Tales and Traditions of the High Peak

By William Wood (1862)

Transcription by Rosemary Lockie, © Copyright 2009

Helen the Maniac

IN one of the most picturesque valleys of the Peak, there was of late to be seen the crumbling remnant of a once beautiful and lovely secluded cottage. Above half a century it has been uninhabited; and the devastating hand of Time has left but little to mark the place where, according to tradition, many generations of one family resided in all the blissful tranquility of rural life. Mark Dennis, the last male of the family who owned this lonely cottage, was a fisherman, as his immediate forefathers were; this occupation, with the proceeds of a little plot of land adjoining the dwelling, yielded sufficient for the comforts of his little family of wife and one child. At the time of the occurrence of this incident on which this but little-amplified story is founded, Helen, the only surviving daughter and offspring of Mark Dennis, was in the eighteenth year of her age - innocent as the violet of her native hills, and beautiful as morning's first and sweetest smile. Dennis and his devoted wife lavishingly doted on their beautiful daughter, and she in return repaid them with every possible exhibition of filial regard. Helen was the very antitype of beauty; her figure was slight, but cast in the purest mould of elegance; her glossy raven hair would almost sweep [Page 104] the ground, when it hung in unbraided clusters around her; and her fascinating, dark, luxuriant eye possessed the sparkle of the lynx and the languishing gentleness of the fawn, in the sweetest and most delicious combination. Such were the enrapturing charms of this child of the valley: yes! in the lap of nature she had been nursed, and on her every feature was stamped that soul-intoxicating charm - that heart-enchanting spell - whose potent magic power has universal sway.

Contiguous to the garden that flanked the cottage of Dennis, a small rivulet swept along, singing its beautiful, never-ceasing song of peace. On the margin of this rippling stream Helen frequently walked in the evenings of the summer season; there, in the lonely valley, she would sing the lays which she had learned; snatches of love ditties were her peculiar choice, and her shrill, sweet voice was echoed from the numberless surrounding hills. During these walks her father and mother would invariably repair to the door of their dwelling, and seating themselves beneath a wide-spreading sycamore, they would listen to the voice of their Helen with a delight - oh! how expressionless and enrapturing.

It was about the latter end of September that Helen completed the eighteenth year of her age; and it was on the occasion of her birthday - which had always been marked by some kind of festivity at their own home - that a cousin, by her mother's side, became a guest for a few weeks, as was at first intended, but [Page 105] which visit was at length prolonged into near six months. Helen's cousin, whose name was Linton, was in the twenty-first year of his age; he was rather tall, and very handsome in person. His mind was of no ordinary cast; its cultivation had been the exclusive ambition of his parents, who resided in a commercial town in the West of England. Linton's visit to his humble relatives in the Peak was projected with a view of giving form and vigour to his constitution before he joined the regiment, in which a lieutenancy had been purchased for him, and only awaited certification, which was expected in the course of a month or two at the farthest. Linton had moved among the elite of the beauty in his native place, but scarcely had his eyes glanced at the matchless form of Helen, ere he could have fallen down and worshipped her. The surpassing charms of Helen, the lonely cottage, and the silent sequestered valley, formed altogether a scene that broke on the mind of Linton but a blissful vision of spring, youth, and beauty. The visions which had filled the mind of Linton before, the thousand conjectured incidents of military campaigns in which he had pleasingly indulged, flitted from his mental tablets, and their place was supplied by the entrancing beauty of his lovely relative. To the ardent and cultivated mind of Linton, she appeared like one of those sublime fictions of the great priests of nature - the painters and poets - when they would express the beau ideal that haunts and peoples their [Page 106] heaven-aspiring minds with shapes of pure and matchless perfection. Day after day saw Linton and his lovely cousin walking side by side in the valley. Sometimes they climbed the lofty hills around the dell, and there in the loneliness of mountain solitude they discovered the transporting truth - they loved each other. The father of Helen, however, beheld the daily increasing love of the young couple with some anxiety; the good sense of the fisherman of the valley suggested that such apparent intensity of passion, would, in all probability, be accompanied by a mental struggle, and that soon, as the departure of Linton was now almost daily expected. Dennis sighed frequently and deeply as he pondered over the future while his spouse dreamed not, as he despairingly imagined, of the page which they were destined to read in the mysterious volume of dark futurity.

Well and truly did the poet sing -
“No man can tether time or tide”,

for Linton suddenly received his orders to join his regiment on the western coast of England, with all speed. The rupture with our American colonies had assumed a warlike aspect, and Linton's regiment was ordered for immediate embarkation. To dwell on the parting of Linton and Helen would be painfully interesting; it was on the margin of the stream that meandered the valley, the sun had just risen when the lovers left the cottage; they looked into each other's face as they walked towards the murmuring brook, each feeling [Page 107] paralyzed with intensely conflicting emotions. Leisurely they walked forward until the moment of parting came; vows of constancy were exchanged; tears flowed from the eyes of Helen; they looked at each other as they parted in deep and speechless emotion; and they turned again and again to have one more look of adieu.

Others also felt, to some degree, the agony of the parting of the lovers. Dennis and his wife, for nearly the first time in their hitherto tranquil life, wept bitterly. Helen returned to her home, but a few days sufficed to show that love - ah! even successful love - can produce bitterness. She became gloomy and sad; her usual flow of spirits was no longer witnessed; and when she walked forth it was not to gaze on the sweet flowers of the valley, nor to listen to the sweet song of the stream, for her mind was wandering

“In far abstractedness away, away”

Onward time passed, but for two years no letter or other intelligence was received of Linton. Meanwhile Helen had lapsed into a kind of voluptuous melancholy; the violence of her passion had to some degree subsided, and although the ideal image of her lover was present to her eyes in every object she beheld, still time had used its balmy and passion assuaging power.

How little is generally known of the misery and sorrow which a battle between hostile nations inflicts on the community at large; how little we think of the [Page 108] numberless ramifications through which the evil runs from the bloody and carnage-covered field. Ah! Bunker's-hill, thy torrents of sorrow and misery reached even the secluded valleys of the Peak - on thy gory bosom fell Helen's lover, the young and gallant Linton. Time brought the woeful tidings to Helen - she heard, shrieked, and in the sudden, momentary, but terrible conflict of her mind, reason left her throne for ever. Dire was the stroke - how miserable the contrast - the young and beautiful Helen, walking in the valley of her forefathers like a spotless vision of beauty, now transformed into a maniac, raving on the mountain heights, and espying, in the bewilderment of her compassless imagination, ships sailing homeward on the distant waves, and among the rejoicing crew her lover Linton.

“Sweetly mercy gave to charm the sense of woe,
Ideal peace, that truth could ne'er bestow;
Warm on her heart the joys of fancy beam,
And aimless hope delights her darkest dream”.

Years rolled on, and Dennis mourned over his Helen; but her dear mother could not bear up against the stroke; she wept unceasingly over her fond child, until she soon sank into an untimely grave. Helen became wasted and wan, and after some years her poor old father died! Unhappy Dennis! what anguish crossed thy bosom on thy last, last moments! Who does not hear thee say with thy latest breath, “Kiss me, my [Page 109] Helen - my love!” Helen, the spirit-like maniac, died a few years after also, and was buried beside her affectionate parents; and the young men and maidens of the locality often tell of the hapless fate of “Helen, the Maniac of the Valley”.

Transcribed by Rosemary Lockie in January 2009.

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