Human Animals Part 13

"La Blanche Biche," as the story is called in the original, is told in verse which may be rendered roughly as follows:--

Afar in the fields dwell a mother and daughter, The mother sings on, but the fair maid sighs.

"For what do you sigh, my dear Angelique?"

"I sigh in great need, for my heart is sad.

In the day I'm a maid, but at night a white hind, The hounds are upon me and hunters as well, And the worst pack of all is my brother's pack.

Go forth, mother dear, to his castle and say, He must call back the hounds and the hunters too."

Then the mother puts her distaff aside And runs to the castle of Renaud, her son, To tell him to stay his hounds and his men.

"But my hounds, mother, are after the white hind now."

"Call them back, Renaud, for sweet Angelique Dwells in the shape of that same white hind."

Then Renaud seizes his hunter's horn, But before he can blow two blasts loud and clear, The white hind is taken and brought by the hounds To the castle kitchen, where, seized by the cook, Its joints are severed, its flesh is sliced; And a shout comes from the castle hall, "Set a fine feast for us all to-night, For a number of guests will honour our house, All but our sister, the fair Angelique."

Then the smoking dishes appear on the board, And the guests turn longing eyes on the feast, When a plaintive sigh is heard through the hall, And a woman's sad voice rings out in a shriek, That curdles the blood of the waiting guests.

"My breasts are lying on platters of gold, My heart's on the spit, and it groans and it moans, My bright eyes, embedded in pastry, grow dim; But my soul dwells with angels in paradise, And that of my brother is destined for hell!"

At these terrible words, from invisible source, Renaud starts up! Then falls back--_stone dead_.

While his mother slips under the board in a swoon.

This is a far more harrowing story than the Yorkshire legend of a woman who turns into a white doe, which is found in Wordsworth's "The White Doe of Rylstone."

When Lady Aaliza mourned Her son, and felt in her despair, The pang of unavailing prayer; Her son in Wharf's abysses drowned, The noble boy of Egremound, From which affliction, when God's grace At length had in her heart found place, A pious structure fair to see, Rose up this stately priory!

The lady's work,--but now laid low; To the grief of her soul that doth come and go, In the beautiful form of this innocent doe: Which though seemingly doomed in its breast to sustain A softened remembrance of sorrow and pain, Is spotless, and holy, and gentle and bright-- And glides o'er the earth like an angel of light.

Burke has a very different version of the famous and spotless White Doe of Rylstone,[72] the animal being gifted with human faculties rather than appearing in human form, and the story having some affinity with those of the fairy-godmother class. This beautiful white doe belonged to Emily, the only daughter of Richard Norton of Rylstone, who had nine warrior sons. The youngest of them, Edward by name, had made a present of the doe to his sister and the animal was called Blanche on account of her spotless white skin. She followed her young mistress everywhere and was like a human companion. So great was her intelligence that she was thought to be a benevolent witch or fairy, perhaps rather a sprite bewitched in animal form.

One day she leads her mistress a long way from home, to a spot beside a brooklet which is held by the people of the neighbourhood to be haunted. Having reached the desired destination, the doe lies down to rest and Emily does likewise. Presently she falls into a kind of dream, in which it seems to her that the brook boils and bubbles up and a wraith of mist rises on the surface which gradually takes the shape and outlines of a beautiful woman.

This spirit warns Emily in a vision of coming disaster to her beloved father and eight of her brothers. She sees them done to death by the axe. Meanwhile the doe lies immovable in a kind of trance and it may well be thought that her real womanly self is seen by Emily in its natural shape.

Soon afterwards Emily is informed by Edward that her father and eight of her brothers are on the point of breaking out into open rebellion against the Sovereign of England and that it is necessary for him to join them, although doing so goes against his convictions, as he is loyal to Queen Elizabeth. Nothing that Emily can do or say dissuades him from his decision, and she parts from him in great grief.

At first the rebels succeed in their projects, but presently their attacks fail and they are forced to retreat. A rumour reaches Emily that all the Nortons have been captured and condemned to death and that the rebellion is over.

In the hope of saving her father and brothers, Emily sets out, accompanied by Blanche, to sue Queen Elizabeth for pardon on behalf of her relatives. On the long and perilous journey to Court, Blanche again acts as her adviser, and gives her almost human help in moments of difficulty, and so charmed is the Queen by the beauty of the suppliant and her intelligent animal comrade, that she sends Lord Leicester post-haste to York with a reprieve for the Nortons.

Unfortunately the messenger arrives too late to save any member of the family except the youngest son, Edward, Emily's favourite, and thus the beautiful human doe is instrumental in saving him, at least, from the scaffold.


