Bryn Hall (Brynne Hall)
The original Bryn Hall which has now collapsed stood on I believe land close to or belonging to Landgate Farm and nothing now remains above ground. The severed‘Holy Hand’ of St Edmund Arrowsmith (Born 1585 – Died 28 August 1628), one of the Forty Martyrs of England and Wales of the Roman Catholic Church, was said to have been associated with Bryn Hall following his execution.
In his Traditions of Lancashire, Volume 2 (1872), John Roby gives the following account entitled ‘The Dead Man’s Hand’.
Bryn Hall, the scene or rather the solution, of the following tradition, is now demolished. It was the ancient seat of the Gerards, by virtue of marriage between William Gerard, about the year 1280, with the daughter and sole heir of Peter de Bryn. It was built in a quadrangular form with a spacious courtyard, to which admittance was gained by a narrow bridge over the moat surrounding the whole fabric. The gatehouse was secured by massy doors well studded with iron; a curiously-carved porch led to the great hall, where, on the chimney-piece, were displayed the arms of England, not older than the reign of James I. A railed gallery ran along one side, on which persons might stand to observe the entertainments below without mingling in them. It was supported by double pillars in front of pilasters, forming arches between, profusely ornamented by rich carved work. Most of these decorations, together with the carved wainscots, were taken to embellish Garswood Hall, near Ashton, a few miles distant, where the family resided after their removal.
In the windows were some armorial bearings of painted glass, the first quarterings beginning with the Leighs of Lyme, instead of Gerard or Bryn, as might have been expected. Here was a Roman Catholic chapel, and a priest who continued long after the family had departed, having in his custody the hand mentioned in the following pages. It is still kept by them, or rather by the priest, who now resides at Garswood. Preserved with great care in a white silk bag, it is still resorted to by many diseased persons, and wonderful cures are said to have been wrought by this saintly relic. It is called the Hand of Father Arrowsmith–a priest who is said to have been put to death at Lancaster for his religion in the time of William III. When about to suffer, he desired his spiritual attendant to cut off his right hand, which should then have the power to work miraculous cures on those who had faith to believe in its efficacy. Not many years ago, a female, sick of the smallpox, had it lying in bed with her every night for six weeks, in order to effect her recovery, which took place. A poor lad, living in Withy Grove, Manchester, afflicted with scrofulous sores, was rubbed with it; and though it has been said he was miraculously restored, yet, upon inquiry, the assertion was found incorrect, inasmuch as he died in about a fortnight after the operation.
Not less devoid of truth is the tradition that Arrowsmith was hanged for witnessing a good confession. Having been found guilty of a misdemeanour, in all probability this story of his martyrdom and miraculous attestation to the truth of the cause for which he suffered was contrived for the purpose of preventing the scandal that might have come upon the Church through the delinquency of an unworthy member.
One of the family of the Kenyons attended as under-sheriff at the execution; and it is said that he refused the culprit some trifling favour at the gallows, whereupon Arrowsmith denounced a curse upon him–to wit, that whilst the family could boast of an heir, so long they should never want a cripple: which prediction was supposed by the credulous to have been literally fulfilled.
What a strange and appalling history would be that of superstition! how humiliating, how degrading to the boasted dignity of our nature! In all ages this teeming source of error has yielded abundantly all varieties of phantasms–the sublime, the solemn, the horrible, and the ridiculous–a mildew, a blight, on the fairest blossoms of truth; an excrescence; a coat of rust, which eateth as a canker, and makes religion, which was given as a blessing and a boon to our perishing race, a burden and a curse. And yet neither good nor evil is unmixed. Such is the nature even of our most baneful impressions that instances do arise where good may come from so corrupt a source. The connection between material and immaterial, between mind and matter, so operates, that sometimes, and in proportion to the strength of the impression, a change is wrought by the mere control of the mind over the bodily functions.
To this operation may be ascribed the wonder-workings of these latter days. We do not question the effects thereby produced; but totally, unhesitatingly, deny the cause. Imagination at times doth so usurp the mastery over the animal and bodily faculties, that she has been known to suspend their ordinary processes, and to render the frame insensible even to the attacks of pain itself.
