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 My motor cycle had carried me without a from London to Melbury Abbas—then Fortune on me. With ridiculous ease I had rolled along the roads all day, and I had been to ride through the warm autumnal darkness till I came to the Half Moon Inn at Shaftesbury, where the roads fork away to Melbury Hill, Blandford and Salisbury. But a few hundred yards out of Melbury Abbas, and then Fortune's frown. From a twist in the road I dashed into a gully, and my machine bumped and and like a caught in a trap. It performed other antics with which this chronicle has no concern, and then refused to move an inch farther.  
But the song of a nightingale in a of elms near the road made full for my ill luck! It is beautiful to hear his , notes when one is alone on a dark night, and Shelley was not far wrong in styling it .
"I heard the nightingale
Tell from yon elmy grove his tale
Of and love,
In notes that seem'd to fall
As faultless and as musical
As angels' strains above.
So sweet, they cast on all things round
A spell of melody profound:
They charm'd the river in his flowing,
They stay'd the night-wind in its blowing."
I lit a pipe and made myself comfortable on the green bank of the roadside. It was simply a matter of waiting for a carter to give me a lift. Soon I heard footsteps approaching me. "Good-evening," said a friendly, quavering voice, and a little, round-faced gentleman in a grey overcoat and straw hat emerged from the shadows. I questioned him as to the distance of the nearest inn or cottage where I could get a shelter for the night, and explained how my machine had failed me.
"The nearest inn is two miles away. I'm afraid they do not accommodate travellers," he replied.
"Is this your home?" I asked.
"Oh yes! Woolpit House is just beyond those elms. I live there. I am not a native of these parts. I have only lived there for the last six months. I am sorry I came here, for the place does not suit me. Do you care to leave your motor cycle? You are most welcome to a bed in my house," he added with cheerful .
"I should be greatly indebted to you. But shan't I be a bother to your family at this time of the night?"
"I have none."
I wheeled my machine through a gate and left it the other side of the hedge, where I hoped it would be safe till morning. We came to the house across a footpath—a small stone-gabled sixteenth-century building. A whisp of mist from a bubbling stream circled the place and gave it an air of . We entered a lit room, which was of solemn aspect, and my friend gave me a deep-seated chair.
"Are you serious in saying that you do not like Dorset?" I questioned.
The little man smiled quietly, sadly.
"It is not Dorset exactly. But since I came to live here I have become a bundle of nerves. It is nothing—I think it's nothing."
"What do you mean?"
"I only think—I only wonder——"
"This is such an old house. All sorts of things must have happened here. And from the first moment I came into the place I had a sudden sensation of there being something unseen and unheard near me. There is an essence in this house—an influence which all laughter and joy. I wonder if you will feel it as I do!"
"Bit creepy," I said, and at the same time I came to the conclusion that the old fellow was a little eccentric, and this idea of the house being on the left side of the sun was merely a foolish weakness.
"Yes, yes," he said, ; "queer, isn't it? But you don't know the queerest."
He pondered a moment, then suddenly he wagged his fore-finger at me and said: "It is something more than an essence—it is stronger. The other evening when it was getting dusk I got up from my chair to light the candles, and I saw, as I thought, someone about six yards from that window—outside on the flagstones. It was more than a shadowy shape. So without waiting I ran out into the hall and opened the front door, feeling sure I should see a tramp or someone there. But the drive was quite empty—I only looked out into the dusk. But as I looked out something that I could not see slipped through and passed into the house. The same kind of thing has happened a dozen times."
The little old man passed his hand over his brow.
"Here," I said rather brusquely, "you're not well; you're just a bundle of nerves. Look here, sir, you want a holiday."
"Yes," he said, wiping his brow. "I try to tell myself that it is all rot ... all my fancy. But what would you do?"
"See a doctor," I replied.
"Doctors?... Bah! I'll tell you," he whispered. "I want a ghost-doctor to rid me of this invisible, pushing thing. It gets stronger every time! At first it just slipped through; just a bit more than a of wind. But now it's getting compact. To-night it drove me out of the house: that was how I came to be wandering out on the highroad like a lost soul."
"But ... goodness, sir, such a thing reason."
