The Dule Upo’ Dun

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  1. Ian Topham says:

    Re: The Dule Upo’ Dun
    Traditions of Lancashire, Volume 2 by John Roby (1872)

    For the tradition upon which the following tale is founded, the author is indebted to The Kaleidoscope, an interesting weekly miscellany, published by Messrs Smith and Son at Liverpool.

    Barely three miles from Clitheroe, as you enter a small village on the right of the high road to Gisburne, stands a public-house, having for its sign the title of our story. On it is depicted his Satanic majesty, curiously mounted upon a scraggy dun horse, without saddle, bridle, of any sort of equipments whatsoever—the terrified steed being off and away at full gallop from the door, where a small hilarious tailor, with shears and measures, appears to view the departure of him of the cloven foot with anything but grief or disapprobation.

    The house itself is one of those ancient, gabled, black and white edifices, now fast disappearing under the giant march of improvement, which tramples down alike the palace and the cottage, the peasant’s hut and the patrician’s dwelling. Many windows, of little lozenge-shaped panes set in lead, might be seen here in all the various stages of renovation and decay: some stuffed with clouts, parti-coloured and various; others, where the work of devastation had been more complete, were wholly darkened by brick-bats, coble-stones, and many other ingenious substitutes and expedients to keep out the weather.

    But our tale hath a particular bearing to other and more terrific days—"the olden time," so fruitful in marvels and extravagances—the very poetry of the black art; when Satan communed visibly and audibly with the children of men—thanks to the invokers of relics and the tellers of beads—and was so familiar and reasonable withal, as to argue and persuade men touching the propriety of submitting themselves to him, as rational and intelligent creatures; and even was silly enough, at times, to suffer himself to be outwitted by the greater sagacity and address of his intended victims. For proof, we cite the following veracious narrative, which bears within it every internal mark of truth, and matter for grave and serious reflection.

    "Little Mike," or more properly Michael Waddington, was a merry tailor of some note in his day, who formerly, that is to say, some eight or nine score years ago—dwelt in this very tenement, where he followed his profession, except when enticed by the smell of good liquor to the village alehouse—the detriment, and even ruin, of many a goodly piece of raiment, which at times he clipped and shaped in such wise as redounded but little to the credit of either wearer or artificer. Mike was more alive to a merry troll and graceless story, in the kitchen of mine host "at the inn," than to the detail of his own shopboard, with the implements of his craft about him, making and mending the oddly assorted adjuncts of the village churls. Such was his liking for pastime and good company that the greater part of his earnings went through the tapster’s melting pot; and grieved are we, as veritable chroniclers, to state that it was not until even credit failed him, that he settled to work for another supply of the elixir vitæ—the pabulum of his being. It may be supposed that matters went on but indifferently at home, where want and poverty had left indelible traces of their presence. Matty Waddington, his spouse, would have had hard work to make both ends meet had she not been able to scrape together a few pence and broken victuals by selling firewood, and helping her neighbours with any extra work that was going forward. Yet, in general, she bore all her troubles and privations with great patience and good humour—at any rate in the presence of her husband, who, though an idler and a spendthrift, was, to say the truth, not viciously disposed towards her, like many beastly sots, but, on the contrary, he usually behaved with great deference and kindness to his unfortunate helpmate in all things but that of yielding to his besetting sin; having an unquenchable thirst for good liquor, which all his resolutions and vows of amendment could not withstand.

    One evening the little hero of our story was at his usual pastime in the public-house, but his "cup was run low," and his credit still lower. In fact, both cash and credit were finished; his liquor was within a short pull from the bottom; and he sat ruminating on the doleful emergencies to which he was subject, and the horrible spectres that would assail him on the morrow, in the shape of sundry riven doublets and hose, beside rents and repairs innumerable, which had been accumulating for some weeks, to the no small inconvenience and exposure of their owners and former occupiers.

