Tales and Traditions of the High Peak

By William Wood (1862)

Transcription by Rosemary Lockie, © Copyright 2009

Bernard Wells

or the
MAID of DERWENT.

“How wonderful - how variously wrought are human minds!”

THE Peak visitor, during his drives to the several interesting villages, will undoubtedly visit that ancient and neat place of seclusion - Eyam. There he will find innumerable objects of singular interest to engage his attention for a few hours; and, perhaps, while walking through the darksome aisles of the venerable looking Church, his attentions may be directed to the antique brass, on the wall to the right of the communion rails, to the memory of Bernard, the only son of Bernard Wells, then of Hazelford, in the parish of Eyam, but afterwards of Hulme Hall, near Bakewell. It was this individual, whose memory this small monumental brass commemorates, that was known as the ardent lover of the young and beautiful Ann Moreton, afterwards [Page 61] distinguished by the appellation, “The Maid of Derwent”. He died A.D. 1648.

The father of young Wells was born at Ashton-under-hill, Gloucestershire, and marrying a Miss Marshall, of Tideswell, at the age of thirty, settled at Hazelford, near Hathersage, where his only son, Bernard, and two daughters were born. The elder Wells, on his marriage, become proprietor of many lead mines in the Peak, and fortune smiled on all his speculations; indeed, for a many years, happiness unparalleled seemed to have encircled his home with a dazzling halo of connubial bliss.

The first dark shade which cast its gloom across the hitherto bright path of Mr. Wells was a suspicious and ill-omened perception of the painfully irritable temperament of his idolized son Bernard, which increased with such intensity as he grew up to man's estate, as to defy all the numberless expedients which were tried to arrest the mental malady in it rapid pernicious, and eventually fatal progress. In one moment his cheeks would be suffused with tears; in the next he was convulsed with laughter; then he would foam with all the fury of mighty passion; and anon, be softened by the tender and most affecting sensibilities. Thus this creature of passion was regarded by the few inhabitants of Hazelford as a youth extremely wild and wayward; and by his mother - who had not the penetration of her sagacious husband - as wanting to some degree the affections of ordinary beings. With an eye of [Page 62] anxious solicitude would the father behold the extraordinary ebullitions of passion which intermittingly flashed from the eyes of his son - nay, his bosom might be appropriately termed a sort of mental volcano, which his devoted parent saw, too perceptibly, would ere long exhaust itself by its own fury; a terribly dangerous state over which reason - the faithful guiding compass of life - holds no dominion.

At a little distance from the home of this singular, and then youthful being, there was then on the banks of the Derwent another farm-house, much older, and more antique in construction, than Hazelford hall; it was inhabited by a family of industrious and very respectable habits. To this place young Wells frequently repaired, and was a very welcome guest; yet, by the whole of the family he was regarded as a singular, and an inconceivably fascinating young man. Visits to the fireside of the Moretons - the name of the family - were not discountenanced by young Wells' father; no, the good, but very haughty parent, encouraged a hope that the homely manners, the equanimity, the calm and subdued tone of feeling by which the Moretons were proverbially characterized, might not be without some good effect on the enthusiastic temperament of his son; and, as his visits became more frequent, the hopes of old Wells increased in the same ratio. But, alas! how often, how baseless are the fond, the heart-cherished desires of man: the tumultuous workings of the passions of young Wells had, up to this period of his life, [Page 63] received their exciting influences from what, to common beings, are deemed trifling and insignificant incidents; but now the fiery, the combustible materials of his sensibilities were about to receive an igniting spark from the eyes of the beautiful and lovely “Maid of Derwent”.

It was about the latter end of May, when on the occasion of young Wells paying his daily visit to the Moretons, that he was most inexplicably amazed on entering their hospitable mansion to find the good Mr. Moreton in tears, looking intensely at the contents of a letter which lay open on the table before him, and the rest of the family uttering bitter ejaculations of grief as he proceeded at intervals to read it.

“I hope, in the name of Heaven”, said Wells, “that no unexpected calamity has befallen you! Pray, can I administer to your comforts by retiring - good night, I am certain the presence of any one at this moment must, if I judge right, only increase the embarrassed state of your minds”.

