In 1897 the village of Muker in upper Swaledale was the subject of a portrait in words by the Yorkshire writer Arthur Harwood Brierley. It was published in the Leeds Mercury in two parts, on 17 and 31 July, within a series called Leaves for a Yorkshire Itinerary, all about the author’s travels around his native county.
I have not been able to discover much information about Arthur Harwood Brierley, other than some bare facts that he was born in Beeston, Leeds, in 1866, later lived in Bradford, and during the first decade or so of the 1900s he lived in York, first at Elm Crescent, Heworth, and then on Stockton Lane. In the census returns of 1901 and 1911 he described his occupation as litterateur.
His two-part article on Muker is of special interest because it is not a matter-of-fact description of the place and its history, but rather an honest reflection of the experience of a visitor in 1897, giving in equal measure his scorn for the short-comings of the place and his endearment towards its people and their struggles in such a remote community.
For anyone interested in the history of Muker, his article is an ideal companion to the book written by Edmund Cooper Muker, the story of a Yorkshire Parish, first published in 1948, and re-issued in 2010 with a preface by his daughter Jocelyn Campbell. The first part of Brierley’s account begins with some brief extracts from the book Romantic Richmondshire by Harry Speight, which had been published the previous year, 1896, and which had a chapter on Muker parish.
In this opening, Brierley repeated Speight’s extraordinary report that possibly the first sighting of a wild flamingo in the British Isles had recently been recorded on the River Swale near Muker. In accordance with the natural response to such an event at the time, the bird had been shot and ‘cured’. Having dealt with that teaser, Brierley goes on to describe, with some acerbic wit, his experiences in a recent and previous visits to Muker. The following transcription begins at this point:
MUKER’S PUBLIC BUILDINGS
According to the Ordnance map of 1860, Muker is a full-blown country market town, presumably with several institutions. Well, the church, the chapel, the three inns, and the Literary Institute are its present public buildings, and there is no sign of any addition. I forget the Post-office: but that is the tiny shop of Mr John Dunn, the town’s grocer and draper, who is also burdened with the office of receiver. The nearest money-order office is at Gunnerside (three miles), and telegraph office at Reeth (ten miles).
I must offer every excuse for Muker’s never having had a street, or a mansion, or a market-place, or a market cross, or a magistrate. But once on a time (so I have heard) it had a workhouse, situated in the very centre of the place, too. And beside it, on about the only bit of cobbled pavement to be now seen, stood the stocks. Hard lines for peaceable townsfolk who had such few advantages! I commend the generation which had pluck to eject that pair of despicable objects from such a prominent position.
As for the Muker Grammar School, founded by Anthony Metcalfe in 1678: puzzle – find it! The premises were rebuilt in 1849, and enlarged in 1870, as a public elementary school for boys and girls, of whom not more than ten are to be taught gratuitously. The founder endowed it with sixteen acres of land at Whitaside, producing about £20 a year.
In workhouse days the nucleus of the Muker Literary Institution was formed in a room over a stable, the “subscription library” being emptied into it in 1819. Book matters and mental pabulum have looked up considerably, for now we find a Literary Institute no bigger than a village Bethel – a two-storeyed edifice of aggressive ugliness, and therefore in harmony with all modern Swaledale buildings. It was founded by a patriotic dalesman who made his fortune in London, with a sportsman from Huddersfield as the alleged architect, and a few of the stalwart Muker men for the masons.
It dates from 1868, the cost being about £260. The library contains over 600 volumes, ranging from an antique Encyclopaedia Britannica to I don’t know what, with plenty of theological fossils thrown in. On the table may be seen such journals as the “Leeds Mercury,” “Daily News,” “Alliance News,” “Bedale and Northallerton Times,” from which one is apt to conclude that the Muker people are Liberal in their politics and teetotal in their appetites.
