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Human Animals Part 26

Some time after they met again and she learnt that his uncle had died the same night, and that she had seen the animal, and when she remarked that it was strange that it should have been visible to her and not to him, he said that on many other occasions the phantom had appeared to someone outside the family, though always near to a member of it to whom it was visible.

A black dog appears as a death warning to some families, as related by Catherine Crowe in "The Night Side of Nature."[147]

A young lady of well-known family was sitting at work, well and cheerful, when she saw to her great surprise a large black dog close to her. As both door and window were closed she could not understand how he had got in, but when she started up to put him out she could no longer see him. Quite puzzled and thinking it must be some strange illusion, she sat down again, and went on with her work, when presently he was there again. Much alarmed, she now ran out and told her mother, who said she must have fancied it, or else that she must be ill. She said that she was quite well and that she was sure she had seen the animal. Then her mother promised to wait outside the door, and if the dog appeared again her daughter said she would call her.

Presently the daughter saw the dog again, but he disappeared when she called her mother. Soon afterwards the mother was taken ill and died.

Before her death she said to her daughter, "Remember the black dog."

Another family in the east of England has a tradition that the appearance of a black dog portends the death of one of its members. It was not said that no death took place without such warning; but only that, when the apparition occurred, its meaning was certain. The eldest son of this family married. He knew not whether to believe or disbelieve the legend. On one hand he thought it superstitious to receive it, and, on the other, he could not altogether reject it in the face of much testimony. In this state of doubt--the thing itself being unpleasant--he resolved to say nothing on the subject to his young wife. It could only, he thought, worry and harass her, and could not by any possibility do any good, and he kept this resolution. In due course of time he had a family; but of the apparition he saw nothing. At length, one of his children was taken ill with small-pox; but the attack was slight and not the least danger was apprehended. He was sitting down to dinner with his wife, when she said, "I will just step upstairs and see how baby is going on, and I will be back again in a moment." She went and, returning rather hastily, said, "Baby is asleep; but pray go upstairs, for there is a large black dog lying on his bed. Go up and drive it out of the house." The father had no doubt of the result. He went upstairs; there was no black dog to be seen; but the child was dead.[148]

The New Hall at Nafferton was the occasional residence of the Derwentwater (Radcliffe) family, who left it for Dilston Hall in 1768.

Gradually the place fell into decay and strange things were seen about the house. The apparitions were most frequent at times of birth or death, or as preliminaries to any fatal accident, and they took the forms of a white weasel, a white hen, or a white rabbit, and sometimes a headless person dressed in white. Rappings and other noises were frequent, and became so obtrusive that finally a farmer who lived in the house decided to investigate matters. He called his brother to help him, and as the worst noises came from a cavity in his own room, covered by a hearthstone and called the "Priest's Hole," they began by digging up the hearthstone. Beneath it was an accumulation of rubbish, which they emptied out until they found a flagged recess, surrounded at the sides by a stone seat, the actual hiding-place of priests, usual in the houses of gentry of Roman Catholic tenets. Seeing nothing extraordinary, they were about to desist from their labours when they thought they heard a voice urging them to go on digging. From the "priest's hole" they entered another apartment, and then a third, where they found a blood-stained shirt and nightcap, which were apparently of new linen, but as soon as they were exposed to the atmosphere they crumbled away like "burnt tinder."

On careful inquiry it was discovered that about the time of the Radcliffes' occupancy, an old pedlar had been murdered on the spot and his goods stolen by the innkeeper's daughters.[149]

Albert Smith, whose brother was a pupil at Guildford Grammar School, tells a story of a phantom vision which appeared at the time of a death. Several of the schoolboys had been sitting up all night for a frolic when one of them said, "I'll swear there's a likeness of our old huntsman on his grey horse going across the whitewashed wall!" He was laughed at for being so superstitious, but next morning a servant came from the family to say "the old huntsman had been thrown from his horse and killed that morning whilst airing the hounds."

It is no easier to attempt to explain such an apparition than it is to say why Jemmy Lowther, the "bad Lord Lonsdale," was said to dash about in his phantom coach and six after his death.

Another member of a noble family was responsible for bringing trouble on his house through his wicked ways.

The Lambtons were haunted for nine generations by a horrible snake or worm which brought much evil in its train. One day the heir to the estate, a ne'er-do-well, was fishing in the Wear on a Sunday and catching nothing he vented his anger in loud curses. Soon afterwards there were indications that a fish was on his line, and, to his disgust, he found he had hooked a monster, something between a worm and a serpent. Terrified, he threw the creature into a well close by.