“Pray, Mr. Wells, do stop! do stop!” replied almost every one. “'Tis my brother! my long lost brother that's dead!” said Moreton, handing Wells the letter, and adding, “read it, do! my good Wells, read it for yourself!” Wells took the latter, and found the following contents:-

Dear Uncle,- With feelings that words cannot describe, I announce to you in tears that my dear, dear father paid the debt of nature about an hour ago. The unhappy circumstances which I have often found him repeat, and of which you have [Page 64] written to him so often, must now to be buried in oblivion. That so trivial a domestic quarrel should have caused such an estrangement in a family, I deeply deplore; but I have the satisfaction to state than my dearest parent was on his way with me, his only, and now orphan child, to cement those bonds of brotherly affection that have been too long broken. Had his life been prolonged another day or two, he might, my dear uncle, have died in your arms at Hazelford. He retired early to bed last night, having been unwell ever since we embarked from India to England; and I was summoned to his bed-side two hours since, when I found him dying. A large sealed packet of papers and other effects, I have in my possession to deliver to you. An undertaker has deemed it necessary that his funeral should be immediate; after which I shall proceed with speed to place myself under your guardianship, as appointed and requested by the best of fathers. It is needless to add, as you will soon more fully know, that your dear brother has acquired some wealth in India. I cannot write any more, the paper is covered with tears. O! my dear father! Ere this is sealed I must go and kiss his cold, cold lips again!

Your affectionate niece,
ANNE MORETON.

Derby, May 23rd, 1646.
Mr. J. Moreton, Hazelford, near Hathersage, Derbyshire.

Wells, on finishing the letter, exclaimed “Mr. Moreton! Your brother! your brother! Why I have never heard you allude to him; yet I must presume it is the nameless somebody whom you have so frequently sighed about, and hinted of”. Moreton again burst into tears, and replied, “Alas! alas! it is now thirty years since my brother left this, his paternal home; I was the oldest [Page 65] of my father's dear children, and, ah me! a rupture took place between us on the division of my father's effects. He left his home, and went abroad: still often have I written to him, but he was obstinate and would never reply. He's gone! he's gone! But I will to his orphan child be a kind father! under this roof she shall dwell, guarded and protected until I meet him in Heaven! Bring, bring my horse, and let me post away to convey his orphan to this my home! Wells, will you to-morrow night be here again to comfort with your presence my dear - my long-lost brother's child?” “I will come, my friend”, replied Wells, “and render your mourning niece whatever consolation a stranger can afford”. “Thank you! thank you!” Moreton most pathetically rejoined.

During the day that Moreton was on his journey to convey his orphan niece to his home, young Wells was indulging in the pleasing anticipation of having in Miss Moreton, a female companion, a felicitous circumstance which, to the ardent Wells, the vicinity of Hazelford had not hitherto afforded. Although he had, until the eventful day, never seen any real object of female loveliness, yet his imagination was continually exhibiting to his mental vision an image of feminine beauty - a form of exquisite and indescribable perfection.

“There was a Being whom his spirit oft
Met on its visioned wanderings, far aloft,
In the clear golden prime of his youth's dawn,
Upon the fairy isles of sunny lawn, [Page 66]
Amid the enchanted mountains, and the caves
Of divine sleep, and on the air-like waves
Of wonder-level dream, whose tremulous floor
Paved her light steps;--on an imagined shore,
Under the gray beak of some promontory
She met him, robed in [such] exceeding glory,
That he beheld her not.” - SHELLEY.

Ah, his was a mind, that conjured up - that worshipped and adored that inexpressible beau ideal of painters and poets! The fires of his soul burned with such intensity, that reason, and sense, were near extinguished: he lived not as ordinary mortals: to worship at the shrine of the beautiful was his unceasing and all-absorbing task.