    "I wish I were the squire’s footman, or e’en his errand-boy, and could get a sup of good liquor without riving and tuggin’ for’t," thought he aloud. Scarce were the words uttered, when there came a mighty civil stranger into the company, consisting of village professors of the arts, such as the barber, the blacksmith, and the bell-ringer, together with our knight of the iron thimble. The new-comer was dressed in a respectable suit of black; a wig of the same colour adorned his wide and ample head, which was again surmounted by a peaked hat, having a band and buckle above its brim, and a black rose in front. He looked an elderly and well-ordered gentleman, mighty spruce, and full of courtesy; and his cane was black as ebony, with a yellow knob that glittered like gold. He had a huge beaked nose, and a little black ferrety eye, which almost pierced what it gazed upon. Every one made way for the stranger, who sat down, not in the full glare of the fire to be sure, but rather on one side, so that he might have a distinct view of the company, without being himself subject to any scrutinising observances.

    "Pleasant night abroad," said the new-comer.

    "Pleasanter within though," responded every thought.

    "It’s moonlight, I reckon," said Mike, who was just meditating over his last draught, and his consequent departure from this bibacious paradise.

    "Nay, friend," said the black gentleman, "but the stars shine out rarely; and the snow lies so bright and crisp like, ye may see everything afore ye as plain as Pendle. Landlord, bring me a cup of the best; and put a little on the fire to warm, with some sugar, for it’s as cold as a raw turnip to one’s stomach."

    "Humph!" said mine host, testily; "it’s a good-for-nothin’ belly that’ll not warm cold ale."

    "It’s good-for-nothin’ ale, Giles, thee means, that’ll not warm a cowd belly," said one of the wits of the party, a jolly young blacksmith, an especial favourite amongst the lasses and good fellows of the neighbourhood.

    "Nay, the dickens!" said another; "Giles Chatburn’s ale would warm the seat of old cloven-foot himsel’;" and with that there were roars of laughing, in which, however, the stranger did not participate. Mike wondered that so good a joke should not have its due effect upon him; and many other notable things were said and done which we have neither space nor inclination to record, but the stranger still maintained his grave and unaccountable demeanour. Mike ever and anon cast a glance towards him, and he always observed that the stranger’s eye was fixed upon his own. A dark, bright, burning eye, such as made the recreant tailor immediately look aside, for he could not endure its brightness.

    Mike began to grow restless and uncomfortable. He changed his place, but the glance of the stranger followed him. It was like the gaze of a portrait, which, in whatever situation the beholder may be placed, is always turned towards him. It may readily be supposed that Michael Waddington, though not averse to being looked at in the ordinary way, did not relish this continued and searching sort of disposition on the part of the gentleman in black. Several times he was on the point of speaking, but his heart always failed him as the word reached his lip.

    His liquor was now done, but he was not loth to depart as beforetime; for at any rate, he should be quit of the annoyance he had so long endured. He arose with less regret assuredly than usual; and just as he was passing the doorway he cast a look round over his shoulder, and beheld the same fixed, unflinching eye gazing on him. He jumped hastily over the threshold, and was immediately on his road home. He had not been gone more than a few minutes when he heard a sharp footstep on the crisp snow behind him. Turning round, he saw the dark tall peak of the stranger’s hat, looking tenfold darker, almost preternaturally black, on the white background, as he approached. Mike felt his hair bristling through terror. His knees, usually bent somewhat inwards, now fairly smote together, so that he could not accelerate his pace, and the stranger was quickly at his side.

    "Thou art travelling homewards, I trow," said he of the black peak. Mike made some barely intelligible reply. "I know it," returned the other. "But why art thou leaving so soon?"

    "My money’s done, an’ credit too, for that matter," tardily replied the tailor.

    "And whose fault’s that?" returned his companion. "Thou mayest have riches, and everything else, if thou wilt be advised by me."

    Mike stared, as well he might, at the dark figure by his side. The idea of wealth without labour was perfectly new to him, and he ventured to ask how this very desirable object might be accomplished.

    "Listen. Thou art a poor miserable wretch, and canst hardly earn a livelihood with all thy toil. Is’t not a pleasant thing and a desirable, however procured, to obtain wealth at will, and every happiness and delight that man can enjoy?"

    Michael’s thirsty lips watered at the prospect, notwithstanding his dread of the black gentleman at his elbow.

    "I was once poor and wretched as thou. But I grew wiser, and—unlimited wealth is now at my command."

