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The Screaming Skull of Wardley Hall


The skull that resides at Wardley Hall is another skull with opposing legends to account for its existence. In tradition the skull - which was kept behind a panel - was supposed to be that of royalist Roger Downs who lived in the 17th century. Roger was a man of ill nature, and according to legend once killed a Taylor in a drunken unprovoked attack, because he had sworn to kill the first person he met. His influence in high society allowed him to literally get away with murder. Eventually Roger picked a fight with somebody more than his equal, and during a drunken brawl on Tower Bridge in London, a watchman (or waterman) severed his head with one stroke. His body was then unceremoniously dumped into the River Thames. His head is said to have been delivered to the hall in a wooden box. The story was disproved when his coffin was opened in 1779, as his head was still attached to his body.

The skull actually belonged to Father Ambrose Barlow, who was hung and quartered for his faith in 1641; his head was then put on display at Manchester church or at Lancaster castle. According to some sources the skull came into the hall when it was bought by a catholic sympathiser, who kept the skull hidden lest his true leanings were discovered. The skull was then rediscovered in the 18th century by the owner of the house. One day a servant found the skull and threw the grisly relic into the moat, whereupon there was a terrible storm that led the owner of the hall to believe the skull was venting its wrath at being removed. He had the moat drained and the skull was returned to its position.

From traditional stories the skull seems to be indestructible as it has been buried, burned and smashed into pieces, always to be found outside the hall the next day, wearing its eternal grin.

The actual story is thought to date from the 1930s when a visiting journalist was duped into believing that that the skull was one with a tradition as a screaming skull. The skull has also been removed (by one time resident the Bishop of Salford) from the house for periods, without the occurance of paranormal activity.

Authorship
Author: 
Daniel Parkinson

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Re: The Screaming Skull of Wardley Hall

According to Jack Hallam's "The Ghosts' Who's who", Father Ambrose was born Edward Barlow, of Old Barlow Hall.

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Re: The Screaming Skull of Wardley Hall

WARDLEY HALL SKULL.
 
In the township of Worsley, about seven miles west of Manchester, and to the east of Kempnall Hall, is the ancient pile of Wardley Hall, erected in the reign of Edward VI. It is situated in the midst of a small woody glade, and was originally surrounded by a moat, except on the east side, which was protected by natural defences. This black-and-white half-timbered edifice is of a quadrangular form, consisting of ornamented wood and plaster frames, interlined with bricks (plastered and whitewashed, the wood-work being painted black), and entered by a covered archway, opening into a courtyard in the centre, like so many of the manor houses of the same age in Lancashire. About 1830 it was in a ruinous condition, one part being occupied as a farmhouse, and the other formed into a cluster of nine cottages. The hall has since been thoroughly renovated, and has been occupied for many years, under the Earl of Ellesmere, by a gentleman farmer and colliery-owner. In the room called the hall is a coat-of-arms, in a frame, belonging to the Downes family : a stag couchant within the shield ; crest, a stag's head. The room has an ornamented wainscot, and a fluted roof of oak. The stairs have an air of noble antiquity about them, which has been somewhat diminished by the daubings of a modem painter. The chimneys are clustered. The Tildesleys became lords of Wardley by marriage with the Worsleys in the reign of Henry IV., and settled here before they occupied Morley.  On the eve of the civil wars, Wardley was quitted by the Tildesleys, and became the residence of Roger Downes, Esq., whose son John, married Penelope, daughter of Sir Cecil Trafford, knight, who, endeavouring to convert Mr Downes [a Catholic] to Protestantism, became himself a Catholic. The issue of that marriage was Roger Downes, son and heir, and an only daughter, named Penelope, after her mother. She married Richard, Earl Rivers, a rake, a warrior, and a statesman. There is a human skull kept at the Hall, which tradition says once belonged to Roger Downes, the last male representative of his family, and who was one of the most abandoned courtiers of Charles II.
 