[63] "Essays of Elia," 1904, p. 128.

[64] Webster, Dr. John, "The Displaying of Supposed Witchcraft," 1677, pp. 347-9.

[65] Glanvill, Joseph, "Sadducismus Triumphatus," 1726, p. 326.

[66] Extracted from the Wodrow MS., as printed in "An Historical Account of the Belief in Witchcraft in Scotland," by C. K. Sharpe, 1884, pp. 180-94.

[67] Sharpe, C. K., "An Historical Account of the Belief in Witchcraft in Scotland," 1884, p. 98.

[68] "Legendes de Sorcellerie," 1898.

[69] Scott, Reginald, "The Discovery of Witchcraft," 1886, pp. 75-6.

[70] "The Metamorphosis or Golden Ass of Apuleius," 1822, pp. 7-8.

[71] Gelin, H., "Legendes de Sorcellerie," 1898.

[72] "Anecdotes of the Aristocracy," 1849, pp. 152-81.



From witch stories it is only a short step to stories about witches'

familiars, for nearly all sorcerers are gifted with the power of sending out a spirit or second soul to do the work of the evil one. A distinction has therefore to be made between the witch in animal form and the external soul of the witch sent forth in the shape of an animal while she retains her human appearance.

The "familiar" or "imp," whether a real animal or spirit in animal form, stands ever ready at the sorcerer's elbow waiting to do his bidding. The "life" of the familiar is bound up with that of the witch, and if the former be wounded, the latter will suffer from an injury in a corresponding part of the body. Death to the familiar means death to the witch, and the way to get rid of the spell is to kill the double of the witch. To this class belong some of the most interesting phenomena, as well as the most inexplicable, dealing with the human animal theory.

In one case a blue butterfly was seen to flutter over a certain farm, and as affairs there had not been going at all well, it was looked upon with dread and suspicion as the bringer of evil. For three weeks the insect hovered about and during that period "no butter came." Then the farmer decided to take steps to break the enchantment. Armed with a wet towel he sallied forth to chase the alleged familiar and, cleverly flapping his cloth, he brought down the butterfly at a swoop.

Precisely at that moment a woman, who was suspected of being a witch, was found lying dead outside the door of her house close by, and after the double event there was no further trouble with the churning.

Matthew Hopkins of Manningtree, Essex, a witch-finder of ill-fame, was the cause of bringing thousands of supposed witches to judgment and so to the stake. He was paid 20s. in each town he visited and managed to rid of its suspicious characters, and he appears to have found his profession extraordinarily lucrative. In 1644 he was commissioned by Parliament to make a circuit through several counties with a view to discovering witches. He travelled in the company of several boon companions for three years and was instrumental in having sixteen persons hanged at Yarmouth, forty at Bury and at least sixty in other parts of Suffolk, Norfolk and Huntingdonshire.

During a notorious trial of a number of witches at Chelmsford, Essex, on July 29th, 1645, Hopkins made a deposition about an alleged witch, Elizabeth Clarke, who confessed that she had known the devil intimately for more than six years and that he visited her between three and five times a week. She invited Hopkins and his companions, one of whom was a man called Sterne, to stay at her house for a time until she could call up one of her white imps for them to see. Presently there appeared on the scene an imp like a dog, white and with sandy spots, which seemed to be very fat and plump, with short legs. The animal forthwith vanished away. The said Elizabeth gave the name of this imp as Jarmara. And immediately afterwards there appeared another imp, which she called Vinegar Tom, in the shape of a greyhound with long legs. The said Elizabeth then remarked that the next imp should be black in colour and that it should come for Master Sterne (the other witness already mentioned), and it appeared as she promised, but presently vanished without leaving a sign. The last imp of all to come before the spectators was a creature in the shape of a polecat, but the head somewhat bigger. The said Elizabeth then disclosed to the informant that she had five imps of her own. And two other imps with which she had dealings belonged to a certain Beldame Anne West.[73]

The said Matthew Hopkins, when going from the house of a Mr. Edwards of Manningtree, to his own house, one night between nine and ten o'clock, accompanied by his favourite greyhound, noticed the dog give a sudden leap and run off as though in full course after a hare.

Hastening to see what the greyhound pursued so eagerly, he espied a white thing about the size of a kitten, and the panting dog was standing aloof from the creature. By and by the imp or kitten began to dance about and around the said greyhound and, viciously approaching him, bit or tore a piece of flesh off the dog's shoulder.