    There was an awful pause; the stranger apparently wishful to know the effect of this mysterious communication. The liquorish tailor listened greedily, expecting to hear of the means whereby his condition would be so wonderfully amended.

    "Hast thou never heard of those who have been helped by the powers of darkness to"——

    "Save us, merci"——

    "Hold!" said the peremptory stranger, seizing Mike rudely by the wrist. "Another such outcry, and I will leave thee to thy seams and patches; to starve, or linger on, as best thou mayst."

    Michael promised obedience, and his companion continued—

    "There is no such great harm or wickedness in it as people suppose. Quite an ordinary sort of proceeding, I assure thee; and such an one as thou mayst accomplish in a few minutes, with little trouble or inconvenience."

    "Tell me the wondrous secret," said Michael eagerly, who, in the glowing prospect thus opened out to him, felt all fear of his companion giving way.

    "Well, then; thou mayst say two aves, the creed, and thy paternoster backwards thrice, and call upon the invisible demon to appear, when he will tell thee what thou shalt do."

    Michael felt a strange thrill come over him at these fearful words. He looked at his companion, but saw not anything more notable than the high-peaked hat, and the huge beaked nose, as before. By this time they were close upon his own threshold, and Michael was just debating within himself upon the propriety of asking his companion to enter, when his deliberations were cut short by the other saying he had business of importance a little farther; and with that he bade him good night.

    Michael spent the remaining hours of darkness in tossing and rumination; but in the end the gratifying alternative between wealth and poverty brought his deliberations to a close. He determined to follow the advice and directions of the stranger. There could be no harm in it. He only intended to inquire how such wealth might be possessed; but if in any way diabolical or wicked, he would not need to have anything further to do in the matter. Thus reasoning, and thus predetermined how to act, our self-deluded stitcher of seams bent his way, on the following forenoon, to a solitary place near the river, where he intended to perform the mighty incantation.

    Yet, when he tried to begin, his stomach felt wondrous heavy and oppressed. He trembled from head to foot, and sat down for some time to recruit his courage. The words of the stranger emboldened him.

    "’Quite an ordinary business,’" said he; and Mike went to work with his lesson, which he had been conning as he went. Scarcely was the last word of this impious incantation uttered, when a roaring clap of thunder burst above him, and the arch enemy of mankind stood before the panic-stricken tailor.

    "Why hast thou summoned me hither?" said the infernal monarch, in a voice like the rushing wind or the roar of the coming tempest. But Michael could not speak before the fiend.

    "Answer me—and truly," said the demon. This miserable fraction of a man now fell on his knees, and in a most piteous accent exclaimed—

    "Oh! oh! mercy. I did not—I—want—nothing!"

    "Base, audacious slave! Thou art telling me an untruth, and thou knowest it. Show me thy business instantly, or I will carry thee off to my dominions without further ado."

    At this threat the miserable mortal prostrated himself, a tardy confession being wrung from him.
    "Oh! pardon. Thou knowest my poverty and my distress. I want riches, and—and"—

    "Good!" said the demon, with a horrible smile. "’Tis what ye are ever hankering after. Every child of Adam doth cry with insatiate thirst, ‘Give—give!’ But hark thee! ’tis thine own fault if thou art not rich, and that speedily. I will grant thee three wishes: use them as thou wilt."

    Now the rogue was glad when he heard this gracious speech, and in the fulness of his joy exclaimed—

    "Bodikins! but I know what my first wish will be; and I’se not want other two."

    "How knowest thou that?" said the demon, with a look of contumely and scorn so wild and withering that Michael started back in great terror.

    "Before this favour is granted though," continued the fiend, "there is a small matter by way of preliminary to be settled."

    "What is that?" inquired the trembling novice with increasing disquietude and alarm.

    "A contract must be signed, and delivered too."

    "A contract! Dear me; and for what?"