As evening approached, Wells, agreeably to his promise, repaired to Moreton's house. It was one of those beautiful evenings, which to the warm and youthful lover, is so peculiarly delightful. In the west the sun crowned with glory the shadowy summits of the Peak's manifold hills; the Derwent rolled on, melodiously singing its never-ending song of peace; the sweet breath of May filled the air with a deliciousness excessively pleasing; and Wells lingered on his way, unusually enraptured with the multitudinous and matchless charms of nature. On Wells entering the dwelling of Moreton, he was informed that Mr. Moreton and his youthful niece were expected to arrive immediately; he took his seat, facing the window opposite the gate which led to the door of the humble mansion, and anxiously looked [Page 67] for the arrival of Moreton and the fair stranger. Wells opened the casement of the window, and viewed the setting sun with emotions of pleasure. He fell into a deep reverie on the beauty - the loveliness of nature. On the wings of imagination he soared above the hills, the beauteous, the “holy forms of nature”; and in ethereal realms basked in the sunshine of ideal beauty. While thus deliciously dreaming, Moreton rode up to the gate, behind whom, on the same horse, sat his niece. They immediately alighted; and she, leaning on Moreton's arm, walked up from the gate. She was in mourning, and as she approached the window where Wells was sitting, he gazed on her slender and elegant form with a deep, instantaneous idolatry. They entered. Heavens! what was the surprise of Wells, on beholding the very antitype of that ideal loveliness and female beauty which had for some time haunted his imagination.

“My niece, Mr. Wells”, said Moreton, “Anne Moreton, the only child of my dearly beloved brother, now I trust in heaven. Yet in her uncle she shall find a father!”

“That is certain”, replied Wells, “it is the goodness of Providence that provides for the fatherless”.

Anne, after having in a few words, expressed her thanks for the kindness and gratitude manifested, retired into another apartment to change her dress. But the music of her voice, the sweet and seraphic expression of her lovely features, left such a spell on the mind [Page 68] of Wells, that he could, even in that brief interview, have fallen down and worshipped her. After some time she again reappeared in the room where the family sat. She was just sixteen, pale, but stamped with angelic loveliness. Her mother, who died ere the little daughter could lisp her father's name, was an Italian lady, famed for her beauty and accomplishments; and Anne, her only child, even at the age of sixteen, eclipsed her parent in all the fascinating attractions of the female sex. The graces of her person were just developing in all the sweetness of beauty; the sorrow which she evinced on the death of her parent, diffused over her lovely countenance a softness or tenderness irresistibly engaging.

Wells, who now spent hours every day at Moreton's house, became enamoured of Anne beyond description. She was susceptible to every beauty of nature; and he was captivated to ecstasy by her good sense and rectitude of thinking; indeed her fond and adoring father had spared no means or expense in making his only child a proficient in all the elegant pursuits of the day. In a word, she was, in the estimation of Wells, a prodigy of purity, innocence, loveliness, and sweetness of nature. To hear the sweet tones of her voice had a magical effect on Wells; her smiles sent a “delicious madness” to his brain. His irritable temperament now flamed forth with all the dreadful fury of mental conflagration: his love resembled the rage of madness - untempered by consideration and reason, often, if not always, baneful in its effects. Indeed the varied agonies of [Page 69] mind to which this singular being was subjected, were of a kind which characterise great and meditative intellect: similar, if less in power and degree, to those which the immortal Goethe and Schiller have planted in the bosoms of their respective heroines - Faustus and Wallenstein. Perhaps in the following description of Manfred's self, there may be called a trait or two of the character, and a few dark hints of the fate of that order of beings to which young Wells, to some degree, especially belonged:

“Look on me! there is an order
Of mortals on the earth, who do become
Old in their youth, and die ere middle age,
Without the violence of warlike death;
Some perishing of pleasure - some of study -
Some worn with toil - some of mere weariness -
Some of disease - and some insanity -
And some of withered and broken hearts;
For this last is a malady which slays
More than are number'd in the lists of Fate,
Taking all shapes, and bearing many names.
Look upon me! for even of all these things
Have I partaken,   *   *   *
*   *   *   and am still on earth.” - BYRON.

After a lapse of a few weeks, Wells was entranced to behold the unequivocal signs of the reciprocity of that burning passion which in him devoured every other consideration. Being in a great degree separated from the world, it would have been strange indeed had not their two fervid hearts twined round each other in the now [Page 70] indissoluble and endearing manner. Often - ah, daily they rambled together on the romantic and picturesque banks of the dark-bosomed Derwent, or climbed the mist-robed, heaven aspiring Peak mountains, looking on the encircling space which became to their senses deliciously holy as they breathed forth the deep intensity of their souls in quick and convulsive respirations. To them the hills, the vales, the streams, seemed conscious of the dream of bliss and unalloyed delight that passed over their souls! Nay, the circumscribed scenery by which their rambles were encompassed and marked, had, to their imagination, the enchanting charms of the gardens of Armida. Such were the picturings of their fancies during the moments of their impassioned fervency of love. But, alas! this season of tenderness, how brief! how transient! In the cup of successful love is there not too often some tantamount bitterness? Does not the rosy cloud of love, alas, too frequent, become transformed into a sable [sic], and terribly descending hurricane, whirlwind, and storm?