In one of the northern divisions of the county–we know not the precise situation, nor is it needful to our purpose that we inquire–there dwelt a comely maiden, who, at a period of little more than twenty summers from her birth, found herself in the undisturbed possession, if not enjoyment, of an abundant income, with a domain of more than ordinary fertility and extent. Her parents dying during the period of her youth, she, as the only offshoot of the family, held her dominion uncontrolled. That the possessor of such an abundant stock of liberty should wish to wear a chain is verily a marvel not easily resolved. But so it was; and she seemed never so well pleased as when the links were firmly riveted. The forging of this invisible chain was a work performed in secret. She felt her thrall, but she sighed not to be free! For, alas! a grievous malady had seized her. The light of her eyes–a brisk and winning gallant, in the shape of a male cousin—had departed. He went out to the wars, as was reported, and Ellen refused to be comforted. He knew not, peradventure, of her liking towards him. He was of a different creed, moreover–a Catholic–and she had, in the sovereignty of her caprice, treated him with something of petulance–he thought scorn. What a misfortune, that two fond hearts should have wanted an interpreter!
She sat one evening in her bed-chamber, and Bridget her maid, a little Roman Catholic orphan, who had served her from a child, was busily engaged in preparing her mistress for the night’s repose. Now Bridget was a zealous believer in saints, miracles, and the like; and Ellen would often disport herself gently on the subject.
“I wish I could believe in thy legends and thy saints’ gear; it would verily be a comfortable disposition of my thoughts in all extremity to have a hope of a special interference.”
“And why not?” said Bridget, who confessed thrice a-year, and knew the marvellous histories of a dozen saints by rote.
“Because,” said her mistress, “I did not imbibe thy faith with my mother’s milk as thou hast done. ‘Tis part of thy very nature, wench; and thou couldst not but act in conformity thereto.”
“There have we the better of our birthright. But, nevertheless, those who repent and turn to the true faith have the same privileges; yet it is hard, as well it may be, to bend their stubborn nature to this belief. How comfortable to have one’s sins struck from the calendar, and to know that we are holy again as a little child, besides ailments of the body innumerable that are cured whenever we can bring our faith to its full exercise!”
“Well, Bridget, if I were a good Catholic as now I am an unbeliever and heretic, dost think that St Somebody, or whoever I might take a fancy to for the purpose, would be propitiated by a few prayers and genuflexions, and restore me to health and–and”—-
She faltered in her speech; the banter died away on her lips; memory gave a sudden twinge, and her heart grew dark under the dim cloud that was passing over.
“I’d answer for it, if you were a good Catholic, that Father O’Leary would cure you as readily as he did Davy Dean’s sow, that went mad, and bit her master.”
“But seeing that I am neither a good Catholic nor even Davy Dean’s sow, is there a saint in the whole calendar would think it worth while to work a miracle on such a wicked unbeliever as I am?”
“There’s one way, as I’ve heard tell; that if ye take a sprig of St John’s wort, and say three _credos_ over it and a _paternoster_, and lay it under your pillow, you shall dream of the remedy by which a cure may be wrought.”
Ellen did not immediately reply to this suggestion, for she thought that no special revelation was needed to point out a remedy.
“I would give the world if I had it to know what my cousin William is doing,” said she in a musing fit, as though some sudden fancy had crossed her.
“And why may you not?” said the ready-witted maid; “yea, as sure as St Peter’s at Rome, and that’s not to be gainsaid either by Turk or infidel.”
“What, dost thou learn these crotchets in thy creed?” said Ellen.
“Nay,” replied the other, “it is a bit of conjuration not enjoined by the Church; a kind of left-handed intercourse which we get by stealth from other guess-folk, I reckon, than the holy saints.”
“Am I to dream of this too?”
“Why, nay; you may be wide awake for that matter; but you must just take a phoenix feather in one hand, a cockatrice tooth in your mouth, and breathe on the glass, when, as the breath departs, they say your true love will appear therein.”
“But he is not my true love, wench; and so I may not bind him with such spell, mayhap.”
“How know ye that, fair mistress?”