Roby, in his "Traditions,"has represented him as rushing forth "hot from the stews" — drawing his sword as he staggered along — and swearing that he would kill the first man he met. His victim was a poor tailor, whom he ran through with his weapon, and killed him on the spot. He was apprehended for the crime; but his interest at court soon procured him a free pardon, and he immediately began to pursue his usual reckless course. At length " Heaven avenged the innocent blood he had shed; for "in the lusty vigour," continues Roby, "of a dranken debauch, passing over London Bridge, heencountered another brawl, wherein, having run at the watchman with his rapier, one blow of the bill which they carried severed his head from his trunk. The latter was cast over the parapet into the Thames, and the head was carefully packed up in a box and sent to his sisters at Wardley. It was Maria who ventured to open the package and read the sad fate of her brother from a paper which was enclosed. The skull was removed, secretly at first, but invariably it returned to the Hall, and no human power could drive it thence. It hath been riven to pieces, burnt, and otherwise destroyed j but on the subsequent day it was seen filling its wonted place. This wilful piece of mortality will not allow the little aperture in which it rests to be walled up — it remains there — whitened and bleached by the weather, looking forth from those rayless sockets upon the scenes which, when living, they had once beheld." This curious legend exists under various forms, and has been noticed by several writers, but all agree ia the main facts. One account varies the place of his death, stating, in short, that Roger Downes, in the licentious spirit of the age, having abandoned himself to. vicious courses, was killed by a watchman in a fray at Epsom Wells, in June 1676, and dying without issue, the family quitted Wardley. It is of this Roger Downes that Lucas speaks, when he says that, according to tradition, " while in London, in a drunken frolic, he vowed to his companions that he would kill the first man he met; then, sallying forth, he ran his sword through a poor tailor. Soon after this, being in a riot, a watchman made a stroke at him with his bill, which severed his head from his body. The head was enclosed in a box and sent to his sister, who lived at Wardley Hall. "The skull," adds the narrator, "has been kept at Wardley ever since, and many superstitious notions are entertained concerning it, not worth repeating." After the Downeses ceased to reside there, Wardley Hall was occupied for a time by Lord Barrymore. Towards the end of the eighteenth century, Thomas Barritt, the Manchester antiquary, visited the Hall, where he says there is " a human skull, which, time out of mind, hath had a superstitious veneration paid to it, by [the occupiers of the hall] not permitting it to be removed from its situation, which is on the topmost step of a staircase. There is a tradition that, if removed, or ill-used, some uncommon noise and disturbance always follows, to the terror of the whole house; yet I cannot persuade myself this is always the case. But some few years ago, I and three of my acquaintances went to view this surprising piece of household furniture, and found it as above mentioned, and bleached white with the weather, that beats in upon it from a four-square window in the hall, which the tenants never permit to be glazed or filled up, thus to oblige the skull, which, they say, is unruly and disturbed at the hole not being always open. However, one of us, who was last in company with the skull, removed it from its place into a dark part of the room, and there left it, and returned home ; but the night but one following, such a storm arose' about the house, of wind and lightning, as tore down some trees, and unthatched outhousing. We hearing of this, my father went over in a few days after to see his mother, who lived near the Hall, and was witness to the wreck the storm had made. Yet all this might have happened had the skull never been removed ; but withal it keeps alive the credibility of the tradition (or the credulity of its believers). But what I can learn of the above affair from old people in the neighbourhood is, that a young man of the Downes family, being in London, one night;in his frolics vowed to his companions that he would kill the first man he met ; and accordingly he ran his sword through a man immediately, a tailor by trade. However justice overtook him in his career of wickedness; for in some while after, he being in a riot upon London Bridge, a watchman made a stroke at him with his bill, and severed his head from his body, which head was enclosed in a box, and sent to his sister, who then lived at Wardley, where it hath continued ever since." Barritt adds — ' " There is likewise a skull near Wigan of this surprising sort, of which I have heard stories too ridiculous to relate." In the " Traditions," the substance of this legend is given with graphic effect under the appellation of the "Skull House." It is there remarked of Wardley that, — " A human skull is still shown here, which is usually kept in a little locked recess in the staircase wall, and which the occupiers of the Hall would never permit to be removed. This, grim caput mortuum being, it is said, much averse to any change of place or position, never failed to punish the individual severely which should dare to lay hands upon it with any such purpose. If removed, drowned in the neighbouring pond (which is in fact a part of the old moat which formerly surrounded the house), or buried, it was sure to return ; so that, in the end, each succeeding tenant was fain to endure its presence rather than be subject to the terrors and annoyances consequent upon its removal. Even the square aperture in the wall was not permitted to be glazed without the skull or its long-defunct owner creating some disturbance. It was almost bleached white by exposure to the weather, and many curious persons have made a pilgrimage there, even of late years." Mr Roby then relates the freak of Barritt and his companions, and gives the story of the skull from Barritt's MS. The editor of the present volume visited the Hall some years ago, and found that a locked door concealed at once the square aperture and its fearful tenant. Of this "place of a skull," two keys were provided ; one being kept by the tenant of the Hall, who farms some of the adjacent land, and the other being in the possession of the late (and first) Countess of Ellesmere, the lady of the lamented "Lord Francis Egerton." The Countess occasionally accompanied visitors from the neighbouring Worsley Hall, and herself unlocked the door and revealed to her friends the grinning skull of Wardley Hall. The writer paid another visit to this quaint old Hall in October 1861, and again held the old skull in his hands. The bone of the lower jaw had become detached; but there is no sign of violence about the skull itself. If the tradition as to the violent death of its owner be correct, that result has been effected without any fracture of the bone. The keystone of an arched entrance into the courtyard has on its outer face,  R. H. D. 1625," and beneath this, "1818." On its inner face, "1846." These dates doubtless indicate the times of rebuilding or repairing a portion of the old place.

['Lancashire Legends' (1873) by John Harland & T T Wilkinson]


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Re: The Screaming Skull of Wardley Hall

WARDLEY HALL.
 