Coming later into his own yard, the informant saw a black thing proportioned like a cat, only that it was thrice as big, sitting on a strawberry bed and fixing its luminous eyes on him. But when he went towards it, it leaped suddenly over the palings and ran towards the informant as he thought, but instead, it fled through the yard with his greyhound in hot pursuit after it to a great gate which was "underset with a pair of tumbrell strings," and it did throw the said gate wide open and then vanished. And the said greyhound returned again to the informant shaking and trembling exceedingly.

Sterne gave evidence on the same day, and much to the same effect, but said that the white imp was like a cat but not so big, and when he asked Elizabeth whether she was not afraid of her imps she answered, "What! do you think I am afraid of my children?" and she called the imp Jarmara as having red spots, and spoke of two more called Sack and Sugar. Four other witnesses confirmed the story practically in its entirety.

Elizabeth Clarke herself gave evidence then, and said Anne West had sent her a "thing like a little kitlyn," which would obtain food for her. Two or three nights after this promise, a white thing came to her in the night, and the night after a grey one spoke to her and said it would do her no hurt and would help her to get a husband. After various charges against the said Elizabeth Clarke and her accomplice, Elizabeth Gooding, Anne Leech, a third woman accused of witchcraft, deposed on April 14th that she and the other two accused sent their respective grey, black and white imps to kill cattle belonging to various neighbours, and that later they had sent them to kill neighbours' children and she added that her imps spoke to her in a hollow voice which she plainly understood, and that these accused witches had met together at the house of the said Elizabeth Clarke, when a book was read "wherein she thinks there was no goodness."

Another woman suspected of witchcraft was Helen Clark who confessed on April 11th that the devil had appeared to her in the likeness of a white dog, and that she called her familiar Elimanzer and that she fed him with milk-pottage and that he spoke to her audibly and bade her deny Christ.

With the witch Anne West was implicated her daughter Rebecca West, who, however, was acquitted, and the notorious Matthew Hopkins deposed that she had told him of visiting the house of Clarke with her mother, and that they had found Leech, Gooding, and Helen Clark, and that the devil had appeared in the shape of a dog, afterwards in the shape of two kittens, then in the shape of two dogs, and that the said familiars did homage in the first place to the said Elizabeth Clarke and slipped up into her lap and kissed her, and then went and kissed all that were in the room except the said Rebecca, who was then made to swear on a book that she would not reveal what she saw or heard--on pain of the torments of hell, and that afterwards the devil came and kissed her and promised to marry her, and she sent him to kill a neighbour's child, of the name of Hart, who died within a fortnight.

Susan Sparrow, who gave her evidence on the 25th of April, said that the house in which she lived with one Mary Greenleif, was haunted by a leveret which usually came and sat before the door, which, when coursed by a dog, never stirred, "and just when the dog came at it, he skipped over it and turned about and stood still, and looked on it, and shortly after that the dog languished and died."

Another of the witches, called Margaret Moone, had a familiar "in the likeness of a rat for bigness and shape, but of a greyer colour." She confessed to two of the witnesses that she had twelve imps and called these by such names as Jesus, Jockey, Mounsier, Sandy, Mrs. Elizabeth, and Collyn, etc. Moone was a "woman of very bad fame," who confessed to many crimes, especially of causing the death of animals and children.

Rose Hallybread, who died in gaol before execution, was accused of being implicated with Joyce Boanes in sending four familiars to the house of a carpenter, Robert Turner, whose servant was then taken sick and "crowed perfectly like a cock, sometimes barked like a dog," sang tunes, groaned, and struggled with such strength that five strong men were needed to hold him. Boanes confessed that her imp made the victim bark like a dog, Hallybread's imp caused him "to sing sundry tunes in great extremity of pains," and Susan Cork compelled him to crow. The torture was inflicted because Turner's servant had refused to give Susan Cork a sack full of chips.

Anne Cate, another of the witches who was executed at Chelmsford, said she had three familiars like mice and a fourth like a sparrow. They were called James, Prickeare, Robyn, and Sparrow, and she sent them to kill both cattle and human beings.

It was thought impossible to kill these familiars, and one Goff, a glover and very honest man of Manningtree, confessed to passing Anne West's house about four o'clock on a moonlight morning and seeing her door was open, he looked into the house. "Presently there came three or four little things in the shape of black rabbits leaping and skipping about him, who, having a good stick in his hand, struck at them thinking to kill them, but could not, but at last caught one of them in his hand, and holding it by the body, he beat the head of it against his stick, intending to beat the brains out of it; but when he could not kill it that way, he took the body in one hand and the head in another and endeavoured to wring off the head, and as he wrung and stretched the neck of it, it came out between his hands like a lock of wool." Then he tried to drown it in a spring, but kept falling down.

Chapter end

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