“Go to; thou dost wound and vex me with thy questions. Hath he not been gone these five months, and never a word, good or bad, hath been rendered to me? Nay, did he not, ere he went, so deport himself with most cold and supercilious arrogance, and even with neglect and disdain?”
“Because in your own bright self, lady, he had the first example; for of all the gay sparks that fluttered about you there was never a one o’ them that had to endure such chilling looks and so haughty a bearing as were usually reserved for him.”
“Hold thy tongue; thou dost presume too much, methinks, upon thy former freedoms, wench. I like not such unguarded speech.”
Bridget was silent at this rebuke; and, whatever was uppermost in her thoughts, no more was said that night.
The following days Ellen was much worse. The disease appeared to be rapidly gaining strength, and the maiden seemed doomed to an early grave.
“And isn’t it a silly thing for one like you to die so soon?” said Bridget; “I can ask for you, what I would not have the face to ask for myself.”
Ellen smiled. The hectic flush was apparently on her cheek; and the fever that fed it was on her vitals; at least, so said the village chroniclers by whom it was told.
What was the precise nature of the request that Bridget made the next Sunday from her patron saint, we know not; but she seemed mightily occupied therewith; and if ever there was faith in such an intercessor, Bridget felt assured that her patron would intercede on behalf of her mistress, though a heretic and unbeliever. But St Bridget was told, in all likelihood, that Ellen must necessarily be a convert to the true faith should a miracle be wrought in her favour.
The following morning Bridget was early at the bedside of her mistress, with a countenance more than usually indicative of some important communication. But Ellen was the first to break silence.
“I have had a strange dream last night.”
“So I guessed,” said Bridget, with a face of great importance; “and what said the holy saint, my good kind patron?”
“Bless thy silly face, it was no woman saint that I saw.”
Bridget looked sad and chop-fallen at this intimation; she was fearful that her prayers were unheeded.
“There came, as I thought in my dream,” said Ellen, “a long-robed priest to my bedside.”
“Sure enough, then, St Bridget–blessings on her wherever she be!–sent him.”
“Prithee, be quiet, and listen. He stood there, methought, and when I asked him of his errand, he raised his right arm, and I saw that the hand was wanting, being taken off at the wrist. I marvelled exceedingly at this strange apparition; but as I was a-going to question him thereon I awoke. I know not why, but the vision sorely troubled me, especially when again going to sleep, for it was repeated thrice.”
“It’s a riddle,” said Bridget, “and one with a heavy meaning in it, too, if we could find it out.”
“Verily, I think so,” said Ellen; “for the impress doth not pass away like that from ordinary dreams; but rests with a deep and solemn power upon my spirit, such as I can neither throw off nor patiently endure.”
“I’ll unriddle it for you, or go a pilgrimage to our Lady at Loretto,” said Bridget, determined not to be behindhand in her curiosity. So she set her woman’s wits immediately to work; yet she saw her mistress daily losing strength, and no clue was obtained by which to know the interpretation of the vision. She consulted her confessor; but he was equally at a loss with herself, and knew not the nature of the dream, nor its meaning.
One day Mistress Bridget brought in a tall beggar woman, dumb, or pretendedly so, and apparently deaf. She made many signs that the gift of foreknowledge was in her possession, though she seemed herself to have profited little by so dangerous an endowment. Ellen, being persuaded by her maid, craved a specimen of this wonderful art. The hag, a smoke-dried, dirty-looking beldame, with a patch over one eye, and an idiotic expression of face, began to mutter and make an odd noise at the sight of the sick lady. She took a piece of chalk from her handkerchief, and began her work of divination. First she drew a circle on the floor, as a boundary or frame, and within it she put many uncouth and crabbed signs; but their meaning was perfectly unintelligible. Under this she sketched something like unto a sword, then a hideous figure was attached to it, with a soldier’s cap on his head. Before him was a heart, that seemed to hang, as it were, on the point of this long sword; which when Ellen saw she changed colour, but attempted to smile; yet she only betrayed her agitation. The dumb operator drew one hand across her own breast, and with the other pointed to the lady; which appeared to Ellen as though intimating that a soldier had won her heart, and that this was the true cause of her illness. Such an interpretation, perchance, was but the conscious monitor speaking from within, as it invested this unmeaning hieroglyphic with the hue and likeness of its own fancies. But more marvellous still was the subsequent proceeding. Having revealed the cause, it seemed as though she were about to point out, obscurely as before, the method and means of cure. When she had drawn the long unshapely representation of a cloak, above it was placed something like unto a human head, without helm or other covering; and to this figure two arms were added; one having a huge hand, displayed proper, as the heralds say, the other arm entirely destitute of this useful appendage. Ellen at once remembered her dream, and watched the process even with more interest than before.
