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Traditions and Hearthside Stories of West Cornwall, Vol. 1, by William Bottrell, [1870], at

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The Haunted Chamber and the Maltsman

Besides the upper rooms, noticed as being the most remarkable of those in the best part of the mansion, there was a noted haunted chamber in the outer end of the gable, over the brewhouse, which, with the malt-rooms over, took up nearly all the wing on the southern side of the kitchen-court. High up in the gable, alongside of an ivy-covered chimney-stack, a little window might be discovered among the branching ivy, when one stood in the private garden at the time the sun was sunk so low as to glisten on the few diamond-shaped panes left in the casement. Yet no one could ever find any room within to which this window belonged. The door of the room or closet, with the mysterious window, was probably walled up because that old part of the house was always disturbed at night with the humming of a turn (spinning-wheel), rattling of cards, and other noises usually made when carding wool or spinning the yarn.


A story about the little glimmering look-out among the ivy-bushes, where the owls had always nested, and through which a light would often be seen to flash and fade away of a winter's night, if one stood by the yew hedge on the high ground opposite, sayeth that it opened into a garret haunted by some ancient housekeeper of Trove who had once been young and fair; that she had loved her young master but too well, all the better perhaps because he could not or would not make an honest woman of the fair leman, by making the beauteous lass his bride; however that may be, the favourite servant would never leave the place in life nor in death, but always remained here in spite of all the lady of the mansion and her lawfully begotten family could do to dislodge her.

Many generations had passed away before she was finally put to rest in a small upper room of the malt-house wing, by being bound by some learned priest to the task of carding a number of fleeces of black wool until it became white, and so spin as much from the same (without breaking the yarn) as would make her a shroud. Long after the spirit was put to rest, ’tis said that the maltsman, having to remain up late one October night to turn the malt, fill up the casks of fermenting ale, mash more malt for a new brewing, and for other work that requires to be attended to by night as well as by day in good careful malting and brewing, heard, when up in the chamber turning the malt, or taking it out of the cistern, more than common racket with the turn (spinning-wheel) and the clicking of cards in making the rolls of wool. The maltsman was a jolly blade, "who could drain his bowl, like a right honest soul," cared but little for ghosts, and thought, by the sounds being so natural, that more than one person, in real flesh and blood, must be working overhead. He did no better nor worse than make three taps on the planching overhead with the end of his howl- (shovel) hilt. The roar of the turn and click of the cards that instant stopped, and the three knocks were answered by

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three louder from above. Then he tapped the floor seven times with his knuckles. These were returned in the same gentle way. Now he was persuaded that some of the lasses who belonged to the house had found out a secret passage, or stair (in some garret or closet adjacent), by which they could reach the room over, and that they were then spinning for a wager, or perhaps some wool that they had purloined for themselves was there spun by the sly.

The man had no thought of fear, as he could still hear, late as it was, the boisterous mirth of the huntsmen and some of the hard-drinking guests who caroused in the distant hall, and, as soon as he had finished his work about the malt, he knocked again for the third time with the end of the hilt against the floor overhead. Again the spinning ceased, and the same number of blows, like a signal, were returned. "Stop a bit, and I am coming," said he. A moment after what seemed two hollow voices replied, "Come, come, come." As the man descended the outside stone steps from the malt-chamber to the brew-house he saw the light shining bright and natural-like, over against the yew hedge, and on the plants in that part of the garden. Though he, and all the rest of the servants, had often been cautioned never to meddle nor make, to ask no questions, and check their curiosity about the haunted chamber, or ill luck would befall them, yet, finding when he came into the court a ladder (which perhaps had been used that day to repair the roof) left against the wall, like as if some evil spirit had placed it there to tempt him to his doom, he fixed the ladder to rest on the roof of some low building which joined the towering gable, and contrived to place it so that the top of the long ladder nearly reached the wisht-looking little ivy-buried window. As he mounted the ladder he heard shrieks of laughter, which he thought might come from some of the servants’ bedrooms at no great distance off; but when he reached the top and looked in through the window all sounds ceased—even the never-ending dismal night-call of the owls was no longer heard, and the flitting bats had disappeared.

He could make out but little at first in the weak glimmering blue light within, which neither came from lamp nor candle that he could see; but from a confused mass of things on the floor in the middle of the small room, he saw, what he at last made out to be, an elderly woman dressed in an ordinary bedgown. All her long skeleton body was closely wrapped and folded up in a sheet, except her long bony arms, that kept on wearily and ceaselessly working a pair of cards, on a handful of black wool. He saw large heaps of black wool all around her, and piles of grey dust, or the tormented wool, that never lost all its colour, between him and what he took to be a chest, till the dust made him cough, and then the apparition raised its ghastly head, and the shroud fell off the face that looked as if it had long been in the grave. Deep in the holes of the skull, in the places where the eyes once shone, were lurid balls of fire, that shot out their light like the rays from a dark lantern, and left all else in gloom.

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[paragraph continues] When the glaring balls were turned on the man he felt the marrow of his bones pierced as with darts of fire. He had neither the power to move nor to speak, Then the ghastly corpse turned its fiery eyes around and rested them on the chest, but he saw then by their light that it was a white coffin. In the midst of the wool a small treadle-turn, like what old women use for spinning flax, stood beside the half-open coffin. From within it arose the figure of a younger and fairer corpse, but all covered with purple spots, like poison-marks. Pointing, and looking at the man as she arose, she said, "Here is room enow for thee." Then both the ghostly forms glided towards the window like things floating in the air, and shook dust from their shrouds and winding-sheets in the intruder's face. Lurid streams of fiery light from the eyes of the apparitions, choking dust from their shrouds, and the sickening smell of grave-clothes, made the man become so dizzy, sick, and faint, that he fell from the ladder, broke his ribs by a fall on a grindstone, in the corner of the court, crawled into the beer-house, where he was found senseless the next morning, and could only be roused up long enough to tell how he came by his mishap; then he shook his head, groaned, kicked, sneezed, and died.

The old women (who know all about such matters) put it down that the younger ghost, with the purple-spotted face, must have been another of the master's favourites—some fair maid of sixteen, sent off by her jealous mistress with a cup of nightshade decoction, or a bowl of hemlock broth. Long after the brewhouse wing was a roofless ruins, these troublesome spirits, with others who joined them, might be heard couranting, raving, roaring, or wailing all the night long.


It may be remarked that this story of the maltsman, prying into the mystery of a haunted chamber and getting frightened to death for his pains, is told about many other old seats in the west, as Beranhewal, Penrose, &c. We always find many versions of all the well-known drolls, told with such variations as adapt them to the locality in which the droll-teller finds himself.

We leave the old house of Trove to its revellers and ghosts, whilst we refresh ourselves with the sweet air of the garden.

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