Wardley Hall was originally the property of the Worsleys or Workedleys, who were settled at Worsley about the time of the Norman Conquest. They retained possession of Wardley till about the reign of Edward II., when Thurston de Tyldesley marrying Margaret, daughter and heiress of Jordan de Workesley, it passed to the Tyldesleys; and, prior to the herald's visitation of 1567, became the residence of the elder branch of the family ; a younger branch being settled at Morley Hall in Astley, which had come to the family by the marriage of Edmund, second son of Thurstan Tyldesley, of Tyldesley and Wardley, with Anne, daughter and sole heiress of Thomas Leyland, of Morley; and from that line descended the unfortunate and gallant royalist Sir Thomas Tyldesley. Wardley continued the property of the Tyldesleys until the beginning of the seventeenth century, when Thurston, son of Thomas Tyldesley, of Gray's Inn, Attorney-General for the Duchy of Lancaster, sold the estate in parcels, and Wardley passed to the Cheshire family of Downes. Roger Downes, the first of the name settled at Wardley, was Vice-Chamberlain of Chester to William Earl of Derby, and James Lord Strange, his son. He died about 1638, leaving by his wife, a daughter of John Calvert, of Cockefham, three sons and one daughter. Francis and Lawrence both died young ; John succeeded to the estates on the death of his father; and Jane married Robert Snede, Esq., of Keele, Staffordshire. John Downes, a zealous Roman Catholic and supporter of the Royalist cause, accompanied Lord Strange (afterwards the unfortunate Earl of Derby) to the siege of Manchester in September 1642. He married Penelope, daughter of Sir Cecil Trafford, knight, the only issue being Roger, son and heir (who was unfortunately killed by a watchman at Epsom Wells in June 1676), and a daughter named Penelope. How the story of the skull arose, it is impossible to say ; but it seems to have been to a great extent true ; at least, as regards Roger Downes, who is represented as being one of the wildest and most licentious of the courtiers of Charles II. Upon the wall of Wigan Church is a tablet to the memory of this same Roger Downes, with the inscription : — " Rogerus Downes de Wardley, arraiger, filius Johannis Downes, hujus comitatis, armigeri, obiit 27 Junii 1676, atatis suae 28" — (Roger Downes of Wardley, Esq., son of John Downes of this county, Esq., died 27th June 1676,. aged twenty-eight years).
 
Thomas Barritt, the antiquary, besides the story he has given relating to the skull in his " MS. Pedigrees," offers the following explanation : — " Thomas Stockport told me that the skull belonged to a Romish priest, who was executed at Lancaster for seditious practices in the time of William III. He was most likely the priest at Wardley, to which place his head being sent, might be preserved as a relic of his martyrdom. . . . The late Rev. Mr Kenyon of Peel, and librarian at the College in this town [Chetham's Library, Manchester], told me, about the year 1779, that the family vault of the Downeses in Wigan Church had been opened about that. time, and a coffin discovered, on which was an inscription to the memory of the above young Downes. Curiosity led to the opening of it, and the skeleton, head and all, was there ; but, whatever was the cause of his death, the upper part of the skull had been sawed off, a little above the eyes, by a surgeon, perhaps by order of his friends, to be satisfied of the nature of his disease. His shroud was in tolerable preservation ; and Mr Kenyon showed me some of the ribbon that tied his suit at the arms, wrists, and ankles ; it was of a brown colour — what it was at first could not be ascertained." Penelope, sister and heiress of Roger Downes, conveyed the estate by marriage to Richard Savage, fourth Earl Rivers, who died in 1712, leaving an only daughter, Elizabeth, married to James, fourth Earl of Barrymore, the representative of an ancient Irish family. The only issue by this marriage was a daughter named Penelope, wife of James, second surviving son of George, Earl of Cholmondeley, who died without issue in 1775. Wardley is now the property of the Earl of EUesmere. The hall itself is an interesting structure, of the time of Edward VI.; partially surrounded by a moat, and constructed of ornamental timber and plaster, the interstices of the framework being filled with bricks. It is quadrangular in form, with a courtyard in the centre, the entrance being by a covered archway. The principal room has an ornamented wainscot, and a ceiling of fluted oak, in this room is also preserved a coat of arms of the Downes family — sable a hart lodged argent. Wardley Hall has been engraved in Philips's " Old Halls of Lancashire," and in other works.

['Lancashire Legends' (1873) by John Harland & T T Wilkinson]

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Re: The Screaming Skull of Wardley Hall

The Haunted Homes and Family Traditions of Great Britain by John Ingram (1897)

Many a curious chapter has been written about the human cranium, but, probably, none more singular than that titled "Skull Superstitions," by Mr. William Andrews, in his work on Historic Romance. Among other instances of the belief prevalent in certain localities of the way in which skulls influence the fortunes of families, or at any of their residences,, he cites the singular and oft-referred-to case of the empty head-piece kept at Wardley Hall. This ancient pile of buildings, erected in the reign of the sixth Edward, is about seven miles from Manchester, and is historically noted for its possession of an unburied human skull.