WHAT THE THREE “BUBLICS” MEAN
There may be a little unintentional irony in what I have just said about conjectured teetotalism, since Muker has more “bublics” for its size than any other place in Yorkshire; though, to mitigate the asperity of this remark, I must say that on some days there is not a single customer at any one of the ale-selling trio. Happily, Muker at present boasts nobody of the name of “Lushington”. The King’s Head and the Queen’s Head are the largest and best houses in the place, both having broad whitewashed fronts, which make them stand out boldly from the insignificant rest. Down by the beck-side is the Farmer’s Arms, and all three houses are within a stone’s throw of each other.
William Peacock, now aged seventy-eight, lives practically by himself at the first named: his daughter Dinah and her husband have the Queen’s Head, and Christopher Peacock has the farmer’s Arms. The old man faddishly keeps up his own licence in memory of the “good old times”, and with the lingering hope that Muker may someday take its stand again in the world; but I do not think it ever will, for the lead mines are practically abandoned, and the majority of the dispersed miners have got acclimatised to industrial Lancashire.
Unless the returns outweigh the licences, I do not foresee any possible augmentation of the income of the publican, farmer, or mason. Until a railway is carried into these parts, and tradespeople see the advantage of retiring out of the world, with exhilarating atmosphere and romantic scenery to counterbalance the loss of a town’s advantages, there can scarcely be a fixed population large enough to maintain three public houses, let Muker gain ever so much in popularity as its environments become better known to the ubiquitous tourists.
There is excellent chert in the hills around Hawes, Muker, and Reeth; and a discovery of it on a large scale on Weatherfell, near Hawes, in 1896, has suggested the gladdening rumour of a new industry for that town. Chert – a material of great value in pottery districts, where it is unobtainable – is a variety of quartz more or less translucent, but less hard than common quartz, with a fracture usually conchoidal and dull, sometimes splintery. But poor Muker remains dejected for even if the new industry could be extended into Swaledale it would stand only the meagrest chance of being able to compete with Hawes, owing to its far-awayness from any railway.
The Muker people will tell you that so long as forty years ago some careful surveying was done in the dale, and they filled their chests with pride, thinking they were going to have a railway soon. They have lost all faith in getting one now. Yet a deputation waited on the chairman and directors of the North Eastern Railway Company as recently as November 1896, urging them to make a light railway up Swaledale for the dual object of local convenience and as a feeder for the main line. The reply was that they were unable to move in the matter until the Board of Trade had issued its regulations on light railways. Could the scheme be developed and accomplished, it would help to relieve the depressed state of agriculture and lead mining, without any great intrusion upon or spoliation of the dale’s scenic attractions.
THE MUKER MARKET AND SHOW
Some of the Muker folk will tell you that they hold a charter for a market, but certain it is that they cannot produce the same. For the market here was established by custom, and in flourishing times it was, from all accounts, an institution of some importance to the surrounding villages being well supplied with the necessaries of life. One Monday morning, three or four years ago, I even saw such a thing as a pot stall (whither customers wended not their way) laid out on lumpy ground, and presided over by a gawky lad. The so-called Wednesday market for meat and vegetables is practically obsolete.
To all appearance Keld is as much a market town as Muker, and, if it only had Muker’s parish church, it might just as reasonably claim to be the capital of the upper dale. But no market is needed at either place, for the inhabitants of this district think lightly of their frequent seven-mile jog over the wild Buttertubs Pass to their favourite town of Hawes, although Askrigg is one mile nearer (to the Muker folk).
Muker Cattle Show, held on or about September 24th, is locally a red-letter day. Its prettiest feature is the competition among the maidens, who are all excellent horsewomen, for a silver mounted whip – the prize of the best girl rider. An annual fair held on the Wednesday before Old Christmas Day is called “Muker Old Roy”, the miners formerly having a good spree or “roy” on its every annual recurrence.
THE STORY OF THE LEAD MINES
The decline of Muker, then, is due to, and may be dated from, the decline of the Swaledale lead mines. But the statement of many a glib writer on the subject deserves to be challenged: he is wide of the mark when he says that the yield of the mineral having fallen off to something like nil, the mines were wisely closed as non-paying concerns. Even if the mines were exhausted by the end of the nineteenth century – and there is every evidence that they have been worked pretty continuously from the time of the subjugation of the Brigantes by the Romans in the first century – still, fresh borings would soon be a means of settling the question that there is another rich harvest of minerals waiting to be gathered.
