Tales and Traditions of the High Peak

By William Wood (1862)

Transcription by Rosemary Lockie, © Copyright 2009

A Churchyard Scene


THOSE who have perambulated the very interesting and romantic district, denominated the High Peak of Derbyshire, most unavoidably have noticed, in particular, the very elegant and commodious Parsonage house of the somewhat famed village of E___. The Rectory, as this mansion is named, is contiguous to the churchyard; and is very beautifully and conveniently situated on the eastern side of “the sacred precincts of the dead”.

In the year 1790, the Rev. Charles H___ became possessed of the living of E___; and in this habitation he first commenced the duties of village pastor. A little prior to his taking up his residence at E___, he married an amiable woman, between whom the purest and most ardent heart-born affection reciprocally existed. It was about the middle of the summer of the year mentioned that the young couple repaired to E___; the villagers hailed their arrival by many a merry peal of the village bells, and other humble demonstrations of welcome. Indeed, hope seemed to smile on the happy pair: the [Page 194] certainty of ease and happiness elated their spirits, and for some time they experienced all the pleasures of enjoyment unalloyed.

About two years after the commencement of their residence at E___, a circumstance occurred which had every appearance of plunging the worthy pastor and his partner into protracted misery. The advowson of the living of E___ had been purchased of the Duchess of C___, by a worthy aunt of the Rev. Charles H.___; that is, she found the purchase-money for her young nephew, who had at the time just finished his studies in the University. The annual income of the benefice had averaged, for a great number of years previously, about £1,600 per annum, nine-tenths of which was derived from the lead mines in the parish of E___. Hence the living was, at the time in question, one of superlative lucrativeness; and hence, was a matter of interest in its disposal. Sometime after the purchase the Rector's aunt died, and about the same time the Duchess of C___; and, after a lapse of six months from these events, the Rector received an order from the successor of the deceased Duchess, requiring payment of the £1,600, - the purchase-money of the living or benefice of E___. It is impossible to describe the consternation which filled the mind of the Rev. pastor on the receipt of this intelligence, for he had never for one moment dreamed that the money was unpaid. The papers and other effects of the Rector's aunt underwent a strict scrutinization, but unfortunately, no clue [Page 195] could be found of any evidence of the payment. Among the relatives of the distressed clergyman there was an impression that the money had been duly paid, still there was an unaccountable absence of all substantial proof, notwithstanding the most searching investigation. The young Duke of B__, the inheritor to the estates of the Dukes of C__, pressed payment of the money, and through repeated representations of its having been paid, he became infuriated, and immediately commenced legal proceedings. The distress of the Rev. Charles H___ now became openly manifest; he had no hope of raising the required sum, although he was surrounded by numbers of sympathetic friends.

After a few months of litigation, the law hounds were set upon the unfortunate Rector - the arrest of his body being the object in view. His amiable wife had borne him three children; the lead mines had altogether failed in their productiveness, and the proceeds of the living were reduced to a comparative trifle; indeed, misfortune in every shape surrounded them at every point. What could the unfortunate Rector do in this painful emergency? Where could be look for succour and relief? He, in the expectation of being duly arrested, summoned together the flock of his fold, and in language the most pathetic informed them of his melancholy circumstances. One general burst of sympathy was manifested on his behalf, and a determination was forcibly expressed that the law-hounds should be kept at bay. The hardy villagers of E___ were, in every respect [Page 196] well-fitted for the task; born and nurtured among the mountain fastnesses of the Peak, they possessed with much simplicity and rudeness, robustness of frame and constitution, and more particularly great hardihood and indomitable courage.