The old Hall is situated in the midst of a small woody glade, and was originally surrounded by a moat, except on the east side, which was protected by natural defences. In Lancashire Legends, Mr. T. T. Wilkinson says : "This black and white half-timbered edifice is of a quadrangular form, consisting of ornamented wood and plaster frames, interlined with bricks (plastered and white-washed, the woodwork being painted black), and entered by a covered archway, opening into a court-yard in the centre, like so many of the manorhouses of the same age in ancashire. About 1830 it was in a ruinous condition, one part being occupied as a farm-house, and the other formed into a cluster of nine cottages. The Hall has since been thoroughly renovated, and has been occupied for many years by a gentleman farmer and colliery owner.'

Wardley Hall, and the surrounding property, after having been in the possession of various gentle families, in the early part of the seventeenth century passed into the hands of the Downes, and the Hall became the residence of Roger Downe. Roger, the grandson of this gentleman, and the heir to the property, is described as one of the most dissolute courtiers of Charles the Second's Court. After a reckless career of crime, this young man, the last male representative of his family, was slain in a drunken brawl, and, says tradition, his head having been severed from his body, was sent as a memento mori to his sister. That head, according to popular faith, has been kept at the Hall ever since, none of the tenants having ever been enabled to get rid of it.

Mr. Andrews refers to various accounts relating to this noted relic, but quotes, as the most curious, one found in the manuscripts of Thomas Barritt, the Manchester antiquary, describing his own visit to Wardley Hall about the end of the last century. That account it will be well to follow.

"A human skull which, time out of mind, hath had a superstitious veneration paid to it by [the occupiers of the Hall] not permitting it to be removed from its situation, which is on the topmost step of a staircase. There is a tradition that, if removed or ill-used, some uncommon noise and disturbance always follows, to the terror of the whole house ; yet I cannot persuade myself this is always the case. But, some years ago, I and three of my acquaintances went to view this surprising piece of household furniture, and found it as above mentioned, and bleached white with weather, that beats in upon it from a four-square window in the hall, which the tenants never permit to be glazed or filled up, thus to oblige the skull, which, they say, is unruly and disturbed at the hole not being always open.

"However, one of us, who was last in company with the skull, removed it from its place into a dark part of the room, and then left, and returned home ; but the night but one following, such a storm arose about the house, of wind and lightning, as tore down some trees, and unthatched out-housing. We hearing of this, my father went over in a few days after to see his mother, who lived near the Hall, and was witness to the wreck the storm had made. Yet ail this might have happened had the skull never been removed; but, withal, it keeps alive the credibility of its believers.

"What I can learn of the above affair from old people in the neighbourhood is, that a young man of the Downes family, being in London, one night in his frolics vowed to his companions that he would kill the first man he met ; and accordingly he ran his sword through a man immediately, a tailor by trade. However, justice overtook him in his career of wickedness; for, in some while after, he being in a riot upon London Bridge, a watchman made a stroke at him with his bill, and severed his head from his body, which head was enclosed in a box, and sent to his sister, who then lived at Wardley, where it hath continued ever since."

Roby, in his Traditions of Lancashire, refers to this Wardley legend. After relating the fate of young Downes, and the sending home of his decapitated head, he says: "The skull was removed, secretly at first, but invariably it returned to the Hall, and no human power could drive it thence. It hath been riven to pieces, burnt, and otherwise destroyed; but on the subsequent day it was seen filling its wonted place."

Elsewhere he relates that at Wardley " a human skull is still shown here, which is usually kept in a little locked recess in the staircase wall, and which the occupiers of the Hall would never permit to be removed. This grim caput mortuum being, it is said, much averse to any change of place or position, never failed to punish the individual severely which should dare to lay hands upon it with any such purpose. If removed, drowned in the eighbouring pond (which is, in fact, a part of the old moat which formerly surrounded the house), or buried, it was sure to return ; so that, in the end, each succeeding tenant was fain to endure its presence rather than be subject to the terrors and annoyances consequent upon its removal. Even the square aperture in the wall was not permitted to be glazed without the skull or its long-defunct owner creating some disturbance. It was almost bleached white by exposure to the weather, and many curious persons have made a pilgrimage there, even of late years."

In Harland and Wilkinson's Lancashire Legends, a quite recent work, the Editor says that when he visited the Hall, some years ago, he found that a locked door concealed at once the square aperture and its fearful tenant. At that time two keys were provided for this tl place of a skull," one being kept by the tenant of the Hall, and the other by the Countess of Ellesmere, the owner of the property. Occasionally the Countess would accompany visitors from the neighbouring Worsley Hall, and would unlock the door and show to her friends the Wardley Hall skull. Mr. Wilkinson revisited the quaint old residence in 1861, and again personally inspected this strange relic of mortality. An account of this re-inspection is given in the volume above referred to.

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Re: The Screaming Skull of Wardley Hall

Traditions of Lancashire, Volume 2 by John Roby (1872)

THE SKULL HOUSE.

