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The Ghostly Hand of Draycott

There is a story involving a ghostly hand that concerns the inheritance of Draycott Cerne Manor and arose when Sir Walter Long of Wraxall and Draycott Cerne (Born abt 1565 – Buried 30 October 1610) disinherited his eldest son and heir in favour of his eldest son by his second wife Catherine Thynne of Longleat.

The following account legend was published in ‘Strange Pages From Family Papers’ (1895) by T.F. Thiselton Dyer. ‘Secret intrigue, however, at one time or another, has devised the most subtle plans for supplanting the rightful owner out of his birthright - a second wife through jealously entering into some shameful compact to defraud her husband's child by his former wife of his property in favour of her own. Such a secret conspiracy is connected with Draycot, and, although it has been said to be one of the most mysterious in the whole range of English legends, yet, singular as the story may be, writes Sir Bernard Burke, "no small portion of it is upon record as a thing not to be questioned; and it is not necessary to believe in supernatural agency to give all parties credit for having faithfully narrated their impressions." The main facts of this strange story are briefly told: Walter Long of Draycot had two wives, the second being Catherine, daughter of Sir John Thynne, of Longleat. On their arrival at Draycot after the honeymoon, there were great rejoicings into which all entered save the heir of the houses of Draycot and Wraxhall, who was silent and sad. Once arrived in her new home, the mistress of Draycot lost no time in studying the character of her step-son, for she had an object in view which made it necessary that she should completely understand his character. Her design was, in short, that the young master of Draycot, "the heir of all his father's property - the obstruction in the way of whatever children there might be by the second marriage - must be ruined, or at any rate so disgraced as to provoke his father to disinherit him." Taking into her confidence her brother, Sir Egremont Thynne, of Longleat, with his help she soon discovered that the youthful heir of Draycot was fond of wine and dice, and that he had on more than one occasion met with his father's displeasure for indulgence in such acts of dissipation. Having learnt, too, that the young man was kept on short supplies by his parsimonious father, and had often complained that he was not allowed sufficient pocket-money for the bare expenses of his daily life; the crafty step-mother seized this opportunity for carrying out her treacherous and dishonourable conduct. Commiserating with the inexperienced youth in his want of money, and making him feel more than ever dissatisfied at his father's meanness to him, she quickly enlisted him on her side, especially when she gave him liberal supplies of money, and recommended him to enjoy his life whilst it was in his power to do so.

With a full rather than an empty purse, the young squire was soon seen with a cheerful party over the wine bottle, and, at another time, with a gambling group gathered round the dice box. But this kind of thing suited admirably his step-mother, for she took good care that such excesses were brought under the notice of the lad's father, and magnified into heinous crimes. From time to time this unprincipled woman kept supplying the unsuspecting youth with money, and did all in her power to encourage him in his tastes for reckless living. Fresh stories of his son's dissipated conduct were continually being told to the master of Draycot, until at last, "influenced by the wiles of his charming wife, on the other by deeper wiles of his brother-in-law, he agreed to make out a will disinheriting his son by his first wife, and settling all his possessions on his second wife and her relations."

Hitherto, the secret entered into by brother and sister had been a perfect success, for not only was the son completely alienated from his father, but the latter deemed it a sin to make any provision for one who was given to drink and gambling. A draft will was drawn up by Sir Egremont Thynne, and when approved of was ordered to be copied by a clerk. But here comes the remarkable part of the tale. The work of engrossing demands a clear, bright light, and the slightest shadow intervening between the light and the parchment would be sure to interrupt operations. Such an interruption the clerk was suddenly? subjected to, when, "on looking up he beheld a white hand - a lady's delicate white hand - so placed between the light and the deed as to obscure the spot on which he was engaged. The unaccountable hand, however, was gone almost as soon as noticed." The clerk concluding that this was some optical delusion, proceeded with his work, and had come to the clause wherein the Master of Draycot disinherited his son, when again the same ghostly hand was thrust between the light and the parchment.

Terrified at this unearthly intervention, the clerk awoke Sir Egremont from his midnight slumbers, and told him what had occurred, adding that the spectre hand was no other than that of the first wife of the master of Draycot, who resented the cruel wrong done to her son. In due time the deed was engrossed by another clerk, and duly signed and sealed.

But the "white hand" had not appeared in vain, for the clerk's curious adventure afterwards became the topic of general conversation, and the injustice done to the disinherited heir of Draycot excited so much sympathetic indignation that "the trustees of the late Lady Long arrested the old knight's corpse at the church door, her nearest relations commenced a suit against the intended heir, and the result was a compromise between the parties, John Long taking possession of Wroxhall, while his other half-brother was allowed to retain Draycot," a settlement that, it is said, explains the division of the two estates, which we find at the present day. The secret between the brother and sister was well kept, and whatever explanation may be given to the "white hand," the story is as singular as any in the annals of domestic history.

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