The hand which should have been attached to the wrist was now drawn distinct from the rest, as though grasping a heart wounded by the sword; and doubtless the interpretation, according to Bridget’s opinion, was, that the application of a hand, which had been severed from the body, would alone cure the disease under which she pined. The dumb prophetess did not communicate further on the subject; and after having received her bounty, she departed.
“How very strange!” said Ellen.
“Marvellous enough,” said the maid; “but St Bridget hath doubtless sent her to your help. Nay, peradventure, it was St Bridget herself! Save us, what a kind, good creature she must be!”
Here she crossed herself with great fervour, forgetting that even a saint among womankind would hardly feign herself dumb.
“There is some mystery about this hand,” thought Ellen; but where to seek for a solution was a mystery of equal magnitude with the rest. Bridget was sure, from the disclosures already vouchsafed, that the needful directions would not be withheld.
Ellen felt restless and disturbed for a while after this event; but her sensations were again reverting to their ordinary channel when one morning she awoke in a fearful trepidation. She said that the figure of a human hand was visible, in her slumbers; that it led the way, pointing to an old house like a fortified mansion, with a moat and gatehouse before the main entrance. As she followed, the hand seemed to twine its fingers about her heart, and for that time she felt relieved of her pain. So vividly was the scene impressed upon her imagination that she felt assured she should recognise the building again, and especially the interior, where, in a stately chamber, the miraculous cure was performed. Bridget rubbed her hands, and capered about for joy.
“The name of St Bridget be praised!” said she, and vowed twenty things in a breath; but the principal of these was an embroidered petticoat, which vow she expected her mistress would enable her to fulfil. Indeed, she had long set her mind upon this lustrous piece of attire, and was waiting, somewhat impatiently, the time when it should be allotted to her. So audibly had she made her vow that Ellen was reminded of her pertinacity in still hoarding this precious and coveted piece of finery, which Bridget looked upon as an unwarrantable detention of her perquisites.
The cunning maid having obtained the garment for her patron saint, what harm was there in wearing it, a while at least, for her sake?
Affairs went on for a little time in this dubious state; but the continued and increasing illness of Ellen made it expedient that a change of air should be attempted, and the journey accomplished by short and easy travel. The family coach was brought out, and Mistress Bridget, invested with the dignities of her office, went forth as attendant of the body, and principal conductor of stores and packages.
Journeying southwards at a slow pace, pausing to take a look where there was any object worth the attention, they came one afternoon, about the fourth day from their departure, to Wigan. When they had journeyed thence a mile or so, as they were passing down a jolting road, Bridget, whose curious eye was ever on the look-out, suddenly exclaimed, at the same time pointing through the window–
“I declare if there is not the dummy again yonder!”
Ellen beheld the dumb sibyl, whose predictions were not forgotten. Bridget, by her looks, seemed to ask leave to stop the carriage and hold another conference with the woman; and Ellen, whom illness had rendered somewhat passive in such matters, did not make any opposition. Having accosted this walking oracle, Bridget curtsied with great reverence, peradventure fancying that St Bridget herself might be again embodied before her; but the beldame went straight to the carriage, addressing herself to the invalid within by pointing to her breast, and making divers motions of the like signification, which were not easy to be understood, even by the party for whom they were intended. The prophetess seemed fully to comprehend that her symbolic representations were unintelligible, and no fitting place being at hand whereon they could be readily portrayed, she strove with the greater vehemence to explain her meaning. There appeared a more than ordinary anxiety on her part to communicate something of importance; and the travellers looked as though fully aware of it. Her most unequivocal signs, however, were to this purport–that they should not proceed farther. Ellen, impelled by fear and curiosity, spoke aloud–
“Surely we are not to remain here at the beck of this woman!”