"That skull had a tongue in't that could sing once."
—Hamlet.

Wardley Hall, in the manor of Worsley, is an ancient building about seven miles west from Manchester. It was an old seat of the Downes family, and afterwards of Lord Barrymore. A human skull was formerly shown here, beside the staircase, which the occupiers would not permit to be removed. This grim fixture, it was said, being much averse to any change of place or position, never failed to punish the individual severely who should dare to lay hands on it. If removed or buried, it was sure to return, so that in the end each succeeding tenant was fain to endure its presence, rather than be subject to the terrors and annoyances consequent upon its removal. Its place was a square aperture in the wall; nor would it suffer this opening to be glazed, or otherwise filled up, without creating some disturbance. It seemed as if those rayless sockets loved to look abroad, peradventure on the scenes of its former enjoyments and reminiscences. It was almost bleached white by exposure to the weather, and many curious persons have made a pilgrimage there even in late years. Several young men from Manchester once going on this errand, one of them, unobserved of his fellows, thought he would ascertain the truth of the stories he had heard. For this purpose he privately removed the skull to another situation, and left it to find its way back again. The night but one following, such a storm arose about the house, that many trees were blown down, the roofs were unthatched, and the tenants, finding out the cause, as they supposed, replaced the skull, when these terrific disturbances ceased.

The occurrences detailed more fully in the following pages are usually assigned as the origin of this strange superstition.

"I wonder what that hair-brained brother of mine can be doing. No fresh brawl, I hope," said Maria Downes to her cousin Eleanor, as they sat, mopish and disquieted enough, in a gloomy chamber of the old hall at Worsley.

"I hope not, too," replied Eleanor; and there was another long and oppressive silence.
It was in the dusk of a chill, damp November evening. The fire shot forth a sharp uncertain glimmer, and the dim walls threw back the illumination.

"I know not why," said Maria, "but my spirits are very sad, and everything I see looks mistrustful and foreboding!"

So thought her cousin; but she did not speak. Her heart was too full, and a tear started in her eye.

"Would that Harry had eschewed the frivolities and dissipations of yonder ungodly city; that he had stayed with us here, in safe and happy seclusion. I have hardly known pleasure since he went."

Eleanor's bosom again responded to the note of agony that was wrung from her cousin, and she turned her head to hide what she had too plainly betrayed.

"Since that unhappy fray in which peradventure an innocent and unoffending victim was the result of Harry's intemperance, the bloody offence hath been upon my soul—heavier, I do fear, than upon his own. But unless he repent, and turn aside from his sinful courses, there will, there must, come a fearful recompense!"

"Do not sentence him unheard," said Eleanor; but her words were quivering and indistinct. "It was in his own defence, maybe, however bitterly the tidings were dropped into your ear.

Sure I am," said she, more firmly, "that Harry was too kind, too gentle, to slay the innocent, and in cold blood!"

"Nay, Eleanor, excuse him not. It may be that the foul deed was done through excess of wine, the fiery heat of debauch, and amid the beastly orgies of intemperance; but is he the less criminal? I tell thee nay; for he hath added crime to crime, and drawn down, perchance, a double punishment. He is my brother, and thou knowest, if possible, I would palliate his offence; but hath it not been told, and the very air of yon polluted city was rife and reeking with the deed, that Harry Downes, the best-beloved of his father, and the child of many hopes, did wantonly, and unprovoked, rush forth hot and intemperate from the stews. Drawing his sword, did he not swear—ay, by that Heaven he insulted and defied, that he would kill the first man he met, and—oh, horror!—was not that fearful oath fulfilled?"
Eleanor had covered her face with her hands—a convulsive sob shook her frame; but though her heart was on the rack, she uttered no complaint. Maria, inflexible, and, as some might think, rigid, in those principles of virtue wherein she had been educated, yet sorrowed deeply for her cousin, who from a child had been her brother Harry's playmate, and the proofs of mutual affection had been too powerful, too early, and too long continued, to be ever effaced. Timid as the frighted fawn, and tender as the wild flower that scarce bent beneath her step, she lay, a bruised reed; the stem that supported her was broken. Her fondest, her only hopes were withered, and the desolating blast of disappointment had passed upon her earliest affections. Her little bark, freighted with all a woman's care and tenderness, lay shivered with the stroke, disabled and a wreck!

Just as the short and murky twilight was expiring, and other lights were substituted, there came a loud summons at the outer gate, where a strong barrier was built across the moat. The females started, as though rendered more than usually apprehensive that evil tidings were at hand. But they were, in some measure, relieved on hearing that it was only Jem Hazleden, the carrier from Manchester, who had brought a wooden box on one of his pack-horses, which said box had come all the way from London by "Antony's" waggon. Maria thought it might be some package or present from her brother, who had been a year or two in town, taking terms; but a considerable period had now passed since tidings were sent from him. She looked wistfully at the box, a clumsy, ill-favoured thing, without the least symptom of any pleasant communication from such a source; so different from the trim packages that were wont to arrive, containing, maybe, the newest London chintz, or a piece of real brocade, or Flanders lace of the rarest workmanship.