As a fact, two or three mines a few miles lower down the dale are still employing labour, though only sparingly, owing chiefly to the lowness of the lead market, and the expense of carriage. Just as the importation of spurious Spanish jet glutted and degraded the Whitby jet trade, so the arrival of Spanish lead put a stop to the profitable working of all the Yorkshire lead mines. It must, however, be taken into consideration that the Spanish ore often yields so high a percentage of silver as to pay the entire working cost of the mines: as lead, it can therefore be exported at a price which has rendered competition in this country almost useless. Where the Swaledale mines continue working, wages have depreciated to a one-third part of what they were fourteen years ago.
The estimated amount of lead sent out of the dale in 1820 was 6,000 tons. In 1868, Arngill and Sun Hush mines realised 114 tons; Arkendale Mine, 1,257 tons; Old Gang, 1,596 tons; Surrender, 42 tons; Riscar, 5 tons; Hurst or East Swaledale, 528 tons; Muker Side and South Swaledale, 175 tons; Yorkshire, 64 tons: a total of 3,781 tons. The Hurst mines are said to be the oldest lead mines in the kingdom; they certainly rank as amongst the deepest mines, and also amongst the most profitable. It has for long been believed that they occupy the site of a Roman penal settlement. A “pig” of lead marked “Adrian” was discovered in one of the oldest workings about fifty years ago, and is now in the British Museum. The Romans appear to have transported the mineral by road to Richmond and Barnard Castle.
Well may the Yorkshireman regret to see so ancient an industry worked out in his own county. Well may he mourn to see the town of Reeth – so recently as 1851 the Swaledale lead-mining Metropolis – become a mere shadow of a pined substance, and its busy market-place a mere village green. The population of Reeth in 1851 was 6,820. Like Gunnerside and Muker it is now a village, and those hundreds of families who have been compelled to migrate to busy towns in Lancashire and Yorkshire will never come back again.
But, for some forthcoming generation, may there never be a revival of the industry under the smile of Fortune, when the leases are made out at working prices, when foreign countries shall cease to compete, and the present difficulty of transit be removed? It need not be feared that the ore supply will ever run short in these boring tool and divining rod days. In fact, it is not easy to account for such extraordinary metalliferous deposits in the Swaledale strata: but Mr. J. G. Goodchild, F.G.S., regards the lead-bearing veins as due to deposition from thermal water rising through pre-existing fissures (faults, &c.) at a time when the rocks were undergoing their last principal upheaval in Miocene times.
Set in a land of noisy streams and waterfalls, deep pine-clad ravines, gloomy passes, invigorating moors, and sterile fells, Muker and Keld ought to become resorts for England’s tourists. Glorious sunsets have I seen over Great Shunner Fell and Staggs Fell, the former mountain (2,329ft. high) rising up like a wall and fixing the horizon some five miles to the immediate west. But the pessimists declare that Muker can never again taste of prosperity until it inaugurates some new industry, or the lead market becomes propitious to the revival of the old. The proposed light railway from Richmond would be an initiatory step in the direction of lead mining or chert digging.
The miners, their wives and their children were all adepts in knitting hose, such as caps, jackets, stockings, shirts, and drawers for sailors: and it is related that hundreds of the really thrifty miners were never seen walking to and from in fair weather without their knitting appliances. In the year 1823 there was produced in the dales of Swale and Wensley £50,000-worth of these goods, chiefly by poor families, the whole being collected by wholesale dealers at Hawes for sale and exportation. The work is now done by machinery at two or three factories and the district derives no appreciable benefit from this change.
Wherever you go in this part of Yorkshire, you are reminded of the state of the German and Russian peasants, whose cries of woes are lusty and endless. It is however quite cheering to hear from the elders over your nip of pale Swaledale cheese at Muker or Keld, “made on the premises,” that Swaledale can supply the market with cheese equal, if not superior, to the widely famous Wensleydale brand. All the way from Keld to Gunnerside the pastures are fairly rich with trefoil and clover, and when spring drops her vernal blessings on the land they bubble up again in yellow cowslips and buttercups all over the pastures. Although Muker has abundant allotment pastures along the Swale, agricultural crops cannot be grown in the parish: straw, wheat and turnips must be carted in from abroad. The greater part of the land is absolute waste, belonging exclusively to sportsman and shepherd.
