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"THE YOUNG LADY HAPPENED TO BE LOOKING OUT OF THE WINDOW."
THERE IS a place near our town called Heathfield,--a gloomy and solitary waste. Heathfield was then just such. as evil spirits delight in; where if people really see nothing, it is quite dreary and vast enough to fancy they see a great deal, which in these sort of cases is much the same thing. On Heathfield the devils dance; I do not know who is the piper, as we have here no Tam o' Shanter to tell us; but I suppose the company are not without musicians to give them a few hints in the "concord of sweet sounds."
Now, as the old tale goes, there was, once upon a time--a mode of dating which all tellers of such tales as mine should never fail to employ, as it sets aside any small cavils that might arise from those awkward points in settling real facts that depend on chronology--there was, once upon a time, an old woman, and she made a slight mistake, I do not know how, and got up at midnight, thinking it to be morning. This good woman mounted her horse, and set oft; panniers, cloak, and all, on her way to market. Anon she heard a cry of hounds, and soon perceived a hare rapidly making towards her. The hare, however took a turn and a leap, and got on the top of the hedge, as if it would say: "Come, catch me," to the old woman. She liked such hunting as this very well, put forth her band, secured the game, popped it into the panniers, covered it over, and rode forward. She had not gone far, when great was her alarm on perceiving in the midst of the dismal and solitary waste of Heathfield, advancing at full pace, a headless hors; bearing a black and grim rider, with horns sprouting from under a little jockey cap; and having a cloven foot thrust into one stirrup. He was surrounded by a pack of hounds, thus noticed by Mary Coiling:
"Of hounds on Heathfield seen to rise,
With horned heads and flaming eyes."
They had, according to tradition, tails too, that whisked about and shone like fire, and the air itself had a strong sulphurous scent. These were signs not to be mistaken; and the poor old woman knew in a 'moment that huntsman and hounds were taking a ride from the regions below. But it soon appeared that, however clever the devil might be, he was no conjurer; for he very civilly asked the old lady if she could set him right, and point out which way the hare was flown? Probably she thought it no harm to return the father of lies an answer in his own coin, so she boldly gave him a negative; and he rode on, nothing suspecting the cheat. When he was out of sight, she soon perceived the hare in the panniers begin to move, when to her utter amazement arose a beautiful young lady, all in white, who thus addressed her preserver: "Good dame, I admire your courage; and thank you for the kindness with which you have saved me from a state of suffering that must not be told to human ears. Do not start when I tell you that I am not art inhabitant of the earth. For a great crime committed during the time I dwelt upon it, I was doomed, as a punishment in the other world, to be constantly pursued either above or below ground by evil spirits, until I could get behind their tails, whilst they passed on in search of me. This difficult object, by your means, I have now happily effected; and as a reward (or your kindness I promise that all your hens shall lay two eggs instead of one, and that your cows shall yield the most plentiful store of milk all the year round; that you shall talk twice as much as you ever did before, and your husband stand no chance in any matter between you to be settled by the tongue. But beware of the devil, and don't grumble about tithes; for my enemy and yours may do you an ill turn when he finds out you were clever enough to cheat even him; since, like all great impostors, he does not like to be cheated himself He can assume all shapes, excepting the lamb and the dove."
The lady in white vanished, as all such white ladies ought to do; the old market woman found the best possible luck that morning in her traffic; and to this day the story goes in our town, that from the Saviour of the World having hallowed the form of the lamb, and the Holy Ghost that of the dove, they can never be assumed by the mortal enemy of the human race under any circumstances.
1 Mrs. Bray The Borders of The Tamar and the Tavy, vol. II, p. 113.