"No good lurks in that ugly envelope," thought she; and, stooping down, she examined the direction minutely. It was a quaint crabbed hand—not her brother's, that was certain; and the discovery made her more anxious and uneasy. She turned it over and over, but no clue could be found, no index to the contents. It would have been easy, methinks, to have satisfied herself on this head, but she really felt almost afraid to open it, and yet——At any rate, she would put it off till the morrow. She was so nervous and out of spirits that she positively had not courage to open a dirty wooden box, tied round with a bit of hempen cord, and fastened with a few rusty nails. She ordered it to be removed to her bed-chamber, and morning, perchance, would dissipate these idle but unpleasant feelings. She went to bed, but could not sleep; the wind and rain beat so heavily against the casement, and the recent excitement kept her restless and awake. She tried various expedients to soothe and subdue her agitation, but without effect. The rain had ceased to patter on the windows, but the wind blew more fiercely and in more violent gusts than before. The sky was clearing, and a huge Apennine of clouds was now visible as she lay, on which the moonbeams were basking gloriously. Suddenly a ray glided like a spirit into the chamber, and disappeared. Her eyes were at that moment directed towards the mysterious box which lay opposite, and her very hair moved with horror and consternation; for in that brief interval of light she thought she saw the lid open, and a grisly head glare out hideously from beneath. Every hair seemed to grow sensitive, and every pore to be exquisitely endued with feeling. Her heart throbbed violently, and her brain grew dizzy. Another moonbeam irradiated the chamber. She was still gazing on the box; but whether the foregoing impression was merely hallucinatory, an illusion of the feverish and excited sense, she knew not, for the box was there, undisturbed, grim, silent, and mysterious as before. Yet she could not withdraw her eyes from it. There is a fascination in terror. She could hardly resist a horrible desire, or rather impulse, to leap forth, and hasten towards it. Her brow felt cold and clammy; her eyes grew dim, and as though motes of fire were rushing by; but ere she could summon help she fell back senseless on her pillow.

Morning was far advanced ere she felt any returning recollection. At first a confused and dream-like sensation came upon her. Looking wildly round, her eyes rested on the box, and the whole interval came suddenly to her memory. She shuddered at the retrospect; but she was determined, whether it had been fancy or not, to keep the secret within her own breast, though more undetermined than ever to break open the fearful cause of her disturbance. Yet she durst not seek repose another night with such a companion. Her apprehensions were not easily allayed, however disposed she might be to treat them as trivial and unfounded.

"Will you not open yonder package that came last night?" inquired Eleanor, as they were sitting down to breakfast. Maria shuddered, as though something loathsome had crossed her. She shook off the reptile thought, which had all the character of some crawling and offensive thing as it passed her bosom.

"I have not—that is, I—I have not yet ordered it to be undone."

"And why?" said Eleanor, now raising her soft blue eyes with an expression of wonder and curiosity on her cousin. "It did not use to be thus when there came one of these couriers from town."

"'Tis not from Harry Downes; and—I care not just now to have the trouble on't, being jaded and out of spirits."

"I will relieve you of the trouble presently, if you will permit me," said Eleanor, who was not without a secret hope, notwithstanding Maria's assertion, that it was a message of gladness from Harry, with the customary present for his sister, and perhaps a token of kindness for herself.

"Stay!" said Maria, laying her hand on Eleanor as she rose, whilst with a solemn and startling tone she cried, "Not yet!" She sat down; Eleanor, pale and trembling, sat down too; but her cousin was silent, evidently unwilling to resume the topic.

"To-morrow," said she, when urged; but all further converse on the subject was suspended.

Maria, as the day closed and the evening drew on apace, gave orders that the box should be removed into a vacant outbuilding until morning, when, she said, it might be opened in her presence, as it probably contained some articles that she expected, but of which she was not just then in need.

"It's an ugly cumbersome thing," said Dick, as he lugged the wearisome box to its destination. "I wonder what for mistress dunna break it open. Heigho!"

Here he put down his burden, giving it a lusty kick for sheer wantonness and malice.
"What is't sent here for, think'st 'ou?" said Betty the housemaid, who had followed Dick for a bit of gossip and a sort of incipient liking which had not yet issued on his part into any overt acts of courtship and declaration. It was nigh dark, "the light that lovers choose;" and Betty, having disposed herself to the best advantage, awaited the reply of Dick with becoming modesty.

"How do I know the nature o' women's fancies? It would be far easier to know why there's a change o' wind or weather than the meaning o' their tricks and humours."

"I know not what thee has to complain on," said Betty. "They behaven better to thee nor thou deserves."

"Hoity, toity, mistress; dunna be cross, wench. Come, gie's a buss an' so——

"Keep thy jobbernowl to thysel'," said the indignant Betty, when she had made sure of this favour. "Thy great leather paws are liker for Becky Pinnington's red neck nor mine," continued she, bridling up, and giving vent to some long-suppressed jealousy.

