The fire burns low, the wind blows keen,
Tis a terrible night, right well I ween;
God help the weary traveller wight,
Who’s road runs by Passenham Mill tonight.
For the sluggish Ouse has left its bed,
And the ford is a dangerous path to tread,
A winding sheet from the candle falls,
The death watch ticks, the screech owl calls;
Bar door and shutter fast and tight,
And list to the tale I’ll tell tonight.
Twas when the “Blessed Martyr” Charles,
Was seated on the Throne,
A Cavalier, as I’ve heard tell,
Did Passenham Manor own,
His lands lay far, his acres broad;
A soldier brave in times of war,
A man of gallant mould,
And yet, to all beneath himself,
Stern, haughty, cruel and cold;
Tis sad but true to think that he,
Should persecute the peasantry,
And clear from his Estate,
Like rabbits, or vermin vile,
The ancient tillers of the soil,
Through avarice or hate,
Perchance, his neighbours may have thought,
More hardly of him than they thought.
Yet still let us be just.
Whatever may have been his guilt,
We know that he had the Chancel built,
And beautified the Church,
And other works of charity he may have done,
Unknown to me,
He held the faith his father loved
The faith of Rome so sorely pressed
And often has the Mass been sung,
In order that his soul may rest;
But why it rested not, to me
Has always been a mystery.
When on his death bed he did lie,
A Jesuit Priest with Cross stood by,
Who to the dying man did say;
My son, confess, while yet tis day,
For quickly comes the night of death,
When thow must yield thy mortal breath”.
With faltering voice, and accent weak,
The dying man began to speak.
(had he thus spoken years before
When time for pardon was in store,
He might have died in peace.
May Christ have mercy on us all,
Who thus neglect the Churches call,
Until our dying day.)
But ere his tale he could unfold,
His last winged moments had been told.
His pulse had ceased to beat.
The dead man’s eyes on the Priest were fixed,
Oh! Would they have set on the Crucifix;
That symbol of of Grace to the sinner given,
To lead the wandering soul to heaven,
The Reverend Father bowed his head,
The Prayers recited from the dead,
Then called the servants to the bed,
Twas all that he cold do!
And in a low Sepulchral tone,
That scarcely seemed to be his own,
He muttered as in Prayer;
In death’s dread hour and the Judgement Day,
Deliver us good Lord we pray,
And save this soul, just passed away,
From death eternal”
From the Church tower the Passing Bell,
Soon chanted out it’s solemn Knell;
Then old and young and rich and poor,
All knew that Sir Robert was no more.
Soon after this, strange tales were told,
That caused to tremble both young and old;
And rumours strange, about were noised,
Of howlings heard, and figures seen,
In armour clad, who walked the green
And verdant meadow late at night,
Causing the villagers much fright.
Old Mary Yates who laid him out,
Her wise head shook, and said, “I doubt
If we’ve quite seen hat last of him;
But what I’ve seen and what I know
Don’t matter much so let it go”.
Next day she told old Mrs Wright,
Sir Robert’s wraith appeared last night,
At her bedside, all ghastly pale,
She crossed herself and tried to Pray;
And then she heard its awful wail,
With the smell of brimstone and of smoke,
She really thought that she would choke”,
The Sexton too, now old and grey,
Had many a tale told in his day,
And rather than out-done he be,
His story told mysteriously,
He said “when I went out last night,
To dig the grave by the pale moonlight,
The Alter window was ablaze,
As it used to be in Queen Mary’s days,
While Priest in minor tones did pray,
A solemn ‘miscer’;
And turning round to get,
My eyes on such a sight I set,
That raised my hair on end.
A figure all in white I saw,
That filled my very soul with awe,
I watched it glide up to the grave,
And heard it mutter, “scurvy knave”,
I could not move, I dare not speak;
An owl set up an awful shriek;
The steeple reeled as though ‘twere drunk,
And lifeless in the grave I sunk,
I cannot tell how long I lay,
But when I woke, ‘twas as light as day!”
Need we pause to describe the lying in state
Of the mutes that stood silent at the Manor gate?
Or the trappings of mourning which all did display?
For the bell is tolling, ‘tis the funeral day.
The mourners all stand ready,
tis a noble crew I ween;
And foremost in the company
Earl Essex may be seen.
And good Sir Simon Bennet, too,
Of tall and stately mien;
And many other men of note
And squires of high degree;
And where are all the peasants gone?
Where are all the tenantry?
With measured step and muffled tread,
The bearers move the bier along,
Was it a superstitious dread
That settled on the throng?
Or, was it fear, that caused them to hear,
A voice they remembered well?
A spirit voice, distinct and clear,
Though now it sounded like a knell,
Again they hear that awful sound,
As if proceeding from the ground!
Steady! Steady! I am not ready!”
With haste the bier is lowered,
The bearers move away,
The stoutest heart turns coward,
The Priest begins to pray!