The one-eyed sibyl nodded an affirmative. This, at any rate, helped them to an easier mode of communication, finding that she was not deaf, as they had hitherto supposed.
“And whither shall we proceed?”
The woman here pointed to a narrow lane on the right of the main road they were pursuing.
“Truly that seems but an indifferent path. Wherefore should we turn in thither?” inquired Ellen.
Again the prophetess pointed to her own breast, and then at the bosom of the invalid.
“By this token I understand that in so doing I am to expect some relief.”
Again nodded the officious intruder.
“But how shall that relief be obtained?”
The woman here lifted up her hand, again pointing towards the path by which they should proceed.
“Go and see, I suppose thou wouldst say,” said Ellen.
Another affirmatory nod was the answer.
“Wilt thou be our guide?”
The person addressed here darted a look at Ellen which seemed to express pleasure at the request, if pleasure it might be called that could irradiate such an aspect. She put out her hand for the customary largess ere setting forward as their guide on the expedition. Some difficulty now arose by reason of the straitness of the path; but their dumb leader hastened up the lane with unusual speed, beckoning that they should follow. From this signal it appeared that there was sufficient room, and the postilion addressed himself to proceed by so unusual a route.
They went forward for about a mile with little difficulty; but a sudden turn, almost at right angles with their course, presented an obstacle which the driver hesitated whether or not to encounter; but it was impossible to return, though they were not without serious fears that the weird woman might lead them on to a situation from which they could not extricate themselves. Still she beckoned them forward, until they emerged into another and a wider road, on which they travelled without further impediment.
Ellen, whose eyes were abundantly occupied, suddenly assumed a look of greater fixedness and intensity. For a while she seemed nearly speechless with amazement. At length she cried–
Bridget looked forth, but saw nothing worthy of remark save an old gatehouse over a dark lazy moat, secured by heavy wooden doors.
This gatehouse was apparently the entrance to a court or quadrangle, enclosed by buildings of wood and plaster of the like antiquity. Their guide stood on the bridge, as though to intimate that their wanderings would here terminate.
“I have seen it before,” said Ellen, with great solemnity and emotion. Bridget perhaps fancied her mistress’s thoughts were wandering strangely, and was just going to recommend rest and a little of the medicine she carried, when Ellen again spoke, as though sensible of some incoherency in her remark:–“In my dreams, Bridget.”
“St Bridget and the Virgin be praised! Is this the house you saw
“The very same. I should know it again; nor should I forget it if I were to live to the age of the patriarchs.”
“It’s an evident answer to my prayers,” said Bridget; and here the devout enthusiast began to recite internally some holy ejaculations, which, if they did not possess any positive efficacy, were at least serviceable in allaying the excitement under which she laboured.
Ellen determined to alight and witness the issue of the adventure; so in due time these forlorn damsels were seen advancing over the bridge unto this enchanted castle.
The beldame knocked loudly at the gate, and immediately she sprang back; but when the travellers again looked round she was gone!
Now were they in a precious dilemma. Two females before a stranger’s gate; the warder a-coming, when their business would of necessity be demanded. A tread, every footstep of which might have been passing over them, was close at hand. The bolts shrieked; the gate shook, and a curious face peeped forth to inquire their errand. Bridget, whose ready tongue rarely refused its office, replied–
“Is there a Catholic priest hereabout? for we would fain have a word with one of that persuasion.”
The grim warder smiled.
“Ye have not far to go for such an one,” said he; “but ye be far-off comers, I reckon, or ye would have known Bryn Hall belike, the dwelling-place of the noble house of Gerard, that hath never been without a priest and an altar therein.”
He threw the gate wide open, and invited them to follow; after which he led them through a clumsily-ornamented porch into the great hall, at the end of which was a low gallery, supported by pillars and pilasters richly and profusely carved. From these arches were sprung, and a flight of stairs at one end led to the upper chambers.
