« ՆախորդըՇարունակել »
IXTY or seventy years ago, the inhabitants
of the quiet village of Black Heddon, near Stamfordham, and its vicinity, who lived as most other villagers do, with all possible harmony amongst themselves, and relishing no more external disturbance than was consistent with their gentle and sequestered mode of existence, were dreadfully annoyed
by the pranks of a preternatural being called Silky.* This name it had obtained, from its manifesting a marked predilection to make itself visible in the semblance of a female dressed in silk. Many a time, when any of the more timorous of the community had a night journey to perform, have they unawares and invisibly been dogged and watched, by this spectral tormentor, who at the dreariest part of the road—the most suitable for thrilling surprises—would suddenly break forth in dazzling splendour. If the person happened to be on horseback, a sort of exercise for which she evinced a strong partiality, she would unexpectedly seat herself behind, “rattling in her silks.” There after enjoying a comfortable ride; with instantaneous abruptness, she would like a thing destitute of continuity, dissolve away and become incorporated with the nocturnal shades, leaving the bewildered horseman in blank amazement.
At Belsay, some two or three miles from Black Heddon, she had a favourite resort. This was a romantic crag finely studded with trees, under the gloomy umbrage of which, “like one forlorn,” she loved to wander all the live long night. Here often has the belated peasant, with awe-stricken vision beheld her dimly through the sombre twilight,
* A sprite of the same name and of probably corresponding character, is said, by means of unearthly noises, to have rendered untenantable the once noted mansion house of Chirton.
as if engaged in splitting great stones, or hewing with many a repeated stroke some stately “monarch of the grove.” And while he thus stood, and gazed, and listened to intimations, impossible to be misapprehended, of the dread reality of that mysterious being, concerning whom so various conjectures were awake, all at once, excited by that wondrous agency, he would have heard, the howling of a resistless tempest rushing through the wood-land—the branches creaking in violent concussion--or rent into fragments by the impetuous fury of the blast—while to the eye not a leaf was seen to quiver, nor a pensile spray to bend. The bottom of this crag is washed by a picturesque lake or fish-pond, at whose outlet is a waterfall, over which a venerable tree, sweeping its umbrageous arms, adds impressiveness to the scene. Amid the complicated and contorted limbs of this tree, Silky possessed a rude chair, where she was wont, in her moody moments, to sit—wind rocked—enjoying the rustling of the storm in the dark woods, or the gush of the cascade as it ascended with spirit-like fitfulness, during the pauses of the gale. It is due to the present proprietor, Sir Charles M. L. Monk, Bart., of Belsay Castle, to state, that the tree so consecrated in the sympathies and the terrors of the vicinity, has been carefully preserved. Though now no longer tenanted by its aërial visitant, it yet spreads majestically its time-hallowed canopy over the spot, awakening in the love-versed rustic when the winter's wind raves gusty and sonorous through its leafless boughs, the soul harrowing recollection of the exploits of the ancient fay,—but in the springtide beautiful with the full flushed verdure of that exuberant season, and recipient of the kindling emotions of reverence and affection. It still bears the name of “Silky's seat," in memory of its once wonderful occupant.
Silky exercised a marvellous influence over the brute creation. Horses which indisputably possess a discernment of spirits superior to man, at least, are more sharp sighted in the dark, were in an extraordinary degree sensitive of her presence and control. Having once perceived the effects of her power, she seems to have had a perverse pleasure, in meddling and arresting those poor, defenceless animals, while engaged in the most exemplary performance of their labours. When this misfortune occurred there was no remedy brute force could devise; expostulation, soothing, whipping and kicking were all exerted in vain, to make the restive beast resume the proper and intended direction. The ultimate resource, unless it might be her whim to revoke the spell, was the magic dispelling witchwood, * which
Witchwood, the mountain ash, (Sorbus uucuparia), called in divers parts of Northumberland the Whicken-tree, and Rowan-tree. Under these standard terms it is pour
it is satisfactory to learn was of unfailing efficacy. One poor wight, a farm servant, was once the selected victim of her mischievous frolics. He had to go to a colliery at some distance for coals, and it was late in the evening before he could return. Silky with spirit like prescience, having intimation of the circumstance, waylaid him at a bridge—a “ghastly, ghost-alluring edifice," since called “Silky's Brig,” lying a little to the south of Black Heddon, on the road between that place and Stamfordham. Just as he had arrived at “the height of that bad eminence" the keystone, horses and cart became fixed and immoveable as fate. And in that melancholy plight, might both man and horses have continued-quaking, and sweating, and paralysedtill the morning light had thrown around them its mantle of protec
trayed by Turner, the father of English Botany, in his Herbal, part ii. fol. 143. Cologne, 1562. “It hath rede beryis lyke corall bedes, growyng in greate clusters, whych the byrdes eat, in the beginning of winter.” They are frequently the luxurious fare of the Green Linnet, (Coccothraustes Chloris,) at that period. “ The tre groweth in moyste woddes, and it is called in Northumberlande, a rowne tre, or a whicken tre, in the south partes of England a quick-beame tre.” Ihre derives the word rowan from runa, incantation, because of the use made of the wood in magical arts. As an infallible antidote to avert supernatural influences of a malignant nature, it bas long been celebrated, and may still be employed by the ignorant. Nations bore attestation to its sovereign qualities, and assigned to it functions the most select. Rudbeck mentions its sacred character among the northern Gothic tribes. They inscribed their laws upon its wood, an honour which it shared with the beech. Bishop Heber noticed a parallel superstition in Hindostan connected with a species of mimosa, which at a little distance wears considerably the aspect of the mountain ash. “ A sprig worn in the turban, or suspended over the bed, was a perfect security against all spells, evil eye, &c., insomuch that the most formidable wizard would not, if he could help it, approach its shade.” (Heber's Journal). In the days of yore, when fairies footed it on every emerald hillock, and witches cast their cantrips with unlimited might athwart the misty twilight of unenlightened mind—when such a debasing state of ideal fear prevailed, that “the sound of a shaken leaf ”-inspired images of dread, rowan-tree was of paramount importance in Northumberland and elsewhere. Almost every mansion and outhouse was guarded with it in some shape. Usually the dwelling house was secured with a rowan-tree pin, that the evil thing might not cross the threshbold. In addition to the bit in his pocket, the ploughman yoked his oxen to a rowan-tree bow, and with a whip attached to a rowan-tree shast, drove the incorrigible steer along the ridge. Moreover, the ox not unlikely had his horns decorated with red thread, amidst which, pieces of rowan-tree were inserted, or a portion of the wood hieroglyphed with quaint devices, and similarly garnished with threads might peradventure be dangled at the tail. Thus fenced in person, home, and stall, with “rowantree and red thread,” the agricultural labourer bade defiance to sorcery and fiendish malice. — But it was equally requisite to a prosperous voyage on the deep, and sailors to ensure no other hazards than those incidental to their profession, had over and above their cargo, a store of this harm-expelling preservative on board their vessel. It is by no means a remote period since a withered prototype of “ Norna the Reim-kennar," tenanting a hut overlooking the steeps “ where Orcas howls, his wolfish mountains rounding,” obtained a miserable livelihood, by vending winds and consecrated mountain ash to credulous mariners !
