PHANTOMS OF THE DYING.
GAY party were assembled one afternoon, in the latter days of January, in the best parlour of a farmhouse near the Land's-End. The inhabitants of this district were, in many respects, peculiar. Nearly all the land was divided up between, comparatively, a few owners, and every owner lived on and farmed his own land.
This circumstance, amongst others, led to a certain amount of style in many of the old farmhouses of the Land's-End district; and even now, in some of them, from which, alas! the. glory has departed, may be seen the evidences of taste beyond that which might have been expected in so remote a district.
The "best parlour" was frequently panelled with carved oak, and the ceiling, often highly, though it must be admitted, heavily decorated. In such a room, in the declining light of a January afternoon, were some ten or a dozen farmers' daughters, all of them unmarried, and many of them having an eye on the farmer's eldest son, a fine, young man about twenty years of age, called Joseph.
This farmer and his wife, at the time of which we speak, had three sons and two daughters. The eldest son was an excellent and amiable young man, possessed of many personal attractions, and especially fond of the society of his sisters and their friends. The next son was of a very different stamp, and was more frequently found in the inn at Church-town than in his father's house; the younger son was an apprentice at Penzance. The two daughters, Mary and Honour, had coaxed their mother into "a tea and heavy cake" party, and Joseph was especially retained, to be, as every one said he was, "the life of the company."
In those days, when, especially in those parts, every one took dinner at noon, and tea not much after four o'clock, the party had assembled early.
There had been the usual preliminary gossip amongst the young people, when they began to talk about the wreck of a fruit-ship, which had occurred but a few days before, off the Land's-End, and it was said that considerable quantities of oranges were washing into Nangisseil Cove. Upon this, Joseph said he would take one of the, men from the farm, and go down to the Cove--which was not far off--and see if they could not find some oranges for the ladies.
The day had faded into twilight, the western sky was still bright with the light of the setting sun, and the illuminated clouds shed a certain portion of their splendour into the room in which the party were assembled. The girls were divided up into groups, having their own pretty little bits of gossip, often truly delightful from its entire freedom and its innocence; and the mother oI Joseph was seated near the fireplace, looking with some anxiety through the windows, from which you commanded a view of the Atlantic Ocean. The old lady was restless; sometimes she had to whisper something to Mary, and then some other thing to Honour. Her anxiety, at length, was expressed in her wondering where Joseph could be tarrying so long. All the young ladies sought to ease her mind by saying that there were no doubt so many orange-gatherers in the Cove, that Joseph and the man could not get so much fruit as he desired.
Joseph was the favourite son of 'his mother, and her anxiety evidently increased. Eventually, starting from her 'chair, the old lady exclaimed, "Oh, here he is; now I 'll see about the tea."
With a pleased smile on her face, she left the room, to return, however, to it in deeper sorrow.
The mother expected to meet her son at the door--he came not. Thinking that he might possibly have beep wetted by the sea, and that he had gone round the house to another door leading directly into the kitchen, for the purpose of drying himself or of changing his boots, she went into the dairy to fetch the basin of clotted cream,--which had been "taken up" with unusual care,--to see if the junket was properly set, and to spread the flaky cream thickly upon its surface.
Strange,--as the old lady subsequently related,--all the pans of milk were agitated--" the milk rising up and down like the waves of the sea."
The anxious mother returned to the parlour with her basin of cream, but with an indescribable feeling of an unknown terror. She commanded herself, and, in her usual quiet way, asked if Joseph had been in. When they answered her "No," she sighed heavily, and sank senseless into a chair.
Neither Joseph nor the servant ever returned alive. They were seen standing together upon a rock, stooping to gather oranges as they came with each wave up to their feet, when one of the heavy swells--the lingering undulations of a tempest, so well known on this coast--came sweeping onward, and carried them both away in its- cave of waters, as the wave curved to engulf them.
The undertow of the tidal current was so strong that, though powerful men and good swimmers, they were carried at once beyond all human aid, and speedily perished.
The house of joy became a house of mourning, and sadness rested on it for years. Day after day passed by, and, although a constant watch was kept along the coast, it was not until the fated ninth day that the bodies were discovered, and they were then found in a sadly mutilated state.
Often after long years, and when the consolations derivable from pure religious feeling had brought that tranquillity upon the mind of this loving mother,--which so much resembles the poetical repose of an autumnal evening,--has she repeated to me the sad tale.
Again and again have I heard her declare that she saw Joseph, her son, as distinctly as ever she saw him in her life, and that, as he passed the parlour windows, he looked in upon her and smiled.
This is not given as a superstition belonging in any peculiar way to Cornwall. In every part of the British Isles it exists; but I have never met with any people who so firmly believed in the appearance of the phantoms of the dying to those upon whom the last thoughts are centred, as the Cornish did.
Another case is within my knowledge.
A lady, the wife of an officer in the navy, had been with her husband's sister, on a summer evening, to church. The husband was in the Mediterranean, and there was no reason to expect his return for many months.
These two ladies returned home, and the wife, ascending the; stairs before her sister-in, law, went into the drawing-room--her intention being to close the windows, which, as the weather had been warm and fine, had been thrown open.
She had proceeded about half way across the room, when she shrieked, ran back, and fell into her sister-in-law's arms. Upon recovery, she stated that a figure, like that of her husband, enveloped in a mist, appeared to her to fill one of the windows.
By her friends, the wife's fancies were laughed at; and, if not forgotten, the circumstance was no longer spoken of.
Month after month glided by, without intelligence of the ship to which that officer belonged. At length the Government became anxious, and searching inquiries were made. Some time still elapsed, but eventually it was ascertained that this sloop of war had perished in a white squall, in which she became involved, near the Island of Mitylene, in the Grecian Archipelago, on the Sunday evening when the widow fancied she saw her husband.