Before long, repenting of his wicked ways, he betook himself to the Crusades, leaving his aged father to look after the estates without him. Meanwhile the monster he had caught grew too large for the well and crawled forth to work ill to the country-side, laying waste the land, devouring cattle, and plundering right and left. The villagers tried to appease it by offerings of milk, but no real release was to be had from this serpent-tyrant until the return of the young heir from the Crusade. Then he battled with the monster for freedom, much in the manner of St. George and the Dragon, except that he took a vow to offer as a sacrifice the first living thing he met after his victory was won. To his horror this happened to be his father, and incapable of parricide, he preferred to allow a curse to descend on posterity, and for nine generations the Lambtons died by violence.

But no Christian might his father slay, No penance the deed atone; And no Lambton for nine ages past, To die in his bed was known.

Another story tells of what happened to a noble dame when she died, after having lived an evil life.

Lady Howard in the time of James I was said to be the possessor of evil qualities in spite of her beauty and accomplishments. She was cruel to her only daughter, and was thought to get rid of her husbands by mysterious means, for she had been married four times.

When she died she had to do penance for her sins. Being transformed into a hound, she was compelled to run a long distance every night from her residence at Fitzford, to Okehampton Park and back to her old home, carrying a blade of grass picked from the park. This work was to go on until all the grass had been removed from Okehampton.

That evil-doing is punishable by a descent in the scale of being is a salient point which appears in the race-beliefs of many nations.

The Lady Sybil of Bernshaw Tower, a fair maid of high rank but evil repute, turned into a white doe after making a strange compact with the devil. Rich, young, and beautiful, her desires were still unsatisfied and she longed for supernatural powers, so that she might take part in the witches' Sabbath. At this time, Lord William of Hapton Tower (a member of the Townley family) was a suitor for Lady Sybil's hand, but his proposals did not meet with her approval. In despair, he decided to consult a famous Lancashire witch called Mother Helston, who promised him success on All Halloween. In accordance with her instructions he went hunting and at a short distance from the Eagle's Crag a milk-white doe started from behind the thicket, and he found it impossible to capture the animal. His hounds were wearied and he returned to the Crag, almost determined to give up the chase, when a strange hound joined his pack. Then a fresh start was made, and the strange hound, Mother Helston's familiar, captured the white doe. That night an earthquake shook Hapton Tower to its foundations and in the morning the white doe appeared as the fair Lady Sybil, who had been fleeing from her suitor in animal shape. Thus Lord William married the heiress of Bernshaw Tower, but a year later she renewed her diabolical practices and not until she lay near death was it possible for Lord William to have the devil's bond cancelled, which he did by enlisting the holy offices of a neighbouring priest. After her death Bernshaw Tower was deserted and tradition says that on All Halloween, the hound and the milk-white doe meet on the Eagle's Crag, where Lady Sybil lies buried, and are pursued by a spectre huntsman in full chase.[150]

Sometimes the ghost of a human being has the power of taking animal shape, as in the case of the eccentric Miss Beswick of Birchen Bower, Hollinwood.

Birchen Bower was a quaint four-gabled mansion built in the form of a cross, and attached to it was a large barn, where many uncanny incidents happened.

"On the 22nd of July," says the "Manchester Guardian" of August 15, 1868, "the remains of Miss Beswick were committed to the earth in the Harpurhey Cemetery. There is a tradition that this lady, who is supposed to have died about one hundred years ago, had acquired so strong a fear of being buried alive that she left certain property to her medical attendant, so long as her body should be kept above ground. The doctor seems to have embalmed her body with tar, and then swathed it with a strong bandage, leaving the face exposed, and to have kept 'her' out of the grave as long as he could. For many years past the mummy has been lodged in the rooms of the Manchester Natural History Society (Peter Street), where it has been an object of much popular interest. It seems that the commissioners, who are charged with the rearrangement of the Society's collections, have deemed this specimen undesirable, and have at last buried it."