Their guide preceded them into a small wainscoted room, fitted up as a study, or perhaps an oratory in those days. A wooden crucifix, with a representation of the Saviour carved in ivory, was placed in a recess, occasionally covered by a green curtain. Shelves laden with books occupied the farther end of the room, and writing materials were laid upon an oak trestle or table, before which sat a tall white-haired personage in a suit of sables, to whose further protection the porter left his charge.
Ellen had suffered herself to be led passive hitherto by her maid; but when she saw that they were now fairly committed to the disposal of the priest, for so he appeared, she felt uneasy and anxious to depart. The room and the whole scene were vividly brought to her recollection; for she fancied that, at one time or another, she had
been present in a similar place.
Bridget curtsied to the holy father, who, doubting not that either a case of conscience or a need-be for confession brought these strangers to his presence, began the usual interrogatories.
“Here is a sick person, most reverent sir, who would have the benefit of your prayers,” said Bridget. The pale and wasting form that was by her side sufficiently corroborated this reply.
“Daughter, the prayers of the church are for the penitent and believing; hast thou made shrift and a clear confession?”
Bridget was prepared for this question.
“She is not of the faith; but, peradventure, if aid be vouchsafed, she shall be reclaimed.”
“If she have faith, I will cure her malady. What sayest thou?” He fixed his clear grey eye upon her, and Ellen felt as though some charm were already at work, and a strange tingling went through her frame. She stammered out something like an assent, when the priest carefully proceeded to unlock a little cabinet, inlaid with ivory and gold, from which he took out a white silk bag that diffused a grateful perfume through the chamber. He offered up a prayer before he unloosed the strings; after which, with great formality and reverence, he drew forth a human hand, dried and preserved, apparently by some mysterious process, in all its substance and proportions. Ellen was dumb with astonishment. Bridget could with difficulty refrain from falling on her knees before this holy relic; and her delight would easily have run over in some form of religious extravagance had it been suffered to have free vent. To this relic, doubtless, had the predictions referred: and she doubted not its power and efficacy.
“This rare and priceless thing,” said the priest, “was once the right hand of an English Martyr, Father Arrowsmith by name, put to death for his holy profession. In consideration whereof, it is permitted, by the will of the Supreme, that an honourable testimony be rendered to his fidelity by the miracles that it doth and shall work to the end of time. Rub it thrice on the part affected, and mark the result. If thou receive it with humility and faith, trusting in Heaven, from whence alone the healing virtue doth flow–these holy relics being, as it were, but the appointed channels and conduits of His mercy–thou shall assuredly be healed.”
But Ellen was at some loss to know the precise situation of her complaint, until she recollected the picture drawn by the dumb fortune-teller, who described the heart alone as touched by this miraculous hand. Yet, in what manner to make the application was a matter of some difficulty.
Bridget again relieved her from the dilemma.
“If it so please your reverence, the seat of the complaint is not visible. Suffer us to use it privately. We will not carry forth nor misuse this precious keepsake; for I have been brought up in the nurture of the Holy Church, and am well instructed in her ceremonies.”
“I fear not for the harm that can happen to it, by reason of ungodly or mischievous devices. If taken away, it would assuredly return hither. Should the lady have some inward ailment, let her lay it as near as may be to the part where she feels afflicted, and keep it there for a space, until she findeth help.”
The two visitors were then shown into another chamber; and here Bridget, with great devoutness, and a firm faith in its efficiency, placed the dead cold hand upon her mistress’s heart. Ellen shuddered when she felt its death-like touch. It was either fancy, or something more, but she really felt as though a load were suddenly taken away–an oppression, an incubus, that had continually brooded over her, was gone. Surprised, and lightened of her burden, she returned into the oratory, and gave back the relic, along with a liberal offering into the hands of the priest. He said there would scarcely be occasion for a repetition of the act, as it was evident the faith of the recipient had wrought its proper work.
The day by this time being far spent, the priest begged permission to introduce Ellen to Lady Gerard, who, he said, would be much gratified to afford them entertainment, and, if need were, shelter for the night. On hearing the name of her visitor, this kind lady would take no denial, but expressed herself warmly on the folly and imprudence of an invalid being exposed to the night air; and Ellen, delighted with the change she felt, was all compliance and good-nature. After a little hesitation, she suffered her first refusals to be overcome, and the night wore on with pleasant converse. By little and little Lady Gerard gained the confidence of Ellen, who seemed glad that she could now speak freely on the subject nearest to her heart.