"You can say what you will, but it is there, and it is growing . Last night I could distinguish his features as he came up close to the window. He smiled at me, but the smile was one of inscrutable evil. He resents me being in this house. I shall have to abandon it."
"This little man is either off his head, or worse," I said to myself.
In spite of the warmth of the room, I felt myself shiver.
At that moment I heard the sound of a stealthy footstep outside the door.
The little old man jumped up.
"I say," he said in an odd voice, "did you hear?"
I pretended I had not heard.
"Ah, you didn't ... and, of course, you didn't feel anything. It must have been my imagination."
A wave of shame ran over me. I knew that I had not the courage to listen to the old fellow's story any longer. I finished my whisky-and-soda and stood up.
"It is very kind of you, sir, to offer me a for the night. I am feeling rather weary and would like to go to bed now, if it is convenient to you."
"Come then, sir," he said, with his old-fashioned politeness, and he walked towards the door.
Then I saw the thing. There wasn't a shadow of doubt about it. I saw the little old man open the door. The next moment he started back. Then he thrust forward with his body, and I could see him bearing against something. He swayed, , as a man sways when he is wrestling. A second after he was free.
"Well, you've seen it—what do you think of it?" he said presently, as I followed him into the hall. His face had turned cloudy whitish grey.
I laughed, but the full horror of it had soaked into me.
I followed my host up a series of stairs. He carried a candlestick, with his arm extended, so as to give me a guiding light. The old house was dim and in its barrenness. He stopped at a door in a long, narrow corridor and set the candlestick down.
"This is your room."
With a gentle bow and a smile he opened the door for me.
"Good-night, sir. Can you see your way down?" I asked.
"I have a candle in my pocket."
He lit it at mine. Another quiet, friendly smile, and I watched him out of sight along the corridor.
I stood still for a moment just inside. Then a curious feeling of something dreadful being close at hand was present in my mind. Of course it was all , and my nerves were deceiving me. But I could not shake myself free from the notion that I was not alone.
There is an essence in all these old that comes out to meet one on a first visit. I recognise the truth of that—for how often have I noticed how, under one roof, one breathes a friendly air, and under another queerness runs across the like the feet of hurrying mice. In this house there was something and unwholesome. I cursed my luck for driving me into such a place. A night spent under a hedge would have been more desirable. However, I turned into bed and passed rather a broken night, with stretches of dream-haunted sleep with startled awakenings. The old house seemed to be full of movements, and once (timid fool that I was) I could have sworn that the handle of my door turned. It was with a considerable qualm, I must confess, I lit my candle and opened the door. But the gallery was quite empty. I went back to bed and slept again, and when next I woke the sun was streaming into my room, and the sense of trouble that had been with me ever since entering the house last evening had gone.
When I arrived at the breakfast-table the little old man was seated behind the coffee-pot, and his face was quite glowing and wreathed in smiles. Morning had brought a flood of hard common sense to him, as clear as the crisp sunshine that filled the room. He had already begun and was consuming a plateful of eggs and bacon with the most and healthy appetite.
"Slept well?" he asked.
"Moderately," I said, feeling ashamed of my timidity in the morning light.
"I am afraid I talked rather wildly last night," remarked the little man, in a voice pregnant with reason.
"Yes—an amazing quantity of nonsense," I consented. "Where did you learn hypnotism?"
My host's brow clouded slightly.
"You see," I continued, "you must have thrown a spell over me, for I really believed in your ghost story, and now I have come to the conclusion that you were joking."
"Never mind. It doesn't matter."
But the little man didn't look up from his plate. He only shook his head.
Well (to get on), we finished breakfast. After smoking a pipe on the verandah with my host (who might have been a wizard for aught I knew, at least this was my fantastic thought) I went out and looked at my machine, and was fortunate enough after an hour's tinkering to get her going again. The little man insisted that I should take a small glass of some liqueur brandy of which he was very proud. So I took some of the wonderful stuff—strong, sufficient, soul-filling, part of the good rich earth—and went out into the sunlight, and taking a foot-bridge over running water put myself out of the little wizard's power.