"Lorjus days; but thou's mighty quarrelsome and peevish; I ne'er touch'd Becky's neck, nor nought belongin' to her."

"Hush," said Betty, withdrawing herself from the approaches of her admirer. "Some'at knocks!"

Dick hastened to the door, supposing that somebody was dodging them.
"'Tis somethin' i' that box!" said Betty; and they listened in the last extremity of terror. Again there was a low dull knock, which evidently came from the box, and the wooers were certain that the old one was inside. In great alarm they rushed forth, and at the kitchen-chimney corner Dick and his companion were seen with blanched lips and staring eyes, almost speechless with affright.

Next morning the story was bruited forth, with amendments and additions, according to the fancy of the speaker, so that, in the end, the first promulgers could hardly recognise their own. The grim-looking despatch was now the object of such terror that scarcely one of them durst go into the place where it stood. It was not long ere Maria Downes became acquainted with the circumstance, and she thought it was high time these imaginary terrors should be put an end to. She felt ashamed that she had given way to her own apprehensions on the subject, which doubtless were, in part, the occasion of the reports she heard, by the seeming mystery that was observed in her manner and conduct. She determined that the box should be opened forthwith. It was daylight, be it remembered, when this resolution was made, and consequently she felt sufficiently courageous to make the attempt.

But there was not one amongst the domestics who durst accompany her on this bold errand—an attack, they conceived, on the very den of some evil spirit, who would inevitably rush forth and destroy them.

Alone, therefore, and armed with the necessary implements, was she obliged to go forth to the adventure.

The terrified menials saw her depart; and some felt certain she would never come back alive; others did not feel satisfied as to their own safety, should their mistress be the victim. All was terror and distress; pale and anxious faces huddled together, and every eye prying into his neighbour's for some ground of hope or confidence. Some thought they heard the strokes—dull, heavy blows—breaking through the awful stillness which they almost felt. These intimations ceased: and a full half-hour had intervened; an age of suspended horror, when—just as their apprehensions were on the point of leading them on to some desperate measures for relieving the suspense which was almost beyond endurance—to their great joy, their mistress returned; who, though appearing much agitated, spoke to them rather hastily, and with an attempt to smile at their alarm.

"Yonder box," said she, passing by, "is like to shame your silly fears. Some wag hath sent ye a truss of straw—for a scrubbing wisp, maybe." But there was, in the hurried and unusual hilarity of her speech, something so forced and out of character, that it did not escape even the notice of her domestics. Some, however, went immediately to the place, and after much hesitation lifted up the lid, when lo! a bundle of straw was the reward of their curiosity. By degrees they began to rummage farther into the contents; but the whole interior was filled with this rare and curious commodity. They could hardly believe their eyes; and Dick, especially, shook his head, and looked as though he knew or suspected more than he durst tell; a common expedient with those whose mountain hath brought forth something very like the product of this gigantic mystery.

Dick was the most dissatisfied with the result, feeling himself much chagrined at so unlooked-for a termination to his wonderful story, and he kept poking into and turning about the straw with great sullenness and pertinacity. His labours were not altogether without success.

"Look! here's other guess stuff than my lady's bed straw," said he, at the same time holding up a lock of it for the inspection of his companions. They looked and there was evidently a clot of blood! This was a sufficient confirmation of their surmises; and Dick, though alarmed as well as the rest, felt his sagacity and adroitness wonderfully confirmed amongst his fellows. They retired, firmly convinced that some horrible mystery was attached thereto, which all their guessing could not find out.

At night, as Dick was odding about, he felt fidgety and restless. He peeped forth at times towards the outhouse where the box was lying, and as he passed he could not refrain from casting a glance from the corner of his eye through the half-closed door. The bloody clot he had seen dwelt upon his imagination; it haunted him like a spectre. He went to bed before the usual hour, but could not sleep; he tossed and groaned, but the drowsy god would not be propitiated. The snoring of a servant in the next bed, too, proved anything but anodyne or oblivion to his cares. He could not sleep, do what he would. Having pinched his unfortunate companion till he was tired, but with no other success than a loud snort, and generally a louder snore than ever, in the end, Dick, rendered desperate, jumped out of bed, and walked, or rather staggered across the floor. He looked through the window. It was light, but the sky was overcast, though objects below might readily be distinguished. The outhouse where the box lay was in full view; and as he was looking out listlessly for a few minutes he saw a female figure bearing a light, who was gliding down stealthily, as he thought, in the yard below. She entered the building, and Dick could hardly breathe, he was so terrified. He watched until his eyes ached before she came out again, when he saw plainly it was his mistress. She bore something beneath her arm; and as Dick's curiosity was now sufficiently roused to overcome all fear of consequences, he stole quickly down-stairs, and by a short route got sufficiently on her track to watch her proceedings unobserved. He followed into the garden. She paused, for the first time, under a huge sycamore tree in the fence, and laid down her burden. She drew something from beneath her cloak, and, as he thought, began to dig. When this operation was completed she hastily threw in the burden, and filled up the hole again; after which, with a rapid step, she came back to the house. Dick was completely bewildered. He hesitated whether or not to examine immediately into the nature of the deposit which his mistress seemed so desirous to conceal; but as he had no light, and his courage was not then screwed up to the attempt, he satisfied himself at present with observing the situation, intending to take some other opportunity to explore this hidden treasure. That his mistress's visit had some connection with the contents of the mysterious box was now certain, and whatever she had concealed was part of its contents, a conclusion equally inevitable; but that she should be so wishful to hide it, was a problem not easy to be explained without examination. Was it money? The clotted blood forbade this surmise. A horrible suspicion crossed him; but it was too horrible for Dick to indulge.