“It is marvellous enough,” continued Lady Gerard, “that you should have been conducted hither; for in this house there is a magic mirror, which may, peradventure, disclose what shall relieve your anxiety. On being looked into, after suitable preparations, it is said–for I never tried the experiment–to show wondrous images within its charmed surface; and like the glass of Cornelius Agrippa, of which we have a tractate in the library chamber, will show what an absent person is doing, if the party questioning be sincere, and anxious for his welfare.”
“I have long wished,” said the blushing Ellen, “that I might see him of whom our evening’s discourse hath, perchance, been too much conversant. I would not for worlds that he knew of my wish; but if I could see him once more, and know the bearing of his thoughts toward me, I could now, methinks, die content.”
“This very night, then, let us consult the oracle,” said Lady Gerard; “but there must not be any witness to our exploit; so while away your impatience as best you may until I have made the needful preparations for our adventure.”
Ellen could not repress her agitation when, after waiting alone for a little time, her kind hostess came to summon her to the trial. She was conducted up the staircase before mentioned, and through a corridor of some length. The lamp grew pale and sickly in the cold wind of the galleries they trod. Soon, however, they paused before a low door. Lady Gerard pressed her finger on her lip, in token of silence. She then blew out the light, and they were involved in total darkness. Taking hold of Ellen’s arm, which trembled excessively within her own, she opened the door, but not a ray was yet visible. She was conducted to a seat, and Lady Gerard whispered that she should be still. Suddenly a light flashed forth on the opposite side, and Ellen saw that it came from a huge antique mirror. A form, in male attire, was there discernible. With a slow and melancholy pace he came forward, and his lips seemed to move. It was–she could not be mistaken–it was her cousin William! She thought he looked pale and agitated. He carried a light which, as it glimmered on his features, showed that they were the index of some internal and conflicting emotion. He sat down. He passed one hand over his brow, and she thought that a sigh laboured from his lips; but as she gazed the light grew dim, and ere long the mirror, ceasing to be illuminated, again left them in total darkness. A few minutes elapsed, which were swollen to long hours in the estimation of the anxious and wondering inquirer. Her companion again whispered that she should await the result in silence. Suddenly the light flashed out as before, and she saw the dumb fortune teller instead of the individual she expected. Her features were more writhen and distorted than ever; and she seemed to mutter, it might be, some malignant spell, some charm, the operation of which was for some unknown and diabolical intent. Ellen shuddered as the weird woman took a paper-roll from her bosom. Unfolding it, there was displayed the figure of her lover, as she supposed, kneeling, while he held out his hands toward the obdurate heart which he in vain attempted to grasp.
“I have wronged him,” said Ellen, in a whisper to her companion; “if I interpret these images aright, he now sighs for my favour; and—would that we had known each other ere it was too late!”
“He knows now,” said Lady Gerard; and immediately the dumb prophetess was at her side. She threw off a disguise, ingeniously contrived, and Ellen beheld her cousin William! The magic mirror was but an aperture through the wainscot into another apartment, and the plot had been arranged in the first place by Mrs Bridget, who had been confederate with the handsome but somewhat haughty wooer, having for his torment a maiden as haughty and intractable as himself. Thus two loving hearts had nigh been broken for lack of an interpreter. William’s absence had taken deeper hold on Ellen’s finely-tempered frame than was expected; and it was with sorrow and alarm that he heard of her illness. His distant relative, Lady Gerard, to whom he had retired for a season, spake of the marvellous hand, which, he was sure, being a devout and pious Catholic, would cure any disease incident to the human frame. It was absolutely needful that a cure should be attempted, along with some stratagem, to conquer the yet unbroken obstinacy in which, as with a double panoply, Ellen had arrayed herself. The result of the experiment has been shown. She was united to her cousin ere a few months were old, and the “merrie spring” had melted in the warm lap of summer.