During the interval of Wells' visits to Moreton's mansion, his mind was absorbed in deep abstraction. In these moods he would retire alone to some pensile cliff and gazing intensely on the magnificent scenery for which the locality is so celebrated. The wild beauties of nature to his sensitive mind had a more than magical power: to him they had charms, the influence of which, buoyed up his imagination to realms of fancy. At school he had been highly distinguished for quickness [Page 71] of parts - for a fine but volatile genius; but lacking application in a great degree; the common characteristic of originality of mind, the most powerful and predominating attribute of the human intellect; and, in general, that which is the most neglected - least understood or appreciated - by some of the great number who hold the responsible office of “teaching the young idea how to shoot”. To this, in part, may be ascribed the singularly unhappy fate which attends many of those individuals who are, or have been, endowed with the “gift sublime” - the bane of misery that is almost the certain lot of true genius. Anomalous and paradoxical as it may appear, there is no matter of general experience and universality so admissible as the fact, that those who have had minds calculated to make them the brightest ornaments of mankind, have been the most subject to the poisoned arrows of misfortune, disappointment, poverty, and, above all, gross misrepresentation. Endowed with finely-strung, sensitive minds, this order of beings consequently feel with poignant acuteness the malignity and uncharitableness of their respective ages. Not, exactly, however, of this cast of intellect was young Wells.

When we know the power a mind of this order possesses over the intelligent of the female sex, - how the feminine mind is captivated by the glowing sunshine of intellectuality, we may readily account for the fervour and reciprocal affection which soon became so palpably manifest in Wells and Anne. To walk or sit side by [Page 72] side for hours was now an hebdomadal custom which could not be foregone, on the part of Wells particularly, without suffering intense agony. On the shady banks of the Derwent, frequently they rambled forth breathing the purest of love. Anne was young, graceful, and sylph-like in form; her dark hair hung in clustering ringlets on her shoulders, veiling her snow-like complexioned skin; and from her features there beamed a seraphic loveliness that intoxicated the soul of Wells as he fondly gazed on her face. Alone, they walked or sat as each evening came; and their partings were delirious, delicious, and agonizing! In these ecstatic moments - moments of devouring passion - moments when they reach drank in with insatiate, steadfast gaze, the beauty and love of each other's countenance would they deem the world around them a paradise: they existed in a kind of dream, voluptuously intoxicating. Over the numberless crags Wells sustained the faltering steps of Anne, and in his impassioned mind exclaimed - “Can misery! can unhappiness enter into so beautiful a world?”

While this loving pair were thus daily drinking at the fount of bliss, Wells' stern father returned from Gloucestershire, where he had been for some months, disposing of his paternal estate, in order to spend the remainder of his days in Derbyshire, where he had, by its great mineral wealth, accumulated great profits in his speculations. But he had no sooner arrived at [Page 73] Hazelford than he became cognisant of the affair of love between his son and the guest of good old Mr. Moreton; and his disapprobation broke forth with great fury indeed. Resolved to break off the connexion, he had recourse to sundry means; but that which to him seemed the most likely to be effectual, he adopted with a promptitude which indicated his stern resolve. Mr. Moreton was summoned to Hazelford Hall, and implicitly informed, that if he permitted young Wells to visit his niece on any occasion any more, he must leave the home where he bad been born, with precipitation. This Moreton knew could be effected, as old Wells had purchased during his residence at Hazelford, a great portion of the Hazelford estate, of which Moreton's farm was part. Moreton promised to use his utmost influence to discountenance the connexion which had been formed between the two lovers; and further stated, that in virtue of his guardianship, his niece could not for some time enter into a matrimonial union without his consent and entire approbation. Indeed, Moreton had invariably seen in young Wells a something which

“In him inexplicably mix'd appear'd
Much to be loved and hated, sought and feared”. LARA.