However, both at the King’s Head and the Queen’s Head I have had plenty of that thick cream “on which a penny would float”: and dishfuls of ham and eggs to perfection. And the living is so cheap that on one occasion I felt ashamed to pay my bill as it stood. The dale farmer lives by his butter and cheese, mutton and wool. He might, if he would only learn, and be at the trouble, add to his profits by vegetable growing, bee-keeping, or scientific poultry breeding. How is it that in the vegetable way he will plant nothing but potatoes? One may send miles for a bob of lettuce. The answer is that his father did not speculate in these unfamiliar products, so why should he? Truth is that insufficient outside influence has come into the dale to modify local character and enlarge the native mind. As it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be is the part of the Gloria which has most deeply stamped itself upon the intelligence of the upper-Swale folk.
After all that I have said, many will agree with me that Muker is the most unsophisticated place in Yorkshire. There is room in the place for angler, poet, artist, sportsman, pedestrian, novelist and philosopher. Mr J Styan Cooper and I were once put into a bed-chamber there the size of a barracks. In the centre of the chamber stood a curious old Pembroke table: in the ceiling was a trap-door positively suggestive of ghosts. Two camp-bedsteads, hung with green, set diagonal-wise in corners, sank into insignificance in the vast space. One of these was made up, and we found it so very comfortable that we slept quite soundly through the spectral intrusion – if one there was.
In Jessie Fothergill’s Yorkshire novel, “Kith and Kin”, Muker figures as “Kumer-in-Swaledale”. Here the Rev. Laurence Malleson, a Wensleydale Vicar, takes duty for the incumbent, and makes his temporary home. Three friends of himself and wife – Judith, Delphine, and Rhoda Conisbrough (Askrigg girls) – pay a visit to the Mallesons here, without, unfortunately, doing anything more noteworthy than visiting one of the smaller waterfalls. Judith, however, the hypersensitive heroine of the story, suddenly takes it into her head to walk back alone to Askrigg. Having crossed Oxnop Pass, she happens to meet her true lover, Bernard Aglionby, and goes into his arms. The event brings the story near to its conclusion.
Until today very little appears to have been written about Muker church matters. One is not surprised to hear that until recent years an old house stood in front of the church gate, and very nearly concealed the edifice from its resident parishioners. Any child will run for the south door key, and, if so disposed, you may live in the place for a day without disturbance. But whether Muker church is interesting or not to an average antiquary I cannot say; though it is quite in keeping with the town. It was consecrated on August 3rd 1580 as a chapel of ease to Grinton but prior to that time there was a chapel at Keld, demolished or closed after a riot never fully explained, though probably the result of some local dispute about the dissolution of monasteries.
Previous to the year 1890, for mouldiness, crouchbackedness, and quaintness of arrangement, without even the relic of a relic to redeem it, the church of St Mary at Muker surpassed every other that it could be the fortune of a Yorkshire antiquary to visit. According to a brass tablet over the entrance to the tower, “To the Glory of God, and in Memory of Lister Washington and Margaret Metcalfe, this church was restored by their son B H Metcalfe, 1890. But the old folk who worshipped here are discontented with their church now, and say the removal of the west gallery has spoilt it. It seems that during the restoration some interesting frescoes were discovered, though I am told they were not worth anything, and this accounts for their deletion.
When viewed inside, one gets an impression that the church is deceptively smaller than it looked outside, perhaps because the walls are extra thick. The tower, therefore, being the principal feature in any view of Muker, seems an appendage somewhat out of proportion with the rest of the building. In it hang two bells, but which boast no inscription. The chancel points due eastward down the dale, and in the central three-light window is a single fragment of stained glass, representing the head of the Virgin or a saint. The whole of this window must at one time have been filled with stained glass, and afterwards broken or removed, further damaged, and lost sight of. This single piece was probably reinserted in 1890. There is no more stained glass in the church.