Some think its Sir Robert’s voice;
Some think he is not dead;
And the coffin they soon open,
And they burst the shell of lead!
But in vain is all their trouble,
Scan deeply as they may,
The body in that winding sheet
Is a lifeless piece of clay!
With faltering step and fearful look,
The bearers then the coffin took,
They bore it gently to the Church;
A raven croaked upon the porch,
And many who where there that day
Declared that they did hear it say;
Steady! Steady! I am not ready!”
We pass the solemn service o’er,
Although one thing seemed rather queer,
The Chancel Screen fell from its place
And knocked the coffin from its bier,
The Parish Clerk, old Thomas Green,
Put forth his hand to save the Screen,
Unhappy man! Poor silly elf!
He had more need to save himself!
For the coffin falling from the bier,
Knocked down poor Thomas then and there!
The Sexton ran to his relief:
And oh’ his cries were full of grief.
Yet over all this noise and rattle,
More like the fighting of a battle,
A voice was heard distinctly say:
Steady! Steady! I am not ready!”
The service was soon hurried through,
The coffin, in the tomb made fast,
The mourners walking two by two,
From the sad scene retreat at last.
The Priest as he closed the Sacred Book,
A half glance o’er his shoulder took
And mourners and bearers looked timidly round
And fear their own shadows, and start at each sound.
As time flies by more strange this tale,
The stoutest heart begins to quail,
The infants sleeping at the breast,
Would start at midnight’s lonesome hour,
And clench its hand as if in fear,
At some unseen but awful power.
The villagers were seized with fright,
None dare leave their homes by night,
For scarce would even shadows fall,
And darkness close round the churchyard wall
Then dashing along at a desperate pace,
(none ‘ere saw the drivers face)
Was a coach and four with a headless team,
Through the livelong night in the moonlight sheen;
Two skeleton footmen seated behind,
There dry bones cracking in the wind,
Oh! Who is it that drives that phantom team?
Who is it utters that piercing scream
Steady! Steady! I am not ready!”
The crazy miller from the Mill,
Would not believe the gossips tale;
And feared no ghost as he smoked his pipe,
And sat contented at his ale,
But what did he see as he went home,
When all them money in his pocket was gone?
Ah! What did he see? We shall never know,
But when he got home he was as white as snow!
His wife who had sat up for many a night,
Had ne’er seen the miller in such sad plight,
He shook and he trembled, and quaked for fear,
And swore he’d not taste again gin, wine or beer,
And stay at home quiet, and read a good book,
And give tithe to the Church of the toll that he took.
He kept to his word, may his sins find pardon!
He became a good man and died a Churchwarden.
At the Rectory none of the servants would stay,
For fear of all ghosts that caused such dismay,
That the Parson himself had a strange misgiving,
He too would have gone were it not for his living;
But his wife, who was wiser and braver than he,
Said, “This ghost cannot harm us, so why should we flee?”
The power of the Church over spirits perturbed
Is a fact undisputed, of which we’ve all heard
Your duty is plain: to the Bishop apply,
And ask him to grant you a faculty,
The service to hold, this spirit to lay
Beneath the Mill wheel till Judgement Day”.
The ladies advice to the husband seemed right,
So he wrote to the Bishop that very same night,
Soon Bishops and Canons and the Rural Dean,
At Passenham Rectory might have been seen
With white flowing robes, and open book,
Watching and waiting with awe-stricken look,
For the hour is approaching, the time drawing near,
When the ghost or Sir Robert doth nightly appear,
In a low trembling voice the Bishop began
To read the dread service to lay the dead man,
When all ion a moment they start with surprise,
For the ghost of Sir Robert before them doth rise!
(ah! Well I ween those churchmen old,
With fear might tremble to behold that ghostly spirit form.)
And when they heard that spirit speak,
And speak as in command,
No wonder that the Bishop dropped
That book from out his hand:
what ist ye do, ye heretics?
Think not with your fantastic tricks
To give my spirit peace.
Or do you think that your dark spell,
Will send my soul unshrivened to hell?
I prithee cease,
I promise ne’er to plague you more,
To walk unseen: and if I roar,
It shall be when storms and tempests rage,
My soul must do a pilgrimage,
And penance suffer sore”.
The Bishop answered “Go in peace;
May Jesu grant thy soul release!”
Amen” said on and all.
Sir Robert’s ghost then took its flight;
No one has seen it since that night.
But the ghosts of Robin still
O’er Passenham throws a chill,
Our hearts still feel a-throbbing
And he water seems a-sobbing,
As we listen to the dashing,
Or watch the white foam splashing,
From underneath the wheel,
Of that ghost haunted Mill.
Stranger if thy path should lead,
Some evening by the churchyard lone,
Down by the Mill, and o’er the Mead,
And should thou chance to be alone,
Then wanderer stays thy lingering steps,
And rest thee on that rustic style,
Beneath the spreading chestnut tree,
And muse upon this tale awhile.