Wondering and guessing, he retraced his steps, and morning dawned on his still sleepless eyelids.

Some weeks passed by, but he found none other opportunity for examination. Somebody or something was always in the way, and he seemed destined to remain ignorant of all that he was so anxious to ascertain.

After the arrival of the box Maria Downes never mentioned her brother unless he was alluded to; and even then she waived the subject as soon as possible, whenever it happened to be incidentally mentioned. Eleanor saw there was an evident reluctance to converse on these matters; and, however she might feel grieved at the change, in the end she forbore inquiry.

One morning her cousin entered the breakfast-room, where Eleanor was awaiting her arrival. Her face was pale—almost deathly—and her lips livid and quivering. Her eyes were swollen, starting out, and distended with a wild and appalling expression.

She beckoned Eleanor to follow; silently she obeyed, but with a deadly and heart-sickening apprehension. Something fearful, as connected with the fate of her cousin Harry, was doubtless the cause of this unusual proceeding. Maria led the way up the staircase, and on coming to the landing, she pointed to a square opening in the wall, like unto the loophole of a turret-stair. Here she saw something dark obstructing the free passage of the light, which, on a closer examination, presented the frightful outline of a human skull! Part of the flesh and hairy scalp were visible, but the whole was one dark and disgusting mass of deformity. She started back, with a look of inquiry, towards her cousin. Hideous surmises crowded upon her while she beheld the features of Maria Downes convulsed with some untold agony.

"Oh, speak—speak to me!" cried Eleanor, and she threw her arms about her cousin's neck, sobbing aloud in the full burst of her emotion. Maria wept too. The rising of the gush relieved her, and she spoke. Every word went as with a burning arrow to Eleanor's heart.
"I have hidden it until now; but—but Heaven has ordained it. His offence was rank—most foul—and his disgrace—a brother's disgrace—hangs on me. That skull is Harry's! Believe it as thou wilt, but the truth is no less true. The box, sent by some unknown hand, I opened alone, when I beheld the ghastly, gory features of him who was once our pride, and ought to have been our protection. My courage seemed to rise with the occasion. I concealed it with all speed until another opportunity, when I buried this terrible memorial—for ever, as I hoped, from the gaze and knowledge of the world. I thought to hide this foul stain upon our house; to conceal it, if possible, from every eye; but the grave gives back her dead! The charnal gapes! That ghastly head hath burst its cold tabernacle, and risen from the dust, without hands, unto its former gazing-place. Thou knowest, Eleanor, with what delight, when a child, he was accustomed to climb up to that little eyelet-hole, gazing out thereat for hours, and playing many odd and fantastic tricks through this loophole of observation."
Eleanor could not speak; she stood the image of unutterable despair.

"In that dreadful package," continued Maria, "this writing was sent:—'Thy brother has at length paid the forfeit of his crimes. The wages of sin is death! and his head is before thee. Heaven hath avenged the innocent blood he hath shed. Last night, in the lusty vigour of a drunken debauch, passing aver London Bridge, he encounters another brawl, wherein, having run at the watchman with his rapier, one blow of the bill which they carry severed thy brother's head from his trunk. The latter was cast over the parapet into the river. The head only remained, which an eye-witness, if not a friend, hath sent to thee!"

Eleanor fell senseless to the ground, whence her cousin conveyed her to the bed from which she never rose.

The skull was removed, secretly at first, by Maria herself; but invariably it returned. No human power could drive it thence. It hath been riven in pieces, burnt, and otherwise destroyed; but ever on the subsequent day it is seen filling its wonted place. Yet was it always observed that sore vengeance lighted on its persecutors. One who hacked it in pieces was seized with such horrible torments in his limbs that it seemed as though he might be undergoing the same process. Sometimes, if only displaced, a fearful storm would arise, so loud and terrible, that the very elements themselves seemed to become the ministers of its wrath.

Nor would this wilful piece of mortality allow of the little aperture being walled up; for it remains there still, whitened and bleached by the weather, looking forth from those rayless sockets upon the scenes which when living they had once beheld.

Maria Downes was the only survivor of the family. Her brother's death and deplorable end so preyed on her spirits that she rejected all offers of marriage. The estate passed into other hands, and another name owns the inheritance.



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