On the south side of the chancel is a square stone dated 1719. There are two stone projections from the east wall, and one from the south. I saw no trace of stoup, piscina, or aumbry. A black tombstone in memory of James Harrie, of the parish of Redruth, Cornwall (evidently a lead-mining agent), who died in 1746, is affixed to the wall in the north-east corner. The church is lighted by four oil-lamps. Its furniture is poor, and I suppose the plate is worth little or nothing. In the vestry is a tall flagon, never used. “Shooter’s Sunday,” though unauthorised by the rubric, has become one of the leading festivals of the year. There is a collection, and the American organ has been known to be specially tuned for the Vicar’s little girl (hardly bigger than the pews) to eke out the harmony on that occasion.
THE MUKER REGISTER AND CHURCHYARD
Coming now to the vestry, we find that the register dates from 1632, but it appears to be deficient from 1668 to 1700. My friend Mr T. P. Cooper, of York, who examined it during last August, reports two or three items which may be worth inserting here. There is the record of the burial, in 1641, of “Robert Grummell, of Highbharfe, near Stainmoore, being slaine at a shaft on Tan Hill by falling to the bottom, and dyed.” Also under date November 23rd 1641 the following characteristic entry: – “Mabel Staife, daughter of Bartholomew Staife, of Crosby Garret, in Westmorland, who by traveling over the moors by ye Temptiousness of the wether was perished and dyed.” So much for the Liber Defunctorum; now for the Liber Matrimoniorum.
Here regularly appears the name of the male only; as for instance “May 28th 1711 – William Couper; de (of) Pot Ing.” In 1734 the name of the female is added. Later on the entries are, as a contrast, extended to painstaking, lawyer-like length. Videlicet: “September 25th 1775 – Married in the Chapel of Muker, Matthew Cooper, of Ivelet, in the chapelry of Muker, aged 21, and Mary Coates, of Gunnerside, in the parish of Grinton, aged 21, by banns published three several Sundays, according to law, in the chapel of Muker, notice thereof being first given several days before publication, and no impediment alleged. Given under my hand this day above.” Subsequently there appears, written right across a page of this register: “The Duty of 3d upon every Marriage commenced the 2nd day of October 1783.”
According to a table of fees hanging up in the vestry, the sexton has 4d for tolling the death bell. Before interments could take place at Muker corpses had to be conveyed to the Parish Church at Grinton, a distance of eleven miles; or, from Keld, fourteen miles. How melancholy, yet pathetic, must have been those frequent corteges, composed of relays of stalwart dalesmen, who walked the whole distance – sometimes fourteen miles – carrying their deceased brother or sister shoulder-high, the body not encased in an ordinary stout wooden coffin, but in a light wicker basket of anything but the deftest construction. Grinton and Muker funerals have, more especially during the winter time, always been known as the weirdest performances imaginable. When snow lies deep on the ground, it is no easy matter to get a coffin far out from the hills to the parish churchyard. It is dragged on a hay or coal sledge, but not without many bumps and bruises.
The natives profess preference for the well-seasoned old graveyard, where they may lie among the bones of their forefathers, and shudder at the possibility of being laid in virgin and untried soil – the newly consecrated portion. But Muker has now a parish hearse, though it is not yet licensed. Naturally we may expect some prejudice against this four-wheeler as a mad innovation to thrust aside the cart or sledge, as the coffin thrust aside the wicker basket. Probably long usage will consecrate it more satisfactorily in the country folks’ eyesight than any Bishop’s formula; and by the time it is in that state of readiness to drop to pieces as a result of endless joltings and the wear and tear of half a century, it will have become one of Muker’s venerable curiosities with which the natives will show every indisposition to part.
There is a remarkable paucity of beautiful or interesting tombstones; in fact they are, as a whole, a very shabby lot indeed. The same surnames are met with many times over. An Alderson of Muker – one of the commonest names in Swaledale – after fighting, presumably for King George in the war of Rebellion, returned to find his home desolate, whereat he erected a stone in Muker Churchyard thus inscribed: – “The erector of this tomb, being saved by the hand of Providence amid the fatal blows of Wars and Tempests to shape his course here in 1783, shed a tender love over this tomb of his beloved ancestors who died in his absence.”