    "For form’s sake merely; no more, I do assure thee—a slight acknowledgment for the vast benefits I am bound to confer. To wit, that at the end of seven years thou wilt bear me company."
    "Me!" cried the terrified wretch; "nay, then, keep thy gifts to thyself; I’ll none o’ them on this condition. "
    "Wretched fool!" roared the infuriate fiend; at the sound of which the culprit fairly tumbled backward. "Sign this contract, or thou shalt accompany me instantly. Ay, this very minute: for know, that every one who calls on me is delivered into my power; and think thyself well dealt with when I offer thee an alternative. Thou hast the chance of wealth, honour, and prosperity if thou sign this bond. If thou do not, I will have thee whether or no—that’s all. What sayest thou?" and the apostate angel spread forth his dark wings, and seemed as though ready to pounce upon his unresisting victim.

    In a twinkling, Michael decided that it would be much better to sign the bond and have the possession of riches, with seven years to enjoy them in, than be dragged off to the burning pit immediately, without any previous enjoyment whatsoever. Besides, in that seven years who knew what might turn up in his favour.

    "I consent," said he; and the arch-enemy produced his bond. A drop of blood, squeezed from the hand of his victim, was the medium of this fearful transfer; and instantly on its execution another clap of thunder announced the departure of Satan with the price of another soul in his grasp.

    Michael was now alone. He could hardly persuade himself that he had not been dreaming. He looked at his finger, where a slight wound was still visible, from which a drop of blood still hung—a terrible confirmation of his fears.

    Returning home, sad and solitary, he attempted to mount to his usual place, but even this exertion was more than he could accomplish. One black and burning thought tormented him, and he sat down by his own cheerless hearth, more cheerless than he had ever felt before.

    Matty was preparing dinner; but it was a meagre and homely fare—a little oaten bread, and one spare collop which had been given her by a neighbour. Scanty as was the meal, it was better than the humble viands which sometimes supplied their board. Matty knew not the real cause of her husband’s dumps, supposing it to be the usual workings of remorse, if not repentance, to which Mike was subject whenever his pocket was empty and the burning spark in his throat unquenched. She invited him to partake, but he could not eat. He sat with eyes half-shut, fixed on the perishing embers, and replied not to the remonstrances of his dame.

    "Why, Mike, I say," cried the kind-hearted woman, "what ails thee? Cheer up, man, and finish thy collop. Thou mayest fret about it as thou likes, but thou cannot undo a bad stitch by wishing. If it will make thee better for time to come, though, I’ll not grumble. Come, come, goodman, if one collop winna content thee, I wish we’d two, that’s all."

    Scarce was the last word from her lips, when lo! a savoury and smoking rasher was laid on the table by some invisible hand. Michael was roused from his lethargy by this unlucky wish. Darting a terrified look on the morsel, he cried out—

    "Woman, woman! what hast thou done? I wish thou wert far enough for thy pains."

    Immediately she disappeared—whisked off by the same invisible hands; but whither he could not tell.

    "Oh me—oh me!" cried the afflicted tailor at this double mishap; "what shall I do now? I shall assuredly starve; and yet I’ve one wish left. Humph, I’d better be wary in making it though. Best take time to consider, lest I throw this needlessly after the rest."

    Mike could not make up his mind as to what he would have, nor indeed could he bend down his thoughts steadfastly to any subject. He was in a continual flutter. His brain was in a whirl. He looked round for some relief. The house was in sad disorder, and he thought on his absent wife.

    "Dear me," thought he, as he fetched a scrap of wood to the fire, "I wish Matty were here;" and his wife was immediately at his side.

    Mike, now grown desperate, revealed to her the fearful cause of these disasters, and the utter failure of any beneficial results from the three wishes.

    "We be just as we were," said he, "save that I’ve sold mysel’, body and soul, to the Evil One!"
    Here he began to weep and lament very sore; and his wife was so much overcome at the recital that she was nigh speechless through the anguish she endured.

    At length her tears began to lose their bitterness.

    "It’s no use greetin’ at this gait," said she; "hie thee to the parson, Michael, an’ see if he canna quit thee o’ this bond."

    "Verily," said the poor tailor, with a piteous sigh, "that would be leapin’ out o’ t’ gutter into t’ ditch. I should be burnt for a he-witch an’ a limb o’ the de’il. I’ve yet seven years’ respite from torment, an’ that would be to throw even these precious morsels away. E’en let’s tarry as we are, an’ make the best on’t. This comes of idleness and drink; but if ever I put foot across Giles’s doorstone again, I wish—nay, it’s no use wishing now, I’ve had enough o’ sich thriftless work for a bit. But I’ll be sober an’ mind my work, and spend nothing idly, an’ who knows but some plan or another may be hit on to escape."