Moreton left Hazelford Hall perplexed and greatly disturbed. How to act in so delicate an affair caused a perturbation of mind which he had never experienced before. On reaching home he found his lovely niece in the happiest mood he had witnessed since she had [Page 74] been an inmate of his dwelling, which aggravated the depression of spirits under which he was labouring.

“I hope”, said Anne, “Mr. Wells' father has arrived in health and spirits; there would be a friendly shake of the hands, between him and you, my dear uncle, I suppose!”

“Ah! my dear niece”, Moreton, sighing, replied, “you know but little of the haughtiness, the pride and severity of temper with which certain individuals are endowed; we had had little of the congratulation at our meeting that you suppose, my love! ah me!” Anne's cheeks became crimsoned as Moreton finished his reply; she hung her head in silence and said no more; a shade of dark anticipation flitted across her mind, and she, turning her head, deeply sighed. Some minutes elapsed ere Moreton resuming, said “my dear niece, to be brief, you must no longer countenance the visits of Mr. Wells; his father has intimated to me that he has made choice for his son, and will be obeyed at all peril; and the disobedience of the injunction given to me will render the consequences such as I would, for your dear sake, willingly avert”. Anne covered her face to hide the confusion which swelled her heaving bosom, and covered her lovely features: she was now awakened from that dream - that delicious and blissful dream of the affections; and her soul yearned with an anguish words cannot portray. “My uncle! my dear uncle”, she exclaimed, “shall I, by any one act, abuse your kindness - your hospitality - your fatherly affection - [Page 75] no! no! be contented, I will! I will sooner leave your house a wanderer, than thus requite the friendship - the love I have experienced from you, my dear! dear uncle!” Moreton burst into a flood of tears, and Anne retired with a heart throbbing with a bitterness, excruciatingly agonizing.

While Mr. Moreton and his niece were thus engaged, old Mr. Wells had summoned his son before him; and in a manner indicative of his unalterable determination, briefly signified that even another single visit to the house of Moreton would be attended with consequences he should not then disclose. The countenance of young Wells exhibited all the signs of mental agony, as he was further informed by his stern father that after the lapse of two days, he must bid adieu to Hazelford, for the space of ten months. Wells left the apartment of his father with a heart beating convulsively; in his veins the blood boiled like liquid fire, and he gasped and sobbed with something of the fury of concentrated delirium.

After Wells' interview with his stern and haughty father an unquenchable fire seemed to burn within his brain. To[o] well he knew that his parent's determination was irrevocable, and he became perplexed almost to madness. For hours he paced to and fro in his apartment, labouring under the pain of bitter and conflicting emotions; and eventually he resolved to carry off his lovely Anne into some distant part of the country, and there enjoy that happiness which her company [Page 76] ministered to his fevered soul. Evening came, but, O heavens! not to visit her as usual swelled his bosom with anguish; the thought of this whirled his brain to madness, and he threw himself on a couch in bitter agony.

Anne, early the same evening, retired to bed, but sleep came not to sooth her troubled mind. Trouble and corroding despair reigned over her imagination, and for hours she alternately sighed and wept. It was near midnight when she was startled by a gentle rap at the lattice of the room wherein she slept. For a moment a tremor crept over her body, and she, listening, heard the voice of Wells - her devoted lover - saying with hurried fervency, “for heaven's sake, awake! Arise! my dearest Anne! haste to my arms, or I shall behold you no more!” Trembling with agitation she arose, and in a dream of perplexity dressed herself, and repaired to the garden, where she found Wells. The night was dark, and the rain descended in torrents. Wells threw a cloak around her, and in a tone of sweetest affection whispering exclaimed, “my dear! my dear! this night, nay this moment, you must fly with me, or never again will you behold my face; one minute's delay will separate us for ever; come, let us cross the river, I know the ford, and we shall pass over safely, when I will explain the necessity of this - to you - mysterious step!” Tortured with a conflict of soul, she moved on leaning on the arm of Wells. Soon they reached the banks of the Derwent, which was then crossed by what is provincially termed a ford of stones. The rain descended with unusual impetuosity; and [Page 77] everything was enveloped in utter and impenetrable darkness. On reaching the verge of the river, Anne, in a voice of inexpressible anxiety, said, “O, my dear Wells, where! where! are we going?” “In a few minutes, my dear”, replied Wells, “after we have crossed the stream, we shall reach a place of shelter, where we shall repose until the morning dawns, when we must haste away or we shall be separated for ever! Come my love, mind your footing, it is very dark and the river is swollen!” Scarcely had they reached the middle of the flood when Wells stumbled, and they both plunged into the angry flood. Heavens, what were the feelings of the hapless pair in that dread moment! Wells, by a miraculous effort, reached the bank, but, Oh! the terrible stroke of fate, Anne perished! Wells reeled about in the darkness, uttering piercing shrieks that startled sable night. Shrieks such as