A few days after this interview, two limbs of the law were descried in the vicinity of E___, and from their enquiries, their business became known, and steps were immediately taken to secure the Rector from their relentless hands. Day after day elapsed but no opportunity occurred for the law hounds to pounce on their prey: in a labryinthical cavern the Rector lay concealed, where his every wish and want was duly attended to by his faithful flock. Some time was spent in fruitless search, but at last the patience and zeal of “man-hunters” became totally exhausted, and they returned whence they came crowned with bitter disappointment. It would be impossible to detail the numberless attempts that were made during the long period of five years, to secure the person of the harassed Rector; “hair-breath escapes” were innumerable, and but for the vigilance and devotedness of the villagers, their pastor must have endured imprisonment for an indefinite period.

The soul of the Duke of B___ yearned to wreak the bitterest vengeance on the head of his intended victim, and, as a last effort, Digby and Brownslow, from Bow Street, were selected to repair to the Peak, and to secure the Rector of E___ at all hazards and cost. These adepts of the law and stratagem had hitherto never been [Page 197] foiled; and they fully assured their employer of their certainty of success.

The plan most feasible in the opinion of the Bow Street dignitaries was, to enter the village of E___ at the dead of night, to secrete themselves in the churchyard, and early in the morning to secure the Rector while taking his accustomed walk in a field adjoining the churchyard and Rectory. The particulars of the Rector's habits; the minutiae of he person and appearance; and the situation of the churchyard, Rectory, and all other matters pertaining to the village, had been minutely detailed to them ere they left the metropolis.

The clock of the humble village of E___ was just announcing the “noon of night”, when Digby and Brownslow entered the tree-surrounded churchyard. The moon was peering in her fullest glory high up in Heaven's steep. The towering linden trees around cast their shadows athwart the field of graves; the ancient cross, and a yew tree here and there, stood like sable-clad monks; and all was still save the gentle rustling of the ivy which adorned the holy village fane. After stumbling over graves, Digby and Brownslow seated themselves under a stunted yew tree. for a few minutes they sat in silence, experiencing that sensation so general to mankind:

“E'en the faintest relics of a shrine
Wake in the mind some thoughts divine”. BYRON.

The strangeness of the scene had a peculiar effect on the minds of even these two, whose mode of life was [Page 198] much at variance with that of those who live in the cherishing and blissful lap of nature.

“Ah! here we sit”, said Digby, in a subdued tone, “among the village dead. I feel myself impressed with sensations gloomy and ponderable. How quietly and serene the forefathers of the village enjoy their undreaming sleep, while we, the agents and ministers of inhuman law, are sitting in ambush waiting to pour the vial of misery on the heads of frail humanity, and perhaps helpless innocence.” “True, Digby”, replied his companion, “I was just thinking, when you spoke, that death is the most natural state, - that life is but one of the countless scenes in the boundless theatre of being; for how little, how brief is the time of life, to that of death! Ah! I can almost imagine I see a many of those who lie around us, in all the pride of youth and beauty - in the innocence of prattling childhood, in the lustiness of manhood, in the 'sear and yellow head of old age', and now their names and being are erased from the tablets of memory. Surely the churchyard is the school of humility”.

“I almost wish”, said Digby, “we were hence; gloomy sensations crowd so full upon my mind that my nerves will be too feeble for our morning's task. See! now! Brownslow, who's that approaching us?” “I've seen that a few minutes since”, whispered Brownslow. The stout hearts of the elite of Bow Street now quailed with fear. The semblance of a woman (or ghost) was plodding over the graves in the direction where they [Page 199] sat trembling with fear. The figure or woman stopped about ten yards distant from them, and in a somewhat faint or unearthly tone of voice said, “Robert, come forth - Robert, come forth”. Up sprang the terrified “law-hounds”, and alternately leaping and stumbling over graves, they left the churchyard and village with hurried precipitation. Strange as it may appear, the worthy Rector was never troubled again on that head; and stranger still if that desirable climax was in any degree or way brought about by a silly, demented old woman, who nightly wandered the churchyard, with a maniac-like hope that she could call her long deceased husband, Robert, forth from his grave.

Transcribed by Rosemary Lockie in January 2009.

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