    Now his disconsolate wife was much rejoiced at this determination, and could not help saying—

    "Who knows? perhaps it was for good, Mike, that this distress happened thee."

    He shook his head; but his resolution was made, and he adhered to it in spite of the sneers and temptations of his former associates, who often tried to lead him on to the same vicious courses again. He had received a warning that he never forgot. The memory of it stuck to him night and day; and he would as soon have thought of thrusting his hand into the glowing coals as have entered Giles Chatburn’s hovel again. He was truly an altered man, but his wife was the first to feel benefited by the change. He had plenty of work, and money came in apace. The house was cleaned and garnished. There was abundance of victuals, and a jug of their own brewing. He rarely stirred out but to wait upon his customers, and then he came home as soon as the job was completed. But there was an appearance of melancholy and dejection continually about him. He looked wan and dispirited. Time was rapidly passing by, and the last of the seven years was now ebbing away.

    One night, as they were sitting a while after supper, he fetched a heavy sigh.

    "It is but a short time I have to live," said he.

    "Nay," said the dame, let’s hope that Heaven will not let thee fall a prey to His enemy and ours. Besides thou hast gotten nothing from him for thy bargain. It cannot be expected, therefore, that the old deceiver can claim any recompense."

    Mike shook his head, and looked incredulous.

    "Sure as there’s wind i’ Meg’s entry he’ll come for his own. I’ve been considering that I’d best go to the old man that lives in the cave by Sally. He’ll maybe give me some advice how to act when the time comes."

    This suggestion met with his wife’s approval; and the next morning our disconsolate hero was on his way to the "hermit" of the cave. The holy recluse had been long famed through that region for his kindness and attention to the wants of those who sought help and counsel; and Michael thought no harm could come of it, even though he might be unable to circumvent the designs of the arch-enemy.

    His dwelling was by the river-side, in a little hut, the back of which, the goodman’s oratory, was scooped out in a circular form from the bank.

    "Holy father," said the tailor, on entering the cell, "I crave thy benison."

    The anchorite, who was on his knees before a crucifix, did not speak until he had finished his devotions. He then rose and pronounced the usual benedictory welcome.

    "So far all is well," thought Mike; "I’ve got one blow at the devil anyhow."

    The holy father was very old, but he was hale and active. His white silky beard almost touched his girdle, and his sharp though rheumy eyes peered inquisitively on the person of his guest.
    "What is thine errand, my son?" inquired the recluse.

    "I have fallen into a grievous temptation, and would crave your succour and advice."

    "Heaven wills it oft, my son, that we fall into divers extremities to humble us, and to show the folly and weakness of our hearts. What is thy trouble and thy petition?"

    "Alas!" said the other, weeping, "I have been face to face with the father of lies, and I have suffered much damage therefrom."

    "Thou hast not been tampering with forbidden arts, I hope?"

    "Truly, that have I, and to my soul’s cost, I fear," said the tailor, with a groan of heartrending despair.

    "Thy sin is great, my son; but so likewise is the remedy. Heaven willeth not a sinner’s death, if he turn again to Him with repentance and contrition of spirit. I trust thou hast not trifled with thy soul’s welfare by taking and using any of the gifts whereby the old serpent layeth hold on the souls of men?"

    "Verily, nay; but he frightened me into the signing of a terrible bond, wherein I promised, that after seven years were past and gone I would be his!"

    "Thy danger is terrible indeed. But he gave thee some equivalent for the bargain? thou didst not sell thyself for nought?" said the hermit, fixing his eye sternly on the trembling penitent; "and now, when thou hast wasted the price of thy condemnation, thou comest for help; and thou wouldest even play at cheatery with the devil!"

    "Nay, most reverend father," said Michael, wiping his eyes; "never a gift have I had from the foul fiend, save a bacon collop, and that was cast out untouched." And with that he told of the manner in which he was inveigled, and the scurvy trick which the deceiver had played him.