One evening my host at the Queen’s Hotel pointed his pipe-stem to a row of eleven or twelve queer white vessels which hung against the wall from a ceiling beam, each one crudely ornamented with some simple rural subject.
“See these mugs, sir?” “Yes. What are they for?” “Funeral mugs. Used them for arvills.” “I wonder why the potter didn’t get them up in black for mourning?” “Ay, I wonder. But then they didn’t mourn at arvills. They ate, drank, and made merry as soon as the funeral was over.” “Why were those mugs reserved for funeral feasts?”
He scratched his pate.
“Why now, I cannot tell you that. But when I was a lad there was nought to sup out of at Muker except pewter-pots and funeral-mugs. No such thing as a beer-glass or a tumbler then. They do tell me there used to be a heavy tax on glass.”
“FIDDLER CWOATEY” AND “SARAH JOAN KIT”
I was home from church that October Sunday morning by a quarter-past eleven o’clock. After which I found out, as did an anonymous writer in “Temple Bar” that Sunday morning and afternoon – also evening – at Muker are a concerted discord of rival windy groans. In every other house, harmonium, concertina, or accordion knead out their heartrending groans at a by no means irregular rate. Our northern Arcady is quite a musical sphere where the “tenuis avena” of the piping shepherd would be grinned at and scorned. If you are dull in an evening the boy of the household will entertain you unflaggingly for hours with a selection of sacred atrocities, and with the inspiriting melody of the autochthonic chaunt.
But now to “Fiddler Cwoatey” the itinerant “musicianer,” deceased. Sometimes he would be disgusting without knowing it, and very audaciously spit in another man’s glass. Consequently, the contents would be turned away from in disgust, then the disgusting one would empty the same into his own stomach with apparent relish. “Fiddler Cwoatey” fiddled on a distraught violin at all the feasts and fairs within a radius of fifteen miles around Muker. Like most vagabond wanderers, he returned to his native place to die. He was found dead in his bed. The Muker folk say he was the only dead man who ever knocked a living man down. When the undertaker came to lay him out, pressure was put upon his legs in order to straighten them, whereupon the body lurched and the head tilted forward into the undertaker’s chest. He rolled on the floor helpless with fright.
In publishing this brief sketch of Christopher Metcalfe (“Sarah Joan Kit”), I am sure the genial old fellow will be proud to see some shadow of himself, and I will guarantee it to have no Pickwickian exaggeration. All Muker would be badly off without Kit, for he is the village newsmonger, its most popular bachelor, who will do anybody a good turn. Moreover he is possessed of a retentive memory, so that he can remember every local event for half an ordinary lifetime back, and he knows by heart the lettering on every stone in the churchyard. He lives alone with his cats in his own house, and amuses himself by taking short gossiping tours; but: his favourite haunts are the three “bublics,” where he invariably occupies the chair of honour, though he is one of the poorest drinkers in the world for his size. While the butcher goes up to Keld it is his wont to look after the village meat-stall, afterwards paying his “takings” at the “bublic” over a gin or whiskey. His capacious straw hat with the abraded rim has seen many summers and winters now: it is very much dilapidated by hard weathers, and the playful cats have pawed and bitten it.
Now, Muker is celebrated for cats and rats. Its many pigs and piggeries make the place almost Irish at a certain season of the year. The stables and mistals are chiefly disused dwelling-houses, all tumbled together and not lined with mortar, so that the rats can get in and out through the very walls. Cats are therefore needed to keep within reasonable bounds the increase of these obnoxious rodents. It is traditional that the Muker people are fond of their cats, many households keeping two at least. And all are tame animals for they are well done to, and the boys are as fond of them as they are of their dogs. Kit himself keeps a couple. Sometimes he takes them to bed with him. Many a morning has he come into the “Queen’s Head” with his face or head slowly oozing blood. It is clear to everybody that one of his feline friends had been too affectionately pawing him. And his invariable good-humoured explanation is: “T’owd cat was trahin’ ti wake me up this morning’; Ah overslep’ meself a little bit.” I wonder if any buxom country-woman in middle life desires a good husband?