“burst the sleeping ear,
They heard and rose, and tremulously brave,
Rushed where the sound invoked their aid to save
They came with half-lit tapers in their hands,
And snatched in startled haste unbelted brands.” - LARA.

A few, roused from their sleep by the echoing shrieks and lamentable cries of Wells, repaired to the place: nothing, however, could be discovered of Ann. Wells paced the banks of the Derwent until morning broke, bitterly exclaiming aloud in the accents of overwhelming despair. The rain, which had fallen in continuous [Page 78] streams during the night, had swelled the Derwent, until its surface was covered with trees which had been torn from the banks by the impetuosity of the flood. Days were spent in search of the body of Anne, but singular indeed, it was never found, although the cloak and other remnants of her dress were discovered in the river at sundry times and places.

Wells, after the first paroxysm of grief was passed, wandered unceasingly on the banks of the Derwent; morning and evening heard him bewail the unhappy fate of his Anne. The imprudent and fatal expedient of the dreadful night, now preyed on his mind with all the horrors of insupportable anguish, and he wandered alone among the rocks and precipices with a heart festered by remorse. By degrees this frenzied fever of his broken mind settled down into permanent melancholy; yet this awful malady was chequered by lucid intervals, in which he saw, with bitter compunction, the terrible consequences of unbridled passion. Time passed on, but brought no solace to Wells: he withered away like a tree scathed by lightning's flash, and died, calling “My Anne, my Anne”, with his last breach, and in the chancel of the ivy-adorned church of the renowned village of Eyam, his ashes repose. Thus, the inconsiderate step of this impassioned youth, brought on himself, and the object of his affections, a premature death; and his father and the good old Moreton went down “with grey hairs and sorrow to the grave”.

Years fled away, still nothing of the remains of the [Page 79] beautiful Anne was ever found until some fishermen discovered a part of the fleshless arm of a female in the Derwent, near a century after the terrible circumstances of the fatal night. The mutilated limb was preserved in a small box, which was placed in a window in the north-west aisle of Eyam Church, where it remained for a great number of years, an object of curiosity to the then children of Eyam. And even to the present day, full may

“a maid in loving song
Sighs o'er her name”

in something lie the following commonplace lines, which have been heard in snatches at intervals in the vicinity of Hazelford:-

THE MAID OF DERWENT.

The night was dark, and sheets of rain
Came sweeping from the skies;
When Ann held her fevered brain,
And breathed a thousand sighs.

A lose and latticed window sigh,
Upon her bed she lay,
Weeping her fate, when suddenly
A voice it seemed to say:

“My love! my life! awake, arise!
Beneath the shades of night;
We must away, or ah! mine eyes
No more shall see the light”.

T'was her loved Wells, and to his arms
She wond'ring trembling went - [Page 80]
Her flutt'ring heart beat with alarms,
Her head she lowly bent.

A moment passed, then forth they paced
to Derwent's sable flood:-
Through darkness deep, they sped in haste,
Till on the bank they stood.

To cross the mountain, headlong stream,
They stepped from stone to stone;
They slipped, alas! - and then a scream,
Waked darkness on her throne!

Into the flood sweet Anne sank -
Death's pangs, ah! soon were o'er;
To her the past became a blank,
A vision now no more.

Wells struggling reached the stones again -
His voice now rose above
In cries - in lamentations vain,
For his fond perished love.

Now milkmaids fondly, plaintive sing,
Beneath the mountain shade,
Till vales and woods echoing ring,
Of Derwent's hapless Maid.

Transcribed by Rosemary Lockie in January 2009.

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