he heard a sound behind him, which awakened a flood of dormant recollections.
He turned, and there stood the ghostly acolyte of thirty years before.
“I am come to give thee the warning I promised in return for the great service thou didst for me:
set thine house in order, for within twenty-four hours thou shalt die.”
Then the warning vision disappeared.
The good chaplain accepted the warning. He told his patron the whole story, he discharged the
spiritual duties yet remaining to be fulfilled for himself and others: then having made his peace with
GOD and man, and set “his house in order,” he calmly awaited, with the confidence of one who knows
and trusts his heavenly Father, the end which he (but no one else) firmly believed to be near.
At twelve he was alone in his study.
The housekeeper in her room beneath heard a heavy fall.
She went up and found him dead on the floor.
Disease of the heart—before unsuspected.

***

The impression produced by this narrative was profound, but before anyone had raised a
comment, the parson went on—
More curious still, last summer Lord — and his party visited the continent, and went to that very
city. The cathedral had been restored, although not to its former magnificence: Lord — as a Roman
Catholic, had an introduction to the Dean, and to him he told the whole story, concluding with a
request that the wall in question might be examined.
The Dean consented. The tapestry was raised, and the wall examined. Lord— noticed that a curious
re-arrangement of the original stones had taken place, and requested that an excavation might be
made, where in his opinion they had been removed and hastily built in again.
It was done;—masons were sent for; stone after stone was removed, and as they fell upon the
marble pavements, a dark recess appeared within which bound by manacles to the solid wall behind,
was a fleshless skeleton.

***

After the first sensation had passed away, we all asked: “Why had the poor wretch been shut up
there?”
“Probably for infidelity to his vows; there is a like case in a striking poem recently published by a
young author—‘Marmion.’”
“How dreadful!”
“But how do you explain the vision?”
Only in the words of Shakespeare:—

“There are more things in heaven and earth. Horatio,


Than are dreamt of in your philosophy.”

We sat silent awhile, and gazed into the red embers of the Yule Log, and while we thus mused, the
distant Church tower—
“Flung out the silver, hid deep in its chimes”
They were ringing out the old year, ringing in the new. And the sweet sounds came floating up the
valley, as they had done for centuries on this night, and at this hour. To the young they told of a happy
time coming, for “the boys romance is all before;” to the aged they spoke of friends and companions
no longer with them, who had listened to the sweet music of the bells by their side in days gone by,
for “the man’s romance,” at least the old man’s “is all behind.” Then the old folk thoughtfully, and the
young folk merrily, sought their beds.

***

A generation has passed away; that happy group has been dispersed all over the world; the dear
old grand-parents sleep under that tower over the lake, and the midnight bells peal over them each
New Year’s Night, as when they were with us. Uncles and aunts are nearly all gone too, but the cousins,
they are alive, most of them, and in different walks of life, or in various climes are doing their
appointed work, and carrying out their destiny. GOD be with them all, whether on the other side, or
this side of the dark river.
ONE OF THEM.