THE HEADLESS LADY OF MUKER
Now, about seventy years ago one Kit Brunskill – a bred and born Muker man, at that time approaching the prime of life – had his eye on a neat stone house, rather larger than those occupied by the general run of lead-miners, situated in the very centre of the town, not fifty yards from the church gates. He had “made it up” with a fair cousin who occupied the house at the time, when, without a word (she was much younger than Kit) she committed suicide by hanging herself in the kitchen through jealousy. Tradition passes over the formalities of the inquest, and goes on to say that the lady’s head was severed from the trunk and buried separately in a box at midnight in the church yard, and the trunk and the limbs buried under the kitchen flags. Matters do not rest here, for the Upper Swaledale folk are by no means unyoked from superstition. The headless ghost of Kit Brunskill’s lady-love remains one of the most fearsome things in Muker-land. She – or it – first appears in the dimly-lighted kitchen.
There is no accounting whatever for the presence of the eerie light. From the ground-floor she ascends the stairs in her white shrouds, the rustle of which is like that of a silk dress. Beyond the landing are three or four bedroom doors, always kept closed. She pauses at one particular door. She touches it, and it opens. With marrow-freezing gestures she enters, and walks straight to the rusty fireplace, above which hangs the portrait of her wronged lover, Kit Brunskill, painted by her own deft hand when in the bloom of her exuberance of youth. Tears she cannot shed, nor any kind of emotion show, for she is hopelessly headless; but she rests her bony arm on the dusty mantelpiece for some minutes, presents what one might almost venture to call an attitude of contemplation, and then without the slightest sound retraces her steps more slowly. The apparition descends the stairs to the kitchen, and disappears with phantom ease.
Kit Brunskill lived in the house for nearly three-parts of a lifetime as a bachelor, utterly disconsolate at the untimely end of the lady of his choice through unfounded jealousy. The too-frequent reappearance of the apparition, affecting as it did every time the most sensitive chord of his heart, also began to prey upon his nerves and brain. At last the Vicar of the parish prevailed over him to quit the house for one quite free from such intrusions. But the evacuation of the house made no difference to the conduct of its haunting immortal. Kit left his portrait behind for an obviously good reason – lest it should be followed – and the headless lady is supposed to still make her personal visits to it in the dead of night.
THE SCHOOLMASTER’S GHOSTLY ADVENTURE
Raymond was a fair specimen of a village pedagogue. He exhibited many peculiarities, though none of that gross cruelty which characterised Squeers, of Dotheboys Hall, at Bowes. He would, for instance, have his boys reciting verses at his desk while he himself daubed away at pictures. He kept a couple of cows at Lile Hill cow-house, which lies in the direction of Crake Nest and Love Lane. Whenever he went to milk or fodder them he had to pass Pith Hill cow-house, and this is said to be haunted by an unmusical choir of fiendish imps, whose sole plea for existence is to terrorise the countryside with their unearthly songs, which can generally be heard at midnight, and always on the anniversary of the murder of a venerable grandsire of the dale.
On one occasion, when Raymond was going to fodder his cattle, the sprites of Pith Hill surprised him by issuing from the door and windows. The schoolmaster, logician and philosopher as he doubtless was, and exorcists as he professed to be, took to his heels, and covered the distance back to Muker in about as much time as it take me to write, when he swooned away on his own doorstep. Two or three nights later he picked up courage to venture again in the direction of his famished cattle at Lile Hill, wisely resolved to bring them nearer home at the very first opportunity. The impish choir saluted him in more swarming numbers than ever. They probably threatened to give him chase in the direction of Lile Hill, but it was not long before he outdistanced them.
That night his friends missed him, for he did not return. Next morning, moved by suspicion, they began to search for him. They found him lying dead between his two cows. Truer fact never was, and all Muker knows it. Pith Hill cow-house is still a spot to be dreaded on dark nights, and it requires more courage than ever a six-foot man can usually muster to pass the spot.