About six months later I was hunting in an old[Pg 54] bookseller's shop in Salisbury when by something more than a coincidence I came across a small booklet called Twenty-five Years of Village Life, with the district around Shaftesbury, and I read:
"It is somewhat that, during the last ten years, two vicars of the parish have died under somewhat mysterious circumstances at Woolpit House. It is not necessary to go into details here, but many wild stories about this old house are told around the countryside. The country people have an odd way of for the ill fortune that has always attended Woolpit House. They say that it was built by the order of a dissolute old nobleman who had sold his soul to the devil, and in order to pass bad luck to all his successors who might occupy the he caused grave-stones from —— churchyard to be rooted up and built into the walls."
The Vale of Blackmoor or Blackmore, watered by the upper part of the Stour, was known as the White Hart Forest, but is now a strip of pasturage among farmers as one of the richest of grazing lands. Its surface is speckled by of lazy cattle, and by busier droves of pigs, of which this vale supplies to London a larger number than either of the counties of Somerset and Devon. Blackmoor is also known for the vigorous growth of its oaks, which thrive on the soil. Loudon says it was originally called White Hart Forest from Henry III. having here hunted a beautiful white hart and spared its life; and Fuller gives the sequel to the tale. He says that Thomas de la Lynd, a gentleman of fair estate, killed the white hart which Henry by express will had reserved for his own chase, and that in consequence the county—as accessory for not opposing him—was mulched for ever in a fine called "White-hart Silver." "Myself," continues Fuller sorrowfully, "hath paid a share for the sauce who never tasted the meat." Loudon also informs us that the vale contained Losel's Wood, in which stood the Raven's Oak mentioned by White in his Natural History of Selborne.
The Vale of Blackmore stretches from the Melburys north of Cattistock (Melbury Bub, Osmund and Sampford) to Melbury Abbas south of Shaftesbury.
Down beyond Pulham, seven miles south-west of Sturminster Newton, on a flat and road, stands at the King's Stag Bridge across the River Lidden an inn called "King's Stag," with a signboard representing a stag with a ring round its neck, and the following lines below:—
"When Julius Cæsar here,
I was then but a little deer;
When Julius Cæsar reigned king,
Upon my neck he placed this ring,
That whoso me might overtake
Should spare my life for Cæsar's sake."
The belief in the of the stag prevails in most countries. Linnæus (Regnum Animale) says of the Cervus Elaphus: "Ætas Bovis tantum; fabula est longævitatis cervi."
From a formula, as old as the hills, relating to the length of life of animals and trees we learn that—
"Three old dogs make one horse; three old horses make one old man; three old men, one old red deer; three old red deer, one old oak; three old oaks, one brent-fir [fir or pine dug out of bogs]."
If a dog be supposed to be old at eight years, this will give: horse, 24; man, 72; deer, 216; oak, 648; fir, or brent fir, 1944 years.
The proverbs which follow are not folk-sayings, but they are given a place here as being and curious, and not of a certain interest, as they were collected by the author while tramping in the Vale of Blackmore during the summer of 1921:—
"When the gorse is out of blossom, kissing is out of fashion" (i.e. kissing is never out of fashion).
"Trouble ran off him like water off a duck's back."
"If you sing before breakfast, you'll cry before night."
"Turn your money when you hear the cuckoo, and you'll have money in your purse till the cuckoo comes again."
"Plenty of lady-birds, plenty of ." (The coccinella feeds upon the aphis that proves so destructive to the hop-plant.)
"March, search; April, try;
May will prove if you live or die."
"When your salt is damp, you will soon have rain."
"It will be a wet month when there are two full moons in it."
Certainly the of Blackmore have a upon them, granted them for their and kindness. Their eyes are quiet and yet fearless, and all the maids have something wifely about them. William Barnes, the poet of the Dorset valley, praising the Blackmoor maidens, says:
"Why, if a man would wive
An' thrive 'ithout a dow'r,
Then let en look en out a wife
In Blackmore by the Stour."
William Barnes was not a wild wooer, and he found joy and adventure in a smile and a blush from a Blackmore milkmaid after having carried her pail, and he was satisfied to know that she would have bowed when she took it back had it not been too heavy. Perhaps—O dizzy fancy!—sweet Nan of the Vale would not have refused a little kiss! At all events Barnes knew womanhood in its perfection when he met with it—the maid who was "good and true and fair" was his preference.

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