A curious bargain appears to have been made by Miss Beswick, namely, that every twenty-one years her body was to be taken back to Birchen Bower and be left there for one week, and the more elderly inhabitants declared that this was done at the stated times, and the body laid in the granary of the old farmstead. On the morning when the corpse was fetched away, the horses and cows were invariably found to have been let loose, and sometimes a cow would be found up in the hayloft, although how it came there was a mystery, as there was no passage large enough to admit the animal. The last prank of this description played by Miss Beswick, as far as information goes, was a few years ago when a cow belonging to the farmer then tenanting the place was found in the hayloft. Naturally enough the neighbours believed that supernatural agency had been employed to place it there. This occurred at the fourteenth anniversary of seven years after Miss Beswick died, and it was a recognised fact that some apparition was usually seen at Birchen Bower at the expiration of every seven years. No one could explain how the cow could get into the loft, and blocks had to be borrowed from Bower Mill to get her down again through the hay-hole outside the barn.

After Miss Beswick's death her house was divided up into several cottages, and she seems to have haunted the spot. To one family she appeared as an old lady in a silken gown, and her arrival was invariably announced to them as they were seated at supper by a rustling of silk which was heard at the entrance. Soon after the lady, arrayed in black silk, glided into the room, walked straight into the parlour and disappeared at one particular flagstone. As she annoyed no one her appearance never drew forth any further remark than "Hush! Here's the old lady again."

Tradition said that Miss Beswick had hidden vast sums of money and other articles of value in the time of Prince Charlie (1745), and a weaver who lived in a part of the haunted house found a tin vessel full of gold pieces under the floor of the haunted parlour. It was thought after this discovery that the phantom lady would rest in her grave, but this was not the case, and she recently appeared near an old well by the brook-side. A rustic going to fetch water, saw a tall lady standing by the well, wearing a black silk gown and a white cap with a frilled border. She stood there in the dusk in a defiant or threatening attitude, streams of blue light appearing to dart from her eyes and flash on the horror-stricken spectator. This appearance of the phantom was said to mean that Miss Beswick could get no rest until certain members of her family regained their property, a result which does not appear to be yet achieved, for the phantom still haunts the neighbourhood, on clear moonlight nights, walking in a headless state between the old barn and the horse-pool, and at other times assuming the forms of different animals which, however, are always lost sight of near the horse-pool. Some people think that Miss Beswick concealed something on this spot in 1745, and is now anxious to point out her treasure to anyone brave enough to address her. On dreary winter nights the barn where the phantom cow was found is said to appear as though on fire, a red glow being observed through the loopholes and crevices of the loft, and loud noises proceeding from the building as though the evil one and his demons were holding revels there. But if an alarm of fire is raised by a frightened neighbour and the farmer has the premises searched, all is found to be in order, and the terror-stricken inhabitants of the village declare that Madame Beswick is up to her ghostly pranks again.[151]

The popular belief in transformation is at the root of a strange family story about Callaly Castle, which is beautifully situated at the foot of the wooded slopes of Callaly Castle Hill, whose highest peaks are some 800 feet above sea level. In the modern building are incorporated the remains of an ancient border tower, the stronghold of the Claverings. The Survey of 1541 says, "At Callalye ys a toure of th'inheritaunce of Claverynge in measurable good repac'ons."

This was probably the tower which owed its erection on its present site--the "Shepherd's Shaw," to a difference in opinion between the Lord and Lady of Callaly in olden days.

The following account of the legend was given by Mr. George Tate, F.G.S., in an article on "Whittingham Vale," contributed to the "Alnwick Mercury," in 1862: "A lord of Callaly in the days of yore, commenced erecting a castle on the hill: his lady preferred a low, sheltering situation in the vale. She remonstrated, but her lord was wilful, and the building continued to progress. What she could not obtain by persuasion she sought to achieve by stratagem, and availed herself of the superstitious opinions of the age. One of her servants who was devoted to her interests, entered into her scheme: he was dressed up like a boar, and nightly he ascended the hill and pulled down all that had been built during the day. It was soon whispered that the spiritual powers were opposed to the erection of a castle on the hill; the lord himself became alarmed, and he sent some of his retainers to watch the building during the night and discover the cause of the destruction. Under the influence of the superstitions of the times those retainers magnified appearances, and when the boar issued from the wood and commenced overthrowing the work of the day, they beheld a monstrous animal of enormous power. Their terror was complete when the boar, standing among the overturned stones, cried out in a loud voice:

"Callaly Castle built on the height, Up in the day and down in the night; Builded down in the Shepherd's Shaw, It shall stand for aye and never fa'."