tion—had not a neighbouring servant come up to the rescue, who opportunely carried some of the potent witch-wood about his person. On the arrival of this seasonable aid, the perplexed driver rallied his scattered senses, and the helpless animals being duly seasoned after the fashion prescribed on such occasions, he had the heartfelt satisfaction, of seeing them apply themselves with customary alacrity to the draught. The charm was effectually overcome, and in a short time both he and the coals, reached home in safety. Ever afterwards however, as long as he lived, he took the precaution of rendering himself spell-proof, by being furnished with a quantity of witch-wood; by no means being disposed that Silky should a second time amuse herself at his expense, and that of his team.
She was wayward and capricious. Sometimes she installed herself in the office of that old familiar Lar, -Brownie, but with characteristic misdirection, in a manner exactly the reverse of that useful species of hobgoblin. And here it may be remarked, that throughout her disembodied career, she can scarcely be said to have performed one benevolent action for the sake of its moral qualities. She had, from first to last, a perpetual latent hankering for mischief, and gloried in withering surprises, and unforseen movements. As is customary with that “sturdy fairy,” as he is designated by the great English Lexicographer,* her works were performed at night; or between the hours of sunset and day dawn. If the good old dames had thoroughly cleaned their houses, which country people make a practice of doing, especially on Saturdays, so that they may have a comfortable and decent appearance on the Sabbath day; after retiring to rest, Silky would silently have turned every thing topsy-turvy, and the morning presented a scene of indescribable confusion. On the contrary, if the house had been left in a disorderly state, a plan which they generally found best to adopt, every thing would have been arranged with the greatest nicety.
At length a term had arrived to her erratic course, and both she and the peaceably disposed inhabitants whom she disquieted, obtained the repose so long mutually desired. She abruptly disappeared. It had long been surmised, by those who paid attention to those dark matters, that she was the troubled phantom of some person, who had died very miserable, in consequence of having great treasure, which, before overtaken by her mortal agony, had not been disclosed ; and on that account she could not lie still in her grave! About the period referred to, a domestic female servant being alone in one of the rooms of a house at Black Heddon, was frightfully alarmed by the ceiling
Journey to the Western Islands. p. 171.
above suddenly giving way, and from it there dropt, with a prodigious clash, something quite black, shapeless and uncouth. The servant did not stop to scrutinize an object so hideous and startling, but fled to her mistress, screaming at the pitch of her voice, “The deevil's in the house! The deevil's in the house ! He's come through the ceiling !" With this terrible announcement, the whole family were speedily convoked, and great was the consternation at the idea of the foe of mankind, being amongst them, in a visible form. In this appalling extremity, a considerable time elapsed, before any one could brace up courage to face the “enemy,” or be prevailed on to go and inspect the cause of their alarm. At last the mistress, who happened to be the most stout-hearted, ventured into the room, when instead of the personage on account of whom such awful apprehensions were entertained—a great dog or calf's skin lay on the floor-sufficiently black and uncomely—but filled with gold.* After this Silky was never more heard or seen. Her destiny was accomplished her spirit laid—and she now sleeps with her ancestors, as peacefully and unperturbed, as do the degenerate and unenterprising ghosts of modern days.
• The house wherein this occurred was, at the time, occupied by the Hepples, respectable geomen at the place, whose descendants are yet the proprietors, and who, it is said, acquired a considerable eum from Silky's long hidden treasure so unexpectedly brought to light.
ALLOWS-HILL is a farm house girt with
trees on the top of a sloping and fertile hill, which rises behind Hartington, about two miles north east from Cambo, Northumberland. Tradition tells of two brothers of the name of Reay, men of Clyclopean strength and stature, who farmed this place; one of whom, in the twilight of a summer's morn
ing, seeing a band of moss-troopers driving off their cattle, rose, ran after them, and attacked them single handed; but before his brother could get up to his assistance, the thieves had mastered him, and “cut him into collops,” which his friends collected, and carried home in a sheet.-Hodgson's Northd.