    "Verily, there is hope," said the holy man, after musing a while; "yet is it a perilous case, and only to be overcome by prayer and fasting. If thou seek help sincerely, I doubt not that a way will be made for thine escape. Listen;—it is never permitted that the enemy of our race should reap the full benefit of the advantage which otherwise his superior duplicity and intelligence would enable him to obtain. There was never yet bond or bargain made by him, but, in one way or another, it might be set aside, and the foul fiend discomfited. It may be difficult, I own; and advice is not easily rendered in this matter: but trust in the power of the All-powerful, and thou shalt not be overcome. Wisdom, I doubt not, shall be vouchsafed in this extremity, if thou apply anxiously and earnestly for it, seeking deliverance, and repenting of thy great wickedness which thou hast committed."

    With these and many other gracious words did the benevolent enthusiast encourage this doomed mortal; and though heavy and disconsolate enough, he returned more light-hearted than he came.

    The time now drew near. The very week—the day—the hour, was come; and when the sun should have climbed to the meridian Michael knew that he would have to face the cunning foe who had beguiled him. His wife would have tarried; but he peremptorily forbade. He would not be disturbed in his intercessions. All that morning, without intermission, he supplicated for wisdom and strength in the ensuing conflict. He had retired to a little chamber at one end of the house, and here he secured himself to prevent intrusion.

    Noon was scarcely come when, true to the engagement, a loud thunder-clap announced the approach and presence of this terrific being.

    "I am glad to find," said he, "that thou art ready."

    "I am not ready," replied the trembling victim.

    "How!" roared the sable chief, with a voice that shook the whole house, like the passage of an earthquake; "dost thou deny the pledge? darest thou gainsay this bond?"

    "True enough," replied the debtor, "I signed that contract; but it was won from me by fraud and dishonest pretences."

    "Base, equivocating slave! how darest thou mock me thus? Thou hadst thy wishes; the conditions have been fulfilled, ay, to the letter."

    "I fear me," again said the victim, who felt his courage wonderfully supported, "that thou knewest I should never be a pin the richer or better for thy gifts; and thine aim was but to flatter and to cheat. It is not in thy power, I do verily believe, to grant me riches or any great thing that I might wish; so thou didst prompt, and, in a manner, force me to those vain wishes, unthinkingly, by which I have been beguiled."

    "Dost thou doubt, then, my ability in this matter? Know that thy most unbounded wishes would have been accomplished, else I release thee from this bond."

    "I say, and will vouch for ‘t, that all thy promises are lying cheats, and that thou couldst not give me a beggarly bodle, if thou wert to lay down thy two horns for it; so I demand my bond, according to thy pledge."

    "To show thee that I can keep this bond, even conformably to the terms of my own offer just now, and thy pitiful carcase to boot, I’ll e’en grant thee another wish, that thou mayest be satisfied thou art past all hope of redemption. Said I not, that if I could not fulfil any wish of thine, even to the compass of all possible things, and the riches of this great globe itself, I would release thee from this bond?"

    "Yea," said Michael, with an eager assent.

    "Then wish once more; and mind that it be no beggarly desire. Wish to the very summit of wealth, or the topmost pinnacle of thy ambition, for it shall be given thee."

    "Then," said the tailor hastily, as though fearful the word would not come forth quick enough from his lips, "I wish thou wert riding back again to thy quarters on yonder dun horse, and never be able to plague me again, or any other poor wretch whom thou hast gotten into thy clutches."
    The demon gave a roar loud enough to be heard to the very antipodes, and away went he, riveted to the back of this very dun horse, which Michael had seen through the window grazing quietly in the lane, little suspecting the sort of jockey that was destined to bestride him. The tailor ran to the door to watch his departure, almost beside himself for joy at this happy riddance.

    Dancing and capering into the kitchen, where his wife was almost dying through terror, he
    related, as soon as he was able, the marvellous story of his deliverance.

    He relapsed not into his former courses, but lived happily to a good old age, leaving behind him at his death good store of this world’s gear, which, as he had no children, was divided amongst his poorer relatives. One of them having purchased the house where the tailor dwelt, set up the trade of a tapster therein, having for his sign "The Dule upo’ Dun;" which to this day attests the truth of our tradition, and the excellence of "mine host’s" cheer.