They immediately fled and informed the lord of the supernatural visitation; and, regarding the rhymes as an expression of the will of Heaven, he abandoned the work, and, in accordance with the wish of his lady, built his castle low down in the vale where the modern mansion now stands."[152]

The animal connected with the Coneely family is a seal. In the west of Ireland there is a seal-clan; the clansman, calling himself after the seal, conceives himself to be of the blood of the eponym animal. In very ancient times some of the Coneely clan were changed by "art magick" into seals and since then no member of the family can kill a seal without incurring bad luck. Seals are called Coneelys, and on this account it was said that many branches of the family changed their name to Conolly.[153] The story was so thoroughly believed that it was said that people who knew of it would "no more kill a seal, or eat of a slaughtered one than they would of a human Coneely."

In the Faroe Isles the seals are said to appear once a year in human form, and in 1872 a writer to the journal of the Anthropological Institute tells the story of an Irish girl who was transformed into a seal.

"The seals which abound on the rocky parts of the shore," he explains, "are regarded with profound veneration, and on no account could a native be induced to kill one, as they are said to be the souls of their departed friends. In the hut of the king is the skin of a large white seal, which I ascertained was piously treasured on account of having formerly been occupied by the soul of a maiden. The following is the legend related to me:--

"'Many years ago a beautiful young girl lived upon the island and was the betrothed of a "dacent boy" by the name of Rooney. One day Rooney and his bride-elect were fishing out in a coracle, when a storm arose and the frail craft capsized. The terrified lover endeavoured in vain to save his sweetheart. Before sinking for the last time she said farewell to him, and said she would become a white seal and would sing to him. The broken-hearted Rooney swam ashore, but his reason had fled. He daily made a pilgrimage round the island in the hope of meeting his departed in the shape of a white seal; but his journeys were always fruitless.

"'At length one stormy winter night, Rooney started from his couch saying, "Hark, I hear her singing. She calls me now," and before anyone could stop him, he had bounded off and was lost in the darkness. His friends were about to follow when they were deterred by a plaintive voice, chanting a melancholy lay, but when daylight broke it ceased. Then a search was made and down on the seashore they found the dead body of Rooney with a dead white seal clasped to his breast.'" The souls of the lovers had fled to an enchanted island.

Siward in the legend was the son of a bear and had bear's ears.

Brochmail was a tusked king of Powis. A tusked or pig-headed birth is said to appear periodically in the Powis family, and there was a story of one member who was so repulsive to the sight that he was kept shut up in the oubliette of Powis Castle.

In Llayn (Carnarvonshire) it is said that March Amheirchion, the Lord of Castell March, had horse's ears, as in the Irish story. These instances are again related to the birth of monsters and deformities, like the Concheannaich or Dogheads, an ancient race who inhabited, in former days, the district now called Moygoniby in Kervy.

Conaire the Great, a mythical king of Ireland, was the son of a Bird King and was therefore forbidden to kill any feathered creatures.

In Scotland the clan Chattan, who gave their name to Caithness, called their Chieftain Mohr an Chat, the Great Wild Cat, probably owing to some physical peculiarity.

Cuchullaine, the "hound of Culain," is a totem name. There is a story of a witch who offered one of the family some cooked dog-flesh to eat, but he refused it as it was against the law that he should "eat his namesake's-flesh."

His name was originally Setanta, but his nickname was obtained in this way: One night when he followed Conchobar to the house of Culain, a smith, the gates were locked, and a ferocious dog lay in watch. The boy killed the hound, and when the smith lamented his loss, Setanta said, "I will be your _cu_ (dog) until another is grown large enough to guard your house," whence he was called hound of Culain or Cuchullaine.

According to one account Cuchullaine has more affinity with a bird than with a dog. "Not only does Cuchullaine bear obvious in his name his origin as a cuckoo god but his birth, exploits, and death are those of a cuckoo."[154]

When he was going forth to his last fight he met three crones, daughters of the mist, who asked him to sup with them. Bent on his destruction, they were cooking a hound with poison and spells on spits of the rowan tree. He refused to partake of the dish because it was against the law, and they rebuked him, saying, "It is because the food is only a hound and so you despise it and us." His chivalry thus appealed to, Cuchullaine helped himself to a shoulder-blade out of the stew, and held it in his left hand while he was eating, putting it, when finished, under his left thigh. Then his left hand and thigh became stricken and he had no strength for the fight.

FOOTNOTES:

[143] Quoted in Middleton, J. A., "Another Grey Ghost Book," 1914, p.

249.

[144] Trevelyan, M., "Folk-lore and Folk-stories of Wales," 1909, pp.

294-5.

[145] "True Irish Ghost Stories."

[146] 1914, pp. 194-5.

[147] 1852, pp. 378-9.

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