Tales and Traditions of the High Peak

By William Wood (1862)

Transcription by Andrew McCann, © Copyright 2002

The Village Spectre

“IMLAC.- That the dead are seen no more I will not endeavour to maintain against the universal and concurrent testimony of mankind in all ages of the world.” - RASSELAS

IN every corner of the globe the implicit belief in the appearance of spirits after they have thrown off their “mortal coil” has, and ever has had, a tenacious existence: no other matter of faith is stamped with such an unquestionable universality. Death is a solemn and everyday matter of fact;. It is as universal as life; but the belief in the appearance of supernatural beings has, in some measure, the credibility of human testimony alone for its not infallible basis.

Let it, however, be understood, that no one can desire to be branded with the arrogance of denying either in words or thought, what countless generations have so fervently believed; still it will be admitted by all, whose minds are illumined by the rays of science, that the investigation of the causes of optical deceptions - spectral illusions - aerial images (as the Spectre of the Brocken), and other natural phenomena, has done much towards a total revolutionizing of the empire of illusion. Notwithstanding what may be advanced for or against the appearance of ghosts or spectres, there are, in the volumes of tradition, many instances of a rather solemn interest connected with their recorded visits: and of these instances, the following is one, partly selected for its connexions with a certain locality in the Peak.

In the village of E___, somewhere about the year 1776, Mr. James Weldon and family commanded the unqualified respect of a large circle of friends and acquaintances. His family consisted of wife, three sons, and two daughters - the latter of a disposition and nature the most interesting and fascinating.

The eldest child of Mr. Weldon was his daughter Mary, who in the twentieth year of her age left, for a brief season, the home of her parents on a visit of pleasure to some friends in Lancashire. She was in her bloom, “ beautiful as moming”; and, on her departure, her father and mother accompanied her for some distance on her journey.

On separating from her fond parents, she cast her arms round their necks and kissed them with a fervency and fondness till then never experienced. The delightful habitation of Mr. Weldon stood on the south-eastern verge of the beautiftul village of E___; on each side of the mansion, gardens sloped down to a great distance, in which were the choicest native plants and flowers.

At one end of the dwelling there rose a stately and thickly-branched sycamore, beneath the shade of which Mr. Weldon would sit for hours every summer-day, musing and watching the butterflies and bees winging their way from flower to flower. Thus the family of Weldons passed their days in soothing quietude and rural peace.

In the lap of nature they enjoyed a life unruffled by factious broils, a state of being uncontaminated by the baleful breath of cupidity, avarice, and ambition.

Still it is a melancholy, or perhaps a salutary truth, that from sorrow and evil man cannot wholly escape: in the mighty Babylons of Empires, in the mountain-hid village, and in the vasty desert waste, sorrow and trouble chase him, and bow him to the very earth. Such is the inscrutable wisdom of Him to whom we are but as dust.

The appointed time for the daughter of Weldon to return had nearly arrived, when his friend with whom she was visiting wrote to Weldon to inform him that his comely and amiable daughter's hand was sought by a neighbouring young gentleman of great expectations, and of a disposition and integrity of heart by none excelled. He added that he would answer with his life for the happiness of the match, if Weldon should approve and permit it to take place. Weldon's friend further added, by way of postcript, that he had recommended the suitor to repair to E___ immediately, and consult in person Mr. Weldon himself; and that he expected the young gentleman would arrive at E___ nearly as soon as his letter, and that Weldon's daughter had already set out for home, but would not arrive until the day following the arrival of her enamoured lover .

Weldon and his wife, in some degree of perplexity, were discussing the contents of their friend's communications when a young gentleman, on a richly caparisoned horse, rode up to their door, and, almost immediately alighting, entered into the house, and with a familiar frankness asked after their individual well-being, and almost in the same breath said, “Miss Weldon is in excellent health, and is now far on her way to join her beloved parents again..”

“From a letter”, Weldon replied, “I have received from my friend, I expect she will arrive early tomorrow; and the same communication entitles me to the familiarity of supposing your name to be Baldwin Laybrook, Esq. ”

“The same, my dear sir!” rejoined Baldwin.

The young gentleman was invited to take some refreshment, after which conversation ensued that continued to make an increasing favourable impression of Baldwin on the minds of Mr. and Mrs. Weldon.

A little after sunset Mr. Weldon repaired to his seat under the sombre-shading sycamore; Baldwin also accompanied him, where they soon entered into a conversation on a matter which wrapped the soul of Baldwin in elysian joy. The sable shades of evening fell around them; still they continued to sit, feeling more and more interested with each other. Just, however, as they were about to return, a sudden and instant impression of undefined awe came over their minds. They looked before them, and lo! a shadowy form, seemingly clothed in a long white dress, passed immediately in front of them three times in succession. It was the figure of a young female of elegant proportions. It had a striking expression of countenance, but deadly and cadaverous; still there was a calmness on that silent face which exceeded description; and on the colourless lips there

“Loiter'd a smile, like moonlight on the snow”.

Almost in an instant nothing was seen; the figure had vanished, and Mr. Weldon passionately exclaimed, “My God, the Spectre! the Village Spectre!”

They immediately rose to their feet and went into the house. Weldon threw himself into the corner chair, and in a bitter tone of expression ejaculated the following sorrowful exclamations:- “Ah me! Now must I sup of the cup of sorrow and grief! O, my wife! death is among us, the Spectre - the Spectre!”

Mrs. Weldon was absorbed in deadly agony and perplexity of mind; still too well she knew the irievitable result of the appearance of the village spectre. Baldwin stood in mute astonishment; his spirit sank within him, and, after a few hours, Mrs. Weldon, in the most pathetic tone imaginable, gave him the following brief particulars of the “Village Spectre”.

Ah! I knew the lovely Isabel; she was the only daughter of Squire B_, of this village. At the age of eighteen, she loved and was beloved; but her cruel father hated the darling object of her soul; he wished, ah! commanded her to receive the addresses of a purse-proud, worthless wretch.

Time passed on, and her father appointed the day of her marriage with the miscreant whom she abominated, and he whose image was imprinted on her heart was driven to distraction.

Most of the villagers were summoned by the haughty Squire to witness the marriage and to revel in joy.

The bells rang, and as poor Isabel, leaning on the arm of her hated husband, passed through the crowd of rustics from the church they shouted for joy. Isabel looked on them with a cold condemning frown. Poor Isabel! she had only been united one hour with the detested one, when she heard that her devoted lover had, in the agony of despair, committed suicide.

She wept not, but in a few hours she uttered a piercing shriek and died. And oh! my God! the spirit of Isabel has ever since appeared in the village before the death of anyone whose heart the tender passion fills.

Oh! my Mary, my daughter, ah! what forebodings harrow up my soul!

Scarcely had Mrs. Weldon finished her brief history of “The Village Spectre” when a person on horseback, in the utmost apparent speed, rode up to the door, and with a look of utter despair told the trembling family that Mary Weldon had, through a false step, fallen from the conveyance on which she was riding, that it had passed over her body, and that he had left her dying about ten miles distant. Then a sudden sound of wailing burst forth in the habitation of Weldon. They, her parents, brothers, sister, and lover, would not be comforted.

Next morning saw Mary a corpse in her father's house at E___; and in which rural village churchyard may now be seen a moss-covered head-stone, containing the following epitaph to the memory of hapless Mary Weldon:[1]

“The blast that nipp'd my youth will conquer thee -
It strikes the bud, the blossom, and the tree;
Since life is short and death is always nigh,
On many years to come do not rely”.

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Notes
[1] For certain reasons Weldon has been substituted for Wood.

Transcribed by Andrew McCann in February 2002.

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